My favorite Bible character is Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob’s name means “heelcatcher.”
Jacob was a twin. His twin brother, Esau (i.e., Hairy), emerged from the womb first, covered with hair (probably lanugo). Grasping his heel, apparently coming out arm first, was his younger twin, Jacob.
Esau and Jacob were as different as night and day.
Esau was strong, rugged, tough, a hunter, an outdoorsman, a man’s man. In today’s world, he would be the guy dressed in camouflage, full beard, big truck, gun rack in the back, deer strapped to the hood.
Jacob was a “mild man,” a dweller in tents, a momma’s boy, intelligent, creative, sensitive, and conniving. In today’s world, he would be the computer nerd, the book worm, wearing glasses, going to school, and making the honor roll. With apologies to John Eldridge, Jacob was “mild at heart.”
Both Esau and Jacob were masculine but they exhibited it in different ways. Unfortunately Esau’s masculinity was the type that appealed to his father, Isaac, mainly because Isaac loved to eat wild game. Isaac’s favoritism toward Esau was matched by his wife Rebekah’s favoritism toward Jacob.
“Heelcatcher” was probably meant as a term of endearment but it came to define Jacob’s life. Jacob grasped at all he could to get ahead, to feel secure, to feel competent, to make it in life. To be a heelcatcher particularly meant to get ahead by tripping others up. In athletic terms, Jacob would have been a competitor, doing all he could to beat and surpass the guy next to him. It wasn’t about playing the game; it was about being better than someone else.
Though Jacob had his mother’s love, he longed for his father’s blessing. Unfortunately the only way he could get his father’s blessing was by pretending to be Esau.
I don’t believe Jacob was ever really comfortable in his own skin. His insecurity drove his ambition. He grasped at things because of the emptiness of his heart. Even God was a means to an end in Jacob’s mind.
But God met Jacob one stress-filled night. In perhaps the strangest story of the Bible, Jacob wrestled all night with God, with God in the flesh, with the Angel of the Lord, with the pre-incarnate Jesus. The heelcatcher became the God wrestler (i.e., Israel). And, in the end, Jacob was blessed for being Jacob, not Esau or anyone else.
Jacob emerged from his struggle with a limp. God had to cripple him to bless him. Only in weakness did Jacob learn to hold onto God alone. The man who had grasped at everything to feel adequate finally learned to grasp only on God.
I love the story of Jacob. I see myself in so many aspects of his life. And I take comfort in the fact that if God can love and change a person like Jacob then He can love and change anyone, especially me.