CHAPTER 7. —JACOB (CONTINUED).
The case of Jacob is perhaps one of the most striking in the whole range of scripture history, in the combination of human fear and divine guardianship. There are many cases of God preserving and delivering, but only in a few other cases—(notably Job, David, and Jeremiah) have we such a complex exhibition of the mental distresses of those delivered and the human details of the process by which deliverance was wrought out. All cases of scripture illustration are really alike in principle, but in only a few cases is the picture drawn completely. Jacob’s is one of them. His experience is thoroughly, though so briefly pourtrayed. The result is, we can look at him closely, and are enabled to realise how human he is, while at the same time so devout and so direct and continual in his recognition of the divine hand in his ways. In this his case is all the more helpful to us, who, by our position in the times of the Gentiles, are so far removed (in the past at all events) from those interpositions of divine power which necessarily characterised the initiation of the divine plan, and which enabled those who stood related to them so much more easily to realise the guidance of God and to be in His fear all the day long.
We have looked at some of the illustrative episodes of his life. There are others. He was put in great fear by the action of his two sons, Simeon and Levi. This was after their return from Padan-aram, and when they had pitched their tents, for a time, outside the city of Shalem, in Shechem, a district of the land of Canaan. Here Jacob was on terms of peace with the leading men of the neighbourhood, Shechem and his father Hamor, from whom he purchased a considerable piece of land, for the use of himself and his large company. While dwelling here in peace, Shechem falls in love with and takes unlawful possession of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah. Jacob hears of the circumstance, but holds his peace till the arrival of his sons who were “with his cattle in the field.” He communicated the matter to them, “and the men were grieved and they were very wroth.” While their resentments are aglow, Hamor arrives to make proposals of marriage on behalf of his son. The men are in a dilemma. If they say No, they will provoke the hostility of their neighbours; and they cannot say Yes, without violating the family tradition which prohibits inter-marriage with the daughters of the land, not to speak of the impossibility of their consenting to their sister being married to her ravisher. So “the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully,” promising compliance with their proposal on condition of themselves and all the men of their city submitting to circumcision. Shechem and Hamor submitted to this condition, and on the third day, when they were all disabled from the effects of circumcision,
“Simeon and Levi took each man his sword and came to the city boldly and slew all the males. And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went out.”
They justified their proceeding by saying,
“Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?”
Jacob was exceedingly distressed when he heard what they had done. He feared the effect that would be produced on the neighbouring tribes. He said to his two sons,
“Ye have troubled me to make me of ill savour amongst the inhabitants of the land . . . They shall gather themselves together against me and slay me, and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.”
At the crisis of his distress, he receives command to remove to Bethel, where God appeared to him when on his single-handed journey to Padan-aram. This was a solution of his difficulty which we are cut off from in our time of suspended communication. Many a time it would be a great relief to have the word of command what to do. However, we must not be discontented with our position, which, notwithstanding the absence of open vision, is one of great privilege. If Jacob had angelic communication, he had not a Bible in which the ways of God were thoroughly illustrated in a multitude of divine instances, and declared in many and varied precepts and commandments. He could not understand, even as we may understand with the word in our possession. Then angelic guidance was more a necessity in his case, and fear more natural than where the ways of God are entirely spread out to our view. In obedience to the command, he departs. There is a likelihood that the neighbours of the slain Shechemites (for Shechem was “prince of the country”) will pursue and harass and perhaps destroy him, for his bands, consisting of cattle droves and family wagons, are feeble and practically defenceless. How is Jacob’s fear on this head provided for?
“The terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob” (Genesis 35:5).
In this there was a direct interposition of divine help, yet not of an obvious character. There was nothing to be seen except desired results. Jacob’s company journeyed in safety, yet probably in fear looking apprehensively for a molestation which did not take place. The statement that the surrounding cities “did not pursue,” would imply this, for otherwise, there was no reason to mention the circumstance. As for the cities themselves, there was no visible restraint. They experienced a depression of spirits which extinguished hostile enterprise. Perhaps their fears of the family of Jacob which had prevailed against the city of “the prince of the country,” were angelically exaggerated; that is, their imaginations, already at work, may have been stimulated in this direction. There are many cases of divinely-caused illusions for a purpose (2 Kings 7:6; 19:7). At all events, they stayed at home and the helpless caravan was allowed to get away in safety to Bethel. It is an illustration of what David afterwards said concerning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
“He suffered no man to do them wrong, yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.”
In this case, there was no visible intervention; it was all apparently natural: Jacob, in fear, getting away safely: his enemies apprehensive staying at home. God was taking care of Jacob, though not apparently.
Mat we not apply the fact to ourselves who trust in the same God? Shall we forget that God is the same yesterday, today and for ever? He himself rallies Israel on the subject (and we are a part of Israel by adoption through the gospel):
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither His ear heavy that it cannot hear.”
But there came a time when the hand, though unshortened, was not outstretched; and the ear, though cognisant, irresponsive. Why?
“Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2).
This was the national reason: but it may have an individual application. James points this out in telling the brethren to whom he wrote—
“Ye ask, and receive not because ye ask amiss that ye may consume it upon your lusts . . . Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? . . . God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded. Be afflicted and mourn and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up” (James 4:3-10).
Paul illustrates the same principle when he says, concerning the faults of the brethren at Corinth,
“For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged, but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord that we should not be condemned with the world”
(1 Corinthians 11:30-32).
There are, therefore, two sides of the case to realise: if we do the things that please God, we shall be preserved even when apparently no preserving effort is put forth: and if we are straying, evil will be permitted to bring us right.
Just another fact is needed to complete the view of the case. Evil may be permitted, not to punish, but to vindicate. Job, a man perfectly approved of God, was brought into the lowest depths, without explanation; it was that it might be evident that his righteousness was not mercenarily inspired by prosperity, but begotten of the recognition of the rights of God, without respect to individual experience of good or evil. Consequently (the case having been recorded for guidance), adversity is no evidence of iniquity as prosperity for the time being is certainly no evidence of righteousness. Some may exclaim, “What confusion! Prosperity as evidence of divine preservation and yet a possible condition of wickedness! Adversity, the punishment of sin and yet the correction of love, and again neither the one nor the other, but the vindication of moral excellence!” Well, it has simply to be said that like many seeming paradoxes in beautiful and harmonious nature, so the truth stands with regard to the present dealings of God with man. The whole matter is so situated that we are shut off from all presumptuous prying into the ways of God, and thrown entirely on the principle of faith and obedience. It is not for us to presume on any phase of circumstances. It is for us to avoid the mistake of Job’s friends. The attitude of wisdom cannot be more exactly or satisfactorily defined than in the words of Peter,
“Commit the keeping of your souls to Him in well-doing as unto a faithful Creator.”
A wide-reaching phase of the whole subject is involved in the family incident which led to Jacob’s departure from Shechem. It was such an incident as the short-sighted view which is common in our day would have said could not happen to a man chosen and protected of God as Jacob was. If one with this short-sighted view had been called upon to write a probable history of Jacob, it certainly would have excluded the abduction and seduction of Jacob’s daughter by a neighbouring aristocrat as an impossibility. But there the matter stands, in all its grievousness, distressing Jacob and firing his sons with manslaying indignation. What view comes out of it? Why just the view expressed by Jacob himself when presented in his old age before Pharaoh in Egypt.
“Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9).
We must never forget that the present life in its best state is a state of exile from Eden; therefore a state of separation from divine fellowship and perfect blessedness. Reconciliation and return are in process of accomplishment, and the foundation of the work was laid in the promises and institutions appointed first in Eden and afterwards with the fathers; but, until the work is actually brought to its completion, the effect of separation will and must continue. Out of evil, and by means of it, God is bringing great good, but till good arrive, evil will remain the characteristic of our present experience. It is this that gives point to and enables us to pray the prayer of the man of God in Psalm 110;
“Return, O Lord, how long? And let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants. O satisfy us early with Thy mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil” (verses 13, 15).
This prayer will be answered, perhaps in measure now, but not in its final form till the appointed time, even the day of the manifestation of the sons of God, till which time, as Paul remarks,
“Even we ourselves groan within ourselves waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
We shall make a mistake in looking anywhere for unmixed good till the proclamation is heard,
“Behold the tabernacle of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3).
Most people will readily admit that we must not look for unmixed good till this time arrives; yet there is a tendency to overlook the constitutional evil of the present order of things, and a tacit assumption that evil cannot be among the experiences of those with whom God is pleased. The fact is that the very best experience at present is only a state of divinely regulated evil, and that the occurrence of evil is one of the necessities involved in the development of saints from a race of unjustified sinners. All are sinners more or less, and,
“Wherefore doth a man complain for the punishment of his sins?”
While all are sinners, more or less, some are forgiven sinners—those who fear and obey God, confessing their sins and forsaking them. All things work together for the final good of this class; but amongst these “all things” evil itself has a place. God is the judge of when and how much it is needed. In this light, let us not be amazed at the grievous domestic convulsion that sent Jacob and his sons to Bethel; and let us rightly interpret our lives and not imagine ourselves God-forsaken if we are called upon to drink perhaps many a bitter cup. In everything consider the end. The end will be joyous and gladness unutterable.
We have next to consider Jacob in the aspect of a heart-broken father—an aspect that perhaps appeals more directly than any other to our human sympathy. We follow him into the cloud, the long-brooding cloud; the valley, the long deep valley, and learn that the cruellest and apparently most aimless wrench of affliction may be but a preparation for us of the highest blessedness. Jacob had a son whom he loved more than the others. He could not help it, for Joseph was not only the son of his old age, but he was more excellent than his brethren, and Jesus himself showed a preferential love for “John, the beloved disciple” (this is not respect of persons, but respect of character, which is divine). Jacob manifested his love for Joseph in making him a coat of many colours.
“And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him and could not speak peaceably unto him.”
This was distress to Jacob, but nothing to what was to come. Joseph added to the hatred felt for him by his brethren, and excited the curious contemplations of Jacob himself by the narration of dreams which seem to foreshadow the exaltation of Joseph over them all. In process of time, his brothers repaired with their flocks for pasturage to Shechem, which they had left under the circumstances already considered. When they had been away awhile, Jacob, who had a true father’s love for them all, became desirous of knowing how they fared, and decided to send Joseph to ascertain and bring him word again. Joseph started on his journey and never returned. By and by his brothers came. We can imagine Jacob’s heart-quaking enquiry: “Haven’t you seen Joseph?” Oh! The anguish of the answer, “No: but here is a torn coat, besmeared with blood that looks like his. Examine it and see.” Jacob examines it; he recognises it as Joseph’s and he gives way to inconsolable grief.
“It is my son’s coat! An evil beast hath devoured him! Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces!”
And he mourned many days.
“All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted; for he said, I will go down unto the grave unto my son mourning.”
Poor Jacob! Was it to be wondered at! A noble boy, just seventeen, full of intelligence and the fear of Abraham’s God—the flower of the flock—not only torn from him but apparently the victim of a cruel and purposeless death! Jacob’s other sons were lusty grown men of not particularly admirable dispositions. He himself was old, and his son Joseph was the comfort of his old age. We cannot wonder at his tears. Yea, we can weep with him. The case was, on the face of it, without hope, and God vouchsafed no explanation. A word would have ended the grief; but it would also have ended the chastisement “whereof all are partakers;” and so God—who though He pity those who fear Him as a father pitieth his children, yet wisely afflicts, though not willingly—withheld the word; and we behold Jacob prostrate in bereavement; and made to feel, in the midst of much blessing and privilege, the evil of this present time, and so prepared for the gladsome place which awaits him in the kingdom of God, when the words of Isaiah, though national in their meaning, will be individually fulfilled:
“Jacob shall not be ashamed, neither shall his face now wax pale. But when he seeth his children, the work of Mine hands in the midst of him, they shall (together) sanctify My Name and sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and shall fear the God of Israel. They also that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and they that murmured shall learn doctrine” (Isaiah 29:22-24).
Over twenty years afterwards—dreary desolate years for Jacob—Jacob is confronted by a new anxiety. The crops fail on all hands and famine sets in. Food is not to be obtained and their reserve stock is running down. What is to be done? Has God forsaken Jacob? Oh no: it only looks like it. The immediate future is big with unheard-of joy for Jacob and undreamt-of honour and blessing for his old age, reminding us of the true saying, “The darkest hour of all the night is that which heralds morn.” But this is the way it comes. Mortal peril threatens. The clouds are blacker that they have ever been in the course of his life. There is apparently no escape. His sons look wistfully at one another with dismal foreboding. At last, Jacob hears (probably from some arrival in the neighbourhood) that there is corn in Egypt. He communicates the good news to his sons without knowing all the good involved in the intimation.
“Why do ye look one upon another? Behold I have heard there is corn in Egypt; get you down thither and bring for us from thence that we may live and not die.”
They go down to Egypt: and in due time they return with supplies. But with the relief, there is new trouble. One of his sons, Simeon, has not come back His other sons tell him that they had fared strangely in Egypt.
“The man who is the lord of the land spake roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country . . . And he said, Hereby shall I know that ye are true men: leave one of your brethren here with me, and take food for the famine of your household and be gone. And bring your youngest brother unto me; then shall I know that ye are no spies.”
And when they had made their report, they emptied their sacks, and “behold every man’s bundle of money was in his sack.” Fear and perplexity are the results. Jacob is simply distracted. He cannot understand the new turn of affairs. He groans out “all these things are against me.” Addressing his sons, he says,
“Me have ye bereaved of my children. Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away . . . My son shall not go with you: for his brother is dead and he is left alone; if mischief befall him on the way in which ye go, then shall ye bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.”
And so the matter ends for a time. By and by the corn gets eaten. Here comes the strain again. There are no signs of the famine giving way. Food is not procurable anywhere except in Egypt—(thus is Jacob’s unwilling way hedged up to the appointed issue). He suggests to his sons a second journey for further supplies. Yes, says Judah, if Benjamin goes with us.
“The man did solemnly protest unto us, saying, Ye shall not see my face except your brother be with you.”
Jacob cannot hear of it, and so the time passes. By and by necessity presses again. Jacob moots the proposal once more. The subject of Benjamin is again pressed. Judah says,
“If thou wilt not send him, we will not go down.”
Jacob indulges in one of those unavailing impeachments of accomplished facts to which people are prone when in the iron grasp of a disliked situation:
“Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?”
His son’s answer is reasonable,
“The man asked us straitly of our state and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? Have ye another brother? . . . Could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?”
At last Jacob gives in. Benjamin is allowed to go, and the ten brothers depart with the almost despairing benediction of their father, who says,
“God Almighty give you mercy before the man that he may send away your other brother and Benjamin. If I be bereaved of my children I am bereaved.”
Jacob is left alone in distress. His sons are all gone to a country where he knows they are suspected and from which perhaps they will never return. The austere “lord of the land,” the burden of his apprehensions, may fall upon them all, Benjamin too, as he had done upon Simeon, and make them bondsmen, and he may never see them again. He is uneasy; he cannot rest; he trusts in God, yet the clouds are dark and his heart heavy. It is almost at the breaking point. He cannot endure much longer. Poor Jacob!
“To the upright, there ariseth light in the darkness.”
His sons return in due time, and what fine equipages are these they have brought with them? Wagons that Joseph has sent to carry Jacob and all the little ones to Egypt. Who? Joseph!
“Joseph is yet alive, and he is governor over all the land of Egypt.”
Jacob faints at the report! No wonder. Give him time. He slowly rallies. He listens; Benjamin and Simeon are there. He looks at the wagons. He puts all things together. He comes to the only conclusion admissible in the circumstances:
“It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die.”
What more forcible illustration was it possible for God to have given to all succeeding generations of His children that trouble (so far from being evidence of desertion) is a means employed in His hands to lay the foundation of future joy and blessedness. Let His children then be comforted and strengthened to endure even the deepest and most inexplicable affliction. Let them learn to see God in the darkness and to feel His hand in the tempest. Let them beware of the folly of Job’s three friends rebuked of God. Let them know that this time of our pilgrimage is the night, and that though weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning and that joy a joy prepared by the weeping. Let them apply the consolation Christ has given them:
“Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall be comforted.”
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