This is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I’m Mario Diaz.
We left our story with an amazing discussion of the sons of Leah and the change we see in her through the naming of her children and the Providence of God (which has been a theme all along our journey—this God who is never a victim of earthly circumstances but who is in complete control of every situation and whose wisdom, though beyond our full comprehension, is unimpeachable). We saw that she named his son Judah saying “this time I will praise the Lord,” and we noted that the promised Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah.
Now, I just stated that because I did not want to jump ahead too far, but I know some of you are astute enough to be wondering about that. So, let me pause here and do a quick preview of what we will see as we near the end of our story with respect to the Messiah coming from the line of Judah. In Genesis 49, Jacob, near his death, calls to himself his 12 sons, representing the 12 tribes of Israel and he prophecies about their descendants. In verse 10, he addresses Judah and says:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
The reference to the “scepter” and the “ruler’s staff” points us to kingship (King David will indeed come from the tribe of Judah—and there are numerous other prophecies associated with that link between David and the Messiah). But also the breath and scope of the promise reminds us of the eternal nature of Messiah’s Lordship. John’s vision of the last days in Revelations 5:5 notes, “behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered…” There is, of course much more to discover down that rabbit trail, so to speak, but we must get back to our story.
Genesis Chapter 30 shifts the focus to Rachel. She is jealous of Leah’s many sons and so she expresses that frustration towards Jacob who basically says take it over with God, I can’t do anything. So, Rachel implements the plan she has seen other in her family attempt, she will give her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear her a son. So Bilhah conceives Dan and then Nephtali.
Then, we are told, Leah gets jealous and gives Jacob her servant Zilpah, and they bore Gad, and later Asher. This is what jealousy and envy will do to you, they will consume you, there is no end to the struggle it will spark within you. Beware of it- do not indulge in it. As if that wasn’t enough, we are told the story of a time when Rachel asked Leah for some mandrakes (a type of Mediterranean berry) and an argument ensued that leads to Leah getting Jacob to herself for a time, and she bears another son who was called Issachar, and then a sixth son called Zebulun; and after that, a daughter named Dinah.
Rachel then had Joseph (a very important figure that we will briefly look at later on).
Children were viewed very different in ancient times. Remember, there is no Walmart in those days. You work for what you eat, daily. So children are workers. They are essential for survival.
So, it is at this point (when Jacob has 11 sons and a daughter) that he goes to Laban because he wants to branch out on his own. You will recall that Laban has dealt deceitfully with Jacob who has been the best thing that ever happened to Laban, as the Lord blessed him because of Jacob. Therefore Laban wants Jacob to stay and he tells him, name your price. Note that Jacob, after all those years was willing to depart with nothing, just his family (he had the promise of God that He would be with him), but now God will bless him with much wealth, even through Laban’s treacherous dealings.
Laban readily admits he has witnessed God’s hand upon Jacob (how could he not) and he will try to do anything to keep him there. So, Jacob tells him that, since the sheep are usually white, and the goats black, he will take the spotted or speckled ones, which are comparatively rare, for himself.
Jacob’s reasoning seemed to be that Laban could never accuse him of stealing (when the Lord inevitably blessed him) since the natural marks of the cattle would tell the story. The proposal seemed great to Laban who knew he was at a great advantage, ordinarily speaking. And, treacherous as he was, he went and took the speckled and spotted animals and gave them to his son, keeping him separate from Laban’s flock, so as to put him at a disanvantage right out of the gate..
But no matter. God is with Jacob and he is confident on his breeding abilities. Therefore, he employs a variety of methods to ensure he breaded speckled and spotted sheep and lamb. And it happened that the stronger and best of the them went to Jacob, and the more feeble to Laban. Thus, his wealth increased greatly.
God did that. We are told that explicitly in chapter 31. Here is how Jacob explained it starting in verse 6— he told Rachel and Leah:
You know that I have served your father with all my strength, yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times. But God did not permit him to harm me. If he said, ‘The spotted shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore spotted; and if he said, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock bore striped. Thus God has taken away the livestock of your father and given them to me. In the breeding season of the flock I lifted up my eyes and saw in a dream that the goats that mated with the flock were striped, spotted, and mottled. Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am!’ And he said, ‘Lift up your eyes and see, all the goats that mate with the flock are striped, spotted, and mottled, for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me.
Jacob was explaining to Rachel and Leah why they needed to leave. The Lord was commanding him to leave. But the account reveals to us some deep truths about the God of Jacob. He works in mysterious ways, for the benefit of those who love Him—those He has chosen to serve Him in various ways. Note how He uses the injustice against Jacob and the wrongdoings of many people, including Jacob’s own failures (remember he first came there fearing his brothers retaliation against his treachery)—God uses all of it to bless Jacob.
Think of all that has happened. These are decades of hardship. But God remained faithful through it all. He will even redeem Rachel and Leah, who in a moment of candor show, starting in verse 14 their resentment against their father for “selling” them. This is not lost on them. They say all that Jacob has earned from Laban was simply the portion their father owed them. They are ready to leave with Jacob.
And this time Jacob will not ask for permission. He fled while Laban was away, and set for his father Isaac’s house in Canaan. But, there was more trouble, unbeknown to Jacob, while they were leaving and Laban was away Rachel stole some household gods from her father. She knew Jacob served only Yahweh, so it is likely she did this in order to inflict damage on her father, more than anything else.
They set out and crossed the Euphrates before word reached Laban after three days. Proving Jacob’s wisdom in leaving in secret, Laban gathers a band of his people and goes after him for seven days, keeping close after him by the hill country of Gilead, we are told.
His intentions were not good, but then God appear to Laban in a dream to warn him not to say anything to Jacob, good or bad (verse 24). When he catches him, Laban asks him why he fled and tells him about the dream. Jacob says he was afraid, and understandably so. But then Laban asks about the stolen goods. Jacob, not knowing what Rachel has done, says “anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live.” He was sure he hadn’t taken anything.
Now Rachel, knowing what she had done, took the gods and put them in the camel’s seat and sat on them, telling his father she could not rise because “the way of women is upon me.” So Laban did not find them. Then Jacob explodes, thinking he was once again being unjustly treated and he vents on all he has endured under Laban’s hand. It was a lot. He concludes (v.41):
These twenty years I have been in your house. I served you fourteen years for your two daughters, and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times. 42 If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty-handed. God saw my affliction and the labor of my hands and rebuked you last night.”
Laban then proposes and they indeed make a covenant, making a heap and a pillar. “This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness,” he says, “that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm.” And each go their separate ways.
Jacob’s new liberty is met with a supernatural occurrence starting in chapter 32, where Jacob is met with “the angels of God.” Upon seeing them, he says, “This is God’s camp!” And, that is all we are told about it. We must save all our questions for another occasion.
Jacob sends word ahead to his brother Esau. Remember, Esau has sworn to kill him once their father Isaac had died. Jacob sends word of where he has been and the he has acquired much wealth in order to find favor in Esau’s sight.
The response was not not exactly what he was hoping for. His brother send word that he is coming to meet him and nothing else. And oh, by the way, he is coming with 400 men. Yikes!
We are told Jacob was “greatly afraid and distressed.” He should be, right? We all would be. This is one of the great and sad things about sin in our lives. It shames us. It makes us afraid and unsure. We know what we deserve and we therefore lose our footing, feeling we will be exposed frauds. But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, always takes the focus away from our feeble and sinful nature and puts in on His goodness and mercy and grace. We have hope because of His nature, not because of ours.
But in his fear, Jacob divides his camp in two, thinking if Esau attacks one camp, the other can escape. That’s how real this is to him. An, here is the other thing he does: he prays. And I want to read this prayer to you because it is a great example for us. Listen to this. This is Genesis 32:8-12. Jacob says:
“O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”
We can learn a lot from this prayer. Notice how Jacob leans on what the Lord has told Him. He says You, Lord of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, You told me to come to my brother. You have promised to do me good, therefore deliver me. He does not say, God, see how good I am, how righteous, pay me back. No. He pleads to God for His goodness, because He knows this God will not go back on His word. And from that He pleads for deliverance. This is why it is important for us to study the Scriptures and know what the Lord has said. His words are true. His words are sure. He does not relent on His promises. And when we pray we can lean on them and say, Lord deliver me, for you have said, x, y, z. This principle will help us in very practical ways. To make decisions, to intercede for our loved ones. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is still listening.
Note too, that Jacob still acts on his best judgments, even as He prays to God. We have seen over and over that this God will act through our actions, through the words and deeds of men to accomplish His purposes. So we need not be paralyzed as we wait on the Lord.
Here Jacob takes a whole bunch of his animals and possessions and sends them ahead in waves to his brother, so that Esau will be receiving gifts from Jacob all the way as he gets to him, and his thinking is that Esau’s anger (if any still lingers) may be appease, that he may forgive him for his treachery.
Now, Jacob and his family are going to cross the Jabbok River, which is a river that flows from Amman and joins the Jordan River about 15 miles north of the Dead Sea. This is Eastern Palestine, so you can situate yourself on the map. They are returning to Paddan-aram to their extended family, now lead by his brother Esau. Jacob sends his family and all the possessions across the river and he says behind and we have this amazing encounter that will blow our minds, and we’ll end with this. As he is alone, and with all his family and possessions across the river… I’ll give it to you just as we read it in Genesis 32, starting on verse 24:
And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
This is a strange and mysterious event, but an incredibly significant one. See here that this is the place where the people of Israel are born. This figure who is presented first as a man, and throughout the account presented as representing God himself, right?, for He changes his name from Jacob to Israel, quote “for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” And Jacob, now Israel, names the place Peniel, quote “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”
Now, no one has ever seen God (see John 1:8, or Moses’s “show me Your glory” encounter in Exodus 33:18). But there is a senses in which Jacob is encountering God through this figure. We are already familiar with this type of encounter. If you remember when Abraham had the encounter with the burning bush, the account told us “the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” That was Genesis 3. But then, Abraham proceeds to talk to “the Lord” as He is identified in Scripture. This was that amazing encounter where God identified Himself to Abraham as “I am that I am,” that’s verse 14 of chapter 3. So too here, we have this sort of agency where we are encountering God himself through this figure. The Prophet Hosea is helpful here, writing of Jacob:
In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
and in his manhood he strove with God.
He strove with the angel and prevailed;
he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
and there God spoke with us—
the Lord, the God of hosts,
the Lord is his memorial name:
“So you, by the help of your God, return,
hold fast to love and justice,
and wait continually for your God.”
That’s Hosea 12:3-6.
It helps us envision this quote “wrestling” with Jacob had all night. It says “he wept and sought his favor.” This is more than a physical “wrestling,.” This figure, at the desired time, simply touched Jacob’s hip and it came out of joint. So he clearly has more power than Jacob, but this “wrestling” was somehow necessary. It feels like this involves a deep prayerful encounter. It feels like this is precisely the reason why Jacob stayed back-to seek the Lord’s face in light of what he was about to face. Jacob met someone, and he was convinced that this figure was of divine origin because it could indeed bless him. He had the authority and power to do so. And he did.
Some see a pre-incarnate Jesus in these encounters were a reference to The Angel of the Lord of a “Man” appears in the old testament and speaks with the authority of God. Jesus told Philip in John chapter 14, when Philip asked to see the father, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (That’s verse 9 of John 14). So you can see a parallel. However we are not told this explicitly, so we take the Scripture at its word and just marvel at this amazing encounter.
This is another confidence we can always have with Scripture, it is God’s way of revealing what He wants to reveal to us in the way He wants to reveal himself to us. Nothing more and nothing less. So, the things we are not told, there is no need for us to obsess over them. There are things God has chosen not to reveal and we can be at peace with that too.
Here we can learn a lot from Jacob. In distress, he sought the face of God. He sought His blessing based on the Lord’s goodness, not his own. He wrestled, wept and (in verse 26 of Chapter 32) he said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
Jacob wanted to know who this figure was, verse 29: “Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him.”
And there it is, he receives the blessings. Jacob names the place Peniel, saying, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” Jacob will leave a changed man, after this encounter. He now walks with a noticeable limp because of his hip, and spiritually, he is a new person. He has had an encounter with God, he’s been born again, has a new name, and will walk in the purpose God has chosen for him to establish a people, a new nation… Israel.
But we have seen God’s plan unfold for many generations now, haven’t we? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the God of Israel) is great. He is mighty. His wisdom is unsearchable. His ways unstoppable. He is worthy of a struggle, of us wrestling like Jacob to receive His blessings. Count me in for that… hope He can count on you too.
More to come…