Giant of the Bible


Section 11 - Jacob.
(Chap. xxvi. 34 - xxxvii. i.)

The Dispensational Application. - In Isaac we have had, as we have seen already, the acknowledged type of the Son of God. In the twenty-second chapter also Abraham takes the place, which from his relationship we are prepared to find him filling, the place of the typical father. These two, Abraham and Isaac, God links with Jacob’s name when revealing Himself to Moses at the bush. He bids him "say unto the children of Israel, ‘The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob hath sent me to you."’ This is, as the apostle tells us, a sign of His approbation of them: "God was not ashamed to be called their God" He could connect His name openly with theirs. Had He said He was the God of Lot, Lot’s conduct would have been His own dishonour. The special choice of these three men in the way God chose to associate them with Himself was perhaps the highest honour He could bestow upon men.

In the New Testament there is one name which has of necessity displaced all other names. God has found one Man with whom He can perfectly and forever identify Himself, and from whom His character can be fully learned. He has been revealed in His Son, and is now to us forever known as the "God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

But surely this will prepare us to see even in the case of the Old Testament names a deeper view of God than any thing which could be gathered merely from their biographies. As to two of them, we have seen that this is justified by the fact; but God, when linking in His revelation to Moses the name of Jacob with this, adds, "This is My name forever, and this is My memorial unto all generations." This has generally been limited to the title, "Jehovah," which is the word our version, as is well known, here as almost always, translates as "Lord," but which is, indeed, almost identical with the "I am" of the previous verse: "I am hath sent me to you." Nor can it be for a moment contested that Jehovah is the name by which God is henceforth known as Israel’s covenant God. This is not meant, then, to be disputed. Only along with and displaying this "Eternal" One, this other term comes in: "Jehovah, God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: this" - all of it - "is My name forever, and this is MY memorial unto all generations."

For us the God of redemption is indeed here fully displayed. For if in Abraham we find manifestly the type of the Father, and in Isaac admittedly that 0f the Son, in Jacob-Israel we find a type and pattern of the Spirit’s work which is again and again dwelt on and expanded in the after scriptures. Balaam’s words as to the people, using this double - this natural and this spiritual - name, are surely as true of the nation’s ancestors, "It shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!" What God hath wrought is surely what in the one now before us we are called in an especial way to acknowledge and glory in. For Jacob’s God is He whom we still know as accomplishing in us by almighty power the purposes of Sovereign grace.

In these two names of his - Jacob and Israel - the key to all his history is found. The long years of discipline through which he passes are necessitated by his being Jacob: they are the necessary result of righteous government, but which in the hands of a God infinitely gracious issue in blessing the most signal to the chastened soul; the worm Jacob becomes, in the consciousness of his weakness, Israel, - has power with God and with man and prevails. The fruitfulness of God’s holy discipline is surely the moral of his life.

And of this the nation are as striking an example. The only people chosen of God as His own among the nations of the earth to be the manifest seat of divine government, their own history becomes of necessity the illustration of this. "You only have I known," He says, "of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities." Any thing else but this would have been impossible for a holy God. And yet it is of Israel and their election that it is said, "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Rom. XI. 29.) Even in their present state of dispersion, as the apostle argues, they are still "beloved for the fathers’ sakes." Their rejection as a nation is not final. God repudiates utterly, by the mouth of Jeremiah, that which is still the thought of many Christians: "Considerest thou not what this people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the Lord hath chosen, He hath even cut them off’? Thus have they despised My people, that they should be no more a nation before them. Thus saith the Lord, If My covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob, and David My servant, so that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them." (Jer. xxxiii. 24 - 26.)

Their present chastening is therefore for final reformation, and thus nationallv are they a pattern of God’s dealings in holiness, but in grace, with all His people. Their father Jacob becomes thus also their type, a view to which it seems to me the language of the prophets every where conforms, and which it indeed necessitates. The life of Jacob divides into three parts, according as we find him in the land, exiled from it at Padan-Aram, or again returning; and to this correspond very plainly the three great periods of Israel’s national life. The last is indeed only known by prophecy, but as surely as any history could make it known.

The first part seems to me to cover the whole of their inspired history. Jacob is shown to us, as the apostle declares in Romans ix, as the object of election. The constant order of Genesis is, as we have seen, the rejection of the first-born: it is "first that which is natural, and afterward that which is spiritual." But in every other case there is some plain reason for the divine choice. In Cain, self-righteousness sets aside; in Isaac, his birth from Sarah might be urged as reason; Reuben, too, falls into sin, which deprives him of the birthright. In Jacob’s case, as the apostle tells us, "The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth; it was said unto her, ‘ The elder shall serve the younger."’ Jacob stands indeed here scarcely so much as a type of the people as he is one with the people: "Jacob have I loved" is said of both. And this choice of divine love, as it insures their full final blessing, so it insures the discipline needed as the demand of His holiness and of that blessing of theirs also: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for your iniquities." Beth-el, the house of God, figures therefore so largely in Jacob’s history, and it is as El Beth-eli, the God of His own house, that he has to know Him, in the holiness which becomes His house. It is thus at Beth-el, when he returns there, that his history morally closes.
In this first part he answers fully to the name which Esau indignantly invokes: "Is he not rightly called Jacob? For he hath supplanted me these two times." The national characteristic cannot be well doubted here. Jacob values the blessing of God, but seeks it in subtle and carnal ways, totally opposed to faith, as the apostle testifies of Israel that they "sought after the law of righteousness," but "did not attain to the law of righteousness; and wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith." It was thus they stumbled at the stumbling-stone, and became wanderers from the land of promise, exiled by their sin. Yet as Jacob, an exile from his father’s house, finds God at Beth- el watching over him with providential care, and assuring him of a final return to his father’s house in peace, so have his seed been watched over in all their wanderings, and their return to their land is guaranteed by the sure word of prophecy.

The Lord in His words to Nathanael applies that Beth-el vision to Himself. It is when Israel shall accept with Nathanael’s faith the Lord Jesus Christ as Son of God and King of Israel that they shall have the blessedness of looking up into an opened heavens, and seeing the angels of God, in their ministrations to men, attending on the Son of Man; and these two thoughts combined - Son of God, as confessed by Nathanael, and Son of Man, as in His love to men He constantly styled Himself imply a Beth-el, a house of God on earth. In that day it could be but a vision of the future, for the nation had not Nathanael’s faith. For such as he, the pledge of that day was already there.

During Jacob’s twenty years at Padan-Aram he enjoys no further revelation until the angel of God bids him depart thence. In the meantime He deals with him as one for whom He has purposes of blessing which can be reached only through disciplinary toil and sorrow. He is multiplied through unwelcome Leah and the two bondmaids mainly, serving long and with hard labour for his wives and flocks. The general application to such a history as that of Israel since her dispersion is not difficult to make, although it may be impossible to trace in detail. Perhaps we should expect no more than a general thought of such a history, as the Spirit of God could find nothing in it upon which to dwell, save only to magnify the divine mercy in it. Enslaved, trampled on, yet preserved, and merging into final wealth and power: this is the simple, well-known, yet marvellous fact, in which they witness to the care and holiness of that God of Beth-el whose name they know not.

In the third part we find Jacob (up to this, still and only that,) returning to his own land. In the application, we must remember that it is a remnant that represent and grow into the nation. For these as for their father, Peniel prepares for Beth- el; that they may not fall into their enemies’ hands, God, whose name is yet unknown to them, must take them into His own, crippling the human strength in which they contend with Him, that in weakness they may hold Him fast for blessing. They must needs confess their name naturally, that grace may change it for what has to be henceforth their name. At Peniel, Jacob becomes Israel, although not yet does he fully realize that which is implied in this, so that at Beth-el he again receives it, as if never his before. Thus, broken down in repentance, and their human strength abased, the nation will be saved from the hands of their enemies. Purged from idolatry, they will then have their second Beth-el, when God discovers to them His name, so long hidden, and confirms to them the promise to their father Abraham. Christ, Son of His mother’s sorrow, but of His Father’s right hand, will then take His place among them, and so they will come to Mamre, and to Hebron, to the richness of a portion which now is to be enjoyed in fellowship with God.

The Individual Application. - In the individual application the lesson of Jacob’s life is, as we have already seen, the fruitfulness of that holy discipline which Bethel, the house of God, implies, and which out of such material as a Jacob can bring forth a vessel of exquisite workmanship to His praise. Here the literal history unites with the typical to develop a picture of the deepest interest to us. May He who only can, give us true blessing from it.

First, as a preface to the setting aside of Esau, we are told of his marriage, at forty years old, at once to two Canaanitish wives. This is the natural sequel of a profanity which could esteem his birthright at the value of a mess of pottage. These "forty years" are a significant hint to us of completed probation. In his two wives, married at once, he refuses at once the example and counsel of his father, and by his union with Canaanitish women disregards the divine sentence, and shows unmistakably the innermost recesses of the heart. It is a sign of the times that so little is thought of the character of man’s associations. In truth, nothing gives us our character so much. To say of Enoch, or of Noah, that " he walked with God," describes the man fully in the fewest words; voluntary association with His enemies, can it consist with any proper desire after such a walk? Esau’s Canaanitish wives set him finally aside from the blessing which the next chapter shows us becoming Jacob’s.

On the other hand, crookedness and deceit are found in Jaccb, the vices which belong to feebleness where there is no due counteracting power of faith. Faith. which alone is wisdom and foresight, waits upon God and makes no haste. It walks erect and openly in the shelter of His presence secure of the accomplishment of His will, which alone it seeks, while cunning and craft blunder in the darkness. Jacob’s deceit is not that which procures him the blessing: it procures him nothing but twenty years of toil and sorrow, of banishment from his father’s house, and subjection to the will of others. The blessing could not be Esau’s. Was Isaac or Esau more than God that they could alter His purpose or did He need Jacob’s feeble hand to uphold His throne? Alas, he is neither the first nor the last who has acted as if it were so. And this is what restlessness and impatience mean, either some lust of the heart we must secure whether He will or no, or some doubt if God be God - rank unbelief or rank self-will; and these are near companions. How far off was Jacob yet from El-Beth-el!

True, there was strong temptation, - a mother’s voice, the voice of affection and authority, to urge him on; the coveted blessing just slipping, as it seemed, away: but in the case of one with God, all this would only have made plain the power of God to keep a soul that confides in Him. With Him, no difficulties avail against us; it is not inherent strength or wisdom which avails in our behalf. The whole question is, Are we with Him?

Jacob feebly opposes his mother’s solicitation, but not in the name of God or of truth. He dreads getting a curse instead of blessing - "seeming a deceiver," rather than being one. He makes the whole question one of expediency, not of righteousness, hence has no power at all, or rather is already fallen. His mother boldly assumes the responsibility - and he has nothing more to oppose. Once gained, he soon learns boldness; he can not only assure his father, once and again, that he is Esau, but dares to say that God has brought him what Rebekah’s hands have prepared. What is holiness in us but the fruit of the shining of God’s face upon us? If our faces are turned away, how soon does all the rabble of evil stalk abroad in the darkness! "The fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth." (Eph. v. 9, RV.)

Yet Jacob obtains the blessing, surely from grace alone, and not from his evil works; and Isaac, dim sighted spiritually more than physically here, wakes up to find how far nature has misled him, and to own the righteousness of a stronger will than his own. Esau sees nothing but Jacob and his father.

He who has now got the blessing is still totally without ability to trust God for the fulfillment of it. Rebekah’s voice again is heard, urging him to flee from his brother’s wrath, and Isaac is wrought upon to send him to Padan-Aram, to take a wife from Laban’s daughters. It is now that solitary, a wanderer and a fugitive, he arrives at Bethel, and here for the first time God appears to him. Already the chastening of God’s hand was upon him, and heavily he must have felt it as he lay upon the hill that night at Luz. Under the pressure of it, he was now to have the interpretation as the holy discipline of divine love. He must stoop his neck to the yoke, and accept the fruit of his own ways; God can assure him of no escape from that: but in and through it all the blessing that is his shall be attained. He will be with him to accomplish His faithful word, and bring him back from all his wanderings into the land which he is now leaving. He sees the angels of God passing between heaven and earth in constant ministration to the heir of promise, for He whom they serve is Abraham’s God.

Here all is perfect grace, for grace alone delivers from the dominion of sin. Holiness is the necessary rule of God’s house, but to be in God’s house supposes relationship, nearness. Jacob’s matters, wonderful to say, are God’s own care. What a remedy for Jacob’s self-seeking anxiety is in all this! Had he learnt the lesson, how much evil would have been spared him! How soon and how differently might Peniel have been reached! But it is evident he enters little into the spirit of this divine communication. He calls the place indeed Bethel, God’s house, and the gate of heaven, but he is oppressed with fear, rather than comforted. The magnificence of the promise which has just been made him shrinks into mere bread and raiment, and his father’s house again in peace, and he answers with a legal vow, in which what he will do is all too manifest. So he goes on his journey to find in Laban’s house what is more congenial yet than God’s, and to learn slowly there by experience what faith might have learnt as speedily as surely, without the sorrow.

In all this Jacob is our type; for if he were responsible for receiving and walking in the power of a grace so plainly revealed, how much more we who have received a revelation which is to Jacob’s as noon to twilight! To us the God of Abraham and of Isaac is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through Him our Father. For us the house of God is found on earth, all the fullness of God dwelling bodily in the Man Christ Jesus; and the promise, "I will dwell in them and walk in them," being fulfilled to us also, as individually and collectively indwelt by the Holy Ghost. For us the throne of God is revealed as a throne of grace - grace reigning through righteousness; our Saviour, Christ our Lord. How should all this purge out of our souls the leaven of subtilty and self-will, and conform us wholly to the will of God! "His commandments are not grievous," says the apostle: what say our souls? Practically, as day by day His will is declared, is it the conviction of our hearts, and what our lives manifest, that His yoke is easy and His burden light?

In fact it's more - the only true and practical rest for the soul, and test of how far our hearts have been brought back to God. "Faith, if it have not works is dead being alone." "Whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected; hereby know we that we are in Him." It is divine love which, sown in the heart, produces in the life the necessary fruit of service. Faith is the heart’s response; service, the life’s. Nor can the one be very much below the measure of the other.

Grace is that which, in the knowledge of it, delivers from our own will and ways. We cannot, blessed be God, carry it too far or rejoice in it too fully. He whose life is unfruitful testifies (whatever his lips affirm) how little he has known of it, not that he has carried it too far, or abandoned himself to it too entirely. That is impossible. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace."

"Then Jacob went on his journey, and came into the land of the children of the East." And here the second period of his life begins. He is now a stranger, a servant for hire, the victim of deceit and self-aggrandizement on the part of Laban, his relative, and morally also near akin. It is impossible to mistake the retribution all the way through, in which the measure he has meted to another is measured to himself again; but it is impossible also not to see that in the manner in which it is dealt out God is speaking to the heart and conscience of the wanderer. There is governmental equity, but also the chastening of a holy love. Bethel is vindicating itself. The Father scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. The sceptre of the kingdom is the rod of discipline of the Father’s house.

Deceit and injustice practiced upon ourselves, how easy to read them in their true character! How the poor pretence of justification we had attempted in our own behalf betrays its shame when another attempts it against us. Thus can God overrule sin to teach us holiness. Yet the lesson this way is long in learning, as we surely see in Jacob. Throughout it he is Jacob still, though by degrees becoming fruitful and prosperous.

The general teaching here seems plain enough, while the details are difficult to follow. The names of wives and children too bear witness to the subjective character of the line of truth which presents itself to us. Rachel, "sheep" seems significant of the meekness and patience of true discipleship, the very opposite of Jacob’s hitherto self-willed and unrestrained temper. But her he must obtain by means of undesired Leah, whose name, "wearied" suggests the "tribulation" by which " patience" is wrought out. And even then, before Rachel is fruitful, and in despair of her fruitfulness, the bondmaids are received, Bilhah, "terror," and Zilpah, a "dropping" (as of tears).

These names seem to harmonize very strikingly with the general purport of the history. Indeed, putting them together, they carry conviction scarcely to be resisted. The names of the children, again, as they should do, speak on the other hand of various blessing, but which I am not prepared to enter into here. But Joseph, Rachel’s son, surely, in beautiful conformity to his origin, expresses that steady "virtue" (or courage) which goes through whatcver trial to the crown, and with which Peter commences that spiritual "adding" to which he exhorts (2 Pet. i. 5), and which seems indicated in Joseph’s name. From his birth Jacob begins to look toward his own place and country once more; and though at Laban’s request he continues six years longer in his service, he yet now emerges from the poverty in which he has for so long been, until his riches awaken the envy of Laban’s sons and of their father. Yet he waits until Jehovah’s voice bids him return to the land of his fathers, though still lacking faith to take an open course - he steals secretly away, God interposing to save him from the pursuit of Laban, who follows him to Gilead, but there to part from him with a solemn covenant.

Jacob now pursues his way, and angels of God meet him: how ready is He to assure us of His power waiting only a fit moment to be put forth in our behalf! It must have reminded, and been intended to remind him too, of Bethel, and of the promise there; but there Jehovah had appeared to him, if but in a dream. Here He does not appear. Jacob an outcast and wanderer could have that which Jacob returning in wealth and with a multitude could not now be permitted. Then, it was grace; now, it would be fellowship; and for fellowship he was not yet prepared. "This is God’s host," (or "camp") he says; and he calls the place "Mahanaim" - that is, "two hosts," or "camps." Here he must have counted his own, and accordingly we find him immediately dwelling upon it in his message to Esau: "I have oxen and asses, flocks and men servants and women-servants, and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find favour in thy sight." How significant that in but a little time we find him dividing this host of his into two camps,* saying, "If Esau come to the one camp* and smite it, then the other camp* which is left shall escape"! Such is our strength when built upon, although we would fain perhaps associate God’s power with it. In the time of need, our own, what is it? and God’s, where shall we find it?
* The same word as before.

It is remarkable too that it is just when he has met God’s messengers* that he sends his own to Seir to Esau. But God and Esau are evidently mixed up in his mind all through. Nor is it strange, but inevitable, that what recalls God to our souls should recall also one against whom we have sinned, and sinned without reparation; perhaps without chance of reparation. Bethel is still manifesting itself in all this - the discipline which becomes God’s holy house. There was but too much truth hid under Jacob’s servile words to his brother a little later: "I have seen thy face as though I had seen the face of God."
* Same word as angels.

Yet when he said this, Peniel had intervened; and he had "called the name of the place Peniel, because [he said,] I have seen God face to face." How could he after that fail to distinguish between God’s face and his brother’s. He could not, had Peniel really answered to its name but how often do we misinterpret the significance of what has been (as Peniel was to Jacob) of most real importance to our souls! Had he seen God in reality "face to face," how could he have added to this as the wonderful thing (as we find him doing,) "and my life is preserved"? Who that has seen God’s face but has found in it deliverance from self-occupation and from fear, such as controlled Jacob when he met his brother?

God had indeed met Jacob, but met him by night and not by day: when the day broke He had disappeared. And correspondingly, though He blessed him finally, He refused to declare His name to Jacob’s entreaty. Unknown He had come and unknown He departed.

Jacob it was who had acquired a name at Peniel, and yet even this cannot be said without reserve; for at Bethel afterward he has afresh to receive it - there where Bethel itself for the first time really acquires its name. These two things are surely connected. What he has learned at Peniel is expresscd in his altar at Shechem, where he proclaims exultingly God to be the God of Israel - his God; but his altar at Bethel owns Him God of His own house, in which in subjection Israel must find his place in order to have really the power of his name.

At Peniel God meets him (His face hidden) to make him learn the strength which is perfected only in weakness. With his thigh out of joint he prevails and is blessed. The secret of strength is learned, and yet, strange as it may seem, the power that he has with God he cannot yet find before man. He meets Esau with abject servility, practices still his old deceit, talks of following him to Seir, and as soon as freed from his presence, crosses into Canaan, building him a house at Succoth, and buying a parcel of ground at Shechem. There he proclaims God as God of Israel, when presently Dinah falls, and the massacre of the Shechemites makes him quake with fear because of the inhabitants of the land. No part of his history is so dark and shameful as that which follows the scene in which (and they are divine words) "as a prince he has power with God and with men, and prevails."

If this be a mystery, it is one with which the experience of the saint is but too familiar. Power may be ours which yet we cannot manifest, or find for our emergencies. "I besought Thy disciples to cast him out, and they could not," says the father of the possessed. And those to whom this very power had been committed ask in perplexity, "Why could not we cast him. out?" And the Lord replies "Because of your unbelief" adding "Howbeit this kind goeth not forth but by prayer and fasting."

Even so he whose name is already Israel is practically Jacob still, as God says to him afterward (xxxv. io). Only in obedience can power be used; our meat and drink - our strength and refreshment - are in doing His will; grace, where realized, breaks the dominion of sin; and "sin is lawlessness," our own will and not His. Divine power must be realized in the divine ways. grace only establishes, never alters this. So at Bethel alone the promise of Peniel can be fulfilled.

How many are there whose altars are to "God their God," and who exult in a grace which proves yet no practical deliverance; who dwell in an unpurged earth, and are reaping, and must be allowed to reap, the sure and bitter fruits! God’s princess how far from knowing the dignity of their calling.

In the extremity of his distress God’s voice arouses Jacob to "go up to Bethel and dwell there;" and then we hear of strange gods in his household to be put away, and purification effected to meet Him "who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way I went;" and the terror of God falls upon the cities round about, so that they do not pursue after the sons of Jacob. At Bethel his wanderings really end; his new name is confirmed to him, and God declares His own, as at Peniel He could not; the blessing now is fully his; and Jacob bowed in gratitude recognizes the house of God, in which (the purpose of discipline being accomplished,) he finds at last his rest.

Still he journeys on, for pilgrimage is not over, although in the land now, his portion. Sorrow still comes, for on the road to Bethlehem his beloved Rachel dies, but Jacob now shows his mastery over it. Him whom his dying mother names Ben-oni, "son of my affliction," his father calls Benjamin, "son of the right hand." We can easily discern the reflection of Christ in this, the glory fruit of the cross. With our eye on this, Mamre, which is in Hebron, (the "richness of communion,") Abraham’s old resting place, is soon reached. With how great toil and how many experiences is he back at last, whence only unbelief had ever driven him! And we? How much do most of us resemble him in this! Yet with him and us "tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed."

The next chapter follows with a long list of Esau’s generations, prematurely ripening into dukes and kings. The world must have its day; and yet amid it all a significant sign is given of fulfillment of that divine purpose "which is not of works, but of Him that calleth;" for we read that "Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle and his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan, and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob."

While in chapter xxxvii. one verse contrasts Jacob’s portion, its very brevity speaking volumes to the ear that hears: - "And Jacob dwelt in the land in which his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan."
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