Jacob is the next character in the heroes of the faith series as mentioned in Hebrews 11. We’ve looked so far at Abel and Enoch, Noah and Abraham. Abel taught us about the first step – how to be accepted by God. Enoch taught us about the next step and that is walking with God. Noah taught us that we are called by faith to obey – even when it makes no sense – and to stand firm when all others are living a different life. Through Abraham we see that faith is being willing to leave behind all we once held dear when God calls us to trust in Him to do so – and that our motivation is in our looking forward to Heaven. Then we met with Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who taught us that faith is about believing the impossible. And then, last time, we saw that Abraham trusted God’s plans and purposes for his life through his willingness to sacrifice his child-of-promise, Isaac. Today we are going to look at what we can learn from the faith of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob…

 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff (Hebrews 11: 21)

Well, this is interesting…Jacob had a long life, yet the writer to the Hebrews speaks of the end of his life as being the time when he is seen as a “hero of the faith”. What about his younger days? The majority of the story of Jacob pertains to the time BEFORE he was dying. The account of the writer of Hebrews took place when Jacob was 147 years old (Genesis 47: 28). Was he not a man of faith when he was younger??? He was the son of Isaac obviously and was a patriarch of the Israelite nation. So he is obviously a strong man of faith right? Well… not so fast… let’s not go that far just yet. To understand what this is all about we again return to the full account of this man as found in Genesis chapters 25 – 33 and then 35 and finally 46-48. In this we are going to see that Jacob’s long life went through three distinct phases – and I put it to you all that we go through the same three stages…


  1. The “natural man”: selfish and self-sufficient
  • The “broken man”
  • The “spiritual man”: faithful and reliant

As we study the life of Jacob, take time to compare yourself to him, and ask yourself honestly if you can see yourself mirrored in his story…


Jacob is characterised by the expression: “I know what I want, and I know how to get it”. And this was Jacob for much of his life. And now, as we look at his life let us see how similar Jacob is to you and to me…


From the very start of his life Jacob knew that he wanted to be No.1.

We’re told in Genesis 25: 21-22 and then 25-26 that:

his wife Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to enquire of the Lord.

The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 26 After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.

Now, the name “Jacob” literally means “he grasps the heel” which is a Hebrew idiom for “he deceives”. Even at his birth he was one who was out for what he could get.


As Jacob grew up, he became a home-loving guy – the favourite of his mum, while Esau became a hunter – the favourite of his dad. Esau, being the first-born had the “birthright” – he would receive double at the death of his dad. But, Jacob knew what he wanted and that was to be No.1. And he knew how to get it. We are told this story in Genesis 25: 29-34…

29 Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. 30 He said to Jacob, ‘Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!’ (That is why he was also called Edom.)

31 Jacob replied, ‘First sell me your birthright.’

32 ‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’

33 But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.

34 Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

“Deceiver” he was called, and “deceiver” defined his character – which was “it’s all about ME”.


When his father, Isaac, was old and going blind Jacob was told by his mum, Rebekah, that Isaac was about to give the all-important blessing to Esau, his eldest and favourite son. Now this “blessing” was conferring upon the son the blessing of God for the future. Jacob knew what he wanted and, with advice from his mother, he knew how to get it. We are told in Genesis 27 that while Esau was out hunting game to give to his father prior to receiving the blessing, that Rebekah prepared tasty goat stew, clothed Jacob in Esau’s smelly clothing, put goat skins on his body to make him appear hairy and sent him in to the near-blind Isaac. The story continues in verse 19…

Jacob said to his father, ‘I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’

Now this was a downright lie and deception. There is no evidence of faith here. This is a young man who knew what he wanted and didn’t care how he got it or who he hurt in the process. No wonder his brother, Esau, wanted to kill him.

“Deceiver” he was called, and “deceiver” defined his character – which was “it’s all about ME”.


We should not be surprised to hear that Jacob had to flee his home – advised by his mother to go to her brother Laban in Mesopotamia. On his way there, he had an encounter with God when he reached, exhausted, the place later to be named Bethel. Let’s take up the story in Genesis 28…

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. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. (Genesis 28: 12-13)

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.’ (Genesis 28: 20-22)

Now THIS is a key passage! Look at what it tells us about this man who knew what he wanted and knew how to get it:

  • God was willing to reveal Himself to a selfish, self-seeking man! Why? Because God knew the plans He had for Jacob. Why? Because God knew the end from the beginning and knew how Jacob would end his life. So…there’s hope for you and me then!
  • God made promises to Jacob – to prosper him and not to harm him, to give him hope and a future (sound familiar? Check out Jeremiah 29:11). This is for you too!
  • Jacob agreed to serve and follow God PROVIDED that God blessed him in these ways! It was all about “what’s in it for me?” There was no true faith here, no true worship here, no true service here. You know – we can know about God, “believe in” God, even make God OUR God without living a life of faith but still being consumed by selfishness.

“Deceiver” he was called, and “deceiver” defined his character – which was “it’s all about ME”.

Now let’s not get too “down” on Jacob – this deceiver, wheeler-dealer, guy. He is the picture of “the natural man” – what you and I used to be…and perhaps maybe still are…


It all seems pretty much “bad news” at the moment. The Bible is telling us the story of a man who is not an example of faith but an example of selfishness, worldliness, deception and wrong.

The story continues: Jacob reaches Padan Aram in Mesopotamia and links up with Uncle Laban. He falls head-over-heels in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel; and knowing what he wants (her!), and knowing how to get her, he agrees to work for Laban for 7 years. At the end of this Jacob receives a “taste of his own medicine” in that Laban deceives him, and in the darkness of night substitutes Rachel for her older sister Leah. But STILL Jacob knows how to get what he wants – and agrees to work for Laban for another 7 years. At the end of this process Jacob knows it’s time to go back to Canaan. He knows what he wants – home and reconciliation with his brother Esau, and he knows how to get it – typically lavish preparation and the sending ahead of bribes for his brother – Jacob staying in the rear just in case.

But then something life-changing takes place. He sends his wives and his children and all his possessions ahead of him across the ford of the Jabbok river and then this happens (you can find it in Genesis 32: 24-28)…

Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ 27 The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob,’ he answered.

28 Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.’

At this ford Jacob was challenged by God…Jacob fought with God…but he could never overcome God. At this ford Jacob was broken – physically his hip was put out of joint, but spiritually he realised that it was God, and not him, who was supreme and Almighty. His stick became the permanent reminder that at this place God broke his selfish and self-seeking heart. The meaning of the name “Jabbok” is “he will empty”. WOW! What a metaphor for what happened here! God literally fought with and emptied Jacob of all his self-seeking and selfish ways by showing him that natural man is not able to stand against God. Maybe we all need a Jabbok experience to make us see that it is not about ME but it is all about HIM. It is not about what I want, but about what HE wants. And notice that God will not give him the blessing till he tells Him who he is – he has to admit that he is Jacob, the deceiver, the natural man. We all have to come to this place before we can receive God’s blessing and get a new spiritual name. THIS is faith.


The next time we hear about Jacob, he is totally different.

In Genesis 35: 1-3, 7, 10-15 we read:

Then God said to Jacob, ‘Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.’

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.’ 

There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

10 God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.’ So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.’ 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.

14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

No longer is he called Jacob – the one who “deceives” but is now named Israel – the one who “struggles with God”. But now, God has prevailed in his life. He goes to Bethel for this second time in an attitude of faithful worship and faithful commitment – he gets rid of all the “foreign gods” – those things in his life that took the place of God Almighty; and he no longer gives conditions to God by which he will serve Him – now he simply submits to God and sets up a stone pillar and an altar and worships God for who He is rather than what He can give him.

Jacob has found faith at the end.

You know the rest of the story…Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, is sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt; then there’s a huge famine and the brothers eventually go down to Egypt for food and run into Joseph who has gone from the prison to the palace. Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, forgives them and sends for his father Jacob so that all can come and live with him in Egypt. Jacob comes – patriarch and man of faith that he is – and at the end of his long life calls his children and grandchildren to him and blesses them (as Isaac had blessed him many years before) before he then died and was returned to Canaan to be buried in the family plot.

NOW we can return to our passage in Hebrews 11 and understand what is being said:

 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff (Hebrews 11: 21)

We’ve taken a long time to survey parts of Jacob’s life that lead up to this final scene. In my mind I picture him at the very end of his life, leaning on his staff, surveying his life and being amazed at all that God has done for him. How is he pictured in Hebrews here?

  • Firstly, he is pictured in faith . It’s a faith, as we have seen, that has been well refined, tested and purified that’s for sure! But out the end has come a new man. Remember – Jacob is a picture of how God works with the natural man – dealings, tests and trials. God never told Jacob off in the Biblical account, but He did use events in his life to correct him. This is how we normally learn. We can learn ‘things’ through Bible study and sermons, but true understanding comes through life dealings. Remember what Charles Spurgeon said ‘I bear willing witness that I owe more to the fire, and the hammer, and the file, than to anything else in my Lord’s workshop. I sometimes question whether I have ever learned anything except through the rod.’  Jacob would agree with Charles.
  • Secondly when he was dying, he blessed. After all that has happened, he’s not bitter, not angry, not selfish… it actually wasn’t about him anymore. He was used to bless others. This is a different Jacob. He was now being used by God and could speak prophetically over Joseph’s son’s lives – even swapping his hands and blessing the younger as if he was the elder because he was now hearing from God.
  • Thirdly, at the end of his life, he worshipped.  In the study of Abraham, we saw that the word for worship has a primary thought of ‘bowing down’. Jacob could ‘bow down’ while leaning on his staff because it was a heart attitude where he had come into the position of surrender to God. He’s not fighting God anymore. He’s not making deals with God anymore. He not tricking people anymore. He doesn’t have to be number one anymore. He can bow down in his heart and praise God. He can look back and truly be amazed how God has protected, blessed and carried him through many trials. His faith had a lot to do with worship: his life had been one of “what I want” and “how I am going to get it”. But then he wrestled with God. Now his life was one of “how does God want to bless YOU?” and he worshipped – which was his saying “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done” ie “it’s about You – my life is now to serve you, my life is about recognising that You are in control, You are sovereign, Your will shall be done – You know the plans You have for me – so I worship You: I fall down at Your feet in submission, I honour You for all You are, I submit to all You want to do”. Worship is putting God where He belongs in our lives – in first place; worship is about submission. Our faith is therefore expressed through our worship.
  • Finally, he leans on his staff – He still needs the staff. He still walks with a limp. His natural strength was broken on that day he was ‘blessed’ by God, and he has leaned on his staff ever since. But it’s ok. He doesn’t have to have it all together because through it he learned to lean on God as well. Jacob discovered, like Paul did, that God’s grace is sufficient, and God’s power is made perfect through weakness. That is a lesson for the ages.


Jacob came good in the end! His life was one of struggle: in the womb with his brother, in early life to get the blessing of his father, in maturity he struggled with God. But in the end he came good. In the end he looked not to what he wanted (the blessing “now”). Instead he looked to the future: to his sons and grandsons being blessed; and he worshipped – he acknowledged that it was all about God and that he was going to go to God who was preparing eternal life for him.

To conclude, do you walk with a limp? If so, it’s ok. Always remember that with the life of Jacob, with the limp came the blessing. Until we are broken, we are not men of faith but selfish, carnal men. Let us be broken by God. Let us no longer be a people who know what we want and know how we can get it. Let us realise that it is only in God that we can be the people that God has always called us to be.

I relate SOOOO much to Jacob. At first this troubled me greatly but I came to find this realisation as a door of hope: my end CAN be better than my beginning! My selfishness and self-seeking CAN be replaced by faith and submission to God. As I put my trust in Him I WILL be alright in the end. And it begins by realising that, like Jacob, I am a broken man – it is not about what I want and how I am going to get it…I will lean on my “staff” and will worship Him…what about YOU!

Faith is about submitting to God, admitting who you truly are, recognising that you are a broken person and becoming the person of God, and for God, that you were always meant to be.