Two Nations - Two Manner of People
"And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob." Genesis 25:28
The sons of Isaac were fully grown. They were twins, but they were as different as night and day. Esau was a rugged hunter who loved to pursue animals to provide meat for the family table. Jacob was more "domestic" in his pursuits. He would rather stay close to his father's camp and assist his mother with various tasks. The differences in these two men were not some recent development as we see the description of them in this passage. They had been like this from birth. There were marked differences in them. For instance, Isaac loved Esau, and Rebekah loved Jacob. This is not to say that Isaac did not love Jacob, or that Rebekah did not love Esau. The difference was in the fact that Isaac was an old man, who had a taste for what Esau provided - the venison yielded from Esau's hunting trips. Rebekah loved Jacob because he was "a plain man," one who stayed with the tents and kept the cattle. We can step back from this scene and speculate on what was right or wrong about this situation. We could condemn Isaac for showing preference for Esau, and we could also condemn Rebekah for showing preference for Jacob; but we need to understand more facts before we do this. Things are never as simple as they first seem to us.
Let's skip Isaac's preference for Esau. We've already said he was an old man who loved the meat Esau provided for him. Let's concentrate on Rebekah's preference for Jacob. Where did this come from? Did she know something about Jacob that Isaac did not know? I would rather say that Isaac had forgotten what he knew about Jacob from the birth of his two sons. But Rebekah had not forgotten. Just as Isaac was the son of Promise to Abraham - and not Ishmael - so Jacob was to be the son of Promise to Isaac. Before her sons' birth God had spoken to Rebekah about this: "And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger" (Genesis 25:23). Now, here is where we can get into deep water if we try to apply human reasoning to this. Would the Lord actually say that one of the twins would be preferred above the other? It had to be that way. Only one of them could continue the godly line of Promise that would eventually lead to the blessed birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In the custom of that day, the son to receive pre-imminence would normally be the elder son. The younger would always serve him. but the word of the Lord stated that the elder would serve the younger, and Esau was born first. Rebekah believed God. She knew that Jacob was favored by God and Esau was not. In fact, the Apostle Paul gives us stronger language in the New Testament than does Moses in the Old Testament. In the Roman Epistle, Paul tells us that God had said, "(For 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. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Romans 9:11-13). We shall explore this concept in future days; but for now let's just remember that Rebekah loved Jacob for Christ's sake, just as did God. He was the son of Promise. Esau was not. Shall we accuse God of being unjust? Paul went on to say in Verses 14-16, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."
Today is a good day to thank God that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We can place our full trust in His good and merciful ways, even if we do not fully understand them.
"And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" Genesis 25:31-32
Esau was Isaac's eldest son, although a twin to Jacob. Born first, he had the right to receive his father's blessing of continuance and first honor in the family. This was a treasured position in most families of that day, and especially in this family. Not only did the rights of the firstborn entail natural blessings, but it also held great spiritual significance in this family. The first born son of Isaac would carry on the promise of the natural lineage of the Messiah. Just as Isaac was said to be the son of Promise to Abraham, it naturally followed that Esau would be the son of Promise to Isaac. The only problem was that God does not restrict Himself to what naturally follows. That is a good thing for us to remember today as well. Just when we think we have everything all figured out naturally, God will work supernaturally. He is not restricted by the natural, and He works all things according to His will and purpose. Esau was certainly a natural man. Those around the family might even have said that he was a natural successor to Isaac; but that was not God's plan.
As Esau and Jacob were being born, Jacob gave a sign of what would come later. Esau was already born first, but God's word tells us, " And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob" (Genesis 25:26). The very name Jacob meant supplanter - literally heel-catcher - one who deceives, defrauds, supplants another by tripping him up. What a name! But that was exactly what Jacob would do. Esau wearily came to him one day from hunting and desired to eat of the lentils Jacob had prepared. Jacob asked an outlandish price, one that you might suspect Esau would never consider, "Sell me this day thy birthright." What nonsense! Of course, the eldest son of Isaac would never consider selling the place of honor he held! But Esau did not honor the honor; he did not appreciate the position of blessing he held. He was willing to sell it just to satisfy the hunger of the moment. It sounds like he would have fit well in our day, does it not? We seem to be surrounded by those who are willing to "sell their birthright" to gain some momentary advantage. Esau's answer to Jacob showed him to be what the New Testament would later call him, a "profane person," when he said, "what profit shall this birthright do to me?" He traded the natural and spiritual blessings of Abraham and Isaac for a bowl of beans! His decision may have been of the moment, but the effects of his hasty action were long lasting. Even though the Lord intended Jacob to have the blessing, He did not cause Esau to despise the blessing. Even though He chose Jacob, He was not in any way the source of Esau's rejection. Esau did that himself. God's choice of one over another does not cause the one not chosen to reject Him - he does so because he has no desire toward God.
Today is a good day to look beyond the natural and thank God for His supernatural dealings with us.
"And his father Isaac said unto him, Come near now, and kiss me, my son. And he came near, and kissed him: and he smelled the smell of his raiment, and blessed him, and said, See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the LORD hath blessed: Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee." Genesis 27:26-29
First Jacob convinced Esau to sell him his birthright, then he deceived his father Isaac into actually completing the transaction. Does this seem like the right way to start a life of being the son of promise after Isaac, of continuing the godly line that would produce the Messiah in the flesh? Given that the Lord had told Rebekah that Jacob would be favored, and given that the New Testament tells us that God loved Jacob and hated Esau, are we supposed to excuse Jacob's behavior? Did he know he was doing the will of God all along? Does the end justify the means? These are all questions to be answered if we are to understand how the will of God is accomplished. There is a distinct line between God's will and man's actions. He does not move people around a checkerboard of life, as though they are merely pieces used to accomplish His end objectives - some to be sacrificed so as to advance others in line to be crowned as kings. God's will and purpose for His people is always true to His purity and righteousness, and He never incorporates deception as though it were a valid tool for accomplishing His will and purpose. He will use man's natural bent for being deceptive, however.
We cannot excuse Jacob's behavior, but neither can we set up a penalty for it and think that God did not exact that penalty. Later, we shall see that God favored Jacob, just as He told Rebekah He would. Everything to which Jacob set his hand prospered. God spoke to him and guided him. Isaac's blessing that Jacob "stole" from Esau came true. He had both riches and power. In fact, it was in Jacob that the small family line that sprang from Abraham would grow into a great nation. God's obvious blessings would be on Jacob for the rest of his life, even to the point of showing Isaac's blessing was also prophetic when he said, "..cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee." All of this for the man known as the supplanter and deceiver. Blessed though he was, Jacob's near future life - the life he would live as a deceiver and refugee from his own family and country - was not going to be easy. Perhaps we still cannot understand why God would use such a man as the continuation of the godly line. The only real answer is that He chose to do so. We can search all day long and never come up with a logical answer. Jacob's behavior and methods were in most ways no better than Esau's. The real difference is that Jacob loved and had respect unto the promises of God, and Esau did not. The lineage of the Messiah had no meaning to Esau. It meant everything to Jacob. Did the end justify his means - receiving the blessing in place of his brother? No, but for whatever his error was in the means he used, the end came about so that God's purpose according to election might stand. As for Jacob, he would spend the rest of his life being deceived in some heart-rending ways. God's word, as always, assigns the results when men follow their own means in God's business: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).
Today is a good day to begin sowing in righteousness and holiness, so that we may soon reap the harvest.
"And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother." Genesis 28:5
Jacob, second born son of Isaac, obtained the blessing of the firstborn through deception, and Esau had to settle for his father's standard blessing. Isaac could not give Esau the blessing of the firstborn son, because Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob. He probably thought their little transaction was not valid, and that Isaac would in fact invalidate it and give Esau what was rightfully his. He underestimated his mother's resolve and his brother's willingness to deceive their father. Even though the New Testament letter to the Hebrews speaks of Esau bitterly weeping because of his loss, he did not let that soften his hatred for the deceiver Jacob and his desire for revenge. He made a vow against Jacob, one which his mother overheard. "And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob" (Genesis 27:41). Rebekah knew that Esau meant to fullfill his vow. He would wait until after Isaac died, after the required period of mourning for his father, and then he would kill Jacob. Rebekah had engineered all that had happened after Jacob's purchase of Esau's birthright, and she meant to finish the job. Jacob had to leave immediately, and she had to convince Isaac to send him away.
There is an old saying, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." Rebekah had a tangled web on her hands and she was going to weave at least one more section on that web. She told Jacob of Esau's intentions and she convinced Isaac that she was greatly grieved at Esau's choice of Canaanite wives and did not want Jacob to follow suit. He must go to her home country, Isaac told Jacob and his mother, so as to take a wife from among the daughters of Rebekah's brother Laban. As he sent Jacob - the son of promise - away from the Land of Promise, Isaac probably knew he would never see Jacob again. Once more, he blessed him. This time, however, his blessings were specific as to Jacob's lineage and place of being blessed. "And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham" (Genesis 28:3-4). Here was his return ticket home! God's blessings were not to be richly bestowed on Jacob anywhere else but in the Land of Promise. Jacob would prosper in Padan-Aram alright, but it was going to take much longer than he expected. Jacob would be the victim of a great deception by his uncle Laban, and the results of that deception would lead to a lifetime of trouble and deception for Jacob. Still, he had the birthright and Isaac's blessing signifying his eventual return to Canaan. Only one thing - or person - could stop him, and Esau had vowed to do just that. Here is a lesson for us: what God has blessed, no man can successfully curse! Hundreds of years later, an eastern seer named Balaam would utter these words while usuccessfully trying to curse Israel, "He hath said, which heard the words of God, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open: How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel!" (Numbers 24:5). Jacob was sent away in a weakened state, and his brother refused to bow down to him; but he would one day return in power and Esau would meet him in peace.
It is a good day to remember that no man can curse what the Lord blesses.
A Certain Place
"And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep." Genesis 28:10-11
There are times and circumstances in life where all we can do is step back and marvel at the grace and mercy of God. We look at the circumstances and see where He would be perfectly justified to be ungracious and unmerciful; yet, in those very circumstances, He goes against all human reasoning and exercises unmeasurable grace and mercy. One such occasion was when Jacob stole away from the threat of certain death at Esau's hands - after Jacob deceived his father into giving him the blessings of the firstborn son. He had supplanted his brother and deceived his father, and now he had to leave the very land that God had promised to the seed of Abraham because of his actions. There seems to be no way anyone with a reasonable mind could think that Jacob could find any favor at all with God. He was completely unworthy of any favor, and he did not seem to care. In fact, he seemed to be heading farther away from any place in which God would bless him. The truth is that he was in the very place he needed to be in order to see the grace and mercy of God. He needed to be in a place where he would not give himself credit for being a pretty good fellow who deserved God's blessings, or who thought his own obedience was the cause of gaining favor with God. Yes, there was a certain place he needed to be, and that is exactly where Jacob found himself.
He lighted upon a certain place, God's word so beautifully states it. It was not a beautiful place naturally speaking, and Jacob was not in a very good place mentally or psychologically. He was distressed at his condition and physically tired from the journey, and he lay down in the wilderness to rest with only a stone for a pillow. Here it was that God would reveal His glory to Jacob. In fact, what happened next goes against the pattern that most people have been taught in our day - that if a person will seek God, then He will meet them half-way and be able to help them. How limiting that is to the awesome power and majesty of God! His word tells the truth about Jacob's situation and God's power in it. "He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye" (Deuteronomy 32:10). In the very place you and I might have justifiably condemned Jacob for his supplanting and deceiving ways, God Almighty showed him His glory, instructed Him, and kept him - as the apple of His eye! He showed Jacob a great scene of future blessings, and reinforced the covenant relationship that God had instituted with Abraham - the Promise of the Messiah. He showed Jacob that he was also a part of that covenant relationship, not based on his belief or obedience, but based on the grace and mercy of God. That is the only hope Jacob had, and it was a great hope. The hope of Christ is the only hope you and I can have, and it is also a great hope! If you have it, it is because God also found you in a waste howling wilderness of sin, and led you about, instructed you, and keeps you as the apple of His eye! God's grace and mercy are so unmeasurably wonderful, so undeserved; yet, in places where all we can know is uncertainty, He leads us to His certain place, just as He did Jacob.
Today is a good day to praise the glory of His grace in providing His people a certain place.
Behold A Ladder
"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;" Genesis 28:12-13
Jacob dreamed. This seems almost impossible to believe since he was sleeping out under the stars with only a stone for a pillow. It would be easier to believe that he tossed and turned, hardly sleeping at all; or that he slept with one eye open. Under the circumstances, he probably ought to have tried to stay awake all night. After all, Esau had sworn to kill him, and he might have been right behind Jacob. Whether it was extreme fatigue or something else that caused it, Jacob slept soundly enough to dream; and, in his dream, God showed Jacob a great scene of future glory. In what most children learn to refer to as, "Jacob's ladder," the Lord revealed a wondrous scene. Jacob saw a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. Whatever this represented, it had its highest part in heaven and its lowest part on the earth. The language is specific that the ladder was "set up" on the earth. What was the ladder's purpose? Surely it was functional, since a ladder was not commonly used for ornamental purposes. It seems that this ladder provided a means for moving someone - in fact, the angels of God - from earth to heaven and from heaven to earth. The one thing we can be sure of is that the Lord "stood above it," showing that He was the focus of the heavenly destination that the ladder provided. We might stay puzzled had Jesus not given us a clue as to what, rather Whom, the ladder represented.
In John's Gospel, Jesus spake to a man named Nathanael and gave a parallel passage to this one in Genesis, "And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51). He spake of Himself, and he used the parallel in such a way that there is little doubt Nathanael understood that Jesus spake of the same scene Jacob saw centuries before. The ladder Jacob saw in his dream represented Christ, set up on the earth yet reaching to heaven. More particularly, the ladder represented His kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy - a spiritual kingdom - established "on the earth," and reaching to heaven. His angels - all ministering spirits sent forth to minister unto them that shall be heirs of salvation - first ascend, then descend on that ladder. What a scene Jacob saw! Not only would his Seed - the Lord, Jesus Christ - fulfill the promises made to Abrahm and Isaac, but He also was the promised fulfillment of the continuation of those promises to Jacob. As the Lord 'stood above" this ladder, He proclaimed His covenant with Jacob: "I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;" Jacob, the supplanter and deceiver was to be the recipient of God's immeasurable grace. He did not deserve it, yet God chose him to receive its blessings. So is our case. We do not deserve the ministering effect of the angels of God in our lives, but He has established the means of "transport" for them to ascend from earth to heaven and descend from heaven to earth. The ladder upon which they travel is Christ - the Seed of Jacob, and the Savior of His people.
Today is a good day to thank God for His ministering spirits, who ascend and descend on the merit of Christ's finished work of salvation.
The Lord is In This Place
"And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Genesis 28:16-17
There are some people who say they never dream. For those who dream regularly this seems strange, because they seem to spend their sleeping hours wrestling with situations and scenes that are at once curious and disturbing. Jacob was a dreamer - not a day dreamer, but one who, at least this once, saw images too wonderful and too disturbing for his understanding. He had seen the wonderful image of a mediator between heaven and earth, typified by a ladder upon which the angels of God ascended and descended. He had heard the voice of Almighty God reaffirm with him the covenant of the seed of Abraham. The Lord had confirmed that he would give Jacob and his seed all He had promised Abraham and his seed. The Lord had promised His Presence would lead, guide, and direct Jacob wherever he went: "And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of" (Genesis 28:15). The promise of eventually being brought back into the Land of Promise must have seemed remarkable to Jacob, especially since he knew that Esau would never abandon his threat of killing Jacob for stealing Isaac's blessing for his firstborn son. Still, as he awoke, Jacob had a sense that his dream was not just the result of his mind trying to work through the circumstances of his life - Jacob's dream was real, and it represented a door of opportunity opening for him that would change his life forever.
Jacob's first recognition of the reality of the dream he had was to confess that, "Surely the LORD is in this place." How did he sense God's Presence? Natural senses can fool us; so it was not through one of the five senses - sight, smell, hearing, touching, tasting - that Jacob knew God was present with him. The way Jacob sensed God's Presence then is the same way we sense His Presence with us today: He leads us to a certain place - spiritually - and reveals the Covenant of Christ in us (the hope of glory). That is why Jacob was sure. He could not likely have explained why he was so sure, but his words convey that he indeed was positive about at least two categories of things: the reality of God's Presence, and the holiness of the place in which He reveals Himself. There is a phrase used by some people - less frequently today than in days past - to speak about a place that is dear to them. This phrase is used to describe a place of great spiritual blessing and comfort when people say, "This is Bethel spot to me." Why call it a Bethel spot? The reason has to do with Jacob's understanding that The Lord was in that place, that certain place, where he dreamed his marvelous dream of a mediator between heaven and earth. Of this place Jacob said, "How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." The place became known as Beth-El (Bethel), which means, "The House of God." The Lord revealed to Jacob that His place was there, and He would bring Jacob back to that very place. It became so precious to Jacob that he immediately said, "...this is the gate of heaven." What a wonderful reassurance God gave Jacob! How often He gives us the same reassurance - that He is with us and that He will bring us back to the place of sweet communion with his Presence! This promise became Jacob's great hope, and it ought also to be ours - not that we will be returned to some physical location, but that we will be lead by God into the fulness of joy to be found in His Presence.
Today is a good day to desire to be drawn once again to Bethel - the place of His Presence with us.
Jacob Loved Rachel
"And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for naught? tell me, what shall thy wages be? And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favored. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter." Genesis 29:15-18
Reaching Haran where his mother had sent him - to the place where he could find her people - Jacob found a most pleasant sight at the town well. He knew that this was a place people would eventually gather and where he could gather information about Laban, his mother's brother. Shepherds were at the well with their flocks, waiting for others with equal rights to the water to come so the stone over the well's opening could be rolled away. When all had gathered there at the end of each day, they would roll the stone from the well and water their flocks. Jacob asked the shepherds about Laban. "He is well," they told him. This confirmed to Jacob that he was in the right place. The shepherds then pointed out the approaching herds that belonged to Laban, being driven by Laban's youngest daughter. When Jacob saw Rachel approaching, he was greatly affected. He rolled the stone away and watered Laban's flock himself. having finished this task, he then "...kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept." Jacob told Rachel who he was, Rebekah's son, and she ran to tell her father. Obviously, Jacob fell in love with Rachel the first time he laid eyes on her. She became the object of his affection and he was willing to pay any price to claim her as his bride.
Jacob's uncle Laban was no doubt a man who knew a good source of free labor when he saw one. Knowing his sister Rebekah had sent Jacob to him, Laban decided to put him to work; but he knew that Jacob would be more likely to stay a longer time if he "received wages" for his labor. Laban told Jacob to name his wages, knowing Jacob was infatuated with Rachel. Jacob then spoke the words that would tie him to Laban for the next fourteen years, saying "I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter." Why would he give up seven years of his life just to gain a bride? The answer is simple, yet it describes the loftiest ideals of the relationship between a man and a woman: "Jacob loved Rachel." It was no more complex than that, and yet that statement is the most complex statement ever made, whether describing the love of a man for a woman or the love of Christ for His Bride, the Church: He loved her. No amount of analysis will yield a better answer, for there is no better answer. The simple fact that a man loves a woman, or that Christ loves His Bride, is so deep that there is no understanding it. That love - when true - is based on unexplainable factors. It is not based on any condition, any merit, found in the object of that love. Even though the Bible tells us that Rachel was beautiful and well favored, Jacob did not love her because of that. Others who looked at Rachel may not have even used those terms to describe her; but to Jacob she was beautiful and well favored. Love is the sweetest fragrance, the finest apparel, that has ever existed. Where love exists - the kind that Jacob had for Rachel - everything around the object of that love is beautiful. Jacob served Laban for Rachel. He loved her and he was willing to pay the price Laban required to gain her. Even greater is the love our Lord has for His Bride, comprised of each one for whom He died. He loved us and He was willing to pay the price required to take us unto Himself.
Today is a good day to praise Christ for His love for His Bride, the Church - made up of all the elect and redeemed of God.
Blessed for Jacob's Sake
"And it came to pass, when Rachel had born Joseph, that Jacob said unto Laban, Send me away, that I may go unto mine own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children, for whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service which I have done thee. And Laban said unto him, I pray thee, if I have found favor in thine eyes, tarry: for I have learned by experience that the LORD hath blessed me for thy sake." Genesis 30:25-27
For seven years Jacob had served his father-in-law Laban, working to "pay" him for his daughter Rachel. Jacob had been deceived in his first period of service and received Leah instead of the promised Rachel. He agreed to work another seven years for Rachel and willingly did so. During that time, the Lord blessed Jacob with eleven sons, Joseph being the last born into the family but the first born of Rachel. Up until that time, she had been barren; but Leah had been very fruitful. She had borne Jacob six sons and one daughter. It would be her firstborn son Reuben who would be in line for the family preimminence, according to custom; but it would actually be her fourth born son, Judah, who would receive the blessing of the firstborn son. And it would be through the tribe of Judah that the Messiah would come. Jacob's other children were born of Rachel's maidservant, Bilhah, and then of Leah's maidservant, Zilpah. In later years, Rachel would bear another son - Jacob's final son - Benjamin. But for now, he had a large family, and he wanted to take his family back to the land of his birth, the Land of Promise.
Knowing his father-in-law Laban's nature, Jacob approached him by reminding Laban that he had fulfilled all the requirements set by Laban for his daughters. There was no legal obligation left for Jacob to complete, but Laban was not going to let Jacob go so easily. First, he still thought of Jacob's little band as being part of his property, as was the custom of that day. He did not want to give up the potential of having Jacob's sons - his grandsons - available to work for him for many years to come. Second, Laban had seen that the Lord had blessed him, as he said, for Jacob's sake. He was treating this as an asset he did not want to lose, not knowing that the blessing was to Jacob, and Laban was simply standing close enough to gather some effects from it. That is the way the world at large is blessed, and that is the way America is blessed today. Make no mistake, our nation has been blessed; but not for the reason most people think. America is not God's favored country above all countries. He has blessed her for His people's sake. He has blessed her for the sake of His church in the earth, and if He ever withdraws His blessings from the visible church that still exists in this country, America will no longer be blessed. In that sense, she is "standing close enough" to gather some effects from God blessing His people. Laban did not care a whit for the spiritual aspects of God blessing Jacob; he wanted the natural fallout from such blessings. Likewise, the world does not care a whit about the spiritual things of God; but they want the natural blessings that attend such spiritual blessings. Laban did not want the best for Jacob and his family - he wanted what he thought was best for Laban. He would try once more to squeeze the profitability out of additional use of Jacob's labor; but this time, the Lord made sure Jacob received all the profits! God does not simply stand by and let His people suffer wrong at the hands of the world, and He would not do so in the matter between Jacob and Laban.
Today is a good day to realize that the Lord is on the side of right and fights against the wrong. We can rest assured of that.
I Will Be With Thee
"And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before. And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee. " Genesis 31:2-3
Jacob grew rich in cattle, and he did so at Laban's expense. The Lord helped Jacob to be paid for all the years he had worked for Laban without any pay. Through a system of breeding and cross-breeding certain types of cattle Laban had agreed to give him from his herds, Jacob was able to accumulate great numbers of cattle and Laban's herds became thinner and thinner. Laban's sons took notice and became suspicious of Jacob; then Laban began to look on Jacob with distrust. Earlier, Laban felt he had great power over Jacob and could persuade him to work for basically nothing because Jacob was in need; but now Jacob was gaining power over Laban. Any time a man begins to turn the tables on another who seeks to manipulate his weakness, there is trouble brewing. Jacob was no longer the poor little nephew who needed a place to stay and was willing to work years for Laban just to be able to marry his daughter. In fact, the Bible tells us, "And the man increased exceedingly, and had much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses" (Genesis 30:43).
The Lord uses many means to bring about His ultimate purpose. Here it seems he used Laban's jealousy of Jacob and the potential for trouble between the two men. Jacob was now as powerful as Laban, and Laban would eventually find out how Jacob had tricked Laban into giving him the start of his plan to breed goats that would belong to Jacob - those "spotted and speckled." As God assisted Jacob to work his plan using advanced animal husbandry, Laban's flocks - the ones with solid colors and not spotted and speckled - began to grow smaller and smaller. Jacob tried to assure Laban's family that he was simply arranging payment for his many years of faithful service to Laban, "And he said unto them, I see your father's countenance, that it is not toward me as before; but the God of my father hath been with me. And ye know that with all my power I have served your father. And your father hath deceived me, and changed my wages ten times; but God suffered him not to hurt me." (Genesis 31:5-7). His statement, "the God of my father hath been with me," was an understatement; the Lord was always with Jacob. Yet here, now, He made His Presence known by way of letting Jacob know he was strong enough to return to the Land of Canaan. he had sufficient possessions to co-exist with Esau, and he had sufficient men to defend Jacob's family from hurt at Esau's hands. God had provided just what Jacob needed to draw him back to the Land of Promise, and that is where Jacob now intended to go.
Today is a good day to assure ourselves of the fact that God is with us, and will provide all we need to face our enemies or the unknown.
Her Father's Images
"Then Jacob rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon camels; And he carried away all his cattle, and all his goods which he had gotten, the cattle of his getting, which he had gotten in Padan-aram, for to go to Isaac his father in the land of Canaan. And Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father's." Genesis 31:17-19
Jacob was duly concerned that Laban would strip him of all his prosperity, take back his daughters and grandsons, and possibly even kill Jacob. His mind strengthened by Rachel's declaration that what he had gained was nothing more than the dowry rightfully belonging to Leah and Rachel, Jacob decided to leave Laban's country and return to his father in Canaan. He was in the right on every point: He had faithfully served Laban according to his requirement, he had honestly gained the great wealth he now possessed, and - most important - he was following the Lord's leadership in returning to the Land of Promise. After all, Jacob was heir to the promises of God through the seed of Abraham. He was acting in response to God's reassurance concerning those promises. The fact that he stole away, so to speak, was merely practicing what is sometimes called "due diligence." He was not going to give Laban the opportunity to do him and his family harm. Laban did chase after Jacob, and eventually overtake and confront him at the border of the land of Canaan. He upbraided Jacob for leaving without giving Laban the opportunity to "throw him a going away party," but his concern was for possessions even more dear to him than the wealth Jacob had gained at his expense.
Rachel had stolen her father's little gods - the images he worshiped in his pagan religion. If you remember, Laban was great-nephew to Abraham who had followed God's call out of the land of Ur of the Chaldees, a land of idol worshipers. God delivered Abraham from idolatry, but apparently the rest of his family who left Ur as he did did not leave their desire to serve idols. These little pieces of stone or metal meant a great deal to Laban. He chased Jacob for many miles for the main purpose of retrieving his idols. It also seems that the images meant a lot to Rachel. She apparently did not feel comfortable leaving her father's country without the images she had seen him worship. Here is the contrast, and it is worth our noting: Jacob served the Invisible God of all Creation - the God Who spoke to his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and Who had spoken to him as well. He had never seen Him or His image. There is not doubt that Jacob had recounted all that God had told him to Rachel. After all, he loved her and a man wants to shar his dreams and goals with the woman he loves. Ther also seems little doubt that Rachel wanted some insurance. She may have beleived what Jacob told her of God's promises, but she was more comfortable with what she knew - what she could see - than merely to trust in an unseen hand guiding her husband. Does that sound familiar? God's people have always been warned to flee idolatry. It is an affront to our God. Rachel was willing to risk her life for the false assurance of keeping her father's images. If we serve "idols" today - that which we can see that we think gives us security - we are also risking our lives. Idolatry threatens our spiritual life and its privileges based on faith in God through His Son Jesus Christ.
Today is a good day to bring our "little gods" out of their hiding place and fully trust in the Living God.
Rituals and Emblems
"Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar. And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap." Genesis 31:44-46
After Laban overtook Jacob's fleeing tribe and searched for his little gods without success, Jacob took the opportunity to remind Laban of the whole situation's truth. Jacob had labored twenty years for Laban, who changed his wages "ten times," according to Jacob. This was simply a way of saying that Laban changed the terms of Jacob's service any time it appeared Jacob would gain the upper hand. Jacob's actions were simply to gain the wages Laban had promised, but had never delivered. Not only so, the Lord had appeared to Laban in a dream and warned him about bringing any harm to Jacob. Jacob emphasized this fact as something that was worthy of Laban's utmost attention, and Laban apparently agreed because he immediately solicited Jacob as an equal to enter into a covenant with him. This was no casual proposition. In those days men did not enter into covenants lightly, and even those who may not have wholly believed in the God of Abraham recognized the serious nature of entering into a vow where the name Jehovah was used as a seal of approval for the vow, or covenant. Laban's suggestion that he and Jacob enter into a covenant was so that they would have a record of their agreement to leave off making war one with the other. The ritual and emblems of the covenant were to remain as witnesses for all to see, and for future generations to be reminded that the two parties had agreed to be at peace with one another.
The ritual was solemn. The very word covenant meant that an agreement had been established by two parties walking between pieces of a sacrificed animal. They were in a sense "joined" by being between the pieces of the sacrifice. Jacob went farther by bringing in an emblem that had personal meaning to him. As he left the Land of Canaan over twenty years earlier and the Lord appeared to him in a dream, Jacob set up the stone he had used the previous night for a pillow as a pillar upon which to pour out a sacrifice drink offering. This is what he did now to establish the emblem of the covenant between Laban and him. He set up a stone for a pillar. This emblem was to serve as a memorial to the peace agreement - the covenant. It meant that both Jacob and Laban were promising never to pass by the pillar to pursue the other with intent to hurt or destroy. Jacob reinforced this by having his brethren gather stones to make a "heap," which Bible commentators say was a circle of stones upon which the men would have sat and eaten of the sacrifice together. Laban stated the true purpose of the covenant and its memorial when he said, "This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed; And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another" (Genesis 31:48-49). Laban "swore" by "the God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, and the God of their father," even though he did not serve Abraham's God. He also equated the gods of Nahor and Abraham's father with Jehovah, but Jacob would not swear (affirm the covenant) by the gods of Mesopotamia; instead, he sware by the "fear of his father Isaac," showing his respect for the God of Abraham and Isaac. Once this ritual was over, Jacob entered into close communion with his brethren only. He "...offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount." Here is the lesson for us: rituals will not satisfy spiritual desires; only sacrifice and close communion with God and our brethren will do so.
Today is a good day to offer our sacrifices of praise unto our God and seek close communion with other believers where possible. Interactions with unbelievers may be necessary but they are never spiritually satisfying.
"And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim. And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom." Genesis 32:1-3
As he returned to the border of the Land of Canaan, Jacob camped at a place he called Mahanaim - meaning "double camp." He called this place double camp because he perceived that God had encamped along side his camp, and he saw this as a confirmation that God was indeed with him. The sign of this confirmation was that the angels of God met him. Have you ever considered what it would be like to actually see the angels of God? They were there as messengers of the covenant God had made with Jacob over twenty years earlier. Jacob had seen the angels of God in a dream before, ascending and descending on a great ladder; but this passage does not say anything ab out a dream. Jacob not only saw the angels of God, the Bible says they "met him." Jacob did not just stumble across an encampment of God's angels. That is not the nature of angels. Many people seem to believe in angels today as beings with self-determination and powers to either aid or hinder people in their pursuits, as if they were independent agents of the supernatural. God's word is clear that angels do not operate independently, neither do they go about looking for "good" people to help with their problems. The Epistle to the Hebrews stated the sure truth of angels' purpose and actions. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14). The heirs of salvation are the only recipients of the ministry of God's host of angels. Their ministry is not to assist with gaining health, wealth, or any other natural advantage. They minister the hope of Christ to God's people.
As the angels of God met Jacob, he immediately recognized their source and their purpose. "This is God's host," he said. How awe inspiring it is to realize that the host of God had been dispatched to minister for this one heir of salvation! How equally awesome to realize that the same host of God is dispatched to minister unto each one of God's little children still today. The angels' purpose was to confirm God's Presence with Jacob - in keeping with the promise He had made Jacob twenty years earlier. "And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of" (Genesis 28:15). God had been with Jacob throughout his years of labor with Laban, and he was with him as he neared the land of his father, Isaac. Was this it? was Jacob now on his own? No, the strength of the promise of God's Presence with Jacob (and us) was, "...I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." God was not going to leave Jacob nor suffer harm to come to him because Christ was in him - the promise of the Seed of Abraham was yet to be fulfilled through the line of Jacob. The same promise is still true for us today, because of what Paul called, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." God is not through with us yet. He has promised eternal, heavenly, sinless existence for each one for whom Christ died. In that sense, we dwell in Mahanaim daily, the place of "two camps." God is with us and will keep us until the day He fulfills His promises in Christ. That is the assurance Jacob received as the angels of God met him, and that is our assurance as well.
Today is a good day to realize that, "The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Psalm 34:7).
"And Jacob said, O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the LORD which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee: I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude." Genesis 32:9-12
Even though the Lord had assured Jacob of His divine Presence by sending His angels to meet him as Jacob came near the Land of Canaan, he felt he had some cause for concern. His brother Esau had threatened to kill him over twenty years before for supplanting Esau in receiving the blessing of the first born son from their father Isaac. Jacon had purchased the birthright, or rights of the firstborn son, from Esau - whom the Bible says "despised" it; but still the father's blessing would have gone to Esau had Jacob not deceived Issac into thinking he was blessing Esau while he was actually blessing Jacob. True, twenty years had passed since that time of deception; but Jacob had no reason to think that Esau had changed his mind. Now, as he came near to the land in which Esau dwelt, Jacob sent his messemgers to Esau to let him know he was returning and that the Lord had prospered him for his two decades of labor for their Uncle Laban. He told the men to tell Esau, "...I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight." He was not bragging about his wealth. Instead, Jacob was showing humility in his return to his brother Esau. He not only showed Esau that he did not need the possessions he would have inherited as the recipient of Isaac's blessing, but he also showed that he did not consider himself to be worthy of the rights of the firstborn son. Jacob, as the holder of the firstborn son's preimminence, had every right to receive honor and respect from Esau; yet, Jacob in his message to Esau called him, "my lord." When his messengers returned from having delivered his peace missive to Esau, they told Jacob that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob feared for his and his family's safety, so he took appropriate steps.
He first prepared naturally by dividing his family into two camps so that if Esau destroyed one "company," the other could escape. Then Jacob prepared spiritually. His prayer to God was an humble prayer of supplication. We might wonder here if such a prayer showed a lack of faith on Jacob's part. Not at all! But, had the Lord not reassured Jacob that He was with him when He sent His angels? Yes, that was a wonderful assurance; but this was an immediate need that Jacob felt deeply and that could only be met by the Lord. This was not a lack faith; in fact, Jacob's prayer was a definite display of humble trust in the preserving power of God's grace and mercy. If you feel yourself to be a child of God, you know that your sins have been forgiven. Why, then, do you cry out when you feel the weight of sin upon you from time to time for the Lord to forgive your sins? God's word tells us that If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. We are not showing a lack of faith when we pray for daily cleansing, we are showing the depth of our faith. Jacob's prayer showed his humility toward God. "I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant;" God would honor Jacob's humility and answer his humble prayer. So will He answer our prayers when we humbly call upon Him.
Today is a good day to pray as did the lowly Publican in one of Jesus' parables, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."
A Prince, With God
"And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank." Genesis 32:30-32
Having heard from the messengers he sent to Esau that he was on his way with what Jacob thought was an army of 400 men to possibly do him harm, Jacob sprang into action. Not only did he pray, but he also devised a plan whereby he would continue to try to appease the wrath of Esau. He selected a good number of cattle from among his herd and divided them into four separate divisions. This was to send to meet Esau with gifts as he approached Jacob and his family. The very way that Jacob chose to send these gifts showed his nature: he never gave up. From the time of his birth, Jacob depended on his own strength and determination to get what he thought was rightfully his. Called the "heel catcher," Jacob the second born had grabbed the heel of Esau the firstborn to use him to pull him out of their mother's womb into the light of day. He had used his wit and guile to supplant Esau and gain the blessing of the firstborn son. He had labored twenty years to gain the wife he wanted and to gain wealth at Laban's expense. Now, he was again using all his faculties of self-dependence to ensure his safe return to the land of his father Isaac. Esau was an obstacle that stood in his way. Yes, he was sending Esau gifts; but he was doing so to remove the obstacle. It is true that he feared for the safety of his family as well, and that is what caused his actions to try to maintain the upper hand. Jacob the "Heel Catcher,' the Supplanter, was about to be given another name - one that resulted in his being shown his need to rely on God's strength more than his own.
He took his wives, maidservants, and children and went away from the main party toward a brook of water at a fording place called Jabbock. After depositing them on the safe side of the brook, Jacob crossed back over to await his brother Esau; but God had another visitor in mind for Jacob - one who would enter into a battle of wills with Jacob and emerge victorious, with Jacob clinging to him for strength. Jacob met a "man" there at the ford of Jabbock who "wrestled" with him "until the breaking of the day." Jacob, true to his nature, would not give in to the man who wrestled him, so the "man," with supernatural powers, touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh to cause it to go out of joint. The one critical place of strength and leverage that allows a man to wrestle and gain strength over an opponent is the joint between his hip and thigh. If that place is without strength, the man cannot even stand on his own. That is exactly the lesson God's "man" was there to teach Jacob: You cannot stand on your own, Jacob. You've prevailed up to now through your wit and strength of will, using your guile and stubborness as tools of strength by which you think you have prevailed. This was the message the "man" of God was sent to teach Jacob. Even now, however, with no strength of his own with which to stand, Jacob clung to the man he wrestled with. Finally, the man said, "Let me go, for the day breaketh." Jacob refused to let go of him until the man "blessed" him. Does this sound familiar? The messenger of God had come to bless Jacob, and he would do so; but he wanted Jacob to understand that this blessing came from his standing - his place - with God (as it were, clinging to Him for strength) and not from Jacob's own strength. He asked Jacob his name. "Supplanter," said Jacob as he told him his given name. The name by which we know Jacob's family and the nation that sprang from him from that point forward was given him by the man who said, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." Relying on his own strength, Jacob was known as the Supplanter; when he relied on God's strength, he became known as Israel, meaning "A prince with God." He would rule when he relied on God's strength. He would serve when he relied on his own. So it is with God's children today. We can "rule" over our fleshly nature when we rely on God's strength. We serve our fleshly nature when we rely on our own strength.
Today is a perfect day to rule as a prince, with God.
"And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah,and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids.And he put the handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost.And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck,and kissed him: and they wept." Genesis 33:1-4
Jacob's worst fear seemed to be looming on the horizon. Esau and his 400 men were within sight and must have presented a fearsome picture to Jacob. He sprang into action, separating his little family into "waves" as they waited for Esau's company to meet them. The order of each wave seems to be significant. First were the handmaids and their children, then Leah and her children, and finally Rachel and her son Joseph. If Esau's intent was to destroy Jacob and his family, Jacob obviously wanted to give the source of his first love and his heir by her to have the greatest chance of surviving. Rather than hold this up to today's standards we think to be fair, let's try to apply it and get a lesson from it. If you had to prioritize parts of your life to give up today, what part would you give up first? What part would try to make every effort to preserve? You wouild put that part about which you cared the most last in line to give up, wouldn't you? If we applied this to our family, jobs, recreation, and service to the Lord, how would you line them up? Where would your first love be? The good thing about Jacob's case is that he did not need to do this. Esau meant him no harm.
As Esau approached, Jacob went in front of his family and humbled himself before Esau seven times. Jacob was not trying to show how strong he was, he was showing his perfect humility and willingness to recognize Esau's position. Much to his surprise, Esau also showed humility in running to meet Jacob. He embraced Jacob, not in a half-hearted way, but by falling on his neck. This showed he was genuinely moved at the sight of his brother. Both brothers wept. This was not common in those days. Grown men did not display this kind of emotion as a rule. Family disagreements are terrible. They cause people who ought to love one another and want to be with one another to remain separated for much too long, sometimes. Both men had matured, obviously. As they went through the custom of Jacob offering Esau gifts and Esau declining, each man then showed he needed nothing from the other. They were not threat to each other - at least not at that moment. Their heirs would prove that this peace did not last; but, for the moment, Jacob and Esau were reunited as natural brethren. In this, God had showed Jacob that He was preserving his life and his children's lives. Esau had become a great nation naturally, but Israel's inheritance was that he would become a great nation spiritually.
Today is a good day to meditate on where our first love lies in our priorities.
Go Up to Bethel
"And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went." Genesis 35:1-3
Much had happened since Jacob and his family had entered back into the land of Canaan. Delivered from any threat from Esau, Jacob had traveled to a place called Shechem where he purchased a parcel of land and pitched his tents. He probably would have dwelt there happily for the rest of his life if trouble had not arisen. He was in the midst of people who did not follow the same God he followed, nor did they live by the same moral code. Even though Jacob had two wives and two concubines, this was in keeping with the moral code of his day, even if it was not in keeping with God's law of one woman for one man. Before we condemn Jacob for his situation, we should remember that God had chosen Jacob to be the head of a great family, and He continued to bless Jacob and lead him throughout his life. The trouble that arose had to do with his and Leah's daughter, Dinah. Shechem, a young man of that country and the one for whom the place would be later named, saw Dinah as she left the safety of her father's encampment and went to "see how the other half lived." If we think about this, we might agree that such behavior is still the cause of a great deal of trouble for God's people. We are curious about how others live who are not called of God to be a separate people, as we are. Rather than praise God for His mercy in calling us away from the normal concern for gaining possessions in this world, we sometimes want to see how unbelievers are doing. That is essentially what Dinah did. The problem was that, "when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her." There are many spiritual lessons we could draw from this, but it gets worse. Jacob's sons devised an intricate scheme to get revenge on Shechem and his kinsman, even though Shechem expressed a desire to "do the right thing." He wanted Jacob to give him Leah's hand in marriage, and his father strongly encouraged Jacob and his family to become full-fledged members of the community by taking wives of the daughters of that land and giving its inhabitants their daughters. Doesn't that sound reasonable, from a natural standpoint? After all, shouldn't God's people try to get along with others who do not believe in His ways, who serve other gods?
Dinah's brothers, Simeon and Levi the sons of Leah, took advantage of their brothers' scheme - that of tricking Shechem, his father, and all the men of that city to submit themselves to being circumcised. To further their thirst for revenge, they used a precious emblem of God's covenant with the seed of Abraham to fool the men into thinking that submitting themselves to that act would make them acceptable as future husbands for the women of Jacob's family. All along the sons of Jacob meant to use circumcision to weaken the men of Shechem's strength so they could gain the upper hand; and that is exactly what happened. Simeon and Levi killed the inhabitants of Shechem, stole their cattle and possessions, spoiled their city, and took captive their wives and children. They went far beyond the normal scope of acts of revenge. Whether we look at it as an outgrowth of their rage or as a manifestation of their nature, the acts they committed were atrocious, unforgivable, and seemed far worse than Shechem's act that supposedly caused their extreme actions. The reaction by Jacob was one of disgust and fear. His sons had committed ungodly acts and soiled his name. Worse, they gave occasion for unbelievers to blaspheme their God. Jacob knew he must leave that area and take his family with him to preserve their lives. It was at this point that God reminded Jacob of a place he had not seen for well over twenty years: Bethel. That certain place Jacob had seen the angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder set up between earth and heaven was the exact spot the Lord told Jacob to go to. God was leading Jacob back to that spot physically, but He was also leading him back spiritually. Jacob knew that his family had adopted the ways of the people around them to the point that they were keeping "little gods," idols, which they no doubt had put some stock in. Jacob's directions to his family were to put away the idols, clean themselves up, and put on garments worthy of the sacred place called Bethel. Good advice for them, and good advice for us still today. God's people need to arise and go up to Bethel spiritually. It is high time for us to get back to that separated place where we can worship and serve God acceptably.
Today is a good day to arise and go to Bethel.
God Almighty Blesses Israel
"And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land." Genesis 35:9-12
Jacob had returned to Bethel, the place where the Lord had appeared to him so many years before. He returned in haste, fearful that the inhabitants of Canaan would pursue his family and do them all harm. It was at Bethel, however, that the Lord reinforced the promises He had made there to Jacob over twenty years earlier. He revealed His great Name to Jacob, gave Jacob a new name by which he and his descendants would be known forever, and reaffirmed the promises of Abraham and Isaac with Jacob. First, the Lord reaffirmed Jacob's new name - Israel, the one the angel of the Lord had given Jacob as he wrestled with him at the brook Jabbock . The name meant, "he will rule as God," or "God prevails," or "a prince with God." Each of these meanings denotes the standing with God that Jacob's new name would come to represent, not only with him personally but also with his twelve sons and their posterity. One central characteristic of mankind is every man's desire to "make a name" for himself. Jacob had been willing to supplant Esau's natural right to the position of prince of Isaac's family and deceive his father into granting him the blessing that position was entitled to. He wanted to make himself a name, he wanted to be the prince, he wanted to "rule" over the other members of his family. His was a natural desire, but God has a better way than any natural system can afford. God made a name for Jacob, He declared him to be a prince, and He appointed him to rule over "...a nation and a company of nations...and kings shall come out of thy loins" His family of twelve sons would become twelve tribes, then a great nation. Finally, a company of nations would come under the influence of God's dealings with Jacob - now called Israel - and great kings would reign over his posterity
Not only did God give Jacob a new name, but He also revealed His own name to Jacob in a new way. "And God said unto him, I am God Almighty." El Shaddai, God Almighty, revealed Himself to Israel and reaffirmed the promises He had made to his grandfather Abraham, his father Isaac, and earlier to Jacob: "And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land." Here is an ironic point: El Shaddai stated that He gave the land to Abraham and to Isaac. They never owned more than a few square feet Abraham purchased for a burying spot. In fact, the New Testament's Epistle to the Hebrews says of the three of them, "By faith he" (Abraham) "sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise" (Hebrews 11:9). God Almighty's promises to Israel were by the promise of inheritance. Jacob had sought it by deceit through natural means, but God meant him to have it by the truth of His word through spiritual means. So it is with our eternal inheritance: we cannot obtain it or attain to it by natural means; we can only do so by the grace of God through the spiritual means He provides. Jesus, natural heir of Jacob in the flesh, said of His heavenly Father, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). The only way the old supplanter and deceiver formerly known as Jacob could inherit the spiritual promises of God Almighty was that He called Jacob by a new name, declared his inheritance, and directed his path to receive it and walk in it. God Almighty also calls us by a new name, declares us to be joint heirs with His Son, Jesus Christ, and directs our path to receive and walk in that inheritance.
Today is a good day to follow the path in which God leads us, to enjoy our inheritance.
Life Comes from Death
"And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day." Genesis 35:16-20
Having been blessed by God Almighty at Bethel, Jacob and his family began to make their way from Bethel southward to Hebron, where Isaac dwelt. It was probably a slow moving caravan, because Rachel was once again expecting a child. Up until now, Joseph was her only heir, so another child would be a great blessing to Rachel. Sadly, she would not live to see the child grow up. As they neared a place called Ephrath, the time came that Rachel should be delivered and her labor was very hard. It became apparent to the attending midwife that Rachel might not survive the ordeal, but she wanted to encourage Rachel in her delivery. "Fear not; thou shalt have this son also," the midwife told her. She was letting Rachel know that she was giving Jacob another son. In fact, he would be the twelfth son of Jacob, beloved brother to Joseph, and last of the heads of the twelve tribes that comprised the nation soon to be called Israel; but Rachel would not see any of this. She gave the baby a name, however, and as the custom was then, his name would be associated with the conditions of his birth. She called his name Ben-oni, which means "son of my sorrow." Her earthly life was at an end and she would never get to see the baby grow and prosper, so it is completely understandable that Rachel would give him such a name. The wondrous part of this story is that, in Rachel's passing, we are given a deep reassurance of life continuing after our earthly existence.
It was "as her soul was in departing" that she named the baby Ben-oni. Her sorrow was of an earthly sort, but the fact that her soul departed shows us that her joy was ready to become full. David, an heir of the great nation that would come from the twelve tribes of Israel, would later say of the experience of passing from life on earth to the realm of eternal life, "In thy presence is fulness of joy." In the presence of the hard labor, and of the birth of a son she would never get to rejoice in on earth, Rachel had great sorrow. Hence, the name Ben-Oni; but her sorrow was about to turn to pure joy as her soul left her mortal body and entered into the Presence of the Lord. There is an old hymn sung in the early days of this country - and still in some Old Baptist hymnals - with a verse that reads in part, "Why do we mourn departing friends and shake at death's alarm? 'Tis but the voice that Jesus sends to call them to His arms." Rachel's sorrow was over, and her joy was just beginning; but Jacob and his family were left to mourn her passing. He buried her there, near to present day Bethlehem, and set a pillar upon her grave. This was not merely a grave marker. To "set a pillar" meant that Jacob very likely set up an altar there and offered sacrifices unto God in thankfulness for the memory of his first love. Not willing to have his youngest son bear the name that would memorialize the sorrow of her passing, Jacob called the baby Benjamin, or son of my right hand. The name also meant, "son that is particularly dear to me." Jacob would rather memorialize the joy that Rachel had brought to him, and the blessed state in which he believed her departed soul to be rejoicing, rather than to memorialize the sorrow of her passing. What great hope this ought to give us that one day our soul shall also depart - if the Lord tarries His coming - to a blessed state of fulness of joy.
Today is a good day to remember that our earthly existence, as full of sorrow as it may be, is not the end. Joy awaits us. Life will come from death.
Jacob Dwelt In The Land
"And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan." Genesis 37:1
This seems a simple statement about the place where Jacob dwelt, but it contains much to show us the character of this man whom God had chosen to further the cause of Christ. God's word tells us that Isaac died and was buried by his sons, Esau and Jacob. Then, for some strange reason, the Holy Spirit inspires Moses to record in a whole chapter of the Book of Genesis the lineage of Esau. Every son and every grandson, at least, have their names recorded. Not only that, but we are also told that Esau and his heirs left the land of Canaan and went into the country, meaning outside what would later be called the Promised Land, and so, "Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom." The Edomites would later plague the Children of Israel mercilessly, but this passing from each other seems rather peacable. After all, both Jacob and Esau were now rich men. So great were their possessions in fact, that the Bible says, "For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle." Please note this little, obscure fact: in Canaan, they were strangers. As rich as they were, they had no land upon which they could freely graze their vast holdings of cattle. Their wealth of possessions actually hindered them in the land wherein they walked as strangers, and they had to depend on the permission of others to stay. As was typical of his character, Esau abandoned the land, "wherein his father was a stranger," the land God had promised the seed of Abraham, and went to make his own way; but Jacob stayed.
His staying in the land of Canaan, the land wherein his father was a stranger, was an act of faith. God had spoken to Jacob more than once and assured him that He would give him the land. It might have been easier for Jacob to do as Esau did, and strike out on his own to conquer other lands and take them for his own. He probably was strong enough that he could have raised an army of his heirs and servants and taken a portion of the land of Canaan by force; but God did not promise Jacob a portion of the land: He promised him all of it. If we abandon the natural side of this promise for a moment and dwell on the spiritual side, perhaps we can draw a parallel to the religious age in which we live. Many people today are being told that there is a formula by which they, as believers in God, may have abundant natural blessings: health, wealth, happiness, positions of power, and so forth. They are told that their obtaining these things is predicated on their being strong enough in faith to "take" these things (some say name it and claim it.) There is nothing wrong with a believer in Jesus Christ being in possession of health, wealth, happiness, or power; but to spend spiritual currency pursuing these things is to desire only a portion of the blessings. It is akin to taking - by force - only a portion of the Land of Promise. That is where the simple statement of Jacob's existence ought to bring us back to the place of seeing that God has more, much more, for His people than just material blessings. Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger. This heir to the great promises of Abraham chose to follow God's leadership and God's timetable for accomplishing His will, and so he truly became heir to the blessings Abraham possessed - spiritual and not natural. Jacob is mentioned as a man of faith in the same manner of Abraham in Hebrews 11:9-10, "By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Jacob was an heir with Abraham of the same promise: a safe and sure dwelling place which God would provide for them.
Today is a good day to remember, and reaffirm, that we are walking and dwelling in a natural land wherein our fathers were strangers, but as heirs with them of the promise of a greater spiritual land that God has prepared for us.
Jacob Rose Up
"And Jacob rose up from Beer-sheba: and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father, and their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons which Pharaoh had sent to carry him. And they took their cattle, and their goods, which they had gotten in the land of Canaan, and came into Egypt, Jacob, and all his seed with him:" Genesis 46:5-6
Much had happened to Jacob as he left what had been the dwelling place of his father Isaac at Beer-sheba. His sons had sold their brother Joseph into bondage, and Joseph had ultimately prospered in Egypt. A great famine took hold of that part of the world, most especially in the land of Canaan, and caused Jacob to send his sons to Egypt to buy grain. What then took place is what the world calls irony, but what God calls the counsel of His own will. Jacob's ten oldest sons went to Egypt to buy grain from the man they had heard the Pharaoh had placed in charge of all his goods. After a time, Joseph revealed himself to them as the brother they had left for dead and then sold into slavery many years earlier. He wanted to see his father and younger brother Benjamin, but Joseph was acting according to God's good counsel when he sent wagons with his brothers to fetch his father and the whole family and bring them down into Egypt where he knew he could provide for them. Famine would not claim Jacob's family; in fact, they were given a place where they and their flocks would grow and prosper. Jacob did not fear going to Egypt. In one sense, he was following the pattern set by his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, because they had also gone to Egypt when famine threatened their family; but Jacob's family would stay for hundreds of years before they finally returned. Jacob had God's promise that their return would not be as a small family, but in a far greater capacity.
Jacob had come to Beer-sheba to offer sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac. As he did so, the Lord spake to Jacob - in visions of the night - and once again assured Jacob of His Presence and favor. God said, "I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes." While it is true that Jacob would never see the land of Canaan again, it is also true that Israel, the great nation that God promised to make of Jacob's little band, would one day leave Egypt with a strong arm. God would make good on His promises to Jacob: He was with Israel all the days they were in Egypt, He prepared and established a deliverer of His people in Jacob's descendant Moses, and He showed His power over all the powers of Egypt when He delivered His people from bondage. Would Jacob die in Egypt? Yes, but even in that God promised him great things. He would see Joseph his son again, and Joseph would be there to "put his hand" upon the eyes of Jacob as they closed in death. God's natural promises to Jacob were to be realized in Israel, and His spiritual promises were to be realized in Christ. When the Lord said to Jacob, "fear not to go down into Egypt," Jacob heard and obeyed. Why should we fear the future, when God has promised us eternal inheritance with Him? Fear not!
Today is a good day to establish ourselves once again on the surety of God's promises.
Jacob Blessed Pharaoh
"And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh: and Jacob blessed Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How old art thou? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage." Genesis 47:7-9
After he had safely guided his father's family into the land of Goshen, Joseph took his father to present him to Pharaoh. This was a common courtesy for a man visiting in another country, and no doubt was attended with much pomp and circumstance. After all, here was a lowly shepherd from a poor country, probably having nothing to bring before the Pharaoh as a gift, being presented to a head of state - a king! Joseph was fulfilling the social requirements of the day, perhaps; but Jacob came before Pharaoh as one convinced that he was blessed of God. He understood this was a far greater honor than any thing he could receive at the hand of this king - who in the final analysis was just a man like Jacob. He had the power that his kingdom afforded him, but Pharaoh served at the pleasure of God Almighty. In fact, Paul tells us that the Lord, "raised up Pharaoh" to accomplish His purpose in him. How often do God's people become overwhelmed with the thought of being in the presence of some person the world counts as great, or powerful, or influential? The God we serve is much greater than any power or influence in the world! In fact, He tells us in His word that He raises up kings and kingdoms and He puts them down. Jacob had a good perspective on the situation.
There is no doubt that Jacob was respectful of Pharaoh's position. He understood himself to be a guest in Egypt - just as he was a stranger in the land of Canaan. What's more, Jacob fully understood and believed that his people's stay in Egypt was a temporary one. They were blessed of God, and He had something better for them. The land of Goshen was a good and fertile land, and Israel would prosper there; but Goshen was not the Land of Promise. Jacob appreciated the blessings that Goshen represented to his family, but he did not attribute those blessings to Pharaoh; instead, he gave all praise and glory to God for preserving him and his family. As he stood before Pharaoh, as God's ambassador, Jacob did something that seems insignificant, but that shows the mighty power of God working in his life. Jacob blessed Pharaoh. We could miss this little statement if not careful. In the sense of blessings, the person bestowing the blessing is understood to be the one in a power position, and the one receiving the blessing is understood to be the one in a "need" position. In fact, Paul's Letter to the Hebrews tells us, "And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better." What a wondrous show of God's might and power in the life of a man for whom the world would have little esteem. Jacob, in blessing Pharaoh, showed his primary hope was in the Eternal Provider of all good things.
Today is a good day to refresh our hope in the provision of God's blessings, and not in what the world can provide to us.
"And his sons did unto him according as he commanded them: For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan, and buried him in the cave of the field of Machpelah, which Abraham bought with the field for a possession of a burial place of Ephron the Hittite, before Mamre." Genesis 50:12-13
Jacob lived seventeen years in Egypt and died at the ripe old age of 147. Before he died, he gave his family a token of the faith he still had in God's promises. Jacob made Joseph swear that he would honor his wishes to be buried in the Land of Canaan, "bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burial place" (Genesis 47:29-30). Even though he now could have no hope of inheriting the natural land of Canaan, Jacob showed that his hope was in God; and God had made promises to him that were not dependent on him, but on his seed. There was a cave in the field of Machpelah on the plains of Mamre near Hebron that held those that were heirs with him of the same promises. Abraham and Isaac were buried there. Abraham, Jacob's grandfather, had purchased this spot for a burial place and it was the only spot that either he or Isaac, Jacob's father, had ever owned in the land God promised them. Jacob had purchased a portion of land next to this many years before he and his family went down into Egypt, and that was the place of his hope. It was a token of hope to the children of Israel as they dwelt in Egypt for over four hundred years. Jacob's end may seem of little consequence - a man who lived and died, never having received the end of his faith concerning the natural promises of God; but his passing was a testimony of the faith in God Almighty that characterized his life, and it bears a closer look.
A little less than four hundred years after his passing, Jacob's family had become a great nation in terms of their numbers and God delivered them out of Egypt to make good on the promise He had first made to Abraham. As this nation of tribes traveled toward Canaan, the king of Moab hired an eastern seer named Balaam to come and place a curse upon them. God would not allow him to do so; in fact, He caused Balaam to pronounce blessings upon His people. These blessings were couched in reference to Jacob. Balaam stated in one blessing, "Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" (Numbers 23:10). The testimony of Jacob's life was captured in the end of his life: he died the death of the righteous. He died in faith, just as he had lived in faith. Balaam further said of Jacob, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side, as the trees of lign aloes which the LORD hath planted, and as cedar trees beside the waters. He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of a unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. He couched, he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion: who shall stir him up? Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee" (Numbers 24:5-9). Balaam saw that God had blessed Jacob naturally and spiritually, and as he looked upon Israel encamped there on the plains of Moab, he prophesied of the blessings yet to come for God's people. That is what Jacob saw by faith, and that is how he lived his life after God revealed His Presence as a guiding force in Jacob's life. We would do well to model ourselves after Jacob, to believe in God's blessings still to come and to live with the knowledge that He is with us. Then our end may be as Jacob's: we can die in faith as we have lived in faith.
Today is a good day to set our sights on God's promises and model our lives on the hope of Christ, just as Jacob did.