TILL DEATH DO US PART
The years following the traumatic events of chapter 22 are silent, but seem to have been serene and untroubled. Then one day he faced a crisis – the death of his beloved Sarah. The dynamics surrounding this experience give us unusual insights into his reputation amongst his pagan friends.
What did the Canaanites really think about Abraham? For years he wandered in their midst, pitching his tent and then building an altars to the Lord. Everywhere he went his huge flocks and herds, and his numerous servants became a part of the Canaan landscape. He lived amongst the people of the land, and his life-style stood out in bold relief. Yet little is recorded about how people actually regarded this wandering pilgrim.
These insights into Abraham’s reputation yield some dynamic principles for Christians seeking to do God’s will in the twentieth-century pagan world.
1. ABRAHAM’S GRIEF1 (23:1-6)
“And Sarah died in Kirjath-arba” (23:2). Chapter 23 presents another of those frequent funerals that confront us in this first book of the Bible. The Holy Spirit constantly reminds us that the wages of sin is death. This is the first grave recorded in Scripture.
Sarah was a remarkable woman. She died at age 127. She is the only woman in the Bible whose age is recorded, and it is referred to often. She was one of the outstanding women in the Bible. The two major features of her life were faith and beauty.
Sarah died at Hebron in the land of Canaan. Abraham must always have been glad of that. To die in the place of fellowship is the next best thing to never dying at all. She had begun her days in far-off Ur, a benighted moon-worshipper. Abraham had been a pagan too, but with a restless unsatisfied soul. Then came the blinding revelation of the true and living God and the long pilgrimage of life with all its ups and downs. Sarah had shared it all, but now she was dead.
a) Abraham’s Tears (23:1-2)
“Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her” (23:2). It seems as if Abraham was away when she died, for he came to mourn. Perhaps she died unexpectedly. Here we stand beside Abraham as he weeps at the grave of Sarah. This is the only time we are ever told that Abraham wept. He had been heartbroken before when Lot left him, when Ishmael was sent out, and when he went to offer Isaac. But the only time he wept was when Sarah died.
What a picture it must have been, the white haired old man, stooping over the cold clay of his beloved and letting the tears run unrestrained down his cheeks. The wells of grief are fed by the springs of memory. He remembered the beautiful girl that had captured his heart many years ago. The radiance of her face on their wedding day. The softness of her touch. He remembered…
– the bitter tears over her barren womb, and how he tried to comfort her.
– how in desperation she had given him Hagar, even at the cost of her pride.
– the glory in her face as their own Isaac lay in her arms.
Now death had torn her from his arms, though it could never tear her from his heart. So Abraham wept.
This story teaches us that for the believer death means:
(i) Real Tears. There is nothing wrong with a believer shedding tears. Peter wept, Paul wept, John wept, even Jesus wept. He still stands beside the weeping saint, and whispers, “Weep, my child, for I too have wept.”
(ii) Real Triumph. Clearly Abraham sorrowed “not even as others which have no hope” (1 Thes 4:13). He knew Sarah was at home. She had exchanged the Bedouin tent for an ivory palace. Beyond all temporal blessing on this earth, Abraham was looking for “that city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10). Perhaps he looked up through blinding tears, trying to pierce the blue vault of heaven and see that city where sorrow and tears are unknown. Sarah was there! Soon he too would be there, home at last.
b) Abraham’s Testimony (23:3-6)
These verses tell us two things:
(i) Abraham’s View Of Himself. “I am a stranger and a sojourner” (23:4). He was always first and foremost a pilgrim. True he was involved with the world around him. He was always helpful, courteous, and friendly, and concerned about the problems of the people round about him. But his roots and reason for living were not there. He was a sojourner and stranger.
* A Stranger – one who finds himself in a culture and society to which he does not belong. He feels ill at ease, alien, and rejected. No matter how friendly he may be, he is still an alien, a stranger. He does not really belong. That is how Abraham felt in Canaan, and how Jesus felt. It is also how we should feel towards the world.
* A Sojourner – a temporary resident, who is only staying for a little while. He was just travelling through. This was Abraham’s attitude towards Canaan! It was this that enabled him to turn his back on the attractive well watered plains of Sodom, and later reject all that the King of Sodom would offer him.
No matter that God had given him the land, and every stone was his!
(ii) The World’s View Of Abraham. “Hear us, my lord, you are a mighty prince among us” (23:6), or literally, “You are a prince of God.” Contrast the “mighty prince” with “this fellow” Lot in chapter 19:9. It was the separated believer living by faith and refusing to become entangled with the things of the world, who won their respect.
Abraham of old set a dynamic example for those living in today’s world. Young people need to hear this, as they are under so much pressure to conform. The world constantly tries to squeeze us into its mould, and we don’t like to be different. Yet the one thing that Christ demands of us is that we do be different!
It may have taken Abraham a long time to win their respect, but at the end all those pagan friends gather round and testify, “Thou art a mighty prince among us.”
2. SARAH’S GRAVE (23:7-9)
“Give me the cave of Macphelah…for a burying place amongst you” (23:9). Why did Abraham not follow custom and bury Sarah at her roots away back in Ur? What statement was he making by his purchase of the field of Ephron? Abraham looked both backwards and forwards.
a) Back To The Past
Men want to bury their dead beside their ancestors, and custom would have persuaded Abraham to take Sarah back to his roots at Ur, or at the very least to Haran where his father Terah had died.
There is nothing wrong with remembering the past. The feats performed, and the race run. Abraham remembered the past, and shed tears when he did so.
b) Forward To The Future
Abraham buried Sarah, not where he past lay, but where her future lay. It mattered not that this one field represented the sum total of all that he actually owned. One day the land, from the Nile to the Euphrates would be his. His future was there, and that was where Sarah belonged. He would bury his beloved in the place of God’s promises.
There is a beautiful parallel here for the child of God. When the world lays a man to rest it is with respect to his past, and it is right to acknowledge a race well run, and feats well performed. But when the believer is laid to rest, although the past is naturally remembered, as Abraham remembered Sarah, yet the full focus is on the future.
Like Abraham, the believer looks forward to the future, and remembers God’s promises of heaven, home, resurrection, life, and all that is so vividly portrayed in His Word. And how do we know? “By faith….” we believe and see those promises afar off. That is the Christian message.
3. EPHRON’S GIFT (23:10-20)
The sons of Heth were Canaanites who lived near Hebron where Sarah died, and to them Abraham applied for a burying place.
Abraham knew the plot he wanted, a field containing a suitable cave with trees around it, and within sight of their home in Mamre (23:17). Later Abraham himself was buried there (25:9). Later still Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah (49:31), and finally Jacob who was returned there from Egypt (50:13). Today a large mosque stands over the traditional site containing monuments to all these.
The Oriental bargaining process reflects the cultural courtesies and practices of the day. Note how Abraham conducted the transaction:
a) Courteously (23:7-8)
“Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth” (23:7). Note Abraham’s courtesy in the bargaining process bears the marks of a gentleman. What a noble example to follow. No one was more courteous that the Lord Jesus. Politeness is a spiritual grace, not just a social asset. We never have a reason to be rude.
As Paul said, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Col 4:6).
b) Openly (23:10)
The business was to be conducted “the gate of his city”, the usual place for such purposes. Everything was to be above board. Again Abraham illustrates the propriety of doing business honestly and correctly, even though he was surely aware he was being charged a high price for his purchase. “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Rom 12:11).
c) Comparatively (23:16)
Although he offered to give it, Ephron casually suggested top price for his property – “four hundred shekels of silver, current money with the merchant.” Ephron was bargaining for Time; Abraham was bargaining for Eternity. Ephron had his mind set on material gain; Abraham was only considering the spiritual value of what he was doing.
That is why the actual price meant little to Abraham, and why he would not stoop to haggle. The spiritual importance was overriding
How many a man has lost his soul over “current money with the merchant.” Eternal and spiritual values have been ignored at the expense of a shekel of silver. That is what Esau did when he sold his birthright. Judas also did it more than 2000 years later when he traded the Lord for 30 pieces of silver.
The sons of Heth knew well the value of “current money with the merchant,” and Abraham knew the value of the cave of Macphelah. It was worth much more to him than it was to them. To them it was worth 400 shekels of silver. To Abraham it was priceless, which because it was an everlasting inheritance, and in it were locked up all the precious promises and prospects of his God.
“I WILL GO!”
In this longest chapter in Genesis the Holy Spirit lingers lovingly over every detail of this colourful story. On the surface we are presented with a heart-warming love story, but the real lessons teem with rich spiritual truths. The whole chapter is a full-length study of the plan and purpose of God in sending forth His Spirit to win a Bride for His Son.
Here is Abraham standing for God the Father, sending his unnamed servant into the far country to win and woo a bride for his son, who waits in the father’s house to welcome and claim her for himself. Such has been the Spirit’s work for almost 2000 years, and soon the Son will come to receive that Bride and claim her for himself.
The story revolves round four people: The Father, Abraham, picture of God the Father, The Son, Isaac, type of Christ, The Servant, whose mission was to win and woo a bride for his master’s son, and The Bride, Rebekah, picture of the Church.
See how Rebekah represents the believer:
– her marriage was planned long before she knew about it (Eph 1:3,4).
– she was necessary for the completion of God’s purpose (Eph 1:23).
– she was to share the glory of the son (Jn 17:22.23).
– she learned of the son through his emissary and her paraclete.
– she immediately left all, to go to the son, loving him before she saw him, and rejoicing with unspeakable joy (1 Peter 1:8).
– she journeyed through the wilderness to meet him, guided by the servant (1 Peter 1:3-9).
– she was loved by, and finally united forever to, the son (Eph 5:26,27).
1. THE FATHER’S INTENTION
How much these opening verses allow us to see into the heart of God. Here is Abraham in old age with a life of persistent faithfulness behind him. All his thoughts centre round his son, and he goes about choosing a bride for his son.
It was the father’s desire for the son that led to Rebekah being chosen. God’s purposes for His Son would remain unfulfilled until the church was united to Him. “He hath put all things under his feet, and given him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph 1:22,23).
This lifts God’s purposes in salvation high above mere salvation from hell, or even that we might go to heaven. He wants to “make a marriage for His Son.” Rebekah was necessary for Isaac – even when totally ignorant of God’s great plans.
So it is with the church. Her call, justification, and glory are all founded on God’s eternal purpose relative to His Son (Eph 1:3-4; Rom 8:29-30).
2. THE SON’S POSITION
In this story Isaac shines as a lovely type of Christ:
– promised long before he came (Lk 1:70:).
– appeared at the appointed time (Gal 4:4).
– conceived and born miraculously (Lk 1 35:).
– named by God before birth (Matt 1:21).
– offered up by the Father in sacrifice (1 Jn 22).
– obedient unto death (Phil 2:8).
– brought again from the dead to be head of a great nation (Eph 1:19-23).
The connection between chapters 22, 23, and 24 is remarkable. Isaac was last seen in chapter 22 at the place of sacrifice and resurrection. Chapter 23 tells of the death Sarah, a picture of Israel, the “wife” of Jehovah, being laid aside. We do not read of Isaac again until end of chapter 24 when he goes out to meet his bride.
3. THE SERVANT’S MISSION
Abraham was living near Hebron at the time, so the servant had a long journey before him. Northward he went up the Jordan valley and past Damascus, then around the Fertile Crescent into “the eye of the East” until at length, crossing he Euphrates, he reached his destination.
The unnamed Servant here is a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit, but also carries lessons for God’s servants everywhere and in every age.
a) His Pathway
(i) The Prayer for Guidance. The servant would not take a single step without prayer. Up against it, he threw the whole responsibility and impossibility of the task, on the Lord. Clearly he was a man of prayer, who had not waited until this emergency situation before getting to know his God in prayer!
(ii) The Path of Guidance. “I being in the way, the Lord led me” (24:27). “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way” (Ps 37:23). “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Prov 3:6). Before the Lord leads us along the path, we must be on the path!
(iii) The Place of Guidance. “A well of water” (24:11). He was not looking a playmate, so he did not go to a tavern. He was looking for someone chosen by God, so he went to the place where the water was, a well, beautiful picture of God’s Word.
(iv) The Principles of Guidance. Here are timeless principles which have governed the guidance for God’s people down through the ages:
* The Arrangement of Circumstances. The servant had asked God that the specific circumstances might indicate His will in the matter. It was no small test. A camel will drink about 5 gallons of water, and the servant had ten of them. To draw something like 50 gallons of water from the well and empty them into the trough in the heat of that climate was a big undertaking. Such a woman would make a good wife.
* The Action of the Spirit (25:21). He sought to be sensitive to the prompting of God in his heart. “Let the peace of God umpire in your heart” (Col 3:15).
* The Authority of the Scriptures. The above were not enough; they had to be checked against the specific instructions of the Father’s word. The Father’s word had stipulated that the bride must be from Abraham’s kindred, and any other subjective feelings would fall away if the Word did not confirm them. Hence the all-important question, “Whose daughter art thou?” (24:23). Real guidance always tracks back to God’s Word.
One can imagine the thrilling shiver that ran up the servant’s spine! Here was a direct answer to prayer. She was beautiful, pure, kind, energetic and strong, and hospitable. God was doing “exceedingly abundantly above all” he had asked or thought (Eph 3:20).
b) His Preaching
The servant’s message has only two themes. He has:
(i) Things to Tell Them. He wants them to understand:
* The Greatness of the Father. “The Lord hath blessed my Master greatly, and he is become great” (24:35). He tells of the vastness of the Father’s resources
* The Glories of the Son. “The Father hath give unto him all that he had” (24:36). He tells of the Son as the “only begotten” being endowed with all the Father’s riches.
He does not attempt to win Rebekah by argument, he merely uplifts his master’s son, telling of his glory, and setting before her the blessedness and reality of being one with him. See the parallel ministry of the Holy Spirit in John 16:14,15.
The only things he states about himself are his statement that “I am Abraham’s servant” (24:34), and his personal testimony as to what God has done for him in leading every step of the way. He is well out of sight.
(ii) Things to Show Them. He brings out garments, jewellery, and precious things reflecting Isaac’s glory and beauty. These are evidences of the son’s possessions.
* Gold speaks of glory
* Silver speaks of redemption
* Garments speak of our new standing in Christ.
Many Christians walk in holy garments given by God. Their lives are decorated with the jewellery of a holy walk and sparkle with testimony to the cleansing and keeping power of Christ. Many are converted because of what they see in others.
4. THE BRIDE’S DECISION
a) Her Decision
As she listened, Rebekah made the greatest decision of her life. Note the enormity of what the Servant was asking her to do:
(i) to believe a person she had never seen before
(ii) to leave all that was secure and solid, and go with this man on a long difficult journey.
(iii) to cleave to another she did not even know.
Such was her conviction that she was willing to believe all that this stranger had said. It was not the effervescent conclusion of a starry-eyed girl. It was the mature decision of an adult woman (c. 40 years old), based on solid evidence. So we are not called to fluffy-headed emotional responses, but to serious commitment.
Her decision involved:
(i) An act of Faith. The evidence was before her and she was called upon to believe it. Note the evidence:
– What she heard with her ears (24:36). The Servant’s testimony re Isaac.
– What she saw with her eyes – jewels
– What she knew in her heart – “The thing procedeth from the Lord” (24:50).
So we are called on to believe the evidence before us;
– What we hear from God’s Word. Christianity is not based on fairy tales. Hard historical fact, evidence that demands a verdict. But belief goes beyond mere academic consent. It demands “If thou shalt believe in thy heart…” all that the Word says about man’s ruin and God’s remedy.
– What we see with our eyes – jewels. Seeing is believing! How often we can see jewels of Christ sparkling in the lives of others.
– What we know in our hearts. We know God’s hand is at work in lives. Such a “call” demands a response.
(ii) An Act of Will. Rebekah could have believed all the facts – and yet stayed at home. Emotions, conscience, and intellect are all involved, but ultimately the will must bow in submission and say “I will go!”
b) Her Discipleship
Then came the long journey to meet the one to whom she had now given herself. Two things became important to her.
(i) Her Companion. What a journey it must have been as she, and those influenced by her, “rode upon the camels and followed the man” (24:61). In type, the servant is the Comforter, the Paraclete, the “one called alongside of,” who guards and guides the Church through the world’s wilderness, teaching her the things of Christ, and showing things to come.
Rebekah was not left to stumble along as best she could. Every provision was made to bring her safely home. So the Holy Spirit at once begins to guide those who commit themselves to Christ, and it is He who undertakes to see us safely home.
She must have had many questions. How old is he? Is he handsome? Is he a happy man? Is he kind? It is astonishing how little we know of Christ when we first give ourselves to Him. The Christian life is one long learning experience under the tutorship of the Holy Spirit, who delights to talk to us about Christ.
(ii) Her Comfort. As soon as she believed, the servant brought out treasures and raiment (24:53). So today when a person believes, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to see the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” The Servant gave Rebekah:
– silver, speaking of redemption
– gold, speaking of speaks of our new standing as Sons of King
– raiment, telling of the righteousness with which we are clothed and made fit to stand before God.
These gifts were worth more to her than their mere value. They were tokens of Isaac’s vast wealth, samples of what she would later receive. They were the earnest of all that she would get after the wedding.
As they travelled back they acquired a psychological value. Doubtless, as they journeyed, the servant would take out some jewels, especially when days were long and hard, and would tell her more about the son. As she listened, her heart was drawn out to him, and although she had never seen him, she loved him.
c) Her Delight
As we near the climax of the story, scene switches to Isaac and we find him at evening out in the fields looking for his bride. As they meet, Rebekah lights off her camel and veils herself. “And Isaac…took Rebekah, and she became his wife: and he loved her” (24:67).
One day, as evening shadows lengthen and the night of this old world approaches, we shall life up our eyes, and there suddenly in the fields of heaven we shall see Him. Looking. Waiting.
There amidst the song of heaven
Sweeter to the ear
Is the footfall through the desert
Ever drawing near.
The story of their meeting is told with remarkable economy of words. Rebekah lights off (lit. falls off) her camel and veils herself. An artist describing the scene would be frustrated by a veil, but the poet caught the spirit of it:
Long the blessed Guide has led me
By the Desert road
Now I see the golden towers
City of my God.
There amidst the love and glory
He is waiting yet,
On His hand a name is graven
He can ne’er forget.
O the blessed joy of meeting
All the desert past
O the wondrous words of greeting
He shall speak at last!
He and I together entering
Those bright courts above
He and I together sharing
All the father’s love.
All the time Isaac had been waiting. He had been to Moriah, his work was done. The calling of the bride was the work of another. His task was now to wait in the father’s presence until the appointed time when he could go forth to meet his bride. The time must have seemed long, but finally the great day dawned and Isaac went to meet his bride and escort her home. “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife: and he loved her” (24:67).
PEACE AT EVENTIDE
This chapter is transitional, and leads us away from Abraham to Isaac, and on to Isaac’s sons, Esau and Jacob. It brings before us two deaths (Abraham and Ishmael) and two births (Esau and Jacob).
Abraham at the eventide of his life has many lessons to teach us about fruitful old age. We are then introduced to Esau and Jacob, and begin to learn something of the deep spiritual lessons that flow from the study of those two boys.
1. TWO DEATHS (25:1-18)
a) The Death of Abraham (25:1-9)
This last chapter in the life of this “friend of God” gives the impression of perfect peace in the eventide of life. Life has been lived, battles fought, some won, some lost.
It was great to see him stepping out years earlier, cutting Chaldean ties, and starting out on the pilgrim way. It is more impressive still to see him, a full century later, going on for God as strong as on the day when he first pulled out of Ur. It is a great thing to start well; it is even better to finish well. That is what Abraham did.
We read a number of things about Abraham’s final days. It is almost as though the Holy Spirit is reluctant to leave the story of the man who became “the friend of God.” He touches several times on the things that happened as Abraham prepared to go home.
(i) His Days. “These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived, and hundred and threescore and fifteen years” (25:7). Abraham had been born only two years after the death of Noah. He had been called to the pilgrim pathway when he was 75, and had walked as God’s Friend for 100 years.
“These are the days of Abraham’s life”(25:7). Life is lived a day at a time. Abraham lived some 63,000 days. Walking with God is a matter of taking life a day at a time, beginning each day with Him, and seeking His blessing. So God counted up the days of Abraham’s life, the measure of his days.
(ii) His Desires. “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years” (25:8). Not many die in a good old age. What a great thing it is to be like Abraham, faithful and fruitful in old age. If we want to die right, we have to live right! Balaam wanted to die the death of the righteous, but he had no desire to live the life of the righteous.
Abraham died “full.” The KJV says he died “full of years”, but the text really means just that he died full, satisfied, satiated. He was replete. He had lived life to the full. He had all he could take, and was ready to die.
When Abraham left Ur he was likely scorned for leaving the “full” life that Ur offered. Several times later he said No to what the world calls a full life. e.g. when he allowed Lot to chose Sodom, and when he refused the offer of the King of Sodom. Instead, Abraham chose God and his life became full with a joy that the world knew nothing about.
(iii) His Death
“Then Abraham…was gathered to his people” (25:8). This does to refer to his body, which was not buried amongst “his people” in Ur. Nor does it mean that he entered the realm of death where the rest of his family had gone. They were idolaters, and his family worshipped idols. They were not godly men, and Abraham was not gathered to them.
He was gathered to “his people.” It means those before him who had exercised faith in God. He was with those righteous ones who all through that intervening history had been walking with God. “His people” were those life Enoch and Noah, who lived lives of faith and obedience to God. Such were Abraham’s people.
This phrase also indicates that his life did not end 4000 years ago. When the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, asked Jesus a question, he answered them: “Have you not read what was said to you by God, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:31-32). Abraham still lives.
His remains lie in the cave at Macphelah, but his spirit is with the One who is not ashamed to be known as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.
b) The Death of Ishmael (25:12-18)
Moses, the author, rounds off the history of Ishmael before concentrating on the story of Isaac.
(i) His Privilege (25:23). Born into a God-fearing family, where both parents knew their God, few have been so privileged as Ishmael. He had been there when angels called and visited with his Father. He had joined his father at the family altar. Yet it all meant nothing to him. He mocked the child of promise, and in so doing mocked the Christ of God.
(ii) His Possessions (25:13). The Lord had promised that Ishmael should be blessed, and he certainly made his mark on the world. Names! Towns! Castles! Princes! Nations! He may have spurned spiritual blessings in mocking at Isaac, but God did bestow many material blessings upon him.
Note how the Holy Spirit passes quickly over these remarkable material achievements. He gained the world, but lost his own soul. He will devote chapter after chapter to tell of the wanderings of Jacob and Joseph, but all of Ishmael’s triumphs can be disposed of in a dozen names and about as many words. In the light of eternity they are not worth another thought.
(iii) His Preoccupation (25:17-18). Egypt and Assyria are both mentioned (25:18) in association with his death. These great powers speak of the world in its cleverness (Egypt) and cruelty (Assyria). Ishmael lived close to them both, and both feature prominently in the story of his last days
Eventually the world he had loved and lived for slipped away from his grasp. He went out into a world for which he was totally unprepared, and about which he knew nothing.
2. TWO BIRTHS (25:19-34)
Verse 19 begins the next major section in the book of Genesis, but there is no break in the narrative as it leads directly from Ishmael’s affairs to those of Isaac. This section deals with the life of Isaac, and introduces us to the twin boys, Esau and Jacob.
a) The Father, Isaac (25:19;20)
The story of Isaac is attached one way or another to the story of either Abraham, Ishmael, or Jacob. Only one chapter in Genesis is devoted solely to Isaac.
b) The Mother, Rebekah (25:20-22)
(i) Her Anguish. Poor Rebekah was distressed, “she was barren” (25:21). She was united to her beloved in the most intimate and sacred of ties. But this did not guarantee fruitfulness any more than accepting Christ as Saviour guarantees spirituality and fruitfulness for God. Many Christians remain spiritually barren. Rebekah’s problem is their problem. They are barren.
Note that the barrenness was not in Isaac. The trouble lay with Rebekah, not with Isaac. So the source of our spiritual bareness lies in us and not in Christ.
(ii) Her Answer. “And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren” (25:21). Just as Isaac interceded for Rebekah, so the Lord intercedes for us at the right hand of God. That is the truth of John 14-17. Instructing His disciples, Jesus said, “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself…no more can ye…Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” (Jn 15:4,8).
(iii) Her Awareness. Rebekah soon felt a new sensation, a struggle in her womb.
* The Struggle Experienced. “And the children struggled together within her” (25:22). As soon as Rebekah conceived, she began to feel more than normal foetal movements. A struggle was taking place in her womb. In her barren condition there was no such struggle, but the moment fruitfulness began, the conflict began.
* The Struggle Explained. “And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels” (25:23). This primarily refers to the Israelite and Edomite races that would descend from Esau and Jacob and to their future fortunes in the world.
But the narrative has deeper significance. It pictures the relationship between the two natures in the believer. The old nature is the elder of the two for the simple reason that it was there first; the new nature does not arrive upon the scene until the new birth. The future, however, lies with the new nature. “The elder shall serve the younger.” God has pledged Himself to support the new nature in its struggle for mastery; therefore, in the end, it cannot lose.
c) The Children (25:22-34)
Here were twin boys, born to the same parents, yet no two twins were ever less alike! From the outset one of them set out in his own stumbling, way to please God; the other set out to please himself.
The competition between them was fierce. The deeper lesson Galatians: “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit lusteth against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal 5:17). In the struggle between Esau and Jacob we see mirrored the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit.
The things which we cultivate in our lives are the things which ultimately control us. If we cultivate a taste for unsaved company, for impure literature and worldly lusts, then those are the things that will rule us in the end. That is Esau. But if we develop a taste for the Scriptures, for the fellowship of believers, and for soul-winning, then those things will ultimately control our lives. That is Jacob.
(i) Esau – A Man Of The Field. We instinctively like some people, the rugged man with the roving romantic nature. Esau was like that. His life story shows attractive character traits. Esau was a splendid animal, a real man’s man, rich in physical strength and courage.
(ii) Jacob – A Man Of The Fold. By contrast, Jacob at first sight seems colourless, and is described as “a plain man, dwelling in tents.” We know who we would rather be!
Actually it was not quite like that. See the real meaning of the description:
* “A plain man.” This word means “complete” or “perfect.” The same word is used of Job when God described him as “a perfect and upright man, one that feareth God and escheweth evil.”
* “dwelling in tents.” Hebrews 11:9 says Jacob was like Abraham and Isaac, who also dwelt in tents. It was part of the pilgrim character.
* * * * * *
ESAU – THE MAN WHO BARTERED HIS BIRTHRIGHT
His life is a living object lesson.
a) His Character
(i) “a cunning hunter.” The only other hunter in the Bible is Nimrod who was a rebel against God. Nimrod was a rebel against God, Esau was unconcerned about God.
(ii) “a man of the field.” “The field is the world” (Matt 13:28). Esau was a man of the world.
b) His Choice
“Esau came from the field, and he was faint” (25:29). It was not the last time the world left a person hungry and faint. Like the water at Sychar’s well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” Under these circumstances a choice is made, a bargain struck, and the birthright transferred.
This assured the eldest of a double portion of inheritance (Deut 21:17), headship over the family, and the priestly function, to communicate with God on behalf of the family, and vice versa. Locked up in the birthright were tremendous privileges and promises. Esau had to choose between the pottage and the privileges.
– the Pottage was for now, tangible, but temporal
– the Birthright was for then, invisible but eternal.
As Jacob stands back and watches, Esau gulps it down, draws his sleeve across his mouth, yawns, gets up and walks out of the tent and off the stage. How much said in few words: “He did eat and drink, and rose up and went his way” (25:34).
This was Esau’s life in a nutshell. To dramatize his life, one would only need a dish of lentils, and a coffin. Anyone could play Esau, even a dog or a pig. Any animal able to eat, drink, and walk could play the part of Esau.
And all this in spite of incredible privilege. We ask him what he has accomplished. Leaves behind an empty dish. Would point to it and say “When I started that dish was full. It is empty now!”
c) The Circumstances of his Choice
Why did Esau fail? Not because he was vicious or cruel or mean. The summary of his life is given in Hebrews 12:16, “Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.” There are two reasons presented here.
(i) He failed because he was sensual. He was a “fornicator.” Today this word has moral connotations, but the original meaning is wider. It means he lived in the realm of the tangible and physical. Lived on same plane as intelligent animal.
(ii) He failed because he was “profane.” The origin of this word is “pro” (in front of), and “fane” (temple). It refers to the parcel of unfenced ground outside and in front of the temple. So Esau lived his life outside the temple. No high wall of principle protected him, and his soul became a galloping ground for any passion.
What a tragedy! Esau belonged to a family that had a covenant relationship with God. He might experienced the fullness of God’s purpose in him. Yet…he blew it all. Not because he tore the Bible to shreds or attacked the church. But because as the Bible says with pathos, with sorrow, and also with divine anger, “Thus Esau despised his birthright” (25:34).
d) The Cost he Paid
See what Esau got from the bargain – a square meal! As we see him strike the bargain, we want to shout “Fool!” across the centuries. Yet…compared with some he didn’t do so badly. He got as much pleasure from the lentils as many a man got from his bank balance. He did better than the millionaire who shot himself, or the business magnate who dropped with a coronary at age 45. In fact, all would have been fine if the story had ended there. But it didn’t!
“Afterwards when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb 12:17). At first not having the birthright made no difference. But in chapter 27 we see him crying like a child, “Bless me, even me, O my father!” His “afterwards” had arrived. Years of spiritual neglect and indifference caught up with him. Every life has an “afterwards.”
The challenge facing Esau still faces us. The world has much pottage – success, popularity, power. It will satisfy us, as it satisfied Esau. Our lives also can be squeezed into a few words, just half a verse.
God’s plan or purpose for us is that we should live with our eyes on the “afterwards.” Down through the ages men and women have died for the sake of the “afterwards” and the promises of God associated with it.
RELAPSE AND RECOVERY
Although Isaac lived the longest of the four great patriarchs, this is the only chapter devoted exclusively to his life. Still, enough is said to give us a good impression of the kind of man he was. We see his:
Isaac was, of course, Abraham’s son and his appointed heir; “Unto him hath he given all that he hath” (24:36). This is repeated in 25:5. The concept is fulfilled in Christ (Heb 1:2), but also applies to us, “…if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17).
Isaac seems to have been of a retiring, gentle, somewhat passive nature. He fought no battles, and built no cities, and did not have the aggressive drive of his father.
c) The Place
Isaac alone of all the patriarchs did not leave the land to which God had called him. Canaan is a picture of the heavenlies where lies our citizenship (Phil 3:20), and spiritual warfare (Eph 6:12).
d) The Principle
Just as Abraham was the man of the altar, so Isaac is associated with wells some seven times. He seems to have left a trail of blessing behind him wherever he went.
1. ISAAC’S RELAPSE (26:1-16)
Isaac was tried by “famine in the land” (26:1), just as Abraham had been 100 years earlier. Amazingly he followed in his father’s footsteps, committing the same sin for the same reasons. What a warning to those whose lives cast influential shadows over other younger and less mature believers.
a) The Reason for the Relapse (26:1)
“And there was a famine in the land” (26:1). God permitted Isaac and Rebekah to encounter a severe test of faith. We need to remember that the Lord permits ordinary natural disaster to afflict Christians as well as non-Christians. Muggings, floods, fires, and accidents all come their way.
Several important lessons can be learned from such trials.
(i) God’s Government. At times it is impossible to say whether a particular trial comes from above or below. In a sense it doesn’t matter, for God governs each event, whatever its source, and regulating the temperature of each flame. Nothing happens without His permission. He sets His limits just as He did with Job, and as He has promised with the believer (1 Cor 10:13).
(ii) God’s Goal. Trials are an essential part of training. They are part of growing up, and proof that we are, in fact, children of God (Heb 12:6). Ultimately every trial is a part of the “all things” allowed by God with the specific goal of conforming us to the image of His Son (Rom 8:28,29).
(iii) God’s Grace. God has promised to stand with His children in their trials and give adequate grace for every situation (2 Cor 12:9). The Word teems with precious promises that He will never leave us or forsake us
b) The Reaction (26:1)
As soon as a famine came he moved away, and “went unto Abimelech, king of the Philistines unto Gerar” (26:1).
(i) The Plan. Despite the warning of Abraham’s experience, Isaac apparently set course for Egypt where all kinds of resources flourished. There is no evidence that he consulted God. It was just the natural thing to do.
(ii) The Prohibition. “Go not down to Egypt; dwell in the land that I will tell thee of” (26:2). The Lord appeared to him and prevented him from going further southward to Egypt as his father had done under similar circumstances. Egypt was not the promised land, and dangers to body and soul lurked there.
(iii) The Promise. “I will be with thee, and will bless thee” (26:3). With God’s prohibition came God’s promise. God pledged Himself to be to Isaac all that He had been to Abraham (26:2-5). His attention was turned away from the difficulties of his situation and regarding which he was about to make a wrong move, and was directed instead to God’s Word. Five times in verse 5 Abraham’s obedience was emphasized as a means of encouraging Isaac to trust and obey. What a lesson for our own times of crisis!
(iv) The Proximity. There were essential differences between Egypt and Gerar, but one place was very close to the other.
* Egypt. “Go not down into Egypt” (26:2). Egypt, with its natural resources, speaks of the world in its independence of God. It was no place for a child of God. * Gerar. “And Isaac dwelt in Gerar” (26:6). Gerar was borderland, half way between Canaan and Egypt. It was part of Canaan, but had been controlled for some time by a colony of Philistines. Although in Canaan, it was near Egypt, and just about as far from the centre of Canaan as it was possible to get. Isaac got as close to the world as possible without actually going right into it.
God had said to Isaac, “Sojourn in this land” (26:3), but Isaac “dwelt in Gerar” (26:6), and that “a long time” (26:8). What a picture of the believer settling down in borderland. Had Isaac not gone to Gerar, he could have had no need for denying his wife. It was like Peter standing and warming himself at the high-priest’s fire.
c) The Results (26:7-11)
“She is my sister” (26:7). Away from the centre of God’s will, Isaac allowed fear to give way to deplorable deceit, and displace the assurances of God’s Word.
Isaac’s lie (like all lies) had a ripple effect:
(i) It Endangered Rebekah (26:10). Like his father before him, Isaac was willing to risk his wife to save is own skin.
(ii) It Tempted the Philistines (26:10). Isaac’s lie put the Philistines in a false position, and exposed them to temptation. Lies always hurt others.
(iii) It Exposed Isaac. Isaac became so used to living his lie that he became careless, and one day he was caught. Nothing is harder than to maintain a lie, as the whole life must be reconstructed to revolve round it. What damage that lie did to his testimony.
(iv) It Grieved God. How grieved God must have been to see Isaac following “the Father of lies”! How different from following the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life!
Isaac’s lie was eventually shown to be quite unnecessary (26:11), as Abimelech showed he had no intention of killing Isaac. How fear distorts our vision, and makes cowards of us all. No wonder Paul exhorts us to “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds” (Col 3:9).
2. ISAAC’S RECOVERY (26:12-33)
It took a long time for Isaac to allow God to bring him back to where he belonged at Beersheba. His road to recovery remained bumpy as long as he stayed in Gerar, but eventually the blessings flowed when he arrived at Beersheba.
a) Going-slow in Gerar (26:12-22)
When Abimelech asked him to leave (26:16), Isaac agreed to do so, but only as far as “the valley of Gerar” (26:17). However, God was determined to wedge him out, and used the Philistines to unsettle and force him back to Beersheba.
Isaac’s stay in Gerar was characterized by:
(i) Blessing (26:12-14). “Then Isaac sowed in that land, and received the same year a hundred fold; and the Lord blessed him” (26:12). There is a great difference between the Lord’s presence and His blessing. Flocks, herds, servants and wells are not the Lord.
(ii) Bickering (26:14). Isaac’s prosperity led to envy (26:16). He reopened a number of wells which Abraham had dug, but had been later stopped by the Philistines. These wells were a source of life, and represented Christ Himself (John 4:13,14). However, Isaac soon found the Philistines determined to deny him ownership and access to them. The names Isaac gave to the wells accurately reflect the Philistines’ attitude of the Word of God.
* Esek (26:20) – “contention.” The Philistines bitterly assail every aspect of the faith. Liberals, ritualists, and cultists, all claim to know God’s truth. But God’s truth belongs to God’s Isaacs.
* Sitnah (26:21) – “hatred.” It comes from the Hebrew root word meaning “to lie in wait for an adversary.” The name Satan comes from the same root. He is consumed with hatred against anything that ministers Christ to the needy heart.
* Rehoboth (26:22). This time the Philistines simply ignored Isaac, their attitude being one of careless indifference. Isaac had found another source of spiritual satisfaction, and the world simply ignored him.
b) Back to Beersheba (26:23-33)
The moment Isaac took the road to restoration, and “went up from thence to Beersheba” (26:23), just as Abraham had previously come back “up out of Egypt” (13:1), things began to change. “Beer-sheba” means “the well of the oath,” and speaks of Isaac getting back to God’s original promises. Immediately “the Lord appeared unto him the same night” (26:24). Back where he belonged, God renewed contact with him and things began to happen.
(i) Things Inside. It was not long before Isaac re-established a number of long-lost priorities (26:25):
* An Altar – “he built an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord” (26:25). There was no mention of any altars in Gerar. Worship and prayer again became features of his life.
* A Tent – “He pitched his tent” (26:25). Isaac re-established his pilgrim character.
* A Well – “his servants digged a well” (26:25). Here was an undisputed well he could enjoy. The Philistines could not stop it because they were not there.
(ii) Things Outside. “Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar” (26:26). The inner change led to outward differences:
* His Testimony. “We saw certainly that the Lord was with thee” (26:28). Abimelech did not say this when Isaac was in Gerar. But things changed the moment he went back to where he belonged, and he began to influence others. The true way to influence others is to be separate from them.
* His Covenant. “Let us make a covenant with thee” (26:28). Now that he is in the path of God’s will, his former enemies actually seek him out. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov 16:7).
* His Decision. “Isaac sent them away” (26:31). Isaac feasted and forgave them, but did not want their fellowship, and sent them away. Significantly, on that “same day” (26:32) his servants found more water. He called it Shebah. Once Isaac had taken his stand with the Lord in separation from the world, new sources of satisfaction in Christ became available.
DESIRES AND DEVICES
This chapter presents a humbling photograph of a family governed by sensuality, jealousy, and deceit. Each of the four family members member had his desires, and each attempted to accomplish them by the most untrustworthy devices. Sorrow, disappointment, and tangled trouble were the inevitable results. If only they had allowed God to work His plans out in His own time. Sad reading indeed!
The story is told in all its naked simplicity, and nowhere is the real character of the Bible more evident than in this chapter. Chosen family or not, the Holy Spirit hides nothing.
1. ISAAC’S DESIRE
It is hard to recognize Isaac as the same spiritual person who had been such a type of Christ in chapter 22. Once he had been a well-digger, leaving behind him a trail of blessing and refreshment for others. But that was long ago. Some kind of decay had set in, and we are presented here with the picture of a man who has lost his spiritual cutting edge. In such a situation it is not surprising that things started to go wrong:
a) His Desire
“Make me savoury meat, such as I love” (27:4). He may have felt frail and finished, but there was nothing wrong with his appetite.
Why did Isaac so love Esau? Chapter 25:28 tells us, “Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison” (25:28). In chapter 27 savoury meat is mentioned 6 times, venison 7 times, and eating 8 times. Isaac was so governed by his appetite that his spiritual senses were blurred.
Man has enormous appetite, not only for food, but also for success, power, possessions and much else besides. These are not wrong in their rightful place. But when they begin to control a person, the warning of Proverbs 23:2 needs to be heeded, “Put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.”
b) His Decision
At age 137 Isaac felt he would soon die, and decided it was time to bequeath the patriarchal blessing. Actually, he lived another 43 years (35:28), dying at the ripe old age of 180.
Two wills are contrasted in the story;
(i) God’s Will. God had stipulated “The elder shall serve the younger” (25:23). The blessing was for Jacob, not Esau.
(ii) Isaac’s Will. Isaac wanted his own way, and was willing to set aside God’s will to get it. The authority of God’s Word had faded badly in his life. He forgot that spiritual blessing only comes in accordance with God’s will. Significantly there is no mention of his altar or of enquiry from the Lord about this major move.
How often we struggle with a clear biblical principles simply because they cross our wills. It was the same when Lot chose Sodom, Saul spared Agag, and Jonah fled to Tarshish.
c) His Discernment
“He discerned him not” (27:23). Isaac could not discern between Jacob and Esau. When our appetites come first and God’s Word takes second place, we can hardly expect sharp spiritual senses.
Isaac made the final mistake of a carnal man; he went by his feelings. As a result all down the chapter he is deceived by his senses:
– his sight failed him; his eyes were dim (27:1)
– his smell deceived him; he thought he smelled Esau, not Jacob (27:27)
– his taste failed him; he thought goat was venison (27:25)
– his feeling failed him; he thought a goat’s skin was Esau’s hairy arm (27:23)
– his hearing rang true, but he could not believe what he heard (27:22).
2. REBEKAH’S DETERMINATION
“And Rebekah heard…and spake unto Jacob her son…” (27:5,6). Rebekah saw immediately that her favourite son would be left with a raw deal. More, God’s revealed will was in danger. Instead of trusting God to resolve the situation, she worked by her wits, plotted against her husband, and taught her son to deceive his father.
a) Her Personality
Chapter 24 showed Rebekah to be a resourceful and resolute woman, as well as beautiful. Now she proved herself to be so again. She took command of the situation and persuaded Jacob to “obey my voice” (27:8).
b) Her Plan
Relying on her own shrewdness and sharpness, Rebekah quickly conceived an audacious plan to make Isaac bless Jacob. If only she had left things in God’s hands! She knew what it was “to enquire of the Lord” (25:22), and should have done so here. He needed neither Rebekah’s cunning nor Jacob’s deceit.
Few things are as dangerous as taking the management of our affairs into our own hands and depending on our skilfulness and cunning. We need to rely on “the skilfulness of his hands” (Ps 78:72), and at least take our impossible situations to the Lord in prayer.
c) Her Price
“Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran” (27:43). Rebekah paid a high price for her independent planning. She had to advise Jacob to leave the home. It was only to be “for a few days” (27:44), but those “few days” spun out into 20 years, and she was never able to “send and fetch” him (27:45) as planned. Rebekah never saw her favourite son again. Perhaps the aching, empty years ahead would teach her patience in the things of God. As she sowed, so she reaped.
3. JACOB’S DECEPTION
Two things characterize Jacob as he moves to deceive Isaac.
a) His Fear (26:11-12)
Jacob was a worried man. “I shall seem to him as a deceiver.” It did not worry him that he would be a deceiver – he just did not want to be found out and seem to be a deceiver, in which case he would end up with a curse instead of a blessing. He wanted to keep up appearances while practicing fraud. Poor Jacob! He deceived himself long before he deceived his father.
b) His Falsehood (26:14-27)
“I am a smooth man.” He sure was! Lie followed lie, for the price of lies is always more lies.
In answer to “Who art thou?” he replied, “I am Esau (lie 1), thy firstborn (lie 2); I have done according as thou badest me (lie 3): arise, I pray thee, sit and eat of my venison (lie 4), that thy soul may bless me.” Four lies without drawing a breath!
Then in answer to Isaac’s question “How is it that thou has found it so quickly,” he started all over again; “Because the Lord thy God brought it to me (lie 5).” And here he takes the name of the Lord his God in vain to give his falsehood extra acceptability.
Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!
Little did he think that his own sons would later perpetuate a similar cruel deception on him by the use of a goat and their brother’s special coat (37:31).
4. ESAU’S DISTRESS
Poor Esau! We can pity his resentment and bitter disappointment. But he had treated his birthright with utter disdain, and sold it of his own free will. He had sped through life without even once mentioning God. Esau stands in Scripture as a monument to the awful consequences of carelessness regarding God and His Word.
a) His Remorse
As the truth dawned on Esau, “he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry” (27:34). It must have been a strange sight to see such a strong man weep.
b) His Request
“And Esau said unto his father, Hast thou but one blessing, by father? bless me, even me also, O my father. And Esau lifted up is voice and wept” (27:38). Esau did receive a blessing, but how different from what it might have been. It contained nothing of eternal worth. Note the difference between NIV and AV translations of verse 39. Esau’s lot would be “away from the fatness of the earth and away from the dew of heaven.”
This blessing was fulfilled as Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, inhabited the rugged region that came to be known as the land of Edom. The Edomites would generally live in violence and in subjection to Israel. However, whenever he would “shake himself” (not “have dominion”) he would be able to loosen the yoke. The Edomites remained more or less independent until David’s time, after which they were subjugated permanently, in spite of frequent rebellions and partial freedoms. Finally Edom disappeared as a nation.
c) His Refusal
The New Testament commentary on Esau says, “afterwards, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place for change of mind, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb 12:17). All his tears and pleading could not change his father’s mind. The past was utterly irretrievable.
d) His Revenge
“Esau hated Jacob…and said…then will I slay my brother Jacob” (27:41). Revenge burned Esau up as the carefree sportsman changed into a would-be murderer. If venison could not buy him the blessing, perhaps violence would. The words “comfort himself” indicate the grim satisfaction he anticipated. He would first bury his father, then he would bury Jacob!
Esau’s resentment was understandable, but he had treated his birthright with utter disdain, and sold it of his own free will. Now the cost of carelessness had to be met.
* * * * *
LESSONS FOR LIVING
1. Beware the danger of bartering divine privileges for a mess of material pottage. It’s a bad bargain!
2. Beware lest carnal desires and appetites displace our sense of spiritual direction.
3. Beware of doing evil that good may come. There is never need to help God out of a jam! Sarah and Rebekah both tried, and each ended up in a tangled mess.
4. The utter futility of seeking to foil God’s purpose. “The Lord reigneth,” is the basic sermon of the story.
5. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Every sentence in the story is over-printed with this message. Rebekah never saw Jacob again, while Jacob spent the rest of his life reaping what he sowed in this chapter.
* * * *
No Action, whether foul or fair,
Is ever done, but it leaves somewhere
A record, written by fingers ghostly
As a blessing, or a curse; and mostly
In the greater weakness of greater strength
Of the acts which follow it: till at length
The wrongs of ages are redressed,
And the justice of God made manifest.
STAIRWAY TO THE STARS
Chapter 28 marks a watershed in the life of the young man Jacob. Prior to this he had a “second-hand” knowledge of God, knowing about Him from his father and mother, but never having experienced Him for himself.
Now God steps directly into his life, and the story of His personal dealings with Jacob commences with this incident. Those dealings involved great grace and mercy as God dealt with his strong-willed child. But they also involved discipline, and again and again we see how he reaped the fruit of his sins.
How God graciously overrules our folly and weakness. We may often have to reap the fruits of our unbelief and impatience, yet He through it all He teaches lessons of tender grace and perfect wisdom.
1. JACOB’S DEPARTURE (28:1-9)
Having deceived his father and defrauded his brother, Jacob’s position at home became untenable and he had to leave home.
Before Jacob left home Isaac blessed him again. The events of chapter 27 seem to have shaken Isaac, and he now has two words for his son, one dealing with the matter of a wife, and one dealing with the matter of worship. Isaac wanted for Jacob what every spiritual parent wants for his child. He wanted to see him married to a believer, and he wanted to see him walking in the ways of the Lord.
a) A Word of Instruction (28:1-2)
“Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan” (28:1). On no account was Jacob to marry a pagan. He was to go to the home of Bethuel, his maternal grandfather, and seek a wife amongst those who knew the true God. It was good advice that has not faded over the centuries.
b) A Word of Inspiration (28:3-4)
“God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful” (28:3). Isaac’s blessing on Jacob was now much more like the blessing he himself had received from God (26:3-5). He called on God Almighty to bless him and make him fruitful. He specifically invoked he blessing of Abraham, as well as the promise that he would be the father of a great multitude, and his seed would possess the land of promise.
2. JACOB’S DREAM (28:10-22)
Jacob was on a 800 km journey from Beersheba to Haran. He may have left with his father’s blessing, but exhaustion, loneliness, and fear of a vengeful Esau combined with a burning conscience to make him later refer to this period as “the day of my distress” (35:5).
a) The Vicinity
Bethel is in the heart of Palestine, about 70 miles north of Beersheba, and it likely took him two or three days to get this far. It was at Bethel that Abraham had built an altar (12:8; 13:3), and it was to there that Jacob would later return. Perhaps the remains of Abraham’s altar were still standing, and he may have even used one of the stones for a pillow.
(i) A Certain Place. “He lighted upon a certain place” (28:11). He was not there by accident. Note the emphasis on the word “place”, mentioned six times. To Jacob the “place” did not seem in any way special; it was merely “a certain place.” However, God had set up this meeting, and on awaking he said “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” (28:16). We are often unaware of God working behind scenes to bring us to certain places.
(ii) A Dark Place. “The sun was set” (28:11). Jacob was leaving home for the first time. Initially he may have been exhilarated as he set out from home. Now darkness was setting in. After three days, lonely, tired, and fearfully conscious of his weakness, he began to think. God may at times bring us to dark places and remove props from our lives in order to make us pay attention.
(iii) A Fearful Place. “He was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place!” (28:17). That bleak, lonely, and dark place was dreadful because it was full of God. It was the very “gate of heaven” (28:17).
How we can look back over our lives, and say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place.” In such a place he was to keep an appointment with God.
b) The Vision
Jacob “lay down in that place to sleep, and he dreamed” (28:11,12). As he slept God invaded his dreams. Perhaps in his mind the rocks around him somehow came together and formed themselves into a huge staircase extending far up into the sky above him. The “ladder” was more of a gigantic staircase than a runged ladder, and as Jacob looked he could see angels coming and going on it.
Note the lessons of the ladder:
(i) The Breach. The ladder was intended first of all to remind him of the breach between his soul and God. This is the original “communication gap.” He had sinned, with lying and deceit, and had snatched away the blessing. God’s first lesson is that sin separates.
(ii) The Bridge. The dominant feature of the dream was a mighty ladder, reaching from the earth into the very heaven of God’s presence itself. There is not, of course, a literal staircase from earth to heave on which angels ascend and descend. It was only a dream, but it symbolized a marvellous reality that the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac could become even the God of Jacob.
Nearly 2000 years later a devout Israelite Nathaniel was invited by his friend, Philip, to meet the Messiah. Nathaniel was at first sceptical, but was convinced when Jesus told him things about himself which he could only have known supernaturally. Jesus then made a tremendous claim. Referring to Jacob’s dream: “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). Jesus was claiming that He Himself was Jacob’s ladder, the link between heaven and earth, between sinful man and a holy God.
* Its Length – “set up on earth, and the top of it reached to heaven” (28:12). That is a very long ladder!
* Its Width – “the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (28:12). The ladder was wide enough to accommodate streams of heavenly angels going up and down the ladder simultaneously.
* Its Bottom – “Set up on earth…” This is the truth of the humanity of Christ. His birth, death, resurrection. This end of the ladder was set the clay of His humanity. Right down to the deepest need the ladder came, while it reached right up to the very presence of God.
* Its Top – “reached unto heaven.” Heaven is Christ’s natural environment. He came from heaven, and ascended back into heaven. This end of the ladder was the gold of His divinity.
The Lesson of the Ladder. The communication gap has been bridged by Christ. The Ladder IS Christ. Just as a seemingly impossible gulf of space separates earth from heaven, so a huge gap separates man’s earthly sinfulness from God’s heavenly holiness.
That night Jacob learned that there was such a place as heaven, and that it is accessible. His dream indicates the way back to God. He is the link between earth and heaven, for as God and man He bridges the immeasurable distance between Deity and humanity, heaven and earth. There is no other way, yet the weakest and most sinful can climb.
(iii) The Blessing. “The angels of God ascending and descending on it” (28:12). Jacob was surprised to find that lonely place milling with a multitude of invisible angels. So much so that he called the place “the gate of heaven” (28:17). The “gate” of a city was the place where business was conducted, and was always thronged with people.
This vision gives us a little insight into the ministry of angels:
* “Angels ascending” tells of the ascent of our prayers and needs to God.
* “Angels descending” tells of God’s replies to our prayers and His controlling input into our lives. Thank god for the ministry of angels. They protect, care for, guide, and keep us, and minister to our every need. As Hebrews 1:14 says, they are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them shall be heirs of salvation.” God gives his angels charge over us, to keep us in all our ways, they bear us up in their hands. “The angel of the Lord campeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.”
We do not know much about how they work, or fly, or what limitations they experience. But this chapter tells us they move up and down between God and man, linking the interests of heaven with man’s activities on earth.
Suddenly Jacob realized that all the time he had been planning, toiling, deceiving, the angels of God had been around him, protecting him and leading him to the accomplishment of God’s purposes even though it had been along crooked ways of his own choosing. They had been with him also on his flight from home, and after reporting to their Master, they had returned to go with him on his further way.
c) The Voice
“Behold, the Lord stood above it” (28:13). Above the ladder stood God, and Jacob received his first direct message from above. The last time Jacob had used the name of Jehovah was when he deceived his father. Now God announces Himself as “Jehovah, the God of Abraham they father, and the God of Isaac” (28:13). How Jacob must have trembled in his sleep!
But there was not a word of condemnation. What God said contained far-reaching future promises as well as comforting assurances respecting his immediate needs, even though these were the direct consequence of his sins.
(i) Far-reaching Promises. These were the elements of God’s covenant to Abraham in Genesis 17:4-8, and related to:
* The Land. “The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed” (28:13). God’s promise to Abraham that the land would be his were confirmed to Jacob.
* The Seed. “Thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth” (28:14).
* The Blessing. “In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (28:13). This part of God’s covenant had been omitted by Isaac in his blessing of Jacob. This was a reference to the blessings which would ultimately flow to mankind through the redeeming work of Christ.
(ii) Comforting Assurances. God assured Jacob that his present as well as his future needs would be met. See how appropriate the promises were:
* He was lonely. “I am with thee…I will not leave thee” (28:15). With God as his companion he need never be lonely again.
* He was afraid. “I will keep thee in all places whither thou goest “ (28:15). With God to guard him he would always be safe.
* He was lost. “I will bring thee again into this land” (28:15). God Himself would be his guide.
What amazing grace! “I will…I will…I will…” No conditions. No ifs or buts. In his position of helplessness Jacob was able to receive a revelation of the fullest and unconditional grace. These are precious words; but they only belong to those who lie at the foot of the cross which unites heaven and earth. If my place is there, I may freely claim all the comfort that they contain.
d) The Vow
Suddenly God finished speaking, the light vanished, and silence fell. Jacob woke trembling with awe. “How dreadful is this place!” (28:17).
On rising Jacob took the stone which he had put for his pillow and consecrated it to God in commemoration of that wonderful night. He poured oil upon it to sanctify it and called the place “Bethel,” meaning “the house of God.” Jacob, in setting up that memorial to his conversion was giving public testimony to what had happened to him. That is always a good sign. He did not want the memory to fade.
The closing verses of the chapter chronicle Jacob’s first steps as a changed man. They mark a new dimension of spiritual life that had arisen in his soul, and they give evidence of genuine conversion.
The episode resulted in:
(i) A New Revelation of God. Jacob was astonished to find God where he fancied himself alone. He had previously thought of God as being in his Father’s house. Now he comes to know Him personally, and is surprised to find heaven itself so near, though he is so far from home. We need to see God everywhere! When we do this then every spot is sacred, each moment hallowed.
Heaven above is softer blue
Earth beneath is fairer green
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen.
If so…at times we also will exclaim, “This is the house of God, this the gate of heaven.”
(ii) A New Reverence for God. “He was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place!” Perfect love casts out fear, but it begets another kind of fear – the beginning of wisdom. Fear that reveres God, and dreads to step out of His will. There are none that fear sin so greatly as those who have known God’s love and care.
(iii) Resolution to serve God. “If God will be with me, and will keep me…then shall Jehovah be my God…and of all that thou givest me I will surely give the tenth to thee” (28:20). The word “if” (28:20) should be understood as “since.” Jacob believed God’s promises, and responded with a life-time dedication. Although he had no possessions at the time, he believed what God had said about blessing him, and promised to give one-tenth of everything to God.
“Since God will be with me…” We also are aware of what Christ has done for us, yet often live as though we belonged to ourselves. Our failure to give back to God not only indicates a sad lack of appreciation for what He has done, but forgets that “ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:19,20).
(iv) A New Rejoicing in God. “Then Jacob went on his journey” (29:1), or literally, “he lifted up his feet.” Light feet and a buoyant heart! He has learned the blessedness of handing over to God.
* * * * *
JACOB LOVED, ESAU HATED (Mal 1:2-3).
Jacob was an undeserving sinner. Esau was the natural heir, and a more straightforward character. Why did God choose Jacob?
In choosing Jacob God was exercising His own sovereign prerogative in decreeing before the twins were born that the elder should serve the younger. Romans 9:11-13 makes it clear that this was “the purpose of God according to election…not of works, but of him that calleth.” Parallel lines meet at infinity, and until we get to infinity we must reply “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God” (Rom 9:20).
The Roman passage links the divine purpose with the word of the Lord through Malachi, spoken at least 14 centuries after the time of Jacob and Esau and in the context of God’s dealings with Esau’s posterity: “I have loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” “Hate” here does not mean personal antagonism or malice. Hate often means being given an inferior place to one who is loved supremely. Jacob loved Rachael and “hated” Leah, but there is nothing in his relationship with the latter to suggest that he bore her any ill will. “He loved also Rachel more than Leah…the Lord say that Leah was hated” (29:30,31). This is the sense in which the Saviour said that unless a man hates his father and mother and wife and children he cannot be His disciple.
THE DECEIVER DECEIVED!
The next three chapters of Genesis present the record of Jacob’s long years away from home. He had been to Bethel and been saved, but it is quite another thing to be subdued. Jacob spent the next twenty years in the school of experience learning the practical lessons of walking with and relying on God.
The first lesson was conducted in the interesting circumstances of chapter 29. Here the bargain-making Jacob met his match in his bargain-making Uncle Laban. Laban, of course, had never been to Bethel. He knew nothing about the ladder stretching between earth and heaven, or about Jehovah’s magnificent promises. It was natural for him to live by his wits. But it is sad to find Jacob forgetting his high destiny and living on the same plane.
1. THE BEGINNING (29:1-14)
It was a long journey from Beer-sheba to Padan-Aram as Jacob followed the Fertile Crescent on its 800 km arc into Mesopotamia. At last he arrived at Haran in “the land of people of the east” (29:1), about which he had heard so much from his grandfather Abraham,
a) Jacob’s Attitude (29:1)
“Then Jacob lifted up his feet.” He had left home with a burning conscience and an uncertain future. But he had met the Lord at Bethel, and things could never be the same again. He now had a new spring in his step, and a new song in his heart. Like a young convert “he went on his way rejoicing.”
God had looked into Jacob’s future and promised, “I am with thee.” This reflects the Lord’s promises to our own hearts, “Lo, I am with you, even unto the end.” Surely this should make us also “lift up our feet” as we journey through this world.
b) Jacob’s Appointment (29:2)
It was not chance that brought Jacob to the exact spot in Haran where he should meet his future wife. This was proof positive that the Lord was with him. There are no chances with God. Even our “accidents” are God’s “appointments.”
c) Jacob’s Action (29:3-8)
Compare Jacob’s reaction now with that of Abraham’s servant in similar circumstances (24:12-14). At this stage old Eliezer paused to ask God for wisdom and direction in view of the enormous task before him.
Jacob’s conversation with the shepherds let him know Rachel was coming, and he must have also realized he was on the threshold of a moment of destiny, yet we read of no prayer for guidance. Jacob can handle his own situation.
Jacob suggested that it was too early to fold the herds for the night. They should go and give them food and water. “Water ye the sheep, and go and feed them” (29:7). By this time he knew Rachel was coming. Was he scheming to get alone with her?
d) Jacob’s Attraction (29:9-12)
For Jacob it was love at first sight. Rachel was beautiful (29:17), industrious, and strong enough to manage her father’s sheep. Overcome by impulse, Jacob ran to the well and himself gallantly rolled away the stone, no easy task as it was usually done by several – “they rolled away the stone…” (29:3). But Jacob’s adrenalin was flowing and he did it himself. He then watered the sheep, kissed Rachel, and burst into tears!
It was an emotional and romantic moment. In oriental fashion pent up tensions were released as Jacob wept openly without embarrassment in the presence of others. Rachel must have stood by in astonishment. Then it was her turn to be emotional as she left the well and ran home to tell her father, Laban, that his nephew had arrived.
2. THE BARGAIN (29:13-20)
Thus far Rebekah’s plan had worked perfectly. The long journey was covered without harm, Esau was left behind, Jacob had arrived safely at his destination, and it looked as though he might have found a wife. Jacob was now about to meet his uncle, and discover that ability to make plans was a family feature.
a) The Person (29:13-14)
“Know ye Laban?” Jacob had asked the shepherds. “We know him!” they replied. It would not be long before Jacob would know him too. Laban was a hard scheming man, and even his daughters complained that their father had treated them as strangers (31:15). He had once been rich, he was not now very prosperous (30:30). Just one young woman was able to manage his sheep, so they cannot have been too many.
Laban ran to meet Jacob. Perhaps his mind was filled with memories of the jewels with which Rebekah had been loaded when she left home many years before. Laban knew that Jacob was from a wealthy family, so he gave him a royal welcome.
b) The Pact (29:15-20)
“Tell me, what shall thy wages be?” (29:15). Jacob was an energetic man and began to make himself useful, so that Laban offered him a job. When asked about wages, Jacob was ready with his answer. He had lost his heart to Rachel, and this was his opportunity to win her. “I will serve thee seven years for Rachel, thy younger daughter” (29:18).
Rachel was beautiful in face and graceful in form, but Leah was “tender eyed” or “weak eyed.” It is unclear just what this means, but as it is contrasted with Rachel’s beauty, it seems to be the cause why no suitor had come to claim her.
c) The Period (29:20)
The bargain was struck for Rachel. Jacob loved Rachel deeply, and the seven years “seemed unto him but a few days for the love he had to her” (29:20). What a beautiful description of Jacob’s love for Rachel. Love is the most powerful force in the world, and makes people do very strange things. It was love for David that made the three mighty men break through the Philistines’ lines to bring water from the well of Bethlehem. It was love that made the women go to the tomb. It was love for Christ that made martyrs die in bitter agony. Even the Lord Jesus died for us because loved us.
Do we find it hard to live for and serve Him? We can only do so as the Holy Spirit sheds His love abroad in our hearts, so that God’s love is reflected in us. As we begin to love more, so we will keep His commandments.
d) The Poetic Justice
In Laban’s treatment of Jacob we see the deceiver deceived. Laban did not care that he was trampling on Jacob’s tenderest feelings, any more than Jacob cared when he callously palmed himself of as Esau seven years earlier. Jacob had done it because he did not want to:
(i) Serve. “Thy wages” (29:15). Jacob had stolen the blessing, which declared that “the elder shall serve the younger” (25:23). Instead of serving he wanted to be served. Laban was about to make Jacob his servant for the next ten years.
(ii) Respect the rights of the firstborn. Jacob had disregarded Esau’s rights as the firstborn. Now he is forced to respect the rights of the Leah, the first-born.
(iii) Wait. It was because he had refused to wait for God’s time that he had deceived Isaac, and had to flee from home. Now he has to wait seven years before he could obtain Rachel. He would learn many lessons about patience over the next fourteen years before his contract with Laban expired.
3. THE BRIDE (29:21-30)
Jacob’s big day arrived, and he went to Laban to claim his bride, “Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled” (29:21).
a) The Deceit (29:23)
True to his word, Laban gave orders for the wedding. He was about to kill two birds with the one stone. He would extract another seven years service from his unwitting nephew, and at the same time find a husband for Leah.
b) The Discovery (29:23-29)
It was a big day with a great feast for everybody, and perhaps wine flowed freely. Eventually under cover of darkness Laban brought his heavily veiled daughter to Jacob’s tent. Jacob never questioned that it was Rachel. Only next morning did Jacob realize he had been grievously deceived. Shocked and stunned, he was forced to face the facts; he was married to Leah.
c) The Demand (29:25-28)
“What is this that thou hast done unto me?” (29:25). Jacob’s demand for an explanation was met with the bland excuse on the grounds “It must not so be done in our country to give the younger before the firstborn” (29:26). “We’ve got to respect the rights of the firstborn!”
“The firstborn!” What bells must have rung in Jacob’s mind as it flashed back to his own deception of his father. God’s lessons of sowing and reaping were hard to learn.
d) The Deal (29:27-30)
“Thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years” said Laban, “and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also” (29:27,28). Jacob was in no position to bargain as Laban shamelessly extracted from him another seven years’ service.
4. THE BLESSING (29:31-35)
Jacob’s marriage was soon blessed with several sons, but it was not a happy home, and the record of their birth makes sad reading. Jacob acted as a husband to Leah, but his heart was with Rachel. Soon two things soon became clear.
a) Rachel was Favourite
Jacob looked after Leah as a husband, but never loved her as he did Rachel. Few stories are as touching as the secret life of Leah, as she pined for love that never came.
b) Leah was Fruitful
But God had not forgotten Leah (29:31), and the lesson soon sank in that if Jacob wanted strapping sons, he would have to consider Leah, as Rachel had no children. Nonetheless, Leah longed for Jacob’s love, and her sorrow is reflected in the names of her boys.
(i) Reuben means “Behold, a son!” When he was born Leah exclaimed “Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me” (29:32). Note how she acknowledged Jehovah in the birth of her boy. She was the first one of Jacob’s family to confess her faith in Him.
(ii) Simeon means “Hearing,” indicating God had heard her prayers. Her response was “Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, he hath given me this son also” (29:33). She hoped that her new status as a mother would ensure Jacob’s love.
(iii) Levi means “Attachment.” Hope revived and she encouraged herself to believe “Now this time will my husband be joined unto me” (29:34). This time she seemed depressed, and did not no acknowledge God.
(iv) Judah means “Praise.” Leah sings “Now I will praise the Lord.” She no longer fretted because Rachel had monopolized Jacob’s heart. She had found an outlet in the Lord for her love, and no longer needed people to make her happy. Her joy and praise were in God.
* * * * *
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
a) God’s Will
Bethel’s period of communion was intended to fit Jacob for the journey to Haran that lay before him. Mountain-top experiences are to be followed by service in the valley.
b) God’s Providence
In spite of the drama, the story hinges on ordinary events, as Jacob met the shepherds, performed an act of courtesy, etc. Yet those small events had far-reaching results. When our lives are given into God’s hands, the small events take on great significance. This “providence” can be constantly traced in the life of every Christian.
c) God’s Justice
In being treated as he had treated his father and brother, Jacob was paid back with the family coin, and was himself now being treated as he had treated his father and brother. Yet God’s discipline is corrective, not punitive. Let us allow the Potter to fashion the clay, in spite of our natural flaws, into vessels unto honour. Old tendencies have to corrected, and weaknesses made strong.
WIVES AND WAGES
Jacob had initially planned a short visit of “a few days” to Haran (27:44). However, twenty years and many lessons later he was still there, with little hope of easily extricating himself from Laban’s clutches.
They were not happy years, but the story of his lengthy stay reflects two important aspects of God’s dealing with him:
a) God’s Patience
A lesser deity would have washed his hands of someone like Jacob, but not a Heavenly Father. God sent His wilful child to school, and for twenty long years Jacob learned the lesson that it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man (Psalm 118:8). Thank God for the patient pressure of His hands on our lives. There is no greater evidence that we do belong to Him (Heb 12:6).
b) God’s Plan
Jacob’s lengthy stay at Padan-Aram reminds us that “My times are in THY hand” (Ps 31:15). He was occupied with the day-to-day events of farming and family life, but behind it all God’s sovereign plan for his life was being worked out. Even his multiple marriages, which must have been abhorrent to God, was overruled by Him to develop His chosen nation, Israel.
1. JACOB’S FAMILY (29:31-30:24)
This section records the birth of Jacob’s sons by his different wives.
a) The Family Features
Likely Leah and Rachel remembered happier days when they enjoyed each other’s company. However, the family photograph presented in this chapter is tinged green with jealousy and anger as they fought for Jacob’s affection. It is a sad picture.
The lessons of the chapter are for our learning, and cannot be ignored. A family can only be happy if it is:
(i) God-ordered. Jacob ended up with four wives, a clear contradiction of God’s principles. Is not today’s high marriage breakdown rate related to a forsaking of those divine principles written so clearly in the first chapters of the Bible? Whatsoever we sow we reap, and the harvest of family failures being reaped in our country is surely related to the well-sown seeds of indifference to God’s Word.
Not for nothing are there clear instruction as to how the home should be organized. Father, mother and children are all to relate to each other according to God’s order.
(ii) God-cantered. The family was expert at making plans, but there is little evidence that God was at its centre. Today’s need is for God-cantered families with an altar where He is worshipped and acknowledged. Leaving God out of the family is like leaving the king-pin out of the machine. It will not work.
b) The Family Members
As each of Jacob’s sons were born and named, the circumstances of the birth were carefully noted. The names and their meanings are most significant. Put together, they form a beautiful picture of God’s plan of salvation.
(i) Reuben – “See, a son!” “She called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction” (29:32). This reflects the beginning of the Gospel story. Because of our “affliction” as miserable slaves to sin God sent His Son to die for us. Now all who are weary and heavy laden can come to Him. God still points to the Lord Jesus, and says “See, a Son!” All are invited to look and live.
(ii) Simeon – “Hearing.” Faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Romans 10:17), and this points to the reception of the Gospel by faith. “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3).
The Lord had much to say about those who did not have “ears to hear.” They heard, all right, but refused to allow the work to penetrate into their hearts. Such wilful deafness led the Lord to speak in such a way that “hearing they may hear, and not understand” (Mark 4:12). The believer also has a responsibility to hear. Not for nothing is each message to the seven churches of Revelation 2 & 3 concluded with the injunction, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Let us be like “Mary which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His word” (Luke 10:39).
How do we listen? By being still. That means going into the closet and shutting the door (Mat 6:6). At times the Lord may whisper gently like he did when He spoke to Samuel in his ear (1 Sam 9:15), or speak with a still small voice like He did to Elijah (1 Kings 19:12). We thus need to be “in tune” in order to hear.
(iii) Levi – “Joined.” When we trust Christ we are united with Him and made members of His body (1 Cor 12:13). Many join a church, but have never been joined to God’s family. Believers were never meant to live in isolation, and the same Spirit who made us members of the universal body also joined us to the local body, as “God hath set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him” (1 Cor 12:18).
(iv) Judah – “Praise.” Nothing manifests new life in Christ like praise, as the believer thanks God for what He has done. One reason we have been saved is that we might “show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
(v) Dan – “Judgement.” This name tells of the believer’s need to judge himself. He looks at what he has done, and also for what he is, and reckons himself to have died indeed unto sin (Romans 6:11). This on-going process protects and preserves him as he seeks to live a live pleasing to God.
(vi) Naphtali – “Wrestling.” The Christian life is a life of conflict. When we followed Satan we really had no problem. Then we changed sides. Now the battle is on. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12). In an invisible conflict Satan seeks to corrupt and neutralize our testimony. But God’s Word tells of the available armour by which we may overcome.
(vii) Gad – “Troop” or “Company” speaks of the believer’s fellowship. This speaks of our inter-relationships as a company of God’s people. Another hallmark of genuine life in a believer is his desire to meet with others of God’s family. Hence the injunction to “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb 10:25).
(viii) Asher – “Happy.” There is the happiness that comes when we first trust Christ (Psalm 32:1). But later, as we walk with and serve Him, His joy deepens as it becomes our strength and we learn in whatsoever state we are therewith to be content as the joy of the Lord becomes dominant in our lives (Phil 4:11).
(ix) Issachar – “Hire.” This speaks of service. We are saved to serve. As we serve and live for him, we find his yoke is not grievous. Our reaction is “I love my master…I will not go out free” (Exod 21:5). God’s call is still, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:15). Daniel could speak of “God whom we serve” (Dan 3:17). Even in the eternal state “His servants shall serve Him” (Rev 22:3).
(x) Zebulon – “Dwelling” or “abiding.” This is the lesson of John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” This is a two-way story. We abide in Him, and He abides in us. “…lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:18).
(xi) Joseph – “Adding.” Christianity was never meant to be static. Peter tells us to “Add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness love…that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).
(xii) Benjamin – “Son of my right hand.” Before she died shortly after his birth, Rachel named her son “Benoni,” “Son of my sorrow” (35:18). Jacob, however, changed the name to Benjamin. The name speaks directly of Christ, and the circle thus ends where it begins, with the Lord, for He is the First and the Last. We have received the Son, and followed Him. We commenced by seeing Him, and hearing Him, and have come to know Him in following, obeying, worshipping, judging, wrestling, serving, dwelling, and growing in Him. The pathway does not lead to “sorrow” – but to God’s right hand, where he sits as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Three further lessons can be learned from these names and their meanings:
a) Divine Inspiration
Only God could have written these names and filled them with such meaning.
b) Divine Significance
No Scripture is trivial or insignificant. “ALL Scripture…” The order and meanings of the names have profound significance.
c) Divine Sovereignty.
Here is proof that God does rule and overrule. In so naming their children, Jacob’s wives were unwittingly outlining the gospel of God’s Grace. God was even using the sordid circumstances of their lives to fulfil his own purposes.
2. JACOB’S FARMING (30:25-43)
When Joseph was born, something happened to Jacob. He realized that he did not belong to Haran, and home was far away in the land of promise. It was time to go home.
a) The Decision (30:25-26)
“Let me go.” Jacob had to appeal to Laban to “Send me away…give me my wives and my children…let me go” (30:25,26). Jacob knew he had no resources, and was at Laban’s mercy. He would be unlikely to receive any bounty from Laban, yet would have to provide for his large family on the long 600 km trek to his old home in Canaan.
b) The Declaration (30:27)
Laban admitted that he had “learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake” (the word “experience” is really “divination”). Weak and stumbling though he was, Jacob’s faith had made an impact on Laban. He knew it was not just Jacob’s skill, but his relationship with the Lord that made the difference.
c) The Deal (30:28-45)
Jacob agreed to supervise Laban’s flocks, but planned also to secure his own financial future. His pay would consist of those animals yet unborn that would be less desirable to Laban because of their markings. The entire flock would be Laban’s. However, any future brown sheep and spotted and speckled goats arising from the solid-collared flocks and herds would be Jacob’s.
Jacob now went after two things:
(i) Quantity. The dominant traits in Laban flock produced mainly white sheep, but Jacob knew that the hidden recessive traits would produce in time a nucleus of both sheep and goats from which he could build his own flocks.
(ii) Quality. Jacob cut some stout sticks from nearby hazel, poplar, and chestnut trees. These he peeled so that the wood appeared in strips and bands, and placed them in the watering troughs. Whatever the reason for it, the reproduction process was speeded up.
God, of course, was at work in all this and it was He who was responsible for the amazing results of Jacob’s “technology.” God was teaching his child that it pays to trust Him. Jacob would later know and acknowledge this.
HEADING FOR HOME
Jacob was restless. Twenty years at Haran had gained him a large family and fortune. All the material ambitions of his life should have been well satisfied. But Haran was not home, and his inner spiritual vacuum remained unfilled.
God could not allow His child to settle in the land from which He had, years before, called Abraham. He thus permitted problems to filter into Jacob’s life to turn him around and send him back to Canaan.
The lessons are timeless. Neither fame, family nor fortune can compensate for missing God’s will for our lives. He sometimes has to turn us round in order to bring us back to where we belong.
1. JACOB’S DECISION (31:1-16)
Jacob had previously asked Laban to “send me away, that I may go to mine own place, and to my country” (30:25). Laban, thinking of profit margins, and aware that “the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake,” wanted to hold his nephew, but God’s time had come, and Jacob was told, “Return unto the land of thy fathers…” (31:3).
a) The Reasons for Going
Jacob was in danger of settling down in Padan-Aram and forgetting his pilgrim character. There is no mention of an altar, and no record of God having spoken to him during the long sojourn in Haran. Nor had he consulted God about any of the decisions he had taken. He was getting to be like those he lived with. It was time to move on. God had bigger and better plans, but they did not lie in Haran.
(i) Plans for Jacob. God was still schooling His child for the time when he would be a “prince with God”, but the next lessons could not be learned in the heathen environment of Haran.
(ii) Plans for his family. Jacob’s wives were rearing their children in a society tinged with idolatry. God had great plans for Jacob’s family, but settling down in idol-worshipping Mesopotamia was not one of them.
(iii) Plans for the world. It was to be through Jacob and his family that blessing would eventually flow out to the whole world by the coming of the Saviour.
b) The Requirements for Guidance
God had assured Jacob he should eventually return to Canaan, but how could he know God’s time? How much longer was he to tarry at Padan-Aram? Three guiding lights helped Jacob find God’s will, and assured him it was time to move on.
(i) The Arrangement of Circumstances. Jacob felt very vulnerable as he over heard Laban’s jealous sons talking. Rough justice was in the air. God was so organizing the circumstances of Jacob’s life that a move seemed the wise thing. His wives also concurred, “Now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do” (31:16). Good advice!
(ii) The Action of the Spirit. Jacob had earlier said “Send me away, that I may go to my own place in peace” (30:25). This desire was placed in his heart by the Holy Spirit. He had peace about it because it was right (Col 3:15).
(iii) The Authority of the Word. Jacob now received what he had been lacking before – divine directions; “Return unto the land of thy fathers” (31:1).
When such principles fall into line, we may be sure of His will. The most important thing is to be spiritually alert and wait upon God, asking Him to “make plain His way before your face” (Ps 5:8). “The meek He will guide in judgement, the meek will He teach His way.” “I being in the way…”
c) The Reminder of God’s Grace
The angel said, “I am the God of Bethel” (31:13). The angel was not just an angel, but God Himself. God’s revelation to Jacob involved two things:
(i) An Exhortation. At Bethel Jacob had anointed a pillar and vowed a vow (31:13). The pillar was intended to be a memorial to the vow he had made. Had he remembered it? His undertaking had been twofold
* “…then shall the Lord be MY God.” Jacob constantly referred to the God of Abraham and Isaac, but not until near the end of his life, did he distinctly claim God as his own (49:25).
* “…of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” Had he kept is promise? There is no record of Jacob paying tithes.
God wanted to flame up the fire he had first felt in his heart in response to God’s amazing grace shown at Bethel. We too can leave our first love. We need to get back to Bethel, and remind ourselves of God’s amazing grace.
(ii) An Explanation. “I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee” (31:12). God had silently seen Laban’s deception, his change of wages, and churlish treatment of Jacob. God was aware of how Laban had treated Jacob. True God had used it to teach and train Jacob. But that did not excuse Laban.
2. THE DEPARTURE (31:17-55)
Jacob’s mind was made up, and it was only necessary to plan the time.
a) Jacob’s Parting
(i) How He Went. “Jacob stole away unawares” (31:20). With God’s promises ringing in his ears, Jacob should have confidently announced to Laban his decision to depart for Canaan. Instead, with nobody looking, he fearfully stole away. The stealth, the fear, the theft of the teraphim, all indicate that this was the wrong way of going about obeying God’s call.
How often we follow in his footsteps. God’s precious promises may lie before us, but we find it difficult to simply trust and obey. It is always easier to make a plan.
(ii) What He Took. Before leaving, Rachel stole her fathers “images,” literally teraphim, small idols used as household deities, supposed to bring good luck to the owner.
Other uses of “teraphim” in Scripture indicate that they were used in divination (Judges 17:5, 1 Sam 19:13, Ezek 21:12). After Israel had apostatized from Jehovah they turned more and more to the teraphim. “For the teraphim have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams, they comfort in vain” (Zech 10:2).
Laban had some knowledge of the true God (see 31:53), but harboured these “teraphim” in his home. The idolatry of Babylon still clung to his family. No wonder Rachel was infected. Many today have the same attitude; happy to know the Lord, but tolerant of all kinds of idols.
b) Laban’s Pursuit
As soon as Laban was told of what had happened, he started out in pursuit in a determined effort to hold Jacob. At last he spied Jacob’s camp, and prepared for a violent onslaught the next day. Laban’s attempts to retain Jacob picture the world in its pursuit, threats (31:29), and appeals (31:28) to one seeking to turn away from it. It asks why we are not content to abide with it (31:27).
The initial shock to Jacob’s faith was designed for his eventual blessing. If God had prevented Laban from confronting Jacob, he would have never known that God was at work to such an extent in his life. He have merely congratulated himself on his strategy!
(i) The Complaint. Laban complained “Wherefore hast thou stolen my gods?” Jacob knew nothing about Rachel’s theft of the teraphim, and innocently invited him to search, saying, “With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live.” Tense times! Laban’s search brought him into Rachel’s tent, but he did not find them because Rachel sat upon them. What wonderful gods that could be sat on! What useless idols we cherish in our hearts.
(ii) The Contradiction. Jacob’s increasing resentment against his uncle boiled over in protest at Laban’s attitudes. “This twenty years have I been with thee.” Jacob’s conscience was clear. In spite of being churlishly treated, he had always put Laban’s interests first, and had himself borne the burden of any loss. As a shepherd Jacob had looked after his charges well. He had protected his charges from wild animals, and bore the loss of those torn (31:39). Searing heat, intense cold, and sleepless nights had not deterred him.
Jacob’s care carries lessons for shepherds of God’s sheep everywhere. His care for the young, his refusal to use the sheep for his own advantage, his dealing with those torn of beasts or stolen, his constant attention in times of adversity (drought and frost), his sleepless nights, all challenge to greater care of “all the flock over whom the Holy ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28).
(iii) The Covenant. At the end of their interview each man unconsciously revealed his true condition of heart. When Jacob took a stone and “set up up for a pillar” to be a witness of the covenant, both he and Laban called it by the same name, a “heap of witness.” However, Laban called it by its Chaldean name, “Jegar-sahadutha.” Jacob called it by its Hebrew name, “Galeed.”
In things that matter, the two men, related by blood, were poles apart. At heart one was a heathen, adjusted to Chaldean values. The other, for all his failings, was a Hebrew, a member of God’s family, with a desire in his heart to know and obey Him.
The Mizpah pillar signified two things:
* To Laban it was a Boundary beyond which he would not cross to interfere with Jacob. Laban left Mizpah to return “to his place” and his paganism (31:55). No further mention is made of him in Scripture.
* To Jacob it was a Blessing. For Jacob the pillar was good-bye to the past. “Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount” (31:54). That is more like it! Jacob in touch with God. The lessons were beginning to sink in.
PLANNING AND PRAYING
Heading for home, Jacob was alarmed to learn that Esau was on his way to meet him. For twenty years his conscience had refused to allow him to bury the past, and his brother’s parting threats still rang loudly in his ears.
“The angels of God met him” (31:1). Before Jacob met his brother, God graciously encouraged and assured him by a very special meeting with angels. This meeting was:
a) A Testimony To God’s Grace
God owed Jacob nothing. His problem with Esau was all of his own making, and God could have merely left him to his own devices.
How much we owe to God’s amazing grace. He owes us no more than he owed Jacob. Nothing! All His ways with us, all that we have and ever hope to be, are magnificent testimony to His grace. “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).
b) A Testimony To God’s Care
“The angels of God met him” (32:1). Just as He had promised to do at Bethel, God had guarded Jacob all the way. Even his deliverance from Laban had not been because of his own cleverness, but because of God’s care. Now the greater danger of Esau and his 400 men was advancing to meet him. God wanted Jacob to learn that God would care for him in every situation.
“This is the camp of God! So he called the name of that place Mahanaim” (32:2). The name means “two hosts.” Jacob was surrounded, not just by his own puny host, but also by the great camp of God, with its intense spiritual presence.
We also would find it awesome to have our eyes opened to God’s invisible host around us. “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them” (Ps 34:7). “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me” (Dan 6:22).
c) A Testimony To God’s Purpose
The angelic meeting was proof that God had as yet unfulfilled purposes in Jacob’s life, and was determined to carry them out. So with His children down through the centuries. God has a will and a purpose for every one of our lives, and encourages, disciplines, refines, exhorts, and works with us in a thousand different ways to accomplish it. It is, after all, the greatest of all proofs that we belong to His family (Heb 12:6).
1. JACOB’S PREDICAMENT (32:1-7)
The vision of angels had hardly faded when Jacob received word of a new problem. Jacob’s messengers returned much earlier than expected with the devastating news, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (32:6). Esau not only knew of his movements, but was well northward of Seir, en route to meet him. No wonder Jacob was in “great fear and distress” (32:7).
Jacob’s anxiety levels rose to record heights. He forgot about the host of angels he had just met promising God’s protection. He forgot the goodness of God which had guided and kept him over the past twenty years. He forgot that “when a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord, he makes even his enemies to live at peace with him” (Prov 16:6). In spite of the past Jacob had nothing to fear. He was where God wanted him to be.
All he knew was that his situation was desperate. He stood to lose everything – his wives, children, herds and cattle. He could not go back to Laban. Around him were robber tribes. Ahead seemed disaster. He urgently needed a way out
2. JACOB’S PLAN (32:7,13-21)
A plan was called for! Most of chapter 32 is taken up with expensive and unnecessary plans to pacify Esau. Jacob had always lived by his wits, and this was no time to start trusting God alone! Jacob’s first thought was always a plan. Only when backed right against the wall did prayer become an option.
Jacob reflects our own hearts. How often we plan furiously only afterwards cry to God. We say, “God helps those that helps themselves!” Not so! God helps those that are unable to help themselves! “He gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increases strength. “
Jacob’s planned to split his band into two groups, sending the livestock ahead in droves, with a space between them, and sending the women and children last. It was a good, well thought out plan, but it was wrong because:
a) It Disregarded God
He had just met with the angels, and should have had his faith in God renewed (like Abraham meeting Melchizedek before meeting the King of Sodom).
b) It Discarded God
He does not plan with God. His confidence was in his plan not his God! Before the chapter ends we see him not only leaning on God, but clinging to Him, as he realises he cannot even walk in his own strength. At this stage the lesson still had to be learned.
c) It Distrusted God
Jacob’s plan was based on fear (32:7). He was afraid, but did not go to pieces. He had been in sticky situations before, and he would get out of this one too. So much was at stake that he just could not gather together the confidence to leave the future in God’s hands. He feared what he could not see, and he could not see the future. It was basic distrust of God.
d) It Dishonoured God
“My master Esau… your servant Jacob” (32:4,18). Face to face with a crisis, it was more expedient to bow and scrape to Esau than to trust in his God. It is wrong for a
believer to be in a situation where he cannot hold his head up high. Abraham was a “mighty prince among us.”
How different from the position of dignity which he had been promised. Isaac had said, “Be lord over thy brother, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee.”
3. JACOB’S PRAYER (32:9-12)
With all other possibilities exhausted, Jacob decided it was time to pray. His prayer is the first recorded real prayer in the Bible. In spite of all his clever planning he cannot help turning to God, even though he arranges matters before he starts to pray. The prayer is one of great boldness and beauty. In many respects it is a fine prayer pattern for believers under similar circumstances.
a) The Basis of his Prayer
(i) God’s Purposes (32:9). Jacob was confident he had been following God’s leading in returning home and was able to say to God, “I am here because this is where you want me right now.” Had he not obeyed, he would have been far away from Esau.
(ii) God’s Providence (32:10). Twenty years earlier he had passed that way with nothing but his staff in his hand. Now in the providence of God, he had become a wealthy man. Jacob knew he did not deserve it. God had been good to him, and Jacob acknowledged it.
(iii) God’s Protection (32:11). “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. “ The saying was a proverb of the time, literally “lest he slay the mother upon the child.” The picture is of a hunter destroying a hen, even as it spreads its wings to protect its brood. Jacob had visions of carnage in his camp, with Rachel and Leah, Reuben and Joseph all dead. He pleaded for God’s protection from the violence of Esau.
(iv) God’s Promises (32:12). “But you have said…. “ Jacob boldly took God back to the definite promises of His Word. No prayer can be effective unless it is in harmony with God’s Word. He reminded God how He had promised “Go back to your thy country … and I will make you prosper” (32:9).
We also have a right to stand on the promises of God. “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor 12:9). “My God shall supply all your need.” That was the secret of George Muller’s prayer life. He wanted to prove to an unbelieving world that God keeps His word and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
God had said in Micah 7:20, “You will be true to Jacob, and show mercy to Abraham, as you pledged an oath to our fathers in days long ago.” See the progress of thought. What was mercy to Abraham was truth to Jacob. God was under no obligation to extend the covenant blessing to Abraham; it was an act of pure mercy. But having put Himself under voluntary obligation, Jacob could claim as truth what to Abraham had been mercy.
Jacob’s situation arose out of the Lord’s direction to return to his own country and in that connection He had promised to deal well with him (32:9). He reminded God about His promise about the seed (32:12). To be able to plead God’s Work and promise is a vital element in prevailing prayer.
b) The Burden of his Prayer
(i) It Was Believing Prayer. Jacob’s faith may have been only partial, but it was nonetheless real. He calls on God, but to Jacob He is the “God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac” (32:9). He has still to know Him as “my God.”
(ii) It Was Humble. “I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant” (32:10). He confessed he had no claim to God’s favour on his own merits. This was anew development for Jacob. He thought of his deceit to his aged father; his behaviour to Esau. All the meanness of his heart and life stood revealed. If there is one prayer that always works, it is “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
(iii) It Was Honest. “I am afraid” (32:11). Jacob was unashamed to confess his fear and weakness.
(iv) It Was Specific. “Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau” (32:11). This was no time for flowery phrases!
(v) It Was Intense (32:11). With possible annihilation facing him, Jacob’s prayer was a passionate plea for deliverance.
(vi) It Was Thankful (32:10). Jacob looked back over twenty years and gratefully acknowledged God’s mercy and unfailing faithfulness. When he first passed over Jordan the only possession he had was a staff in his hand. Now he had a large prosperous host. Jacob knew where the credit lay.
FROM RESISTING TO RESTING
Peniel was a major landmark in Jacob’s spiritual history. In the face of the unknown and alone with God, he came to realise his own weakness, and his resisting turned to resting. Twenty years before at Bethel, “God’s house,” he had learned the great lesson of salvation. Later, at Mahanaim, he had seen “God’s host.” Now at Peniel sees “God’s face,” and can never be the same again.
Every believer has been to Bethel, coming to know God in conversion. But Peniel is different and speaks of consecration. Not all have been to Peniel where God meets face to face with His children in a very personal and intimate way.
1. THE SOLITUDE
“Jacob was left alone” (32:24). The resourceful and energetic Jacob had planned and prayed until there was nothing left to do. Nothing, that is, but wait. How hard this was. Only when alone with God could Jacob:
God’s richest lessons are not taught in the hustle and bustle of busy life — but alone with Him. Elijah had to be quiet before he could hear the “still small voice.” Habakkuk had to go to his “watch tower” before he could hear what God had to say.
How we need the daily “quiet time” of being alone with Him and listening to His voice.
Only when alone with God did Jacob develop an accurate assessment of:
(i) Himself. Alone with God, his self-confidence and abilities fell away. He began to see himself as God saw him, just “Jacob” the deceiver.
(ii) His God. Jacob’s energy and resourcefulness had seen him through the previous day’s planning. There had been little need and time for God. All that was reversed at Peniel. Face to face with God, he realised that nothing was more important than His blessing and presence.
It has always been thus. We need to follow the writer of Psalm 73 into the sanctuary to get a proper perspective.
2. THE STRUGGLE
Jacob was suddenly conscious of an assailant. Perhaps he thought he was a robber, or one of Esau’s men. Whatever his failings, Jacob was not short of courage and resisted with all his strength.
a) Who His Opponent Was
Jacob later said “I saw God face to face” (32:30). His Opponent was more than an angel, He was none other than the pre-incarnate Christ.
b) What His Opponent Did
“A man wrestled with him” (32:24). It was not Jacob wrestling with the man, but the man wrestling with Jacob. It was God taking the initiative to deal with Jacob’s independence, cleverness, and self-confidence.
For years God had been trying to get Jacob to trust Him.
* He had met him at Bethel
* He had used all kinds of circumstances to lead him to trust,
but to little effect.
* He had even sent an angelic host, but its effect was only
Now comes this new attempt to break down his self-confidence and lead him to trust and obey.
3. HIS SURRENDER
As the day broke, Jacob was still hanging on, refusing to let go until God would give him full and final assurance of permanent blessing.
“…till daybreak” (32:24). From dark to dawn the conflict continued. Note that Hosea says “he wept and begged for his favour” (Hosea 12:3-5). The struggle was intensely emotional and spiritual as well as physical. The struggle resulted in:
a) God Branding Jacob
“He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip” (32:25). God, of course, could have done this earlier, but He wanted Jacob’s willing surrender.
(i) Why He Touched Him. Jacob’s plight was now more desperate than ever. If he had toyed with the idea of opposing Esau, it was out of the question now. He could not even walk, let alone run and fight! Utterly powerless, he could only lean on God. God’s purpose had been accomplished.
(ii) Where He Touched Him. Jacob was touched in his hip socket, his strongest point, and left clinging. This strong, self-reliant man was left clinging. We all have our strong points, yet all these can be used to resist God so that He does not have full control over us.
b) God Blessing Jacob
“I will not let you go unless you bless me… then he blessed him there “ (32:26,29). Jacob was brought to the point where he had to lean his entire weight on Him. For the first time, he realised that the only thing worthwhile was the blessing of God. Nothing else mattered. When Jacob came to an end of struggling, and commenced clinging, the blessing quickly came.
4. HIS SIGN
God gave Jacob a new name, Israel, as a sign of His dealings with him. But before the new name is given, the old name had to be exposed for what it was. The two names reflect Jacob’s on-going identity crisis. “Jacob” pictures the natural man with an old nature; “Israel” pictures the spiritual man with a new nature.
a) The Old Name
“What is your name?” (32:27). Of course God knew his name! He wanted Jacob to admit who and what he was, “Jacob!” Cheat! Supplanter! God was touching, not his thigh, but his conscience. The question “What is you name?” took him back to the tent where in answer to the same question from his blind father he had replied, “I am Esau! “
Twenty years had passed since that day, but the passing of years had not lessened the wrong or settled the matter before God. Jacob needed to acknowledge just who he was, “Jacob,” the cheat, the liar. Only then could God begin to work.
b) The New Name
“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel” (32:28). God immediately responded to Jacob’s confession. The change of name signified a change of nature. He would no longer be called “Jacob” (“supplanter”), but “Israel” (“God commands”).
Jacob’s new name gave him a new relationship:
(i) With God. Jacob had prevailed in his dealings with Esau, Isaac, and Laban. Now he had contended with God and failed. Hence his name was changed to “Israel” (“God commands”) to teach him dependence on God. As Jacob he had “prevailed. “ Now, as Israel God would command and prevail.
(ii) With Men. Note the LXX which translates the verse, “Thou halt had power with God; much more shalt thou prevail with men. “ Jacob sought power against men, and more specially against Esau.
It is also the secret for every earnest believer, who longs to influence men for God. We need power with God first.
5. HIS SEQUEL
A basic change had taken place in Jacob’s life. As he stepped out to meet Esau, two things characterised him.
a) His Walk
“He was limping because of his hip” (32:31). Jacob limped painfully, likely with the aid of his staff. After his experience at Bethel he had resumed his journey, “lifting up his feet. “
The deeper experience of Peniel had left its mark on him so that as he walked he halted. Gone was the self-confident striding. He knows with whom he has met. He can never be the same again.
b) His World
“As he passed over Peniel the sun rose upon him” (32:3 1). The world was never brighter for Jacob than it was that morning. He had been in the presence of God. He had confessed his failure. He had submitted to God’s dealings with him, and received His unbounded blessing.
CONCERN AND COMPROMISE
The midnight match at Peniel marked a new epoch in Jacob’s life. The next morning saw him as a Prince with God, walking in the light of the rising sun. What a wonderful climax it would have been had he been able to meet Esau with the dignity and confidence of one who had been touched and blessed by God.
The hard facts tell a different story. Fellowship with God had been good, but it had not removed the problem posed by Esau. In fact, it loomed larger than ever. Jacob was very afraid. He has just enjoyed the best, but prepares for the worst!
It is easy to be critical of Jacob, fearfully facing Esau. It is one thing to have a manifestation of God, but it is quite another to live in the power of it. Faith can only remain active if we continue to live in the energy of the vision given to us.
1. JACOB’S CONCERN (33:1-16)
As the morning broke, Jacob climbed the bank of the Jabbok and “looked up” (33:1). What he saw confirmed his worst fears. Esau and his entourage of 400 men were approaching.
The chapter is a solemn reminder that conversion (Bethel) and consecration (Peniel) are no guarantee of on-going continuance. The Bible is full of ghastly possibilities of spiritual relapse after the most exalted spiritual experiences, e.g. David, Noah, Peter, Samson.
a) Jacob’s Anxiety
Jacob was anxious. There are two ways of meeting troubles:
(i) The Way of Faith. Faith clings to God and the promises of His Word. It remembers past deliverances, and argues that what God had done before He can do again.
(ii) The Way of the Flesh. The flesh anxiously anticipates troubles, plans for them with trembling hands, and then cringes before them as did Jacob.
b) Jacob’s Activity
Jacob fell to planning again. He organised his household so that the more expendable members were up front, and Rachel and Joseph, the ones he loved most, with maximum security at the rear. The blatant protection of Joseph must have fueled the hate of the other brothers. Jacob then went ahead of them to meet his brother.
Jacob’s preparation was:
(i) Godless. There is no indication that he put himself in God’s hand, pleading the promises given to him. Instead he again relied on his own skills. No wonder the chapter does not use his new name, “Israel.” It still refers to him as “Jacob,” reflecting the independent old nature which still had the upper hand.
(ii) Needless. All Jacob’s worries proved to be non-existent. How often this is the case. The women at the tomb found the stone rolled away. Peter found that the gates swung open on their own. Jacob dreaded Esau, but when he met him he kissed him!
Worry! Why worry? What can worry do?
It never keeps a trouble from overtaking you.
It gives you indigestion, and woeful hours at night,
And fills with gloom the passing days,
However fair and bright.
It puts a frown upon your face
And sharpness in your tone;
You’re unfit to live with others,
And unfit to live alone!
c) Jacob’s Approach
Jacob’s cringing and nervous approach to Esau was characterised by:
(i) Lack of Faith. Jacob’s faith was not in God, but was pinned firmly to his own abilities. He tried to buy Esau off with gifts. He tried to impress him by the way in which the gifts arrived. He tried flattery, even saying Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God. He tried hard to press his gifts because, in line with oriental convention, this would commit Esau to peace.
(ii) Lack of Dignity. Jacob nervously “bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother” (33:3). Politeness was one thing, but crawling towards Esau, who was destined to serve him, was quite another. Notice “your servant” and “my lord. “ He wanted to impress on Esau the fact that he was willing to submit totally to him.
(iii) Lack of Honesty. When Esau offered to accompany him, Jacob did some quick thinking. It was the last thing he wanted. He shrewdly declined his brother’s invitation, and suggested instead that Esau move on ahead, promising to join him at Seir. In fact, Jacob took off in exactly the opposite direction, and went to Succoth. So much for honesty!
d) Jacob’s Admission
“Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (33:4). Jacob’s amazement and relief must have been intense when he felt his brother’s arms round him and his kiss on his cheek. In an atmosphere highly charged with emotion the brothers wept together in oriental fashion. Two points stand out here:
(i) God’s Control. Jacob was right in his assessment of his brother. Left to himself, Esau would have made short work of Jacob. But he was not left to himself. God had heard Jacob’s prayer, and had dealt with Esau to change his heart towards his brother.
(ii) Esau’s Character. Esau’s likeability and generosity create a problem for many people. How could God choose such a scoundrel as Jacob, in favour of such a fine fellow as Esau?
The answer is deeply rooted in their relation to God. Jacob, for all his problems, was a child of God. Esau, on the other hand, for all his attractiveness, neither wanted nor acknowledged Him. One was dead, the other alive. As they reviewed their lives, both men said “I already have plenty” (33:9). Jacob, however, made mention of God saying “God has been gracious to me and I have all I need” (33:11). Esau does not mention God, merely stating “I have enough.”
2. JACOB’S COMPROMISE (33:17-20)
The last part of chapter 33 and chapter 34 record a sad period of Jacob’s life. In chapter 33 he failed as a pilgrim; in chapter 34 he failed as a parent.
a) His Stay at Succoth (33:17)
“Jacob went to Succoth. “ Instead of pressing on home, he settled down in Succoth.
(i) The Place. Succoth was still east of Jordan and therefore not in Canaan. Settling there represented a major compromise. Later two and half tribes would take up their position on that side of Jordan, and be the first to fall into the enemy’s hand.
(ii) The House. “Jacob built a place for himself” (33:17). Abraham and Isaac were men constantly on the move, and their lives teach that the pilgrim way is characterised by:
* A tent – the pilgrim’s walk
* An altar – the pilgrim’s worship
Significantly, the first mention of a house in the Bible is in connection with Lot. Abraham the pilgrim dwelt in a tent on the plains of Mamre; Lot the backslider dwelt in a house in Sodom.
Tired of the pilgrim path and being forever on the move, Jacob decided to settle down. He built a house and made shelters for his cattle. He abandoned his pilgrim lifestyle, and stopped just short of the Promised Land after all.
b) His Stay at Shechem
Leaving Succoth, Jacob crossed the Jordan and “he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan” (33:18). Although not yet home, he was at least in the Promised Land. Shechem was near the site where the great capital city of Samaria would one day stand. It was here that Jacob dug that well on which the Lord sat and ministered to the woman of Samaria in John 4.
(i) Why He Settled. Did the children urge him? Were they all bored with the monotony of camp life? Was he thinking of getting wives for his sons? Whatever the reason, Shechem was borderland, and living there was living dangerously.
(ii) What He Did:
* He Pitched His Tent. “And Jacob camped within sight of the city” (33:18). Shadows of Lot!
* He Purchased Some Land. “He bought the plot of ground where he pitched his tent” (33:19). Intending to settle, Jacob bought his property from Hamor, the father of a young man named Shechem. It was likely those business dealings which first introduced his daughter Dinah to the young man whose influence was to be so disastrous.
Settling at Shechem was a move without:
* Direction. This move was made in the face of God’s word saying “return unto land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred, and I will be with thee” (31:3). God had not said “I am the God of Shechem”, but “I am the God of
* Faith. God had not instructed him to purchase for cash what he had been promised by faith. He was actually buying his own promised possessions.
(iii) The Altar He Erected. “There he setup an altar an altar” (33:20), and called it “El Elohe Israel, “ meaning “God, the God of Israel. “ Abraham had earlier built an altar at Shechem despite the fact that the Canaanite was then in the land. This was a courageous witness.
Perhaps Jacob also thought his altar would be a testimony to the surrounding unbelievers. But compromise was gripping his soul, and his witness went sadly wrong. Jacob and his family drifted into Shechem. He should have gone deeper into Canaan as Abraham did, and put distance between himself and the city toward which he had pitched his tent.
(iv) The Price He Paid. Jacob had to pay a heavy price for his disobedience. The next verse says “Dinah, the daughter of Leah… went out to visit the women of the land” (34:1). His stay at Shechem cost him his only daughter.
FROM BAD TO WORSE
This chapter is the brutally candid record of the shameful behaviour of Jacob’s sons. The Holy Spirit hides nothing, as the story tells the transparent truth concerning those from whom the twelve tribes of Israel sprang.
Chapters 33 & 34 feature a double failure:
a) Jacob’s Failure As A Pilgrim (33:17-20)
Jacob had been doing well. He had seen God’s face, and was obediently on his way back to Bethel. However, at the end of chapter 33 his pilgrim progress ground to a halt, and he settled at Shechem. Life was good there and the people friendly. He built a house and invested in real estate. Moving on to Bethel would be a huge upheaval and quite impractical. How much shame, sorrow, and suffering would have been avoided had Jacob only pressed on to his old home.
b) Jacob’s Failure As A Parent (34:1-31)
Jacob later blamed his sons for the sadness and suffering of the chapter. But if, as a parent, he had given godly direction to his family, he would not have settled at Shechem, and Dinah would not have been dishonoured. Note that God is not mentioned once in the events that follow.
What a warning to pilgrims and parents! We settle where we find the best facilities, the best people, the best entertainment. Our first consideration should be, “What will it do for the spiritual life of my family?”
1. THE FATAL ATTRACTION (34:1-4)
At this time Dinah was likely a teenager, and her older brothers in their twenties. The inevitable result of living close to Shechem was soon seen. Dinah was from a nomadic family, and like a moth attracted to a flame, she was soon drawn to the bright lights of the city.
a) Dinah Tantalised
Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, a young, attractive, unsophisticated teenager, “went out to visit the women of the land” (34:1). The city life of Shechem must have been tantalising for the country girl, and she quickly made friends with the local girls. What she saw likely led her to despise the simpler and less exciting life of her home. That was when the trouble started. How could Jacob allow her to have such freedom in such a place?
The story carries warnings to young people about the power of peer pressure and the importance of choosing one’s companions well.
b) Dinah Tempted
“Shechem son of ..the ruler of that area saw her” (34:2). Shechem fell madly in love with her. To be noticed by the prince of the city would go to the head of any young girl, let alone one so inexperienced. One wonders whether her parents were proud of the association.
c) Dinah Taken (34:2)
“He took her and violated her” (34:2). Dinah was no match for Shechem, the son of Hamor, the city’s chieftain. On the one hand there was rank, wealth, and unbridled appetite. On the other hand, beauty, weakness, and dallying with temptation. Dinah’s resistance soon dissolved, and it was not long before Shechem had his way.
Note that the word “defiled” (34:5,13,27) means “desecrated,” and is used later to describe the defilement or desecration of the temple (Ps 79). Thus does the Scripture regard personal purity and the sin that dishonours it.
Shechem’s affection for Dinah was genuine. “His heart was drawn to Dinah…and he loved the girl” (34:3). Wanting to marry her, he took her into his own house (34:26) and kept her there.
2. THE FRIENDLY ALLIANCE (34:5-12)
Shechem passionately wanted Dinah, and asked his father, Hamor, to take steps to obtain her as his wife, no matter what it would cost, “Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. “ (34:12). He had the moral courage to accompany his father, even if a hostile reception could be expected.
Pleasant and pragmatic, Hamor went to visit Jacob. He had no word of apology or sympathy, and obviously thought nothing about the moral implications of what his son had done. What had happened was normal in Shechem, where everybody “did it.”
Hamor’s offer was a worldly one. He offered:
a) Worldly Society
“Intermarry with us” (34:9). The suggestion was appealing. Jacob’s sons were of marriageable age, and he must have wondered where they would find wives. But Jacob was a patriarch, and marriage out of the will of God was out of the question.
b) Worldly Security
“You can settle among us” (34:10). That, too must have been tempting. An alliance with a hostile clan must have been hard to resist.
c) Worldly Success
“You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it” (34: 10). Had Jacob accepted these offers, the patriarchal line would have been wiped out in a single generation.
Note Hamor’s hidden agenda: “Won’t their livestock, their property, and all their other animals become ours?” (34:23). He wanted to possess and control the Israelites. How like Satan’s subtle ways! He offers all kinds of success and security, but it is at the hidden cost of spiritual freedom.
3. THE FAMILY’S ANSWER (34:13-29)
a) Their Anger
On learning about the disgrace, the brothers “were filled with grief and fury” (34:7). Desire for revenge and “justice” controlled their conduct. Even Dinah’s happiness or what was best for her were not considered.
b) Their Hypocrisy
The brothers “replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor” (34:13). They spoke as though the only thing that mattered was their religion. Their sister could not marry a pagan, and Shechem and his clan would have to be circumcised. Behind the apparently pious proposal lay deceit, vengeance, and murder.
c) Their Aggression
The agreement was signed and the rite of circumcision administered to all the men of Shechem. On the third day, when the men’s discomfort was at its maximum, the two brothers moved through the city mercilessly massacring all the males, including Shechem.
Their strategy was totally successful. The other brothers then came upon the scene, and pillaged anything in the houses which could be useful to them and smashed what was not.
4. THE FATHER’S AGITATION (34:30-31)
Jacob’s reaction is self-centred. “You have brought trouble on ME by making ME a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. WE are few in number, and if they join forces against ME and attack ME, I and MY household will be destroyed” (34:30). He was afraid for his life, his home, the land he paid for, the possessions he enjoyed.
The chapter is filled with fear, without a mention of faith. A lesser God would have dispensed with Jacob, and cast him aside as a total failure. But God is gracious. His next words to Jacob were “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God. “ (35:1). Perhaps Jacob went to his altar and cried to God for forgiveness and guidance. And God, who is gracious and longsuffering, answered him once again.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
1. The Causes Of Worldliness
“Worldliness” is a real force. It is difficult to define. It seems narrow and straight laced to define it and speak about it. John puts it down to love of “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16).
2. The Effects Of Worldliness
The history of the church is the history of worldliness. It is hard to define, but not hard to detect. It is an atmosphere which is heavy, humid, deadening.
From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings, From all that dims Thy Calvary, 0 Lamb of God, deliver me.”
– Amy Carmichael
a) It Hinders Power
Jacob’s disaster not only brought danger and disaster to himself, it hindered him from being a blessing. Like Lot, he could not open his mouth. In the midst of overwhelming spiritual need, he was powerless.
b) It Hinders Progress
Jacob’s personal life suffered badly at Shechem. There is no mention of God in the chapter. There is no prayer, and no progress. Worldliness robs people of prayer. People cease to attend Bible readings and prayer meetings.
3. The Cure For Worldliness
The Lord in His High Priestly prayer of John 17 gives us the true attitude of the believer and the Church to the world. We are given to Christ “out of the world” (6); we are “in the world” (11); we are “hated by the world” (14); we are “not of the world” (14); we are not to be taken out of the world, but “kept from” its evil (15), and we are “sent into the world” (18) to witness to it as our Master did, “that the world may know” (23) who and what He is.
Spiritual separation is the only cure for worldliness. Only as we keep close to Christ and abide in Him, shall we be able to separate ourselves from the pervasive influences around us and remain unspotted from the world.
I cannot give it up, this little world below,
The innocent delights of youth, the things I cherish so.
Tis true I love my Lord, and want to do His will,
But oh! I may enjoy the world, and be a Christian still!
Shame on me that I sought another joy than this,
Or dreamt a heart at rest with Thee should crave for earthly bliss.
Those vain and worthless things, I put them all aside,
His goodness fills my longing soul, and I am satisfied!
BACK TO BETHEL
Genesis 34 vividly presented Jacob as a backslidden believer, out of God’s will, and settling down at Shechem. The chapter left him angry, ashamed, and afraid, with a major crisis looming before him. God is not even mentioned.
By contrast chapter 35 is full of God. It describes Jacob’s journey back to Bethel along the road to restoration as God challenges and chastises His child until he returns to the place of blessing and fellowship.
How frequently we feel like Jacob! We become angry and ashamed at repeated failure, and afraid than ;nu- victorious besetting sins will swamp our testimony altogether. If so, we stand where Jacob stood. We, too, need the challenge of a new chapter!
1. THE ROAD TO RE:STORATION
The road to restoration always runs in the same direction. The chapter is a restatement of God’s unchanging principles.
Decisive changes were called for:
(i) “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you” (35:2). For years Jacob had tolerated the gradual infiltration of idols into his home. At first he was unaware of them, but he eventually had to command “all who were with him” to “get rid of the foreign gods you have with you “ (35:2).
Jacob took the idols and “buried them under the oak at Shechem” (35:4). He did well to bury them right away. Some things cannot be consecrated, and must he left behind “buried.”
The dearest idol I have known,
What’er that idol be,
Help me to rear if from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee
(ii) “purify yourselves…” (35:2). Jacob likely meant outward ceremonial cleansing, but the deeper meaning is clear. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Ps 119:9). It means getting back to the Bible. Even the Lord prayed “sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.”
(iii) “Change your clothes” (35:2). Garments give insight into character. How easy to wear garments spotted by the flesh, instead of garments washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev 7:14).
This was Paul’s message in Col 3:8-10, “Put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication… .put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering.”
“Come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God” (35:3).
(i) A Purpose. “Let us go up… “ For a whole chapter Jacob had been in the doldrums. Decisive determination was called for!
(ii) A Place. “…and go up to Bethel. “ Bethel held powerful and sacred memories for Jacob. It was there that Abraham first staked his claim to the Promised Land, and built his first altar. It was to Bethel that Abraham returned after backsliding down in Egypt. It was at Bethel that Jacob first met God. To come back to Bethel was to come back home.
For ourselves, Bethel speaks of Calvary. It was there we first met the Lord “in the day of my distress” and the burden of sin rolled away.
Lest I forget Gethsemane Lest I forget throe agony Lest I forget thy love to me Lead me to Calvary.
(iii) A Provision. “Settle there, and build there an altar to God” (35:1). Jacob already had an altar at Shechem (34:20), but it had long lost all spiritual power for the family since their daily living was a contradiction of its testimony. A new altar in the place of God’s choosing was called for.
An altar had two functions. It dealt with a person’s defilement and sin, and also his desire to worship and thank God. If we have spoiled the divine pattern for our lives, let us return to the altar of Calvary and its promise of forgiveness.
2. THE RESULTS OF RESTORATION
“After Jacob returned from Padan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed
him” (35:9). God had appeared to him just before he entered Padan Aram, and He now appeared “again” when he came out of it. No mention is made of the intervening years. Those years were lost; so much wood, hay, and stubble. Now, back in the pathway of God’s will, things soon began to happen.
a) A New Influence
“The terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them” (35:5). As long as Jacob stayed at Shechem, he had no influence for God. But when he moved back into the pathway of God’s will, his neighbours were awe-struck. It was clear that God was with him.
b) A New Blessing
“God appeared to him again and blessed him” (35:9). God’s blessing after the barren years at Shechem must have been like sunshine after rain. How reassured Jacob must have been to hear the name Israel again (35:10), proof that, in spite of repeated failure, God had not given up on him.
c) A New Revelation
“I am God Almighty” (35:11). God had revealed Himself by the name “El Shaddai” to Abram (17:1) and to Isaac (28:3), and now to Jacob. It carries the idea of a God who provides, nourishes, and protects.
d) A New Prosperity
“I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply and increase in number… The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you” (35:11,12). God’s former promises
relating to the seed and the land were renewed as He promised fruitfulness and prosperity. Here were promises on which Jacob could bank, for they were based on God’s unbreakable word.
e) A New Nourishment
“Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath” (35:16). Ephrath is Bethlehem, “the house of bread.” Bethel (“house of God”) and Bethlehem (“house of bread”) are always close to each other. It is not far from the place of restoration to the place of nourishment and satisfaction.
f) A New Testimony
With the vision sharp in his mind, Jacob erected a memorial, just as he had done thirty years earlier. He set up a pillar, poured out a drink offering on it, and anointed it with oil. The stone would speak of Christ; the drink-offering (likely of wine) of the out¬poured blood; the oil of the Holy Spirit.
Jacob was unconsciously basing his claim to Canaan, not on his personal merits nor on his pedigree as a child of Abraham, but on the finished work of Christ.
The chapter records four burials and three funerals. Death is written large over the record. God was gently cutting the ties that bound Jacob to earthly things.
a) Deborah’s Death
“Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died” (35:8). Deborah had left Padan-Aram to accompany Rebekah when she had come to marry Isaac (Gen 24:59). Jacob had known her all his life, and she was a major link with the old days. In taking Deborah God was gently cutting another cord that bound Jacob to his past and separating him to Himself.
b) Rachel’s Death
“So Rachel died and was buried” (35:19). Perhaps because of her age, her labour was difficult and it cost Rachel her life. Broken-hearted Jacob buried her, and her tomb even today remains a landmark. Jacob’s heart died with her, along with all his worldly ambitions. God was at work in weaning him from the world around him.
c) Isaac’s Death
“Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people” (35:28,29). First Deborah, then Rachel, now Isaac. Thus God cut the last tie that bound Jacob to earth. Slowly but surely he was learning the hard lesson that he must find his consolation in God and God alone.
ESAU AND SONS
Genesis 36 is entirely occupied with Esau and his descendants. But the chapter is more than history. It presents Esau as an important type of the flesh, and rounds off the account of a life that willfully walked away from God. A little digging under the difficult names and genealogies of the chapter is richly rewarding, and finds lessons lurking in every verse.
1. ESAU AS A PERSON
The chapter presents the later history of Esau, and sets the scene for the on-going hostility between his descendants, the Edomites, and those of Jacob.
a) Esau’s Personal Details (36:1-8)
(i) His Family (36:2-5). Esau had three or possibly four wives. All were unbelieving “outsiders,” and his marriages greatly distressed his godly parents.
• Adah – “daughter of Elon the Hittite,” a pagan Canaanite (36:2).It was a bad match for a young man brought up in a godly home.
• Bashemath – “daughter of Ishmael,” and thus Esau’s cousin (36:3). But Ishmael had mocked the child of promise, and had been excluded from participation in the privileges of God’s chosen family.
• Aholibamah – her name means “tent of the High Place,” and she may have been a temple priestess for Canaanite worship. Likely very attractive and seductive, she was just the kind who would appeal to sensual Esau.
Founded on such paganism, one can see why the Edomites later exhibited nothing but hostility toward Israel.
(ii) His Fortune (36:6-7). Esau became a very successful farmer, and eventually moved away, distancing himself from the godly influence of home, and confirming again the earth-bound nature of his soul.
(iii) His Fortress (36:8). Esau moved south to where the Horites dwelt, a tribe of rock-dwellers who lived in caves and houses hollowed out of the sandstone cliffs. The impregnable city of the area, Petra, was vitally strategic, with a stranglehold on the main east-west trade routes.
b) His Private Disposition
Esau comes across as a rugged, romantic character, and we instinctively like him. He loved the outdoor life, a real man’s man, rich in physical strength and courage.
By contrast, Jacob is described as “a plain man, dwelling in tents.” However, the phrase “a plain man” really means “perfect” or “complete,” and is the word used to describe godly Job. The phrase “dwelling in tents” reflects his pilgrim character.
c) His Pathetic Decision
It does not surprise us to see Esau in this chapter moving further away from God. Earlier decisions had determined his destiny long before, and he will always be remembered as the man who bartered his birthright.
(i) The Choice. “Esau came in from the open country, famished” (25:29). Jacob’s pottage looked good, smelled good, and tasted good. Esau was willing to buy it with his birthright, which seemed of little value. He ignored the fact that locked up in that birthright were privileges and promises of untold value.
Esau had to choose between the pottage and the privileges. The pottage was tangible and temporal. The birthright was invisible but of eternal value.
His life is summed up in the last sentence of chapter 25, “he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright” (25:34).
(ii) The Character. Why did Esau fail? Hebrews 12:6 characterises him as “sexually immoral, or godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights. “
* He failed because he was sensual. He was “sexually immoral. “ Actually, this word originally had more than a moral meaning. It means he lived in the realm of the tangible and physical. What he could not see, he did not want.
* He failed because he was “godless” or “profane.” The origin of this word is “in front of (pro) the temple (fane). It refers to the parcel of unfenced ground outside and in front of the temple. That is where Esau lived his life, outside the sanctuary.
What awful and needless tragedy! In spite of immense privileges, his bad choices led him away from God, and his descendants ended up as implacable enemies of God’s people and purpose.
(iii) The Cost. “Afterwards, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he the blessing with tears” (Heb 12:17). In chapter 27 we see that strong man weeping like a child. Years of spiritual neglect and indifference eventually caught up with him.
2. ESAU AS A PICTURE
Jacob and Esau were twin boys, born the same day and to the same parents. Yet no twins were ever less alike! Even before they were born they struggled together in Rebekah’s womb (25:22).
Rebekah was told she was carrying “Two nations.. .and two peoples” (25:23). This primarily referred to the Israelite and Edomite races that would come from Jacob and Esau. But the two children also picture the two natures and the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit
Genesis 36, in telling of Esau and his descendants, thus presents a number of timely truths about the flesh. Just as Esau’s descendants continually harassed the progress of God’s people, so the flesh continually impedes the progress of the believer.
a) The Flesh Is Prevalent
The chapter is filled with names of Esau’s numerous descendants. The flesh belongs to a very large family, and manifests itself in scores of ways.
b) The Flesh Is Powerful
Nation after nation found it almost impossible to dislodge the Edomites from their stronghold at Seir, the most impregnable fortress of the ancient world. Every Christian knows there are no easy victories in the battle against the flesh. It is deeply seated and causes constant trouble.
c) The Flesh Is Pitiless
One of Esau’s sons was Amalek (37:12), Scripture’s prime picture of the flesh, and an implacable enemy of God’s people. Amalek was the first enemy Israel encountered after crossing the Red Sea. Saul was set aside for failure to destroy Agag, king of the Amalekites. Hamaan of Esther’s days was an Amalekite and nearly succeeded in totally destroying God’s people.
In Exodus 17 it took Moses, Aaron and Hur on the mountain, and Joshua with his sword in the valley to win that battle. Amalek is no push-over.
d) The Flesh Is Persistent
As soon as one king of Edom died, another immediately succeeded him. Get rid of one aspect of the flesh and another instantly takes its place!
e) The Flesh Is Predictable
Those O.T. enemies which troubled Israel all had their definite characteristics. The Philistines, Amalekites, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, and Syrians, all act in the same way whenever we meet them in Scripture.
So the N.T. tells us that we should be watchful “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor 2:11). He always attacks in the same way, following the same pattern.
What a pedigree! With relief we turn from Esau and all his tribe in chapter 36 to Joseph in chapter 37. Joseph now dominates Genesis from here to the end of the book.