The Jacob Factor
Jacob plays a vital role in the biblical narrative of God’s redemption, despite the fact that he does not serve as the greatest role model in his relationship with God. Nor do his deceiving, cheating, scheming ways endear him to us on a personal level.
Sadly, however, this dimension of Jacob’s character lives on in the rest of us. When Jesus describes Nathanael as “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47), he singles out this new disciple as an exception to the rule.
Deceit works on at least three inter-related levels. A person can be deceived, practice self-deception, and deceive others. Jacob may have experienced all three. As his struggles demonstrate, a habit of deception as a means of gaining advantage over others reveals that one is deceived and/or self-deceived. Jacob’s life certainly stands in contrasts with the faith of his grandfather Abraham.
In Jeremiah 17:9, the prophet explains the root of Jacob’s problem – and ours:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
This verse contains a significant link to Jacob that is not evident in translation. Most Bible students know that Jacob’s name derives from the word “heel,” reflecting the way he grabbed the heel of his twin brother Esau in an apparent attempt to emerge from the womb as the firstborn. Esau refers to this wordplay after Jacob had gained both the birthright and blessing (Gen. 27:36).
In the verse above, uses the same root for Jacob’s name. Most translations, as above, render the word “deceitful.” Jeremiah’s lament reveals that, as deceptive as Jacob was, the greatest deceiver is not “out there” but “in here,” that is, in the human heart.
In the Bible, the heart refers to our inner nature, including our thoughts and desires. The heart is dangerously deceptive because it is dangerously subject to deception. When we recognize this fact, we can no longer reduce sin to a list of rules. We can’t focus on simply learning the rules and mustering enough willpower to keep them.
By exploring the heart problem underlying human sinfulness, we can better understand how to combat what separates us not only from God, but also from one another, and even our own true self.
In future posts, I will reflect on the causes and results of our deceitful hearts, as well as ways we can become more closely attuned to the heart of God. Feel free to offer your own insights or requests for issues to be discussed.