Jacob and the God More Powerful Than Him
Passage: Genesis 35:1–36:43
How do selfish people become a blessing to the world?
The old stereotype is that men never ask for directions. They’d rather be lost for an hour than ask someone for help. Or they’d rather struggle for an hour while muttering under their breath as they try to figure out how to replace the faucet than ask for help.
There’s been many TV shows and movies where I’ve watched someone who desperately needed help and I’ve said to them through the TV, “Ask for help! You need to tell someone!” Maybe someone got bit by a zombie and now they are infected with a festering wound but they don’t tell anyone else in their group and soon they will die and be a zombie and bite everyone else. Whatever it is, people are in desperate need of help but don’t tell anyone.
Why is this? Why don’t we ask for help when we know we need it? What keeps us from asking for help?
This evening, we will wrap up the part of Genesis that focuses on Jacob in our series called Beginning the Journey Home. After tonight, we will take a little break from Genesis and finish the final part later next year.
This series is called Beginning the Journey Home because we learned in the opening chapters that humanity’s home is with God. God created a good world where his desires was to dwell with humanity, to walk with us, to guide us, to protect us, to care for us. We were made in his image which means we are able to reflect what he is like to each other and the rest of creation. His desire was that we would be ambassadors of his kingdom on earth, showing and telling what he is like.
But in Genesis 3, our home with God became the first broken home in human history. Adam and Eve believed the lie of the serpent that disobeying God really isn’t that and God isn’t really that good. They decided they weren’t satisfied with being ambassadors of God but wanted to be God. They decided they wanted to be in charge. They believed the serpent’s lies and disobeyed God. They sinned. They put themselves on the throne of their lives instead of God.
From this point forward, they were not able to live in God’s presence. Home was disrupted. Home was broken. Home was corrupted. Adam and Eve and every human after them went into exile. But that is not where the story ends, because in his grace, God initiated a plan to bring humanity back home to his presence. God chose a man named Abraham and said, “I want to bless you so that you will be a blessing to the rest of the world.” Through Abraham and his family, God’s desires is to bring humanity back home to him.
God’s goal is to restore the blessing of his presence to humanity. Genesis is about the beginning of humanity’s journey home to God. At the same time, it’s also about the journey home to God for individual human’s in the story. Abraham had to learn to walk with God by trusting him and loving him. We have been following Jacob’s journey back home to God.
Our passage this evening functions as a conclusion to Jacob’s journey home to God. In Abraham’s journey, his big struggle was with the fact that he didn’t have any children. When God gave them a child, his test was: will he see God as most valuable? Does he value God’s gifts more than he values God himself?
For Jacob, his journey is a bit different. The main question for Jacob isn’t about seeing God as most valuable, but God as most powerful. In Jacob’s eyes, who is the most powerful, him or God?
As we finish Jacob’s spiritual journey, the big question we will answer this evening is: How do selfish people become a blessing to the world? How do selfish people become a blessing to the world?
Let’s walk through Genesis chapter 35 then answer our big question.
Jacob Travels to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-8)
When we met Jacob, we saw a man consumed by his own selfish desires. He was willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants He took advantage of people, lied, tricked, and cheated. Because of this, his brother wanted to kill him and he had to go stay with his uncle for 20 years. As he was about to leave the land of Canaan that God promised his family, God met him at a place Jacob named Bethel. God promised to be with him, watch over him, and bring him back to his land. Jacob made a vow, saying, “Ok God, if you do this. Then you’ll be my God.” Not the greatest response to the God of the universe, but God was faithful to his promise and Jacob saw it. God had been with him and working for him.
Now he has returned to his land and God says it’s time to make good on his vow. Look at verse 1 of chapter 35:
35 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (Genesis 35:1)
Jacob’s obeys immediately. He tells everyone in his household - wives, children, servants, the women and children his sons just took captive in chapter 34: “Put away all foreign gods. Get rid of all your idols. Purify yourselves and change your garments.” Jacob is making good on his vow. He said that if God came through for him, that he would make him the only God he worships. In those days, people would have little statues representing others gods. Jacob says, “Get rid of all those. We are going to worship the LORD.”
Jacob is currently located at a place called Shechem and God has asked him to go to Bethel. There is a risk in doing this. In the last chapter, Jacob’s sons killed all the men in the city of Shechem to avenge their sister. Do you remember what Jacob was worried about after this at the end of the chapter? He was worried about other people in the land attacking him because of what they did. Now God is asking him to walk through the land past these people’s cities to come worship him.
At the end of his life in Genesis 49, Jacob calls God his shepherd. Psalm 23 prays to God as our shepherd and holds onto the truth that though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. We see here that God not only walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death, but he sometimes asks us to walk through it and desires that we trust him. Have you ever felt like God was calling you to walk a road you didn’t want to go down? Have you ever felt like God was asking you to do something that would make you completely vulnerable and force you to trust him? Chapter 34 was a dark spot in the history of Jacob’s family, but God is using it as an opportunity for Jacob to learn to trust God.
Jacob goes and we learn this in verse 5:
5 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. (Genesis 35:5)
Jacob doesn’t have to do anything to protect himself against these people. God does it all. But Jacob did have to obey to experience God’s power. He could not remain where he was if he wanted to see God’s power at work. The same is true for us. God calls us out of what’s comfortable for us and out of where we feel in control. If we only do what is within our power, we shouldn’t expect to experience God’s power.
God Appears to Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 35:9-15)
When Jacob arrived at Bethel, he built an altar there to worship God. It was at Bethel that God first appeared to him and made promises to him and it is here again that God appears to Jacob. Let’s look at what God says to him in verse 10:
10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. (Genesis 35:10)
In our Gospel Fluency Group this week, Nik pointed out that Jacob needs to know his identity before being sent on the mission. God wants to use Jacob and his family to bless the world with his presence. But Jacob needs to know who he is in relation to God before he is ready for that mission.
The name Israel was given to him because he had striven with God and men and prevailed. But for Jacob, that name was given at a critical moment when he knew full well that his strength, ability, or plans aren’t the reason he prevailed. He physically wrestled with God in the night and faced his brother Esau and the only reason he was alive after each of them was because the other person showed him grace and allowed him to live.
That’s what makes what God says next in verse 11 so meaningful in verse:
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” (Genesis 35:11-12)
God introduces himself as “I am God Almighty,” meaning he is all-powerful, al strength belongs to him, all might belongs to him, nothing is beyond his doing. The old Jacob saw himself as almighty. What he wanted, he got by his own planning and scheming. But when he had to run from his own brother because of those schemes, he found himself vulnerable and out of his comfort zone. God met him at Bethel in that moment and over the next 20 years, formed him into a man who didn’t see himself as Jacob almighty but as a man dependent on God.
This scene is like a ceremony making his new name official and officially transferring the blessings and promises of God for his family to Jacob. Where Jacob’s spiritual journey started is where God makes this happen. Jacob knows he is dependent on God’s grace. Jacob knows he is not the source of blessing but that God is. Jacob knows that he needs God in his life - the God who, as he says in verse 3, answers him in the day of his distress and has been with him wherever he has gone. Jacob no longer sees himself as the most important or most powerful in his life. And now he can be a blessing to others because he can show others the way. The old Jacob has gone. The new has come.
Before any of us can be used by God, God must restore us to right relationship with him. When we come to Jesus, the old has gone and the new has come. Who were we before we met Jesus? We were selfish like Jacob. The apostle Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Whoever you were before meeting Jesus, you were unworthy of entrance into his kingdom - into the salvation, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration he offers. But that is not you anymore. You were washed, you were made right with God, you were made into God’s special possession by Jesus and the Spirit.
God says to Jacob, “Be fruitful and multiply.” That’s his commission to live for God’s purposes. Jesus commissions us by saying, “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching people to follow me.” It’s because of what Jesus has done in our lives that we are able to be given this mission. It’s because we are no longer selfish Jacobs but Israels who know we are dependent on God’s grace. Mission always starts with knowing who you are.
After this, Jacob sets up a pillar to memorialize the moment and journeys to reunite with his father.
Reunion with Isaac at Hebron (Genesis 35:16-29)
From Bethel, Jacob heads to Hebron where his father is whom he has not seen in 20 years. On the way, his wife, Rachel, goes into labor and gives birth to her second son, Benjamin, but she sadly dies in childbirth. Jacob buries her.
We are told of another tragic event in verse 22: Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, slept with Bilhah, the servant of Rachel whom she gave to Jacob to have children with since she couldn’t. This is a power move by Reuben, trying to gain some sort of authority in the family that isn’t rightfully his. Later in Genesis, we learn that this disqualifies him from being head of the family when Jacob dies.
Jacob does reunite with his father and at 180 years old, Isaac dies. Jacob and Esau also reunite in order to bury their father.
The journey to reunite with his father gives us details that are tying up the story of Jacob and also helping us understand later events.
Esau’s Family (Genesis 36:1-43)
Chapter 36 tells us about the family of Jacob’s brother, Esau. It’s largely a genealogy, tracing the generations of Esau’s descendants. For the people of Israel who first read this book, this is important information because Esau’s descendants grow into the nation of Edom which is a neighbor of theirs. Like Jacob and Esau had tension in their relationship, the nations of Israel and Edom often had tension in their relationship. But like Lot, Abraham’s nephew, verses 6 and 7 of chapter 36 tell us that Esau moved out of the promised land of Canaan because there was not enough to support both Esau and Jacob. This makes the important point that Jacob didn’t force him out. Esau choose to leave the promised land.
The big question we are answering this evening is: How do selfish people become a blessing to the world? The answer we see from Jacob’s life is this: They stop relying on themselves and start relying on God. For selfish people to become a blessing to the world, they need to stop relying on themselves and start relying on God.
When you read through the Bible, from the first page to the last page, God has a purpose for us. He has a mission for humanity. The commands, instructions, and corrections he gives are all pointers back to our original purpose to reflect what he is like to one another and his creation by what we do and what we say. God is calling us to be ambassadors for his kingdom who show and tell the good news of what he is like. That’s the vision of our church.
But before we can ever do that, we have to come to a place of surrender. Why? Because the life God calls us to live is only possible through the power he gives. The life God calls us to live is only possible through the power he gives. God’s purposes can only be accomplished with God’s power. So we need to stop seeing ourselves as the source of blessing and power and see God as the source. We need to depend on him, trust in him, rely on him. We need to rest in his might, strength, and ability and not our own.
But even as we live for his purposes, we are learning more and more to rely on him. Because it is in the very act of living for his purposes that he continually shows us just how much we need him and so he grows us in the process.
As we leave here today, remember this truth: Know that God is more powerful than you. God is more powerful than you. God is bigger than you. God is stronger than you. God is more capable than you. God is more able than you. God is wiser than you, a better planner than you. God is Lord over all things. Not a hair falls from your head without his permission and not a sparrow falls to the ground without his decree. Nothing has life except by his breath. God created all things and sustains all things. No one comes to Jesus except by his power. God can bring life where there is death, freedom where there is bondage, righteousness where there is sin, peace where there is chaos. God is more powerful than you!
The problem is that we often have trouble relying on and trusting in God’s strength over our own. Jacob had that struggle. There have been two times God has revealed himself as “God Almighty” in Genesis. The first was when he came to Abraham and said, “Next year, your wife will pregnant.” Abraham fell on his face and laughed because at that point he was 99 years old, Sarah was 90 years old, and they had been trying for years with only negative pregnancy tests. But God later asked, “Is anything too hard for me?”
Some of us struggle to trust God because we are like Abraham. We look at ourselves and we think, “I can’t do this. I’m not enough. My situation is too hard for God to overcome.” The question God would ask us is: “is anything too hard for me? Is anything beyond my power to change? Is anyone beyond my power to change?”
Maybe when you look at your life and what you’ve done, you think, “There is no way God can use me. I’m damaged goods. I have done too many bad things to be useful to God.” Maybe you are weighed down with regret, shame, and guilt because of what you have done in the distant past. Or maybe you are weighed down with regret, shame, and guilt over what you did this month, this week, yesterday, or maybe even this morning. The good news is that God is more powerful than you. Nothing you have done is too hard for God to forgive, nothing about who you are is too hard for God to change. Abraham needed to learn that even though he isn’t enough, God is.
On the other hand, some of us struggle to trust God because we are like Jacob. We look at ourselves and we think, “I can do this. I am enough. I can handle this.” Jacob needed to learn that he really isn’t enough, but God is, and you may need to learn that too. Jacob needed to be convinced that he really isn’t in control, he isn’t big enough to handle life, he isn’t mighty enough on his own. We need to learn that too.
But there’s a third option. You might easily believe that God is big, powerful, and mighty and that you are not, but you struggle to believe that he cares enough to actually do anything in your life. Sure he is big, but is he near? Does he care? Maybe you feel that you aren’t deserving or that God just isn’t interested. When you look at Jacob, he is far from deserving and yet God chose to be with Jacob, protect him, guide him, and show his power. God used his power on Jacob’s behalf even though Jacob was totally unworthy of it. That’s good news for us because we are always unworthy and yet God is gracious.
Let’s take a moment to make a list. Write down the things that are worrying you and giving you stress right now. Write down what feels out of your control and beyond your ability.
What keeps you from asking God for help? What keeps you from depending on God?
Are you saying “God isn’t big enough to handle this.” Is it that you think he isn’t big enough to handle your past sins or your present problems?
Are you saying, “I’m big enough to handle this.” Is it that you think you are big enough to handle them on your own?
Are you saying, “God doesn’t care enough to handle this.” Do you believe God is big enough, but you don’t think he cares?
Over the top of that list, write: God is more powerful than me!
If we want to be a blessing to those around us, we need to rely on God’s power. God calls us to come back home to him - to walk with him. Through people who do that, God wants to bless the world with his presence. He wants to call a world wandering from home back to him. We need him to be able to do that. The life God calls us to live is only possible through the power he gives.