Transformation of a Trickster

Bible Book: Genesis  28
Subject: Transformation

Great people are just ordinary people who have turned their lives over to the extraordinary God.

It is not their ability that made them great, but their availability to God's ability. They were God's project, and God never fails.

This is seen in the life of Jacob. He was a con man who became God's man. He, who had done mean things by trickery, did mighty things by truthfulness. Let us study the transformation of this trickster!

I. The Choice

If you were responsible for selecting twelve men to evangelize the world, would you choose a man who allowed a servant-girl to frighten him from following the Lord, who went back to his old habits and haunts when his Leader died a tragic death? Yet the Lord chose Peter, and that is what he did.

If you were responsible for selecting a man to write a book about sacrifice and righteousness, would you choose a man who bled his people white to satisfy his thirst for money, and who bled even whiter the people for whom he worked? Would you choose a crooked, despised wretch? Yet the Lord chose Matthew to write the book that bears his name, and that is what he did and was.

One night, when renegades were marching our Lord in a mocking manner, a young man stepped out of a building, wrapped only in a bedsheet. The soldiers chased him, and he ran, losing his sheet in the flight. The crowd laughed and moved on. Later, when the going got tough, he deserted a great missionary. If you were selecting a man to write a book on loyalty, would you choose him? Yet the Lord chose Mark to write the book that bears his name. And that is what he did.

If you were responsible for selecting a man to found a nation, would you choose one who cheated his own father, his own brother and his own father-in-law? Would you choose one who was continually cheating, grasping and scheming? Yet that is what our Lord did. He chose Jacob, the world's greatest con artist; the world's most despicable deceiver.

This brings out the grace and greatness of our Lord. Every problem was a possibility in disguise. Crookedness was an opportunity for straightening. A feeble faith was an opportunity for strengthening. Timidity was an opportunity for conquering.

His followers were men of broken speech, a poor background. Many times they were unstable, uncertain and undependable. But look what our Lord did for them and through them!

That reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:27-31. "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom for God - that is - our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ' Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'"

II. The Cognizance

God is the God of the sinner. He delights to begin where man begins to despair. He comes to us just where and when we need Him most, and He delivers the trusting soul from defeat to victory. He can see the end from the beginning, and He saw attractiveness in unattractive Jacob, and He started out on a life-changing mission.

Jacob, you know, had a brother named Esau. His father, Isaac, loved Esau. But his mother, Rebekah, loved him. One day the Lord said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; and the older will serve the younger."

"But," you ask, "why did the Lord reveal this to her and not to her husband?" He was more interested in gormandizing than God. Instead of mastering his body, his body mastered him. You get a glimpse of this in Genesis 25:28, "Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob."

III. The Chase

In Jacob we see not so much the perseverance of the saints, but the perseverance of the Savior. He leaves no unfinished task. Philippians 1:6 guarantees, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Francis Thompson, like Jacob, ran from God. He went from mischief to misery until at last he was mastered by the mercy of God. He expressed his experience like this:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him; and under running laughter

Up vistaed slopes I fled

And shot precipated

Adown the titanic gloom of chasmed fears

From those strong feet that followed,

Followed after.

A. The Dream

There are four encounters in the chase. Let us look at the first. Jacob left home and he stopped to camp at sundown. He found a rock and he used it for a headrest, and he went to sleep. He had a dream that night. He saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and the angels of God were going up and down on it.

Did you get that? God met Jacob at the bottom of the ladder. Not to offer him a load, but a lift; not a burden, but a blessing. And that is where He meets you, to take your trouble and turn it into triumph. And God always makes the first move.

God said to Jacob, "I am with thee," what a presence. He continued in Genesis 28:15, "I will keep thee," what protection. And He added, "I will bring thee again into this land," what a promise. You and I can enjoy the same presence and protection, if only we put our trust in Him.

Jacob was so thrilled that he named the place Bethel, which means House of God. And he vowed a vow, but soon forgot it.

How much like Jacob we are! We bow the knees in repentance, but later bow the neck in rebellion. We take up the cross, but when we see the cost we use it as an ornament of delight and not as an object of death.

Look at Elijah. He triumphed in faith on top of the mountain, calling down fire from the altar of heaven. But later he trembled with fear at the root of the tree.

And there was Peter. He warmed his heart at the Savior's fire, declaring his Lord. But a little later warmed his hands at Satan's fire, denying his Lord.

Well, Jacob went on his journey and the Lord prospered him. When a man begins to make money, it is a question as to whether God will gain a fortune or lose a man. In this case, God did not gain a fortune. It seemed he almost lost the man.

B. The Struggle

Let us look at the second encounter. By this time Jacob reached the age of one hundred. For about twenty years he served his uncle Laban, and he is the Shylock of the Scriptures.

You and I are always concerned as to where our family and friends will work. We try to choose pleasant condition and congenial people. But God is more concerned with maturity than mirth, with development than delight. He will not spare pain if it will mean spiritual profit. So He brought Jacob to Laban, a man more crooked and contemptible than himself. But all the time Jacob was there, the Lord did not allow Laban to do him any harm. And should the Lord lead you to labor with a Laban, put it down He will make it work for your good! And you will not lose by it. O, if Laban had had his way, Jacob would not have left with anything, but the Lord saw to it that he left with great gain.

So Jacob and his household started on their trip and he heard that Esau was on his way to meet him with four hundred men. What an army! Jacob was frantic with fear. What did he do? First, he started  to plan. He divided his household into two groups, thinking if Esau attacks on group, maybe the other will escape. Second, he started to pray. But the prayer was selfish. It was for his skin, not his spiritual life. Then what did he do? He decided on propitiating his brother with a gift. The con man is at it again. He did not send all of his animals at once. He sent section by section, thinking he could appease Esau with gifts. Then he sent his wives.

But look how the Lord allowed him to arrange the program that went so well with His pattern. The Lord wanted Jacob all alone, and that is how He got him.

The Bible says, "Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak." Who started that wrestling match? The man. And who was that man? The Lord.

All through his life, Jacob felt that he could bully or bluff his way through. He was outstanding our outwitting his opponent. Now Jacob was really up against it. Until now he had never suffered defeat. But he had never been up against such a person. Just before dawn the Lord struck Jacob's hip and knocked it out of joint. Why did He not do it sooner? He desired to give Jacob the privilege of surrendering willingly. With no strength or skill, Jacob wrapped his arms around Him. Then the Lord said, "Let Me go, for it is daybreak." Why should the Lord say that? Can it be that he didn't believe that the miracle had already happened? No, it was just to let Jacob really voice his decision.

You see, if the Lord really departs from a man, it is tragic. Think of Samson. He said, "I will go out as before and shake myself free. But he did not know that the Lord had left him." But now Jacob realizes that he needs the Lord more than he needs life itself. And he said, "I will not let You go unless You bless me." What a prayer. It was detained omnipotence. And Jacob, who was overcome, is now an overcomer. Through his defeat he won a great victory.

But his name hung like a millstone around his neck. He was a cheat, a fraud, a sham! So the Lord asked, "What is your name?" That is, "Jacob, do you recognize yourself for what you are? Are you now prepared to admit your sins and your shortcomings? Are you willing to turn from your crookedness and cheating?"

O, look at him. He is lying in the dust, admitting in the presence of God all that he is all that he had done in shame and in sorrow.

What happened? God said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." When God finds a person at His feet, admitting his sin and abhorring it, then he changes that person. He makes him delightfully different.

Jacob became a new man with a new name. But what about you? What is your name? Fear? Let God change it to faith. Selfishness? Let Him change is to Sympathy. Money? Let Him change it to Ministering. Are you a victim? Let Him make you a victor.

C. The Directive

Let us look at the third encounter. After the Lord changed Jacob's name, he began to live a new life. But he learned very slowly, and he did not grow in grace very fast.

One day he looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men. Instead of praying, he went to planning. Instead of faith there was fear. "But," you may say, "it was only natural for Jacob to  act his way." Natural, yes, Spiritual, no. The Lord had promised him that He would protect him.

Instead of trusting, he started to tremble. But it was all in vain. For Esau ran up to him, and embraced him affectionately. And he suggested that they go along together. "No," said Jacob, "you go on ahead of us, and we will follow." And he deceived his brother again.

Instead of going home, he pitched his tent toward Shechem. He did exactly what Lot had done. He pitched his tent in the wrong direction. And Jacob paid a paralyzing price for his sin.

Because he schemed his way out of that experience instead of trusting the Lord, shame and sorrow engulfed his family. One day Dinah, his daughter, went out to visit some of their neighbors. When a prince saw her, he took her and raped her. Then two of her brothers took their swords and slaughtered the men of the city. They rescued Dinah and returned to their camp. Then all of Jacob's sons plundered the city, taking everything they could lay their hands on, women and children and wealth of every kind.

Fortunately, God is not a man. He does not give up on His own. Spurned, He stays. Rejected, He remains. So He made one more attempt to win Jacob's wholehearted obedience. He appeared personally to him and said, "Go to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God."

D. The Name Change

Let us look at the fourth encounter. Jacob ordered all of those of his household to destroy their idols, and to wash themselves, and to put on fresh clothing.

Then they started on their journey again. The terror of God fell upon all the towns, so that no one pursued them. And he came to Bethel. There he built an altar. After he returned, God appeared to him again, and blessed him. God said to him, "Your name is Jacob. But you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." From this time on he lived up to his new name. He honored the Lord with his life and lips, and today he is listed among the heroes and heroines of faith! Thank God, failure does not have to be final!

One day an alcoholic professed conversion. Then he felt the call to the ministry, and he answered it with all his heart. He was given a church and he preached the Gospel in purity and power. Crowds came and there were conversions.

One day, months later, he was walking to church on a very cold morning. A friend came along and said, "Hop in, Sam; I'll take you to church." Riding along the man said, "It's cold, Sam, awfully cold. You're trembling with the cold. Here, Sam, here's a bottle of whiskey; take a drink. You're so cold. It looks like you're having a chill. Take a drink. It will warm you and do you good."

Sam took a drink, and another drink; and the drink took Sam. He drained the bottle. He arrived at the church dead drunk. What a disgrace! The members were horrified.

A church conference was called. Sam appeared before them. He confessed his sin with shame and sorrow. He asked for forgiveness and for another chance. "No," said a leader. "He's not worthy of another chance. Throw him out!"

"No," cried the man, "give him one more chance." "Shut up and sit down," said the leader.

"I won't shut up and I won't sit down until you give Sam another chance," he answered.

They gave Sam another chance, and Sam took it, and Sam, Sam Jones, became one of America's greatest evangelists.

Yes, failure does not have to be final. There is hope with the God of Jacob and the God of Sam Jones for any man, woman or child! Trust God with all your heart. Let Him transform you. You are God's project, and God never fails!