James is Jacob

The book we call James is actually the name Jacob in Greek. And by God’s omniscient oversight, the situation dealt with in the book of James is similar to that of Jacob’s. Several themes in the book of James bear this out.

Though one could hardly guess from most teaching about Jacob, the Bible actually calls him a “perfect” man, that is, a complete and mature man. He is not sinlessly perfect, of course, but all his actions must be interpreted in light of the blanket statement about his life at the very beginning of his story. Most translations obscure the actual Hebrew word in Genesis 25:27 and say that Jacob is a “mild” or “peaceful” man, but the word is the same as in Genesis 17:1 in which Almighty God tells Abraham to walk before Him and be perfect. Jacob was that person.

The book of James says that the perfect work of patience is to make one “perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (1:4). Endurance through trials, James says, works one toward completeness and maturity, just like Jacob, an indefatigably patient man.

Without a doubt, Jacob knew of God’s favorable promises concerning him that God had given to Isaac and Rebekah before he and Esau were born. Despite those promises, Isaac favored his perverse brother Esau and withheld the blessing from Jacob. Jacob had to wait. He waited also in exile. While there he had to wait seven years for a wife, and when he did finally get married, he was 77 years old. Who wants to wait that long to get married?! These years of waiting were formative in his maturation.

So was his wrestling. James says that it is a joyful thing to fall into “various trials” (1:2). And in addition to waiting, Jacob constantly wrestled with opponents. He literally wrestled with his brother in the womb (Gen. 25:22) and also undoubtedly throughout their early lives since he was a profane person, grievous to his parents (Gen. 26:35). Additionally, Jacob figuratively wrestled with his father, enduring the trial of his rejection, though Jacob was righteous. He figuratively wrestled with conniving Laban, who tricked him about his wives and changed his wages ten times (Gen. 31:7).

Jacob’s wrestling culminated in his wrestling with God Himself in Genesis 32. After wrestling through the night, God commends him for struggling with God and men and prevailing (32:28). He prevails not simply because he “wins” but because he had overcome the trials. James says to “consider it all joy,” a blessing; and God blesses Jacob for prevailing (32:29).

Jacob was successful where Adam failed to wait for promised blessing. Jacob was successful where Cain failed to deal with conflict within his family properly. Jacob was successful in his relations with those outside the immediate covenant community when he blessed Pharaoh. Jacob was loyal to the Lord, though his days had been “few and evil” (Gen. 47:9), and as a result he attained wisdom to rule. This mature rule is shown in his proverbial pronouncements on his sons in Genesis 49. (This wisdom is also display in the wise rule of his son Joseph.)

The recipients of the epistle of James are in a very similar situation. They are leaders and members of the infant church, recently scattered from Jerusalem. They know the promises; they know Jesus’ requirements of loyalty and patience. But they must be reminded to wait and endure through difficult testing. And by their waiting, they will reach completeness, maturity, and ability to lead.

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