January 18, 2015
Scripture and Commentary, January 18-24
Gen 27:1-29, Mt. 12:1-22
Gen. 27:30-46, Rom. 16
Commentary, Genesis 27
Truly it is only by God’s grace that He continues to work with the descendants of Abraham, for their sin does nothing to earn His favour.
Isaac knows well the meaning of Gen. 25:23. He also probably knows that Esau has sold his “birthright” to Jacob for a “mess of pottage.” Yet he clearly wants Esau to become head of the clan. The blessing he plans in verse 4 is intended to officially appoint Esau heir and chief of the clan. Esau was a big man, bold, courageous, and a natural leader. Jacob was sneaky and a “Mamma’s boy.” Isaac probably thought Esau would be a better leader for the clan than Jacob. So, rather than trust God, and obey His clear word, Isaac moves to appoint Esau.
Rebekah hears Isaac’s plot, and immediately moves to secure the blessing for her favourite son, Jacob. Rather than trusting God to keep His promise, she sets out to accomplish Jacob’s appointment by deceit. Her concern is not for the will of God, of course. She merely wants Jacob to be head of the clan. It is possible that she earnestly believes Jacob will be a better leader than Esau. But even if her motive is to do the best for her people, her actions were wrong, and she did not trust God to keep His word.
Esau now wants the birthright he casually sold to his brother. His desire is for the position and power, of course, not the responsibility. He seems to have little consciousness, if any, that he is to be the leader of God’s “Church,” rather than a clan chieftain like those of the Canaanite tribes. The point is that the position is no longer his. It belongs to his brother through his own actions.
Jacob, though fearful (27:12) also schemes to secure the position through deceit. Instead of encouraging his mother to trust God, he joins her plot and steals the blessing.
A blessing obtained through deceit would normally be null and void. But Isaac, realising that God has anointed Jacob in spite of his attempt to anoint Esau, says the blessing and appointment stand. Esau does receive a mixed blessing (27:39-40). It includes good in the fatness of the earth and the dew of Heaven. But it also indicates that he will serve Jacob, and will live by the sword. They could have all lived together in peace and happiness if they had trusted God and obeyed His will.
Gen. 28, Mt. 13:22-58
Gen. 29:1-14, I Corinthians 1
Isaac also bids Jacob go to Laban. Esau’s choice of pagan wives grieves Isaac and Rebekah, and both want a suitable bride for the human leader of God’s people. His commission to go includes a more formal blessing by Jacob, recognising him as the leader of the clan, and God’s chosen vessel through whom the Covenant will continue. This is probably a public and very solemn ceremony.
Jacob leaves Beer sheba, near the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea. He travels north along the western shore of the Jordan through the area we know today as Israel. He probably crosses the Jordan north of the Sea of Galilee. There he turns northeast toward Haran, a town in Padan aram (modern Turkey) where Abraham’s father died, and where Laban still lives on the banks of a tributary of the Euphrates. It is a journey of about four hundred miles. While still in Canaan, Jacob is confronted by God in a dream which becomes a turning point in his life. He goes to sleep concerned with worldly wealth and power, wondering how he will be able to keep his position and avoid being murdered by Esau. He awakes concerned about his relationship to God and his role in God’s plan for His people. Yesterday he lived entirely for Jacob; today he lives partly for God. The dream reiterates God’s Covenant with Abraham and Isaac. But now Jacob realises he is the chosen recipient of grace through whom the Covenant continues.
These verses find Jacob safe in Haran and the employed by his uncle, Laban. Here Jacob meets the woman he loves and will marry, but only after much vexation and trickery by Laban.
Gen. 29:15-35, Mt. 13:1-31
Gen. 30:1-24, 1 Cor. 2
The trickery of Laban leads to terrible unhappiness for his daughters and Jacob. If Jacob divorces Leah, Laban will not allow Rachel to marry him. If he remains married to Leah he can not marry Rachel without committing the sin of polygyny, which will cast a pall over the rest of his life, and the lives of Leah and Rachel Leah somehow allows Laban to convince her to trick Jacob and marry a man who loves another woman. Rachel is forced to see her future husband married to her sister. Jacob is angry at Laban. His daughters probably are also. The chances for a happy and peaceful home are very slim.
In time, Jacob and Rachel enter into a troubled marriage. She is the favoured wife, but Leah conceives while Rachel is barren. Her sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, will become heads of the tribes of Israel. Levi’s descendants will become priests, Judah’s will become the largest tribe, through whom David, and Christ will come. Leah’s life was not as happy as we would wish, but, by God’s grace, her legacy is priceless.
More sin causes more disruption and disintegration of Jacob’s family. Rachel is unable to conceive a child. Though clearly favoured over Leah, she is envious of her sister and intent on becoming mother of the head of Abraham’s clan. If she cannot bear a child, she will have one through a surrogate, and she demands that Jacob marry Bilhah, her servant girl. If Bilhah bears a son, Rachel plans to claim him as her own. Poor Bilhah has no say in this matter. Her forced marriage adds more misery to a miserable situation.
Jacob is already miserable trying to please two fractious wives. A third will multiply, rather than nullify his problems. Without a Bible, as we have, he has very little knowledge of God, and seems to spend very little effort trying to understand and practice the knowledge he has. He seems to forget that his dream in Genesis 28 was to be the beginning of a new life with God. To Jacob it was the beginning of a time of testing God. He is still thinking he will worship God if God does certain things for him. So he willingly marries Bilhah, who conceives Dan and Naphtali. Leah, now jealous of and angry at Rachel, gives her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob as a fourth wife, and she bears Gad and Asher.
By now Jacob has ceased to bear any resemblance to a real husband. His wives lives center around their sons, and see Jacob’s only as a provider of life necessities and a sire for their children. After a confrontation (30:14-16), Leah and Rachel make arrangements for Jacob to be with Leah. She conceives a son, Issachar, and later, Zebulon. Finally, Rachel also conceives again, calling her son Joseph. These sons of Jacob will become heads of families in Israel.
Gen. 30:25- 43 , Mt.13:31-58
Gen. 31:1-22, 1 Cor. 3
Despite Laban’s duplicity toward his daughters, he does not want them to move four hundred miles away. Nor does he want to be deprived of the services of Jacob, who, by God’s blessing, has caused Laban’s flock and herds to prosper. He tells Jacob to name the pay it will take to keep him in Haran. The bargain is one Laban thinks will keep Jacob poor. Sheep with dark spots, and sheep that are all brown will belong to Jacob. Goats that are white, or have white spots on them will also belong to Jacob. Such markings and colours were rare. Jacob is intentionally choosing the least likely colours to be his payment for continued employment to Laban. Laban readily agrees, removing all of Jacobs animals from the herd and sending them a three-day journey’s distance from his own (30:35-36) to ensure that the two herds do not interbreed and produce more of Jacob’s coloured animals.
The rods of verse 37, are placed in the water channels (gutters) where Laban’s animals drink. Jacob probably consideres them magical charms to make Laban’s animals produce offspring that will belong to Jacob. The charms do not work, but the Providence of God does, and Jacob finds himself growing very wealthy while his father in law’s wealth declines.
Laban has always been a cheater, but, seeing his own wealth decline while Jacob’s soars makes his attitude toward Jacob decline also. Jacob is warned by God to leave Padam aram and return to his home in Canaan. Fearing Laban, Jacob sneaks away undetected. Leah and Rachel, still angry at their father, agree to go with him (31:14-15).
Laban, probably accompanied by his sons and a small mounted army pursues them. Easily overtaking the slow caravan of families and flocks, the angry Laban catches Jacob in three days on the northern edge of a rugged mountain range called Gilead. Jacob has opted to traverse the eastern side of the Jordan, possibly planning to go around the Dead Sea, then go north west to Beer sheba. He is probably camped on the plateau beside the rugged Gilead range, about 30 miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, when Laban overtakes him.
Gen. 31:24-55, Mt. 14
Gen. 32:1-23, 1 Cor. 4
Being warned that God is with Jacob, Laban feigns anger over idols, stolen by Rachel. She hides them by placing them under a blanket and lying about her period, at which the men leave her tent. Reminded of his past sins against Jacob, Laban makes a treaty of peace and returns to Haran in Padam aram.
Now Jacob must face the brother he cheated. Having been repeatedly cheated by Laban, he now understands what he has done to his brother. He fears Esau’s wrath, who comes at him with four hundred armed men. Greatly afraid, Jacob finally turns to God. This is another turning point in Jacob’s life. He will be more God-centered now. He is beginning to see that he is not the center around whom God revolves. He is a piece on God’s chessboard. He plays a part in God’s plan of Redemption, but the plan is not just about Jacob.
Gen. 32:24- 32 , Mt. 15:1-20
Gen. 33 , 1 Cor. 5
Jacob moves about thirty miles south and camps on the north side of the Jabbok River. There he divides his camp, and sends gifts of flocks and herds to his brother. Sending all ahead of him, he crosses the Jabbok alone and afraid. Now God moves decisively to confirm Jacob’s tiny and uninformed faith. Somehow, God appears to Jacob in the form of a man who picks a fight with Jacob. The two wrestle, a desperate, hand-to-hand fight for Jacob. It is almost symbolic of the way Jacob has wrestled with God in the past, when Jacob fought to resist the will of God. “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” are not words of faith. They express Jacob’s desire for safety from his brother.
Jacob’s encounter with God is the most significant event in his life to this point. It is not a lesson in prayer, or getting things from God, as it is usually presented in well-intentioned sermons and books. It is God beating a little spiritual sense into Jacob. Dr. W. H. Griffith-Thomas clearly declares what God is doing:
“The wrestling was an endeavour on God’s part to break down Jacob’s opposition, to bring him to an end of himself, to take from him all self-trust, all confidence in his own cleverness and resource, to make him know that Esau is to be overcome and Canaan obtained not by craft or flattery, but by Divine grace and power.”
“The self life in Jacob is to be overcome, the old nature is to be conquered, the planning is to be rendered futile, and the resourcefulness made impotent. Instead of gaining Canaan by cleverness he must receive it as a gift from God. Instead of winning it, he must accept it from Divine grace.”
“From this time onward there was a very distinct change in Jacob; and although the old nature was still there, Peniel had effect and exercised transforming influence.” (W.H. Griffith-Thomas, Genesis, A Devotional Commentary, pp. 302-306).
Instead of waging war and death, Esau welcomes his brother, and the two appear to become friends. Esau has become rich and powerful, as shown by his ability to put four hundred armed men into action. He does not accept Jacobs gifts. Instead he journeys south to Seir. Jacob crosses the Jordan near Succoth and settles outside of the town of Shechem, about 25 miles north of present day Jerusalem. Rather than returning to his father’s house, according to his vow at Bethel (Gen 28:21) Jacob buys a field and settles among the pagans. He piously names his house, Elelohe Israel, “God, to God of Israel,” but this does not dismiss the sin of breaking his vow to God. As with his ancestor, Lot, Jacob’s identification with unbelievers has dire consequences. As Dr. Griffith-Thomas says again, “the results, as we shall see, were disastrous, as they always are when people try to blend worldliness and godliness, Society and Christ, Mammon and God. The world always wins; religion always recedes.”
Gen. 34, Mt. 15:20-39
Gen. 35, 1 Cor. 6
Dinah acted foolishly. Rather than being content to stay with the people of God, she sought adventure and friendship among the pagan people. The result is trouble. Shechem, a Canaanite, loved her, and she fornicated with him. Among the self-indulgent Canaanites such things were permitted and encouraged as good and moral behaviour. God does no regard it so; not then, not now.
The Canaanite agreement to circumcision is neither offered nor accepted on religious terms. It is a social contract that the sons of Jacob pretend to offer. Many today offer social programs as reasons to join the Church. Music, entertainment, good clean fun are offered in place of Christ and the Bible. And many flock to such gathering without ever hearing of the Saviour and the Light and Life He offers.
The sons of Jacob have no intention of bringing the Canaanites into the “Church” for any reason. Their actions are for the purpose of revenge. Even God’s justice is far from their minds. Even the motives of the unbelievers are more just and good than those of the elect in this matter.
The murder of the Canaanites brings fear on the house of Jacob. Just as his own sin brought his family into temptation and trouble, now their sin brings consequences into his life. “No man is an island, entire unto himself.” Our actions have consequences for ourselves and others, especially our families.
In truth there was no good way out of the situation caused by Dinah. Marrying an unbeliever would have been against what God would have wanted for her. Yet it would be the “right thing to do.” Once the deed is done it cannot be undone or made right. Only the grace of God can give the balm of forgiveness and give a happy home.
At last Jacob comes to Bethel, the house of God. At last he begins to walk more fully with God. So many decades have passed. So many sins have delayed this event, and wreaked havoc on the lives of the people of Israel. How much misery would have been spared them if all had only trusted and obeyed God. The years of wrestling with God have taken their toll. Yet, in grace, God renews the Covenant. His purpose has not been averted. The people through whom He will give the Old Testament and the Saviour are damaged but intact.
Rachel dies in childbirth, and the sadness of the human condition presses itself upon Israel. Her son is named Benjamin, and now the progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel are complete.