The Covenant is God’s Will for Man

THE COVENANT WITH JACOB: IV

Jacob became a living example of how limited man’s perception of “God’s Presence” appears in the midst of human crisis and in the midst human predicaments. Centuries later, Jesus did tell his disciples that they had “little faith” as to what God had made available to them in resolving obstacles and what God could do with men of “little faith”:

Then disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast out it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:19-21).

On another occasion, the disciples asked, “Increase our faith!” And Jesus said to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:5-6). At the onset of World War II, my mother and we, three boys, were huddled together in a neighbor’s place preparing to die. We had lost all hope, but my mother believed that no harm would come to us. That late afternoon before we had gathered, I saw two planes dropping bombs on our county seat city. And that night God sent the Red Army to set us free. God has made a promise, that if but a few trust Him, He will take the “little faith” we have and turn it into monumental blessings. Jacob stuttered in his faith and God used him to build a nation. God did the same with failing Peter to build His Church. Think of what God can do with our “little faith?”

Jacob kept on sending humiliating messages and gifts to Esau without replies. Esau was not a man who played with words and messages. He was a man of action and he decided to meet his brother face to face with four hundred fighting men. What would we do if we were in Jacob’s shoes? Well, I have been there a few times, and I cried and prayed as never before. God answered my prayers according to what was best for me. During World War II, a bomber crew had to bail out on the Pacific and spent seven days in a raft before they landed on a Malayan island. On the sixth day their water supply ran out and they did pray as never before. One of the crew shared his experience with a reporter, “I thought I was a Christian before I entered the Army. Now I know I am. One thing experience has taught me is this: there is no place on a rubber raft in the Pacific for an atheist” (Wal. 69). When Jacob of old feared that his life was at an end, he, too, prayed as never before. To Jacob’s descendants, this prayer made their ancestor into a hero, but in his drenching struggle to live, Jacob experienced something similar to what Jesus experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus’ sweat turned into drops of blood during His prayer (Luke 22:39-44). After Jacob had sent his people and his livestock, including his loved ones across the river, Jacob alone stayed back. Jacob did not yield, as a stranger tried to subdue him. His contest with the stranger is recorded in Genesis:

And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hallow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ And he asked, ‘What is your name?’ And he answered, ‘Jacob.’ Then he` said, ‘Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed. Then Jacob asked him, ‘Tell me, I pray, your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. And Jacob called the name of the place, Peniel, saying, for I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved. The sun rose upon him as he passed Peniel, limping because of his thigh (Genesis 32:24-32).  

I regard this incident in Jacob’s life as one of the most important meeting each one of us humans must have with our Maker. It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul aptly described to the Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in it.” For Jacob to be of any use in the building of a nation, he had to be recreated by being stripped of his aggressive and volatile nature, and endowed with a fearless humility to face reality unafraid of the cost or challenge that life offered. Jacob’s physical strength to rule his life was taken from him and in its place he was blessed with courage and humility to face his brother. This was the most important experience in my life. My physical appearance and my strength were in my way to serve God and mankind. It was when my dependence on myself was taken from me that I became a useful servant in this world. I was too preoccupied with myself to be of any use to others. Even after I was physically disabled, I continued being concerned with my well being. This leads me to a second valuable lesson Jacob experienced.

In Jacob’s life, the stranger was a manifestation of “God’s everlasting Presence.” Jacob had the idea that God was present in Bethel and Peniel, and in his descendants who moved to Jerusalem. But God was not in those places because He was with Jacob and He was looking after him. God did promise to Abraham that He would bless his seed into eternity, provided that Abraham’s seed would accept God’s “Covenant” with the stipulations. That night, Jacob held on for the blessings of God and not only for what he had wanted in the past, which was mostly material prosperity. This time, Jacob was ready to give up everything to Esau, which even included his family, for just hanging on to God. Therefore, God took on the “appearance of a man,” in order to teach Jacob that he could hold on to God and to man when he did what was right. God always was on hand for Jacob; however, Jacob did not know it. Jacob asked for a name, but God has no name because God is Spirit. And God wants to live in man and not in some place like a town or a temple (John 4:24). And as Jacob wrestled with the “appearance of a man” — it was not just Jacob hanging on to the man, but also the “appearance of a man” hung on to Jacob. God did not give up on Jacob. It took twenty years to bring Jacob around. This is interesting to me because it took twenty-one years to make me realize that my pursuit of happiness was leading me nowhere. During all this time, God kept me from falling into Satan’s false promises. Thanks to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior for revealing to us the truth, that God and Christ can live in us and not just in heaven, but here on earth, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and the Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 13:23). Jesus’ personal “Covenant is, ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the ages” (Matthew 28:20). “To the end of the ages,” includes all who daily live out Jesus’ words and Jesus’ teaching.

Jacob experienced a third truth and that was that he worried over nothing. He believed himself into a frenzy of fear. One wonders whether Jacob considered the consequences before he tried to cheat Esau and Laban. It appears that he did not consider what fear could do to his life and to his family. Fear is not a bad thing when one has no reason to fear. Jacob, however, created the reasons to fear by the things he did and in the way he grew rich. Like Jacob, most of us do not think in terms of “cause and effect.” We give little thought to what we do might not result in favorable returns. Regrets do not resolve broken relationships or broken promises. And this lesson did not emanate from Jacob, but from his brother whom he had cheated and hurt. It was Esau who had forgiven his brother for what he had done to him. And all this time, Jacob lived in fear what his brother might do to him. The amazing thing is that Esau, who was not regarded as a godly person; yet, Esau acted godlier and than Jacob did. Jacob could have spared his miseries by simply asking Esau to forgive him. Most likely, as it is the case with all of us, Jacob was afraid to ask. I have heard it said many times that the hardest thing for us, who are guilty, is to ask for forgiveness. The reunion between Esau and Jacob removed all fear and Esau showed no resentment to his brother and Jacob had sense enough not to dwell on a tradition where the father decided who was to supervise his household. In this case, it was Esau without his father’s blessings who managed his father’s nomadic holdings and Jacob had built his own in Haran. Jacob got nothing from his father Isaac. It was Isaac who inherited all the inheritance. Neither of the brothers owned the land; hence, it did not matter to Esau where he moved his livestock, and he let Jacob have the burial place of their father and grandfather. And at that time, that was all the land the Hebrew people possessed (Genesis 23).

Worry is a real enemy or a real friend we all face far too often. It is regarded as one of the necessary, both evil and good in our lives. It is bad when it saps us of our energy, but it is good when we need to be concerned about the wellbeing of others and of ourselves. The increase and reliance on psychiatrists and psychologists are living proof of worrying state of minds. The Cabbage Patch of Mrs. Wiggs’ solution is sitting on a bomb, “I have made it a practice to put all my worries in the bottom of my heart and sit on the lid and smile” (Wal. 2191). Someone else said, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it comes due” (Wal. 2322). The Swedes have a proverb, “Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow” (Proch. p. 22). Worries are not a joke. Think of yourself being in an airplane, when suddenly the motors stop and the passengers panic, but the pilot appeared with a parachute strapped to his back, saying, “Don’t worry, I am going for help” (Mur. 196). Worries cannot be dismissed; they must be dealt with. We must stop treating our worries as detriments, but rather, we must treat our worries as a gift of God to warn us that things are not right with us and that we must correct things. The longer we sit on worries the more difficult they become to deal with and we become bombs ourselves. Worries about food and clothing are minor in comparison to what is right and what is wrong. We ought to worry a lot over what we do that will determine how we are judged by our fellow men, and how the Eternal Judge will evaluate what we have done here on earth. We ought to worry over our souls that do not produce fruit acceptable by Christ and our heavenly Father. Jesus issued this warning, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Christ has not exempt us from doing what is right. I do worry over the baggage that I carry as a Christian. Before Jacob became Israel, he had to straighten things out with Esau and with Laban.

There was a fourth lesson Jacob had to learn and that is, “How to live out the demands of the “Covenant” or the “Promises?” According to the disclosure the Lord gave to Paul, God had a plan for Jacob, and God also has a plan for all of us. In addition to Ephesians, chapter two, verse ten, we have Ephesians, chapter four:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:3-10).

Before God made the world, God knew that man would yield under Satan’s deception, and therefore Satan did mar God’s image in man. For that reason, God pre-ordained Christ to assist man to restore the lost “image of God” in man. Jacob, like Adam, Noah, and Abraham was predestined to play a redemptive role in the world to bring man back to God through a kingdom and a nation on earth. It would be a people that would become the “apple of His eye” for the world to see what man with the “image of God” within him would look like. Jesus made it very clear, what fallen man needed and where he could find it. Philip spoke for all human beings:

“Lord show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who sees me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:8-11).  

Jesus’ message to Philip was no different from the message God was conveying to Jacob, to David, to the Apostle Paul, or to any other witness for God in the world. The message was and still is that God cannot be seen without the assistance of men and women performing the “redemptive roles” in the world. The redemptive roles believers perform are not just saving souls, but they also improving lives and living conditions in this world. When God takes a scoundrel like Jacob and turns him into Israel, or when God takes a Saul who hated Christians and makes him into a witness for Christ; and on a personal note, when God takes a farmer and wood worker and turns him into a servant of men for God and Christ, then you know that God is visibly at work. Every god-fearing person in the world is an ambassador for God, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (II Corinthians 5:20). Remember what Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Jesus also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).

God chose Jacob to play a redemptive role in the world. God began preparing a people, through whom God intended to send His Son, Jesus the Christ, to complete “His redemptive purpose.” Jacob was not just running from Esau and Laban; Jacob was also running from God. In human terms, God had tried his hand with Abraham and Noah to raise a godly race, but both Abraham and Noah failed. Then God chose Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to set up “His Kingdom” on earth; and that too failed. At long last, God did chose to give us Jesus Christ to set up “His Kingdom” that was no longer to be attached to a piece of land (John 18:36). It took time for Jacob to see how God kept moving him in the right direction, by removing the obstacles before him. What Jacob had feared most, God had dealt with. Esau, no longer, sought revenge and Laban was warned not to lay a hand on Jacob. Against Laban’s will, the Lord sent Jacob back to his brother. God assured Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). To the pursuing Laban the Lord God sent this warning in a dream, “Take heed that you say not a word to Jacob, either good or bad” (Genesis 31:24). The fear of meeting Esau drove Jacob to God, and God sent his messenger to show Jacob that he could survive, even as an handicapped man with God at his side (Genesis 32:27-32). After that successful wrestling match with the stranger, Israel, and not Jacob, was ready to face his brother:

He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept (Genesis 33:3-4).

Esau declined all the gifts that Jacob was prepared to give him. Esau even offered to assist Jacob until he found a suitable place to roam with his animals. Jacob needed to rest his herd and his people, so he urged Esau to go ahead, and they went their separate ways. Esau returned to Seir. And Jacob moved to Succoth, where the Shechemites welcomed him:

And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land he had pitched his tent. There he created an altar and called it El-El’ohe-Israel (The God of Israel) (Genesis 33:15-20).

The New Jacob or Israel became a humble and a peaceful man and the natives did see God favoring him. Jacob was determined to please God by being good and fair to the Shechemites. However, at home Jacob did not have the same respect. His children and his women did not display his attitude toward the Shechemites. Jacob’s daughter Dinah went out to make friends with the women of the land. And the Shechem prince violated Dinah and he wanted to marry her. The Shechemites wanted to integrate with the Israelites, and therefore they even submitted to circumcision. While the men were in pain, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi killed all the Shechemites men, looted the city where their sister was molested, and enslaved their women and their children:

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘you have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perrizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister as a harlot?’ (Genesis 34:30-31).

The Shechem prince did not treat Dinah as a harlot, but as a bride. The prince was deeply in love with Dinah. And obviously Dinah did not reject his advances. The desire for revenge has always plague mankind and Jacob’s sons did make life difficult for their father. Again, God ordered him to leave the area, saying:

“Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there; and make there an altar to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; then let us arise and go up to Bethel, that I may make there an altar to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone” (Genesis 35:1-3).  

Jacob held the first revival meeting in the Bible that we read about, and God continued to protect the “New Israel” by putting fear into the hearts of the natives:

So they gave to Jacob all their foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were round about them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob” (Genesis 35:4-5).

Jacob built an altar to God in Bethel. Also, in Bethel God changes Jacob’s name to “Israel.” And God reasserted the “Covenant”made to Abraham:

And God said to Jacob, ‘Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ And God said to him again, ‘I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring forth from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.’ Then God went up from Jacob in the place where He had spoken with Jacob. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where God had spoken with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel” (Genesis 35:10-15).

Before Jacob named Bethel the place was called Luz. It was during the departure from Bethel that Rachel died in giving birth to her second son whom Jacob named Benjamin. Shortly after, Jacob’s oldest son Reuben embarrassed his father by sleeping with his father’s concubine Bilhah, Rachel’s maid. After Jacob returned from Laban, he was reunited with his father Isaac. Esau and Jacob laid their father Isaac to rest (Gen. 35:16-29).

Jacob’s preferred devotion to Rachel and to her children incited jealousy among the other wives and children. Joseph, Rachel’s son received special treatment:

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a lad with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought ill report of them to their father. Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:2-4).

Joseph’s blundering brothers had no idea that God had placed a special person in their care. Instead of encouraging and befriend him, they plotted to kill him. In a way, they were doing to their deliverer, what their descendants would do to Jesus who said, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). We all do have a tendency to shun and to reject those in our midst that appear to have prophetic abilities. Jesus had the same problem with his own family and his people (John 1:11; Luke 4:24). Joseph did not help himself when he began to see himself in dreams and in his visions rising above his own brothers and parents:

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers they only hated him more. He said to them, “Hear this dream which I have dreamed: behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold, your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to Joseph, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him yet more for his dreams and for his words (Genesis 37:5-8).

Joseph was seventeen at the time and may have enjoyed his brother’s resenting his implications of having them bow to him. Instead of keeping the next dream to himself and ponder the meaning, he kept blurting it out, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars were bowing down to me.” How more specific could he have been to arouse resentment? Even his father rebuked Joseph and said:

What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:9-11).

Jacob also kept on favoring Joseph and irritating his ten neglected sons, who instigated hatred and eight of them were set on killing Joseph. The very next time, Jacob sent Joseph to check up on his brothers, they were ready to kill him. However, Reuben, the oldest, persuaded his brothers not kill him, but put Joseph in a dried out water hole pit. Reuben was hoping to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. While Reuben had to go away on some chore, Ishmaelite–Midianite traders passed by and Judah persuaded the other eight brothers to sell Joseph for twenty shekels of silver. The merchants took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. To convince their father that an animal had killed Joseph, they soaked his coat in an animal’s blood (Genesis 37:12-36). Herein and after, Joseph’s brother lived with their guilty conscience until Joseph revealed himself to his brothers (Genesis 42:21-22; 44-45). In fact, they never were freed of their guilt against their brother, even after Joseph forgave them (Genesis 50:15-21).

Before we continue with the part Joseph played in keeping God’s “Covenant” alive for Israel, we have an interruption by Judah. Judah illegitimately fathered Perez with his daughter-in-law Tamar, the real “Covenant” bearer and ancestor of David. In Jacob–Judah’s tradition, the oldest son’s seed had to be continued by his brothers. Jacob had violated that tradition by stealing the birthright from Esau. Therefore, Judah promised Tamar that his sons would fulfill the contract. When Judah’s oldest son and husband of Tamar died, the second son had to fulfill the contract, but he also died. Then and Judah promised Tamar his third son Shelah, when he would become of age. Judah failed to keep his word to Tamar; therefore, Tamar resorted to playing a prostitute and she became pregnant. She was alert enough to secure evidence, from the man, before he slept with her. Tamar made him give her his seal, his chord, and his staff and the man promised to redeem his objects with a young goat. The prostitute (Tamar) disappeared and the goat could recoup his property. Three months later, Tamar made certain that Judah, her father-in-law, heard about her pregnancy. Judah was quick to have Tamar burned to death. Tamar invited the man whose seal, cord, and staff she held in her hands to burn with her. Judah acknowledged his guilt and Tamar’s right. And Tamar bore Judah twin sons, Zerah and Perez. It was an unusual birth. Zerah stuck out his hand first and the midwife put a ribbon around his arm while he drew back and let Perez see the world first. Thus Perez became the legal holder of the birthright and the “Covenant” bearer of Judah (Genesis 38).

Judah was not Jacob’s first born son. Judah was the fourth son by Leah, Jacob’s first and legal wife. Unlike Isaac, who had passed on the birthright to Jacob by being deceived, Jacob made certain before he died that the right son would carry his mantle in Israel. Jacob chose Judah, perhaps for the reason that he saved the life of Joseph. Judah was willing to give his own son’s life to redeem Benjamin, and Judah also made things right with Tamar by taking his part of the blame:

Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his ass’s colt to the choice vine, he washes his garment in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes; his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk” (Genesis 49:8-12).  

The next break in the birthright or “Covenant” line was the distant kin Boaz who married Ruth from Moab:

Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron; Hezron fathered Ram; Ram fathered Amminadab; Amminadab fathered Nahshon; Nahshon fathered Salmon; Salmon fathered Boaz; Boaz fathered Obed; Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David” (Ruth 4:18-2).

The bearers of the “Covenant” owe their continuation to Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel. In spite of the underhanded way, Joseph began to see the hand of God in his life in order to save Israel from extermination by the lack of earthly sustenance. So Joseph said to his brothers:

“Come near me, I pray you.” And they came near, and he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve a remnant on earth, and to keep alive many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but the Lord God; and he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:4-8).