In my personal experience, the treatment of Jacob as a Bible character has been, on the whole, negative. He is often presented as a person of dubious character with a hesitant and sporadic walk for God. Others, however, consider him as a mighty man of God a spiritual giant who reached heights that surpassed even those experienced by his son Joseph. This short series attempts to give a Biblically balanced account of Jacob, one where neither his strengths are overlooked nor his faults condoned. We begin with a general overview and introduction.
With half of the Bible's introductory book devoted to Jacob and his family (Gen 25 birth, to 50 death), and his position safe in the hall of faith (Heb 11.9,21), there is a wealth of Biblical truth concerning this patriarch. Furthermore, Scripture gives a clear timeline for his life and times: his birth (Gen 25.26); at the ages of 151 (25.7,8); 40 (26.34); 130 (47.9); 147 (47.28). On this basis (and employing an acrostic on his name) the following may be noted.
J: His Journey. Though he experienced many ups and downs, at the close of his life Jacob testified to the faithfulness and goodness of God (Gen 48.15). As he spoke of God feeding him throughout his life we learn of the near place that he occupied in his walk with God for we can only be fed from the position of nearness!
A: His Ancestry. Until his middle teens, he lived at home with his grandfather, the supreme man of faith (Heb 11.9). We can only imagine the nuggets of truth that Jacob received from the lap of his grandfather and perhaps the principle of walking by faith was at the forefront. The Scriptures teach the importance of relaying truth to others rather than it being a stagnant repository of Bible knowledge with no actual outlet (2 Tim 2.2). Alongside the physical family, the assembly should be the centre of teaching to nourish and educate the people of God.
C: His Conversion (ch.28) and his Consecration (ch.32).Aside from these experiences being fundamental for any believer, the blessing of the Christian pathway is to experience the touch of God in our lives. Too many believers are content to know eternal security but pursue mediocre lives with no real spiritual impetus or growth. This could not be said of Jacob.
O: His Offspring. Both as a measure of his stature and of God's sovereignty, Jacob gave rise to the nation (Israel) and its constituent tribes (Acts 7.8-9).
B: His Burial. It is evident that Jacob ended his journey well (Gen 48.14; 49.33; 50.5) unlike
Noah, another principal Bible character in Genesis. The best believers are those who keep going!
Though subsequent articles will explore the character of Jacob in greater detail, the following points are intended only as a summary. First, his appearance in Scripture is almost immediately followed by his description as being perfect (Gen 25.27 with "plain" being a translation of the same word used to describe as "perfect" another servant of Jehovah in Job 1.8). Therefore, not only does Scripture use a term to allow Jacob to rub shoulders with Job but it also conveys his spiritual maturity. Incidentally, his preference for dwelling in tents is presumably because his grandfather would be found there (Heb 11.9)! A believer's character is often displayed in the company he keeps. Second, there is little doubt that in terms of obtaining the birthright and blessing (Gen 25; 27) Jacob displayed the right desire (in seeking that which was of God) but used the wrong method acting for himself rather than waiting upon God! Nonetheless, the concluding years of his life portray a man who had learnt his lesson to allow God to work (Gen 48.15-16).
Third, whereas those who opposed Jacob spoke evil against him (Esau Gen 27.36; Laban's sons 31.1) the testimony of Scripture has the opportunity to cast him in more favourable light (Gen 32.28). Of paramount importance to the believer is the assessment of heaven. Fourth, in an age when travel was considerably more cumbersome (and time-consuming) Jacob is often portrayed as the busy worker who moved as he was bidden by God (Gen 31.3,13,17; 35.1,6; 46.3-4). It is always reassuring to know that we are in the path of God's pleasing (Gen 24.27).
Fifth, as we trace the pillars that Jacob erected during his sojourn (Gen 28.18; 31.45; 35.14; 35.20) we learn that he was a man who built for God, and successive generations would have witnessed his efforts long after his death. What sort of legacy are we leaving for others? Sixth, Jacob was evidently a man of compassion who was unafraid to show emotion (Hosea 12.3) and express his gratitude to God (Gen 28.22; 32.10; 33.5; 46.1). Finally, the last word of Scripture regarding Jacob is to stress his faith (Heb 11.21). We accomplish very little in our Christian pathway without implicit confidence in God and, for many, the experiences of life represent God's curriculum for strengthening the faith of His own.
In various aspects, Jacob can be used as an anticipation of the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, in Genesis 28.12 we observe theLord and the Ladderand we recall that there is now a more abiding and precious link between heaven and earth. Nathanael was privileged to learn that the Lord Himself would bridge the gap between heaven and earth (Jn 1.51). Furthermore, in Genesis 35.18 we learn something about theChild and the Christ. Though Rachel called her last son Ben-oni (Son of sorrows), Jacob renamed him Benjamin (Son of my right hand) and both titles are uniquely true of Christ (Is 53.3; Ps 110.1). Therefore, in the first book of the Bible we learn that God's first (and foremost) thoughts concern His Son.
The predominant lessons from the life of Jacob are helpful for Christian living. Initially consider the Hand from Heaven: the sovereign will of God was accomplished in Jacob's life despite his own efforts! He was ordained to be the channel of divine blessing (rather than Esau Gen 25.23; Rom 9.9-13). The choice was God's prerogative and with priority given to the second man (over firstborn Esau) we learn that God delights to do the unexpected in order to establish divine order (1 Cor 15.47). Next we consider theDespair from Deceit, for the misguided efforts of Rebekah and Jacob resulted in both mother and son being separated, and it would appear from Genesis 27 that they never saw one another again. As Sir Walter Scott remarks, "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive". The Fruits of Favouritism are also evident from the life of Jacob, for not only was his parents' home divided by preference (Gen 25.28), but his own household would later follow a similar pattern (Gen 29.30; 37.3). Though initially it appears odd that Jacob failed to learn from his parents, the believer will readily acknowledge that we often repeat the failures of others. Another practical lesson from the life of Jacob is to observe the Change from Conversion, for the worm (Is 41.14) became the worshipper (Heb 11.21)! Genuine believers will display a change in their walk and talk that can only be explained by the power of God (Rom 1.16). It is also encouraging to learn that there can beBlessings from Buffetings, for not only was Jacob blessed as a result of his trials but he became the channel to bless others (Gen 47.7; 48.3,15,20).
Finally, in our overview of Jacob we learn that he is given a special insight into the future, particularly regarding the nation that bears his name. For example, by him we understandIsrael's Inheritance: though they became a nation in Egypt for the most part under persecution (Ex 1.12) they were (and are) destined to return to their own land (Gen 48.21) to fulfil the covenant promises. Also, the promise of God in the book of Genesis is that a Divine Deliverer would come from the seed of the woman (Gen 3.15). This broad promise was narrowed to the tribe of Judah during the blessing of Jacob to his sons (Gen 49.8-12), and prior to the conclusion of the Old Testament we also learn the location of Messiah's birth (Mic 5.2). Without Jacob and his family the promises of God, and particularly the provision of Messiah would be impossible! The extent of Jacob's troubles also anticipate the Tribulation Times(Jer 30.7), which will be the nation's greatest trial to bring them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus as Messiah.
To be continued.
1 Abraham was 100 years of age when Isaac was born (Gen 21.5); 140 at Isaac's marriage (25.20); 160 at the birth of Isaac's two sons (25.26) therefore Jacob and Esau were 15 when Abraham died at 175 (25.7).