BIBLE STUDY SERIES: #12-13

19 January, 1992

JACOB'S RETURN

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

In our recent series of talks, we have been giving much of our attention to a major theme. It is that of the correspondence between God's covenanted promises to the Patriarchs and the unfolding history of subsequent developments down to our own day through the millennia which followed.

We had followed the course of the Genesis account as it led us through the lives of the ancient Patriarchs, Abraham and his son Isaac. Now we are following the life of Isaac's son, Jacob. In all three of these lives, we find that God has been making specific promises and agreements with these chosen men. We saw how Jacob, having obtained the blessing of God from his father through deception had incurred the anger of his elder brother, Esau, who had expected to receive it.

Having been given parental direction to go to Haran in order to obtain a wife from the family of Laban, his mother's brother, Jacob had set out on his journey. Deciding to stop for the night near the Canaanite town of Luz, at a place later named Bethel, he had experienced the magnificent vision of the ladder stretching to heaven, and had there received God's confirmation and expansion of those blessings.

Considering Jacob's subsequent experiences, I think we must conclude that God had already been making all the necessary preparations for the outworking of His promises. Indeed, at Haran, Jacob obtained not one wife, but effectively, four, by whom he had children, and during his twenty-year stay he had prospered to the extent that Laban and his sons were getting angry, seeing the disparity between Jacob's wealth and that of their father.

God had now told Jacob to return to his own home, and Jacob had just taken his silent departure. On learning of this development, and finding his family's household gods to be missing, Laban, caught up with the departing company and demanded the right to search for them. We pick up the story as he proceeds to do this. His search is in vain, for Rachel had hidden these in the camel's furniture, and had sat upon them while the search went on around her. Let us see what Jacob says in Genesis 31:36-42:

36. And Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban: and Jacob answered and said to Laban, What is my trespass? what is my sin, that thou hast so hotly pursued after me?
37. Whereas thou hast searched all my stuff, what hast thou found of all thy household stuff? set it here before my brethren and thy brethren, that they may judge betwixt us both.
38. 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.
39. 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.
40. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.
41. Thus have I been twenty years in thy house; I served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy cattle: and thou hast changed my wages ten times.
42. 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 labour of my hands, and rebuked thee yesternight.

It would seem from that passage that Jacob and Laban had not had the most desirable of relationships of late. The immediate cause of the row is that both Jacob and Laban honestly feel righteously indignant, neither one knowing that Rachel has stolen those gods. Let us follow the discussion as Laban makes his reply:

43. And Laban answered and said unto Jacob, These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and these cattle are my cattle, and all that thou seest is mine: and what can I do this day unto these my daughters, or unto their children which they have born?

Here we see that, in his heart, Laban has been increasingly accusing Jacob of cheating him and the rest of his tribe, robbing them of his daughters and of his cattle and wealth. The episode provides us with a good example of the manner in which many a family row has erupted.

For quite some time it would seem, aggravations had been silently eroding good will on both sides. On the part of Laban, we can sense his consternation and dismay through those years as his wealth, and that of his sons, in spite of all his manipulations and sharp business acumen, had been absorbed into Jacob's hands. Jacob, also, as we saw in that passage, has been storing up his own grievances, which he has now paraded in a fit of righteous indignation. Jacob, unaware of Rachel's actions, has given expression to his pent-up anger over Laban's treatment of him through those years of patient service. The Bible account is very honest; quite amazingly so, in fact, when we consider that the account must have recorded and preserved the innermost thoughts and most personal experiences of Jacob and his wives when revealing these failings on both sides.

Lacking proof of wrongdoing, there is little left for Laban to say. The tensions having been vented, we follow the account as Laban continues:

44. Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee.
45. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar.
46. And Jacob said unto his brethren, Gather stones; and they took stones, and made an heap: and they did eat there upon the heap.
47. And Laban called it Jegar-sa-ha-dutha: but Jacob called it Galeed.
48. And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed;
49. And Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
50. If thou shalt afflict my daughters, or if thou shalt take other wives beside my daughters, no man is with us; see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.
51. And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar, which I have cast betwixt me and thee;
52. This heap be witness, and this pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
53. The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.
54. Then Jacob offered sacrifice upon the mount, and called his brethren to eat bread: and they did eat bread, and tarried all night in the mount.
55. And early in the morning Laban rose up, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them: and Laban departed, and returned unto his place.

Here, we also find a good example of the resolution of a dispute. A new agreement is made, before God, and the two contending parties make an amicable settlement. Stones once again enter the picture, as witnesses to a Patriarchal agreement. This forms one more example of the use of such a permanent stone marker and reminder of such, and we shall find more as we progress, for stone is a symbol of God's emerging Kingdom upon the earth, as we will find in many references in the course of subsequent studies.

Perhaps we should stop for a moment to consider the evident spiritual condition prevalent on all sides, among the members of this family. It is plain that, at this stage, a certain accepted tribal standard of morality does exist, in that reverence is accorded The LORD. Jacob is conscious of his developing relationship with the God of Abraham and of Isaac. Laban is aware of "The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor." Awareness, however, does not appear to have developed, as yet, to total personal commitment. On the part of each person, there thus far appears to be the characteristic of looking after one's selfish interests first.

True, the "household gods" stolen by Rachel, as we have previously seen, may simply mean symbols like legal documents of land ownership, but we don't, thus far, see that sort of personal, life-challenging and life-changing commitment which Jacob is soon to make as he returns home. Jacob is, however, learning as God leads him through the schooling of life towards his great commission. He is yet to be the genetic channel of God's tribal development; the Patriarch of a people committed to God's service under the name "Israel" and as such, God will not permit him to rest until that higher mark of commitment is reached.

Jacob is soon to have such a personal, life-changing encounter with God, and at that time a new name will be given to him, to signify that a change in his life's priorities and commitments has taken place. We shall find a different attitude of life beginning to infuse many of his relationships with others thereafter.

In later centuries we find that the Patriarch's old name, "Jacob" is sometimes used as a name by which to designate his Israelite descendants. It may be a more appropriate designation of them than the name "Israel" on those occasions when they tended to display the characteristics of the Patriarch before that life-changing encounter.

We shall take up those further studies on our next programme.

26 January, 1992

THE BROOK JABBOK

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Recently, on this series of talks, we have been studying a major Biblical theme. It is that of the correspondence between God's covenanted promises to the Patriarchs and the unfolding history of subsequent developments down to our own day. By taking careful note of this correspondence, we gain a very clear impression of the omnipotence and the integrity of The LORD, as He moves to bring in His Kingdom as an earthly reality through subsequent millennia as they unfolded His purposes.

We had come, in studying the lives of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to that moment wherein Jacob is passing on his way home, after his twenty-year sojourn at the home of his mother's brother, Laban. There, he had gained two wives and their maids, by which he was now surrounding himself with sons, and also considerable wealth in cattle and goods.

All this wealth, however, will not grant him peace of mind as he contemplates the forthcoming meeting with Esau, his angry elder brother. When Jacob had departed from his home twenty years before, it was because his brother, Esau, had every intention of killing him. Esau had expected to receive the family blessing as well as the birthright as a matter of course, but Jacob had obtained them through subterfuge. No doubt, in his mounting anxiety, Jacob was now frequently in prayer, not only on behalf of his own safety, but for that of his loved ones as well. Let us pick up the story as we find it recorded in Genesis 32:

1. And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.
2. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

Mahanaim is a town east of Jordan and south of the Jabbok, and its name means "two camps." Did God arrange that meeting of Jacob with those angels at Mahanaim in answer to those prayers? Jacob had, you may remember, God's covenant promise of the Bethel vision, including the clause that God would keep him in all places whither he went, and God had added that He would bring him again into this land.

Jacob's whole life to this point has apparently been one guided by an application of morality circumscribed by the eye of a lawyer. He still thinks in terms of trickery and sharp business dealing with both man and God. He wants things spelled out in a legal covenant. He sees that God's covenant with himself may now, in God's reckoning, have run its course as he is once again entering the land to which God had promised to bring him. Will God deal with him as he might deal in covenant with another person?

Just what sort of God was this God of Abraham and Isaac Who was now his God? Was He a legalist? Would God let Esau kill him, now that he was back in the land of his parents? Jacob was, no doubt, still thinking this way as he prayed, and God would want to give him that reassurance which comes through knowing God as one might through the Christian experience, as a God Who goes beyond legalism, showing love in mercy. Jacob apparently needed all the reassurance he could get in meeting this crisis in his life! Let us, in imagination, join him as he gives orders in Genesis 32:3-5:

3. And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
4. And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now:
5. And I have oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants: and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight.
6. And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him.

We noted the subservient attitude in the wording of his message. At this point, we can almost feel Jacob tense in consternation as his messengers report back to him. We can see from his next moves the reason why the place would perhaps have received the name "Mahanaim." The account continues:

7. Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels, into two bands;
8. And said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.
9. And Jacob said, 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:
10. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands.
11. 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.
12. 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.

Jacob now prepares to do what he can to obtain Esau's favour with gifts. We may measure his concern in what follows:

13. And he lodged there that same night; and took of that which came to his hand a present for Esau his brother;
14. Two hundred she goats, and twenty he goats, two hundred ewes, and twenty rams,
15. Thirty milch camels with their colts, forty kine, and ten bulls, twenty she asses, and ten foals.
16. And he delivered them into the hand of his servants, every drove by themselves; and said unto his servants, Pass over before me, and put a space betwixt drove and drove.
17. And he commanded the foremost, saying, When Esau my brother meeteth thee, and asketh thee, saying, Whose art thou? and whither goest thou? and whose are these before thee?
18. Then thou shalt say, They be thy servant Jacob's; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us.
19. And so commanded he the second, and the third, and all that followed the droves, saying, On this manner shall ye speak unto Esau, when ye find him.
20. And say ye moreover, Behold, thy servant Jacob is behind us. For he said, I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me.
21. So went the present over before him: and himself lodged that night in the company.
22. And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok.
23. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had.

As we see, five hundred and fifty assorted animals are included in this series of gifts, and we might wonder at the quantities Jacob sends. However, we must remember that Jacob is facing not only his brother, but those four hundred men with him, and in light of that circumstance, the numbers of animals forming the gifts seem most reasonable, indeed almost modest, for one who wishes to obtain the favour of Esau's warriors! Now, Jacob has at last arrived at what must be considered the crisis point of his life. Let us conclude by reading the account found in Genesis 32:24-32:

24. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
25. 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.
26. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
27. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
28. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
29. 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.
30. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.
31. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.
32. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.

Here we see Jacob, the new man. He is now Israel. He has wrestled with God's claims upon him, and has made the life-changing commitment which grants him a victory of historic importance. The name of Israel will henceforth become the heritage of his progeny, a vast multitude whom we, of the British-Israel-World Federation, see as including those of Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred folk in the world today. What God there established in Jacob, now re-named Israel, will form the core of God's Kingdom here upon the earth. This is a remarkably important event for us, today, and it deserves our meditation to sketch out the ramifications thereof.

We must leave further studies until next week.

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