CHAPTER 6. —JACOB (CONTINUED).
Esau’s anger was naturally excited against Jacob on finding that Jacob had been before him, and taken the blessing intended for himself.
“Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him;”
And Esau showed his character as a man of ungovernable natural impulse by vowing to kill Jacob as soon as his father should be out of the way. This led to a new chapter in Jacob’s history.
Rebekah heard of Esau’s menacing words, and knowing from Esau’s character that her son Jacob was really in danger, she proposed to Jacob that he should take refuge for a while with his uncle in Padan-aram, till Esau’s anger should subside. She had another object in this proposal. Esau at forty years of age had married two Hittite women who were “a grief of mind” to both Isaac and Rebekah (Gen. 26:35). Why were they a grief of mind? Because, partaking of the character of the surrounding population, they would be women without discretion, having no inclination for wisdom—no interest in God, in His purposes or His will—no taste for anything beyond the passing pleasures and enjoyments of the hour. Their idolatrous proclivities would be a comparatively passive element in the obnoxiousness which Isaac and Rebekah experienced in their daily contact; for idolatry, as a sincere though mistaken exercise of the worshipping faculty is respectable, compared with the insipidity and foolery of a vacant mind. They would probably be handsome women enough. You do not find a natural man of the Esau type fancying any other sort. There would have been no harm in the beauty if the beauty had been linked with divine wisdom (and there is no other true wisdom). Such a combination is rare. The wives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were, however, instances of it, as we incidentally glean from the narrative (Gen. 12:11; 26:7; 39:17). It is much more common to find beauty alone, or what is worse, in combination with a foolish mind. A fair countenance in such a case is a trap—a deception. Solomon’s comparison of beauty in such a case is “a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout.” Nevertheless it is all powerful with the natural man. The glitter of the jewel fascinates him: he has no eyes to discern the nature of the animal that wears it. Even the sons of God are in danger. It was a potent cause of the corruption that ended in the Flood.
“The Sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives of all they chose” (or fancied).
In this they did wrong. Esau had committed the same wrong to the grief not only of Rebekah but of Isaac, who had a partiality for him. Rebekah was resolved that Jacob (now considerably over forty) should not fall into the same mistake: and she took advantage of the necessity for protecting Jacob from his brother’s threats, to press the subject on Isaac, and induce him to consent to Jacob’s departure to her brother’s family in Padan-aram, who though not entirely enlightened, recognised and feared the God of Abraham and Isaac. Isaac, not difficult to persuade, adopted Rebekah’s views, and called Jacob and said,
“Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, thy mother’s father, and take thee a wife from thence, of the daughters of Laban, thy mother’s brother. And God Almighty bless thee and make thee fruitful and multiply thee that thou mayest be a multitude of people, and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee and to thy seed after thee, that thou mayest inherit the land where thou art a stranger which God gave unto Abraham . . . Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.”
Thus was the anger of an evil brother, excited by one operation of providence, made use of as another operation of providence, to divert the steps of Jacob into a channel favourable for the purpose of God with him, and conducive to the development of well-being. There is nothing on the face of the transaction to indicate a divine guidance; but the sequel and Jacob’s subsequent allusions to his course show it, whence we have the conclusion that God may be guiding our steps not only in the midst of, but by the very means of, circumstances that in themselves appear evil.
“A good wife is from the Lord.”
So Solomon says; and so Jacob’s steps are guided to the precious gift. Esau’s action on his brother’s departure is worthy of passing notice, as illustrative of the natural man’s way of looking at the subject.
“When Esau saw that Isaac had sent Jacob to Padan-aram to take a wife from thence, and that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father, then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had, Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son.”
Esau thought Isaac’s objection to his Canaanitish wives was on the score of their not being blood relations. It did not occur to him that spiritual incompatibility was the stumbling-block; this was a thing he could not understand, for on many points it is true that—
“The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God.”
He thought to put straight a spiritually-caused family hitch by a resort to a natural remedy. He married a daughter of Ishmael, his father’s brother, to soothe the irritation caused to his father by the daughters of Canaan. It might have occurred to him that if blood relations were all that Isaac desired in the wives of his sons, Jacob would have been sent to Ishmael (near) for a wife instead of to the house of Laban (far off). The daughters of Ishmael, the wild man, were as bad as the daughters of the land. In Esau’s estimation, they were as good, and perhaps better; and, from a merely natural point of view, probably Esau was right. But the other point of view remains.
“Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).
This sort of woman is not appreciated by the Ishmaels and the Esaus: to the Jacobs she is all-important, and sometimes they are sent by curious ways of providence to the places where they are to be found.
Jacob went on his journey. As he slept at a place afterwards called Bethel, the Lord appeared to him in a dream; and, for the first time, extended to him the promises that had been made to Abraham and Isaac, in which Ishmael and Esau were not permitted to share—the promise of the possession of the land wherein he was a stranger, of a multitudinous seed, and of the blessedness of universal man in an unspecified futurity through him and his seed. In this he was associated with Abraham and Isaac as one of “the fathers” with whom the leading covenant of promise was established as the basis of human hope in all subsequent generations. But it is with the assurance personal to himself, and appertaining to the days of his pilgrimage, that we have in this connection to deal. That assurance was this:
“Behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither 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.”
The right way to look at the history of Jacob is to look at it in the light of this promise. By reading it in this way we get illustrations of the operations of divine providence in the life of a man, such as we can feel there is no mistake about. It is not like the loose allusions to providence we hear around us, which may be altogether beside the mark. Hundreds of things are ascribed to providence with which providence has nothing to do. Not so in the case of Jacob. Here we have the intimation that God was “with Jacob, and kept him in all places whither he went.” We have, therefore, a capital case to study. Human views of such things would lead us to expect in Jacob’s case a life of unmixed prosperity—no hitches, no clouds; nothing to endure—nothing of which a man should say, “All these things are against me.” If God is “with” a man, and “keeps” him, how can anything go wrong? So man might reason. It would only be so far right. It is true that, as regards ultimate results, a God-kept man will suffer no evil—will attain perfect blessedness; but the very process by which God causes a man to reach both results may involve unpleasant and apparently untoward experiences.
Let us follow Jacob after his departure from Bethel, and learn that a God-favoured and God-kept man is not a man who suffers no evil, feels no anxiety, and resorts to no expedients. The modern notion is as unlike the reality as the clerical “St. Paul” is unlike the “beloved brother Paul” of Peter’s allusion. We do not propose a minute biography, but just a glance at some of the incidents. Guided to the house of Laban, Rebekah’s brother, and brought at once into contact with the wife prepared for him, he enters into contract of service with Laban. His business is to look after Laban’s flocks. God is with him: but is the work a continual pleasure on that account? Listen to Jacob:
“In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.”
Ye who suffer the rigours of hard work, remember Jacob; do not think God has forsaken you because you feel the hardness of the way. In everything consider the end. Your suffering may be needful to hedge your way to the kingdom of God, or to prepare you for the exaltation that is to come. Resign yourselves to the will of God, and “hope in Him in all thy ways.” You may yet see your deepest trouble was your best experience. God was with Jacob; and He led him to the house of his relations; but did He thus give him a kind, considerate and just master? Man might reason that if God gave Jacob a master, it would be sure to be a good master; but man is shortsighted. It all depends upon the object in view. The tool is adapted to the work. A saw to cut the wood that is to make a fence for a dangerous place over which the children might fall, is not necessarily an instrument of torture, but the children do not always understand, and the sight of the saw makes them shudder. Though God was with Jacob, Jacob’s master was of the character thus sketched by Jacob:
“This twenty years have I been with thee . . . That which was torn of beasts—(what? God with Jacob and allow wild beasts to molest the flocks he was tending? —Yes). . of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night . . . Thou hast changed my wages ten times” (that is, to Jacob’s disadvantage).
Jacob’s wages consisted of a certain sort among the increase of the cattle; and when the sort agreed upon became numerous, Laban appointed another sort that he thought would be fewer.
“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.”
Who would have expected “affliction” in the case of a man whom God accompanied and protected? So it was, and so it has always been, in measure and for good—even in the case of the Son of His love, who,
“Though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered.”
“Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”
It is no sign that a man is favoured of God that he prospers like a green bay tree; it all depends upon how the prosperity is employed, and what the man’s mental state may be. In these things we must intelligently discriminate in the light of the fact that God taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, and hath chosen him that is godly for Himself; and that His regard for such may sometimes allow of prosperity while it sometimes calls for the chastening rod. We must judge all cases from the point of view of the kingdom of God. If we are guided there, no adversity is too bitter that may have prepared us; no exaltation too high that has not spoiled us. Adversity may be bitter to the point of destructiveness; prosperity also may be uplifting to our ruin. God can poise both and judge when they are safe or necessary for such as walk before Him in well-pleasing. Our part is to commit our way to Him in well-doing, forgetting not in any state of circumstances that at present we are strangers in the earth with Him, and stewards for Him of whatever favour may come to our hands.
In a certain crisis in his affairs, “Jacob stole away unawares from Laban the Syrian,” taking with him all that he had. Laban pursued after, and overtook him. Laban told Jacob he had “done foolishly” in going away secretly. He asked him the reason. Jacob answered,
“Because I was afraid; for I said, peradventure, thou wouldst take by force thy daughters from me.”
Jacob afraid and God with him? Yes. Jacob knew that, though God was with him, God looked to Jacob to arrange his affairs with discretion, as the spirit of God testifies in all the Proverbs of Solomon; and, not knowing in detail what God might in His wisdom permit, he naturally feared when circumstances were threatening, and adopted the course that appeared wise. Human action is the basis of divine supervision in human affairs. If a man were to lie down in sloth, the angels would have nothing to work on, so to speak, as regarded that man’s matters. The co-workership of God and man is a delightful fact of experience and revelation—in affairs both present and future, both spiritual and temporal.
Affairs having been amicably settled between Jacob and Laban, Jacob proceeded on his journey; and from one fear, we find him falling into another. He is approaching the land of the Amorites. He remembers the hatred of Esau and the occasion he had given for it, and he thinks it wise to send a conciliatory message to him. The messengers return and say,
“We came to thy brother Esau and also he cometh to meet thee and four hundred men with him.”
There was no explanation of what Esau was coming for; but knowing Esau, Jacob concludes the worst, and becomes the subject of a kind of panic.
“Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.”
Why should Jacob be “greatly afraid and distressed” seeing that God was with him, and had promised to keep him in all places whither he would go? Because the form of circumstances was fear-inspiring. God had not said “Thy brother Esau shall not hurt thee”; and Jacob could not know that he would be unhurt on this particular occasion. He knew that God was with him, but he knew that this did not mean exemption from all evil, though it meant exemption from final harm. Consequently, we find him in trepidation at the prospect of an attack by a band of lawless men; and making arrangements on the hypothesis that the will of God might allow of a disaster.
“He divided the people that were with him, and the flocks and the herds into two bands, saying, If Esau come to the one company and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.”
Having made the best arrangements he could think of, he prays;
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 do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude” (Gen. 32:12).
Here we have a visible conflict in Jacob’s mind; the fear that Esau will do him evil struggles with the belief that such an event would be inconsistent with God’s own promises to him. He pleads those promises: acknowledges their fulfilment, thus far: confesses his unworthiness: throws himself upon God in prayer, and then proceeds to take further precautions. He makes up a series of presents for Esau of the various animals composing his flocks. He sends on the present-droves before him, one by one, with a friendly message in the mouth of each driver. His object he thus explains:
“I will appease him with the present that goeth before me, and afterwards I will see his face; peradventure he will accept of me.”
Why should Jacob resort to such measures if he left the matter to God? Why not trust to the mollifying effect of God’s action on the mind of Esau? Well, because Jacob while committing the matter to God, recognised the duty of doing his best to bring about the result he desired; and if the steps of those who thus commit their way to Him are directed, may we not conclude that Jacob was moved to take the measures which were needful to avert the impending danger? The result justifies the thought; for Esau, whatever his original intentions may have been, was entirely propitiated by the friendly arrangements of his brother, and the meeting was a meeting of friendship instead of hostility. God has conferred upon man the god-like gift of independent volition alias free will within the boundary imposed by surrounding conditions. This limited independence of will is the basis of all God’s dealings with man. Consequently, “providence” is a complex and interesting operation which manipulates circumstances, and so acts through, without setting aside, the natural action of the unconstrained human will. If the objects aimed at were to be accomplished on mechanical principles, the operation would be more direct, and briefer, but vastly less interesting and effective in every way. It would exclude faith on the part of those for whom it is conducted, which of itself would be a fatal flaw; for it is a truth in many relations that,
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”
The incidents of Jacob’s life, like the rest of the Scriptures, were “written for our instruction.” He was an heir to the kingdom, well-pleasing to God. Consequently we need have no fear in accepting his constructions of providence. We shall not err if, like him, while trusting to God’s guidance and cooperation, we humbly and prayerfully resort to the best arrangements our wisdom can suggest, always taking care that none of our arrangements are forbidden; for if we are disobedient in the means we employ, we cannot expect the divine approbation and blessing.
We find it necessary to devote yet another chapter to the case of Jacob.
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