The Trend Of Life
The short biographical sketch of Abraham’s life in Hebrews 11 pictures him living between two cities. The first, Ur of the Chaldees; the second, the city whose builder and maker is God. He forsook the first, but with strong hope he anticipated the City of God. As he left Ur, he became a stranger in the land; as he anticipated the other, he became a pilgrim bound for a glorious destiny.
The Apostle Peter besought God’s people “as strangers and pilgrims” to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul (1 Pet. 2:11) . While Abraham was literally in the actual geographic land of promise, the believer is in this evil age. Our relationship to this scene is that of a stranger, but our relationship to heaven is that of a pilgrim on our way there.
Those two cities, Ur of the Chaldees and the New Jerusalem, stretch from the beginning to the end of Abraham’s spiritual experience, but there is an object that stands somewhere between them to which we must pay attention — an altar. On that altar Abraham placed his all. On that altar he placed the fulfilment of his years, his plans and his concerns. On that altar he placed all his hopes for the future development and blessing of his progeny. In simple words, he placed his all on that altar.
Like Abraham we profess to have left the world, that we have become strangers to it. Like him we are pilgrims journeying to the celestial city, but have we an altar in between these two? Have we sacrificed our best to the Lord? Does Romans 12:1 mean anything in our lives? We sing, “All for Jesus, all for Jesus! All my being’s ransomed pow’rs.” Is this true? What have we really sacrificed in life for our Lord?
Isaac (v. 20)
One cannot agree with Alexander Whyte’s assessment of Isaac. His peaceful life is very attractive. It came in between the somewhat restless life of his father Abraham and the rather tumultuous life of his son Jacob. God calls Himself “the God of Isaac,” and Jacob testified of his father saying, “God, before whom my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, did walk” (Gen. 48:15).
For the sake of peace Isaac was prepared to relinquish his rights to a disputed well and dug another new well. There is always a price to pay for peace (Gen. 26:17-22). The price may be demanded illegally and the circumstances may be very humiliating, but the example of Isaac proves that such is worthwhile.
There are two very important events in the life of Isaac which reveal some of the characteristics of his attitude toward the Lord. One near the beginning and the other near the end of his life. At the time he was bound by his father and placed upon the altar, he must have been in his mid-twenties, an adult, old enough and strong enough to resist, but he submitted to the demands of God; he bowed to the divine will; just as his father Abraham was doing.
When he was old and blind, his son Jacob deceived him with the result that Isaac gave the son who had cheated him the patriarchal blessing. As Esau pled for a blessing, Isaac not only realized what might be considered a human error but also at that very moment, he seemed to receive divine light and perceived the will of God. Making reference to Jacob having received the blessing, he said, “And he shall be blessed” (Gen. 27:33). Jacob was in the Messianic line; Esau was not. Eventually God said, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated” (Mal. 1:1-2). Through spiritual illumination, Isaac understood and concurred in the will of God. This was the trend of a quiet unobtrusive life.
There is nothing so important in life as submission to the will of God.
The life of Jacob divides itself into three parts: first, from his birth to Bethel; second, from Bethel to El-bethel; and third, from El-bethel to Goshen where he died.
What characterized the first part of his life (Gen. 25:24-28:22) ? Deception. What characterized the third part of his life (Gen. 47:1-49:33) ? Submission and reliance upon God. In the first part of his life, Jacob was as Esau said, a supplanter, a crook, a cheat. He cheated his brother and he cheated his aged father, and because he was such a cheat he had to flee from his father’s home.
Divine discipline through human channels characterized the second part of Jacob’s life, that is, from Bethel to El-bethel. It is very interesting that at Bethel he raised and anointed a pillar, a pillar that indicated that he had been there. More than twenty years later, when he reached El-bethel, he raised an altar to indicate that God was there. Consequently, in the third part of his life, he was submissive to the will of God and confident in the purposes of God.
What happened during the twenty years between the pillar and the altar? He was repeatedly cheated — “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7) . Under discipline Jacob had to suffer what he had imposed on others. Laban cheated him in regard to Rachel and Leah. And Laban also changed his wages ten times, obviously without any mutual arrangement. What a harvest Jacob reaped from his sowing. Sometime after his experience at El-bethel he was again deceived by his own sons in regard to the selling of Joseph.
When Jacob returned to Bethel (“the house of God”) and changed its name to Elbethel (“the God of Bethel”), he received the permanent blessing of the Lord — the changing of his name to Israel for the second time. The first time it was changed at the ford Jabbok (Gen. 32:22-32). Apparently Jacob was not at that time in a fit spiritual condition to receive the blessing. He is not called by his new name, Israel, in the Genesis record of events between Bethel and El-bethel. At El-bethel his condition must have been improved, for his name was changed again, this time to remain permanent, while still occasionally called Jacob. It was as Israel that he dwelt in the land of Goshen (Gen. 47:27). There is little use of asking God for a blessing when we are not in the condition to receive it.
The whole tenor of Abel’s life was Godward: he was constantly offering burnt-offerings. Enoch’s life was spent with God in intimate fellowship. Noah exercised implicit confidence in God. Abraham had little as a stranger, but as a pilgrim he anticipated much. Isaac’s experience of the will of God resulted in a life of quietness and peace. Jacob’s case proves that we may enjoy a great blessing as long as we are in a proper condition to receive it.
Joseph (v. 22)
Joseph passed the first 17 years of his life in his father’s home. He appears to have been somewhat of a spoiled child and his father made no effort to hide the favoritism that he felt toward his son. This is seen in the coat of many colours that he made for Joseph. The lad sensed the partiality of his father and reacted accordingly — he became a talebearer. He became a tattler within the family. We read concerning his older brothers that “he brought his father their evil report.” Joseph also dreamed dreams and told them in such a manner as to imply self-aggrandizement. There is nothing like favoritism and gossiping to cause estrangement between relatives and friends. These in large measure explain why his brothers hated him.
Neither Jacob nor Joseph seems to have understood that their relationships were causing envy and jealousy among the others in the family.
How extremely difficult and trying were Joseph’s next 13 years. When he left his father’s home to carry provisions to his brothers, he left behind him his father’s indulgence and all the warmth, love and solicitude which had been lavished upon him. When his brothers began to plot his destruction, the safety and security in which he had lived were unavailable.
On being cast into the pit, probably a substerranean water reservoir, he was deprived of his freedom and all the benefits of his childhood and youth; nothing but years of slavery lay before him. A little later his very character was ruined by a wicked woman who had him imprisoned on a charge of attempted rape. Notwithstanding the adversities, “the Lord was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2).
This period of his life must have been most trying, especially the last two years when the chief butler, whose restoration he had predicted, forgot all about him.
No doubt Satan thought, as he has frequently done so, that he had ruined another believer’s life and character. If such were his thoughts, he certainly was self-deceived. God had reserved for Joseph 80 years or more of life in which he enjoyed both affluence and prestige. We read, “Joseph went out from the presence of pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 41:46). During this part of his life the years were fully occupied in very useful pursuits. We see him as the Food Administrator of Egypt, a man of strong conviction and character. Joseph, who had been stripped of all the enjoyments and the contributions of life, was a man wise enough to be the administrator of all the provender of Egypt. He was the saviour of the world. Joseph was kindness itself; he readily sold food to men of other nations. He was discreet in his handling of his cruel brothers, and yet so affectionate that he forgave them all. He was discerning and understood that God had a land for His people; His people for His land. He therefore instructed his family what to do after his death.
There is a wonderful picture at the end of Joseph’s recorded history in the book of Genesis. After his return to Egypt from burying his father, his brothers were afraid that he would now take revenge and punish them for their evil deeds against him. Instead, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
When in conversation with them, as he reviewed those 13 years of slavery and imprisonment, he said to his brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).
What a penetrating vision it takes to see the hand of God in all the affairs of life! To see! To know! That through the operation of the divine Spirit all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28). This is true of the sour as well as the sweet! With confidence we must realize, “Our times are in His hands” (Psa. 31:15)s.