I Chr 1:34
By birthright, Esau was the one who should have inherited the promise as he was the first to be born, but Godís choice lay in the child Jacob. It was Godís choice that determined who Heíd use to bring about His purpose - Jacob was Godís choice. And Godís call is the singularly most important thing in the fulfilling of Godís purpose for the redemption of mankind through Abram.
Jacob stole Esauís rightful blessing and so received from his father Isaac the inherited blessing upon his life (Gen 27:27-29). Isaacís words
Ď...and blessed be everyone who blesses you!í
was part of the blessing of God received by Abraham (Gen 12:3). But it was Godís choice based upon the decision of His own will that was of greater importance.
Godís choice was confirmed to Jacob as an individual in Gen 28:14 where we read that
Ď...by you and your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessedí
the Hebrew verb being in the identical tense as it is in Gen 12:3 where God speaks to Abram.
Itís important to realise that Godís choice was made before the children were even born, when sin cannot be counted as having been committed through a choice of individual will and when good deeds, that may or may not receive Divine favour, cannot be performed (Rom 9:10-12).
Itís saying too little to assert that God foreknew how things would turn out and so chose the one who would succeed in getting his own will done at the expense of the other brother - and itís saying too much that God predestined or Ďmade happení the events that occurred (such as the theft of the birthright).
What is correct to say is that Godís call was for Jacob to be the next in the line of the Messiah and that, even if Jacob hadnít stolen the birthright and attempted to make things happen for his own benefit, God would still have caused him to be the Ďruling brotherí.
Besides, the story of Jacobís life up to the incident at Penuel (Gen 32:22-32) was one of him trying to get God to walk in step with his own plans and schemes (notice his prayer in Gen 28:20-22 where he vows conditionally to be favourable to God if Heís favourable to him. Heís trying to strike a bargain with God!) and God having to step in to deliver him from the very real problems that he creates for himself.
At Penuel, God wrestles with him (not he with God - itís God whoís struggling with Jacob and trying to overcome his stubborn will), Jacob still trying to achieve blessing upon his life, still trying to strike a bargain with the Almighty (Gen 32:26), rather than wanting God to change his character and the way he is - this is the significance of God asking him his name. He has to make Jacob wake up to the fact that, in reality, heís been a supplanter all his life (the meaning of his name), one who overthrows the accepted order of things for his own benefit and advantage, and that this is holding back the fulness of blessing being poured out upon him.
So, God changes his name to ĎIsraelí (meaning Ďhe who strives with Godí) to characterise his life up to that point and then blesses him. But God has to leave His mark on Jacob by physically injuring him (Gen 32:25,31-32) in order that Jacob may no longer be able to run away from the situations that he finds himself in.
Itís probable that it was only this that had brought Jacob to his senses, Jacob having realised that heís forced to lean upon God for deliverance in this situation, intent on getting the blessing without which he wouldnít be able to face the day that was soon to dawn.
Heíd fled from Esau when the consequence of his own actions had caught up with him (Gen 27:41-28:2) but now he has no way of fleeing and must stand before Esau in just a few hours (Gen 33:1-4).
And, previously, heíd fled from Laban when heíd become an offence to both him and his sons (Gen 31:1-3) though God had had to warn him to flee and warn Laban in a dream not to harm him (Gen 31:24,29).
But, even when returning into the land that had been promised to him, heís still scheming by sending presents on ahead of the main travelling band to try and appease his brother Esau (Gen 32:13-21), dividing his remaining possessions into two equal halves in the hope that he would save one should Esau disregard the gift sent on ahead (Gen 32:7-8). But at least he does call upon God to deliver him out of the consequences of his own past actions even if heís scheming all the while to try and ameliorate the situation in case God doesnít step in (Gen 32:9-12).
After the incident at Penuel (when he knows Esauís approach is imminent), he at least goes on in front of his family (Gen 33:1-3) to meet Esau - something that may not have happened had he not had that life-changing encounter with the Lord the previous evening. Itís quite easy to envisage him putting his wife and children in front of his own presence to give himself time to flee should the encounter with Esau turn into a blood bath! But he knows now that he canít continue to run and must face up to the situations that lie before him.
Yet even shortly after his encounter with God at Penuel, Jacob is still scheming and planning, lying to Esau as to where he intends to settle because heís still frightened of him and hasnít learnt to trust in God (Gen 33:12-17).
Towards the end of his life, Jacob answers before Pharaoh (Gen 47:9)
Ď...few and evil have been the days of the years of my life...í
Jacob was unable to say that heíd found the fulness of blessing in his own life because of the consequence of so many of his own actions that still lived in the memory. But, even though heíd failed to receive Godís Ďbestí for his life, he was still the one chosen by God to be the Ďheadí of the family, the one who received the promise that it would be through him that Abramís descendants would be named (Israel) and through whom Godís ultimate redemptive plan for mankind would be achieved (Jesus). Better that heíd also found the fulness of blessing which was his for the asking...
Finally, at the end of his life, Jacob blessed his twelve sons individually (Gen 49:1-27 - see below) and in this we see something of Godís choice of one of the tribes to bring about the birth of the Messiah through its line - though, at that time, it was probably not realised that, in Judah, God had made His choice.