Life can be full of trials and temptation, challenges and suffering. People can solve their problems with either heavenly wisdom or earthly wisdom, but the results are vastly different.
James 3 makes a comparison of these two kinds of wisdom. The motive of heavenly wisdom is humility, purity, peace-loving or peacemaking, consideration, submission, mercy, sincerity, and righteousness. In contrast, the intent of earthly wisdom is envy, selfish ambition, pride, denial of truth and disorder. Jacob, as recorded in Genesis 25-50, began his life relying on worldly wisdom and later on found Godly wisdom to be far superior.
Growing up, Jacob had the head knowledge of God and also desired spiritual blessings. Instead of relying on God’s intervention, he chose to get what he wanted with his intelligence and skills. Jacob knew the preciousness of birthright, and he was envious that it belonged to Esau, his elder brother. Using his own strategy, Jacob got Esau to give up his birthright for some lentil stew. Subsequently, Jacob corroborated with Rebecca, his mother, to deceive Isaac, his father, and stole Esau’s blessing. Taking advantage of someone while they are vulnerable might be an acceptable form of earthly wisdom. Esau was hungry and pleaded with Jacob for food. Isaac was old, and he could no longer see clearly. Although Jacob got what he wanted, his actions caused fragmentation in his family. His selfish ambition drove him away from his family.
Jacob was alone with no family support, and he had no idea how he would make a living. During this time of loneliness and uncertainty, God spoke to Jacob in a dream with comfort, hope and promises. Jacob made a deal with God. If God fulfilled His part of the contract, Jacob would also do his. Love, from an earthly perspective, is conditional, although God’s love for us is unconditional.
“Why have you deceived me?” (Genesis 29: 25b) This was the first great deception Jacob experienced. He worked for Laban, his uncle, for seven years as a price to marry Rachel. However, Laban tricked Jacob into fourteen years of labour for two wives, Leah and Rachel. Laban gave the excuse that it was not customary to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Laban could have told Jacob at the outset of the deal. However, Laban chose to be ambiguous, made excuses, and created his argument as he wished. Truth and honesty, from an earthly perspective, could be subjective and situational. The upper hand had a say. The strong might choose to oppress the weak. When there was a winner, there must be a loser. In the matter of marriages, none of them — Laban, Jacob, Leah, and Rachel — sought God’s guidance in prayer. Both Jacob and Laban acted out of their pride. Jacob relied on his physical strength and Laban his wits and financial power.
How good is it if our home is a haven, but peace was not found in Jacob’s families. There were ongoing jealousy and rivalry between Leah and Rachel, and they decided to give Jacob two concubines. Jacob’s children grew up in homes like a battlefield, and they were like trophies to showcase one’s status. Without Godly wisdom in Jacob’s marriage and families (Genesis 29-30), would it be more grief than joy living among two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, one daughter, and many sheep?
In addition to his expansion of marriages and families, Jacob built his career. He worked for and with Laban and acquired many flocks. Jacob and Laban did not look out for the interests of others, but their self-interest. They looked for ways to outwit each other. When no one was looking, Jacob chose the stronger animals for himself and left the weaker ones for Laban. At the same time, Laban had cheated Jacob by changing his wages many times. Deceit bred deceit. Without trust, their partnership fell apart.
Finally, during the journey back to his original family when he prepared to meet Esau, Jacob prayed (Genesis 32: 9-12),
“O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”
When Jacob fled from Esau, he was a son of Isaac and Rebekah and the younger brother of Esau. Now, he became a husband and father with wives and children. He used to be a quiet man, staying among the tents (Genesis 25:27b), and now he was responsible for the livelihood of many. Over the years, Jacob strived and thrived. With his will and skills, Jacob built up his assets with earthly wisdom. However, at this juncture of his life, Jacob realized all that he had was out of the kindness and faithfulness of the Almighty God.
After Jacob settled his families and possessions to a safe place (across the ford of the Jabbok), he chose to be alone. In solitude, Jacob wrestled with God from night to daybreak. It was stated that
When the man saw that he could not overpower him, … the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”… Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” (Genesis 32: 25-28)
This was surely a turning point in Jacob’s life, and even his name was changed. From a state of brokenness and chaos, Jacob experienced the Godly wisdom of healing and unity. Jacob met Esau, and they reconciled with one another (Genesis 33). Jacob came home to Isaac, and Esau and Jacob buried their father together (Genesis 35).
Pride, self-reliance, and deceitfulness were no longer Jacob’s motivation. In replacement, there was humility, peace-loving, consideration, submission and thankfulness. Although challenges remained and his sons and daughter gave him much sorrow, Jacob relied on God for comfort. At his old age, Jacob went down to Egypt, and God told him not to be afraid for God would go down to Egypt with him.
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10) Jacob applied earthly wisdom to build his life, which looked great from the outside but was rotting away inside. At a life-changing moment, Jacob wrestled with God and sought after God’s blessing. He came to realize the life-giving superiority of Godly wisdom. As a result, Jacob was able to praise and worship God amidst his trials.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
James 3: 13-18