of the Jew
The history of Jacob is of peculiar interest to the Christian, for in it is seen the discipline of surrender, and the description of the Jew in his choice, character and conduct, conflict and chastening, and the constant care of the Shepherd of Israel. It is the conflict of the human will over against the will of God. Jacob stands out from others in the Old Testament as under a special course of chastening from the Lord. It was necessary to sanctify his will, so that he might do the will of God. The life of Jacob is well appreciated by F. B. Meyer:
“If we can understand the life of Jacob, we can understand the history of the people. The extremes which startle us in them are all in him. Like them, he is the most successful schemer of his time, and, like them, he has the deep spirituality, that far seeing faith, which are the grandest of all qualities, and make a man capable of the highest culture that human spirit can receive. Like them, he spends the greatest part of his life in exile, and amid trying conditions of toil and sorrow; and, like them he is inalienably attached to that dear land, his only hold on which was by the promise of God and the graves of the heroic dead. But Jacob’s character was purified by tremendous discipline. The furnace into which he was cast heated seven times more than it is wont to be heated for ordinary men. Through such discipline his people have been passing for centuries; and surely before its searching fires the baser elements of their natures will be expelled, until they recognize the true Joseph of their seed … towards whom they are being brought.”
There are three great periods in the life of Jacob: (1) From his birth to his departure from home; or the life of sin and self. (2) From his departure from home to the land of Laban, and what he learned there; or the life of servitude and surrender. (3) His closing days in Egypt, “the end” of the man who was chastened of God, or the life of satisfaction and service.
Though Jacob’s life was marked by cupidity and trickery, he valued spiritual things. It was God’s purpose that he should possess the rights of the first born (Genesis 25:23), and He would have it come to pass at His own time, and in His own way. But Jacob could not wait for the fulfilment of God’s will and so resorted to his own. He takes advantage of his brother in a weak moment and secures his birthright. Oh, the trouble we bring upon ourselves by taking things out of God’s hands! Jacob did not behave himself in his father’s home. Early he learned cheating, cunning and deception that marred his character and soiled his life. Encouraged by his mother, Jacob, against his better judgment, launched a desperate deception to possess the blessings of his aged father. Sin never stops at one act; it is always a chain, one link drawing another. It is like a series of explosions that leave nothing but desolation and ruin behind. Jacob’s sin altered the whole course of his life, and left many sad results. It brought about the hatred of his brother and flight from home. He found himself a lonely wanderer from the land of promise. It was on the threshold of a new life, after deceit and failure of the old, that God met him at Bethel. His life took on a new hue from this experience, and in an impressionable and chastened spirit he reached the land of Laban.
The Land of Laban
God permitted Jacob to go into the land of Laban to be further instructed in the curriculum that is divine. He learned something of patience and its refining character as he waited the hand and heart of Rachel. He was taught to respect the rights of the firstborn, hence Leah was given to him instead of Rachel. The truth was brought home to his heart that “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” He was deceived by Laban; cheated out of his wages ten times; chastened as he saw the machinations of his own flesh in his children. As a shepherd he watched the flocks by night and day. In the drought and heat of the day, in the cold frost of the night he learned to care for the sheep. Through the long, tedious hours he was taught of God the lessons of solitude. He learned through sore bereavement that the God of Abraham and Isaac was his God for refuge and consolation. Jacob lost his mother, father, Deborah, the old link with the family, Leah and Rachel of his own generation. All these were removed by death. Last he was to mourn for his son Joseph. In a scene of sorrow, separation and death Jacob found the living God his all-sufficiency. Finally, Jacob came to an end of his service with Laban and set his face towards Bethel at the command of God. During this time Jacob had no altar, no fellowship with God and he was longing for a home (Gen. 31:25). So today the Jews have been driven out of the land which is their possession by the promise of God and have suffered much at the hands of all nations. Their desire is for security and prosperity in a national home, and it is without controversy that the finest thing that has happened to the Jew in his years of exile is the rebuilding of the Fatherland in the land of Israel.
Before Jacob reaches Bethel he must meet his brother whom he has wronged. He must be changed; his will must be disciplined, for only such a man can be of service to God. Jacob is left alone by the brook Jabbok. There a man wrestled with him. The man is called “the Angel” (in Hosea 12:4), and it is added “even the Lord God of Hosts,” so that we can identify the divine wrestler as the Lord Himself. Out of the all night struggle came forth a new Jacob divinely disciplined and under the mastery of the Lord. No longer was he the supplanter but a Prince with God, and as such, he was to have power with men. As the sun rises upon Jacob, he comes into the light with a new name, and a new walk, from carnal Jacob to spiritual Israel. So with the nation known as the Jews, God will bring them to the place of pouring out and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced in the day of national repentance and restoration. Their wills and hearts will be broken and they shall enter into the fullness of God’s blessing as the Son reigns and rules in the life of the nation. In like manner, it is only as the child of God reaches Jabbok, the place of emptying, that he can claim the blessing of God and move onward from cunning to clinging, wrestling to waiting, and from resisting to resting. How necessary at times to experience trial and pressure because before crowning we may have to be crippled.
The Closing Days of Jacob’s Life
The life of Jacob shows the marks of a God-mastered life. At the end he is subdued and useful to and for God. How good to note that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance, and the nation will be the peculiar possession of God, a kingdom of priests and an holy nation (Exod. 19:5, 6). In the lifetime of Jacob he frequently made mistakes, but now he makes no mistakes, for he sees things from God’s side. Hence we review this stormy, chequered career and marvel at the operation of the divine will in the life of a nation.
Out of such material as a supplanter, a deceiver of his father, using carnal crooked methods to bargain with his brother for the birthright, stealing Esau’s blessing, the Master Workman mastered the life of Jacob until, fully yielded to God, it became the channel of His grace and blessing. As a servant in a strange land, Jacob learned that the path of discipline led to purging and prosperity of soul. As a saint at the brook, Jacob met God face to face, and came to an end of self; pride was laid low; self-seeking was dethroned; ambition was renounced, and he came forth no longer the supplanter, but the sovereign, a Prince with God. As a seer at the end of the trail he displays the shining glory of his faith as he worships on the top of his staff. What a bright and peaceful close to his distracted, self-willed, God-mastered life.
How instructive it is to trace the hand of God in our lives and learn the folly of resorting to our plans and methods to accomplish God’s purposes! How important to find in God a sure recourse for all the vicissitudes of life! What an incentive to study the Jew and learn, “The God Jacob is our refuge” (Psa. 46:7), and “In Judah (the word for Jew) is God known: His name is great in Israel” (Psa. 76:1).