JACOB BECOMES ABRAHAM'S HEIR.
GEN. 28:10-22.--SEPT. 8.
"Surely the Lord is in this place."
ALTHOUGH Abraham had two sons, one of them, Isaac, was made the heir of the most of his possessions, and exclusively his heir as respected the divine covenants and promises. Similarly, Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob, who were twins; but the former, being born a few moments in advance of the latter, was, according to the laws of primogeniture, his father's heir. So far as we know he did inherit his father's estate, flocks, herds, etc. The divine promise to Abraham was evidently highly appreciated, not only by himself and Isaac, but also by Isaac's sons; but Esau, being less religiously inclined than his brother, set more store by his inheritance of his father's possessions than in his rights as the first-born to the divine covenants and mercies pertaining to the future. Jacob, on the contrary, had an opposite estimate of values. He was quite willing that his brother should have every earthly advantage, but he coveted the special blessing of God, promised [R2863 : page 267] to his grandfather Abraham, and renewedly covenanted to his father Isaac.
Severe have been the criticisms which have been levelled against poor Jacob because of his coveting earnestly the best gifts, which his brother despised. (1 Cor. 12:31.) He is freely described as a thief who stole his brother's birthright, who took advantage of his extremities, etc., and some even go so far as to suggest that his after tribulations were in the nature of divine judgments upon him on account of this transaction by which he became the legal owner of the divine blessing. To us it seems evident that there is a general misunderstanding of this transaction; for we note the fact that Jacob received no reproof from the Lord in respect to this matter, and that none of his experiences and disappointments, while working for his uncle Laban, are even hinted to have been punishments for a wrong done to his brother Esau. On the contrary, the Scriptures uphold Jacob in every particular; not only the Old Testament records, but also the New Testament records of the transaction complimenting him upon his appreciation of the divine promise, and his willingness to sacrifice every earthly interest in order to secure it. As the course of Esau is held up to reprobation, the course of Jacob is in the same proportion held up for our appreciation and approval--the general feature of his course, if not every particular item therein.
The correct view of the situation, as we gather it from the divine record, is this: Esau loved his earthly interests chiefly; Jacob regretted that he was the second-born, not so much because it would hinder him from being the principal heir of his father's property, but chiefly because it would cut him off from being the channel of divine favor in respect to the future blessings which God had promised in his covenant with Abraham. He well knew that his brother Esau was irreligious and estimated his inheritance of the Abrahamic covenant very lightly. Hence it was, that one day when his brother returned from hunting, weary and hungry, and was attracted by some soup which Jacob had prepared, that he was willing to exchange anything he possessed for the satisfaction of his appetite--possibly, too, he may not have been too honest--he may have thought to sell the birthright for the soup, and to ignore the bargain subsequently. Indeed, this was the very course he pursued.
Esau's chagrin and tears later on, when he found that the birthright had really passed to Jacob, do not necessarily mean that he appreciated the heavenly blessing; but, rather, that he understood that he had disposed of all his rank and inheritance as respected his father's estate. Jacob, on the contrary, cared little or nothing for that part of the inheritance; his ambition being centered wholly upon the divine blessing and covenant. He was, therefore, quite willing to flee from his father's house, leaving all the earthly inheritance to his brother Esau, although it properly belonged to him according to the bargain. He counted earthly advantage but as loss and dross that he might gain the divine blessing. Even when, years later, he returned to the vicinity of his father's home, so far from making a demand upon Esau for the temporal things which he had bought from him, Jacob entirely ignored that part of the transaction, and took from Esau not one solitary thing that the latter really valued. Instead of demanding the pound of flesh, according to the contract of purchase, he sent his brother a peace offering, a present of sheep, etc.
Indeed, the entire course of Jacob, rightly understood, seems to us to have been a most noble one. The unhappy part of the bargain was the deceiving of Isaac--Jacob's personating his brother Esau. We are to remember, however, that Jacob having bought all of Esau's rights, had become legally his representative, with full authority to take such steps as might be necessary to secure for himself justice;--to secure that which he had contracted for and paid for. In what manner Jacob could have done better to secure to himself that which the Lord's Word concedes he had legitimately purchased, might be open for discussion. But one item connected with it is not open for discussion; that the Lord did not reprove Jacob's earnest coveting of the heavenly promise-- which led him, first of all, to the self-denial of giving up his own dinner for its procurement; and, secondly, his willingness to desert all of his earthly interests in his father's house, and to become a pilgrim and a stranger in the world, forsaking all things for this divine promise.
God attested his appreciation of such a character by specially appearing to Jacob that very night, and granting him a vision, in which he talked to him and confirmed to him the original promise made to Abraham and renewed to Isaac, saying, "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land whereon thou liest to thee will I give it and to thy seed;...and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Any man who receives such unqualified divine approval and blessing we shall most surely refuse to call a thief, or any other evil name. On the contrary we shall hold him in high esteem, and shall commend to all of the spiritual seed of Israel to-day that they emulate the spirit of Jacob, and not the spirit of Esau--that they be ready at all times to exchange the pottage of earthly advantage, and to become pilgrims and strangers; outcasts from home and property, and from all earthly things, for the sake of being inheritors of the same heavenly promises --joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord.
Indeed, only to this class will the divine blessings come. Our earthly neighbors and friends may speak slightingly of us,--may charge us with ambitious designs, when they learn that we are seeking a heavenly Kingdom and joint-heirship with our Lord. They may charge that this is selfishness on our part. But the Lord makes no such charges. He tells us that he is pleased to see us so appreciative of the heavenly promises that we will be ready and glad to give up to others, to yield our earthly rights in any and every particular, if by any means we may win Christ and be found in him, and be sharers in his Kingdom.
To the worldly mind Jacob did a very foolish thing. He should not have thought of the Abrahamic promise as being anything of special value. He should [R2864 : page 268] rather have sought out for himself the smoothest and easiest way through life, conciliating his brother Esau, etc. He was foolish to leave a home of wealth and many servants and flocks and herds to go out, a stranger in the world, to earn his own living, to begin at the bottom of the ladder. Quite possibly he felt a little of this sentiment himself, as he fixed a stone for his pillow and lay down on the ground to sleep on the first night of his flight. No doubt, he wondered whether or not he were pursuing a wrong course; whether or not the heavenly promise which he had so much appreciated would ever yield adequate returns. But the vision of the ladder reaching from his head up to heaven itself, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, and God at the other end speaking to him and encouraging him, and declaring to him that he recognized him as the heir of the Abrahamic promise, must have fully satisfied the mind of Jacob, and have made him thankful and appreciative of all the steps by which divine providence had thus far led his appreciative and faithful heart. The angels he might possibly understand to mean divine providences--divine care and supervision respecting himself and all his interests and affairs, while the rungs of the ladder would represent the various steps of the divine plan already known to God, by which the promise he had would reach fulfilment.
When he awakened, Jacob was not filled with self-conceit, nor did he say to himself, Evidently I am greater than either father Abraham or father Isaac, for I have never heard that God ever so appeared to them. Rather, he was filled with a spirit of reverence and of awe; and he said, This is a holy place; God is here. I will set up a large stone here as a monument, as a reminder of God's blessing. I may come back this way at some future time, and this stone will remind me, not only then, but afterward, of the great favor which I received of the Lord, in that he was willing to manifest himself to me, and to declare me the heir of his promises. Quite a good many of the Lord's people seem rather to lack the spirit of fear, of reverence, as respects the Almighty. We are not to forget the Apostle's words, that "Perfect love casteth out fear," but neither are we to forget the other Scripture which declares that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Whoever has not first received the spirit of reverence, cannot properly receive the spirit of love; and the love will never cast out the reverence, but rather increase it, casting out only the element of terror, of fright.
The Lord's words to Jacob in the vision, "I am with thee, and will keep thee, whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land," became a strength and assurance, a ballast, as it were, in Jacob's life and experiences; his faith grasped the situation, and he felt strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, in the word of his promise. He was ready now for any and all the experiences which might come to him, knowing that according to this promise all things would work out for his good. And so it is with the Lord's people of this Gospel age-- spiritual Israel--the Church, the body of Christ. When we have believed God, and have trusted in his promises to the extent of forsaking all to inherit their blessing, it signifies our full consecration, our self-sacrifice in the divine service. Then it is that God speaks to us through his Word, and gives unto us exceeding great and precious promises, which affect, not only the interests of the life that now is, but also of that which is to come. Then it is that we are strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, and that we are able to grasp the situation-- that if God be for us the efforts of all who might be against us will prove futile. True, the promises which come to us are not exactly the same as those which were given to Jacob--they are better, grander, higher, than his--heavenly, instead of earthly; and correspondingly we have reason to rejoice, be strong in the Lord and go on our way rejoicing, even more than did Jacob.
Then Jacob made a vow unto the Lord--a promise, a solemn agreement: the basis of this agreement was the Lord's promise we have just quoted, that he should be brought back in safety, and that the Lord would be with him and bless him with the best experiences during his absence. Jacob's vow was based upon the divine proposition above mentioned --that if God would do this for him he would surely be his servant, and that forever. Not only would he worship and reverence him and obey him, as best he could understand his will and do it, but additionally he would honor him with whatever substance he would give him, to the extent of one-tenth.
So it is with the spiritual Israelite; when accepted of the Lord through Jesus, and assured of divine favor and blessing upon his pathway, he says to himself, in the language of the Psalmist, "What shall I render unto the Lord my God for all his benefits toward me?" What can I do in return? No true, noble mind can willingly receive many and continued blessings without desiring and seeking methods of acknowledgement of these mercies--without desiring to make some return in worship, in praise, in gratitude, in obedience.
To us also comes the desire to honor the Lord with our substance. And here the degree of our love and appreciation are further manifested. Oberlin, the poor French minister, reading of the Jewish tithes, said to himself: "Well, I am sure that I, as a Christian, have three times as many blessings as the Jews had. If it was right for a Jew to give one-tenth of his property to God, surely I ought to give at least three times as much as that." Another minister has said, "The man who calls himself a Christian, and gives less than one-tenth of his income to the Lord, is meaner than Jacob, and has a lower standard than the king of Sodom, who was ready to give more than that to God's representative."
The standard of giving is one which has apparently perplexed the Lord's people for a long time. Our suggestion is that the divine favor bestowed upon the enlightened Christian calls not only for one-tenth or three-tenths of his property, but, on the contrary, calls for his all. To our understanding he who gives himself to the Lord in consecration gives not only his every mental talent and every physical power, but also gives every dollar that he possesses--yea, most valuable of all, he lays his life at the Master's feet, in harmony with the Apostle's words, "I beseech you, [R2864 : page 269] brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies living sacrifices, holy, acceptable to God, and your reasonable service." These sacrifices are earthly, and when offered and accepted the newly begotten mind or will is counted as a "new creature;" and at once this "new creature" becomes the steward, the caretaker, of the earthly nature and its affairs;--all that was devoted or sacrificed. Thenceforth it is the business of the "new creature" in Christ to use up in the divine service, as wisely, economically, and yet rapidly, as possible, all the earthly things, interests, hopes, ambitions, etc., that were originally presented to the Lord as a sacrifice. This complete sacrifice, this giving of our all to the Lord, is the Christian standard, and nothing short of this warrants us in considering ourselves footstep followers of our Lord Jesus Christ and his faithful apostles. Surely they gave all that they had. Surely we also must give up our little all if we would be joint-sacrificers and joint-heirs with the King of glory!