Emblems of Jacob’s Pilgrimage
May 18th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
EMBLEMS OF JACOB’S PILGRIMAGE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-18-58 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the 8:15 o’clock Sunday morning message. It is entitled The Emblems, the symbols of Jacob’s Pilgrimage. Now we turn in our Bibles to the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis. Last Sunday morning we concluded with the beautiful story of the servant who set out from the father in behalf of the son in seeking a bride for Isaac. And the servant comes back with Rebekah, and Isaac and Rebekah are joined together in holy wedlock [Genesis 24:1-67]: the marriage of the Lamb and the bride of the Lamb, His church [Ephesians 5:22-23, Revelation 21:9-10].
Now we begin this morning in the next chapter, the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis. And this morning’s message is a summary view of the life of this patriarch, Jacob. Jacob is more like us than any one of the other of the patriarchs, full of weakness and human frailty. Through the hard discipline of life and by the grace of God, he is brought to a place of preferment in the household of the Lord.
Jacob is as sorry a prospect as is any one of us. In the forty-first chapter of Isaiah and the fourteenth verse, God calls Jacob a worm. "Thou worm Jacob" [Isaiah 41:14]. Because of his groveling, and his crookedness, and his chicanery, and his cheating, and his worthlessness, God calls Jacob a worm. Yet, by the grace of God, through a long and wearisome pilgrimage, He made of the worm Jacob, the prince Israel [Genesis 32:28].
If ever you’re discouraged about yourself, or if ever you’re discouraged about somebody whom you love and for whom you pray, it will do you good to follow the life of this cheat, and this crook, and this supplanter, who could have had all of the promises of God in his patience, in his waiting. But instead of achieving these things by trust and by a life of waiting, he adds to it all kinds of devious, circuitous methods, works.
Finally, God had to do away with his works. Finally, God had to do away with the man himself until he came ultimately just to depend upon the grace and the promise of the Lord, and like a worm, to fall helpless upon the arms of God.
So I repeat: this man Jacob is more like us in infirmity, his humanity, his weakness than any other patriarch; and yet of the patriarchs, it is this man that truly and actually heads the people of God. They are not called Abrahamites. They are not called Isaac-ites. But the chosen family and race and nation of God is called Israelites after Jacob’s new name [Genesis 32:27-28].
So this morning, we’re going to take several of the things that you find in Jacob’s life as symbols, as emblems of his character, of his story, what he was, and what ultimately he became. Now, the first emblem, the first symbol, is in Genesis 25:26, the twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis and the twenty-sixth verse.
Now Rebekah is to be the mother of twins. And God predicts their future. "And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. And the first was born red, all over like an hairy garment; and they called his name," Red, "Esau," Edom, Red, the Big Red. "And after him was born his brother, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called," Supplanter, "Jacob" [Genesis 25:24-26].
Now that’s the first symbol. That’s the first emblem. And that is as true a picture of Jacob’s life as you could have drawn with a pencil in imagination, born with his hand on his brother’s heel. And they named him Supplanter. Watch him. He’ll cheat you out of your house, and out of your home, out of every acre of land you possess, out of cow and calf and sheep and goat. Watch him. His hand is out. Jacob, Supplanter. And the rest of that story until God changed his nature is a story of the supplanter Jacob.
Laban, Rebekah’s brother [Genesis 24:29], up there in Padan Aram, up there at the head of the Mesopotamian Valley, Laban thought he was smart. He thought he knew how to drive a good bargain. But Laban was a child when Jacob got through with him. This man Jacob is as shrewd, and as keen, and as smart, as full of guile and shrewdness as any man you ever saw in your life. He would come into this town in rags, barefoot, peddling something from a load on his back. And after he had been here in the city of Dallas twenty years, he would own all the banks, he would own all the stores, he would own all the property, and everybody in this town would be working for supplanter Jacob.
It is no accident that the Jewish people came to be shrewd as they are and smart as they are and traders as they are. They are Israelites. They are true children of Jacob. That is the first emblem: born into this world with his hand on his brother’s heel and they called his name Jacob, Supplanter [Genesis 25:26].
But there is also another thing in that, that God knew and God saw. Jacob not only had an eye for the shrewdness of bargains, for making a deal that was highly profitable, but he also had a spirit that coveted the blessings of God. Isn’t that a strange admixture in a man’s character, aspiring to achieve and to win and to get ahead in the material world trafficking, merchandising? But he also had a sensitive heart toward the promised, covenanted blessings of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. And you are going to see that now in the second emblem.
The second emblem in Jacob’s life is in the same twenty-fifth chapter. It’s a mess of pottage, it’s made out of lentils. It’s well seasoned. And as it cooks and it boils and it steams, the odor is appetizing. And in comes Esau, the Big Red. They named him Edom, Big Red, big, outdoor man; his father loved him. No wonder his father loved him. There’s not a man in this earth that doesn’t like a big, vigorous outdoor he-man of a boy; run a race like a deer, throw a discus a hundred yards, shoot an arrow straight through a deer’s heart, stalk the prey, a born hunter, a man of the field, knows exactly how to fish, big, fine strapping fellow and the best scout in the world. Make you mad just like that; get over it just like that. Volatile, lovable, easy going – you couldn’t help but love Esau. Esau was the finest animal you ever saw in your life.
Jacob? His mother loved Jacob [Genesis 25:28]. He was always drying the dishes for her. He was always sweeping out the house for her. He didn’t go swimming; he might get drowned. He didn’t go hunting; he might get hurt. He didn’t play with the boys; he might pick up bad language. He was a smooth-skinned [Genesis 25:27], not hairy like Esau [Genesis 25:25], delicately-shaped, beautiful child who followed his mother around, and his mother loved him.
Well, I don’t blame Rebekah for loving Jacob. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a boy that would dry the dishes for you and like it? Make up the bed for you and enjoy it? Sweep out the house for you and delight in it? Run errands for you to the grocery store and not grumble? Wouldn’t that be wonderful to have a boy like that? And Rebekah loved him [Genesis 25:28].
So Esau comes in from the field. He’s been out stalking the prey and hasn’t found any game. And days being gone and nights sleeping with the dew, he’s hungry. He’s ravishingly hungry! When he comes in, there is that pottage, oh, flavored so well, the aroma would drive a hungry man stark crazy. And he says to Jacob, "Jacob, I am about to die of hunger. Jacob, give me some of that pottage." And Jacob, what was that first emblem? With his hand out, supplanting [Genesis 25:26], and Jacob says, "You give me your birthright, and I, I will let you eat of this savory pottage" [Genesis 25:29-31].
Now why did Jacob want the birthright? The birthright not only had in it the first of the inheritance, a double portion, but the birthright also carried with it the covenant blessings of God. It had in it great spiritual connotations. All right, here are the two men. Esau, "What do I care about God? What do I care about covenants? What do I care about the promises of heaven? What do I care about these things that pertain to the future? I am living now; I am going to live it up now. Brother, strike up the band, play the tune, everybody in the dance. It’s on the house, drinks and all. Live it up!" That’s Esau, the finest animal you ever saw.
But Jacob saw the covenant blessing of God as it was of the now, as it was of the days to come. Evidently, Rebekah had taught him. And Jacob says, "More than anything in this world, I would love the birthright. I will give you the pottage if you will give me the birthright." It’s a cheat, I know. It’s the taking advantage of the hunger of the animal Esau, I know. But it also shows that he wanted it, he thought of it, and he prized it [Genesis 25:30-33]. And what does the Scripture say? Look at the last verse of the twenty-fifth chapter of Genesis. "Thus Esau despised his birthright [Genesis 25:34]." And that was the difference. It didn’t matter to Esau, not at all. He despised his birthright, and Jacob wanted it, coveted it, longed for it, desired it. And when he had an opportunity to strike a bargain with Esau, he obtained it for a mess of pottage. That’s the second emblem, symbol, sign in the life of Jacob [Genesis 25:31-34].
All right, turn again now to the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis, and here is a third emblem. Here is a third side. Genesis 28, the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis [Genesis 28:12]. Under the tutelage of his mother Rebekah, Jacob not only has won the birthright [Genesis 25:29-34], but he has stolen the blessing [Genesis 27:1-29]. And Esau hates Jacob with bitter hatred, and Esau says in his heart, "The days of my father’s death are upon me, but when my father shall die and the days of mourning are passed, I will slay that supplanter Jacob" [Genesis 27:41].
And Rebekah hears it, and to save the life of that boy she loves, she sends him away to Padan Aram, to her father’s house to seek a wife [Genesis 27:42-28:2]. That’s to save his life. That’s the last time Rebekah ever saw Jacob. She never saw him again. God would have given all that to Jacob without that. That’s the chicanery. That’s the cheat. That’s the supplanter. That’s the lack of faith.
Instead of trusting God for it, he tries to seize it, and he does. But God would have given it to him; He said He would [Genesis 25:23; Romans 9:10-13]. Now he’s in the darkest hour of his life, it is midnight, night, night, night, away from home, and his brother, swearing, "The day will come when I will kill him" [Genesis 27:41]. He will never see his mother again. He will only see his father in age to bury him [Genesis 35:27-29]. And he is by himself, and it is night, and his pillow is a hard stone. And in the despond and despair and the darkness of his life, he lies down in a certain place, and in his weariness and in his sorrow he falls upon sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder! [Genesis 28:10-12].
That’s the third emblem: a ladder. And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it [Genesis 28:12], a ladder reaching up to God and the angels ascending and descending; that’s the third symbol of his life.
Didn’t I say a moment ago that Jacob had not only an eye for a bargain, but somehow in that strange admixture of his nature, he also had a great sensitivity for the promises of God? And that ladder, that ladder, that ladder, that ladder reaches up and out and beyond to God Himself [Genesis 28:13]. And God holds it, that it doesn’t slip or fall. It reaches to heaven, and it reaches to earth where Jacob is, and between God and Jacob and the earth and heaven, all the ministering spirits, the angels ascending and descending [Genesis 28:12-13].
If your ladder doesn’t reach up to God, it’s too short. If you’re living for now, you’re living for too brief a span. Your ladder ought to reach into eternity beyond death and beyond the grave. And God’s ministering spirits, the angels of the Lord, are sent to help us achieve that final hope and that ultimate destiny, rung at a time, step at a time, mounting little at a time. We don’t achieve it momentarily. It’s a long pilgrimage. It goes through some deep valleys.
In fact, some of them you could see. They’re veils of tears that go through the night, and they go through deep sorrows. Step at a time, rung at a time, little at a time; it’s a ladder. I suppose in the wisdom of God that’s best, yet the Lord could transplant us to heaven just like that. I suppose we would be characterless. We’d have no cause to know the tender, guiding, merciful presence of the Lord. It is these experiences of our pilgrimage that give us all of those things that make us what we ought to be in the sight of the Lord.
It’s a ladder. And you mount it step at a time, rung at a time, and it goes up, and it goes on. And it’s an experience of life, and it leads to God. That’s the third emblem in his life [Genesis 28:12].
Now we must hasten. I have several more. Turn now to the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis. One of these mornings, we shall preach especially on this. In my humble judgment, this emblem is the finest and the sweetest and the most meaningful of any that you’ll find in the Old Testament. In those last three verses of the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis, "And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for," he said, "I have seen God face to face" [Genesis 32:30]. In the thirty-first verse, "And as he passed over Penuel" – I do not know why, I have tried to find out why; in the thirtieth verse they spell it Peniel. That’s the exact Hebrew, Peniel. In the thirty-first verse, they spelled it Penuel. That’s the exact Hebrew word, Penuel. I do not know why they spelled it two different ways. I could not find out. "But as he passed over Penuel, Peniel" – Peniel means "I have seen God’s face" – "he halted upon his thigh" [Genesis 32:31].
Now, what happened at Peniel? Well, Jacob hasn’t come very far up that ladder, just maybe a rung, just maybe a step or two. He’s still trying to – ingeniously – to save himself and to get the mastership of the situation. He’s still the same cheater, the same supplanter, that he’s been all of his life. "O Jacob! Thou worm Jacob [Isaiah 41:14], crooked and groveling. But in the face of stark and final tragedy, Esau is coming with more than [four] hundred armed soldiers [Genesis 32:6, 33:1]. And Esau has vowed, "And I will take the very memory of Jacob and his family from off the face of the earth!" And when they came to the little River Jabbok on the eastern side of the Jordan, he divides his family, and he divides his flock so that when Esau comes and destroys one, maybe perchance in the grace of God, maybe the second one might escape, or someone from it [Genesis 32:7, 33:1-2].
And apparently Jacob faces certain death for himself and all of his family. But he’s doing the best he can, still a-cheating, still a-scheming, still supplanting, still doing everything he can to get himself out of that awful impasse. So he sends them over by groups, and he himself is alone at the River Jabbok, and there wrestles with him a Man, all night long, the Angel of God.
What does that mean, wrestling? Some of you would know without my describing it. Wrestling, all night long with God. Hardest thing in the world, for a man to give up; that old Jacob’s self somehow dies hard. That old, selfish, grasping you: I’ve got my plans, I’ve got my ambitions, I have my wants. There are pleasures, and there are lusts, and there are sins, and there are delights, and there are things of this world and this life: hard to kill worm-Jacob. And the Angel wrestled with him all night long, and He never overcame him. All night long, Jacob wrestled. And as it began to break toward the dawn, the Angel touched his thigh and crippled him. And he couldn’t wrestle any longer, strength gone. Touched his thigh and it was out of joint, and he is crippled [Genesis 32:24-25]. Then Jacob cries, "O God, do not leave me like this!" [Genesis 32:26].
And instead of wrestling, he clings to the Angel, a helpless suppliant. "O Lord, do not leave me like this, crippled, and the armed soldiers of Esau to destroy my family and me. Don’t leave me like this." And the Lord looked on worm-Jacob [Isaiah 41:14]. Gone, his old pride and his old supplanting nature and his old chicanery. Look at him. Helpless and miserable and ready to die! Worm-Jacob. And the Lord said to him, "Who are you? What is your name?" [Genesis 32:27].
And he confessed it, "My name is Supplanter. My name is cheat. My name is Duplicity and Double-Crosser. My name is Liar. My name is Jacob" [Genesis 32:27]. And God said, "No, Jacob. No longer Supplanter, cheater, liar. Thy name shall be Israel: prince of God" [Genesis 32:28]. And when he arose at the rising of the sun, he halted on his thigh [Genesis 32:31]. A broken man, he halted on his thigh. No longer in his strength, but in God’s strength; a weak and helpless man leaning on the arms of omnipotence [Genesis 32:24-31]. And when Esau saw him, he embraced him, and kissed him: and they wept together [Genesis 33:4]. What God can do, what God can do! Dear people, let me just say the other two. I must quit.
The other emblem is a staff when he describes his pilgrimage [Exodus 32:10], and the last emblem is a grave [Genesis :29-30].
In the land of Egypt Jacob says, "And you are to take me back to Machpelah" [Genesis :29-30]. Why to Machpelah? Because God said, "And to thee and to thy seed, I will give the land forever" [Genesis 35:12]. Take me back to Machpelah. The land is theirs. And in silent reverence today, the children of Abraham guard the cave of Machpelah and the still silent form of Jacob, who someday shall see their seed inherit forever God’s promised land [Exodus 32:13]. Oh, with what blessing do we follow the story of these sainted men!
Now, we sing a stanza, one stanza, and somebody this morning to give his heart to the Lord, somebody to put his life in the church, while we sing this hymn, while we make this appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, would you come and stand by me? In the balcony around on this lower floor, giving your heart in faith to Christ, or putting your life in the church, a family you, or one somebody you, while we stand and sing, you come.
EMBLEMS OF JACOB’S PILGRIMAGE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. First emblem – birth
1. Hands on Esau’s heel
2. Supplanter, cheat, shrewd
II. Second emblem – birthright
1. Esau despised his birthright Genesis 25:34
2. Birthright is the headship of the tribe
3. Privileges of the divine covenant
4. Inheritance blessing
III. Third emblem – Jacob’s vision at Bethel
1. Ladder leading to God
2. God’s promises were seen
3. Picture of Christ coming from God to earth
IV. Fourth emblem – Peniel
1. Feared Esau would destroy his family
2. Jacob divided his family
3. Wrestles with God and God bruises his hip
4. New name Israel, Prince of God
V. Fifth emblem – pilgrimage Genesis 32:10
VI. Sixth emblem – grave Genesis :29-33; 50:13