Here is your main point for today: Humans are schemers, and God is sovereign. That is to say, humans are very good at plotting and planning and doing their own thing. Humans continue to be very good, as they were at the Tower of Babel, of seeing something they want and then pursuing it with tenacity. And it doesn’t matter whether the thing they are seeking is good or bad, righteous or evil. And it doesn’t matter whether the thing was well-conceived or not. Humans will scheme to get what they want.
God, meanwhile, is sovereign. That is, he is in total control. His plans will go forward whether humans participate in them or not. But, of course, the book of Genesis makes clear God wants humans to participate in his plans for humanity. God’s plans are for our benefit and flourishing, not God’s.
We see a series of human schemes in this section of Scripture, from Genesis 25-32. And this isn’t the only scheming we’ve seen in Genesis, but we have to stop and start somewhere.
Jacob, of course, schemed to obtain Esau’s birthright. A famished older brother was just wanting some stew. He was exhausted. Jacob, of course, was a man of deception and struggle. Jacob, by his very nature, was a schemer. “Sell me your birthright now,” he said (Genesis 25:31). Jacob might have been surprised Esau was willing to go along. His birthright for a bowl of soup? But here, Jacob’s scheming starts.
At some point, it entered Jacob’s mind that the birthright – the ability to collect the inheritance – was a very valuable thing to have. And Jacob decided he would obtain it on his own, even though his mother already had received the prophecy that “the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).
This is what schemers do. They see something they want, or understand something should be theirs, and they go grab it. And we want to rationalize this text to make Jacob seem righteous, and we can almost do it. Esau was a fleshly fool, after all. But something doesn’t quite seem right about this, or at least it shouldn’t.
Sinners scheme. Worldly people scheme. God’s people do not – and Jacob was one of God’s people! “They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones” (Psalm 83:3).
A little, off-the-cuff scheme that goes well can embolden the schemer. Bigger schemes can be concocted. This is what we see when Jacob goes to his father, who was old and couldn’t see well. Jacob lied to his father boldly. Isaac asked, “Are you really my son Esau?” Jacob responded, “I am” (Genesis 27:24).
And so our suspicions about Jacob prove to be true. He was a liar and a cheat. His swindling his older brother out of his birthright was a prelude. God’s people aren’t to do this sort of thing. These are the ways of the world. “They search out injustice, saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’ For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Psalm 64:6).
Jacob’s schemes result in him running away. Schemers must run. And the scheming of Jacob seems to be only rivaled by the scheming of Laban. But we probably feel better about Laban’s scheming because Laban hadn’t been given the promises of God that Jacob has received. And, when Jacob awoke the next morning and found Leah by his side, we feel a little bit of satisfaction. Jacob reaped what he sowed. “What is this you have done to me?” Jacob demanded (Genesis 29:25). The deceiver was deceived. Perhaps he learned his lesson.
But the fact of the matter is, human scheming prevailed on the earth. Laban saw what he wanted – a husband for his firstborn daughter. And Laban schemed to get what he wanted. “All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. For their crime will they escape? In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!” (Psalm 56:5-7).
Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. She’s the one whom he had fallen madly in love with. But after the double marriage, Rachel proved to be barren. A pregnancy wasn’t coming to her even as it was coming to her older sister, Leah. That’s why she wanted Reuben’s mandrakes. Mandrakes were considered an aid to fertility.
The schemes of humanity continued. If God won’t do it, I will. This might be our unspoken mantra sometimes. If God won’t help me, I at least ought to help myself. And I might do it not in God’s ways but in the ways of the world. Rachel knew having children was a sign of worldly success. And she, too – much like Esau – was hungry and desired satisfaction. “Please give me some of your sons mandrakes” (Genesis 30:14).
Leah, meanwhile, wasn’t immune to scheming. She knew an opportunity when she saw it. A few mandrakes for Rachel could give her more opportunities to spend time with Jacob. Perhaps she could find her way to more sons. “You must come in to me,” she told Jacob, “for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes” (Genesis 30:16).
You might notice that no one here was seeking God. No one was crying out to him. No one was pursuing him. “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:3; also Romans 3:10-12).
The scheming continues unabated. Jacob’s odd breeding program shows us he still was looking for ways to get ahead using his own devices. My own personal opinion is Jacob was using what amounted to some sort of local superstition or imitation magic when he put those peeled sticks around the water troughs. There seemed nothing particularly holy about what Jacob was doing. And God proved to Jacob in a vision it was God who turned that flock striped, spotted, and mottled (Genesis 31:12). Remember, God is sovereign.
So what are we to make of all of this scheming? God picked a pretty lousy group of people through whom to work! But he only had lousy people to work with! Let’s not judge Jacob, Esau, Isaac, Rebekah, Laban, Leah, and Rachel – all of whom had obvious flaws – without also looking in the mirror.
We are active schemers, too. We see things we want, and we go after them. We don’t sense God is working, or he is not working fast enough. And so we do the work for him. At other times, God isn’t in our thoughts at all. God’s plan for us and for his church and for the world is the furthest thing from our minds. We just go do what we do to get what we want.
Think about the scheming that occurs today. Think about investment traders, driving the price of stock up and down for a profit, scheming their way to success. Think about the way we want material things and can’t have them, and so we accumulate debt to get them. Think about the scheming conversations we sometimes have with people, passive-aggressively trying to get what we want without the person realizing we only are trying to get what we want.
God uses flawed people because there are no others. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But God also can use flawed people, whether they know it or not. And God can use the things of our lives to bring about his good in the world.
The apostle Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). God does his work in the lives of schemers so that when they stop to reflect, they can see that the ultimate good brought out of their lives was nothing they did on their own. It was all God.
Jacob and Rachel and the rest were merely cheap jars of clay. And so are we. Sinful schemers – every one of us. But God is sovereign. And now we carry very precious promises inside of us.
This is what makes Jacob’s wrestling match with God so valuable for us to consider. I’ve thought about this story a lot during the past few days. Jacob was a man who wrestled with God and God’s purposes throughout his life. It would take a miracle for God to work his promises out in the world through this schemer. And yet …
I find it valuable to remember Jacob wrestled with God at night – all night, it seemed – struggling against this angel, struggling to submit. And by the end, Jacob had come around. “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Jacob finally realized that humans need the blessing of God to thrive. The blessing of God is what matters.
In reading about Jacob’s wrestling match with God, I don’t know whether we should think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane or not. But this is what I think about. A struggle took place on that night. The man of God struggled with the purposes of God. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. … Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:34-36).
God is sovereign. Only God himself could enter into human life and push aside the scheming ways of man. Only Jesus Christ could wrestle with God, not for a blessing, but to be a blessing to the world – to do the thing that the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was always aimed to do.
Humans are schemers, and God is sovereign.
Knowing this, how should we live? Quit scheming. Repent of it – all of it. And rest in God. Like Jacob, cling to him. Ask God for a blessing rather than making it all happen yourself.
We have come to understand that good things follow hard work, and even better things follow smart, hard work. And so we work hard and smart.
But do we pray first? Do we pursue God before we start our smart, hard work?
And do we submit to God? Do we give our lives over to his will?
The Christian life, it seems to me, is a pure life. Our motives our pure, and our desires are simple. We want more of God and whatever it is he wants in our lives. And we wait for him to show us what to do, how to live, how to respond, and we allow him to have his way with us in everything we do.
The answer might be to pray more. It also might be to slow down, to evaluate every action, to see where our human scheming is stepping in front of God’s way for us. Now it is your turn to reflect.