In Genesis 28-30 we see how God continues the blessing of Abraham through Jacob. Isaac affirms the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob and then sends him away both to escape the enmity of Esau and to find a wife through whom progeny would come. Esau and Jacob represent not only two nations (Edom and Israel) but contrasting destinies of cursing and blessing. As Malachi later records God’s disposition to both: “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Jacob is a recipient of and a believer in the Abrahamic blessing; while Esau in unbelief rejects the Abrahamic blessings.
However, as the story of Jacob ensues, we begin to wonder how someone as unlovely and unlovable as Jacob can be the bearer of the promise. He often uses trickery (as his name ‘heel-clutcher’ implies) to get what God has already promised. He often depends on his own strength and cleverness instead of depending on God. Nevertheless, on the way to Mesopotamia God meets him at Bethel and assures him of blessing. While in Mesopotamia he struggles with bickering wives, separation from his parents, his flight from Esau, and uncles and cousins who are self-serving; nevertheless, while there God blesses him with wives, possessions, and children. Geerhardus Vos comments on why the questionable character of Jacob is so prominent:
“This is done in order to show that the divine grace is not the reward for but the source of noble traits. Grace overcoming human sin and transforming human nature is the keynote of the revelation here.”
The Jacob narrative both humbles and encourages us as we labor in the city. We are aware of our own predisposition to find shortcuts or self-contrived means to satisfy the longing of our souls. Though we have God’s Word in the Gospel, our hearts love the lie that God’s promise in the gospel isn’t enough, so we must become clever in helping ourselves and others to find that for which their souls long. Urban centers attract people and institutions who have Jacob-like strategies for gaining the blessing of God. And, urban centers are filled with desperate people who are ready to believe the lie. As we serve in the city, we seek to be aware of the grace we need to faithfully look to the promise of the gospel and we seek to be faithful, not clever, in pointing others to the ONE who alone can satisfy the longing of their soul. Along the way, though like Jacob we slip and fall, we experience a God who is faithful and whose grace overwhelms our failures.