Dr. James T. Naismith of Scarborough, Ontario, a physician and Bible teacher, continues his series on Genesis.
Copyright by Everyday Publications Inc.; used by permission
The life of Jacob spans a more extensive section of Genesis than any other human character in the book. His birth is recorded in chapter 25, his death not till chapter 49. Thus half of the book records events that happened in his lifetime. Perhaps the most obvious feature of his life is that it was characterized by spiritual vicissitudes: his was a chequered career, reaching some high mountain peaks of communion with God, but frequently dipping to low valleys of selfish ambition and deception. The valleys of failure seem to be more in evidence than the mountain-peaks of faith. It may seem surprising, therefore, to read his name among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 (v. 21), although the Holy Spirit goes to the end of his life to record an act of faith. Still more surprising are the comments on Jacob elsewhere in the Scriptures, e.g. in the Psalms:
47:4 — The excellency of Jacob whom He loved.
135:4 — The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself.
147:19 — He showeth His word unto Jacob.
In spite of his failings, he was evidently held in high esteem by his descendants, as indicated by the woman’s words to the Lord at Jacob’s well at Sychar: Art Thou greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well? John 4:12. What was it that made this man who was naturally so unattractive, a selfish deceiver (his name, Jacob, means “supplanter” — see Gen. 27:36), such a great man, loved by God and honoured by men? The answer can be found in another expression, “the God of Jacob,” found 12 times in the Psalms (20:1; 46:7, etc.) and several times elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments. All that was commendable in Jacob was not in Jacob naturally but was owed to the God of Jacob. The heights that Jacob reached were the result of his experiences with God and of God’s presence and blessing.
Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap, Gal. 6:7. This is one of the main lessons to be learned from the record of Jacob’s life. He who, by trickery and deceit, won the birthright from his brother, Gen. 25:29-34, and the blessing from his father, Gen. 27, and who deceived his uncle Laban, Gen. 30:37-43), experienced the bitterness of being deceived by his uncle, Gen. 29:23, and later by his own sons, Gen. 37:31-35.
Another Scriptural principle that is clearly illustrated in Jacob’s chequered career is: Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, Rom. 5:20. Jacob himself confessed his own unworthiness of God’s gracious blessings, and acknowledged on several occasions the debt he owed to his God, the God of his fathers (see Gen. 31:42; 32:10; 33:5, 11; 35:3; 48:3, 4, 11). Dr. W. H. Griffith Thomas has well written: “There is no character in Holy Scripture which more clearly manifests the glory of divine grace in dealing with the most forbidding of materials.” As we study God’s training of His wayward servant, we shall no doubt see reflections of our own spiritual histories and rejoice afresh in the triumphs of God’s grace in our personal experiences.
In his excellent survey of the Bible, “The Unfolding Drama of Redemption,” Dr. W. Graham Scroggie has divided Jacob’s life into four periods, “associated with four places, the name of each being eminently suited to the phase of Jacob’s life of that period”:
1. The Supplanter In Beersheba,
Gen. 25:26 - 28:9. 77 years.
The principal parts of this phase are the stories of
1. The Birthright, 25:29-34, and
2. The Blessing, chapter 27.
“The key to both is in 25:23, The elder shall serve the younger. This was God’s purpose, but to be fulfilled in His way and time. Jacob brought upon himself divine discipline, resulting in 20 years of labour away from home. At the end of this period, he left his home and family, including his mother to whom he was so closely attached and whom he never saw again. The way of the transgressor is hard, Prov. 13:15.
2. The Servant in Padan-aram,
Gen. 28:10-31:16. 20 years.
At 77 years of age, he left Hebron for Haran, 450 miles N.E., to find a wife from his father’s people, like his father before him (Gen. 24). On the journey he had a very special experience (akin to conversion), when he met with God at Luz, renamed Bethel, 28:10-22. This seems to have been his first experience with God, and is one of the mountain-peaks of his life. Having arrived at Padan-aram, he worked for Laban for 20 years, 31:41, deceiving and being deceived, reaping what he had sown. Here he married Leah, then Rachel, the daughters of Laban (working 14 years for both), with their handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah, and became the father of 11 sons and some daughters. The experiences at Padan-aram were part of God’s training in His school.
3. The Saint in Hebron,
Gen. 31:17-45:28. 33 years.
Dr. Graham Scroggie modifies this title by pointing out that “in much of the story of these chapters Jacob is anything but a saint” and that less than two-thirds of the 33 years from his leaving Haran till his going down to Egypt was actually spent in Hebron. Yet “here was a saint in the making” and “his goal was Hebron, though he took long to get there.” At the crossing of the river Jabbok (Gen. 32) — at a place renamed, by Jacob, Peniel (the face of God), Jacob had his second major experience with God, wrestled with Him and was left lame, but received a blessing — and a change of name to Israel (prince of God). If Bethel is suggestive of conversion, Peniel’s experience speaks of consecration. Subsequently, he met with Esau, 33:1-15, in fear rather than faith; then moved on to Succoth, 33:17. From there he went to Shalem, in Canaan, 33:18-20, and, at God’s command, 35:1, back to Bethel, 35:1-15, where he built an altar, and where God again appeared to him as He had done when he fled from Esau. Finally, he moved on to Hebron, 35:16-27, losing Rachel and gaining Benjamin on the way. He spent 22 mostly sad years at Hebron, where he mourned his father’s death, 35:29, and the loss of his favourite son, Joseph, 37:33-35.
4. The Seer in Egypt,
Gen. 46 - 49. 17 years.
The final scenes in Jacob’s life were enacted in Egypt, whither he went by the arrangement of his son, Joseph, who had become “Prime Minister” of Egypt. Here we see him come to maturity and rise to his highest heights — in his blessing of Joseph’s sons (the incident selected by the Holy Spirit in Heb. 11:21 as evidence of his faith), Gem 48; and in his remarkable prophetic discourse regarding his own family, Gen. 49.