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Once a “hacker” was trying to pick up a game at the local golf course. Another player, a “scratch” golfer (which means he carried no handicap), wandered in. The hacker asked if they could play a round together. The “scratch” golfer agreed – if they could make it interesting by playing for $5.00 per hole. The “hacker” said o.k. – provided he could have three “gotcha’s”. The better player had no idea what that meant, but he was sure he could easily defeat the duffer, so he accepted the terms.

On the first tee, the scratch player addressed the ball, had a beautiful back-swing, and just as his club was about to strike the ball for a 250+ yard drive, the other player grabbed his right calf and shouted, “Gotcha!”

When the returned to the clubhouse, a friend saw the scratch player with his wallet out paying off his “bet” with the other man. This amazed him, so he asked, “How did he beat you?” The beaten player replied, “Did you ever play a round of golf with a man who still had two ‘gotchas’?”

Many of us go through life waiting for the next “gotcha” to catch us unaware and unprepared. We may call it something else – like waiting for the other shoe to drop – but I dare say everyone knows the feeling. Someone or something is going to pop up and destroy our best efforts at any time.

Many people seem to deliberately play this game of “gotcha!”, catching others flat-footed and blind-sided. Do you remember the Enron officials who encouraged their workers to put Enron stock in their 401(k)’s – while dumping it themselves? Or what about a neighbor who builds his fence across the property line, knowing that long, established use can move that line?

In this post, let’s look at a man in the Bible who played “gotcha!” and how it affected him and others.

Jacob’s Name Meant “Gotcha!”

The meaning of the name, Jacob, literally means “He grasps the heel.” This was because when Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were born, Jacob came from the womb holding Esau’s heel, so they named him “Jacob.” Figuratively, this means deceiver. “Heel-catcher,” or “he grasps the heel,” is another way of saying he “Gotcha!” (See Genesis 25:21-26.)

Jacob lived down to his name. (Be careful of what you name your children – even in fun! If your last name is Hogg, do not even think of naming your daughter, Ima!) Jacob “caught” Esau, and took his birthright (Gen 25:27-34). He “caught” Isaac to trick him into giving old “heel catcher” His Brother’s Blessing (Genesis 27:1-41).

What Was the Result of This Game?

Naturally, this did not sit well with Esau. Enmity and hatred followed (See Genesis 27:41). In fact, Esau was seething with rage – so much so that he determined to kill Jacob as soon as their father died, which they expected very soon (although it did not really happen for more than two decades from this time).

This is the common lot of man.

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. – Titus 3:3

We we are deceptive, we become deceived. Jacob’s life illustrates this very well.

Jacob’s mother recognized the bad blood between the two sons. In fact, she had “egged” Jacob on in stealing Isaac’s blessing. She told Isaac that she would just die if Jacob ended up married to a Canaanite woman. She suggested Jacob go back to Haran (Rebekka’s home) and find a wife from her brother’s house. Isaac agreed, and Jacob set off with little more than his staff, virtually fleeing for his life to a far country.

The first person met in Haran was Rachel, daughter of Laban who was the son of Rebekka’s brother. She was a beautiful girl, and Jacob fell instantly in love with her. The family took him into the household and he began to work for Laban, unofficially at first. Soon Laban asked what wages he would like. Jacob offered to work seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. Laban thought that was fine, so things went along well for seven years.

At the end of the seven years, which seemed as just a few days to Jacob because of his great love for Rachel, he went to Laban and demanded that he be given the girl as his wife. Laban threw a big wedding party, and at the end of it brought the veiled bride and gave her to Jacob to take to his tent.

The next morning when he woke, he found Laban had deceived him. The bride was not Rachel, but her ugly sister, Leah. The heel-catcher was caught himself. Laban said “gotcha!” to Jacob who had been so deceptive himself for so long.

It did not stop there. Laban offered to give Jacob Rachel as well, if he would work seven years for the younger daughter a second time. Jacob did this and began to have a large family of what eventually were twelve sons and one daughter.

After the second seven-year period, Jacob proposed a new wage. He would have all the “off color” sheep and goats from the herd while Laban would keep all the white sheep and goats. Laban agreed, and Jacob separated them into two herds – his and Laban’s. Jacob had a trick up his sleeve, though. When the animals were breeding, he put striped poles in front of the strong animals – and their lambs and kids were born spotted and speckled. When the weak animals were breeding, he took the poles away. It wasn’t long before Jacob had a large, healthy herd, and Laban had little to show for things. Jacom deceived him in turn, who said back to Laban, “gotcha!”

At the end of twenty years, Jacob decided to return home, as there was nothing else for him to get from Laban. Also Laban and his sons were becoming agitated at how wealthy Jacob was becoming off of them! So, Jacob packed and left while Laban and sons were away. When they returned, Jacob was a three day’s journey on the road back to Canaan.

The chain of duplicity was intact. Jacob was deceptive to the last in his deals and counter-deals with Laban.

How Can We Break That Chain?

Paul, after saying that at one time we were deceived, enslaved, living in malice and envy as we were hated by others and hating them in return, spoke of breaking the chain in Titus 3:4. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he save us.” This breaks the chain. Things change when God’s goodness and grace enter the picture.

This simply means that we must live on a different basis. We must give up the game of “Gotcha!” and live a different way! How, then, are we to live? Listen to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48

This is God’s solution to our problem. But will it work?

How This Worked in Jacob’s Life.

After 20 years with Laban, Jacob was going home. But on the way, “The angels of God met him” (Genesis 32:1-2). Jacob had an experience with God that changed his life.

Do you remember Esau who had wanted to kill Jacob? When Jacob met the angels, we are not told what they told him, but “Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau” to find favor with him (32:3-5). He took the initiative in trying to set things right after twenty years.

When the messengers Jacob sent to Esau returned, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (Genesis 32:6). This was ominous news. Jacob did not think Esau was bringing 400 men to a family reunion, so he began to take steps for the coming confrontation.

First, he divided all he had into two groups. He thought that if Esau attacked one group, the other could escape. Then he prayed to God for His protection and salvation from Esau.

In fact, he spent the entire night in prayer. The next morning, he prepared a series of lavish gifts that he sent ahead of him to meet Esau as he was coming toward him with the 400 men.

Perhaps most important, he wrestled with God.

How often do we spend serious time wrestling with God, seizing God and refusing to leave without a blessing. This was Jacob that night. And that night, God changed his name from Jacob, the deceiver, the “gotcha!” man to Israel, which means “He struggles with God.” He took hold of God, and God took hold of him.

What was the result? Esau accepted Jacob’s peace-offerings, and when their father died, the two of them together buried him.

How Will This Work for Us?

Not every case is the same – but one thing is constant: we must let “the kindness and love of God our Savior appear” in us. Instead of hate, show love; instead of deceit, show truth and candor. Bathe all of this with prayer. Don’t be afraid to “wrestle with God” – to learn your weaknesses and to overcome them in the strength of the Lord.

Let “I don’t know how” become “I’ll humble myself.” That is what Jacob (now Israel) did when he met Esau – and his humility won Esau’s heart where belligerence would have failed. He let “I must win” become “I give up my rights.

This is what Jesus calls us to do: to take up our cross and follow him! Taking up your cross is not suffering the aches and pains of old age without complaint. It is accepting abuse and scorn without complaint, but joyfully because it is in His name. It is dying to self to live in Jesus – and with Jesus in you.

For this is what he did Himself to destroy the enmity that was there between us and God – as well as the enmity we have had for one another.

We no longer look at other people as those whom we can exploit and say, “Gotcha!” Now others become friends and lovers. as we learn to love them as God has loved us.

Now, the word from God is not a “gotcha!” where we are surprised by someone else’s duplicity. Instead, when we are fearful, He says lovingly, “Do not fear. I am here. I have got you safe in my arms where you are protected.”


2 Responses

  1. Good post Jerry.

    Sorry things didn’t work out for us on your trip. I do appreciate your good work with EEM. Wish we could have gotten together with our mission guys.

    • Danny, we’ll try again later. Perhaps in the summer in late July or early August – if not then, maybe in the Fall.

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