It is a remarkable fact, that Jacob is designated a "plain" or, as
the word is elsewhere translated, "perfect" man (Gen 25: 27). The
reference is, we believe, to the deep underlying current of
life-purpose which characterized him. On the surface his life was
marked by innumerable eddies and cross currents: no other of the
patriarchs had so chequered a career as he. Yet the redeeming feature
in his case was that from his early years he set his mind upon the
Divine blessing connected with the birthright, and that blessing -
though possibly he but very dimly apprehended it - centred in the
Christ who was to come. Consequently he maintained the pilgrim
character and went on dwelling in tents, when Esau adopted the line of
things formerly favoured by Nimrod, and became a "cunning hunter."
In this we may compare and yet contrast Jacob with David. The comparison exists,
because, as Psalm 132 shows, David too, had a deep underlying purpose
in his life from his earliest years. He conceived the purpose in
boyhood days at Ephratah and never turned aside from it through all his
afflictions. His great idea was to "find out a place for the Lord."
This doubtless was one great reason, perhaps the great reason, for his being called "a man after God's own heart." The contrast lies
in the fact that while David's purpose was "a place for the Lord,"
Jacob's was a blessing for himself. Still the blessing Jacob sought was
God's blessing, it was at least a part of His purpose, and hence Jacob
was in that sense a perfect man.
Of all the patriarchs, indeed of all the characters we have
portrayed in Scripture, Jacob stands out as the diplomatist. In his
case the field of operations was not found in the affairs of state or
nations, but in the smaller matters connected with himself and his
household. Still the modus operandi in either case is the same. The very word diplomacy is derived, as a dictionary will show, from a Greek word which has as its primitive meaning a paper folded double; and
hence it carries to this day the suggestion of artful management or
manoeuvring, of seeking one's own cause with paper folded double so
that the opponent cannot see all that is written upon it. This of necessity involves a strain of selfishness running through all one's actions.
Thus it was pre-eminently with Jacob. He was an inveterate
diplomatist until near the end of his career, always scheming, always
seeking his own ends in clever ways. Concurrently we see God dealing
with him in discipline, bringing him to an end of his cleverness and
finally bringing him to the desired haven, that is, to the end that God
himself proposed, which transcended anything that Jacob had before him.
A brief survey of Jacob's diplomacies cannot fail to be instructive,
since we all possess his nature that loves to scheme for the attaining
of its own ends, though not all possess his ability.
In Genesis 25 we have recorded the transaction with Esau over the
pottage of lentils. The birthright was made the subject of a commercial
transaction. Esau revealed himself as a "profane person" (Heb. 12: 16),
saying "what profit shall this birthright do to me?" Jacob revealed
himself as one who, though valuing the birthright, regarded it as a
subject of barter, and to be purchased as cheaply as possible. Esau
despised the birthright and lost it, but on the other hand there is no
evidence that Jacob obtained it as a result of this sharp practice.
Rather he obtained it in spite of it.
In Genesis 27 is recorded the artful way in which Jacob, instigated
by his mother, deceived his blind father, and supplanted Esau in the
matter of the blessing. He lied both by word of mouth and in action.
This episode was overruled of God to bring home to Esau the folly of
his profanity and its irrevocable results. As for Jacob, he certainly
got the patriarchal blessing, which had, as Heb. 11: 20
shows, an element of faith in it, and was according to the purpose of
God. Yet he did not get Divine blessing by diplomacy of this
disreputable order: he got rather a disagreeable chain of consequences
that entangled him in life-long difficulties. He came definitely under
the discipline of God.
The first effect of this discipline was to send him forth from home
a fugitive to Haran. Though suffering in this way, however, God had
dealings with Him in a dream, as Genesis 28 records, and Jacob had
dealings with God. God's dealings with him were in pure grace,
revealing what He would be on his behalf. Jacob's with God, were still
on the lines of selfish diplomacy. If God would be with him and give
him the good things of this life, then he would serve God. God was to
him as yet but the Source of supply for all the food, and clothes, and
protection and care he needed! Can we afford to throw stones at Jacob
in this connection? Are there not thousands today whose "Christianity"
does not consist of much more than that God is good to them, and they
find comfort in Jesus amidst the trials, and needs, and perplexities of
life, and they expect to go to heaven when they die!
In Genesis 29, Genesis 30, and Genesis 31, we have the record of the
years of Jacob's sojourn in Haran, which resolved itself into a duel of
diplomacy between Jacob and Laban his uncle. In the government of God,
Jacob found himself in the hands of a man of even greater selfishness
than himself. There was an extraordinary fitness about God's discipline
in the matter of his marriage. He was deceived as to the two daughters
of Laban, just as Isaac had been deceived by his two sons, only Isaac
was blinded by age, and Jacob by the peculiar marriage customs of the
Laban, according to Jacob's complaint, changed his wages ten times.
Jacob got his own back by cunning artifices connected with the breeding
of Laban's cattle, and according to the complaint of Laban's sons had
"taken away all that was our father's." Thus the contest was waged
until again God intervened in a dream and made known to Jacob that it
was He, rather than Jacob's stratagems, that caused the cattle to pass
from Laban to him, and calling him out of the whole unpleasant business
back to Canaan.
This at once brought Jacob into the presence of the original
trouble, the anger and resentment of Esau. Genesis 32 and Genesis 33
record his skilful diplomacy in view of this emergency. They also show
how unnecessary it all was, for the God who had warned Laban the Syrian
not to touch Jacob had been before him again and softened Esau's heart.
It was in connection with this experience that a climax was reached in
God's dealings with him. The Angel of the Lord, in human form, wrestled
with him until daybreak. Jacob resisted until he was crippled. When
crippled in his own strength and clinging, instead of wrestling, then "He blessed him there." Thus
symbolically was the great lesson conveyed, and there began to dawn
upon Jacob the light of this fact: that no wrestling, whether
diplomatic or physical, can achieve the results that flow from
dependence upon God and His power.
That Jacob did begin to learn this is evidenced by the end of
Genesis 33 where we find him building an altar and calling it "God, the
God of Israel." His thought still had a selfish bent. It was still what God was for him. Still it was what God was for him, as a prince with God prevailing through weakness and dependence. He called it not "El-Elohe-Jacob" but "El-Elohe-Israel."
Looking back over these diplomatic schemes of Jacob, thus hastily
sketched, we perceive that one feature marks them all. Each was a
failure. Even where the aim before him was in itself not unworthy, and
the methods adopted not wrong, all his schemes proved to be just so
much unnecessary trouble, for God had been before him and acted on his
From this point onwards Jacob's diplomacies fade away, though his
troubles do not. In the government of God he has to reap what he has
sown till his latest hour. Still he meets these disciplinary events in
another spirit, and when later (Genesis 35) he is called of God to go
up to Bethel he shows he now has some sense of the holiness which
becomes God's house, and he calls the altar he builds there
"El-beth-el" or "The God of Bethel," i.e., "The God of the house of
God" - not now God in relation to himself, even as Israel, but God in
relation to His own house.
Jacob's broken spirit is very manifest when presently he reaps back
into his own bosom the harvest of deceit which he had sown in regard to
his father Isaac, and is himself bitterly deceived by his own sons as
to Joseph. Years after, when the glad truth concerning his beloved son
reached him, together with the call from Joseph to travel to Egypt, and
that call had been ratified by a word from God, he goes down in simple
faith in the word that had reached him, and without the least attempt
at ensuring his safety or prosperity by efforts of his own. Hence,
conscious of the blessing of God he is able to stand before great
Pharaoh and bless him instead of craving a blessing from him.
Last of all we come in Genesis 48 to that remarkable scene alluded
to in Hebrews 11 when we read, "By faith Jacob, when he was a dying,
blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top
of his staff." His eyes were closing upon the world which had been the
scene of so much scheming on his part, and so much chastening on God's,
for he was a dying man. His eyes of faith, however, were never more
keen in their vision. He saw the real position in regard to Ephraim and
Manasseh; and placing his right hand upon the head of the one whose
name meant Fruitful, and his left hand on the head of the other, whose name meant Forgetting, he blessed them.
In the light of what has since been revealed we can see in this
action of the dying patriarch a meaning of which he could not have been
conscious. In figure there was the taking away of the first that the
second - the fruitful one, a type of Christ - might be established.
But why should it be recorded that Jacob was "leaning upon the top
of his staff"? Is it not that we might see in his bodily weakness, and
consequent dependence upon outside support, a figure of that which now
marked him spiritually? At last in conscious weakness he had exchanged
diplomacy for dependence, and as a result of this happy exchange, his
sun, after a stormy day, was setting in a blaze of glory!
Dying, dependent, and with the "Fruitful" man filling his mind's
eye, he became a worshipper. He rose at last as the fruit of God's
discipline to that which really was God's purpose for him. It is
noticeable that all through Genesis 48 he is named Israel, for he was displaying the characteristics of "A Prince of God" at last.
In Genesis 49 Israel the worshipper becomes the prophet of God, and
in blessing his sons he speaks of things which have to do with Christ
in both His sufferings and His glory.
The great value of Jacob's history lies in the fact that he so
faithfully portrayed human nature as it exists in a saint of God. His
foolishnesses are ours. His inveterate tendency to scheme with
diplomatic cleverness to accomplish his ends, and even to reach ends
which were right and part of the purpose of God concerning him, is just
the tendency that is ours. Hence God's disciplinary dealings with him
are very indicative of His dealings with us.
Happy it is for us if we, too, reach the end which he reached as a
dying man. And happy, thrice happy, are we, if we reach that end in the
midst of our careers, and before we come to die.