Jacob Series: Living Out Our New Identity in Christ (Gen 33)

May 27, 2018

 

Living Out Our New Identity in Christ

 

Jacob looked up and saw that Esau was coming along with four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two female servants. He put the servants and their children in front, with Leah and her children behind them, and Rachel and Joseph behind them. But Jacob himself went on ahead of them, and he bowed toward the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, hugged his neck, and kissed him. Then they both wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and the children, he asked, “Who are these people with you?” Jacob replied, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” The female servants came forward with their children and bowed down. Then Leah came forward with her children and they bowed down. Finally Joseph and Rachel came forward and bowed down. Esau then asked, “What did you intend by sending all these herds to meet me?” Jacob replied, “To find favor in your sight, my lord.” But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother. Keep what belongs to you.” “No, please take them,” Jacob said. “If I have found favor in your sight, accept my gift from my hand. Now that I have seen your face and you have accepted me, it is as if I have seen the face of God. Please take my present that was brought to you, for God has been generous to me and I have all I need.” When Jacob urged him, he took it. Then Esau said, “Let’s be on our way! I will go in front of you.” But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are young, and that I have to look after the sheep and cattle that are nursing their young. If they are driven too hard for even a single day, all the animals will die. Let my lord go on ahead of his servant. I will travel more slowly, at the pace of the herds and the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.” So Esau said, “Let me leave some of my men with you.” “Why do that?” Jacob replied. “My lord has already been kind enough to me.” So that same day Esau made his way back to Seir. But Jacob traveled to Succoth where he built himself a house and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place was called Succoth. After he left Paddan Aram, Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan, and he camped near the city. Then he purchased the portion of the field where he had pitched his tent; he bought it from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of money. There he set up an altar and called it “The God of Israel is God.”

Genesis 33 (NET)

 

 

How can we live out our new identity in Christ?

 

In Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestled with God, and after wrestling, God gave him a new name, Israel, which means “God commands,” “God prevails,” or “the one who prevails with God.” The changing of his name meant a change of character and destiny. Where Jacob had previously trusted in his wisdom and strength instead of God’s, he was now to be marked by obeying God’s commands and relying on God’s strength instead of his own.

 

However, as we continue studying Jacob’s narrative, we certainly see growth, but we also see him continually fall back into old habits. He wasn’t the same old Jacob, but he didn’t always live like Israel either. In fact, it’s interesting to consider that when God gave Abraham a new name in Genesis 17, he is always called by that name in the Genesis narrative from that point on. But for Jacob, after being named Israel, the narrator, Moses, calls him Jacob twice more than Israel throughout his narrative (Gen 33-50).[1] Since the Holy Spirit inspired every part of Scripture, we can have no doubt that this was intentional. Jacob, though experiencing God and being renamed, commonly didn’t live out his new identity. Arthur Pink said this: “It is one thing to be privileged with a special visitation from or manifestation of God to us, but it is quite another to live in the power of it.”[2]

 

Sadly, this is commonly true for us. As believers, we have been called children of God, saints, co-heirs with Christ, co-workers with God, and new creations. Scripture also teaches us that our old man, our old nature, died with Christ and that we are no longer slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness (Rom 6). However, many of us live as slaves of sin instead of slaves of righteousness and as sinners instead of saints. We look like Jacob instead of Israel.

 

How can we live out our new identity in Christ? As Jacob meets with Esau, it is clear that he is not the same man that he was, but at the same time, he is not who he should have been. As we consider Jacob’s struggle to live as Israel, we’ll learn more about how to live out our new identity in Christ.

 

Big Question: What can we learn about living out identity in Christ, as we consider how Jacob struggled to live out his new name in Genesis 33?

 

To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Be Careful of Our Spiritual Weaknesses

 

Jacob looked up and saw that Esau was coming along with four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two female servants. He put the servants and their children in front, with Leah and her children behind them, and Rachel and Joseph behind them… Let my lord go on ahead of his servant. I will travel more slowly, at the pace of the herds and the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.” So Esau said, “Let me leave some of my men with you.” “Why do that?” Jacob replied. “My lord has already been kind enough to me.” So that same day Esau made his way back to Seir. But Jacob traveled to Succoth where he built himself a house and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place was called Succoth.

Genesis 33:1-2, 14-17

 

Even though God has changed our names and given us new identities, we still have certain propensities and weaknesses. Some of them are passed down generationally (Ex 20:5) and some of them come from our practice of certain sins. The more we practice a certain sin, the more vulnerable we are to fall back into it later on in life. With Jacob, one of his weaknesses was favoritism. As seen throughout his narrative, his parents played favorites between him and his brother, Esau, which caused animosity between them. When Jacob married two women, he favored Rachel.

 

Though, Jacob had just wrestled with God and prevailed, he falls right back into the habit of favoritism when he sees Esau. He orders his family to line up based on rank/importance: first the servants and their children, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and her son, Joseph. If the servants and their children were attacked, the others could flee. Everybody in the family knew their rank. It was probably a re-opened wound for Leah, who had struggled with being unloved throughout the marriage (Gen 29). In addition, all the children knew who Jacob’s favorite child was. It was Joseph.

 

Later, this seed sown in the children would bear fruit. In Genesis 37, Jacob would give Joseph a robe of many colors—again showing all the other children who his favorite was. This caused the other brothers to hate Joseph and sell him into slavery. Though Jacob was renamed and changed, favoritism was his default setting—like a computer program. He often fell back into it, with disastrous results.

 

However, this was not Jacob’s only negative default. He also was a deceiver. That’s actually what his name meant. After reconciling with his brother, Esau, he lies to him—saying that he would meet Esau in Seir—Esau’s home. However, when Esau goes south, Jacob goes north, towards Succoth. That was Jacob’s default setting. He lied both to get what he wanted and to protect himself. This was something passed down generationally. Abraham struggled with lying. He lied about his wife being his sister twice—both times leading to her being taken by powerful men. Isaac, Jacob’s father, also lied about his wife. Later, Jacob’s eleven sons would lie to him for years—saying that Joseph was killed by an animal, when they had really sold him into slavery.

 

If we are going to walk in our new nature and identity in Christ, we must recognize our spiritual weaknesses—the areas we are most prone to fall into sin. David’s weakness was women. Moses tended to take strong actions in his flesh. Early on, he killed an Egyptian—trusting in his own strength to deliver Israel. Later, when God told him to speak to a rock, so water would flow out, he was so frustrated with Israel, he hit the rock and therefore God judged him. He was prone to rely on his own strength. That was his default setting.

 

What is your weakness? If you are going to walk in your new identity, you must identify it and be careful of it. Is it complaining when things are difficult? Is it wanting to quit in the midst of adversity? Is it unforgiveness—cutting people off who have failed you? Whatever negative things you tend to practice when stressed, angry, or threatened is probably your default setting. If you’re going to walk in your new identity, you must be careful of your spiritual weaknesses.

 

Application Question: What are your spiritual weaknesses—the areas of sin, which you are particularly prone to fall into, especially in times of difficulty? How do you protect yourself from falling into those weaknesses?

 

To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Labor to Live at Peace with Others

 

But Jacob himself went on ahead of them, and he bowed toward the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, hugged his neck, and kissed him. Then they both wept… Esau then asked, “What did you intend by sending all these herds to meet me?” Jacob replied, “To find favor in your sight, my lord.” But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother. Keep what belongs to you.”  “No, please take them,” Jacob said. “If I have found favor in your sight, accept my gift from my hand. Now that I have seen your face and you have accepted me, it is as if I have seen the face of God. Please take my present that was brought to you, for God has been generous to me and I have all I need.” When Jacob urged him, he took it.

Genesis 33:3-4, 8-11

 

When Jacob sees Esau, he bows down seven times. As discovered from ancient Egyptian tablets, this was protocol for honoring a king.[3] Jacob humbles himself as a servant before his brother. After embracing each other and weeping, Jacob insists that Esau take his luxurious gift of over 550 cattle. Even though Esau refused, him taking it was important to Jacob. In ancient times, it was known that one would not accept a gift from an enemy but only from a friend. Therefore, by accepting the gift, Esau would further confirm that their enmity was over and that he had favored Jacob.[4]

 

In verse 10, when Jacob said, “‘If I have found favor in your sight, accept my gift from my hand. Now that I have seen your face and you have accepted me, it is as if I have seen the face of God,” he was connecting his wrestling with God and seeing God’s face and his seeing Esau’s face.[5] When God blessed Jacob after their wrestling, Jacob and Esau’s restoration was a fruit of that.

 

Similarly, our relationship with others is also connected to our relationship with God. In Matthew 5:23-24, Christ said,

 

So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.

 

For this reason, to be out of fellowship with others is to be out of fellowship with God. Our old nature is prone to discord and unforgiveness and our new nature is prone to peace (cf. Gal 5:19-23). Therefore, to live out our new identity in Christ, we must always seek to live at peace with others, as much as depends on us (Rom 12:18).

 

In order to seek restoration, Jacob humbles himself as a servant, when he bows seven times to Esau—honoring him as a king. He also offered restitution through his generous gift. We must do the same if we are going to live out our new natures in Christ. 

 

Are there any relationships God is calling you to seek to restore? How is God calling you to humble yourself to pursue reconciliation?

 

Application Question: Are there any strained relationships in your life that God is calling you to seek to restore? What steps should be taken to restore relationships, as modeled in Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau?

 

To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Put Our Confidence in God’s Grace and Not Human Strength

 

When Esau looked up and saw the women and the children, he asked, “Who are these people with you?” Jacob replied, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” The female servants came forward with their children and bowed down. Then Leah came forward with her children and they bowed down. Finally Joseph and Rachel came forward and bowed down. Esau then asked, “What did you intend by sending all these herds to meet me?” Jacob replied, “To find favor in your sight, my lord.” But Esau said, “I have plenty, my brother. Keep what belongs to you.” “No, please take them,” Jacob said. “If I have found favor in your sight, accept my gift from my hand. Now that I have seen your face and you have accepted me, it is as if I have seen the face of God. Please take my present that was brought to you, for God has been generous to me and I have all I need.” When Jacob urged him, he took it.

Genesis 33:5-11

 

Twice while talking with Esau, Jacob recognizes God’s gracious provisions in his life. When Esau asked who all the people were with him, Jacob replies, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant” (v. 5). After Esau asked about all the herds that were sent to meet him, again Jacob replied by recognizing God’s grace. In verse 11, Jacob said, “Please take my present that was brought to you, for God has been generous to me and I have all I need.’”

 

Jacob recognized that all twelve of his children were gifts of God—only God had power over the womb, not him or his wives. He also recognized all his wealth came from God. It was not because of all his diligent labor—it was God’s grace. God made all of Laban’s flocks bear striped and dark colored offspring, which were Jacob’s according to his deal with Laban. Jacob’s confidence was in God’s grace and not in his strength or wisdom. This was a marked change for Jacob, who had depended on his ability to manipulate others throughout his life in order to get is way. Now, he realized that God was the giver of every good gift and that he needed to put his confidence in him.

 

Having confidence in God’s grace and not our strength is a mark of our new nature. In Philippians 3:3 (NIV), Paul said it this way, “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.” The Judaizers, who invaded the Philippian congregation, relied on their works for salvation—specifically circumcision. However, true believers rely on God’s grace, as salvation comes through God and not our works. All religions declare something similar to the Judaizers—salvation comes from what we do and not what was done for us. Christianity, properly understood, teaches that salvation comes only by grace—God’s unmerited favor. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.”

 

Therefore, those who are truly saved and made new in Christ put their confidence in God’s grace, even as Jacob did—not just for salvation but for all things. In Philippians 2:12-13, it says that God works in us to will and do of his good pleasure. All of our good works are simply manifestations of God’s grace. In 1 Corinthians 4:7, Paul said, “‘For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you did not?” How can we boast, if God has given us everything—such as intelligence, health, gifts, and opportunities? All has come from God. It all represents God’s grace.

 

Since the world has not experienced God’s Spirit and true salvation, they find their identity and boast in their works—their wealth, accomplishments, resumes, and decrees. John calls this the “pride of life” (1 John 2:16 NIV). This often leads to judging those with less accomplishments or secular status than us. However, for those walking in the Spirit, it should not be that way. Our experience of grace should make us gracious towards others.

 

What do you boast in—your flesh, such as accomplishments and strengths—or God’s grace—his unmerited favor on your life? What you boast in shows where your confidence is. As “Jacob,” his confidence was in his strength and ability to manipulate others, but as “Israel,” his confidence was in God’s grace and his grace alone. Confidence in our flesh leads to pride or insecurity and misjudging others. Confidence in God’s grace leads to humility and the edification of others. Which identifies you?

 

Application Question: Why are we so prone to boast in our achievements and successes and miss God’s hand in them? How can we grow in recognizing God’s grace and giving him thanks for it? In what ways do you struggle with a prideful/critical spirit?

 

To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Learn to Trust God

 

So that same day Esau made his way back to Seir. But Jacob traveled to Succoth where he built himself a house and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place was called Succoth. After he left Paddan Aram, Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan, and he camped near the city.

Genesis 33:16-18

 

When Jacob travels to Succoth, this is the opposite direction of Esau’s home in Seir. Seir was south, and Succoth was northwest.[6] Not only did Jacob deceive Esau, but also disobeyed God. When God called Jacob to leave his uncle’s house, he was supposed to return to the land of his fathers, Canaan (Gen 31:3). However, Succoth was outside of the promised land. Jacob probably stayed there for a few years, as he built a house and made shelters for his livestock. After, he moves to Shechem, which was in the promised land.

 

Why did Jacob delay obedience? It seems that he still feared Esau. This is implied in Genesis 33:18 when the narrator said Jacob came “safely” to the city of Shechem. Even though, Jacob and Esau reconciled, Jacob still didn’t trust him. He went the opposite direction out of fear. However, this fear really meant Jacob didn’t trust God. In Genesis 28:15, God promised to protect Jacob and bring him back from Haran to Canaan. In Genesis 31:3, God told Jacob to leave Haran and return to his fathers’ land and that God would be with him. And in Genesis 32:28, after wrestling with God, God said that he had prevailed with God and men; this prevailing with men referred, at least in part, to Esau. Though Jacob had many promises of God’s blessings and protection, he didn’t trust them wholly. This kept him from living out his identity as Israel—the one God’s commands.

 

Similarly, a lack of trust in God will keep us from living out our identity. It was when Eve doubted God that she fell away from him. If we don’t trust God’s promises to us, we will sin against him and miss his best as well. God promises that as we seek first his kingdom all things will be added unto us (Matt 6:33). He promises that as we acknowledge him in all our ways, God will direct our paths (Prov 3:6), as he gives us guidance. He promises that as we confess our sins to one another and pray for one another, we’ll find healing (James 5:16). He promises if we practice generous giving, God will give generously to us (2 Cor 9:6-10). He promises that if we delight in his word and meditate on it day and night that he will prosper us (Ps 1:1-3). His promises to us are legion. However, because we don’t trust God and his promises, we often delay obedience and live in our old nature instead our new one. Therefore, like Jacob, we delay in Succoth, like Israel we wander in the wilderness, like Abraham, we run down to Egypt instead of living in the land of promise.

 

In what ways are you not trusting God and therefore delaying obedience? Many say to God, “One day, I will wholeheartedly follow you, one day I’ll give you all I have, but first I want to get married, first I have to take care of my career, first I want to have fun…” Obedience just keeps getting delayed, as we don’t fully trust God. Are you trusting God and therefore obeying, or doubting him and delaying?

 

Application Question: Are there any areas of delayed or partial obedience in your life? How is God calling you to remedy them? What are your fears that threaten your reception of God’s promises and keep you from obedience? How can we further develop our faith?

 

To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Be Bold Worshipers

 

Then he purchased the portion of the field where he had pitched his tent; he bought it from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of money. There he set up an altar and called it “The God of Israel is God.”

Genesis 33:19-20

 

When Jacob purchases a field in Shechem, it was an act of faith. God had promised him and his descendants the land, and therefore, he not only returned to it, but purchased land in it. Shechem was also the first place that Abraham went when entering the promised land (Gen 12:6). After purchasing property, Jacob builds an altar there and calls it, “The God of Israel is God.” Not only would this be a place of worship for his family, but it was also a declaration of monotheism to the surrounding pagans—declaring there was no other God. Jacob was a bold worshiper. His grandfather, Abraham, did the same thing when he came to Shechem. In Genesis 12:6-7, Abraham builds an altar right next to the “tree of Moreh”—which means the “tree of teaching.” Canaanites would often build sanctuaries in trees. It was probably a place where pagan prophets taught. However, it didn’t matter to Abraham. He boldly proclaimed his God there, and Jacob did the same. The God of Israel is God!

 

Similarly, if we are going to live out our identity in Christ, we must be bold worshipers. This is much truer in the New Covenant than in the Old Covenant. In the Old, they were called to worship at the tabernacle and then the temple; however, in the New, God has made our body’s his temple. First Corinthians 6:19 says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” Therefore, since we are God’s temple, we should worship at all times, as we are not limited by location. We should worship at church, at home, at work, and while at leisure. For the believer, every place must become an altar and opportunity to express our appreciation to God and tell others about him.  First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

 

In addition, it must be remembered that when Jacob made a nonaggression pact with Laban, he swore by “the God whom his father Isaac feared” (Gen 31:53). Now, he calls God, “the God of Israel.” His identity is now found in God and not just the God of his father. He is unashamed and bold. God blessed him while in Haran, protected him from Laban, and now protected him from Esau. God was his God, and he would boldly proclaim his glory.

 

Are you boldly worshiping God and proclaiming his glory? We need to do this both individually and corporately. In Matthew 18:20, Christ taught that when two or more are gathered in his name, he is in the midst. This means that though God is always with us, he is with us in a special way when gathered with other worshipers to honor God’s name. If we are going to live out our new identity as children of God, we must live a lifestyle of worship—seeking him individually through prayer and devotion, but also meeting with saints for prayer and praise, gathering in small groups and large groups for worship. In Acts 2, when Peter preached and 3,000 were saved, they immediately started gathering every day from house to house and at the temple court for worship. The new Christians gathered where all the Jews were worshiping, even though they were persecutors of the faith. They were bold worshipers—like Abraham and Jacob.

 

Are you a bold worshiper? Are you sharing your faith, unashamedly with others? In Romans 1:16, Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

 

If you are a quiet worshiper, that never shares your faith, you might not be a worshiper at all. When people are truly excited about something, they tell people. They talk with excitement about the new movie they just saw or the new restaurant they recently dined at. They often tell all who will listen. They post on social media for all to see. When we are truly worshiping God, that’s how we are with our faith. Every place becomes the center of an altar.

 

Are you a bold worshiper? Are you living out your new identity as a worshiper of Christ? You are the temple of God and therefore every place you go should essentially become an altar. Thank you, Lord. Amen!

 

Application Question: How do you practice weekly worship—both individually and corporately? How is God calling you to grow in your worship of him? In what ways are you tempted to be quiet about your faith instead of sharing it? Are there any ways God is calling you to grow in your boldness?

 

Conclusion

 

After Jacob wrestled with God, God gave him a new name and identity; however, after receiving this great blessing, he often failed to live out his character. He fluctuated between being the deceiver, Jacob, and the one God’s commands, Israel. He wasn’t the same, but he wasn’t where he should have been. We often are like this as well. God calls us saints, but we often live as sinners. God calls us new creations in Christ, but we often live like our old selves.  How can we live out our new identities in Christ?

 

  1. To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Be Careful of Our Spiritual Weaknesses

  2. To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Labor to Live at Peace with Others

  3. To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Put Our Confidence in God’s Grace and Not Human Strength

  4. To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Learn to Trust God

  5. To Live Out Our New Identity, We Must Be Bold Worshipers

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: an expositional commentary (p. 824). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

 

[2] Pink, Arthur W.. Gleanings in Genesis (p. 360). Neeland Media LLC. Kindle Edition.

 

[3] Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - The Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible – Genesis II.

 

[4] Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - The Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible – Genesis II.

 

[5] Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 405). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

 

[6] Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Be authentic (p. 62). Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub.

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