Jacob The Man, The Nation

If ever there was a spiritual truth that will assist us to understand the Word of God, it is by comprehending the experience of Jacob at Peniel and the parallel between the man and the nation that bears his name - Israel. We need to look at the background to Jacob's meeting with his God in that terrible night experience recorded in Genesis chapter 32.

Even prior to his birth his mother had been told that the elder of the twins she bore would serve the younger. "And the LORD said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger'" (Genesis 25:23). Thus was the younger named Jacob meaning supplanter.

Then we have the spectacle of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a 'mess of pottage', "a stew of lentils" and following this, Jacob aided – indeed directed – by his mother Rebekah obtaining the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau. While we may be quick to judge Rebekah and Jacob over this incident, let us not forget Isaac's part too.

How aware was he that God had said, "the older shall serve the younger" ? Why did he "tremble exceedingly" when he realized what had happened. Surely it was the stunning knowledge that despite plans to restore to Esau for a meal of "savoury food" that which Esau had sold for a "stew of lentils" God had overruled in the affairs of men and had had His way after all. It's not that God has to indulge in subterfuge to gain His ends, but how well He knows the heart of man!

Rebekah paid a terrible price in having to part so soon with her favourite son, never to see him again in her lifetime. Jacob, forced to flee from the wrath of his brother, had to leave home, Rebekah instructing him: "Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran" (Genesis 27:43).

Even his father blessed Jacob and said to him: "Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house Bethuel, your mother's father; and take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother" (28:2).

On the way Jacob had his Bethel experience. He rested and dreamed that he saw the Lord, who said to him: "I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac . . . behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go; and I will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done for you what I have spoken to you" (28:15).

Jacob thereupon vowed to the Lord: "If God will be with me, and keep me in the way that I am going . . . so that I come back to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God's house, and of all that you give me I will surely give a tenth to you" (28:20-22).

Jacob eventually prospered in Haran and even became richer than his employer, his uncle Laban, whose two daughters he married and by them and their maids was blessed with eleven sons. But there came a time after twenty years when he wanted to return to his own people.

Laban was unwilling to lose him for he said, "Please stay, if I have found favour in your eyes, for I have learned by experience that the LORD has blessed me for your sake" (Genesis 30:27). But Jacob was determined and told his wives to prepare to leave.

"You know that with all my heart I have served your father, yet your father has deceived me and changed my wages ten times, but God did not allow him to hurt me: (Genesis 31:6,7). God Himself met Jacob in a dream and said to him: "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your kindred" (31:13).

Jacob was in fear and trepidation as he approached Canaan and his meeting with his brother, and he sent ahead a present for his brother "in the land of Seir, the country of Edom" where he was now living. He was even more "greatly afraid and distressed" when the messengers returned and told him: "We came to your brother, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him" (32:6, 7).

He took every possible precaution, including the beautiful prayer: "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, the LORD who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, and I will deal well with you.'

"I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which you have shown your servant; for I crossed over this Jordan with my staff, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, lest he come and attack me and the mother with the children" (32:9-11).

And Jacob sent all his possessions ahead of him, including his wives and children. "Then Jacob was left alone" (32:24). But he was not alone; "a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day” and what a wrestling match took place that night! Finally the supplanter realized he needed a saviour, and he said finally: "I will not let you go unless you bless me."

The blessing of God became more important than wives, children, shepherds, flocks or herds. It was when Jacob was humbled, broken, crippled, and cried out to God that He met him, there at Peniel, and said: “’What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.' And he said, 'Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.'"

The supplanter Jacob was now to be Prince with God, Israel. Jacob had no doubt as to who had dealt with him, because he called the place Peniel, face of God stating, "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved." This time Jacob went ahead of his family, and Esau found himself weeping on his brother's neck when they met – a miraculous reconciliation.

Yet how often does God refer to Himself as the God of Jacob. Jacob is made a prince with God; God is the God of Jacob, and the nation that bears the name Israel is still God's earthly nation Jacob. There are some remarkable parallels between the man and the nation.

Jacob had gone before God in the sense that he had tried to bring about what God had said would be. The result was that he was driven out of his homeland, was cut off from his inheritance, yet still worshipped God in his own way. God still loved him; God still had a purpose for him, and he knew it.

He was exiled for many years, yet he prospered during that time, and this brought jealousy and hatred upon him. His immediate family – his wives and children – stood by him, but his brother Esau hated him, and his in-laws hated him and plotted against him.

He was sent back to his inheritance by the guidance of God and the hostility of those amongst whom he dwelt. He faced his brother in fear as he was outnumbered many times over, and in this period of anguish and brokenness God met him face to face, and he realized that God alone could save him. His need of salvation was evidenced by a change of heart and his soul's salvation. Jacob emerged from his meeting with God a new man – Israel – prince with God.

The nation Israel too had often gone before God. They "had turned, every one, to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6), until finally they had crucified the Messiah, the "prince of peace" (Isaiah 9:6). "He came unto his own, and his own did not receive him" (John 1:11), with the result that they were driven out of their h omeland, and, cut off from their inheritance, they 'supplanted' the true worship with rabbinic Judaism.

Yet they are still loved by God and He has still a plan and purpose for them. Exiled for many years, yet they have prospered in many ways, which has often brought jealousy and hatred upon them. Their brothers the Arabs, many actually descended from Esau, have hated them, and the people they have lived amongst have often been hostile to them.

But God is taking them back to the Promised Land though they are faced with an enemy that outnumbers them many times. And God is going to 'wrestle' with them and they will stand alone, till with their final annihilation about to overtake them they will realize that God alone can save them.

"For I will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem . . . then the LORD will go forth and fight against those nations . . . " (Zechariah 14:1,3). In this 'death' experience "they will look to me whom they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10), and He says: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you . . . and you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Ezekiel 36:2-28).

The "time of Jacob's trouble" that Jeremiah speaks of (30:7) will be the most terrible time in all their torrid history, yet from it "all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and he will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins'" (Letter to the Romans 11:26-27).