by Matt Erickson
(Editor’s note: This is the 5th post in a series through Hebrews 11 called “In the Shadow of the Cloud.” We will be exploring what we can learn from those mentioned in this clouds of witnesses section.)
One of the most famous stories in the life of Jacob is the dream he has of angels ascending and descending a stairway or ladder between heaven and earth in Genesis 28. In the midst of this dream, God reaffirms to Jacob the same promises He made with Abraham and Isaac about making a great and blessed nation from Jacob and his descendants, as well as “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:14). What is ironic about this situation is that God is affirming His promises and mission for the world even as Jacob is running away from his family after stealing his brother’s birthright and blessing by deceiving his father.
If you read through Jacob’s story, you may begin to wonder whether Jacob really belongs in the roll call of faith heroes in Hebrews 11. He deceives his father, his brother, his uncle, and his neighbors. He seems bent on his own gain. He seems to avoid direct conflict even as he seems to leave conflict in his wake. He plays favorites with his wives and his children, causing great tensions between his own family members. In one sense, Jacob is a mess.
However, if we step back for perspective and get a little bit more honest, we realize that we are not that different from Jacob. Jacob’s particular sins and weaknesses may not be ours, yet we also have our particular sins and weaknesses. We may not always see them, but others probably do.
There is another story from Jacob’s life that most of us know found in Genesis 32. There by the fords of the River Jabbok, Jacob wrestles with the angel of the Lord before crossing the river and returning to his homeland. After years of running from his past, Jacob is marked by a powerful encounter with God that leaves his hip dislocated. In this weakened state, Jacob receives a new blessing with a new name from God: Israel—one who struggles with God.
And so Jacob is marked by God and his life becomes a sign of God’s grace in calling and blessing ordinary, weak people. Jacob’s witness to God takes unexpected pathways of failure and is refreshed with unexpected grace.
The fact that Jacob’s story is told so honestly in the Bible reminds us that God is weaving grace and truth into our weakness for His glory. He is a witness to us that these things can be true for us as well.
On the one hand, we all come as ordinary, weak people in life. Jacob stumbles over his own failure and sin, yet God still takes Jacob in His hands to accomplish His purposes of blessing the nations. Remember today that God is willing to work through ordinary, weak people like you, me, and Jacob to accomplish His mission to the world.
On the other hand, remember that God uses the weak places in our lives to testify to His grace and truth just as much as the strong places. While we usually celebrate the eye-catching achievements of humanity such as MVP athletes and Nobel-worthy discoveries, we must remember that even the weak areas of our lives can witness to God’s glory. As we yield to God, our weaknesses are filled with grace that testifies to a good God at work in the world. We do not stay put in our sin and weakness, but God displays His power in us for greater glory to His name. The Apostle Paul knew this and it actually became a source of boasting for him (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:9). We do not need to be afraid of our weakness.
The life of gospel witness flows from who we are and God’s real work within us. Even our weak lives, like the life of Jacob, taken in God’s hands shine the brilliance of Him who is the light of the world.