Have you heard of “The secret”? It’s the new self-help program around at the moment. It’s advertised as the new era for humankind. The discovery of the secret laws and principles of the Universe.
There’s the movie, the book, the CD’s, the DVD’s, the Oprah special. They’re selling them by the truckloads.
It was actually a brilliant marketing campaign invented by a Melbourne TV producer called Rhonda Byrne,
But the basic idea’s not really new at all. It’s just been re-packaged very cleverly. All the answers to what you want out of life can be found INSIDE YOURSELF. Just think good thoughts. Be positive. Negative thoughts are for losers. Dream dreams. Take steps to achieve them. And the Universe has a way of enabling you to DO it. It’s called the law of attraction. A person’s thoughts (conscious and unconscious), emotions, beliefs and actions are said to attract corresponding positive and negative experiences “through the resonance of their energetic vibration.
Here’s what one website says.
You’ll learn how to use The Secret in every aspect of your life — money, health, relationships, happiness, and in every interaction you have in the world. You’ll begin to understand the hidden, untapped power that’s WITHIN YOU, and this revelation can bring joy to every aspect of your life. You’ll read of people who, by applying the knowledge of The Secret, have compelling stories of eradicating disease, acquiring massive wealth, overcoming obstacles, and achieving what many would regard as impossible.
In other words, there’s nothing stopping you becoming a SELF-MADE man. What an incredibly seductive idea- you can control your own destiny. You can have what you want. You don’t have to DEPEND on anyone. You don’t have to ANSWER to anyone. It’s all about YOU.
It’s a load of new-age mumbo-jumbo, and it’s wrong on SO many levels. But it’s THIS one I want to focus on.
It’s making YOURSELF into GOD. Thinking that YOU control your destiny. Whatever comes your way/ is because you’re a self-made man or woman.
It’s the sort of product Jacob would have SNAPPED UP if it had been around in HIS day. A tool to help him get what he wanted. Because being a SELF-MADE man is what Jacob’s got his heart set on.
This morning we’re following a quick 20 years in the life of a self-made man. From rags to riches. Ups and downs. Someone who thinks positive thoughts, and puts it into practice. And seems to end up with exactly what he wants.
But there are lessons to be learned. And in the end we find that despite all his plans and schemes. He’s not a self-made man at all. But a GOD-MADE man. Just like God’s been promising his family for more than a century.
This morning we’re picking up the twisted tale of Jacob. Whose name means the grasping one. Who we saw a couple of weeks ago threw a clever switch, dressed up like his older brother, and cheated his way into his father’s blessing. And now his brother wants to KILL HIM.
So Genesis 28 verse 10, Jacob’s on the run. Heading for his uncle Laban. Where we’re going to find the tables are turned. And grasping Jacob is going to learn some big lessons. Which you may well want to say, serves him right.
Stairway to Heaven
But before we get there, we need to notice that his journey’s interrupted in a most unusual way.
Genesis 28 verse 11, Jacob stops for the night by the side of the road; and he grabs a rock for a pillow. Now, the beds at church camp were pretty uncomfortable – but nowhere near as bad as THAT!
It’s a pretty sorry little scene, isn’t it? Leaving everything behind. All the blessings he’s manipulated his way into. Family. The flocks and possessions he’s grown up with. And it’s come to this. A brother behind him who wants him dead. Camping by the side of the road. All on his own. With NOTHING. With a pillow that feels as hard as a rock… Because it IS a rock. The only way he can go from here is UP.
But then he has a dream. It’s a FAMOUS dream. Particularly because of the Led Zeppelin song from the 70s called “Stairway to Heaven”.
Here he is. Asleep on his rock. And he dreams, you’ll see there in verse 12, of a stairway. Reaching all the way from heaven to earth. Genesis 28 verse 12.
“He had a dream in which 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. And there above it stood the Lord.”
Heaven and earth are connected. And here he is/ right at the man-hole into the ceiling of heaven. The portal between heaven and earth. Where the angels come and go.
Have you seen that new show Primeval? Saturday night Ch 9. Science Fiction. It’s about some scientists who discover portals between the time of dinosaurs and the present. And these weird prehistoric animals keep finding their way into modern London. Just walking around. Incredible!
Well that’s what Jacob sees in his dream. Except between HEAVEN and EARTH.
And as God speaks, Jacob’s told that this pivotal point in the universe is going to be his. Because God’s going to GIVE it to him.
And all the promises to Abraham are restated. This time for JACOB.
And Verse 16, Jacob wakes up in awe; in awe of the place he’s been lying. And he sets up his pillow rock as a place marker. And renames it Beth-El, the house of God. Because he’s been sleeping at the front door of heaven without knowing it. And makes a vow in verse 20, and says, if God will be with me, if he’ll give me food and clothes so I get back to dad’s place in one piece, the he’ll be MY God.
Advantage Deceiver- Chapter 29
So Chapter 29. Back on the road. And he comes to the land of his uncle Laban; and there’s a crowd of shepherds at a well. They’re from Haran where he’s heading, and they know his uncle. And what do you know, verse 6, here comes his cousin Rachel, with the sheep. Cue the romantic music.
And when Jacob sees the gorgeous Rachel turning up at the well, he’s smitten. And he gets such a surge of testosterone that in verse 10, he single handedly heaves the stone away from the mouth of the well and waters her sheep.
And verse 12 to 14, her dad Laban invites him home. Which one commentator says, is like a spider inviting a fly into its web.
Now here’s where I want to put you on IRONY ALERT. Have a look for the PAY-BACK. Some people would call it cosmic KARMA. Which is really the hand of God.
Because Laban’s actually got two daughters. Leah, the older one, according to verse 17 has weak eyes. We’re not quite sure EXACTLY what it means. But, it’s not hard to work out the GIST of it. By comparison, she was at the back of the line when they were handing out the good looks in this family. Because look at how Rachel’s described. The younger daughter. Lovely in form. And beautiful.
Laban says, You’ve been working for me. Tell me what your wages should be. And Jacob knows exactly what he wants. He says to him in verse 18, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”
Now if you’ve got a suspicious sort of mind, you’ll notice verse 19 isn’t really a definite answer, is it? It’s actually one of those deals with a loophole big enough to drive a camel through. Laban says, “I suppose it’s better I give her to you than some other man. stay here with me.”
But Jacob doesn’t seem to notice. V20. In this heartwarmingly romantic verse, serves for seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.
And so, v22, fast-forward to the wedding. The party goes well into the night. And Laban’s about to pull a switch. It’s hard to imagine. I can only think there’s a mix of alcohol, darkness, and lots of veils involved. But the fact is, Jacob wakes up in the morning, and verse 25 says there was Leah! The Hebrew literally says. “And it was morning. And BEHOLD, LEAH!”
The sisters have been switched. I mean, who’d be cruel enough to pull a trick like that? To fool someone who’s in the dark/ by switching the children around. The older for the younger?
It’s just what Jacob did with his dad and Esau.
But Jacob obviously doesn’t see the irony. He’s spitting chips. What have you done to me? I served you for Rachel didn’t I? Why have you DECEIVED me?
Just what ESAU accused JACOB of.
But Jacob, who switched the younger for the older in his own family, gets put firmly in his place. “Keep THIS ONE, and I’ll throw the OTHER one in with the deal. IF you give me another seven years work.”
And Jacob agrees. He always wants to REVERSE things. Always wants to JUMP THE QUEUE. And now it’s costing him another seven years. And he ends up with two wives. Instead of the one wife he most wanted. And two concubines as well.
And so the seeds are sown for another whole generation of family favouritism. And potential disaster. Verse 30, “Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel MORE than Leah.
Meet the Kids (29:31-30:24)
And the next section is the sorry tale of what happens when you play favourites like that. Leah’s the UNLOVED wife. And Rachel the BARREN.
Which we’ll skip through with just ONE comment. It’s like a baby making competition. Both wives trying to vie for the affection of their husband.
And by the end of it, there’s 12 sons. Who go on to make up the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel. Perhaps not the happiest mob, but they’re GROWING.
The Self-Made Man (30:25-43)
At which point, Jacob decides it’s time to leave Laban… and head home. But Laban tries to change his mind. Not because of LOVE mind you – just GREED. He says in verse 27, I want you to stay, because I’ve learned by divination that THE LORD, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, has BLESSED me because of you.
Except it’s interesting, Jacob seems to think it’s more HIM and a bit less God. Take a look at verse 29, “You know how I HAVE WORKED FOR YOU and how your livestock has fared under MY CARE. The little you had before I CAME has increased greatly… and, the Lord has blessed you where-ever I’VE BEEN. But now… I WANT TO DO SOMETHING FOR MYSELF.”
Which pretty much sums Jacob up, doesn’t it? THE SELF MADE MAN. I’ve discovered The Secret. I’ve got the positive thoughts. I’m making plans. I’m attracting all the positive energy in the universe.
And here’s his plan. V32. “We’ll split the flocks. I’ll take the spotted and speckled goats and the dark lambs. You take the white ones. And let me build up a herd THAT way.
Now you should know by now, Laban can’t be trusted. Though neither can Jacob. But watch this. Verse 34. “I agree. Let it be as you’ve said. You have the patchy ones, I’ll have the plain ones.”
But then as soon as the words are out of his mouth, he sends his sons to take all the speckled ones to a paddock three days away; so when Jacob looks for the speckled ones, he gets nothing.
At which point you get the very curious details of Jacob’s selective breeding program. Verse 37 to 42, a step by step description of the way Jacob’s going to make more spotted sheep for himself… by mating them in front of tree branches that he’s ripped bits of bark off to make them dappled.
Sort of BRAINWASH the sheep into having patchy lambs by looking at patchy tree branches. (If that works, you’d better check the sort of wallpaper in your bedroom!)
It’s a kind of combination of superstition and smarts. Genetics mixed with superstition. Because as well as the spotted stick method, the smart thing he’s doing is selectively breeding the strong ones. That’s in v41. And in the end, the weak white animals go to Laban and the strong dappled ones to Jacob.
And by verse 43, years later, Jacob, THE SELF MADE MAN, has grown exceedingly prosperous.
Heading Home (Gen 31)
At which point, it really IS time to go home. He’s been there 20 long years. And God’s spoken to him again. “Go back to the land of your fathers and your relatives, (Ch 31 verse 3), and I WILL BE WITH YOU.
I wonder if that’s a reminder to Jacob of why he’s really prospered? Because He finally seems to have worked it out. Have a look at what Jacob says in verse 4 of chapter 31, “It’s time to go. It’s GOD who’s prospered me. V5. he’s been WITH me. V6 HE hasn’t allowed Laban to harm me. Or v9. GOD has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me.
Down to verse 12. It wasn’t my speckled bits of wood after all. He says, God spoke to me in a dream, and said have a look. Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted. I’ve seen how Laban’s treated you. And I’VE MADE IT THAT WAY.
In other words, it’s not YOUR magic. YOUR cleverness. You schemes or plans. It’s not the law of attraction. Or your positive thinking. IT’S MY BLESSING.
And Jacob finally seems to be coming around to the realisation. He obeys God, and heads home. … Except he sneaks off without saying goodbye. They leave, verse 20, without a word.
He’s fled his HOME to come to LABAN; Now he’s fleeing Laban. And heading HOME. He might be rich. He might have a growing family. But where-ever he goes, he ends up ON THE RUN. He deceives Esau and has to leave. Now he’s deceived Laban, and has to leave. And he’s heading back to Esau. Who, as far as anyone knows, still wants to KILL him.
And, jump down to chapter 32, and I guess it’s no surprise, Jacob’s AFRAID. He’s sending messengers. He’s sending gifts. And he’s in fear and distress.
Verse 6, he hears that Esau’s coming to meet him, with FOUR HUNDRED MEN. The lynching party. And it seems like the self made man has finally run out of plans. His bag of tricks is empty.
Verse 7, “In great fear and distress, Jacob divides the people who are with him into two groups; and the animals as well” – so at least one group might escape. Jacob thinks it’s the end. Cutting his losses. Resigning himself to losing HALF his people.
(slowly) But then in verses 9 to 12 he PRAYS. I mean, I wonder if this is the point we’ve been waiting for? A prayer where I reckon for the first time, he TOTALLY GETS IT RIGHT. Because you can’t think positive thoughts, and look for the answers inside YOURSELF. And then PRAY. The two don’t go together.
Because to PRAY is to admit WEAKNESS. To admit that the answers are OUT-side yourself. That GOD is the one who changes things. Which is, of course, exactly the way things are.
Which is what Jacob realises. Because he’s finally HUMBLED before God, and his brother as well. And the God of his fathers has finally become HIS God as well.
Read his words. Verse 9.
“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you prosper…’ I AM UNWORTHY” – verse 10 – “of all the kindness and faithfulness you’ve shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan before… but now I’m two groups.”
And it’s NOT because I’m a self made man. It’s not because of my grasping, or my clever con-jobs, or my spotted bits of wood. It’s because YOU’VE PUT UP WITH ME. And BLESSED me. So save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau… for I am afraid. I’m afraid he’ll come and attack me and also the mothers with their children.
V12. But you have said, I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which can’t be counted.
And he throws himself… ON THE PROMISES OF GOD. Then with I think a genuine humility… sends gifts of animals ahead to his brother. And he says, when Esau asks who they’re from, say this, verse 18. Say they’re from your servant Jacob. Who wanted to Lord it over you. “Say they’re a gift… sent to MY LORD Esau.”
And so Jacob’s gifts go on ahead of him, while he spends the night on his own. The self made man. Verse 23; After he’d sent his wives and his sons across the stream, he sends his possessions as well. As night falls. And Jacob is left alone. With nothing except his staff. Just as he was at the start.
(pause) Have you ever been in that sort of situation? You’d trusted in all your STUFF? Perhaps it was family? Or job? Or physical ability? Or nice home? Or carefully-laid plans? You were doing very nicely, thank you very much. A self-made man or woman. But then something happened. And it all VANISHED.
Perhaps it was unemployment, or financial deal gone bad. Or illness, or divorce, or death. And everything you’d ever trusted in was STRIPPED AWAY. GONE.
Except he’s not ALL alone. Because suddenly, in verse 24, there’s someone WRESTLING with him… and it goes on all night til daybreak. One of the weirdest scenes in the whole of the bible.
But I think in a way, it’s a kind of EXPLANATION of what’s happened already… in Jacob’s humble prayer. And a picture of his whole life up to this point.
They wrestle. And the man can’t overpower him, verse 23, so he touches the socket of his hip… and dislocates it with a touch. But Jacob clings on. The man says, let me go, it’s daybreak. Jacob says, I won’t let you go unless you bless me. I’m holding on.
The man says, “What’s your name?”
Jacob. The grasper.
And then the man says in verse 28, your name’s not going to be Jacob any more. No more grasping. Because now you’ve got it. Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel… because you have struggled with God and with men, and have overcome.
And so that’s his name. Israel. Struggler with God. The name that passes down to a nation. Of future strugglers with God.
Look, I don’t know what’s going on. Who’s the mystery man? And Jacob’s in the dark about it as well. Except he somehow knows he’s been face to face with God. And he’s kept at it and he’s held on. And there’s no more running away.
It’s almost as if his prayer, as if by coming to the end of his own resources… he’s finally learned what it means to cling to the promises of God. That’s the wrestle he’s had in the past 20 years. And so verse 30, he calls the place Peniel, which means face of God… and he limps away with the rising sun at his back… somehow a broken but a better man. To face up to his brother with his 400 men.
Is that a point YOU’VE got to? Have you DONE the struggling? The wrestling with God? The grasping for what YOU want? And how you want it done?
Have you got to the point Jacob got to? Did it take 20 years?
The reality is/ we’ve got it so much better than Jacob. Fair enough, we may not have the visions Jacob did. But the New Testament says MEETING GOD is now so much clearer and easier. Because instead of grappling in the dark, instead of a mysterious ladder into heaven, we’ve got God’s revelation of himself in his son.
Turn quickly if you can to John’s gospel.
Jacob called the place Peniel. Because in the darkness he says he’s come face to face with God.
But John says this. We’ve come face to face with God TOO. Chapter 1 verse 18. No one has ever seen God. But God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.
God has become flesh once and for all… in the person of his Son Jesus Christ. God has become knowable… not by a dream of a ladder or a dark wrestling stranger… but in the word become flesh.
Jesus picks up on the Jacob story in John 1 verse 51. The dream of the stairway to heaven, the connecting place between God and man. He’s calling his first disciples. Nathanael is amazed – because Jesus knows stuff about him that he can’t possibly know. And Jesus says this. He says forget the stairway. John 1:51. “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the son of man.” By which he means, I’m the stairway – the connection… between heaven and earth.
Much easier than Jacob.
But in another way, the point you’ve come to is exactly the same. Because Jesus says, if you want to know God… humble yourself… and come to me. Not as a self made success story. But humbled in heart.
If you haven’t made the connection with God, maybe it’s time you came limping home. To the God who MADE. Who’s CALLED you. Who’s got wonderful PROMISES for you. And a wonderful PURPOSE. Come home to the place where heaven and earth connect. Come home to Jesus.
Julia Ross lives in a $21 million dollar house overlooking Sydney Harbour. It was, when she bought it, the second highest price ever paid for a house in Australia. Julia Ross has created a business empire that’s made her what the media calls Australia’s richest self-made woman. She says, she has never doubted her ability. She says, I can look at Kerry Packer, and I think there’s nothing he does that I couldn’t do.
There’s only one problem. Listen to this. And I’m quoting from the article in Good Weekend Magazine. The closing words. “I’ve put in the hard yards, and life has been kind to me,” says Ross. It’s just that she finds herself with a slightly hollow feeling. “You spend all that time trying to do something or get somewhere,” she says, “and as soon as you’re there, it’s, ‘Well, what was that all about?'”
That sounds like a Jacob moment. All alone. In the dark. Wondering about where life’s ended up.
Self made woman. Self made man. But the question is, what have you made yourself? Why have you bothered? When you’ve arrived…where exactly have you got to? And what exactly are you…