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Jacob: God Will Provide
Life Lessons from the Old Testament Sermon Series
Genesis 27:1-36

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost—July 12, 2009


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Most of the familiar names from the Bible, many of which are still popular today, are actually compounds incorporating the name of God.  The “ell” sound, spelled “el” in English, is short for “Elohim,” the common Hebrew word for God.  And so in Hebrew the name “Michael” is actually “me-kaw-ale” and means “Who Is Like God?”  “Daniel” is “daw-nee-ale” and means “God Is My Judge.”  “Gabriel” is “gab-ree-ale” and means “Man of God.”  This is why so many names from the Bible end in “el,” all having a such compound meaning in Hebrew: Samuel, Ezekiel, Nathaniel, Muriel, Ishmael, and nearly a hundred more Bible names all ending in “el,” including Israel, “yis-raw-ale,” which means “Prince of God.”

The proper name for God in the Old Testament is commonly pronounced “Jehovah” in English, but in Hebrew it’s actually “Yahweh.”  This name of God is abbreviated with the “aah” sound, spelled “ah” in English.  And so there are nearly 50 names in the Bible ending in “aah.”  The name “Isaiah” is actually “yesh-ah-yaw” and means “Yahweh Is My Savior.”  “Zechariah” is “zek-ar-yaw” and means “Yahweh Remembers.”  “Hezekiah” is “khiz-kee-yaw” and means “Yahweh Is My Strength.”  The name “Joel” combines these two abbreviations, “yah-el,” “Joel,” and so means, “Yahweh is God.”

When our son was born in 1993, we didn’t realize that “Jacob” was the #1 boy’s name in the Kansas that year.  It seems that Kansas and our family were trendsetters, because, according to the Social Security Administration, since 1999 Jacob has been the #1 boy’s name in the entire United States for an amazing 10 years. 

Each year millions of couples name their little boys Jacob, but what does this ancient Hebrew name mean?  Despite having a college degree in Biblical languages, I didn’t really think about the meaning at the time.  I obviously like the name Jacob.  But, although it is a Bible name, the meaning of Jacob is really not meant to be inspiring or complimentary, like most other Bible names.  It is actually more of a condemnation and even an insult.

At the end of today’s Old Testament Reading, Esau, the brother of the very first Jacob, says, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times!”  That is a reference to the Hebrew meaning of Jacob, “ya-aqob.”  It is a compound of the Hebrew word for “heel,” “aqob,” and literally means, “He Grabs the Heel.”  This goes back to when the twins Esau and Jacob were born.  Esau was born first, and his brother came out grabbing Esau’s heel.  And so he was called “ya-aqob,” “Jacob,” “He Grabs the Heel.”

But, it means more than that.  The dictionary says that in English a “heel” can mean a “contemptible person.”  “Jacob” has basically the same meaning in Hebrew, a contemptible person, in particular a person who is deceptive, who takes dishonest advantage.  “He Grabs the Heel” means he doesn’t play fair or by the rules.  The British would say it’s “not cricket,” or “according to Hoyle,” and he’s a “bad egg.”

Our Summer Sermon Series is on Life Lessons from the Old Testament.  These are not only positive examples, but also negative examples that we can learn from.  As Paul says in Romans, “EVERYTHING that was written in the past was written to teach us.” 

There is such a negative example with the parents of Esau and Jacob, Isaac and Rebekah.  For, Genesis tells us, “Isaac . . . loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”  That is the background of today’s Old Testament Reading.  The tragic results of this favoritism Isaac and Rebekah showed toward their sons, which split their family apart, is itself a sad but important negative example and lesson for all parents.

A few chapters earlier in Genesis we read how Jacob tricked Esau into selling him his birthright as the firstborn son. But, there was still the custom of fathers bestowing a final blessing upon their sons, and great importance was attached to this blessing.  So, Isaac could yet give special honor to his favored son, Esau.  Until, in today’s Old Testament Reading, Rebekah helps Jacob deceptively steal that from Esau too.

And it was all so completely pointless and unnecessary.  For, even while their mother Rebekah was pregnant Esau and Jacob, the Lord had explained to Rebekah, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be born of you . . . and the older will serve the younger.” 

The great glory of the Hebrew people was that the human ancestry of the promised Messiah would be traced through them, as the Lord had promised Isaac’s father, and Esau and Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, “Through your Descendant all nations on earth will be blessed.” God had already decided even before Esau and Jacob were born that the Messiah’s lineage would not not through Abraham, Isaac, and Esau, but through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

This fantastic spiritual honor and blessing was far greater and more glorious than anything Esau would receive as firstborn.  Jacob should be assured that he and his line will endure and be greatly blessed, for through him the Messiah will come.  But, Jacob and his mother Rebekah don’t trust God, or treasure this spiritual promise and blessing. 

They were an extremely wealthy family, and Jacob and Rebekah’s focus is instead on earthly treasure, material things.  They fear that Jacob will be left out by father Isaac, who favors Esau.  And, so, Jacob lives up—or rather down—to his name, and resorts to scheming and deception.  “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob?” says Esau. “He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!”

It is a really strange quirk of history that 4,000 years after this family drama so long ago and far away the #1 boy’s name —by far—in 21st century America is Jacob.  But, perhaps that is appropriate.  For, like Jacob of old, we often focus more on material things than spiritual blessings.  Like Jacob of old, we often resort to scheming and deception.  Like Jacob of old, we are contemptible sinners in the sight of God.

Later, the feud between Esau and Jacob became so bad that Esau planned to kill Jacob, and Jacob had to flee far away from the very home and all the things he had schemed to get.  But, that low point was also a turning point in Jacob’s life.

As he fled he had a dream, from which we get the expression “Jacob’s Ladder.” “He saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. . .  All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your Descendant.”

At this low point in his life, when his schemes have all failed, when his attempt to deceitfully inherit his father’s estate has forced him instead to leave it all behind and run away, God reaffirms to him the promise of the Messiah, the Savior.  “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your Descendant.”  That promise was God’s Absolution, God’s word of grace and forgiveness, for the chastened and despairing and repentant Jacob.

There is another Bible name with a very significant meaning.  In Hebrew “Joshua” is actually “Yeshua,” and means “The Lord My Savior.”  The Greek form of Joshua is Jesus.  That’s what Jesus would have actually been called during his lifetime, Yeshua, “The Lord My Savior.”  And that’s who Jesus is, the great Descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through whom all peoples on earth are blessed, the promised Messiah, the Lord YOUR Savior. 

When your sinful schemes go wrong, when you are chastened and despairing, when you reach that low point in life, God has also for you Good News of Absolution, grace, forgiveness.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. . .  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”

The life lesson we learn from Jacob is to treasure above anything earthly and material this promised heavenly inheritance.  Paul puts it this way in 1st Timothy: “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

The solo which opened today’s service, which is a paraphrase of Psalm 42, puts it this way: “I want You more than gold or silver, only You can satisfy; I love You more than any other, so much more than anything.”


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