The Present Truth : July 30, 1896
Jacob had bought the birthright from Esau for a mess of pottage, and had through deceit obtained the blessing of the first-born from his father. But not by such means may anybody obtain the inheritance, which God promised, to Abraham and his seed. It was made sure to Abraham through faith, and no one need think to inherit it through force or fraud. “No lie is of the truth.” Truth can never be served by falsehood. The inheritance promised to Abraham and his seed was an inheritance of righteousness, and therefore it could not be gained by anything unrighteous. Earthly possessions are often gained and held by fraud, for a time, but not so the heavenly inheritance. The only thing that Jacob gained by his sharpness and deceit was to make his brother an everlasting enemy, and to be an exile from his father’s house for more than twenty years, never again seeing his mother.
Yet God had said long before that Jacob should be the heir instead of his elder brother. The trouble with Jacob and his mother was that they thought they could work out the promises of God in their own way. It was the same kind of mistake that Abraham and Sarah had made. They could not wait for God to work out His own plans in His own way. Rebekah knew what God had said concerning Jacob. She heard Isaac promise the blessing to Esau, and thought that unless she interfered; the Lord’s plan would fail. She forgot that the inheritance was wholly in the Lord’s power, and that no man could have anything to do with the disposing of it, except to reject it for himself. Even though Esau had obtained the blessing from his father, God would have brought His own plan about in good time.
So Jacob became doubly an exile. Not only was he a stranger in the earth, but he was a fugitive. But God did not forsake him. There was hope for him, sinful as he was. To some it may seem strange that God should thus prefer Jacob to Esau, for Jacob’s character does not at that time seem any better than Esau’s. Let us remember that God does not choose any man because of his good character. “For we also were aforetime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and His love toward man, appeared, not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3.3-7 R.V.
God chooses men, not for what they are, but for what He can make of them. And there is no limit to what He can make of even the meanest and most depraved, if they are only willing, and believe His Word. A gift cannot be forced upon one, and therefore those who would receive God’s righteousness, and the inheritance of righteousness, must be willing to receive it. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” God can do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” if we but believe His Word, which effectually worketh in them that believe. The Pharisees were much more respectable people than the publicans and harlots, and yet Christ said that these would go into the kingdom of heaven before they did; and the reason was that the Pharisees trusted in themselves, and disbelieved God, while the publicans and harlots believed the Lord, and yielded themselves to Him. So with Jacob and Esau. Esau was an infidel. He regarded the word of God with contempt. Jacob was no better by nature, but he believed the promise of God, which is able to make the believer a partaker of the Divine nature.
God chose Jacob in the same way that He does everybody else. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” Ephesians 1.3, 4. We are chosen in Christ. And since all things were created in Christ, and in Him all things consist, it is evident that we are not required to get ourselves into Christ, but only to acknowledge Him, and abide in Him by faith. There was no more partiality in the choice of Jacob before he was born than there is in the choice of all others. The choice is not arbitrary, but in Christ, and if none rejected and spurned Christ, none would be lost.
‘Tis only ‘ask’—it shall be given;
‘Tis only ‘knock’ and thou shalt see
The opening door that leads to heaven.
O then arise, and take the good,
So full and freely proffered thee,
Remembering that it cost the blood
Of Him who died on Calvary.”
Jacob’s First Lesson
While Jacob believed the promise of God sufficiently to enable him to endeavor to secure its fulfillment by his own efforts, he did not understand its nature well enough to know that God alone could fulfill it through righteousness. So the Lord began to instruct him. Jacob was on his lonely way to Syria, fleeing from the wrath of his offended brother, “and he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones7 of that place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land whereon thou liest, to the will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Genesis 28.11-17, R.V.
This was a great lesson for Jacob. Before this his ideas of God had been very crude. He had supposed that God was confined to one place. But now that God had appeared to him, he began to realize that “God is a Spirit; and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” John 4.24. He began to realize what Jesus told the Samaritan woman long afterwards that the worship of God does not depend upon any place, but upon the soul’s reaching out and finding Him, wherever it is.
Moreover, Jacob began to learn that the inheritance that God had promised to his fathers, and which he had thought to get by a sharp bargain, was something to be gained in an entirely different manner. How much of the lesson he grasped at this time, we cannot tell; but we know that in this revelation God proclaimed the Gospel to him. We have learned that God preached the Gospel to Abraham in the words, “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Therefore we are sure that when the Lord said to Jacob, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” He was preaching the same Gospel.
Connected with this statement, was the promise of land, and of an innumerable posterity. The promise made to Jacob was identical with that made to Abraham. The blessing to come through Jacob and his seed was identical with that to come through Abraham and his seed. The seed is the same, namely, Christ and those who are His through the Spirit; and the blessing comes through the cross of Christ.
7 I beg the pardon of the intelligent reader for referring in this connection to the stone in the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey, which is by some supposed to be the stone on which Jacob slept, and which, by its position in the coronation chair, is supposed to identify England with Israel, and to make the Anglo-Saxon race heirs of the promise to Jacob. Saying nothing of the unfounded and unprovable assertion that the stone in question is the one on which Jacob slept, the absurdity of the idea that the possession of it could make any people heirs of the promises to Israel is paralleled only by the medieval superstition that a man could inherit the sanity of a departed saint by wearing his old shirt.
All this was indicated by that which Jacob saw, as well as by that which he heard. There was a ladder set up on the earth, reaching up to heaven, connecting God with man. Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, is the connecting link between heaven and earth, between God and man. The ladder connecting heaven with earth, upon which the angels of God were ascending and descending, was a representation of that which Christ said to Nathanael, that true Israelite: “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” John 1.51. The way to heaven is the way of the cross, and this is that which was indicated to Jacob that night. Not by self-assertion, but by self-denial, are the inheritance and the blessing to be gained. “He that will lose his life,” and all that life contains, “shall save it.”
Applying the Lesson
Of Jacob’s sojourn in the land of Syria, we need not speak particularly. In the twenty years that he served his uncle Laban, he had ample opportunity to learn that deception and sharp dealing do not profit. The course that he had pursued came back upon himself; but God was with him, and prospered him. Jacob seems to have laid to heart the lesson that had been given him, for we see very little indication of his natural disposition to overreach in his dealing with his uncle. He seems to have trusted his case quite fully to the Lord, and to have submitted to all manner of ill treatment without retaliation. In his reply to Laban’s charge that he had stolen, Jacob said: —
“This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes and thy she-goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts, I brought not unto thee; I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes. Thus have I been twenty years in thine house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle; and thou hast changed my wages ten times. Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, had been with me; surely thou hadst sent me away now empty. God hath seen mine affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.” Genesis 31.38-42
This was a calm and dignified statement, and showed that the fear of Isaac, and the same spirit, had actuated him. The preaching of the Gospel had not been in vain in Jacob’s case; a great change had come over him.
Let it be noted here that Jacob gained nothing whatever from the birthright which he had so shrewdly bought from his brother. His property was due to the direct blessing of God. And in this connection we may recall the fact that Isaac’s blessing was to the effect that God would bless him. The inheritance was not one, which could be transmitted from father to son, as ordinary inheritances, but one, which must be to each one by the direct, personal promise and blessing of God. To be “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” we must be Christ’s; but if we are Christ’s, and joint-heirs with Him, we are “heirs of God.”
The Final Test
But Jacob had made a grievous failure in his earlier life, and so God as a faithful Teacher, must necessarily bring him over the same ground again. He had thought to win by guile: he must completely learn that “this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5.4
When Rebecca proposed to send Jacob away from home, because Esau sought to kill him, she said, “Now therefore, my son obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; and tarry with him a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away; until thy brother’s anger turn from thee, and he forget that which thou hast done to him; then will I send and fetch thee from thence.” Genesis 27.43-45. But she did not know the nature of Esau. He was bitter and unrelenting. “Thus saith the Lord. For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because he did pursue his brother with the sword, and did cast off all pity, and his anger did tear perpetually, and he kept his wrath for ever.” Amos 1.11. (Edom is Esau. See Genesis 25.30; 36.1.) Here we see that, bad as Jacob’s natural disposition was, Esau’s character was most despicable.
Although twenty years had passed, Esau’s anger was as fresh as ever. When Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau, to speak peaceably to him, and to conciliate him, they brought back the news that Esau was coming with four hundred men. Jacob could not hope to make any stand against these trained warriors; but he had learned to trust in the Lord, and so we find him pleading the promises in this manner: —
“O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country, and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee; I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray Thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. And Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” Genesis 32.9-12
Jacob had once tried to get the better of his brother by fraud. He had thought that thus he could become an heir of the promise of God. Now he had learned that it could be gained only by faith, and he betook himself to prayer in order to be delivered from the wrath of his brother. Having made the best possible disposition of his family and flocks, he remained alone to continue his prayer to God. He realized that he was not worthy of anything, and that if left to his deserts he should perish, and he felt that he must still further cast himself upon the mercy of God.
“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when He saw that He prevailed not against him, He touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with Him. And He said, Let Me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me. And He said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And He said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with man, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked Him and said, Tell me, I pray Thee, Thy name. And He said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after My name? And He blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel; for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” Genesis 32.24-30
People often speak of wrestling with God in prayer, as Jacob did. There is no evidence that Jacob knew that it was the Lord that was wrestling with him, until the morning broke, and his thigh was put out of joint by the touch of his antagonist. Indeed, we very well know that no man would have the hardihood to engage in a contest of strength with the Lord, if he knew Him to be the Lord. The angel appeared to him as a man, and Jacob doubtless thought that a robber was attacking him. We can well conceive that Jacob was in sore trouble all night. The time was fast approaching when he must face his angry brother, and he dared not meet him without the full assurance that all was right between himself and God. He must know that he was pardoned for his past wicked course. Yet the hours that he had designed to spend in communing with God were being spent in wrestling with a supposed enemy. So we may be sure that while his strength was all engaged in resisting his antagonist, his heart was uplifted to God in bitter anguish. The suspense and anxiety of that night must have been terrible.
Jacob was a man of great physical power and endurance. Watching the flocks night and day for years had demonstrated this, and had, at the same time hardened his frame. So he continued the struggle, and held his ground all night. But it was not thus that he gained the victory. We read that “by his strength he had power with God; yea, he had power, over the angel, and prevailed; he wept, and made supplication unto Him; he found Him in Bethel, and there He spake with us; even the Lord of hosts; the Lord is His memorial.” Hosea 12.3-5. By his power Jacob prevailed with God, but it was not by his power and skill as a wrestler. His strength was in his weakness, as we shall see. Notice that the first intimation that Jacob had that his opponent was other than an ordinary man was when his thigh was put out of joint by the Divine touch. That revealed in an instant who his supposed enemy was. It was no human touch, but the hand of the Lord that he felt. What did he then do? What could a man do in his condition? Picture to yourself a man wrestling, where so much depends upon the strength of his legs, and having one of them suddenly dislocated. Even if he were merely walking, or simply standing still, and one of his legs should suddenly be put out of joint, he would instantly fall to the ground. Much more would he fall if he were wrestling. Such would have been the case with Jacob, if he had not at once thrown himself upon the Lord, with a firm grasp. He would most naturally grasp the nearest object for support; but the knowledge that here was the One whom he had been longing to meet, would make his grasp more than an involuntary action. His opportunity had come, and he would not let it slip.
That Jacob did at once cease wrestling, and cling to the Lord, is not only most apparent from the fact that he could do nothing else, but also from the words of the Lord, “Let Me go.” “No,” said Jacob. “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” It was a case of life and death. His life and salvation depended upon his holding on to the Lord. The words, “Let Me go,” were only to test him, for the Lord does not willingly leave any man. But Jacob was determined to find a blessing indeed, and he prevailed. It was by his strength that he prevailed, but it was by the strength of faith. “When I am weak, then am I strong.” In that hour Jacob fully learned the lesson that the blessing and the inheritance come not by might, nor by strength, but by the Spirit of the Lord.
A New Name
The new name was a pledge to Jacob that he was accepted. It did not confer anything upon him, but was a token of what he had already gained. Resting upon God, he had ceased from his own works, so that he was no more the supplanter, seeking to further his own ends, but the prince of God, who had fought the good fight of faith, and had laid hold on eternal life. As Israel he was henceforth to be known.
Now he could go forth to meet his brother. He who has seen God face to face has no need to fear the face of man. He, who has power with God, will most certainly prevail with men. This is the secret of power. Let the servant of God know that if he would have power with men he must first be able to prevail with God. He must know the Lord, and have talked with Him face to face. To such the Lord says, “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.” Luke 21.15. Stephen knew the Lord, and held communion with Him, and the haters of truth “were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spake.” What then must have been his power with those whose hearts were open to receive the truth?
In this story of Jacob, we learn anew how the inheritance, which God promised to Abraham and to his seed, is to be obtained. It is by faith alone. Repentance and faith are the only means of deliverance. By no other means could he hope to have any share in the inheritance. His whole salvation lay in his dependence upon the promise of God. It was thus that he was fully made partaker of the Divine nature.
Who Are Israelites?
We learn also who Israel is. The name was given to Jacob in token of the victory, which he had gained, by faith. It did not bestow any grace upon him, but was a token of grace already possessed. So it will be bestowed upon all those who through faith overcome, and upon no others. To be called an Israelite does not add anything to anybody. It is not the name that brings the blessing, but the blessing that brings the name. As Jacob did not possess the name by nature, so nobody else can. The true Israelite is he in whom is no guile. Such ones alone please God; but “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” So the Israelite is only the one who has personal faith in the Lord. “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel;” “but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Romans 9.6, 8
Let every one who would fain be known as an Israelite consider how Jacob received the name, and realize that only so can it be worthily carried by anyone. Christ, as the promised seed, had to go through the same struggle. He fought and won through His trust in the word of the Father, and so He is of right the King of Israel. Only Israelites will share the kingdom with Him; for Israelites are Overcomers, and the promise is, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His Throne.” Revelation 3.21