This week’s eNewsletter Feature
was written by Jim Teague,
FPCE director of communications.
Dear friends –
Of all the details in the Bible story of Jacob’s dream of the ladder to and from heaven (Genesis 28:10-21), the one that constantly trips me up is this:
Taking one of the stones of the place, he (Jacob) put it under his head and lay down in that place.
– Genesis 28:11b
I am aware this is merely a sidenote in the passage (which will be the focus of Sunday’s sermon this week) and not something most would fixate on. If I needed to sleep with my head on a stone out in the middle of nowhere, however, not only would I have never dreamt of the angels on the ladder, but I would have turned back and said to heck with the whole plan. More than likely, I never would have started.
Sidenotes in scripture often derail me, or at least delay my arrival at the main point. (Some would say the same is true of my writing, but you have made it this far, so you might as well stay to the end, right?)
Let’s look at the name Jacob. Like most names in the Bible, Jacob translates to something about either the character of the one being named or a foreshadowing of what will happen to them. According to Abarim Publications’ Biblical Dictionary, Jacob in Hebrew has several meanings.[i]
The noun עקב (‘aqeb) means heel or rear, but may describe anything lowest, last or sequentially coming. Verb עקב (‘aqab) means to follow at the heel or supplant. Adjective עקב (‘aqeb) means overreacher; adjective עקב (‘aqob), insidious or deceitful; adjective עקב (‘aqob), tricky or treacherous (of terrain). Noun עקבה (‘aqeba) means deceitfulness and noun עקב (‘eqeb), consequence.
As a young believer, I was taught overreacher or supplanter were the equivalents for Jacob. In other words, liar or deceiver. If you look at Jacob’s story in scripture, it isn’t difficult to see the connection. He tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright and their father’s blessing. He used cunning and craftiness to get the best and most sheep from the flocks of his father-in-law, and he got into a wrestling match with the Angel of the Lord, refusing to let go without getting a blessing in return.
Not long after discovering the meaning of Jacob, I learned that my first name James is the English equivalent of Jacob (translated from the Greek, Jacobus).[ii] Terrific, right? “Jim the Liar” or “James the Supplanter” are just the kind of nicknames every new believer hopes to inherit. It touched a particularly sensitive nerve for me.
I was not a very honest individual growing up, and after coming to faith in Jesus in college I was still not very trustworthy as a young adult. I regularly let the fear of missing out or the pursuit of comfort numb me against hearing the Holy Spirit call me to pursue righteousness. It took years (much more than a few) for God to change me. He used three critical ways:
- The consequences of my actions: I damaged many, many important relationships; some of them irreparably.
- The conviction of my heart: God continued to surround me with others who led lives of powerful, intentional honesty. These include my wife, my pastors, and especially brothers in Christ who held me accountable and listened when I confessed my failures. Their witness and faithfulness over decades have been invaluable.
- The undeserved faithfulness of God: Even while I failed (another word for that would be sinned) time and time again, God continued to be present in my life. He still allowed me to find joy in being his child through worship, ministry, and unimaginable experiences with the Holy Spirit. None of these (then or now) were earned by me; they were gifts of grace to a prodigal son.
Jacob experienced similar things in his life. His treachery against his brother Esau created fear and anxiety, not to mention a strained relationship between the two of them. His own conviction was evident in his attempt to win back his brother’s affection through the many gifts he sent ahead when the two were set to meet after the death of their father. And God’s grace and presence were evident throughout his life both before and after his powerful dream in Beth-El and his wrestling match in Penuel (Genesis 32:22-32).
What I find most encouraging is that it seems Jacob was led through his life by God not because he was particularly holy or terribly talented, but rather because God has amazing plans and has put all the pieces in place to make them work out his way, not ours.
We are excited to welcome back Rev. Susan Peterson to the pulpit this Sunday at 10 a.m. worship in the Sanctuary as she brings her message to us. We hope to see you there if you can make it in person, or online if you can’t.
Continually seeking rock-free pillows,
FPCE director of communications
[i] https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Jacob.html [ii] https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/James.html