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The Wrestler who
The Character of Jacob and the Holy Beauty of God
Jacob was never an easy man. There was always something at work in him, whether you call it guile, or self-will, craft or devious determination, ambition or lack of restraint: it seems to have been there.
In earlier days, when hunger once gripped his brother Esau, a tough-guy in our parlance perhaps, but one who for all that did not make that his life's work, but actually hunted - Jacob capitalised on it. SELL ME YOUR BIRTHRIGHT, he exclaimed to the man-of-the-world huntsman, and I will give you the food you require. To Esau, such things may have seemed excessively legalistic; or he may have trusted in his hold on his father's affections. We do not know. We know he did sell it.
It was not much of a bargain - a feed of stew for that enormously important birthright! Still, the no nonsense, let's get on with it, I want this! approach prevailed, and so the story came into its intricate existence.
The situation, as often in life, was complicated by further elements. Jacob was one of two children from his father Isaac's beloved wife, Rebekah. They were twins. Jacob came second by a few moments. Esau was red and hairy, and appealed to his father. Jacob was more in his mother's eye. However on Jacob there had been at birth a prophecy, this: that the elder should serve the younger! (Genesis 25:23). The LORD has said this to his mother; and Jacob was the younger. Thus Esau was to "serve" him, or be junior to him in heritage or authority or position.
As so often, what God says can be brought to pass in two ways. ONE: it happens in the wisdom of the heavenly Father, simply because it is in accord with His good will. The other is will, flesh, carnality, devising. Someone sees that something is or appears at least to be good, and then takes steps... These may be dishonest, dishonourable or plainly evil or corrupt! They may be taken, like some of the Moslem 'holy wars' in the interests imagined of some being, or merely selfishly; but they are perhaps cruel, or an effrontery, or misconceived. God is to be 'helped' by some appalling folly, or quiet craft.
Neither necessary nor wise,
this will not prevent the will of God, but it may very well produce a bushel of
discipline to the craftsman who has so presumed. In the Middle East today,
children of Abraham in different races are often in conflict, and many of them
are Moslems which - as seen in Ch. 9 of The
Shadow of a Mighty Rock, p. 814, actually had a Teheran
conference in which the Islamic unity was to reduce the detested Israel to
somewhere rather short of glory! There has been vast lost in such enterprises
so far, and the Moslem nations have had almost incredible warfare and loss
among themselves, using oil as payment for inflicting such injuries on each
other. As far as
Now Jacob was well aware of his father's preference for Esau and his products of the hunt. Therefore, with maternal help, he took animal skins to cover his arms and went to the virtually blind Isaac, his father, to receive in more or less routine fashion, the blessing on the firstborn, which indeed Esau was. Jacob came second from the womb, and so in this did not qualify. Thus, the father helped by the feel and smell, in his advanced age and reduced vision was tricked, uttering the full weight of paternal blessing as to the firstborn, and having acted in the name of the Lord, did not later feel able to revoke it. He may have been helped in this by the earlier prophecy; but in any case, he felt no liberty to retract.
Jacob's mother judged it
best for him to live elsewhere for a while, rather than in close quarters with
the tough brother whom he had in the most deceitful and devious way, tricked.
Now the case is complex. Undoubtedly Esau had SOLD to Jacob his birthright, so
it was not BLATANT, but in a business sense, just; though of course this
deceit, like any other, was not justified. Incidentally, that is one of the
reasons for the fall of the vast and mighty power which
Men of the world will at once say, It is necessary in order to win! But these are not the methods of God. Truth is always paramount. It is possible to outwit your enemy without lying. OBVIOUSLY you must lie? SO, but that is precisely where Jacob went astray, and lying is an assault on the God whose Son is called, The Truth.
Jacob's sin is just like the sins of the world, the flesh, the devil. However in his case there was a vast discipline, subtle but real, and a real purging. It is for that reason, the blessing which was to come, that Jacob figures in these pages on Biblical Blessings.
Actually, the trick was worse than a mere device. When Isaac asked Jacob, in the critical manoeuvre to get the blessing, how it was that he had hunted the game so quickly, Jacob, who had taken it from the flock, used the Lord's name in the very act of lying. The Lord was with me, helped me: this was the answer. To make the Lord's name a part of a lie to gain a BLESSING is a wonderful exhibition of a lying deceit, a blasphemous aggravation of folly. The Lord weighs the actions of men...
Fleeing for safety, Jacob went to his relative Laban, a man gifted in just such a way as Jacob was. His wages were to be changed, his interests compromised, and even his chosen wife was a trickery exhibit to astonish the crafty. The wrong woman was sent to him, and he, blind in a way his father was not, though physically he could see, took her and on the next morning found the mistake. The sister may have resembled the wife to be, and they did not have electric light... Jacob, the trickster, was tricked. Jacob who had not stopped at bringing lies into the domestic fabric, had a lie wrought into his own which took seven years to settle. Only then was he given the attractive wife he had understood would be his, and at that, for long she did not bear him children, so making domestic friction. Sow, says Hosea, the wind and reap the whirlwind. Fool around and it is you who will find the folly!
When at last, divinely helped, Jacob left Laban, it was in quite a good state, but years of tension and testing and deceit against him and fraud had given him a taste for his own medicine - for ? Say rather, OF his own medicine. THAT is the whole point!
Now came the test. On his way, leaving Laban, Jacob was to meet Esau, a considerable man of substance, of strength by this time. Well over a decade had passed, perhaps two were spent. Time had weathered them. Each had been strengthened. What was the ESSENTIAL difference between these two men ? JACOB, though misled, had the desire to God, and to His ways; and God had disciplined, chastened him considerably. ESAU was, it seems, simply a man of the world. WHO, rather than WHAT is the question about this difference. Jacob had much to learn, and in much had learned it. He had learned to wait upon the Lord and to follow Him.
Yet his past caught up with him like an express train. His conscience was clouded as he realised that NOW he would HAVE to meet Esau. Would there be an armed conflict, would there be murder, would he be deceived in some way as penalty? God had taken all into account, and having disciplined Jacob, now delivered him. True to his artful nature, but without deceit this time, Jacob sent on ahead of him various herds and herdsmen, with some distance set between them. Thus Esau would realise the strength of his adversary, and have time to allow the first shock waves of realisation to dissipate somewhat before he actually saw - that brother of his, Jacob.
Jacob was left alone. He WRESTLED ALL NIGHT with a man. After this episode, Jacob called the name of the place, PENIEL, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" - Genesis 32:30. However, as the sun rose on this evening's wrestling, his found a hip trauma had happened, so that for the rest of his life he had a limp. How expressive: he had not dealt straightly and now could not walk straight! However HIS LIFE WAS INDEED PRESERVED - AND purified, a yet more important consequence, for GOD is a SPIRIT!
It is time to consider this wrestling, for in it are seen promises and blessings. IF the elder was to serve the younger then the younger would need to be alive! God preserved him. He would need strength, so God delivered him from the artful commercial devices of Laban, and from the armed force which Laban took after him. He would need to be able to live through any actual confrontation with Esau, and with the Lord's direct intervention in his heart, preparing him, he did!
But there was a long struggle first. It was not to be with Esau, but with God. Can you imagine some of the wrestling's components? Deceit ?
So the struggle, as it seems, would have gone on. Hours of it. Caution and rebuke, challenge and correction, refinement and exposure: hour by hour the man suffered in his heart and conscience, in his perceptions and in his soul. His spirit was met with confrontation by the Almighty, who nevertheless as to a son, spared him.
On it went to daybreak. JACOB would not let the Lord go! You understand the sense of this thing. It is like a little daughter who will not let daddy's hand go, as they speak, and she seeks some favour. It is not her strength but his affection which is the underlying cause of his being detained by this little child! It is her determination which he notices, and perhaps her pleading! God is of a very tender heart, and while He will not tolerate arrogance and presumption, merely forms of lies, He will heed the broken hearted and the contrite, the broken spirit, the one who trembles at His word and knows that he/she must deal openly with the living God (Isaiah 66:1-4), in the way that He has appointed, so beautifully concentrated in One, the Lord Jesus Christ now that the Messiah has come..
So the edifices of evil were dismantled and the follies of spirit were exposed, while the power and tenderness of God dealt throughout the night with Jacob, until he presumably saw - since he refers to seeing God face to face - the end of evil and the blossom of good, and at last in contrition and worship, was willing to face facts as they were, and to rely on God as He is. So was he to meet Esau.
With this confrontation over, the next one was RELATIVELY minor! Esau was a man of some heart, and seeing his brother's many people and herds, was moved and ran to meet Jacob and fell on his neck and kissed him. Now it is said that the shortest verse in the Bible is this: Jesus wept. How compassionate is our God and how wonderful tender in trouble is the One who can always be approached through His appointed way, which now He has once for all exposed in and as Jesus the Christ, as we saw in our last Chapter!
After the kiss of Esau - and what a return for the deception, though remember that Esau HAD SOLD his birthright to Jacob, yet equally recall the circumstances and the methods of securing it in practice! - what? This: "THEY WEPT."
This is a beautiful statement. Wept? Doubtless, flashing through their minds were the past times as children, facts - joined so closely it was all but impossible to separate them, in the womb as twins, and later in growth, memories, as they moved to maturity. Now long parted, with faults on both sides and yet with deception on the part of Jacob, they meet. In long felt family feeling, they weep. In long recollections of past errors, they weep. In longing and remembrances of many episodes, they weep! Their sins had separated them from much natural blessing, but now they meet, and they weep...
"Who are these with you ?", asks practical Esau. "The children whom the Lord has graciously given your servant," says Jacob, with an amazing turn of speech about 'servant'! He would not verbally provoke. The past was enough, and the facts were enough.
Jacob wanted to offer Esau some of his flock - reparations, accommodation, good will ? - but offer. Not at all! says Esau, I have enough. What a miracle GOD HAD WROUGHT in this gracious scene which could have been war! No recriminations, no blood. God had wrestled with Jacob and Jacob had wrestled with God, CLAIMING AND CALLING ON THE LORD AS THE WRESTLING ENDED FOR A BLESSING! Yes he was now DETERMINED for a GOOD THING, and implicitly acknowledged just WHAT and WHO was the source of all blessing, without which NOTHING was of value, or meaning or peace or goodness. From GOD he sought God; for GOD he called on the Lord. GOD was now his sight, his vision and his desire. NOTHING less could count. GOD would deliver him, GOD would guide him, and it was for GOD that he did business and lived.
As the Psalmist puts it (56:4): IN GOD I WILL PRAISE HIS WORD! What depth there is in those few words!
What a night! What a realisation! What value and what perspective, what peace. He had prevailed with God and was accordingly given a new name: ISRAEL, which means "Prince with God". "You have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed", was the divine comment (Genesis 22:34ff.). Jacob had no doubt also presented his cause. After all, he had been heavily but justly disciplined for his earlier and youthful follies. NOW it was also true that the blessing was given him at birth. The wrong way sign was duly broken, but this had been expiated; and the right result sign was now in view and could be implemented. The dust had settled. Now vision could continue.
Blessing ? Is it not this that is found in Jacob's former mischiefs - NEVER call on the Lord and do evil! ALWAYS trust in the Lord and do good. Never HELP God by devious devices, far less lies. You do not need to say everything to an enemy, it is true; but what you do say MUST be in precise accord with the facts. Honour and truth, equity and righteousness must be about your neck like an identification tag. You must be KNOWN for it, because it is a result of your knowledge of God, IF you are a Christian. IF you are not, it is high time you wrestled and sought and wrought and found the Lord!
It is time for your PENIEL. You may be a Christian who has presumed, erred, used deception, slandered somebody (and judging by the number of these I as merely one person receive, there should be plenty of scope here for many)! It is time to have your Peniel. Wrestle with the Lord till your whole body is filled with light, as Jesus expressed the need (Luke 11:34) of total and absolute commitment, consecration, devotion and infilling with the Lord, to the death of that horrible entity, the "old man", which likes to hang around like a droop-eyed dog and secure affection (cf. Ephesians 4:17-24, Colossians 2:9-10, with Galatians 5).
Notice next that Jacob, despite Esau's rejection of any gift, insisted and Esau at length took it, for Jacob had offended and he wanted in some way to make amends.(See Genesis 33:11). His heart was with his tongue and his tongue had been taught grace. Grace is not deception, but kindness undeserved. THIS is something to be sought: "GROW IN GRACE," Peter tells us at the end of his second epistle. It also adds this: "AND IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOUR, JESUS CHRIST." Here is scope for the Peniel. Seek Him with all the heart! He will be found when He is sought for with all the heart and al the mind! (Jeremiah 29:12-13):
THEN YOU WILL CALL UPON ME AND GO AND PRAY TO ME, AND I WILL LISTEN TO YOU. AND YOU WILL SEEK ME AND FIND ME, WHEN YOU SEARCH FOR ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART.
Later, Jacob bought a field (Genesis 33:19) and erected an altar to God, the God of Israel. Always, sacrifice is basic to faith, and faith runs on it like a jet on a program, personally prepared. And when you have found the Lord ? then, this - "God forbid that I should glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified to me, and I to the world"- Galatians 6:14.
grace which led Christ to Calvary, from which we gain the gift of eternal life
from His offering of Himself without spot (Hebrews 9:14,15, 6:19-20): let us
show it - the world crucified to us and we to the world.