Jacob at Jabbok
Let us commence this story from the very moment of time in which we find ourselves today... this very special hour of Israel's history. Look at those headlines of not too long back. Thousands of Jews transported from Ethiopia... Collapse of an empire, the USSR... Who would have thought it? Centre of it all.. Israel! Jacob is at the ford of Jabbok.
Gen 32:22-24 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. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had. And Jacob was left alone;
Yes, even in the Hebrew, rather as it comes over in the English, the name Jabbok is a phonetic word-play on the name, Jacob. It denotes, we are told, "wrestling," an appropriate setting for the struggle that is here to take place.
The ford of the river Jabbok was the place where there was a conflict between two paths. It was at the confluence between two streams. It was also the only place where it is possible to brave and wade through the torrent that crosses the path of the road or trek that passes on further into the land of Israel. At certain times of year this was quite a struggle, and especially if there were goods to be carried over, and cattle and flocks to be got across, not to mention family and children... a lot of children at that! (Twelve with his daughter, Dinah.) The very youngest arrival was Joseph, the very precious first-born of Rachel, and it was his coming into the world that seemed to mark the fresh surge in the old urge to return to the land. Now, after so long a time, that return was taking tangible shape. It appears to have been shortly after Joseph arrived (prefiguring Jesus,) that the Lord tells Jacob to return to the land of promise.
Gen 31:3 And the LORD said unto Jacob, Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee.
Now Israel, or rather Jacob, is on the march. He is already in the land. The very place he now walks on is within the boundaries. But there is a very important sense in which Jacob has yet to arrive, yet to know and receive the full blessing the Lord intends to bestow. What Mt Moriah was to Abraham, Jabbok is to Jacob. It is here that the Lord's work on human trust and faith is to reach its peak. Jacob is to leave that place a changed man, ready, prepared for the full blessedness of his role in the divine purpose... an instrument of blessing and happiness for all.
But at this moment he sits there at sundown, the effort of getting his family and flocks thus far across those troublous waters has wearied him, and he is glad to now wait behind on the former bank alone with his thoughts, his conflicts, his fears of what awaits both him and his seed. Doubtless he recalls the experiences of past years, and the memories of former days, and looks for some pattern, some meaning in his life. Perhaps he remembers how he once laid himself down in loneliness and foreboding that very first night of exile when he fled from his family home for fear of his life. The cause of his plight.. his estranged brother, Esau. It does not yet occur to Jacob even now that his twin brother represented part of himself, his own flesh and blood.
Esau seems to represent that within each human mind and character which tends always to resist the ways of the Lord his God. It is that which despised the birthright given him, and values the promises of God and His declared purpose far below the exigencies of the moment, the appetite that demands immediate though, oh so transitory, a satisfaction.
Gen 25:22 "The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD." (NIV) Gal 5:17 "For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." (KJV)
Jacob was not himself defiant of the divine promises, nor did he undervalue them. He simply lacked the faith to believe that the Lord could fulfil them without Jacob's human scheming, craftiness, wiles, and cunning. So he had found himself ready to comply with the idea to deceive in order to obtain. How many Christian people have still this same lesson to learn who glory in appearance. Jacob put on a skin with the intent to deceive even his own father with that which was superficial and pretentious. Oh what a lot that skin tells us about the Jew, and what a lesson to us all! The promise was his. The blessing would be his. The Lord would see to that in His own way regardless of Isaac's intent. But Jacob trusted his own wiles and craftiness, his own judgment and ability to achieve this, rather than the Lord's. Thus, for lack of faith in his God to bring about that full blessing, Jacob had found himself running for his life, cast out of the land of promise.
Ladder up to heaven.
Yet even this was overruled, and the very first night of his exile the Lord had granted Jacob that first vision of heavenly involvement in Jacob's life. In total, seven visions, according to the records, were granted to Jacob. This was the first. There in weariness he had fallen asleep, a pile of small stones for a pillow in that rugged stony place. Then, in his dream, he had seen stone laid against stone, ascending and ascending still upwards till the very topmost step of this great stairway reached, it seemed, into heaven itself. There, above all, stood the Lord. Jacob had found himself gazing up at the Lord. Then, as he watched with great awe this astounding spectacle, angels appeared, first he noticed their ascent up that stairway, then that others came down to replace them here on earth, right next to where he lay... and he heard the voice of God, and received that message from His own lips, a message specially for Jacob, personal and reassuring.
Gen 28:13-15 "And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, 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."
Next morning early Jacob rose knowing he would never forget that experience or that place where human thought is drawn up that steep ascent to the thoughts of God. How could he forget that continual ascending and descending of angels, overruling, intervening, a vision so transforming of the daily trial of human life. Have we seen that stairway? Can we forget once we have glimpsed that vision of the Lord's concern in our life?
Gen 28:20-22 "And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee."
This may sound a rather mercenary attitude as it reads, a kind of "ten per cent" agent's fee, but the word "If" at the outset should read rather "since", and this statement seems to be prophetical of Israel's future appreciation of divine overruling, when they will pay to the Lord their dues of gratitude and trust and loving obedience.Mal 3:10 "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
Meditating on the bank of Jabbok, Jacob listened to those waters dashing through the rocks, rocks that seemed to stick out and intrude in the life, just to demonstrate that conquering overcoming power of that relentless flow of the river of God's pleasure. Nothing that great purpose can thwart. Over the sound of those many waters Jacob may have thought he could still hear that voice of God speaking above the troubles of his mind, the travail of his soul.. "The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed." Certainly the Lord had fulfilled His word thus far, though the path for Jacob had been sorely trying to his faith.
As an exile from the land Jacob had spent the years in servitude. He had known no place of his own, not even a home life, for he had been a shepherd for Laban, a most menial task of a slave, and this had entailed much hardship. As shepherd, Jacob had been held responsible for the flock of that mean and grasping master, and that was the story behind the dark tanned face of Jacob. Through the burning of the noon-tide heat of the sun he had watched against the wild beasts culling the flock.
Gen 31:39-40 "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. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes."
Isa 42:24-25 "Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law. Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart." ( Cp Isa 49:10 "They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.")
That was an awful moment too, so recently behind him, for after the Lord had told him to depart from alien lands and return to the land of promise such animosity arose in Laban's heart that he threatened to completely wipe out the chosen race, Jacob's seed. Only the Lord's intervention achieved Jacob's escape. Anti-semitism first reared its ugly head in Genesis 31:1&2, because even in those adverse conditions the Lord made Jacob to prosper. Gen 31:1-2 "And he heard the words of Laban's sons, saying, Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's; and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this glory. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was not toward him as before." & Gen 31:29 after Laban was prevented from his evil design to destroy the people of Jacob, "It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt: but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad." We cannot miss the parallel here to the similar attempt of Hitler in this our day after the Lord had said it was time for the return of Jacob to the land of promise. Satan is at enmity with the seed to this day, both the natural and the spiritual.
Oh why was life so hard? Looking back Jacob would recall how it was, as it were, his own nature that had been played back upon him. He now found what it was like to be at the receiving end of deceit, and pretence, the victim of scheming and plots against him... what it was like to be taken advantage of, as when he had taken advantage himself of his brother's weakness to his own ends.. "Sell me the birthright.." Isa 42:24-25 "Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the LORD, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law. Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart."
Seven years he had known servitude (= 2520 days), and at its close the expected bliss had not come. The deceiver had been deceived. All his works were in vain. Israel did not obtain that which he sought after. Then seven years more, a further 2520 days of servitude, and even then the full fruition of his hopes were still not realised. [1914 saw the end of that second seven "times" or seven years of years. See "He made it again."] Why was the Lord still keeping Jacob waiting for the blessing so long promised even after the years of servitude were fulfilled? Was it not the Lord Who had said to Jacob, "It is time to return to the land..and I will be with thee.."? Gen. 31:3.
Before Jacob stood that old enemy.. in the shape of Esau. Even at this point, already back in the land, an obstacle stood in the way between Jacob and the full realisation of the blessedness towards which the Lord was leading... Esau, his own twin, his own flesh and blood! One great crisis was past, a threat to wipe out the seed of Jacob, Laban and his host had retreated under the hand of God. [Compare the threat of annihilation of Jews from Europe under Hitler prior to Israel's entry of the land.] And as Jacob went on his way, we are told in Genesis 32:1, "the angels of God met him.."
Everything now seemed to be working for Jacob. Nothing surely could stand in the way of that divine purpose? Could anyone resist that heavenly army that defended his way? Yet in the eyes of him who waited in the land, Esau, Jacob was still the usurper, still pushing him out, still using his cunning and intelligence and devious ways to achieve his own ends, still arrogantly resting in his own ability, in human integrity and strength, to achieve the purpose of God.
Jacob had revealed his fears. He had prayed earnestly to the Lord. Gen 32:9-12 '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: 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. 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 surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude."
The company was now found to be composed of two bands..one in heaven, the host of accomp-anying angels, and one earthly, Jacob and his camp (Gen.32:2 margin. Compare Mat. 24:31, which may apply to both gatherings now taking place, the earthly as well as the heavenly seeds.), but as Jacob now desperately applied his mind to what strategy he should use to overcome this ultimate adversary that threatened to forever stand between him and the security and peace and prosperity in the land of promise that the Lord had said would be his, perhaps he found his mind also divided between two possible tactics.. one aggressive, and one placative. ["Hawk" and "dove".] He could not go on forever fighting his brother, his own flesh and blood. How was he going to work out a solution to this ultimate challenge? This was the very point of time marked out in the purpose of God. So near, yet apparently so far away, lay the prospect of lasting bliss for which he had longed in so many years of bondage. Was this to be it? Was it to be a future of continual strife, tit-for-tat skirmishes, bloodshed, and bitterness of soul, resentment, mistrust? Was he forever to live by his wits to ever remain one step ahead of his enemy, or retaliating, and eye for an eye.
Israel faces today a crisis even deeper than that realised in the Knesset. The flow of Jews from eastern Europe flood over into the boundaries of the little land. It was as if a great clock chimed, and the gates were opened, the last restrictions lifted. This is a time, surely, of great blessedness, for which so many so long have prayed. Yet bringing in its wake a crisis for Israel beyond any of the past. As we write the Great Powers, so called, lean hard on Israel to work out a solution towards Middle East peace. The Palestinians, many of them ancestral blood brothers of the Jew, live in increasing fear of the consequences of this insurgence into the land of so many thousand fellow Jews. Tension is at its height! Recent attacks by extreme groups of Moslem faith shatter prospects for peace. Jacob planned a gift. He was ready to share much of his own possessions with his brother Esau, but the Lord has a more enduring solution in mind. The struggle that now engulfs Israel will go on, and it will not end until the Lord's purpose is achieved. Before he comes through this struggle Jacob will be a changed man..Israel will be at last made worthy of that God-given name. [Israel means "God prevails". See RV margin "God striveth".]
Jacob begins the struggle of mind inflicted upon him believing he is wrestling with a human foe who attacks him. He schemes with man's thoughts in the endeavour to outdo his human opponent. But sooner or later in the struggle he recognises in himself the chief opponent, for he comes to realise that he is fighting with God. This moment of awing truth brings about a great loss of confidence in his own ability and strength, for, at the Lord's touch, that in which he trusted becomes as weak as a little child. All that he can do now is to use his arms to hang on to his opponent, only by this time he is no longer resisting the Lord but using all the power he can muster to cling to the Lord. He is now wrestling in prayer, and will not let go until he has the blessing of God for which he longs. What a wonderful scene is this in the great Photo-drama of Creation, and WE ARE WATCHING IT NOW!
And so the Lord speaks to him and asks a remarkable question.. "What is your name?" Oh what point in this enquiry! How well the Lord knew Jacob's name, knew his character.. usurper, schemer, but Jacob has to confess it and acknowledge what he is. "My name is Jacob, supplanter, deceiver, liar, hypocrite, thief. My life has been one long career of crafty cunning and greed and reliance on self. 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." Gen 32:28. Israel means "God prevails". A profound Hebrew scholar tells us that in names compounded with 'el' it is the 'el', or God, that is the doer of the rest of the name if it should be a verb. (eg. Daniel = God judges, Gabriel = God is my strength, etc.) Israel, therefore, means God rules, or prevails, or commands. It is the Lord's turn now to make a play on words, and with what wisdom. When it is acknowledged that God prevails, God rules, then does man prevail and rule with God. This is the victory of full surrender to the Lord. When He is our overcomer then do we overcome in Him. The kingdom is for the violent to take by force. Their victory...total defeat of self. The battle is first with all that opposes His dominion in the heart, and the conquest is for clinging even until the dawn of new day, and not letting go until the blessing is received.
Gen 32:29 '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?"' Here is the desire to more fully know the Lord, even as He knows us, but that fuller knowing comes with experience in walking with God. When Moses asked that similar question he too received a puzzling reply.."I AM.." All that He IS only time and closeness can reveal. And we read.. 'And he blessed him there.' Where, we may ask, was "there"? It was "there" in the state of heart and mind the Lord had achieved in an unworthy man. It was "there" in Jacob's tears, for we read in Hosea 12:4, 'Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication unto him:'
On one other occasion it is recorded that Jacob wept before this. That was when he first set his eyes upon that sweet vision of his soul that was called "Rachel" (Hebrew for a female lamb). In Jacob's eyes she would represent that time of coming blessing promised. She was a vision of a future of happiness, a vision he would slave to attain.. the blessing of the Lord. As we read in Gen. 29:11 'And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept.' Now, at last, the Lord had blessed him there, and, as Hosea said, Jacob wept. The Lord blessed him there, in that dark prolonged conflict.. He blessed him there, in the attitude of deep contrition and acknowledgment of all he was.. He blessed him there, in that desire to know his God.
And even as the Lord blessed him, the sun rose upon him, and his eyes adjusted to its warming rays and glory he realised that he had looked upon the face of God and yet survived that 'burning bliss'. Now he could see God's face wherever he looked. He even saw the face of God in his brother Esau when he met him.. Gen 33:10 'And Jacob said, "Nay, I pray thee, if now I have found grace in thy sight, then receive my present at my hand: for therefore I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me."' For the battle was done, and as the words of Prov 16:7 ''When a man's ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.'
This was not the end of the story. Jacob still had further stages of processing ahead. At Shechem he pays the price of disobedience. Then the Lord reminds him of his vow at Bethel. He has to get rid of his strange gods and idols, build an altar to the Lord at Bethel, weep over the "Saviour of the world" as his own son, the greater Joseph. [See the article on Joseph.] So our hearts go out to the chosen race today in the land of promise, so near, yet so far from realisation of the blessedness of the Lord's purpose for them. This is an essential part of the process leading to that full realisation. Morning indeed cometh for Israel, but also night. [The statement of Isa 21:12, 'The watchman said, "The morning cometh, and also the night:" is directed to Edom, the old Adam within which must be overcome before the blessings may flow. Cp Isaiah 34 preceding 35.] The struggle against the enemy without will surely turn to dark wrestling with the enemy within, but the Lord yet will touch Jacob's prided human glory so that it fails him, and Jacob will come to recognise the true nature of the struggle, and learn to cling to his God.
Today Jacob sits at Jabbok's ford contemplating those torrents that threaten to engulf and sweep him away. Isa 43:1-11 'But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him. Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour.
And in Isa 43:21, This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise. But the Lord goes on to reflect on Jacob's resistance to His hand in the past. That is why He adds, verse 28, 'Therefore I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary, and have given Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches.' (the ban from the land of promise. Isa 44:1-5 'Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses. One shall say, I am the LORD's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.' And that self-righteous spirit, like filthy rags in the eyes of the Lord, will be processed into something pure and white, a worthy medium for the hand of the Lord to write upon, and on it will be seen the watermark of the likeness of Jacob's God and King.