THE NEW ISRAEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-10-1946 7:30 p.m.
And He said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And He said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
At Peniel the old Jacob became the new Israel. The old “supplanter,” or “cheater,” became the “prince of God.” “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” [Genesis 32:28]. It is a story of the grace and mercy of God. Neither by birth nor by practice should he have prevailed, but the infinite purposes of God were filled with goodness toward him, and he became the chosen head of the children of Israel [Genesis 27:29].
The old Jacob was a born supplanter. He was cunning, shrewd, a selfish bargainer, and for personal ends lived a life of duplicity. His strange birth was a harbinger of the future: he was born immediately after his brother Esau and was holding Esau’s heel; so they called him “Jacob,” one who takes the place of another [Genesis 25:25-26]. Esau was a gifted hunter. He knew the ways of the fields and the forests. He was a bighearted, rough, outdoor man, and his father Isaac loved him. Jacob was a soft-voiced, feminine sort of man who stayed at home and washed the dishes. Most any busy mother is grateful for a helper who will sweep the floor, tidy the rooms, bring in water, and run the errands; so Rebekah loved Jacob as fervently as Isaac loved Esau [Genesis 25:27-28].
Evidently, to sit at home and think is far more profitable than to go out in the fields to hunt, for the next thing we read, Jacob has the birthright and Esau has nothing [Genesis 25:29-34]. Now, nobody would be disposed to defend Esau for selling out as he did, but that was indeed a hard bargain Jacob drove with his brother. Esau thought he was dying of hunger. What good would all the birthrights in the world do him? Jacob saw his chance and took it like a veteran swindler.
For sheer, unadulterated duplicity, nothing in all the annals of time could surpass the deception that won for Jacob the blessing. The laws and customs of primogeniture bestowed upon the eldest son a birthright in property that the younger son did not possess. Jacob beat Esau out of that [Genesis 25:29-34]. But there was one thing left. Among the ancient Hebrews the patriarchal blessing carried with it the messianic hope and the consequent assurance to the one receiving it that his house would be preserved and protected and made infinitely fruitful throughout succeeding generations. Isaac for the years of his life intended bestowing the blessing upon Esau, but when the time came, Jacob beat Esau out of it [Genesis 27:1-29]. It is a sorry story from beginning to end. As a result of it all, Jacob had to flee for his life from before Esau, for “Esau hated Jacob … and Esau said in his heart … I will slay my brother Jacob” [Genesis 27:41-43]. So the refugee Jacob betakes himself to Haran, to the home of his mother, and there begins all over again his life of cunning duplicity [Genesis 28:5, 10].
There was no such thing, however, as Jacob’s taking a long journey without driving some kind of a hard bargain. On his way to Haran, at the head of the Mesopotamian Valley, he stopped for the night at Bethel. There the Lord God of grace appeared unto him and said, “Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest … for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” [Genesis 28:15]. Did this bargain driver, Jacob, take God at His word and yield himself and everything he possessed to the will of the Almighty? Not he! Jacob put an “if” at the beginning of the promises of God. The Lord God had just emphatically said, “I am with thee, and will keep thee” [Genesis 28:15]. But trader Jacob could not do business, even with God, without an “if “: “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go … then shall the Lord be my God” [Genesis 28:20-21]. Jacob had not got to the end of himself; therefore, he had not really begun with God. But while he had the chance, Jacob drove his bargain through with God. “If You will be with me and give me these things that I request, I will give You back a tenth of all You bestow upon me” [Genesis 28:22]. Not a bad trade, no, not at all! “You give me ten dollars, and I’ll give You one. Make it a hundred dollars, and I’ll give You ten.” Now, to tithe is a most excellent thing. It makes good stewards of people, and it blesses the churches of the Lord Jesus. But for a man to tithe in the hope of adding to his physical prosperity is a cheap and shallow motive. Even an unbeliever would do that if he thought he could get rich by paying a tenth to the church. That is the way of the old Jacob.
The refugee Jacob finally arrived in Haran, and for twenty years he lived in an atmosphere entirely suited to his bargain-making soul [Genesis 31:38, 41]. Laban, the brother of Rebekah, was as tricky and unscrupulous as Jacob, the son of Rebekah. Duplicity seemed to run in the family. Cheater Laban met cheater Jacob, and diamond cut diamond. Slicker Laban enticed his nephew Jacob to work for him seven years, at the end of which time he promised to reward him with his daughter Rachel as a wife. At the end of the seven years Laban tricked Jacob, who found himself married to weak-eyed Leah, not lovely-eyed Rachel [Genesis 29:16-25]. This meant seven more years of work on the part of Jacob for Rachel [Genesis 29:26-28], and he ended up with two wives at the same time. Jealousy in Jacob’s bigamist home soon forced concubinage with Zilpah, the maid of Leah, and Bilhah, the maid of Rachel. The children of Jacob, therefore, had four different mothers [Genesis 29:31-30:24; 35:17-18].
It was not long before trickster Laban and deceiver Jacob were at odds again, this time over such things as flocks and herds and servants and watering places. Laban learned the hard way that he was no match for this supplanter Jacob, and the affair came to open war, with the consequence that Jacob had to flee again. Like a jackal, as he had stolen away from the face of Esau [Genesis 27:41-28:5], so he stole away from the presence of Laban [Genesis 30:25-31:21]. When Laban and his men overtook Jacob, it would have been disastrous for the son of Rebekah had the Lord God not intervened. The day before Laban reached Jacob, Jehovah God appeared to him and said, “Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad” [Genesis 31:29]. “Oh, the depths of the love and mercy of God!” Who can fathom it? And His grace, who can know it? “His ways are past finding out” [Romans 11:33]. Through all this God loved Jacob. There is a goodness in the elective purposes of God that is beyond understanding. How many of us are worthy of the providence of heaven that so tenderly enriches our lives? What have we done to become precious in the eyes of the Lord? Yet He loves us when we are unlovely and bestows His merciful blessings upon us when we deserve them the least. Surely, we are the children of grace; we merit not a single favor from God.
Jacob was forced now to face his brother Esau, and the ordeal was a frightening experience in prospect.
We wonder if, during the twenty years Jacob was at Haran [Genesis 31:38, 41], he ever was able to escape the dark shadow that the fear of Esau cast over his life? Someday he had to face the anger of the brother whom be had so grievously wronged and whom he had so treacherously deceived [Genesis 25:29-31, 27:1-41]. That “payday someday” had come, and Jacob was frantic [Genesis 32:3-11]. The Lord God had made Jacob some towering promises, but they seem to have been forgotten in the magnitude of the difficulties that now overwhelmed him. Forgetting about God and God’s promises, Jacob gave himself to worry and fear and returned to his old scheming, seeking to outmaneuver Esau. When he learned that Esau was preparing to meet him with four hundred armed men, “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” [Genesis 32: 6-7]. In terror he divided all that he had into two companies, so that if Esau smite one, the other may escape [Genesis 32:7-8]. He was expecting nothing but slaughter and bloodshed; his extremity drove him to his knees in a plea for help from God [Genesis 32:9-12]. The next day Jacob prepared five generous presents for Esau, five droves of animals, with a space between each herd. He delivered each drove into the hands of his servants and gave them the command that one by one they were to meet Esau and tell him that they came from “thy servant Jacob” and are presented unto “my lord Esau” [Genesis 32:13-23].
What was the matter with Jacob? Worry and fear had driven him to distraction. The wrong he had done [Genesis 25:29-31, 27:1-41], had undermined his confidence, and now his dependence upon his own ingenuity made him tremble with the possible terrible consequences if his scheme should fail [Genesis 32:3-11]. He was not willing to rely upon the promise of God who had said, “I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” [Genesis 28:15]. No, Jacob had allowed worry to take things out of God’s hands, and now he was forced to deal with those things himself. He was afraid of tomorrow; and worry is just that—fear of the morrow.
If there is anything in life that operates under the law of diminishing returns, worry is that thing. It is a losing game. It is the interest we pay on tomorrow’s troubles, most of which never materialize. “There were they in great fear, where no fear was” [Psalm 53:5].
Worry? Why worry? What can worry do?
It never keeps trouble from overtaking you.
It puts a frown upon the face, and sharpness in the tone,
We’re unfit to live with others, and unfit to live alone.
Worry? Why worry? What can worry do?
It never keeps a trouble from overtaking you.
Pray? Why pray? What can praying do?
Praying really changes things, arranges life anew.
It puts a smile upon your face, the love note in your tone,
Makes you fit to live with others, and fit to live alone.
Pray? Why pray? What can praying do?
It brings God down from heaven to live and work with you.
When someone rushed into Mr. Emerson’s presence one time and exclaimed, “Oh, Mr. Emerson, they tell me the world is coming to an end,” he quietly replied, “Well, never mind, we can get along without it.” That is right. These earthly experiences and contingencies are peripheral; the central and only thing that matters is God. In Him we have a life that is not dependent upon the world. When heaven and earth pass away [Revelation 21:1], we still have Jesus [Matthew 24:35]; and having Him, it is enough. The birds are content to live in the will of God—living, as they do, one day at a time. A refusal on our part to live two days at a time, telescoping tomorrow’s problems, would bring to us a realization of the meaning of our Savior in His Sermon on the Mount. We are to seek first the will of God and let tomorrow’s evil take care of itself [Matthew 6:34].
Over a little brook called Jabbok that flows into the Jordan from the east, Jacob sent his family, his flocks and herds, his servants, and all that he had, and he himself was left alone [Genesis 32:22-23]. With what dread and foreboding he waited for the morrow we cannot know. With what anguish he poured out his soul before the Lord we are not told. But this we do know: that night witnessed the conversion of the deceiver Jacob; that night he became Israel, the prince of God [Genesis 32:28].
The Scriptures say that while Jacob was left alone, “there wrestled a Man with him until the breaking of the day” [Genesis 32:24]. Hosea 12:4 calls the Man “the Angel”; Jacob calls Him “God” [Genesis 32:30]. In the wrestling of that night, Jacob was stubborn and self-willed. Like most of us, it was hard for him to let go and let God have His way. Nor did Jacob bend to the will of God until the Angel touched the hollow of his thigh and maimed him [Genesis 32:24-25]. It was then, but only then, that the proud, selfish will of the supplanter was broken. Crippled and defeated, he turned completely and, instead of wrestling against the Angel, held on to Him in appeal [Genesis 32:26]. Hosea says that “he wept, and made supplication unto Him” [Hosea 12:4].
And prayer prevailed. Importunity was rewarded. God answered and blessed. The deceiver was called to own himself as such. “What is thy name?” “Jacob” (that is, “supplanter”) [Genesis 32:27]. Then he was given the new and wonderful name to portray the new heart God had given him. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” [Genesis 32:28]. It was then that Jacob passed over Penuel, and “the sun rose upon him” [Genesis 32:31]. How indicative of the new day was the glory of that light! After the long, dark night of struggle against God, the new heart was heralded with the sunrise. The old Jacob had become the prince and the child of God.
When Esau came with his four hundred armed men [Genesis 33:1], what did he find? Another army to oppose him? A resentful brother full of hate and bitterness, determined to defend himself to the last drop of blood? No! He found a humble, limping, crippled man who bowed himself to the ground before him [Genesis 33:3]. Without a weapon, without a word in self-defense, Jacob bowed himself to the earth in the presence of the armed Esau. Having cast himself upon the mercies of God [Genesis 32:9-12], Jacob left the issue of his relationship with Esau up to the Almighty. Whatever God wills, that will be best, whether to live or to die. The sight of that humble, broken, halting man broke the heart of Esau. If he had come with his army to make war upon Jacob, that hostility melted away with love. “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept” [Genesis 33:4].
We shall leave the story here, with the two brothers in each other’s arms, weeping their hatred away. Oh, what repentance, what humility will do! Was it not our Savior who said, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth”? [Matthew 5:5].