Jacob lives and dies well

Running the Race (Jacob finishes well)

I was never much good at running but I once won a race… the egg and spoon… I was magnificent!

  • And life is a race… well, more of a stagger… or a crawl!
  • The question is: “What is the end point of your life race?
  • Where are you heading?

The Apostle Paul was clear about his goal when he wrote:

I press on towards the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3: 14)

  • Paul’s ‘prize’ was to serve God and make Christ known

I want to focus on the race run by one of the most important characters in the Old Testament… Jacob

BACKGROUND

Joseph was the youngest brother but one of Jacob’s ten sons

Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt where he was falsely imprisoned

Joseph was released when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and showed immense wisdom about the impending famine

He was promoted to Prime Minister and responsible for domestic affairs throughout Egypt

During the famine, many people came to Egypt for food, including Joseph’s brothers (apart from Benjamin, the youngest)

They did not recognise Joseph but once he was sure that they were repentant, he revealed himself to them

Pharaoh gave permission for the whole family to move from Canaan to Egypt… This is where we pick up the story…

Some day I’m gonna write the story of my life… or so the old song goes

  • Each of us is born (if we’re not aborted)… we live and, after a period of time, we die
  • Each of us contributes to the lives of others, for better or worse
  • Each of us makes a mark on the pages of history
  • Each of us leaves a legacy to those who still live

JACOB and JOSEPH are just two examples of people who went through this process… but their experiences have much to teach us about our own lives

  • Our priorities, successes, failures and impact on the society in which we’re placed
  • Our relationships, friendships and association with others
  • Our hopes, dreams, ambitions, worries, concerns and joys
  • And the way in which we allow God to have His way in and through us

 JACOB had been no angel

  • At one stage in his life, he had been a liar, deceiver and cheat
  • He even tricked his own brother
  • But the tables had been turned when his prospective father-in-law, Laban, tricked him by marrying him to Leah, his elder daughter, instead of to Rachel, to whom Joseph wanted to be married.

One of Jacob’s failings was that he favoured the sons of Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin) over the sons of his other wives, which led to jealousy and increased the brothers’ antagonism towards Joseph…

Jacob’s son, Joseph, was not always wise, either!

  • He seems to have been rather flattered by his father’s attention, especially as this favour was normally accorded to the eldest son
  • And although he was open with his brothers about the dreams that he had about being their master and them bowing down to him… perhaps he would have been wiser to share it first with his father or an elder before going public {A good principle for all of us!}

Thankfully, Joseph in Egypt seems to have learned his lesson and became a man of great integrity and godly wisdom

  • His meteoric rise to fame doesn’t appear to have gone to his head
  • He remained steadfast in his duties and in his walk with God
  • He is an excellent example of how to serve God and serve people (not self-interest) See Bibleden page under ‘Old Testament’ entitled “Joseph lives and dies well”

Note a number of important points about Jacob:

  • He knew God and worshipped Him
  • He knew the God of his fathers (Abraham and Isaac) but also spoke with the LORD personally as Moses used to do

Let’s make sure we don’t rely solely on the faith of our parents or forebears

  • God gave Jacob the personal reassurance he needed about transferring his whole family to Egypt… a major step… not least because Egyptians did not worship Jehovah

In our decisions, let’s pray first, then act, not the other way around!

  • God won’t always give us the sort of clear-cut answer that He gave to Jacob but He always answers… Let’s just accept the fact… instead of fretting about it.

And notice that although Jacob was confident in God, he had a role to play in ensuring that all went smoothly

  • So Jacob sent Judah ahead to liaise with Joseph and smooth the path

We are yoked with Christ… it’s a partnership, though He is, of course, the senior partner. We have responsibilities… we can even thwart God’s will, at least in the short-term if we fail to play our part

And imagine the scene when Jacob met Joseph, whom he had thought was dead… wonderful!

  • Jacob’s family was now complete and he was content to let life and death take their course …God had shown His faithfulness even through the darkest time

A survey was undertaken of the over-90s about the things they would do differently if they lived again… the number one on the list… “Spend more time with my family and friends

In the same survey, numbers two and three on the list were “Take more risks” and “Do things that will live on after I’m gone”. NOTE this third point, in particular.

Despite the circumstances that must have screamed out to Jacob: “God has lost control”, quite the opposite was true

It can sometimes seem that God in not interested…

  • We’ve prayed about it… talked to friends about it… waited on the Lord … yet nothing seems to change
  • But behind the scenes things are changing! God is moving but in His way and time
  • Circumstances can be misleading… we can be shaken and confused by the situation… but God is unchanging and faithful, even when He calls us to go through ‘deep waters’

Jacob could have given up, shrugged his shoulders, lost his faith, walked away from the God of his fathers… but he kept trusting

An older lady I know wrote to me and said: “You pray, I’ll hope!” I replied: “I’ll do both (!) …but my hope is in Someone and with a definite end point in view” Hoping can be a wishy-washy superstition

But “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

  • Hope in God is positive not painful

Have you stopped running the race… stopped hoping for anything better… stopped trusting in God?

  • Life hasn’t been all you hoped for
  • Things haven’t turned out the way you expected

Don’t despair… a Saviour is at hand, who says:

I will never leave you or forsake you” Do you believe this to be true?

We can respond to tragic events and difficulties by becoming bitter and depressed… OR use the circumstances as an opportunity to deepen our faith and trust in God

  • In other words, it’s not only what happens to us but how we respond to the circumstances
  • Someone has said that some hearts, like primroses, open more beautifully in the shadows of life
  • It may be a painful journey but we can be sure that God knows the end from the beginning and nothing is too hard for Him.

And perhaps some of us need to forgive ourselves… just as Jacob had to do.

  • Perhaps you’ve made a mess of something significant and caused others to suffer
  • You’ve been insincere or devious
  • You’ve made some unwise decisions
  • You’ve hurt people… you’ve disobeyed God.

Satan would sneer: ‘You are a lost cause!’

  • But God specialises in lost causes
  • Just as He did with Jacob
  • The man whose birth name means “deceiver” was given a new identity and a new name, “Israel
  • Israel means: “The Lord contends”… God will wrestle with us as He did with Jacob but in doing so will take the pain and hurt upon Himself while granting us His blessing and freedom
  • We see such grace most powerfully in the sacrificial death of Christ upon the Cross, as He atoned for our sins

And God offers a transformed life to everyone who trusts in Him as Saviour and believes He rose from the dead

  • For Jesus was born as the earthly son of a humble carpenter and a virgin mother
  • And He still offers LIFE to all who will receive Him into their hearts

There is no anguish or failing or hurt we can experience that God cannot transform into something good

  • And while He transforms the situation, He can transform us, too

A nickname for Israel is Jeshurun meaning “level, straight, upright”

  • So the deceiver Jacob became the upright man of God

FINALLY… We need to run well but also to finish well, as Jacob did

Fanny Crosby went blind as a child due to an incompetent doctor … but she wrote thousands of wonderful poems and hymns, such as ‘Blessed assurance’ and  ‘All the way my Saviour lead me

  • She married Mr Van Alstyne, who died prematurely… but Fanny lived to 95 and continued writing until the very end.

The Apostle Paul had messed up his life as a younger man… persecuting followers of “the Way”…

  • But God turned him inside out and upside down…

And so our past failings (and successes) were “then”… and this is “now” and “forever”

  • For our citizenship is in heaven… our glory is to share eternity with Christ… beginning this moment!
  • As the hymn writer puts it so clearly: “Past put behind us, for the future take us

SO LET’S RUN THE RACE and say with Paul:

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.

 Just as Jacob did

THE RACE by D. Groberg (modified)

Quit, give up, you’re beaten, they shout at me and plead

There’s far too much against you now, this time you can’t succeed

And as I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face

My downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.

A children’s race, young boys, young men…how I remember well

Excitement, sure, but also fear, it wasn’t hard to tell

They all lined up, so full of hope, each thought to win that race

Or tie for first, or if not that, at least take second place.

As fathers watched from on the side, each cheering for his son

And each boy hoped to show his dad that he would be the one

The whistle blew, and off they went, young hearts and hopes afire

To win and be the hero was each young boy’s desire.

And one boy, in particular, whose dad was in the crowd

Was running near the lead and thought: My dad will be so proud

But as they speed on down the field across a shallow dip

The little boy who hoped to win lost his step to slip.

And trying hard to catch himself, his hands flew out to brace

And midst the laughter of the crowd he fell flat on his face

So down he fell, and with him hope, he couldn’t win it now

Embarrassed, sad, he only wished to disappear somehow.

But as he fell, his dad stood up and showed his anxious face

Which to the boy so clearly said: Get up and win the race

He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit, that’s all

And ran with all his will and might to make up for his fall.

So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win

His mind went faster than his legs… so he slipped, and fell again

He wished then, he had quit before, with only one disgrace

I’m hopeless as a runner now, I shouldn’t try to race.

But in the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face

That steady look which said again: Get up and win the race

So up he jumped to try again, ten yards behind the last

To make up for lost ground, he thought, I’d better move real fast.

Exerting everything he had, he caught up eight or ten

But trying so hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again

Defeated, he lay there silently, a teardrop from his eye

It’s pointless running any more, three times I’ve crashed, why try?

The will to rise had disappeared, all hope had fled away

So far behind… so error prone… a loser all the day

I’ve lost, so what’s the use? he cried, I’ll live with my disgrace

But then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.

Get up, an echo sounded low, Get up and take your place

You were not meant for failure here, get up and win the race

The voice came clear: Get up, it said, you haven’t lost at all

For winning is no more than this: to rise each time you fall.

So up he rose to run once more and with a new commit

He resolved that whether win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit

So far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been

And yet he gave it all he had, and ran with will unseen.

Three times he’d fallen, stumbled down… three times he rose again

Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end

They cheered the winning runner as he crossed the line, first place

Head high, proud, and happy too, no falling, no disgrace.

But when the fallen youngster came to cross the line last place

The crowd gave him the greatest cheer for finishing the race

And even though he came in last, with head bowed low, not proud

You would have thought he’d won the race to listen to that crowd.

And to his dad he sadly said: I didn’t do so well

To me you won, his father said, you rose each time you fell.

And now, when life seems dark and hard and difficult to cope

The memory of that little boy now helps me not to mope

For all of life is like a race, with ups and downs and all

And what you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.

Quit, give up, you’re beaten, they still shout in my face

But another voice within me says: Get up and win the race!

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus

(Philippians 3: 13, 14)


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