Introduction: We marveled at the level of conflict in God’s people as we saw Joseph’s betrayal into slavery at the hands of his brothers in our VBS on the life of Joseph. We were moved by the compassion of Joseph for his brothers and cheered as we saw their hearts broken for what they had done to their brother. We rejoiced to see Joseph’s father Jacob reunited with his princely son and saved from famine under Joseph’s care in Egypt. But it is far too easy to treat this story as merely one of human interest and family dynamics. Indeed, everyone loves a ‘rags to riches’ story such as Joseph’s. But Joseph’s life speaks of dangers far greater than any human wisdom could ever fix. Not even the Prince of Egypt could change the heart problems of his dysfunctional family. God steps in repeatedly to redeem this covenant family from its insoluble problem of long-term sin. Therefore, to appreciate the sheer scale of God’s redeeming work to save Jacob’s family, we return to earlier days in Jacob’s life for several weeks of Bible notes.
Monday: read Genesis 27:41-28:5: Here we begin the sojourn in which Jacob goes out into the wide world to seek his own way. But we focus especially (thanks to God’s grace) on his being found by God at his lowest point. And what a low point this is for Rebekah and Isaac’s youngest. Having schemed with his mother to steal his birthright in Genesis 27, Jacob has stolen the inheritance that Isaac planned to give to his favored son Esau. Now his brother’s murderous hatred means that Jacob must heed the heart-breaking advice of his mother in Genesis 27:42-44 to flee for his life before Esau kills him.
Isaac then sends his son Jacob off with a poignant benediction and prayer in Genesis 28:1-4. Notice this benediction, in which the all-sufficient power of God’s name ‘El Shaddai’ is invoked. No matter where Jacob wandered, Isaac believed that God would provide all Jacob would need. In this way, Isaac passed on the blessing upon Jacob about “things to come.” This is why the book of Hebrews commends him in Hebrews 11:20!
Meditate and Pray: Let us give thanks for the reality of the ‘communion of saints’ which Isaac and Rebekah were able to share with their believing son Jacob. Though separated by many miles, their hearts were joined by the saving and providing presence of “God Almighty.” They knew that God would lead their son in His ways, despite many falls and trials. Sing about this communion which all believers through the ages share – using a Scottish hymn by Thomas Hornblower Gill:
We come unto our fathers’ God,
Their rock is our salvation;
Th’eternal arms, their dear abode,
We make our habitation.
We bring Thee, Lord, the praise they brought,
We seek Thee as Thy saints have sought
In every generation.
The fire divine their steps that led
Still goeth bright before us;
The heavenly shield around them spread
Is still high holden o’er us;
The grace those sinners that subdued,
The strength those weaklings that renewed,
Doth vanquish, doth restore us.
The cleaving sins that brought them low
Are still our souls oppressing.
The tears that from their eyes did flow
Fall fast, our shame confessing;
As with Thee, Lord, prevailed their cry,
So our strong prayer ascends on high
And bringeth down Thy blessing.
Their joy unto their Lord we bring,
Their song to us descendeth;
The Spirit who in them did sing
To us His music lendeth;
His song in them, in us, is one;
We raise it high, we send it on—
The song that never endeth.
Ye saints to come, take up the strain,
The same sweet theme endeavor;
Unbroken be the golden chain!
Keep on the song forever!
Safe in the same dear dwelling place,
Rich with the same eternal grace,
Bless the same boundless giver.
Tues/Weds: read Genesis 28:10-17 and Genesis 11:1-9. Babylon is an ancient, great city which throughout the Bible symbolizes the world in all its power and unbelief. Its name has several connotations in the Old Testament. For example, according to Old Testament scholars, this city was originally named by Nimrod who built it (Genesis 10:9-10) and who called it in Aramaic, ‘Bab-ili’ or ‘Gate of God.’ But God overruled this kingdom in its pride by re-naming it ‘Babel,’ which sounds very similar to the Hebrew for ‘confusion and vanity’ in Genesis 11:9. Thus God destroyed man’s arrogant attempt in Genesis 11:1-9 to build a tower to the skies, and to claim that they could storm the gate of Heaven and recreate God in their own image! By the way, we see some of these attempts to build such monuments to human achievement in the ancient ziggurats which are found in modern day Iraq and Syria.
But look at how God makes a name for Himself in Jacob’s life! He reveals Himself to this poor, weak, guilty refugee fleeing from his brother – at his lowest point, with only a rock for a pillow! We can be sure that Jacob never thought to meet with the high, exalted God as he slept in the open. He is therefore astonished to find out that his humble stopping place in the desert is actually the very “gate of Heaven” in Genesis 28:16-17! Thus God counters man’s arrogant efforts to “climb up to Heaven” by his own good works in Genesis 11 by condescending in grace to this elect sinner Jacob in chapter 28! Thus in all the Bible, the ‘house of God’ (‘Bethel’) becomes associated with God’s “coming down” to sinners. It is where sinners gather, confessing together their utter need and praising God for His amazing grace – this becomes the very gate of Heaven – the place where we can approach God boldly through Jesus Christ – to find “help in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)!
Meditate and Pray: Sing this hymn by Horatius Bonar as a fit expression of the place where we find the ‘gate of heaven’ – at the very Cross of Jesus Christ:
1 By the cross of Jesus standing,
Love our straitened souls expanding,
Taste we now the peace and grace!
Health from yonder tree is flowing,
Heav’nly light is on it glowing,
From the blessed Sufferer’s face.
2 Here the holy, happy greeting,
Here the calm and joyful meeting,
God with man in glad accord;
Love that cross to us is telling,
Darkness, doubt and fear dispelling—
Love in Jesus Christ our Lord.
3 Here is pardon’s pledge and token,
Guilt’s strong chain forever broken,
Righteous peace securely made;
Brightens now the brow once shaded,
Freshens now the face once faded,
Peace with God now makes us glad.
4 All the love of God is yonder,
Love above all thought and wonder,
Perfect love that casts out fear!
Strength, like dew, is here distilling,
Glorious life our souls is filling,
Life eternal, only here!
5 Here the living water welleth;
Here the Rock, now smitten, telleth
Of salvation freely giv’n:
This the fount of love and pity,
This the pathway to the city,
This the very gate of Heav’n!
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun: read Genesis 28:17-29:20 and 31:1-21. It is moving to see Jacob weeping when he finds his mother’s relatives and falls in love with the beautiful daughter of his uncle Laban, Rachel. Laban also seems full of love for his nephew, declaring in Genesis 29:14 that Jacob is “bones of his bones and flesh of his flesh.”
Alas, such family affection is short-lived. Eventually, Laban’s own sons become intensely jealous of the Lord’s blessing on the life of their cousin Jacob (Genesis 31:1-2), and Laban himself abuses Jacob as a hired hand for years! In fact, Laban only begrudgingly pays out wages to Jacob – and only when reminded after seven years that they had an agreement (Genesis 29:21)! Then, of course, we remember the way Laban tricked Jacob into marrying Leah first – an infamous example of deceit! In sum, the years of Jacob’s sojourn in the land of his mother’s family are full of disappointment and grief! Things are so bad that even Jacob’s wives agree that their father Laban has never treated either Jacob or them according to what is right or honest (Genesis 31:14-16). They then all agree together to flee from Laban in disgust and fear of what this wicked man will do next!
Well then, the million-dollar question is this: How will the family of Jacob (the people of God who possess God’s covenant of grace and His promises – even as Isaac prophesied that such promised blessing would be theirs in Genesis 28:3-4) … how will they ever survive such a dog-eat-dog world of disappointment, heartbreak and ungodly alliances? I mean, Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob to Laban to find a godly wife… and yet we are shocked to see such a fractured, rag-tag group leave Laban under cover of night in Genesis 31:17-55! Jacob’s full 20 years of labor to produce this family seem to be such a failure in the world’s eyes – and even in our estimation!
So, how are we to make anything good out of this story? How are we to view this dysfunctional group as the covenant people of God? How does God get glory through two wives who compete for Jacob’s affections and whose children are so jealous of each other? Why, the seeds of the terrible crimes of passion and jealousy that we will see in Genesis 37 are already planted as they flee in Genesis 31:21!
But here is the good news. God carries this rag-tag bunch out of the dangerous clutches of Laban, because He is committed to be their God, as wayward as they are! God does this through the offices of One who specializes in such rescue! Though Jacob and his family do not deserve to be rescued – there is One willing to pay whatever price necessary to ransom them from trouble! Who is this? Why, it is the ‘Angel of the Lord’ who appears to Jacob in Genesis 31:11-13, enabling Jacob to recoup all that Laban stole from him, as well as inviting Israel anew to live again in the Promised Land – since the time had now come to return to there to meet with God at Bethel!
This ‘Angel’ is the very God who would meet Jacob at Bethel! But there’s more! This Divine Messenger would also expend the saving power ‘in the form of a man’ in order to bless Jacob as they wrestle together in Genesis 32:22-32! This is God, ‘come down’ to redeem Jacob from all evil – along with His family! And it is this Divine Redeemer who eventually becomes the source of all blessing which Jacob passes down by faith to Joseph’s sons in Genesis 48:15-16!
Meditate and Pray: We cannot do better than to sum up this stage of Jacob’s life, when the Angel of God redeemed him from the house of Laban, than by singing Charles Wesley’ great hymn about the ‘Angel of the Lord,’ as follows:
- Come, O thou Traveler unknown,
whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
and I am left alone with thee.
With thee all night I mean to stay,
and wrestle till the break of day.
2. I need not tell thee who I am,
my misery and sin declare;
thyself hast called me by my name,
look on thy hands and read it there.
But who, I ask thee, who art thou?
Tell me thy name, and tell me now.
- Yield to me now, for I am weak,
but confident in self despair!
Speak to my heart, in blessing speak,
be conquered by my instant prayer.
Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
and tell me if thy name is Love.
4. ‘Tis Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me,
I hear thy whisper in my heart.
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
pure, Universal Love thou art.
To me, to all, thy mercies move;
thy nature and thy name is Love.
Let us close this week’s Bible notes with prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that in the Old Testament afflictions and trials of your people – even at their lowest and most sinful – you were committed already to be their Redeemer. Thank you that in all their afflictions, you were afflicted. Please look down upon your scattered flock this night, and guard each of their steps, even in their wanderings, until you gently shepherd them back to yourself. In Your Mighty Name We Pray. Amen.