The Emblems of Jacob’s Pilgrimage
January 18th, 1989 @ 7:30 PM
THE EMBLEMS OF JACOB’S PILGRIMAGE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-18-89 7:30 p.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs of you who share this holy hour on radio. You are a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Emblems of Jacob’s Pilgrimage.
I guess every Wednesday night these messages out of the Book of Genesis are so helpful and encouraging to me; but this one certainly is, as I prepared it. I am going to read Genesis 25, verses 21-28. Genesis chapter 25, verses 21-28:
And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the Lord.
And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy body; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.
And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb.
And the first came out red, all over like a hairy garment; and they called his name “Hairy”—Esau.
And after that came his brother out, and his hand took hold on Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob: and Isaac was threescore years old when she bare them.
And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.
And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebekah loved Jacob.
The Emblems of Jacob’s Pilgrimage.
More than any of the ancient patriarchs, Jacob is like us. He’s one of us. He comes nearer to our human infirmity, and imperfection, and worthlessness, and suffering, and trial, and discipline. But also he is like us in the grace of God which was magnified through all of his weaknesses.
What God can do with a worm—Isaiah 41:14, God calls him a worm—what God can do with a worm is a true figure of his groveling, crooked, naturally selfish and supplanting nature, that God could bless. But God gave to the worm the mightiest of names. God called him the “prince of the Lord,” Israel [Genesis 32:28], therein showing that grace can take us in our lost estate, seat us with Christ in heavenly places, and recreate us, newborn us, as partakers of the divine nature. So we’re going to look at the symbols, the emblems, in Jacob’s life and see them as our own.
First emblem: his birth. In the passage you just read, Genesis 25:26, that figure is an outline of his future. Quote: “He took his brother by the heel in his mother’s womb.” So he was named Jacob; that is, supplanter, cheater, but also as if something in him pressed him forward to claiming the mightiest promises of God.
The second emblem is his birthright. In Genesis 25:34, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” I wish I had time to read the passage of Scripture that lies back of the story but we haven’t opportunity. Just briefly, Esau came from the field and was desperately hungry. Jacob had food and Esau said, “If you will give me this to eat, I will give you my birthright” [Genesis 25:29-34]. It meant nothing to Esau, but that birthright was coveted by Jacob. It meant everything to him.
Now the birthright to the ancient patriarchs meant two things: one, the headship of the tribe; and second, the spiritual privilege of the divine covenant. And here more was involved than just the head of the house; it carried also the blessing, which his mother Rebekah undoubtedly had taught him. It is the hope of the people of God.
For example, in 1 Chronicles 5:1 it says, “Joseph received the birthright.” He was made to be the father of two tribes, two of them: Manasseh and Ephraim” [Genesis 41:51-52]. But that next verse 1 Chronicles 5:2 says Judah received the blessing; that is, out of him was to come the great Ruler and Savior of the world, called Shiloh in Genesis 49:10.
Now had Jacob waited for the fulfillment, according to the promise of God; had he lived a beautiful life of trust—for example, Isaiah 30:15 says “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength”—but Jacob was not that way. In him all kinds of crookedness and chicanery, to cheat for it; he claimed the prize with the tenacity of faith, then marred it by adding his own crooked works. But he did see its value, the birthright. Esau saw no meaning in the eternal future, else he would have prized it above all earthly possessions. But Jacob saw it, esteemed it, eagerly sought and claimed it, and made it his very own [Genesis 25:29-34].
God honored his faith. God dropped out, discarded the cheating works of Jacob, and He burned out the sin through the discipline of suffering. And how very much did Jacob suffer. In Jeremiah 30:7 it speaks of the time of Jacob’s trouble and sorrow, a day that is yet to come.
The third emblem: Genesis 28:12 is the vision of Jacob at Bethel. It came in one of the darkest hours of his life. He was fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau. There was nothing but midnight around him; he had a stone for a pillow, a symbol of the sad lot that awaited him. But the vision is a foreshadowing of the pathway and pilgrimage of his life. There is a ladder. The top is there, leaning in the battle march of heaven, and at the top of those bulwarks is God Himself [Genesis 28:12-13]. The only true ladder of life is one that reaches up to the sky. Any ladder of human ambition, one, reaches only a few years ahead; second, it is made up of a momentary fame; and third, it is vanishing with whatever wealth you might accumulate.
Let our ladder reach the sky,
Go beyond this fleeting life of three score and ten.
And beyond the dissolving ambitions of this earth.
Let our ladders reach God in heaven.
And not only a ladder that reached the heavens,
But also ascended, step by step, rung by rung.
Reach heaven, not by one great bound,
But little by little, moment by moment.
So God leads us, a step at a time.
Jacob’s ladder rose out of the darkest hour of his life. So our blessings are born out of our greatest trials. You have a pillow that is hard. It is like a stone? Look for the ladder leaning up against the sky. Jacob’s ladder ended with God [Genesis 28:13]. God was at the top of it and all the way down it, and He held it, lest it slip and fall. God supported it.
And the angels of providence ascended and descended, moving up and down on every rung, guarding every step [Genesis 28:12]. One of the most unusual things to me about that beautiful vision—the emblem, I say, of his life—when he saw the vision, the angels are not descending and ascending; the Book says that the angels are ascending and descending [Genesis 28:12]. The angels of God are here with us; they are in our presence, and in our company, and in our pilgrimage, and in our journey, every step of the way, every rung of the ladder. Hebrews 1:14, the last verse in that first chapter of Hebrews, speaks of those angels as, quote, “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who are the heirs of salvation.” Our servants and our ministers are the angels of God, and they are here with us.
Finally, it is an emblem and a symbol of our Lord Jesus Christ: He is the open door into heaven. And He is the only way of entrance and communion and communication. Christ Himself said this, and thus interpreted it in John 1:51 to Nathanael: He said, “Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Christ comes down from heaven [John 6:51]; He comes from God and He reaches down to us. He is a living ladder of human steps, saying at every step and rung, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” [John 14:6], and the shepherd [John 10:11, 14], and the guide, and the “author and the finisher of the faith” [Hebrews 12:2]. He is at the beginning as our Lord; He is at the ending our Lord [Revelation 1:17]. He is Christ all the way along the pilgrimage, and He is our all in all.
The fourth emblem: the experience in Genesis 32:30-31, “He called the name of the place Peniel” [Genesis 32:30]. Then in the next verse, verse 31 he calls it “Penuel.” The doubtlessly correct word in our language would be “Penuel” [Genesis 32:31]. But whether they pronounce it “Peniel” or “Penuel,” it means the “face of God.” And it is the experience of Jacob at the River Jabbok [Genesis 32:22]. He faces—in his return to Canaan, he faces his infuriated brother with hundreds of armed men [Genesis 33:1]; a brother who has sworn to slay him [Genesis 27:41].
And the poor worm Jacob is at it again, trying to placate the lion, sending presents, seeking what ingenuity he can contrive. He puts there in front of him his little ones. Then he puts in front of him his helpless wives. And he puts in front of him his flocks, all laid out there just so before the hatred of Esau [Genesis 32:13-23].
Then after he’s done that, there comes over him a sense of his helplessness. And placing his dear ones in the hands of God, he goes down at the ford of the Jabbok River. It is night again and the darkest clouds surround him; then out of the night a mystery of trial, a compulsive agony, known only to those who’ve wrestled through nights of despair; and he came forth in the morning a new man [Genesis 32:24-31]. Out of the agony of that seemingly implacable, impossible despair, and in a trauma that was ready and poised to destroy him, God brought him forth to a faith that he had never realized. Travailing in a birth that can come in no other way, with groaning that cannot be uttered, as Romans 8 describes it, he received the blessing of God in prevailing prayer [Romans 8:26].
At last, long last, ceasing to struggle, he fell prostrate at the feet of Him who wrestled with him. The Angel touched his thigh, it came out of joint [Genesis 32:25]. In a cry of anguish despair, falling at the feet of the mighty One, he said, “Lord, I cannot even stand.” Jacob has become a fallen, helpless heap of a child.
But as he fell, he fell into the arms of the omnipotent God. As he went forth, though halting on his thigh, he was leaning on the arms of the Almighty. He is a new man. He is no longer Jacob—supplanter, cheater; but God has named him Israel, a prince of the Lord [Genesis 32:28].
I have often thought of that scene. Esau was there with hundreds of armed men [Genesis 33:1], and he had come to confront that brother who had cheated him [Genesis 25:29-34, 27:1-40], one that he had sworn to slay [Genesis 27:41]. And when he met him, when Esau met him, it was like this: he [Jacob] could hardly stand. He could hardly walk. He was a broken man. And when Esau saw him, instead of the hatred that he’d entertained in his heart for years and years, he burst into compassionate tears [Genesis 33:4]; an emblem of how God blesses us. Not in our strength and in our self-sufficiency and in all of the things that we think promote us and make us acceptable, but God blesses us in our brokennesses, in our helplessnesses, in our needs. He [Jacob] is an emblem of us.
I haste to conclude. The fifth emblem: Genesis 32:10 and Hebrews 11:21—I ought to read that one in Hebrews 11:21—Hebrews 11:21, “By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed his [Joseph’s] sons; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.” The fifth emblem is his staff. In the passage that you read, those patriarchs of God confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth [Hebrews 11:13]. Here we have no abiding home; our home is in heaven [Philippians 3:20]. They confess that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth [Hebrews 11”13]; wherefore, God hath provided them that home, that city [Hebrews 11:16], toward which, with a staff in their hands, they walk through the maze of this pilgrimage. And what a moving emblem, when the Scriptures say, that Jacob died, leaning upon the top of his staff, confessing that he was a stranger and a pilgrim in the earth [Hebrews 11:13].
And the last emblem, the sixth emblem is in Genesis 49:29-33 and Genesis 50:13. It’s a grave. He made his sons promise, swearing before the Lord Himself, that they would take him back to the Promised Land and bury him there [Genesis 50:5-8]. So when he died, those sons of Jacob were true to that promise and carried him back and buried him in the cave of Machpelah [Genesis 50:12-13]. It represents the pledge of God to Abraham, Isaac, and now to Jacob, that the land is to be theirs forever.
I want to take the time to read that holy promise in Psalm 105, verses 8 and 11.
God hath remembered His covenant for ever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.
Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac;
And confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance.
God hath sworn through all the generations and forever that the Holy Land belongs to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. And when Jacob died, the sons of Israel carried him to Machpelah, and there they buried him with Abraham, and Isaac, and Leah [Genesis 50:12-13].
Have you been to Machpelah? I’m sure many of you have. When I stand there and look at those caskets that are supposed to contain the earthly frame of those patriarchs, I cannot but bow my head and say in my soul, “O God, Your faithfulness; for the land shall yet belong to the people of Israel, the seed of Abraham and Jacob.” And their graves are a pledge of that unfailing remembrance from heaven.
And my own heart is comforted and strengthened when I read these things in God’s Holy Word, and when I see them as they are brought to pass according to the omnipotent pleasure and will of our Father. And the same Lord God that promised that land to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob [Psalm 105:8-11], is the same Lord God that promises us a beautiful home in heaven [John 14:1-3].
If God breaks His promise to them, how do I know but that He will break His promise to me? But if God keeps His promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, He will keep His promise to me. And we’ll share in the riches of His glory and of His presence forever and ever, amen [Revelation 22:3-5].
Now, Brother Fred, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the hymn of appeal, I’ll be standing right here. If there’s a family you who would love to be with us in our dear church, come and welcome. If there’s a couple to dedicate your home to the Lord, come and welcome. If there’s a somebody you tonight, to give your heart to the precious Savior [Romans 10:9-10], come and welcome. May angels attend in the way as you answer with your life; while we stand and while we sing.
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