It is interesting that some people offer an excuse that they can’t come to church or they can’t be a Christian because they’re not good enough. Obviously the goal of church and Christianity is to make people more holy and Christlike but there has never been a holiness requirement to get in the doors of a church.
Instead, the Bible is full of scoundrels whom God chooses to use for His purposes and in spite of their flaws. Jacob is one of many of these less than perfect people. From the time of his birth, it would appear that Jacob has been branded. Even before his birth it was prophesied that he, the younger would be the greater of the brothers.
At his birth, Jacob came out second, holding onto his brother’s heel. Thus he was named Jacob which means “he grasps the heel.” But this name has a double meaning – grasping the heel is a Hebrew idiom for a deceiver. Now you’ll certainly think that this is a very odd thing to mean deceiver but we actually have a very similar expression in English. If someone is deceiving another person in a joking manner we might say that they’re “pulling someone’s leg.” The English expression might even be derived from the Hebrew one but I couldn’t begin to tell you how the expression ever came to be. For our purposes it’s important to note that Jacob is named as a deceiver at his birth and he will live up to that reputation.
There is a bit of family heritage of deception for Jacob to follow. We don’t think of Abraham and Isaac as deceivers so much but they both played the same trick, and Abraham did it more than once. Because they thought that powerful men might kill them in order to take their wives they lied and said that she was a sister instead.
In Genesis 27 Isaac is old and believes that he is about to die. He calls his son Esau in and asks that he prepare his favorite meal and then he will bless Esau. Rebekah overhears this and hurriedly puts a plan in motion that allows Jacob to steal the blessing.
Jacob has already obtained the birthright from Esau in a less deceptive manner. In short, his brother sold it for a bowl of soup because he was hungry. A birthright traditionally meant that the eldest son received a double portion of the inheritance at the passing away of his father. So this wasn’t just a symbolic thing but it was a very substantial amount of money that was paid for a bowl of soup.
With the blessing however, Jacob intentionally deceives his father. He wears his brother’s clothing in order to smell like him and covers his arms and neck with fur because his brother is a hairy man. This wouldn’t work if Isaac’s eyesight wasn’t failing but it is enough to trick his father into blessing him instead of his brother Esau.
This isn’t the end of deception in Jacob’s life however. Unfortunately for him he will be the victim of deception as well. Deception runs in his family not only from his father and grandfather but also on his mother’s side. Rebekah played her own role in the deception of her husband Isaac. But her brother Laban was also a deceiver.
As Jacob reaches his mother’s home he meets Rachel and immediately falls in love. He agrees to work for Laban for seven years to be allowed to marry Rachel. On the wedding night however, Jacob is deceived and the marriage is consummated with Leah in the darkness of the night.
After seeing what has taken place, Laban tells Jacob that tradition is that the oldest daughter must be married first. Whether that was an actual tradition or not, seven years time would have been an ample amount in order to warn Jacob of this. Instead, Jacob must work another seven years for Rachel. The only upside to this ordeal is that he is allowed to marry Rachel “on credit” so to speak and can marry her as soon as the bridal week is completed with Leah.
The deception continues after Jacob has paid his 14 years of service to Laban. He works for another 6 years and during that time Laban changes his wages 10 times. Finally it is time to leave Laban but Jacob is afraid of a direct confrontation with his father-in-law so he leaves without warning. Genesis 31:20 describes the situation succinctly: Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away.
Still there is one final deception involving Laban. Rachel took her father’s household gods when they left but didn’t tell Jacob this. There’s no indication why she did this. They could have been valuable or it may have been a way of getting revenge on her father for the way he treated Jacob.
When Laban catches up to Jacob, because he didn’t know that Rachel had taken the idols, he states that anyone who is found with them will be put to death. Obviously he would not have made such a statement if he had not been deceived by Rachel and not told about her theft. Rachel then deceives her father by sitting on the idols and telling him that she can’t get up because she is having her period.
Even though Jacob has been blessed by God and has been following Him in his life, he will have a life changing experience when he wrestles with God. Then Jacob’s name is changed from deceiver to Israel which means “he struggles with God.” Jacob is no longer the deceiver that he once was. But that doesn’t mean that his children still haven’t learned his ways.
Jacob is the victim of one more deception and it is perhaps crueler than any other that he was the cause of or the victim of. Because of the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers, they sold Joseph into slavery but led Jacob to believe that he had been killed by a wild animal. They even brought back his infamous coat of many colors covered in blood.
Jacob’s life was surrounded by deception and he was a victim of it as often as he was the culprit. He had a family heritage of deception and ultimately he paid the price by passing the deception onto his children who ultimately deceived him as well.