People Testing; Spiritual Skills. Genesis 31:22
We see that what has been going on in Jacob's life now for twenty years has been a series of people tests. God uses various different kinds of tests in our lives in order to teach us and to build into us the spiritual virtues that come as a result of spiritual growth and spiritual maturity. One of the problems we have seen in Jacob, one of the key problems in his spiritual life, is a lack of humility. He is full of himself, he is arrogant, and God has to teach him humility. Before we can go anywhere in life, before we can be used of God, before we can really advance in any business career or profession there has to be a level of genuine humility and teachability. If we are operating on arrogance and think we have the solution to everything and the answer to every problem and are trying everybody how to do something we are never going to get anywhere in life. Many people have that idea, especially when they are young, and God usually has to take us down a notch or two in our twenties or thirties or we are never going to get anywhere at all in our spiritual growth. This is exactly what God had to do with Jacob.
It is interesting that with Jacob he uses somebody: he uses Laban, and Laban has the same sin nature trend and the same sin nature characteristics that Jacob had. So often that is the case, that you have a conflict with somebody and if the truth were known it is because you are very close in your personality and sin nature trends with this other person.
The Jacob that is coming out of the land now in chapter thirty-one is a different Jacob than the Jacob we saw leaving the land twenty years earlier. He has grown, he has matured spiritually. This really comes out in chapter 32 as he enters into the land where he has a face-to-face encounter with God at a place called Peniel, which means face to face with God. It is in that episode that God is going to change Jacob's name from Jacob to Israel. The new name, Israel, means one who is mighty with God or one who is strong with God, some say he is prince with God. But the issue is that the name Israel is a name that indicates the spiritual maturity of Jacob, he is now someone who is strong with God. The name change is extremely significant. After chapter 32, when we study Jacob before we get into the Joseph part of Genesis, we don't see Jacob the conniver, the manipulator anymore. So what is implicit throughout these chapters is this spiritual growth process that has occurred in the life of Jacob. This is the same process that we all go through no matter what dispensation we live in. Some of the details are different. For example, Jacob never had a completed canon of Scripture, he did not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. What did he have? He had the Abrahamic covenant, and he had a God who appeared to him and talked to him on a couple of occasions. We see the same principles even though some of the dynamics for the spiritual life are a little different.
We come to a little overview how this people-testing worked just to remind us of how we need to think through this kind of testing.
1) God works to being about the maturity in the life of believers through various tests. Cf. James 1:1—"the testing of your faith produces endurance." This is a principle that has been operational in the spiritual life of fallen creatures since day one when Adam fell. God tests the doctrine in our soul through all kinds of different tests—adversity and prosperity.
2) These tests are designed to teach us God's faithfulness and to train us in using the spiritual skills that God has given us. If we were to take the whole Bible and sum it all down to a couple of phrases what we are learning is that God is faithful to His Word. Over and over again that is the message that comes across. And that is part of Satan's challenge from the Satanic fall before the creation of Adam: that God is not faithful and He is not fair.
3) The spiritual skills are basically a boiled-down summary of various techniques that are taught again and again in the Scriptures for handling the problems that we face in life. The foundation for these spiritual skills is a doctrine of Scripture called the sufficiency of God's grace. The word "sufficiency" sounds like it is not quite enough, but it is. No matter how big one's crisis is, no matter how many attacks of adversity one gets during the day, the point is that the grace of God is always enough. God's grace is enough and it excludes everything else. So God has a way for us to handle problems, which means we are totally dependent upon Him, and utilizing what the Scripture says in handling those problems, and all the other techniques that people use to handle adversity might be good and might get them through life, but guess what: they don't do anything for them in terms of their spiritual life. They may make it possible for people to function but the goal in the Christian life isn't to function, the goal in the Christian life is to glorify God by utilizing what God gives us. 2 Peter 1:3, 4, "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."