When Jacob Gets the Best of Israel

“And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me … And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” Gen 42:36-38

Twenty years after Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, the boys traveled to Egypt and bowed before him. The brothers did not know who this powerful man was that they bowed before, but Joseph knew and remembered (Gen 42:8-9).

Joseph understood that God’s purpose was reconciliation. Joseph had traveled the high road to reconciliation and stood at the threshold of a restored relationship. The rest of the family must first be reconciled to the past and then to Joseph. Their journey would be the low road to reconciliation.

Healing the division in the family could not be possible without involving the brothers as well as the patriarch, Jacob. And so rather than reveal himself to his brothers, Joseph proceeded to try them to see where they stood. The high road to reconciliation involves forgiveness, forgetting, fruitfulness, and finally reconciliation. The low road to reconciliation involves repentance, recognition, restitution, and reconciliation. Joseph found that the brothers also stood at the threshold of a restored relationship. They had traveled through:

      • Repentance – “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother …” (Gen 42:21).
      • Recognition – “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” (Gen 42:21).
      • Restitution – They demonstrated a desire to make things right but doubted the possibility existed.

For the family to be healed, Jacob the father must also be part of the process. So, Joseph created a dilemma that would require his father to confront the root cause of the division in the family. That root was Jacob’s favoritism. Simeon was bound and held as surety against the return of all the brothers, including Benjamin. Benjamin was now papa’s favorite, being the only remaining son of Rachel. Jacob must surrender Benjamin in order to save Simeon. To save Simeon and the rest of the family, Jacob must place the favored one at risk.

What divided the family was favoritism and to unite the family this sin must be conquered. Jacob had passed this flaw on to his sons, and now Jacob must confront the past. Total healing requires tackling the disease at its root. Treating the symptoms will not completely cure the sickness. Notice that Joseph was not only aiming at reconciliation, but he also wanted to expose and heal the cause of division in the family. This was a “generational curse” because it was a can that had been kicked down the road since Abraham and Sarah.

The Jacob Spirit

When the brothers returned home without Simeon, the pressure immediately began to mount on Jacob. The ruler had told the brothers that they must return with Benjamin.

“And the man, the lord of the country, said unto us, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men; leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your households, and be gone: And bring your youngest brother unto me: then shall I know that ye are no spies, but that ye are true men: so will I deliver you your brother, and ye shall traffick in the land.” Gen 42:33-34

The test Joseph gave was ostensibly to prove the brother’s honesty, but it was really a test of Jacob’s fairness. Fairness was a problem with Jacob.

Consider who Jacob was. Jacob was a heel-grabber from birth. His name means “supplanter” or “one who takes the place of another.” As Jacob and his twin brother Esau struggled together in Rachel’s womb, it was a fight for dominance. Jacob was a climber, one who succeeds, a competitor. He had to be the first out of the womb, and when that was not possible because God had not ordained it that way, still he tried to seize his brother’s position. It was all about him. He had to overcome the person ahead of him in the pecking order. Jacob was born shortly after Esau with his brother’s heel firmly clasped in his hand. The heel grabber was born trying to take another’s place.

There is a difference between striving to be all that you can for the Lord and trying to take the place of your brother. “Success” in life has nothing whatsoever to do with being better than another. Having success in life means allowing God to do as He desires with you and make of you what He wants you to be. You should not attempt to take another’s place, but to allow God to give you your own place. The climber is always interested in who is ahead of him and who is behind. The climber must overtake the one above and prevent the one below from going higher. This is the Jacob philosophy of life. If your success does not elevate other people, then it is a hollow accomplishment.

The Jacob philosophy is a competitive lifestyle that pits brother against brother. It does not promote harmony and unity, does not provide for a peaceful resolution of disputes, and promotes intrigue within the family. When a family leader displays a Jacob attitude and outlook, it encourages others to behave accordingly. Before long, family life revolves around gaining approval from the top dog instead of serving God. Favoritism is openly expressed, and competition is encouraged. This is not a nurturing environment.

Success should not be measured by being “better” than another, but by being all we can be for God. The competitive attitude hurts a family and it certainly hurts the family of God. A Jacob spirit is a competitive spirit; always trying to gain another’s position. This spirit causes division in a family and it causes division in the family of God. If you insist on embracing this spirit, you are not wise.

“For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” 2 Cor 10:12

A Jacob Spirit Carries Much Regret

I want to introduce you to a very unhappy man. Jacob was unhappy because quite frankly he was never at peace with himself. A spirit got hold of him since before birth and he never truly achieved victory over that spirit. He became so associated with this spirit as to even be named after it.

The competitive spirit was reinforced in Jacob’s life by his parents. Isaac loved Jacob’s brother Esau. Rebekah loved Jacob. There was competition for attention, affection, approval, and love. The parent that Jacob most needed love and approval from was fixed upon his brother. The competitive spirit in Jacob was solidified in his early life.

When you study the life of Jacob you will see that throughout his life he constantly struggled against the “system.” He was always trying to muscle his way in and gain dominance. And this trait cost him dearly in his relationships. This sacrifice in relationships is always the case for the Jacob spirit. And don’t forget, for every Jacob there is an Uncle Laban and a couple of sisters named Rachel and Leah. Meaning that every schemer gets out schemed at some point. Every heel grabber is outmaneuvered in time.

If you are going to live a competitive life that focuses on gaining dominance among your peers, there will always be someone better at the game than you. Also, there will always be a set of circumstances that will require you to set aside your Jacob spirit. If you do not, it will cost you in a huge way. However, it is next to impossible to turn off the Jacob spirit at that critical moment. Your relationships will suffer immensely. The most “successful” people in life are very often the most miserable. If you pulled back that carefully fashioned mask and looked behind the pasted-on smile, you would find a very lonely and regret-filled individual. Do you really want to be a Jacob? Must you always be more talented, must you always be smarter, must you always be right?

Jacob had a chance to change. There was a time in his life when divinely ordained circumstance required him to confront the fruit of his competitive nature. Jacob must reunite with the brother that he had outmaneuvered and taken the place of. On the eve of this meeting at the ford of Jabbok, God met Jacob. It was God in the form of a man that met Jacob there. Rather than speaking with God and receiving direction, Jacob proceeded to try to wrestle a blessing out of the Lord. Do you find yourself wrestling with God instead of listening?

At Jabbok, Jacob found himself doing what came natural for his competitive nature. He wrestled against God for a blessing. In the process, the Lord touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and wounded him for life. There must be an injury in our psyche suffered before we can be transformed from a Jacob to an Israel. Jacob believes that his struggle is against others, but he must learn that the real struggle is between the flesh and the will of God. Truly, you are not struggling against others; you are struggling against God and His will for your life. When God touches and injures you, then you will know that He has a place for you all your own.

“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 hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.” Gen 32:27-28

The position of strength and power for a competitive person is knowing:

      • That the real struggle is between your carnal nature and the will of God for you.
      • That God has a place of blessing for you that is all your own.
      • That being first a prince with God allows you then to have power with men. But being a prince with men gives you no power with God.

Jacob was given the opportunity on that day to change everything about his life. He could have limped away from the ford at Jabbok to become Israel, “a prince with God”. He could have mended his relationships and brought healing to his family. To do this he would have to keep the carnal, Jacob nature in check. But instead he lived the remainder of his days as Jacob. He is seldom called by the new name of Israel, and when he is, Israel is used as an accompaniment for the old name of Jacob. For example –

“And Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days. Gather yourselves together, and hear, ye sons of Jacob; and hearken unto Israel your father.” Gen 49:1-2

Even when he speaks prophetically, the carnal nature is never far away. So many people use the new nature as simply a tool and accompaniment for the old carnal nature. It is by surrendering our carnal nature to God that we become a prince with God. It is as a prince with God that we have power with men. So many people leave a life-changing experience with God to walk the old paths gaining only a limp. The Lord wants us to leave our time of wrestling with Him to live a new life and follow a new path. Walking as a prince with God enables us to be reconciled to men. So many just walk with a limp and continue to live as Jacob.

Jacob’s Life of Regret

“And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old …” Gen 37:1-2

The story of Joseph begins against the backdrop of Jacob’s failure to live up to his God-given potential. Because Jacob did not live the life of Israel, the next generation had to deal with the damage done in Jacob’s life. The Lord used Joseph to mend the division, but Jacob’s life was filled with regret.

For example, when the brothers sold Joseph into slavery and brought to their father Joseph’s bloody coat, Jacob imagined the worst:

“And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.” Gen 37:33-34

“And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.” Gen 37:35

The loss of Joseph became a trigger that released the flood of regret that Jacob had built in a lifetime of climbing over and using other people. Jacob refused to receive comfort from those who loved him. He mourned not only for the loss of Joseph but also for a life of lost opportunities and failed relationships.

During Joseph’s twenty-year absence, Jacob’s mourning had not ceased, but only subsided to an empty aching in his heart. When the brothers returned from Egypt without Simeon and now asked Jacob to allow Benjamin to accompany them, there was a fresh eruption of regret and sorrow.

“And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.” Gen 42:36

“Everything is against me and life is cruel!”

“And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” Gen 42:38

Jacob is steadfastly clinging to his favoritism. He has not brought healing to his family. He is filled with regrets and sorrow and yet is unable to recognize why he feels such pain. He is intent that he will mourn until he draws his last breath.

A heart filled with regret continues to mourn for lost opportunities while thinking it mourns lost love. A heart filled with regret refuses to be comforted by those who love because it is unable to accept and acknowledge love. Meanwhile, today’s lost opportunities will become tomorrow’s regrets. Jacob had ignored Simeon’s comfort when Joseph was lost, and now Jacob regrets losing Simeon. Jacob is not able to bring healing to others because of unhealed internal wounds that have festered over years.

Yet God’s plan for Jacob was to be a prince and a healer. You cannot walk and live as Jacob yet minister as Israel. Your ability to effect positive change in others begins with your relationship with God. You must be a prince with God first before you can have power with men to bring change and healing. If you are not willing to be an Israel, God will raise up a Joseph. Meanwhile you will live a life filled with regret and sorrow.


You will be an agent for healing, or you stand in need of healing. To be a healer requires you to be at peace with your past. A carnal person seldom achieves this level of peace.

A competitive spirit causes division and disruption of harmony in a family and in a church family. Rather than climbing over and displacing people, we should surrender our competitive nature to the Lord and allow Him to show us our own place.

If we leave a life-changing experience with God and continue to live and practice the same lifestyle, we are headed for a life of regret. The new nature, the Israel man must be dominate if we are to have victory and be a blessing to others.


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