Friday, January 06, 2017

Jacob as Competitor

I am going to spend 2017 in a detailed study of the life of Jacob. He has always been a fascinating study and I have to admit that my human flaws are closely associated with him.

Even as I write this, I am limping from the pain of an arthritic knee that has plagued me for many months, and it makes me think of Jacob’s limp that he carried with him after his wrestling match with God.

I doubt I will be very linear in these posts and don’t even expect them to be clean and organized. But one aspect of Jacob’s life that has been interesting to me is the thought of Jacob as a competitor.

I apologize for the length of this one, but this has captured my attention for many years now and God has prompted me to flesh it out in written form. As always this is for my benefit more than those who may be reading at this time.

Where competition fits in within the Biblical guidelines for people has always intrigued me.

So what is a competitor?
Are they born that way?
What makes us compete?
And what are we seeking?

I have listed some of my more common beliefs in how a competitor grows over the course of time…..

A competitor is enhanced or held back by those he surrounds himself with.

And this may sound simple, but a competitor competes with others….

The natural instinct of any competitor is to get the energy drainers out of their way.

Often these ‘energy depleters’ are those who don’t want anything…. they aren’t hungry, they aren’t dreaming, they aren’t striving. It isn’t that they are content, it is simply they have become too complacent.

Competitors grow by surrounding themselves with passionate, confident, and motivated people….people who are unstoppable… and,to be honest, they are often illogical and unreasonable in the passionate power of their pursuits.
True competitors are the kind who dare to battle the demons of the status-quo and get a lot of detractors from doing so.

Competitors exude a passion to either conquer or die- they are ones who will push back against all conventional wisdom….. and enjoy going against the grain.

and, competitors often  achieve what was thought to be previously impossible.

When you read that kind of description- who could argue against that?… those are the winners of the world.

But the qualifying questions are: by what means and by what cost?

Years ago, I had a brief debate with an outstanding Bible teacher about whether competition is godly or ungodly. He was against all forms of competition, especially sports. His concern was that it was driven by ambition and fueled a person’s pride.

I did not agree with him then or now. God is a competitor, a worthy warrior Who excels at defeating His enemies.

The Israelites had to take possession of the land.
Yes, Jesus did have Peter put down the sword.
But watch the angels fight in Revelation.

What is the balance?

Before I get to Jacob, I think there are 4 categories of ‘human effort’ that line up in our concept of God’s control versus our freedom. And I think I could at some point compare and contrast these with what I believe are 4 freedoms in Scripture.


Any thoughtful study of Jacob can bring to light the limits of competition and a stark difference between those who compete with honor and those who fight with darker and more questionable motives and tactics.

The early story of Jacob involved two famous accounts of Jacob getting what he wanted, including the of grabbing Esau's’ birthright and later stealing his blessing. In both instances, Jacob was fulfilling a prophecy made about him and earning the reputation of his name…. ‘the deceiver’ or the ‘one who grasps the heel’.

But it doesn’t take long to understand that Jacob is a by product of his environment and his nature as well.

Both Rebekah (mom) and Isaac (dad) contributed to the dysfunction of the situation and Esau fared no better in the tale.

Isaac? Way too passive and uninvolved. Sure, his submission to Abraham on the mountain of sacrifice is commendable,but Isaac doesn’t really seem to do much or accomplish much in the narrative of God’s line of redemption. I’m not throwing stones here…. but the Bible doesn’t have many great examples of FATHERS in Scripture.Indeed, the Bible rarely portrays a true hero of the family in the long line of Biblical patriarchs. As I have written before, God as Father stands in clear contrast to the best intentions of earthly dads.

Hebrews confirms this: “For (our earthly fathers) disciplined us for a very short time as it seemed best to them, but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness” Heb. 12:10

Rebekah? Way too eager to teach the tactics of deceit and treachery, even manipulating Jacob by assuring him that if it goes bad, she will let the curse of Isaac fall on her.

And both parents suffer the consequences of playing favorites with their children. Issac more loving on the hunter, Esau and Rebekah more doting on her ‘tent dwelling’ Jacob.

I also think it is important that both parents were aware of God’s presence and the promise that the older should serve the younger. But as the Bible shows over and over again, there is serious condemnation when humans refuse to trust God in the timing and means of the fulfillment of His promises.


It would be wrong of me to label ANY of Jacob’s early conflicts as anything close to honorable. If I can give him one token of praise, it would be that he valued lasting things enough to suffer loss of temporary things in the present.

Ultimately, that is why Esau is rated so poorly in the New Testament. Esau is called ‘ungodly’ for despising his birthright for something as trivial as a bowl of soup.

Jacob had the right reward in his mind, but that is the last compliment I can give him in these early accounts of his deceit, manipulation, and trickery.


It didn’t take long for Jacob to learn that Rebekah’s family came from a long line of cheaters and Uncle Laban excelled in the scheming… he applied the con almost like an expression of art. He got 7 years of labor and someone to take care of Leah out of the bargain. Jacob though, never quit, and battled his way 7 more years for Rachel and ended up the champion. But Jacob still had battles to fight and lessons to learn….


The most glorious and important battle in any person’s life is their struggle with the Almighty. If He has left you alone and you are not struggling with Him, I fear for you. But if you just read that statement and it caused even a twinge of fear or any red flag...there is still hope.

In Genesis 32, Jacob has sent his caravan of family and possession ahead… hoping they would meet Esau first.

Then in the night, all by himself, he gets jumped by Jesus. Early in the fight, my guess is that Jacob was fighting to live and fighting off the aggressive pursuer. But somewhere along the way, the fight changed. It wasn’t Esau he was fighting. It was a ‘man’. One who had the power to knock Jacob’s hip out of joint with just a touch.

This “angel” tells him to let him go. But Jacob says NO- not until you bless me.

And at that point, Jacob not only got a new life…. he got a new name… no longer the deceiver/manipulator… he was now a God-striver.

Of everything about Jacob… that is what I want. That is the change I desire.

And it starts with an decision to stop fighting God and start clinging to Him.

Stop running away…. and start running to… start fighting for!


What are you fighting for?

The great theme of the Bible is “I will be Your God and you will be MY people” and this theme is gradually expanded and implemented through a very deep promise… more serious than even a contact.. the assumption and execution of a covenant promise. Indeed, all of the history of redemption can be laid out according to these administrations of the covenant of redemption. Beginning with Abraham and ending with Jesus, the oaths, signs, ceremonies, seasons, celebrations, daylight/darkness-  in some ways the organization of time/calendars themselves are all tutors of this grand theme.

The Grand prize of this grand scheme is God Himself…. but God is so good- he knows how to treat His children…. there is also from the very beginning  a promise of prosperity, family, land, and blessing.

So, the hard part of competition is …. there is a war going on with eternal stakes and it is time to get in the game and fight.

The beauty of the call is this… it is a worthy fight, primarily through spiritual weapons, and has already been won, we just need to be engaged… it is a blessing to do so.
Our charge is not even to win every battle, our charge is to fight every day until our last human breath, until the heartbeats of our funeral march come to the end, and every time we fall or fail… just get back up.

And life teaches us how to fight. That is why I love my involvement with football over the years… it taught me how to be a warrior… how to fight with my brothers, how to fight for my brothers.

Once I did that, transitioning to fighting as a happy warrior in the Kingdom of Christ is an easier transition.


So the title of these posts are “I Am Jacob”. I know I have the sinful characteristics of this man, but there is also a yearning in me to overcome those as he did and even have my base name/nature changed by the sanctifying process of God’s spirit.

And by all means- I want to continue to keep my competitive fire burning well into my advancing age.

I want to be like Caleb who still wanted to conquer mountains at age 80.

When I moved to Nashville in 2004 to become a head football coach, I had the opportunity to design my first ‘team shirt’ and I wanted to create an atmosphere and expectation of my players and coaches would be fierce warriors.

So I paraphrased Tennyson….

It may be that foes may wear us downIt may be we shall wear championship crowns, And be like great champions past, whom we knew. Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven…..

that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made TIRED by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and NEVER to yield.

Looking back, it was definitely too soon, too cheesy, and too weird for it to resonate on 15 year olds the way it resonated on me.

But those lines from Tennyson speak more to me now than ever before in my life.

I could spend time on the whole poem, but Tennyson knows the longing to get to the battlefield and leave a mark....

As a competitor, especially as we grow older, we are like Ulysses who soon grow weary in a life of leisure when we have tasted the fire of battles and won.

I have been still too long now- you only think that rest, leisure, and escape will still the soul.
But already I am dreaming of where to go- I need a wall and a mountain in my path I no longer need anyone to applaud my glory or understand my motives.

I love these lines- it resonates with what Jacob was finally freed of…. more on that later.

I think the mistake is thinking a person has to MOVE to find these walls or mountains. Too often men apply the wrong opportunity to their desire to keep charging… it isn’t a new wife, or new job, or new car, or new life… it is simply opening your eyes to the opportunities around you and dare to make a difference.

My scars are all that must stay attached
I long to remember the important things forgotten in the fog of battles that few recall
It is a loss to know that everywhere I have been is now long behind me, but I carry parts of every stop ahead in me
I am weary from waiting and dull from peaceful sleep. I am rusting too early from a lack of activity Will I end my time in a flurious panic of all undone? Little remains: but every hour is saved From that eternal silence, something more, A bringer of new things; and vile it were For some three suns to store and hoard myself, And this gray spirit yearning in desire To follow knowledge like a sinking star, Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

Jacob's competitive spirit, though misguided and even sinful at times.... did not prohibit the Lord from channeling it to propel him to heights he never imagined.

So may it be with us!

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