Help from the God of Jacob
3 Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. 5 Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God… (Psalm 146:3-5)
In a self-help, self-made modern world, there isn’t much room or understanding for feelings of helplessness. It can be seen as a sign of weakness and also as unnecessary given the amount of resources at our fingertips daily. Thankfully, for those who serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, there is no shame in needing help – in fact, the Bible encourages us to recognize the state of our personal need before God. As the Bible declares in Psalm 146:5, “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help”.
Jacob was of the third generation of a family line to whom God promised to bring blessing and favor over their descendants. His grandfather Abraham and father Isaac had received God’s promise that their seed would be blessed and multiply in the earth. After his encounter with God at Bethel, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which literally means “Prince with God”, signifying that in his wrestling with God and man he had prevailed (Genesis 32:28).
If we look a little closer at the story of Jacob, we can understand more as to why this type of transformation is so remarkable. In Jacob’s life, from the very beginning he was associated with a cunning personality. His parents Isaac and Rebekah named him after the way he took hold of the heel of his twin brother Esau, who in childbirth came out first. The name Jacob literally means “one who takes the heel”, having the connotation of “supplanter” or “deceitful” (see Genesis 25:26).
This personality trait of Jacob continued in the way he manipulated Esau in a moment of his older brother’s weary hunger to sell his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:33). Jacob’s schemes persisted, in partnership with his mother, to deceive his father Isaac into giving him his chief blessing in his last days before death (Genesis 27:35-36).
Then Jacob used similar tactics in a later vendetta against his father-in-law Laban, who had given Jacob a taste of his own medicine by tricking him into first marrying his older daughter Leah, instead of Rachel whom Jacob loved. As a shepherd of Laban’s flocks, Jacob made a deal with Laban by which the speckled and spotted flocks would belong to him as his wages – and then Jacob deceitfully made the flocks to mate in such a way that he would reap the benefit and multiplication of the stronger flocks and Laban’s flocks would grow more feeble (Genesis 30:42).
All these circumstances led up to the moment of transformation when Jacob met God at Bethel. God had not given up on Jacob and instead gave him favor with both Laban and Esau who had initially wished to do him harm. Jacob left Bethel with a limp from his wrestling with God, but also carrying the blessing of the God who was his help.
In light of Jacob’s life of redemption, Psalm 146 exhorts us to “not put your trust in princes… in whom there is no help” (v. 3), but rather, “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob as his help” (v. 5). Blessed are the ones who have for their help the God who has always kept His promises and who worked powerfully in Jacob’s life despite his own weakness, changing his very name from Supplanter to “Prince with God” – a turn of events infinitely better than trusting in the might of flawed earthly rulers. In other words, blessed are those who trust not in princes but in the God who can make a prince out of a deceiver!
Trusting in human strength or the might of this world will in the end leave us without help, but for those who place their trust in the redeeming God of Jacob, we will always find the help that we need. From that position of trust, knowing our own weakness, our testimony can unashamedly be: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2).