Kept by The Power Of God
Part 1 - Young Jacob
"I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you." (Genesis 28.15).
There is little in the records of Abraham's life of God making any promise that he would keep him wherever he went. It is intrinsic in the patriarchal history and in his long trek around the Fertile Crescent Abraham must have been very conscious of God's close friendship. The relationship enshrined in the covenant became clear when he interceded for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18. 22-33). Isaac received a definite promise from God that He would be with him (Genesis 26.3) and he must have been aware of God's care in his rather less adventurous life. It is when we look at the life of Jacob, of whom so much more detail is given, that we find God speaks of His keeping power wherever Jacob went.
Some are scathing about Jacob's reputation. He is regarded as a schemer and a deceiver and the embittered Esau said that he was rightly called a supplanter. In the context of Jeremiah 9.4 the word supplanter is linked with stronger condemnation of Jacob's descendants. His conduct certainly led to bitterness and hatred, separation and exile, and he was to go where his father had never been, back to the land from which Abraham had come when he separated from his family. Abraham was adamant that Isaac should not go back to Haran when Eliezer set off to find the promised son a bride (Genesis 24.6). It is a lovely story, for the slave had come to know the God of Abraham and prayed to him. His prayer was heard and his mission was a success. It reflects well for Abraham that a pagan servant had learned to know the true God. Jacob did not have the same kind of long journey that Abraham's slave had enjoyed. Eliezer took camels and gifts and his retinue was worthy of the eastern chieftain or emir that he served. When Laban saw the display of wealth he greeted the slave with "Come in O blessed of the Lord". It was a rather different greeting from that given to Jacob who was expected to earn his keep.
With all Jacob's apparent failures to behave as one might expect of God's servant upon whom the promises of future blessing had been given, his story is one that should give the weakest child of God hope and encouragement. Through it all, God 'kept' Jacob and Jacob learned through his experiences. The words 'kept' and 'keep' appear all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The Hebrew word used means 'to watch' or 'to hedge about', to guard or protect. What appear to have been sad mistakes and disappointments did not frustrate God's plan for that family. They were not puppets on a string dancing to fascinate Christians who would live some thirty-seven centuries later. They were real live flesh and blood people whose experiences are vivid and valuable.
The homestead at Beer-sheba should have been very peaceful and prosperous. The wonderful way in which God had led Rebekah to that home should have indicated that God was with them, providing for their need and guarding them from any danger and failure. Their marriage was a match made in heaven! When Rebekah didn't have any children Isaac prayed for her and they received the gift of two children, twins, Esau and Jacob. While pregnant Rebekah received a message from God that the two boys twisting about within her had a great destiny and "the older would serve the younger." In the light of events one wonders how much the couple discussed the Lord's Word and their strategy for bringing up the boys.
It was immediately clear that the children were contrasts in appearance. Later the parents were to see how different they were in other ways. Esau was adventurous, never so happy as when he was riding the hills and valleys of southern Canaan. He would be rough and tough, a good shot with the bow, and a fellow who enjoyed spending several nights away from home. He apparently gave little thought to the promises made to his grandfather. He lived for the present and the enjoyment of what was to hand. This attitude took him into the villages and homes of local Canaanite tribes until he fell in love with first one and then another of their daughters. The ways of those pagan nomads were not the same as Abraham's God demanded and it affected Rebekah. Perhaps she and Isaac had never discussed with their boys the implications of marrying outside their culture and faith in the one true God. By so doing Esau was repudiating the covenant through Abraham and rejecting the promises made to him. Hence the expression in Hebrews 12.16 which speaks of him as immoral and irreligious. The first of these two words in the Greek pornos from which we get the English word pornography is translated 'fornicator' in the AV. The second is bebeloo and is given as 'profane' in the AV and means one who rejects the covenant. In the circumstances of his liaison with foreign women, both words are applicable. If Esau was to inherit the promise through birthright and blessing, his children must be reared according to the customs and in the faith of Abraham's God. Yet we must ponder how Esau's marriage was different from that of Joseph and Moses.
Jacob on the other hand was mother's favourite and lived quietly and contently in the happiness of home, managing the family firm. It is evident from his exploits with Uncle Laban's stock at Haran, that he had become something of an expert in the farming industry and the rearing of animals. He might have continued rearing Isaac's stock had he sought the Lord and accepted His timing for the transference of the birthright. But he was in a hurry and sought to run before the Lord. If only he and his mother had waited. How many lessons there are in this remarkable record of home life so long ago.
Rebekah was a schemer and she came from a family of schemers. Did it run in the genes? Just as Abraham had deceived Pharaoh and Isaac had deceived Abimelech so Jacob deceived his father and that was hardly surprising. Again we might ask, did it run in the genes? Its easy to blame inherited characteristics on the genetic code but we all have the same problem to a greater or lesser degree, its called 'original sin', and its only remedy is 'the grace of God'. The more we rely the grace of God and appeal to Him to remove our weaknesses the more success we shall have in becoming the kind of people God wants us to be. As we look at the stories of the patriarchs and the high moral code that was to develop in the next thirty seven centuries there is evidenc that deterioration occurred from Genesis chapter 3 to chapter 12. They were truly times of ignorance. Yet, looking down the centuries at the nation of Israel with its Mosaic Law and the Church with the life and teaching of Christ we cannot help seeing that at times they were a lot worse behaved than the patriarchs. The light has shined more and more to the perfect day but few have walked in that light. Rebekah was not loyal to Isaac and her schemes ended in failure for after Jacob left home for Haran, she never saw him again.
If Isaac knew anything of the revelation that Rebekah received before the birth of the twins he seemingly did little about it. For him also there was an element of bartering the blessing for a plate of venison. To satisfy his physical appetite was more important to him than making the transmission of the promise and covenant.
So Jacob left home, and one wonders how much he had with him in terms of money, clothes and food. He was a cook. His journey would lie along the great trade routes that were already well worn by the time Jacob tramped towards Bethel. That was his first stop, about 30 miles north of Beer-sheba. At a place near Luz, possibly close to where Abraham had offered a sacrifice, he found a comfortable place and lay down to rest his weary legs.
It was a wonderful night, never to be forgotten. If Jacob had sinned, he was now learning that God was forgiving and conciliatory. The dream must have been very real. In it God renewed the 'promise' in a way that made it a more personal contract between himself and God. Yet it was something his descendants would share.
It was here that the promise of Genesis 28.15 was made. God would be with Him and take care of Him. He was learning that the God of Israel, unlike idols and gods of metal, wood and stone was not confined to one place or country. Wherever Jacob went he knew his God was with him and to prove it he had several visions of angels before he returned to Bethel.
This experience was to have a deep and lasting effect on Jacob. He was able to ponder the matter as he made his lonely way towards Haran. Before he departed however, he promised God that He, Yahweh would be his God if he were brought back safe and sound. The use of 'if' sounds like Jacob bartering again. But in the early days of our commitment to God when we first surrender our all to Him, our conception of what we are doing may be, in reality, very vague and somewhat like peering through a 'glass very darkly'. It takes many further revelations and many miles along the road and many a dint of stroke and blow in the trials and tests of the way, before those 'puzzling reflections' become clear. But this was the great moment perhaps equivalent to what Christians often call 'consecration'. This was when the covenant between God and His people was again renewed. This was establishing once more the relationship between Him and us. It is that which is so important because it's an everlasting relationship which must go on into eternity when names and labels are forgotten. Never mind what we think we know, it's whom we know that matters and being kept by Him.
(To be continued)