A life of faith is not a life of comfort. Our faith will be severely tested. Sins from our past can have lingering consequences. We are not spared tragedy and loss. Yet Jacob’s experiences remind us that it is walking by faith that gives us a God-honoring legacy.
On our Wisdom Journey in Genesis 33 through 36, we’re going to uncover three realities about our faith as we learn to walk with God. They will be demonstrated here in the life of Jacob.
The first reality is that your faith is going to develop inconsistently.
I imagine Jacob’s knees are knocking as he walks toward Esau here in chapter 33. It’s been twenty years since he had run for his life after he had deceived Esau and Esau had vowed to kill him.
He’s naturally expecting the worst, but verse 4 surprises us: “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” That was unexpected!
After these long-separated brothers dry their tears, Jacob introduces his family to Esau. He says in verse 5, “[These are] the children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Again, in verse 11 Jacob says to Esau, “God has dealt graciously with me.” This doesn’t sound like the old conniving Jacob but like a man of faith.
After this reconciliation with his brother, Jacob moves on to the land of promise and settles near the town of Shechem. We’re told at the end of chapter 33 that Jacob buys some real estate and builds an altar to thank God for bringing him safely home.
Moses, the author, pulls over for a chapter and describes a tragic incident where Jacob doesn’t act very much like a man of faith. It all begins in Genesis 34 when Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, unwisely goes out one day “to see the [Canaanite] women of the land” (verse 1).
Shechem, the son of Hamor, the ruler of the city, sees Dinah, and verse 2 records the dreadful news that “he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.” Jacob hears about the rape of Dinah, but strangely he doesn’t do anything about it. He seems afraid to confront Hamor and his son. Well, the sons of Jacob aren’t afraid—that’s for sure. We’re told in verse 7 that they are enraged.
When Shechem wants to marry Dinah and he and his father, Hamor, arrive to negotiate a marriage dowry, Jacob remains silent and allows his sons to “negotiate” with these wicked men. Verse 13 tells us, they “answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.” They appear to agree to this marriage, but they add the condition that all the men in the city of Shechem must be circumcised in order to intermarry with the family of Jacob (verse 15).
Well, Hamor thinks this is worth the trouble. In a conversation with the men of the city, Hamor and Shechem encourage them to go through with the proposed agreement. In verse 23 they argue, “Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” In other words, “Let’s get circumcised and intermarry, and we’ll eventually have everything they own.” These men have a deceptive plan of their own.
But as the men of the city are recovering from surgery, verses 25-26 record that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, “took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. They . . . took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away.”
The people of Shechem effectively reap the judgment of God for their wickedness and their deceptive intentions against God’s people. Simeon and Levi are hardly innocent, though. Jacob rebukes them and fears serious consequences from their actions.
Chapter 35 opens with God telling Jacob to go back to Bethel, which is a special place of communion with God. Jacob obeys the Lord and speaks to all his household in verse 3:
“Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
Even though his faith has been uneven and inconsistent, Jacob declares that the Lord has been with him all along and is worthy of worship and trust. In fact, he challenges his household in verse 2, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves.” He’s saying, “Let’s make a definitive stand for the Lord.”
Jacob’s walk with God isn’t going to be a secret. He’s not like many Christians today who are secret agents for God—so secret nobody knows they’re Christians! If people in your world don’t know you’re a Christian, it’s not because the timing isn’t right; it’s because you don’t want the truth to get out.
In verse 11, God repeats the covenant promises to Jacob:
“I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations
shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave
to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring
These are promises of literal blessing. Some theologians want to spiritualize these away and water them down, but they’re promises of a literal land, literal kings, and ultimately a literal Messiah, the King of Israel, who will literally descend from Jacob’s family.
And none of this will happen because Jacob was an unwavering example of faith but because God’s promises are unwavering. Jacob’s faith developed inconsistently and unevenly, just like yours and mine.
The second reality is that your faith will be tested regularly.
Somebody once said that your greatest test of faith is your next one. And that’s true. Jacob now experiences the loss of his beloved Rachel, as recorded here in chapter 35:
Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor… the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for you have another son. And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. (verses 16-18)
No doubt weeping, Jacob names this little boy, Benjamin, “son of the right hand.” This boy belongs at the right hand, the place of honor.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be handed a new baby while at the same time losing your beloved wife. Perhaps you’ve experienced this great sorrow and can understand Jacob’s great test of faith here in the plan of God for his life.
The third reality of faith, seen in the life of Jacob, is that your faith will leave behind a legacy.
Verses 23-26 of Genesis 35 lists the names of Jacob’s twelve sons. From these twelve sons, the twelve tribes of Israel will descend, and from one of them, Judah, the Savior will be born.
Esau’s legacy is recorded next; in fact, all of chapter 36 is a list of his descendants. And let me tell you, it’s a legacy of unbelief. His descendants, known as the Edomites, will become enemies of Israel and enemies of God. One day in the distant future, King Herod, a descendant of Esau, will order the deaths of all the baby boys in Bethlehem in his attempt to wipe out the newborn Messiah.
At the end of your life, you will leave a legacy. It’s not going to be measured by the size of your bank account or the square footage of your house; it will be measured by the depth of your faith and trust in God’s plans for your life.
Yes, your faith will grow inconsistently, and it’ll be tested regularly. But you can leave behind a legacy of walking with God and trusting His plans for your life.