The School of Sorrows


The School of Sorrows

July 20th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM

Genesis 35:16-35

Jacob's life was filled with many shadows. There were many sorrows and trials in his pilgrimage. And as we come to the latter part of his life the old Jacob is daily dying. And Israel, the prince is daily flourishing and growing.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Genesis 35:16-35

7-20-58        8:15 a.m.



You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The School of Sorrows.  And it is a following of the conclusion the latter part of the life of the patriarch Jacob.  And if you will turn in your Bible to the Book of Genesis you can easily follow the course of the morning message, Genesis 35.  In the thirty-fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis there are four burials including the burial of the strange gods under the oak at Shechem.

Jacob’s life was filled with many shadows.  There were many sorrows and trials in his pilgrimage.  And as we come to the latter part of his life the old Jacob is daily dying.  And Israel, the prince is daily flourishing and growing.  As Paul one time wrote in the fourth chapter of the second Corinthian letter:

Though our outward man perish yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

Our light affliction is but for a moment and worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

[2 Corinthians 4:16, 17]


So it is with Jacob who becomes the prince of God, Israel.  And now in the school of sorrows, first Deborah dies in Genesis 35 and [verse] 8, "But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died and she was buried beneath Beth-el under an oak:  and the name of it was called Allonbachuth," oak of tears.

Deborah is that faithful nurse who accompanied her mistress across the Euphrates, across the waste of the sands of the desert, when Rebekah became the bride of Isaac.  She was a link with the old family with the yesteryears.  How many things she could tell and how many stories could she recount of Abraham the Friend of God; of Sarah who laughed when the Word came from Jehovah that at ninety years of age she should become a mother; how many things she knew of the old times and the gone away days of Isaac and Rebekah; Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, the old faithful servant.

When you read that passage does it not come to your heart that it is unusual that she is with Jacob?  Jacob had gone away to a far, far country.  But somehow Deborah had so entwined her life in the life of that boy that it was not the same anymore when he had left.  Rebekah loved Jacob and apparently Deborah loved Jacob no less.  And when the boy went away, the sun went down and the light went out.

And in time Rebekah died.  And I suppose – this is just a supposition – I suppose that when Rebekah died, the faithful old servant took that occasion as an opportunity to go to that boy that she had helped to rear and loved so much.  In any event she did not stay at home where Esau was but she is with Jacob and accompanies Jacob in his return into the Promised Land.  And evidently her death caused such great sorrow and weeping that in the after-years the oak under which she was buried continued its name of Allonbachuth, the "oak of tears," the death of Deborah.

Now look at the sixteenth verse.  A far greater and weightier is sorrow is coming into the household of Israel.

And they journeyed from Bethel and there was but a little

way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed and she had hard labour.

And it came to pass when she was in hard labour that the midwife said unto her Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.

And it came to pass as her soul was in departing (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni – son of my sorrow Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin – son of my right hand.

And Rachel died and was buried in the way to Ephrath which

is Bethlehem.

And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave:  that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

[Genesis 35:16-20]


As they journeyed from Beth-el toward the south when one could see Bethlehem, Ephrath just there – just on the hill beyond – word came throughout the camp that stilled their hearts in silence.  "Rachel can go no further."  And you can see that motley group of drivers, and servants, and sons, and families, and household as they gather in little quiet circles awaiting with dread suspense the outcome of this travail.

Years and years later in a hieroglyphic chamber of the Pharaohs in Egypt that scene comes back to Jacob with touching force and pathos – the beloved Rachel.  And when the child is born she lived long enough just to see it and to name it Ben, "son;" oni, "of my sorrow;" and then expired.  And there she was buried.

It is a remarkable thing about Rachel’s grave.  In the years that followed the city, the place, the town, Bethlehem became known as the birthplace of the great son of Jessie, the House of David, the King of Israel, The Anointed of God.  Yet to the anointed ear of the great prophet Jeremiah the memory and spirit of Rachel, seems still and yet to haunt the place in Ramah, "A voice heard Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they are not."  [Matthew 2:18]

When Matthew wrote the story of the King Messiah Jesus, that same memory of the sorrow and death of Rachel came back to his heart when he spoke of the lamentations of the mothers of Bethlehem over the destruction of their little children.  That tomb of Rachel’s through all of the centuries and the centuries has been a shrine for Israel.  And today – I have visited it twice – and today it seems such a picture such a parable such a harbinger of the silence that has come to the house of God.  It is in Arab hands and the shrine is so lonely and so silent.  Rachel’s death, buried there on the way to Ephrath which is Bethlehem.  Then Isaac dies in the twenty-seventh verse of the same chapter:

And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre unto the city of Arbah which is Hebron where Abraham and Isaac sojourned – where they pitched their tents. 

And the days of Isaac were an hundred and four-score years – a hundred eighty years –

And Isaac gave up the spirit and died and was gathered unto his people being old and full of days:  and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

[Genesis 35:27-29]


There they stand those twins.  Those two boys Esau and Jacob reconciled as they stand in the presence of the great silence of the tomb and lay away their father Isaac – those two boys.  What a contrast.  Esau comes from this kingdom of wealth, and honor, and affluence, and power.  He has established a great kingdom.  He is the head of a household of twelve dukes.  He has known nothing but prosperity and worldly power and influence.  And Esau stands at the head of the grave of his father.  And by his side coming to help him is limping, halting Jacob who has known nothing in his life but trial and sorrow. 

Those two men stand there.  Those two boys stand there.  Those twins stand there so different – so very, very different.  And that that is the last time they ever see one another.  Esau goes his way to be head of his great kingdom.  And Jacob turns his way; their paths so divergent.  And those paths continuing in such divergence through their children and their children’s children down through the generations but standing here at the grave, at the cave of Machpelah burying their father away.

Jacob and the school of sorrows; this other sorrow I do not read.  It is in the twenty-second verse of the thirty-fifth chapter of Genesis.  It seemed so strange but Jacob’s house was filled with every trial, every heart ache, every bereavement, every disappointment that mind could think for.  This eldest son, this firstborn, this strong man who should have inherited the blessing; who should have inherited the birthright; whose dignity and place it was to be God’s chosen leader of the household of faith; in those long after-years because of this one terrible sin, he was rejected; unstable as water.

Reuben, Reuben, Reuben and not only Reuben – how Jacob must have suffered in the person of his children Simeon and Levi; we have just read of in their bitter and hasty cruelty destroying the whole city of Shechem causing Jacob to have to move out of the country.  You know I see that once in a while today.

A father and a mother so bowed down in grief because of the sins of their children that they leave the country, move out of the place, move away from the town.  This sorrow Jacob knew not only in Simeon and Levi but now in Reuben and in the thirty-eighth chapter in Judah.  Ah!  What hurt and what sorrow can come to a household through their children.  Not any sorrow in this world like living sorrow and not any grief and disappointment like that parents can feel in their children.  If children could just know what they do; how it has repercussion in the hearts of their parents. I sometimes wonder if many, many occasions when they do things they would pause and be appalled at what they are choosing to do.  So Jacob knows the bitter grief disappointment in his children.

And now we come to one of the bitterest griefs of all.  The story of the thirty-seventh chapter of Genesis is almost beyond compare in its hurt, in its trial, in its tears.  Everything in the chapter is filled with heartache, and grief, and disappointment.  It starts off in a way in which of course Jacob is culpable.  But I could hardly see how he could be otherwise.

Partiality in a family is always hurtful; always.  When a father and a mother have several children and there is great partiality toward one, you sow the seeds of many, many, many things.  It reaps a harvest in each one of those children.  It makes a great difference in those children.  It makes a difference in their spirit, in their hearts, in their confidence, in their outlook in every way.  Partiality in a home is a dreadfully terrible thing.

I suppose it is human and especially which such a one as you would find here in the household of Jacob.  Rachel his beloved – the Rachel the wife of his soul and his heart – Rachel who is dead – her elder son must have been the crown of manhood and the joy of boyhood.  There is no character in the Bible as beautiful, and as fine, and as noble, as impeccable as Joseph.  He is the finest type of Christ to be found in all of the Scriptures.

And Jacob loved that boy.  His heart doted upon him.  He was the apple of his eye.  For Joseph just to walk into his presence was to bring back again the warm flame of the love that he knew for the boy’s mother Rachel.  And the pride of the father in that son was beyond anything for me to describe – Jacob and that son Joseph.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all of his children because he was the son of his old age.  And he made for him a coat of many colors.  Just set him apart as though his love, and his adoration, and his spirit, and his warmth, and his joy, and his delight written in every line of his face, in every tone of his voice, in every gesture of his hand as though that were not enough.  Then Jacob set the boy apart giving him this coat of many colors.  It was a sign of the prince of the clan.  This, this is my son beloved.

Well look at the next verse.  "And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren they hated him and could not speak peaceably unto him."  [Genesis 37:4]  They could not treat him civil.  They could not even be nice to him.  And then as though that were not enough Joseph began to dream dreams.  And they were remarkable dreams.  They were wonderful dreams.

And had Joseph kept them to himself they would have been innocent dreams.  But this boy Joseph he is so naïve.  He is so fine.  He is so splendid.  He is so sweet.  He is just a precious boy and he dreamed those dreams.  And he would tell the people in the camp what he had dreamed.  And they – look at the next verse.  "And Joseph dreamed a dream and told it to his brethren:  and they hated him yet the more."  [Genesis 37:5]

I want you to see what his father does.  Down here in the tenth verse the father rebukes him and said "What is this dream thou hast dreamed?"  But look how the next verse reads.  "And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying."  [Genesis 37:11]  In his heart when Joseph dreamed all those dreams about how they were bowing down and doing obeisance to him his brothers envied him because he had a natural regal character and bearing.  But his father observed it.  That is the way it is going to be, his father observed the same.  Well, then goes that story; oh, oh, oh!  The thirty-first verse:

And they took Joseph’s coat and killed a kid of the goats and dipped the coat in the blood;

And they sent the coat of many colors and they brought it to their father and said "This have we found:  We know not whether it be thy son’s coat or no.  We just found this."

But Jacob knew it.  And he said It is my son’s coat – that coat of many colors – an evil beast hath devoured him.  Joseph is rent in pieces.

And Jacob rent his clothes and put sackcloth upon his loins and mourned for his son many days"


He mourned for that boy twenty years. 

And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; 

But he refused to be comforted; and he said For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning.  Thus his father wept for him.

[Genesis 37:31-35]


Can you imagine a greater heartache than that a greater sorrow than that?  And that continued for twenty years his father mourning and weeping over that wonderful glorious boy Joseph.  His coat dipped in blood and brought to him and he looks upon it – the School of Sorrows.

But we are not done yet.  We are not done yet.  The days pass and there is a terrible famine in the land.  That eastern country is subject to such terrible famines and this famine lasts one year, and two years, and three years, and four years.  Five, six, and seven years there is a famine in the land.  The sky is brass and the earth is iron.

And finally Jacob is driven to beg bread in Egypt from all ages the granary of the world and sends his sons down into the land of Egypt in order to buy bread.  And when after a dreadful suspense those sons come back Simeon is not with them.  Where is Simeon?  They recount to their father that strange interview down there in the land of Egypt.  That strange governor who would not let them escape, who would not let them leave the country unless Simeon were left as a hostage that they would bring back Benjamin.

Jacob says, "Under no condition will this boy Benjamin be allowed to leave my sight."  But the famine waxes worse and the years pass and there is no rain and the sky is still brass and the earth is still iron.  And in desperation in order to get Simeon and in order to have bread to eat, the father consents for Benjamin to go away.  And now in [verses] 42 and 36 Jacob cries, "All these things are against me.  All these things are against me.  All these things – everything – is against me!" Jacob, in the school of sorrows. 

And then last of all in the forty-seventh chapter and the ninth verse this is one of the most pathetic answers I have ever read, when he is brought into the presence of Pharaoh, Pharaoh asks him, "How old art thou?"  And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty: few" – that is compared to Terah, and Abraham, and Isaac – "few, few they have been."  And evil compared to the grandeur, and glory, and worldly affluence of Esau; evil. 

Few and evil have the years of my life been and I have not attained – I have not attained, I have not attained – unto the days of  the years and the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage. 

[Genesis 47:9]


After a long, and weary, and sorrowful life, "I have not attained." Jacob, in the school of sorrows.

Now we are going to turn that thing and look at it as after these centuries we can judge it as God would look at a thing.  Whenever you are in this life, and this pilgrimage, and this trial – this veil of tears – you see things just like this.  But God sees them from the great eternal vantage point.  God sees them from heaven; the end from the beginning.  And things are so different from the vantage point of God.  I do not know a better way to illustrate that than to look here at the life of Jacob in the school of sorrows.  To him every turn was filled with tears, behind every day was just one more affliction.

All right, I want us to look at it now and see how different it is as God knew and as God directed that cry of Jacob in Genesis 42 and 36, "All these things are against me."  They looked that way to him.  "All these things are against me."  For twenty years he had wept over Joseph, head bowed in grief, turning his face to the grave over the loss of that glorious boy; twenty years to grieve mourning over Joseph.

Simeon is a captive and he never had hopes of seeing him again, and now Benjamin is being taken away from him – the child of his right hand – and the terrible drought pressing upon him, threatening to disseminate his flocks and his family and to wipe clean the whole camp.  And Jacob cries, "All these things are against me!"  And yet up there in glory, God rules and God knows.  And this is what God knew.  Joseph is alive and is the governor of the greatest kingdom in the ancient world; Joseph is alive and is the very Pharaoh of Egypt – his son, that glorious boy.  Simeon is alive and Simeon will be returned to the household of his father.  Benjamin is just the object of love and care of his brother, who reigns on the very throne of the world’s greatest kingdom.  And all of these things over which Jacob is lamenting are just conspiring for the preservation and the good of the patriarch and friend of God.  "All things work together for good to them that love God."  [Romans 8:28]  The only thing is we don’t know it, we don’t see it, we don’t realize it.  "All these things are against me!" wept, and cried, and lamented Jacob.  Yet every one of those things was working for him, "all things work together for good to them that love God."

Now look at it again.  We must hasten to conclude this message.  Look at it again.  In the fiftieth chapter, the last chapter of Genesis and the twentieth verse; Genesis 50 and 20, Joseph is now in the presence of his brethren and Jacob, the old father, is dead.  And those brethren in fear and in terror say to one another, "Now that our father is dead Joseph will slay us for what we did to him." 

Now look what Joseph says.  "As for you my brethren, Ye thought evil against me, but God – but God meant it unto good."  [Genesis 50:20]  God meant it unto good.  How could good, how could good come out of the bitterness and the hatred of those brethren taking their brother Joseph first a slave; then to put him in a pit to die; then to sell him to the Ishmaelites and the Midianites?  Then to break the heart of their father by dipping his coat of many colors in blood and saying, "Is this the coat of your son?"  How could that be good?

It is just all of the fabric of life.  God uses it for good to bring it to pass.  "As it is this day to save much people alive."  God sent Joseph there in Egypt, in order that the family might be preserved in an evil time and in order that the people might turn from a nomadic tribe into the welding and building of a great nation.  Ah, the inscrutable designs and wisdom of God!

Now this last is, we are seeing this life of Jacob as God would look at it as a whole.  Finally Jacob came to see that himself in Genesis 48:15 see how Jacob speaks of the Lord:

And Jacob blessed Joseph and said God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk the God which shepherded me all my life long unto this day.

The angel which redeemed me from all evil bless your boys.

[Genesis 48:15-16]


Now look at old Jacob at the end of the way through the school of sorrows through trials bitter and long, through tears and bereavement of the years.  Look how he describes it now when he comes to end of the way on his deathbed he says, "The God which shepherded me all my life long unto this day.  The angel which redeemed me from all evil."  [Genesis 48:15]  As he looked back he could see the guiding guarding shepherding hand of God.

Well, that is the pilgrimage of the child of Jesus.  Maybe not see it now, not understand it now, "see through a glass darkly" but someday we shall find that all of it was on purpose, made into a pattern chosen of God.  And it has a light in it, and a purpose in it, and an understanding in it, and a reason in it that someday God shall make plain to us; Jacob in the school of sorrows, but Jacob under the shepherdly care of God.

Now we sing our song, somebody this morning to give his heart to the Lord or to put his life in the fellowship of the church.  While we stand and sing the appeal, would you come and stand by me?  Now let’s stand and sing.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Genesis 35-42



Jacob’s sorrows

1.    Death of Deborah

2.    Death of Rachel

3.    Death of Isaac

4.    Suffering through
the sins of his children

5.    Lived to see the
dissension and hatred of his sons

6.    Famine

7.    Growing sense
that life was closing, his strength failing

We are not to judge by appearances

God has a purpose in all our sorrows

Nothing can separate us from the love of God