An encounter with the Lord is not merely an end to a life of willful sin. It is the beginning of a Spirit-led walk of obedience to God’s Word. Especially for a new convert, the new life can be challenging. Therefore it is important to understand its dynamics so that one can manage expectations along the journey of faith.
“And the vessel that he made of clay was marred (flawed) in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:4-6)
We are like clay in the hands of a potter who is God Almighty. He uses the trials and tribulations along our path to mold our characters in the likeness of Jesus Christ His Son. Thus we are a work in progress.
“…Thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel….” (Isaiah 43:1)
Jacob was an aggressive sly fellow. He wrestled his elder brother Esau in the womb (Genesis 25:21-26). His parents named him Jacob for this reason. The name means someone that utilizes sleight of hand - a skilfully cunning person. The manifestation of Jacob's aggressive inclination did not stop with holding unto his brother's ankle as he was brought out of the womb. He would in the future usurp Esau's birthright as firstborn, as well as steal his blessing (Genesis 27:18-29, See 27:1-29). Further along in Jacob's life, God renamed him Israel, which means prince of God. This renaming by the Lord, ushered in a change of identity and destiny for Jacob. The foregoing prophecy from the Lord in Isaiah 43:1 was not made to the Jacob, because Isaiah lived centuries before him. It was a message to his descendants - the nation of Israel. Whereas God said He 'created' Jacob, in the verse of Scripture, He said He 'formed' Israel. After renaming Jacob to Israel, why would the Lord still refer to His people as Jacob? Indeed, He was communicating something by associating the word 'created' with Jacob and 'formed' with Israel, respectively. The Lord was reminding the people of their origin. He wanted Israel to reflect on where He had brought them. It was also meant to be a form of rebuke at a time they were estranged from the Lord through idolatry. God utilizes prophecy both to guide as well as correct His elect (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
By specifically saying He created Jacob, the Lord was alluding to the fact He knew Israel’s peculiarity. He was ascribing their slyness and tenacity to their patriarch Jacob. This assessment of Israel by the Lord was more explicit in a prophecy made by Hosea.
“He took his brother by the heel in the womb, and by his strength he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him (God): he found him in bethel, and there he spoke with us.” (Hosea 12:3-4)
Telling Israel how He formed them, in Isaiah 43:1 was aimed at reminding them of their journey as a nation. The Lord was particularly referring to how He delivered the Hebrews from captivity in Egypt and brought them into the promised land of Canaan. Severally, God told His people their tribulation in the wilderness was designed to build desirable character (Deuteronomy 8:1-17). Jacob's encounter with God and name change to Israel happened before his migration with family into Egypt. The Hebrews transition from a nation of captives to wealthy land owners is reflective of Jacob's individual transformation. What the Lord planned to do with the nation of Israel, He had done in the life of their forebearer. God graciously renaming Jacob was also a foretelling of what was going to happen to his descendants. Despite his bad reputation, God altered Jacob's destiny for good. The question is why would the Lord seek to bless a wicked person? Did He know something about Jacob that nobody else did? Our forefathers Adam and Eve sinned when they disobeyed God (See Genesis 3:1-24). Sin is a kind of spiritual corruption that gets passed down from a father. The result of Adam's transgression is that everyone is born with a sinful disposition and ultimately sins (Romans 3:23). Thankfully, God is loving and merciful. He made provision to free mankind from this curse even before the world began. Jesus Christ is the remedy. He ultimately came to destroy the work of Satan the corrupter of man (Galatians 1:3-4). God knew Jacob's inborn flaw but loved him notwithstanding. Not only is He our Creator, the Lord is also our Savior and Redeemer. He has beautiful plans and provisions for all that genuinely seek Him, despite their track record (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
The unhealthy condition of sin is the reason why everyone needs to be converted (John 3:3). On one hand, like Jacob, we were born with sin, on the other hand, like Israel, we can be reformed (Hebrews 9:8-12).
The path towards salvation begins when one recognizes his sinful nature and wrongdoing. David acknowledged that he was born with sin (Psalm 51:5-6). He frequently alluded to this fact.
“For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!” (Psalm 139:13-17, See also Jeremiah 29:11-14)
Despite knowing the apparent drawbacks of our sinful flesh, as the Creator, God sees our potential for good and values us. This is why He was willing to sacrifice Jesus Christ for our sins. Just as He had foreknowledge about man's fall, and bequeathed His Son, God knows the unique shortcomings of each person and has predestined each believer for salvation through Him (Romans 8:29). Jacob's calling in life was undoubtably pre-planned by the Lord.
“And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, Why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:22-23)
Jacob’s mother knew there was something amiss during her pregnancy. There was turmoil within. She inquired of the Lord and found out that two diverse nations were to be delivered from her, and that the younger would dominate.
The circumstance surrounding the birth of Rebecca’s twins is key to further understanding Jacob’s subsequent transformation from an unwanted personality to a noble. In a figurative sense, “Jacob” was the handiwork of Satan, having been born with sin. “Israel”, on the other hand, was God’s intervention, having been salvaged.
The Lord has good plans for us despite the fact that our prevailing circumstance might be unpleasant. Our potential is dependent upon His eternal purpose foreordained in Christ our Savior. God has the capability to alter our destinies (Romans 8:29). Moreover, He is the One that knows what needs to be fixed in our lives (Jeremiah 18:4-6)
Jacob had potential in the sight of God. His tenacity, for example, was redeemable. It was a good attribute when applied to good. Jacob would not accept rejection in prayer. When he began to feel discontented with his sinful lifestyle, he cried out to God. He strove with the Almighty with the same intensity and resilience that he used in supplanting others and triumphed (Hosea 12:3-4).
Jacob’s story is not unique with regards to someone favored by God despite their imperfections.
Moses was predestined by the Lord to lead Israel out of bondage (Acts 7:22-25). To this end, he was born with a strong sense of loyalty to his people. However, he initially lacked self control. His passion for his kinsmen and belief that God had chosen him to lead them caused him to kill an Egyptian (Genesis 2:11-15). Even though it was in defense of a fellow Hebrew, it was a crime. His action forced him into exile for forty years during which God reformed Moses. His forty year sojourn in the wilderness also heralded Israel’s time experience in the wilderness. Moses still fulfilled his destiny to bring Israel out of Egypt.
God understands our vulnerabilities. He knows the damage that sin has caused. Being the merciful Father of all, rather than make every one of us guilty for the sin of our forbearers Adam and Eve, He paid the penalty Himself.
All the Lord is seeking from us is a change of heart. He is desirous to redeem each person that cries out like Jacob did. This promise of salvation is called the Gospel. God grants forgiveness to any person that acknowledge his sins and repents. He also demands that converts get baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins, and promises to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).
Jacob is a metaphor of the sinner, and Israel is the metaphor of the saint or sanctified person.
Jacob’s prayers reveal that he had become truly sorry for his misdeeds.
“And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou has shown unto thy servant…. (Genesis 32:9-10)”
His prayers also highlight his unrelenting faith.
“And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince has thou power with God and with men, and has prevailed.”
This is the recipe for success with God. He is seeking people that are genuinely repentant, as well as believing.
Although sin is a curse, it is not God’s desire to condemn offenders. He realizes that all are prone to sin. Therefore, God seeks to save even the worst of offenders (1 Timothy 2:1-5). He wants to restore the original plan for our lives, which conform to the life of His Son Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).
It is the Lord’s determination to perfect His work in our lives. We simply have to trust and obey Him. Accordingly, we should accept our fortunes, good or bad, in faith, knowing that God is steering our lives as we put our faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:22-25). Paul expressed this understanding in his prayer for the Philippians.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”