Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
The first study in this series defined theophanies as appearances of God, in the form of a 'Man' or an 'Angel', to particular persons on earth. Since the Lord Jesus is the only 'visible' manifestation of God, it was concluded that the theophanies were pre-incarnate appearances of the eternal Son. Seven are recorded. The theophany granted to Abraham was the subject of the first article; the one granted to Jacob will be considered now.
Jacob was about 100 years old when God met him as 'wrestler' on the east bank of the Jabbok river, Gen. 32. 24-31. Since each theophany was unique and given for a specific purpose, it is important to consider the events in Jacob's life which led up to it. The first occurred before Jacob was bom when Rekekah, conscious of twins struggling within her womb, enquired of the Lord, 'if all is well why am I this way?' His reply was a clear, uncompromising prophecy concerning the twin boys she was carrying.
'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', Gen. 25. 23.
The prophecy cast its shadows shortly afterwards at the time Jacob was born. Closely following his brother down the birth canal, he grasped him by the heel; for this reason he was named Jacob (supplanter or deceitful), and the succeeding years were to demonstrate that the name was his biography in a single word. Jacob lived for 147 years, but for at least the first 100 years he struggled by human effort to obtain the blessing which God had promised him, using every conceivable trick he could muster. He desired spiritual values, yet resorted to carnal means to achieve them.
Jacob was around 50 years old when he grasped an opportunity to obtain his brother's birthright (inheritance rights). The birthright included a double share of the estate upon his father's death, Deut. 25. 15-17; seniority, Gen. 27. 29; and limited priestly functions, e.g., 1 Sam. 20. 27-29, within the family. Jacob used Esau's weak moment when he came in from a hunting expedition, weary and famished with hunger and, in violation of accepted Bedouin custom, he manoeuvred his exhausted brother into parting with his birthright for a single meal.
Later, at least 20 years and possibly longer, Jacob deceitfully obtained his father's blessing. In this he was aided by his parents; both showed no evidence of faith in the words of the divine prophecy pronounced before the twins were born. His father, Isaac, favoured the older son and, contrary to the clear direction that 'the older would serve the younger', planned to give the blessing to Esau. His mother, too, not believing that God was able to fulfil His promises, worked on the principle that 'God helps those who help themselves' rather than 'God helps those who have come to the end of themselves'. By human ingenuity she sought to overcome the disadvantages of Jacob's heredity by deceiving her husband into thinking that he was blessing Esau rather than Jacob. Jacob, too, by lies, hypocrisy and deceit, even claiming divine providence for success in hunting for venison, stole the blessing. Yet the long-suffering patience of God would not give up on Jacob. He would work through circumstances until the 'worm', Isa, 41. 14, Jacob, was made into a 'worshipper', Heb. 11. 21.
Esau's anger and sorrow at losing both the blessing and the birthright can be understood. To escape this, Jacob fled from home and made the long journey to his relatives in Padan Aram. Arriving at Bethel, en route, God appeared to him in a dream. In His elective grace, God promised a whole range of future blessings to the undeserving Jacob, not least the divine promise, 'I will not leave you until I have done that which I promised'. In Padan Aram, God arranged Jacob's circumstances which would lead ultimately to his blessing. For over twenty years Jacob was exposed to a relative more subtle and scheming than himself and, without divine protection, would doubtless have returned home with nothing for all his hard labour. So God works in each one of us - He knows no unfinished task! Often we wish our circumstances, colleagues and employment, etc., were different, but they have been chosen by a loving heavenly Father to develop in us a Christ-likeness. Paul wrote, '. . . being confident of this very thing, that he who has begun a good work in you, will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ', Phil. 1. 6. Accepting our God-given circumstances, we must 'work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure', Phil. 2. 12-13.
And so we say,
'Work on then, Lord, till on my soul
Eternal light shall break;
And in Thy likeness perfected,
I satisfied shall wake.'
(Eliza H. Hamilton)
Throughout those long years in the distant land Jacob used every trick he knew to make the best bargain with his uncle Laban. However, he learned the bitter lesson of 'going-it-alone', never once calling on God for guidance. Eventually, it was God who told him to return home. Jacob was now faced with an angry relative behind and Esau ahead. In sheer fear he prays a prayer of desperation, Gen. 32. 9-12, yet still resorts to human scheming to placate his brother. The time had come for God to intervene and break this man's will, in order that His purpose for Jacob could be fulfilled.
God met him in the night before he faced Esau; it was a night of decision, the turning point of a soul, a 'make-or-break' situation. Unblessed, the night's struggle commenced; fully and consciously blessed it ended. Alone on the bank of the Jabbok a 'Man' wrestled with Jacob. Jacob had no choice; it was the 'Man' who initiated the combat. The scene was awesome; a man locked in the arms of God. God reduced Himself to Jacob's 'size' refusing any advantage. Up to now Jacob had never known defeat; so he wrestles on. Eventually, when his assailant found that Jacob would not yield, he lamed him for life. It is a serious thing to resist God who is intent to bless. The Lord had waited patiently these many years for Jacob to surrender his will but, in the event, that proud, stubborn will had to be broken. At last, all self-confidence, all self-sufficiency, is gone. 'A broken and a contrite heart, O Lord, You will not despise', Psa. 51. 17. Now Jacob clings to the 'Man', not only for support but also for His blessing. 'I will not let go unless you bless me!' This was what God had promised before he was born. The moment had arrived for which God had been overshadowing him down the years. Only when all natural strength was gone could God grant the fullness of blessing. 'What is your name?' 'Jacob'. His name hung like a millstone round his neck (cheat, fraud, supplanter, 'twister' - a 'worm'). Now, 'no more Jacob, but Israel . . . a man who has power with God and with men.' By capitulating he had prevailed - but so had the grace of God. Jacob would never walk the same again.
As the sun rose over the mountains of Gilead, Jacob limped into a new dawn; for him it was a new beginning. He had been crippled to be crowned. 'I have seen God face to face and my life is preserved'. No one who has truly seen God can live. If we have caught a glimpse of God (in the face of Jesus Christ) the old self dies and only the new nature lives for His glory. The new man, Israel, lived on earth as a stranger, Gen. 37. 1, for another half century. Divinely blessed he blesses others - Pharaoh; his sons and grandsons. 'The lesser is blessed of the greater', Heb. 7. 7. Eventually, when the time came for Jacob to leave this scene, he is seen leaning on his staff, a final reminder of the life-transforming experience at the Jabbok when he was lamed and needed a staff for support. Now totally dependent, he enters into the presence of the 'Angel' who wrestled with him, Hos. 12. 4. The grace of God had prevailed; at last, 'no more Jacob', only the God of Jacob, and so he enters eternity, worshipping, Heb. 11. 21.