JACOB, OR THE SPIRIT OF SERVICE
Chapters 27 - 36
"Jacob served for a wife, and kept sheep." -- Hos. 12:12.
"Surely there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought!" -- Numb. 23:23.
WE come now to another form of life. Five great stages we have already passed. Jacob is the sixth, in whom is shewn a further very distinct development of the same spiritual life. Essentially they are alike, as root, and shoot, and leaf, and bud, and flower, and fruit, and seed, are all the same life; they differ in form, each being a fresh manifestation of that sevenfold Spirit which indeed is yet one (Rev. 1:4; 1 Cor. 12:4, 11).
Jacob, as we have already seen, (Note: See on chap. 25:24-34.) represents that spirit of service, which is not the first and natural, but the spiritual fruit of true sonship; which from the first is distinguished by using its hand; "laying hold," and labouring to bring the first-born, and what is akin to the first-born, into subjection to a higher life. The figure is most distinct, and stands in striking contrast to all the forms of life which we have already gone through. Abraham, the spirit of faith, goes forth from the ground of the outward man to walk with God beyond Jordan. He leaves his kindred behind, coming out from Mesopotamia, that is the ground between tradition and reasoning, (Note: Respecting these rivers, from which Mesopotamia, or Aram Naharaim, took its name, see on chap. 2.) forsaking the outer world to walk with God, and to stand in His strength upon the heavenly ground of promise. This is the life of faith, to pass from earthly into heavenly things. And Abraham's experience is all in keeping with this beginning. For faith, having turned its back on the outward man, returns to it no more, but abides beyond Jordan. Isaac lives yet more completely in Canaan; for our walk as sons of God is not with the natural man or in the outward world. Isaac's life begins and ends beyond Jordan. A son and heir, he dwells in peace in heavenly places. Once only through trial he nearly leaves this ground, driven to its very borders, in the direction of the Philistine. But his life is a life in Canaan. In Jacob the view presented to us is very different. Here the elect is seen, not as coming by faith from the ground of the outward man, nor as Isaac dwelling in Canaan in peace by wells of water; but rather going down from thence to the ground of the outward man, from which the spirit of faith has come up and separated itself, there to serve for a bride and flocks, whom it may bring, as the fruit of service, back with it into heavenly places. Jacob's life is service throughout; a life, beginning in the midst of the blessings of the elect in heavenly places, which yet goes down thence to toil in outward things, to bring under the power of the spiritual life in us faculties which till now have only served the outward man; a form of life which only comes after sonship is known, which is indeed its fruit, though most unlike it; for it goes down from heavenly things to earthly, to labours amongst the unclean, from whom God's elect have been separated. (Note: Ambrose points out the distinction between these two lives, De Joseph. c. i. § 1.)
Such a life may seem to undo what has been done, for Jacob goes down to the very ground which Abraham had forsaken: yet are the paths in substance one; and both, unlike as they appear, are but different parts of one and the same series; both are the same life at different stages; now rising like a plant to hold its fruit above the earth in air and sunshine, now again casting its fruit into the earth, in both pursuing only one end. For life is growth, and involves a constant change. Hence the same life, which at one stage, as Abrahams, draws us away from outward things, at another stage, as Jacobs, brings us back to them. Being life, it cannot preserve a dead consistency. The elect change, because they are alive. Hence the fact, of their having once and for ever by faith forsaken outward things, shall by no means keep them from going back in service to toil for that which by faith they have forsaken. Besides, things are safe at one stage which are dangerous at another; as Egypt, which was a snare to Abraham, is none to Joseph, but becomes the scene of all his glory.
I. -- JACOB'S CARNAL MEANS TO GAIN GOD'S ENDS
FIRST we see how Jacob attempts to supplant the flesh or first-born. His mode of action is fully shewn, and the results, which leave Esau, without the blessing indeed, but yet "my lord Esau." The more excellent way comes out in Joseph. There the victory over the first-born is won, not by striving or supplanting, but by suffering. Not the strength of nature, not doing but dying, in a word the cross, is the elect's true sceptre over the flesh and outward world. But this is not known at this stage. Here we see the first ways by which the younger strives to overcome the elder, namely by craft and energy.
Three men appear in this scene, who yet live, and still repeat the same acts in the elect house.
First Isaac seeks to bless Esau. He will, if possible, give the blessing to the first-born or natural life. "Isaac called his elder son, and said unto him, My son, make me savoury meat, that I may eat and bless thee" (Gen. 27:4). But this first-born is slow in bringing what is asked; and the blessing, spite of Isaac's inclination, passes according to a higher purpose upon the younger son.
And so the spirit of sonship in us struggles, if it might be so, to make the flesh blessed. Spite of our knowledge that flesh must fail, we yet would make it the heir, and bless it, though we know it cannot be. In vain have Cain and Terah lived and died: in vain has the spirit of faith struggled to save Ishmael: the same desire remains when Isaac is old, stronger now perhaps than at any former stage. For Abraham only prays for Ishmael, but Isaac determines himself to bless the first-born. But flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom (1 Cor. 15:50). The sons of God may excite the flesh to seek the blessing. It is in vain. The true kingdom is in and of the spirit, in things which the flesh loves not, and where it cannot come.
And Isaac, foiled in his purpose, at once and without hesitation confirms the blessing upon the head of Jacob. He answers, "I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed" (Gen. 27:33); nor do Esau's cries for a moment change this deep conviction. He "trembles" indeed, for the struggle of his own with God's will moves him exceedingly; but his judgment is untouched; the blessing is fixed: he neither can nor will reverse it. So now, spite of our wish to bless the flesh, through its delays we find our purpose set aside. Then instead of seeking to reverse the gift, we fully acquiesce in the fact, that the spirit is the true possessor of it. The spirit of sonship confirms the rejection of the flesh. It receives a blessing, but it cannot have the inheritance.
But Jacob is the chief figure here. Elect, unbroken, still Jacob, not yet transformed into Israel, the man whose own hand is at work, not yet a prince with God, as he becomes afterwards, -- just as he is, young and eager to be blessed, without a thought of his own unfitness to use the blessing he longs for, not fearing Esau, as he does in later days, he seeks at once by craft to supplant him, and take the blessing. Thus the spirit of service in us at the first, loving the blessing, and intent at once to rule the carnal old man, little thinks of its own unchastened state, or of the flesh's power, if it be roused by opposition, but pursues the same old plan to be blessed, making itself as much like the rejected first-born as possible, putting skins on its hands and neck to be rough, then taking Esau's raiment, then personating Esau. Instead of waiting God's time, it will by roughness and guile, contrary to the better nature within, attempt to rule the flesh or first-born, putting on the manners and appearance of the carnal seed, to gain by roughness what roughness has no claim to. For because he was such as he was, Esau fails; and yet Jacob will make himself like this thereby to gain the blessing. But he cannot do this without compunction. He says, "I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing" (Gen. 27:12). Nevertheless "he puts the skins of the kids upon him" (Gen. 27:16). The flesh's roughness is put on, to gain what we think will be lost, if we walk on in humble quietness.
This part of the figure is most striking. When Adam fell, God gave him a "coat of skins" (Gen. 3:21), a witness of death, and yet a covering through the slain Lamb. In like manner the prophets wore hairy garments (2 Kings 1:8; Matt. 3:4), testifying the same truth of a fallen nature and its remedy. This Jacob uses to be more flesh-like. He wears the rough garment, like false prophets, to deceive (Zech. 13:4). (Note: See Greg. M. in Ezech. l. i. h. 6. He does not notice that Jacob did this to make himself like Esau.) The death of the creature is made his cloak, to be more like that creature, whose doom is sealed by that which covers him. Even thus is the gospel abused. The fact that the lamb was slain, the very pledge that our flesh must not be lived in, is used at first by the spirit of service in us as a means to make us more like Esau, more rough, and more beast-like. And this especially when we would serve. As sons of God, our dangers and temptations meet us on another side; but as workers we try fleshly means, even when the desire of our heart is to overcome the flesh, and to live and walk in the spirit.
This was not done by Jacob alone. His mother, Rebekah, moved him to practise this deception (Gen. 27:6-10). Rebekah is that form of truth which the spirit of sonship loves; (Note: See on chap. 24 and chap. 25:12-23.) and this truth, acting on the spirit of service in us, through our impatience and tendency to trust ourselves, excites, and so tempts us. Thus it was in Abraham's case. Sarah herself stirred him up to seek seed by the bondwoman. (Note: See on chap. 16.) So even spiritual truth may mislead, if, instead of keeping us in hope and patience, it excites us to godless haste and carnal policy. In service especially we are prone to this, in the efforts which we first make to overcome the elder son. The truth itself excites us to steps, which shew our zeal, but practically deny the zeal of the Lord of Hosts (Isa. 9:7). The result is always chastening. We learn at last that we only mar God's work when we attempt to do it for Him, and that if we do wrong, we must also suffer wrong.
Nevertheless Jacob is blessed. The grace, which before his birth gave him the promise, abides "without repentance" (Rom. 11:29). God's purpose is not turned aside. This "worm Jacob" (Isa. 41:14) must be chastened, yet He blesses him. "And Isaac said, The smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed" (Gen. 27:27). The "image of God" is not yet come, but the "herb and fruit tree" is yielding fruit and odour after its kind. And sweet is the smell of this spirit of service in us, spite of all its haste and imperfections. It is "even as a very fruitful field;" not heaven, but earth fair and sweet to look upon. Sweet is the field, though much is unripe there. Sweet is the vine, when its sour and "tender grape gives a good smell" (Cant. 2:13). Sweet is the olive, while as yet it yields no oil, for the wounds of man, or for the light on God's candlestick (Exod. 27:20; Luke 10:34). Sweet is the rose, though but a prickly brier, with tokens in its thorns of a curse still working in it. Sweet is the lowly lily, which toils not and spins not, a witness of the beauty which the Lord delights to put on meek and pure natures. Sweet is the violet, hiding itself, of choice preferring shade, and loving the quiet low ground; not feigning humility as a step to grandeur here, but content if only it can reflect the hue of heaven in its humble blossoms. Sweet again is the corn as it comes to the growth; not yet bread-corn, ready to be bruised, but still unripe and growing. Such is this son, whose early life, spite of its faults, is, "as the smell of a full field, which the Lord blesses;" not fit for the garner, but growing and green; freed at least from thickets and stones and pools of stagnant water; where instead of the thorn may come up the fir tree, instead of the brier the myrtle tree, to be unto the Lord for a praise and a name, even for an everlasting sign, which shall not be cut off (Isa. 55:13). (Note: Gregory the Great interprets all these varied flowers, In Ezech. l. i. h. 6, § 3. Ambrose alludes to the same subject, Hex. l. iii. c. 8, § 36.)
Thus Esau still without, while Jacob is already come with savoury meat, loses the inheritance. When he comes it is too late. Then he cries, "Bless me, even me also, O my father." For the flesh, though stirred up to seek the blessing, loses it by tarrying so long in pursuing outward things. Then it cries with a loud and bitter cry. But the hope of glory is gone; though a lower blessing, if sought, is not denied to it. Then it "lives by its sword," delighting in strife, and in its struggles with the spirit at times has the dominion over it. But it cannot be the heir. The coming world and the inheritance is for ever forfeited.
Such is the scene within, so far at least as it is given me to utter it. Outwardly too it is fulfilled. Abraham's sons, who pursue external things in the field of this world, much as the Son may wish to bless them, lose the blessing, while the spiritual seed, though seeking very carnally, press in and seek and make it theirs. And who is it, even to this present day, that stirs up the heirs of promise, to make themselves like carnal men? Alas, it is Mother Church, that body which is the outward form of spiritual truth. She it is who moves her best-loved sons, making them rough men to gain what rough men cannot have. Therefore must she lose her sons. Her craft and carnal means to obtain holy ends, -- and the haste and impatience of those she loves, in and by themselves and in their own strength to seize the blessing, -- ere long divide the mother from her sons, while in sore travail through many days they suffer long discipline. The Esaus stay behind: the Jacobs go forth to toil, to win flocks and herds. Even the carnal and rejected sons receive some blessing. They, no less than their spiritual brothers, have the "fatness of the earth and the dew of heaven" promised them. What is "of the earth," sacramental forms, they put in the first place. The "dew of heaven" is with them the second and lower blessing. (Note: Compare the order of the respective blessings, Gen. 27:28 and Gen. 27:39. Augustine, who constantly quotes Isaac's two sons as the figure of the double seed, the carnal and spiritual, in the Christian Church, goes at great length into this, Serm. iv. Class. 1, De Jacob et Esau, §§ 14, 31. Some would do well to mark the place here given by Augustine to sacraments. Compare with Confess. l. xiii. c. 18, § 23.) It comes indeed on all alike, on tares and wheat, but each uses it to strengthen its proper life; the one drinking in the dew to nourish thorns, the other by the same dew "out of an honest and good heart" to bring forth good things. But I need not pursue this; for in this view the fulfilment to our shame is around us everywhere.
The dispensations too reflect the scene. The Divine Word, the true Son, produced a double seed. Then He looked for refreshment of heart from him, who, as being the first-born, possessed the first claim. But this son, the Jew, yet tarries without, and comes not until the younger son has gone in, and the word is fulfilled, "A people whom I have not known, they have served me" (Psalm 18:43). In this view, Esau's raiment, which Jacob put on, without which Esau approached his father, is full of significance. That robe of righteousness (Note: Jewish tradition tells us that this raiment of Esau's was the ensign of primogeniture, transmitted from father to son. Ambrose expounds the dispensational application of it, De Jacob, &c., l. ii. c. 2, § 9. Gregory the Great gives the same interpretation, In Ezech. l. i. h. 6, § 3.) which the Jew should have had on, but had not, is worn by the Gentile church, even while it misuses the doctrine of the cross, to make itself resemble the carnal seed. For the Church has sought to be rough like the Jew, using the very death of the Lamb, to make itself carnal rather than spiritual. Yet the blessing remains with the Church, in an order exactly the reverse of that granted to the elder son. To Esau the word is, earth first, then heaven. To Jacob, heaven first, then the blessings of this world. To Jacob, thus; -- "God give thee of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine." To Esau, thus; -- "Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above." For the Jew seeks first a rest on earth; the Church, a rest in heaven now, and God's will on earth, when the kingdom of God shall be in the earth even as it is in heaven. (Note: Tertullian, tracing this fulfilment, calls especial notice to the varying order in the two blessings, Adv. Marcion. l. iii. c. ult. But this dispensational application is given by nearly all the Fathers; by Irenaeus, Contr. Hoer. l. iv. c. 21; (al. 38;) by Hippolytus, as quoted by Jerome, Epist. Crit. 125, ad Damasum; by Augustine, Serm. iv. Class. 1, De Jacob et Esau, and elsewhere; by Origen, Hom. xiv. in Gen.; by Gregory the Great, In Ezech. Hom. 6; and by others. Some not only see the Church in Jacob, but Christ also, the Church's head, like Jacob standing in the first-born or old man's place, and obtaining the blessing by putting on the likeness of sinful flesh for us, figured in the kids' skins. So Augustine, Lib. contr. Mendac. c. x. § 24, and Serm. 79 de Tempore, (al. 11, Append.) and Irenaeus, Contr. Hoer. l. iv. c. 21. (al. 38.) But in this deeper sense, which, indeed, is to be traced all through Genesis, we touch on things unspeakable.)
So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last; and by strength shall no man prevail.
II. -- THE MOTIVES TO SERVICE AND ENCOURAGEMENTS BY THE WAY
WE have seen Jacob in the promised land, by craft and energy rather than by patience seeking to overcome the elder son. We have seen the result, -- only greater opposition. The elder is not brought to serve the younger by such policy. We now see Jacob flying before his brother, going down from the ground of promise to toil in Laban's house, a course in which he is blessed, -- for by it he reaches others whom he brings back with him to the promised land, -- but which never conquers Esau: the victory over the first-born is won by a very different wrestling.
Esau and Laban are both forms of the flesh; (Note: For Esau, see on chap. 25:24-34. For Laban on chap. 24.) the one being the carnal mind as it grows out of a true son; the other, our outward natural man. These differ, though both are of the flesh; as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob differ, though forms of one spirit. Esau is the loveliest form of the flesh, the carnal mind as it grows in us after the spirit of sonship is our ruling life, stirred at times even to seek for heavenly things, yet at heart profane, and loving this present world. Laban is our outward natural man, which dwells in outward things, and is content to dwell there. Each of these in turn tries us. At one stage the outward man is our greatest difficulty. At another it is the carnal mind within, growing up in closest connection with spiritual things, which, because more inward, is far more dangerous and much harder to overcome. Jacob here learns the strength of each. As worker, he strives, not to be ruled, but to rule over these. But Esau is yet so strong that Jacob is forced for awhile to give way and fly before him; while Laban, so far from serving, is served, though at length much that was once in his power follows a better guide. Esau too must yield at last, but not till hasty Jacob has become halting Israel.
At the stage before us Jacob flees to Laban. His motives and encouragements here are both laid open to us. We see the mixture of motive which there is in truest service; how little credit the elect can take to themselves either for what they do or suffer.
Three distinct influences were at work upon Jacob, all uniting to urge him down to Laban's house.
First, Rebekah urges the step, through fear of Esau (Gen. 27:42-45). In this view Jacob's service appears the result, not of longing for fruit, but simply of Esau's violence. And God only knows how much we are led to busy ourselves in attempts to subdue the faculties and affections of the outward man, by the fact of a carnal mind still strong within from which we flee to toil in outward things. Some affection of the outward man, some natural faculty which is engaged in outward things, -- Laban's daughters and flocks, -- are sought and won. Is not this good? Surely, very good. Nevertheless it may result from the power of the carnal mind within, which distresses the spirit, and forces it, with a vague hope of thus acquiring power, into efforts to rule our outward man. But not thus is Esau overcome. Our zeal to subdue the faculties and affections of the outward man, blessed as such service is, and much as it enriches us, -- for Jacob wins both wives and flocks and herds from Laban, -- will never make Jacob Esau's lord. We may have toiled with Laban, and be increased, and possess his goods as our rightful portion, earned by hard labour; yet this will not master Esau: after this, Esau is yet "my lord Esau." This is learnt as we advance. Here we see that Jacob's service to Laban in one view is a result of Esau's violence. The very strength of the carnal mind within drives the spirit in us to efforts to subdue the outward man.
Another motive is desire for fruit. Isaac says, "Arise, go down to Padan-Aram, and take a wife thence of the daughters of Laban, thy mother's brother; and God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people" (Gen. 28:2, 3). In this view our service aims to bring forth fruit. The spirit of sonship urges us on to attempt to subdue natural affections, that we may increase spiritually. Thus our service is not urged on through fear only; there is also a pure desire for increased fruitfulness. On this motive, I need not dwell; all know it, in whom the spirit of service has come and grown strong.
Jacob's service has yet another end. If Rebekah, and Isaac have each their purpose in it, no less has God His, to work something in Jacob as well as by him, to chasten his spirit, and wean him from his self-confidence. For the spirit of service needs breaking in. If when first awakened to the prospect of overcoming that in us which is of the flesh and "first and natural," it could effect this at once and in its own strength, it would thereby most surely be a loser. Self-will would come in, and self-satisfaction, making the very victory a worse defeat. It would be our kingdom rather than God's; and our spirit, unbroken and unchastened, could not be truly blest. For not by strength, but in weakness, does God's kingdom come; not in obtaining our will, but in His will. It is only by the death of all our hopes in self, and this after we have tried our energies to the uttermost, that we are brought really to rest in God. In the walk of faith and sonship we have already proved this. In the effort to subdue our carnal mind and outward man, that is, as Jacobs, the same lesson must be learnt again. Only by sad experience is the spirit of service purged from its tendency to self-confidence and self-exaltation.
Thus Jacob goes forth to toil. Meanwhile, Esau, hearing Iaaac's charge to Jacob, that he should not take a wife of the daughters of the Canaanites, now takes to himself another wife, a daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's carnal son. Thus Jacob's course affects Esau, no less than Esau's violence had affected Jacob. We read "when Esau saw that Isaac had sent Jacob into Padan-Aram, to take a wife from thence, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, and that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-Aram; Esau, seeing that the daughters of Canaan (whom he had already married -- Gen. 26:34, 35; 27:46) pleased not Isaac his father, went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife" (Gen. 28:6-9). This yet is Esau's way. The carnal mind, having been excited by the elect to seek the blessing, and having failed to obtain it, learning that Canaanitish wives, the evil principles which it has embraced, are obnoxious to the spirit, and seeing the spirit bent on obtaining better fruit, does not, indeed, put away the former wives, but adds to them another from Abraham's carnal seed, that is, some principle, which has sprung from the union of faith with law, and which, though Abraham's or faith's seed, is yet its carnal seed. Thus does Esau seek better fruit; and this act shews a desire for some measure of reformation. But spite of its aim, it is a mistake. The carnal mind will never be improved by adopting principles which are only the carnal fruit of true faith. The elder cannot be heir; flesh is flesh, and, improved as it may be, cannot inherit heavenly things.
To return to Jacob, his way seems hard enough. Alone, with a staff in his hands, but all unused to journeying, he turns his face towards Laban's house. Night comes on, and he lies down to sleep, with stones for pillows. In the darkness God is near. If He chastens with one hand, He sustains with the other. So Jacob sees a vision, such as our Lord promises to an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile (Gen. 28:12; John 1:51). He sees heaven opened, and angels of God ascending and descending upon a son of man. He sees how one chastened for sin, in darkness, still weaker than the first-born, and to be yet more humbled, is yet the care of God. Earth is shut, but heaven is opened; there is a path, linking the seen with the unseen, leading upward, and assuring present help. The Lord is not seen to come down, as afterwards, -- for at a later stage, we read, "He went up, after He had talked with him" (Gen. 35:13), -- but the promise is heard, and the Lord appears "above the ladder;" above, yet in communication with him. Then the sevenfold promise again is heard, "Behold, I am with thee, and will help 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" (Gen. 28:13-15).
The spirit of service is yet thus refreshed. It needs, and must receive, correction, but a hand of love administers it. Solitude and darkness may be its lot; but in the darkness the Lord brings into view and opens heavenly things. (Note: The Fathers call especial notice to the stone which Jacob took for a pillow, Greg. M. Moral. in Job, l. v. c. 31, § 54. Augustine gives the same interpretation, In Johan. Tract. vii. § 23.) Light shines out, and fills the soul. Fears, enmities, and sorrows, for a season at least are lost to view. God fills the eye. And afterwards as our spirit journeys on, faint and travel-stained, through the appointed pilgrimage, the recollection of that hour of conscious communion comes back to us as a point of light and joy to cheer and strengthen us. Such moments are memorable indeed. We go far in the strength of that communion. We may, indeed, meet such a revelation, not with the strong grasp of faith, but like Jacob, with a half-fearing cry, "How terrible is this place!" Our surprise may shew how unaccustomed we are to see the Lord. Our language, "If God will be with me," may betray our feeble faith, which can utter an "if," in reply to God's unfailing "I will." But the vision is never to be forgotten. Our spirit "lifts up its feet," and journeys on with fresh alacrity. (Note: Jacob "lifted up his feet," &c., Gen. 29:1, margin. Heb. yisah reglaayw [H5375 H7272]. The Samaritan, Chaldee, and LXX. versions, all translate this verbatim.)
It is the same story without. God's servants go forth to service with very mixed and different ends. The desire for fruit is not our only motive. Our service may be also a result of the opposition of carnal men within the Church. Christ may be "preached of strife," as well as of "love" (Phil. 1:16, 17); and even our truest attempts to shew love be mixed with much that is selfish and uncharitable. Such poor worms are we at the best. In seeking to be catholic, we are often most sectarian. So in seeking to be loving and to win souls to Christ, we are too often unchristlike and unloving. But we learn even by our mistakes, -- by falling, to walk upright -- by many sad blots, at last to write fairly. And so out of our mixed motives God brings forth good; for far above our thoughts He is working something in, as well as by, His servants. If none else are served, the Lord's servants themselves should be served and profited by their own ministry. Who would have thought that a course of toil could be both a labour of love, voluntarily entered upon, and bringing its own reward, and at the same time an appointed means to humble us. All our Christian path is such; but this stage above all others shews, that our most devoted service, undertaken to please God, and to bear fruit to the praise of His faithfulness, in another aspect may be God's disciplining rod. Those especially who have engaged in service, and have spent their lives, willingly, but at great cost to themselves, in some peculiar and trying toil and testimony, will on looking back on their path, as they draw towards its close, feel how the trials of their way have been precisely that discipline which their souls most needed. I believe all suffering will on one side be found to be corrective, even though it comes upon us in the course of the most willing and holy and accepted service. The service may be blessed, the reward great, yet in its sorrows, in those very crosses for which we shall receive a full reward, God may be teaching us obedience by the things which we suffer. Thus God's servants start, and in darkness find how near He is, and that there is a ladder joining earth to heaven, the seen to the unseen, by which their spirits can rise to Him, be they where they may, and His Spirit in return come down upon them. This is seen when we would serve. Not Abraham, or even Isaac, but Jacob beholds this ladder reared up. For the spirit of faith, and even sonship, are slow to learn what the Incarnation means. But God's servants could never serve at all in outward things, if in some measure at least this vision were not vouchsafed to them. Therefore, as they go forth to serve, they are shewn what Christ's flesh means, and what a link between highest and lowest, the outermost and innermost, is everlastingly assured to us thereby. (Note: Augustine several times alludes to this, explaining this ladder by our Lord's words to Nathaniel, John 1:51. -- Serm. 122, § 2. The way in which he proceeds in another place to apply this vision, as an example of ministry, which, after the pattern of the angels and of Christ's Incarnation, should come down to earth as well as rise to heaven, is most striking. -- In Johan. Tract. vii. § 23.) Do the angels descend as well as ascend? Has the Lord of angels Himself by His flesh come down, and been made a Jew to gain the Jews? Then His servants too may come down to earth, and may leave their own high and heavenly ground to win earthly souls; may assume a fleshly form for fleshly souls, and become as Jews to Jews, and as babes to babes, for others (1 Cor. 9:19, 20), in the assurance that everything and anything on earth may be sanctified by the word of God and prayer and thanksgiving. Henceforth every spot is holy ground. We cannot call any man, however outward, common or unclean. For heaven is linked with earth. Shall we then, who are of the earth, count any on earth alien to us? Rather with Jacob we say even of the untilled field, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not" (Gen. 28:16). Not till this is seen are we fitted for service in the outward world.
III. -- THE SERVICE FOR WIVES AND FLOCKS
Chapters 29 and 30
WE now come to the service in Padan-Aram. Evangelic service is here photographed; for the Light Himself has drawn each minutest particular, the trials, mistakes, successes, and results, as none but light could draw them. Jacob is seen in Laban's house, toiling there, first to gain his daughters, then his flocks and herds. First, the daughters of Laban are won; that is, certain affections or truths, which by nature are akin and subject to our outward man, are embraced by the spirit, and so become fruitful. Then Laban's flocks and herds are gained; that is, the animal faculties and emotions, which hitherto have been altogether under the power of the outward man, henceforth obey the spirit, and follow, though still animal and irrational, the directions of the spirit rather than of the outward man. This is not done without long toil. Many a night does Jacob watch, and many a weary day. "In the day the drought consumes him, and the frost by night: sleep departs from his eyes, and slumber from his eyelids" (Gen. 31:40). But the work is done at last. Laban's daughters and flocks and herds serve Jacob, and he "increases exceedingly."
Such is the scene, and the outline is clear: the details need a man's, not to say an angel's, eye. For service is pictured here. Ministering spirits, therefore, according to their measure, will understand this. To others, because the reality is unknown, the picture must needs be more or less a puzzle.
We are first shewn Laban's state, when Jacob comes; then the service rendered to him; and lastly, the results of it. We may trace it within and without. The outward fulfilment will, as ever, be clearest to earthly eyes.
First, to trace it within. Laban's state is seen, that is the state of the outward man, when Jacob or the spirit of service begins to act on him. In reply to the question, "Is he well?" the answer given is, "He is well" (Gen. 29:6); for the natural man, till by dealings with the elect it begins to know itself, is ever self-satisfied. And yet, "it was not much he had before Jacob came" (Gen. 30:30). A well, some sheep, and two daughters, were the better part of his possessions. And the water was scarce, for as a rule the well was closed; while his fairest daughter was occupied with the cattle, in outward more than inward things (Gen. 29:1-9). These figures are all familiar to us. Wells, and sheep, and daughters have again and again passed before our eyes. (Note: For "wells" see on chap. 21, 25:1-11, and 26. For "flocks," on chap. 1, 13, and 22. For "daughters," on chap. 6 and 16, and elsewhere.) Women are affections; but, as our principles are ever what our affections are, they also figure certain principles. Hagar, Sarah, and others, have made this clear. Here two women are seen; the elder, the first and outward affection or principle of the natural man; the younger, the later more inward principle: and of these even the fairest is yet in outward things. Nevertheless Laban welcomes Jacob: -- "He ran to meet him, and brought him into his house" (Gen. 29:13). For the outward man at first is glad to be served, and for awhile is strengthened, though in the end weakened and impoverished, by the efforts of Jacob, the spiritual inward man.
Jacob's service then begins by assisting Rachel, the younger daughter, to open the covered well. Then he gives drink to Laban's flocks. After this, he proceeds to serve with a fixed aim, first for the daughters, then the flocks, of Laban. The course and results of this service are most significant.
Laban's daughters are toiled for first, more strictly the younger daughter, though Jacob in fact obtains both. "Leah was tender or weak-eyed, (Note: Our version, "tender-eyed," is not very plain. The LXX. translate, ophthalmoi astheneis: the Vulgate, "lippis oculis.") but Rachel was beautiful and well-favoured. And Jacob loved Rachel, and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter" (Gen. 29:15-18). He wishes for Rachel alone; but at length, after seven years' service, and when he hopes to have her, he is deceived by Laban, and put off with Leah. "It came to pass in the evening, that Laban took Leah, and brought her to Jacob, and he went in unto her. And in the morning, behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, What is this that thou hast done unto me? Did I not serve thee for Rachel? Wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the first-born." Jacob gets Rachel after all; but against his will and unknown to him he first embraces Leah. It must be so. "It is not so done in that country to give the younger before the first-born."
Laban's daughters as we have seen, are the affections or principles of the outward man. At each stage, as believer, or son, or servant, the elect spirit embraces one or more of these. Like seed, it finds a soil: it does not make it; and that soil is throughout human and natural. Thus is our fallen nature laid hold of by the Spirit, and out of its affections, earthly as they are, good fruit is borne to God's glory. The mystery of the Incarnation is the outward witness of this. And He who abhorred not the Virgin's womb, -- who said, "I will dwell in you and walk in you," -- who took our nature and our infirmities upon Him, -- out of the woman in us yet brings forth spiritual fruit. But the elect's aim is to gain, not the elder or first-born, but the younger or more inward and spiritual affection of the natural man. The first-born has few or no attractions for him. The spirit desires rather to gain what is lovely and spiritual of the outward man. Seven years he labours for this, and "they seemed but a few days for the love he had unto her" (Gen. 29:20); for when the spirit is full of love, time is nothing: love makes our life, like that of the angels, wholly out of time. But there is a sort of necessity for taking the first and natural before the spiritual. While we only desire the inward, we are put off with the outward, which we do not love. We may think we have got Rachel, but it is Leah. The old man has been too cunning for us. For we are in the dark, (Note: "It came to pass in the evening," &c., Gen. 29:23. Respecting the "evening," see on chap. 2.) and know not what we are doing. When, however, light breaks in, we learn how, with all our love for the younger, we have been deceived. Oh, how many, who have only got Leah, think it is Rachel, simply because they are in the dark. If they love Rachel, she too shall be theirs. In due time, after our carnal haste has been met by what is first and natural, we shall obtain the spiritual. But action precedes contemplation; a life on outward principles must come before an inward life; and the outward though not so fair, is more fruitful: not by one alone, but by both of these, is Israel built up. (Note: Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bernard, and others, agree substantially in this interpretation. Augustine pursues the subject at very great length, Contra Faustum Man. l. xxii. cc. 51-58. Gregory the Great writes briefly, In Ezech. l. ii. h. 2, § 10. Bernard gives a similar exposition, Lib. de Modo bene vivendi, ad Sororem, c. 53. Compare also the passage from the Catena Aurea on the genealogy of Christ in St. Matthew.)
Surely there is a "needs be" for this. Laban could not have crossed Jacob's purpose, had not God permitted it. Unwearied love is watching Jacob's steps. Not chance but love gives him weak-eyed but fruitful Leah, as well as fair Rachel; love to Laban, to win yet more of his seed, to win the outward as well as the inward affections of the natural man; love to Jacob, for he is unfit for the best things: an outward principle is the only one by which at present he can bear fruit. We may wish for the best things, like Jacob here; but for our profit we are at first united to outward principles. It was but now that we made ourselves rough like the first-born: justly therefore are we put off with Laban's first-born. When we are more spiritual, the spiritual shall be within our reach. (Note: Augustine is so diffuse here that one can scarcely make a satisfactory extract. See Contr. Faust. Man. l. xxii. c. 53.) Thus do the principles which we receive, -- and mere head-knowledge is not reception, for as Jacob loved and was acquainted with Rachel long before he got her, so is there an acquaintance with truth, which precedes that union with it which results in fruitfulness, -- thus do the principles we hold shew what we are. Happy is it, when being spiritual we can bear spiritual things. But far safer is it for us, and a pledge of God's true loving-kindness, that while we are yet carnal we should only reach carnal things.
Jacob next serves for Laban's flocks, until, after six years more labour, a great part of the cattle have changed masters, and are henceforth Jacob's flock. It appears that Jacob, having got Rachel, wished to leave. Then Laban answers, "I pray thee, tarry; for I have learnt by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake. And he said, What shall I give thee? And Jacob said, Thou shalt not give me anything: if thou wilt do this for me, I will again feed and keep thy flock. I will pass through thy flock, removing thence all the speckled and spotted cattle, and of such shall my hire be. And Laban said, Behold, I would it might be according to thy word" (Gen. 30:31-34). The bargain is that Jacob is to have the "speckled and spotted," and of these ere long by his art he gains the larger and stronger flock. Out of flocks of one colour, he gets others speckled and ring-straked; and the flocks change masters only by changing colours. "Jacob took rods of poplar and almond and chestnut tree, and peeled white strakes in them, and made the white appear which was in the rods. And he set the rods which he peeled before the flocks in the gutters, in the watering troughs when they came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle, ring-straked, speckled, and spotted" (Gen. 30:37-39).
Even so are the flocks yet won. Those animal emotions, which hitherto have been altogether under the power of our outward man, by the spirit's efforts receive another hue, and shew in their very appearance the spirit's handywork. Animal emotions of course are animal to the end, but on them a great outward change has passed, so that even the old man must confess they do not look as they used to look. Jacob has changed their hue. This is done by setting rods of varied colours before their eyes. These "rods" are portions of the Word; (Note: See what is said of the trees of knowledge and life, on chap. 2.) and like that, which, when stretched out over the sea, opened a path for Israel (Exod. 14:16), or that, which, though dry, when laid up before the Lord, budded and blossomed and brought forth almonds (Num. 17:8), these feeble rods effect great things: by them, as by "the rod out of the stem of Jesse" (Isa. 11:1), the weak are made strong. These, partly peeled, partly unpeeled, -- peeled, that is with the inward sense opened, so that what is covered and hidden within may be brought to light, -- unpeeled, that is in the letter alone, with the outward covering still untouched, as at first we always see the Word, -- are set before the flocks, where the living streams are opened, that the offspring or fruit may take another hue. (Note: Gregory the Great explains these rods, Moral. in Job, l. xxi. c. 1. Ambrose gives a similar interpretation, De Jacob. l. ii. c. 4, § 19. Justin Martyr too alludes to these rods, as figuring the doctrine of the cross, Dial. c. Tryph. c. 86.) The animal in us is only thus won; nor can the spirit claim anything of the old man's, save that on which it has exerted a transforming influence.
As the results of this service, Jacob obtains, not Laban's daughters and flocks only, but fruit by each of these. First he gets fruit by the daughters. These children by Leah and Rachel and the bond-maids are the different forms of life which are produced by the spirit of service in us out of different principles; Leah and Rachel representing the higher principles, outward or inward; the bondmaids, other lower principles, subservient to the former, but which are also embraced and produce their own fruit. First come four sons by Leah, whose names point out the peculiar form of life which each shadows forth; Reuben, intelligence; (Note: Reuben, i.e. "filius visionis." Jerome, Nom. Heb. "Seeing" is the common figure for intelligence. Cf. Numb. 21:8-9; John 3:14-15; Luke 24:31; John 6:36, 40, 46, 47.) then Simeon, obedience; (Note: Simeon, i.e. "auditio." Jerome, Nom. Heb. "Hearing," or "hearkening," is synonymous with obedience. See 1 Sam. 15:22; John 10:2, 3, 16, 27; 18:37; Isa. 55:2; Jer. 7:23, 24, 26.) then Levi, service; (Note: Levi, i.e. "conjunctio." Jerome, Nom. Heb. The force of this name, "joining," as representing service, may be seen in many Scriptures: -- Isa. 56:3, 6; Numb. 18:2; Mat. 6:24; Jer. 50:5; Zech. 2:11. See also Gen. 2:24 and Mat. 19:5, where the word "joining" shews the very intimate and sanctified service connected with the marriage tie.) then Judah, rule. (Note: Judah, i.e. "confessio." See Psalm 100:1-5. This and the succeeding names need no illustration. I may add here, that in the naming of Leah's first four sons, she connects the fruitfulness with "the Lord," saying, "I will praise the Lord," &c.; while in the naming of the last two she speaks of "God," saying, "God hath given me my hire," &c. Compare Gen. 29:32, 33, 35, with Gen. 30:18, 20. See also Gen. 30:24, where Rachel says, "The Lord shall add," &c. This is not without a reason. We have noticed a similar change in the 1st and 2nd chapters.) Then come the sons of Rachel's maid; first Dan, that is "judgment" or justice; then Naphtali, that is victorious "strugglings." After this the fruit of Leah's maid; first Gad, a "troop" or power; then Asher, or "happiness." Then Leah herself again has sons; Issachar, or a "reward," representing the actual joy of labour, as the Psalmist says, "In keeping thy commandments there is great reward;" then Zebulon, "dwelling together," or communion; then Dinah, whose name signifies the same as Dan, but in whom, as a daughter, justice is seen as a principle rather than an active life. After this Rachel brings forth a son, the lovely fruit of a life of patient suffering; "And she said, God hath taken away my reproach: and she called his name Joseph," that is "addition" or increase. All these are the fruits of service in us, some better than others, some destined to cause grief; all needing rule and culture, yet owned and formed by the Lord to shew forth his praise. (Note: The reader who cares to pursue this subject, will find it treated at great length, and with much spiritual insight, in a volume entitled, "The Patriarchs, as setting forth the things of the Sermon on the Mount;" being the Christian Advocate's publication for 1849, by Thomas Worsley, Master of Downing College, Cambridge.)
Jacob's service gained more than this. Laban's flocks, as well as his daughters, come at last into Jacob's hands. Not only do the affections and principles of the natural man come under the spirit's government, and produce spiritual fruit, but even the animal emotions after long watchings are gained, and out of them also there is much increase to God's glory.
The results of this on Laban are, that he is increased at first (Gen. 30:27-30), but impoverished in the long run (Gen. 31:1). When the spirit of service comes to deal with the natural man, and works with him and for him, for a season the outward man is enriched; but further service, if it continue long enough, will as surely weaken him. And the old man not seeing God's hand in this, that it is "God who has taken away his cattle" (Gen. 31:9), is angry because he is made poor; but he cannot hurt the inward man, and all his wrath only hastens the further accomplishment of the Lord's promise.
I have thus traced this scene within, because if this inward view be known, the other more outward fulfilment of it will of course be manifest. But some will see it without, better than within. Without, Jacob's service sets forth the labour of those, who, though heirs, seek to win out of the far country, and from the power of the natural man, children and flocks whom they may take back to a better land. They come down to Laban's ground; for only thus, by coming down among natural men, can elect servants reach those whom they are looking for. Here they toil for children and flocks. Like Jacob, they would fain have Rachel only, that is a spiritual church; but in the world, and while serving there, they find that they must have outward principles also and an outward church. As Isaacs, or sons, we may have Rebekah only, though even by her we have a twofold seed; but if we come to be servants, whose "hand must take hold," we shall find that we must take blear-eyed Leah as well as fair Rachel. Those who know only sonship may judge as carnal the Jacobs who have been led on by grace to reach a further stage; but if they advance to apprehend what they are apprehended for, they themselves may, and surely will, attain to Jacob's life. Then will they find that, even when they think to pass by the elder, in the outward world and in service it is impossible. In service we must have the two wives; an outward church, and outward and natural principles, as well as spiritual. We may wish to escape this, but in the result we shall not be able to boast over our father Jacob. I speak that which I know, and testify what I have seen; and I know that though at first it would be more in accordance with the mind of true servants not to have Leah, there is a stage when she too is needful and fitting, and therefore not without divine permission is given to us; and not she alone, but the two handmaids also, that is, even lower and yet more servile principles. (Note: Augustine, whose comment throughout is striking, interprets the handmaids, Contr. Faustum, l. xxii. c. 55.) So we serve, and the Lord builds the house: sons are given, very diverse, though sprung from one common father, and heirs of one inheritance; some are Reubens, good mediums for light, like water, but "unstable as water," excitable and prone to defile their father's bed (Gen. 49:4); some are Simeons, quick to give ear, but apt, in their zeal for obedience, to perform cruel things (Gen. 49:5, 6); some are Levis, joined to the Lord in service, entering into His presence with oblations presented for their more outward brethren (Deut. 33:10); some are Judahs, gifted for rule, and to be praised, because their hand shall be upon the neck of all their enemies (Gen. 49:8, 10); some are Dans, ready to judge Israel (Gen. 49:16); some Naphtalis, satisfied with favour, and full of the blessing of the Lord (Deut. 33:23); some are Gads, overcome at first, but strong at last (Gen. 49:19); some Ashers, who dip their feet in oil, and are acceptable to their brethren (Deut. 33:24); some Issachars, crouching down between their burdens (Gen. 49:14); some Zebuluns, occupied with the outward things and commerce of the great salt sea of this world (Gen. 49:13); some the children of Rachel, like Joseph, sorely shot at, but whose bow abides in strength, because the arms of their hands are made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob (Gen. 49:23, 24). The fairest come the last; but all, better or worse, make up one house of Israel.
This service further wins flocks. We serve to gain even animal and irrational natures, whose colour is changed indeed, but who remain to the end rough and animal; not true sons, but needing to be fed and led by such; who nevertheless, speckled and spotted though they be, under the Spirit's guidance may be brought safely into a better land. At first we feed a flock which is not ours; but in due time, not without long toil, those, who once obeyed and served the world, obey a better guide. True servants labour night and day: by night the frost, and by day the drought, consumes them. Some of the flock at times are torn by beasts, and they bear the loss (Gen. 31:39, 40); but at last a flock is won whose change of colour shews the presence of more than human skill. (Note: Jacob's words, Gen. 31:8-12, shew that the means he used to change the colour of the flocks were shewn him in "a vision.") And the colour of the flocks is changed, now as of old, by that which is set before their eyes, where the living waters are poured forth. Men yet become like what they look at. "We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image" (2 Cor. 3:18): and at last, "We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is" (1 John 3:2). But the world, like Laban's sons, cannot perceive God's hand in this; they say "Jacob hath taken away all that was our father's:" while true servants confess that the work is God's, saying, "God hath taken away the cattle of your father, and given them to me" (Gen. 31:1, 9).
The dispensations too reflect this scene. In this view we have here the experience of Christ's Spirit as servant in this world. He comes into the outward world to serve. When He comes water is scarce: then He opens the well, and feeds the flocks, and seeks union with the seed of the natural man. Fain would He have the younger daughter alone; but He must, such are the requirements of the natural man, first take the elder or first-born. So Leah or law comes first: and then Rachel, that is the gospel dispensation. Leah is fruitful, while Rachel has yet no son. But at length the Gospel yields fruit; and then the old or natural man, who had been improved while Jacob had children by Leah, that is, throughout the Jewish age, is much impoverished and loses his wealth, after Rachel is fruitful, that is, in gospel days. In a word, as Sarah and Hagar prefigure these two dispensations in their connection with the spirit of faith, and thus in reference to heavenly things, Jacob's wives set forth the same dispensations, in connection with the spirit of service, and so in reference to earthly things. (Note: This dispensational view is common to many of the Fathers: Ambrose, De Jacob. l. ii. c. 5 § 25. Gregory the Great, Moral. in Job. l. xxx. c. 25, § 72. Irenaeus, Adv. Hoer. l. iv. c. 21, (al. 38,) § 3.)
Surely it is a wondrous tale, respecting which many unspeakable words remain, which it is not possible to utter here.
IV. -- THE DEPARTURE FROM LABAN
WE are now to see the efforts of Jacob to lead what he has won in Mesopotamia into Canaan, with Laban's attempts to hinder it. As fulfilled within, we have here the travail of the spirit to set our affections on things above, and not on earthly things (Col. 3:2), and the hindrance to this which the old man offers, the open opposition or secret craft, by which he would keep our affections, which are by nature akin to him, still bound in outward things. As fulfilled without, we see the toil of true servants to lead those whom they have gained out of the world into a better land, and all the hindrance which worldlings throw in their way, the seductions held out, and the reasons which are urged, to keep them in outward things. It is a scene known to all who have toiled long in the world, and at length have set their face to go with what they have won into the better land.
As fulfilled within, some parts of this scene, through our ignorance of the inward world, may be beyond our intelligence. Our lack also of fitting words prevents anything like a perfect interpretation to the understanding, although the spirit may see all (1 Cor. 14:14, 15). But the scene is still fulfilled wherever souls have laboured for fruit, and are striving to come from outward to inward things. Laban envies Jacob's wealth, and attempts in one way or another to get it back again. For the old man in us, though strengthened at first and improved for awhile by the labours of our inward and spiritual man, finds at length that the spirit's work, if continued, instead of strengthening, rather weakens it. It is vexed to see the power the spirit has gained over so many of the affections and emotions of the outward man; that Jacob rules where Laban once did. Thus a strife now manifests itself between our outward and inward man (Gen. 31:1, 2). The old man's ways perplex the inward man. For our spirit, like Jacob, when it begins to work upon the old man, is not at all aware what the result will be. We sincerely hope by service to improve the old man. But though Laban's daughters are won, though the affections or principles of the natural man are subjected and united to the inward man, the old man remains unchanged, to the end ever ready to play us false and to deceive us (Gen. 31:7). And painful as this is, so it must be. The Lord would not have our spirit remain for ever bound to the outward man or to outward things in their present state; for the outward man and the ground he dwells on are yet unpurged, and though the spirit may win much there, it cannot purge that ground or save the outward man. In due time we learn this. Then a voice is heard, saying to our spirit, "Return to the land, and I will be with thee" (Gen. 31:3). Thus at one stage having served the old man and outward things, at another we are called again to inward and spiritual things. Knowing this, let us leave souls to walk with God, instead of making, as we are so prone to do, our present standard the one rule. For have not we ourselves in faith been led now to give up and leave all outward things, again in service to seek them, and then again to leave them, to set our affections, where our faith has long since been set, on heavenly things.
But Rachel, though willing to go to Canaan, takes some idols with her, "her father's images" (Gen. 31:19, 30); not the gods representing the powers of nature, such as "the star of your god Remphan" (Acts 7:43), Baal, or Ashtaroth; but rather household gods, (Note: Heb. teraphiym [H8665], answering to the Latin Penates.) forms of departed kindred, which, though at first regarded only as patterns and memorials of honoured forefathers, were soon turned into idols, as guides and precedents to be obeyed and followed instead of the true God. Our inward affections yet cling to such, even when drawn by grace to seek better things; not indeed to the grosser outward idols, but to household idols of pride of birth, past greatness, gentility, custom, fashion, or such like. In other words, our principles, even the best, are not at once wholly purged from all the evils which belong to the outward man. Some of these are still taken with us, although the spirit knows that, not only they cannot help, but are even a shame to us.
The old man meanwhile does all he can to hinder the affections being set on heavenly things; just as Laban attempted to stop Jacob, saying, "Wherefore didst thou flee? Thou hast now done foolishly. Wherefore didst thou not tell me, that I might have sent thee away with mirth and harp and tabrets?" (Gen. 31:23-28). So the old man argues. Why leave him? At all events, why not accept his assistance on the way to heavenly things? Can he not make music and laughter for us, and cheer us on by his pipes and harps and tabrets? No. By these he may yet keep us where he is; they will not help our spirit to heavenly things. Yet the old man fairly asks, -- "And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my teraphim?" (Gen. 31:30). Why do the affections, while even reaching towards heaven, yet cling so fast to idol vanities? We shall see how these idols, though hid from Laban, cannot be hid from God, and must be put away before Jacob can come to worship and dwell at Bethel (Gen. 35:1-4).
As for Laban, he still is unchanged, and dies, as he has lived, in Mesopotamia. Henceforth he may not hinder Jacob, but neither may Jacob seek to hurt him in any way (Gen. 31:44-55). Each returns to his place. The old man, poorer than at first, settles down again in outward things; while the inward man, enriched by his labour, journeys on afresh, with what he has gained, to heavenly things.
If we turn now to look without, we shall see the more manifest workings of these same opposing minds; Laban figuring those in whom the outward man, Jacob, those in whom the spirit of service, is the ruling life. The Jacobs have won flocks and herds; and this stirs up the wrath and ill-will of worldly men. But their anger serves God's end. By it the elect are forced to seek a better land. So true servants lead the way, and those, who are already "counted strangers" in the world, follow them (Gen. 31:15); not wholly blameless, for, unknown to its guides, the Church takes some of the idols of the world with it, as if these could succour it (Gen. 31:32). (Note: Theodoret, who sees in Jacob's departure the flight of the church out of the world, and whose comment in substance is that given above, thinks that Rachel stole the idols to free her father from his superstitions. In Gen. Qu. 90. Ambrose too hints the same, De Jacob. l. ii. c. 5 § 25. But God's command respecting these idols, Gen. 35:2, implies that they were yet objects of idolatrous reverence to some in Jacob's house. Chrysostom regards this theft of the idols as an instance of the force of bad habit, even in true souls. Hom. lvii. in Gen.) Laban meanwhile is busy too. He yet possesses flocks, the colour of which remains unchanged spite of Jacob's art. And while Jacob is fleeing, Laban is shearing. The one thing here recorded of him is that "he was shearing sheep" (Gen. 31:19). So do outward men yet count "sheep-shearing" pleasant work. The Jacobs and Davids feed the flock: the Labans and Nabals and Absaloms prefer shearing them (1 Sam. 25:2, 4; 2 Sam. 13:23, 24). Worldlings, like the king of Moab, may be "sheep-masters" (2 Kings 3:4), but they have not a pastor's heart: the fleece, and not the flock, is what they care for; and their zeal for the fleece opens a door for true servants like Jacob to flee away heavenward. Then comes the world's pursuit. Vexed as they are at the power gained by the elect, they are more vexed to see them go, and the way they go thence. Why should they think of seeking any other land? but after all, if people must go, why not accept all the assistance which might be rendered them? Why not have some music and mirth? Why go in a way so unlike the fashions of that land? Thus natural men would stop the elect, or at least would have them go toward heavenly things with their aid and forms and pageantries; and those who go not thus are "foolish" (Gen. 31:27, 28); but Jacob can seek his true home without Laban's aid. All that worldlings can do to help our way is as useful or as useless as Laban's pipes and harps. So true servants depart. God by them has visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name (Acts 15:14). This done, the elect journey on; while the world, unchanged by what has been done for it, goes back to its old ground and again settles there. (Note: Gregory the Great gives the outward view, Moral. in Job. l. xxx. c. 25, § 72.)
A voice yet cries, "Hearken, O daughter, and consider; forget thine own people and thy father's house. Then instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth" (Psalm 45:10, 16).
V. -- THE JOURNEY TO CANAAN, AND CHANGE OF NAME
Chapter 32 and 33:1-16
JACOB'S departure from Padan-Aram is an important step, and yet but a step, towards entering the promised land. After Laban is left, it still remains in the face of Esau to go up over Jordan. Leaving outward things is not possessing heavenly things. Not a few have left the world, who are not come to the good land; and yet forsaking the outward world is one stage, and most necessary, for all who at last attain to heavenly things.
Here Jacob, escaped from Laban, is seen, hastening with his children and flocks to enter the promised land. At this point Esau again appears, as determined to stop his entrance into Canaan, as Laban had been to oppose his departure out of Mesopotamia. As fulfilled within, the scene represents the opposition which is offered by the carnal mind to the efforts of the spirit to set our affection on things above: as fulfilled without, it shews the resistance of carnal professors to the efforts of true servants to bring those whom they have won out of the world into the enjoyment of heavenly things. It is a scene of deepest interest; for here, in, and partly by, this trial, in sore wrestlings of spirit Jacob becomes Israel; and the man, whose "hand laid hold," at last in weakness is made a "prince with God."
The opposition here proceeds from Esau. Laban had been the hindrance to Jacob's leaving Mesopotamia; for it is our outward man which stands in the way of our spirit's departure from outward things; but it is the carnal mind within which threatens to stop our attempts to enter heavenly things. (Note: Respecting Laban and Esau, that they are the outward man and carnal mind, respectively, see on chap. 28.) And thus after we have turned from the outward man, and have left his old ground between tradition and reasoning, another opponent, more closely related to our spirit, remains, in that carnal mind, which grows within us even out of the true elect. And this Esau now threatens our way, if he can, to oppose our possessing the promised land.
To prepare the spirit for such opposition, the Lord here vouchsafes a vision of angel guards. "Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him; and Jacob said, This is God's host" (Gen. 32:1, 2). Some such perception of heavenly help is yet vouchsafed to make us persevere. But the vision soon fades away, and the unseen hosts, because out of sight, are in measure out of mind; while the strength which is against us is felt distinctly, and the fact, that, spite of the spirit's fruitfulness, the carnal mind is yet strong. We cannot journey this path without most painfully feeling that the flesh as Esau is yet "my lord Esau." In outward things this may be forgotten. The fact meets us in its painful reality as soon as we are set on entering heavenly things; and our spirit, which should rejoice, if not in the hosts of the Lord, yet in the Lord of hosts, is cast down by the evil which is so sorely felt, and which outweighs at times the fact of heavenly help. Hence the elect is perplexed and full of fears. He knows not how, with such an unwearying enemy so near him, he shall ever find rest. "Jacob was greatly distressed." Again and again he repeats the bitter words, "My lord Esau" (Gen. 32:4, 5, 18, 19, &c.).
This, coming here, is very striking. Why should he, who at an earlier stage neither feared nor courted Esau, now feel such dread of him? Because in the first joy of learning God's purpose, believing the promise that "the elder shall serve the younger," our spirit never fears the flesh, not knowing its own weakness or the might of the carnal mind. If we can get the blessing, we think that we can use it. It never occurs to us that a certain preparation of spirit is needed for the right enjoyment of what God has promised us. Esau therefore, though he may affect our course, is not thought of. We have yet to learn the difference between "apprehending" and "being apprehended" (Phil. 3:12). So we go and toil to subdue the outward man, and as we toil we learn our weakness and foolishness. We are forced to confess that Esau is lord. Our fruitfulness has not given us power over the carnal mind. The elder does not yet serve the younger. To effect this, planning Jacob must become halting Israel.
Yet it is here, in painful, abject weakness, -- when we most feel the power of the flesh, and that our spirit cannot govern it, -- here, when Esau most clearly is the stronger, -- here in self-despair is Jacob made a "prince of God:" not while toiling in outward things, -- not until the humiliating fact is plain past all question, that the carnal mind is far too strong for us, -- not till this is confessed, openly confessed once and again, and this while spite of all opposition we yet press on to heavenly things, -- is our spirit out of weakness made strong, and we learn that to have God's power we must ourselves be powerless.
So much for the time of this change. For the means, the greatest of all is prayer, persevering, wrestling prayer. Jacob does indeed what he can by prudence to escape and calm down Esau's enmity, giving up to Esau some of the flocks (Gen. 32:13-20), that is, allowing some of the animal emotions which have been won from the outward man to fall under the power of the carnal mind, -- a step, the faith of which I will not judge, -- but his hope is not in this, but simply in God alone. So he prays, "O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which saidst unto me, Return unto thy country and to thy kindred, and I will deal well with thee; I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast shewed to thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands. Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me and the mother with the children. And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude" (Gen. 32:9-12). Thus he prays, and turns again to prayer, wrestling alone in spirit until the shadows flee away (Gen. 32:24); taking God's word against all that seems like opposition, saying, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." For God had said, "I will surely bless thee;" and Jacob, with his will for God's will, holds God to this His own will.
This is the trial yet, -- Can we believe, that when He says, "I will surely do thee good," He really wills it? Can we back this His "I will" by our "I will," in the confidence that when we will with Him we must be conquerors? Then, though we may have much to ask, even of the name of Him whom we would not let go except He blessed us (Gen. 32:29); and we wake up, as the darkness breaks, to think how little we have known of Him whom we have wrestled with, and who has given Himself into our hands "in the likeness of man," (Note: "There wrestled a man with him," Gen. 32:24. Cf. Phil. 2:7.) and that He may have a new name involving far more than anything which has as yet been revealed to us (Rev. 3:12); (Note: Augustine dwells much on this, taking the words, "Let me go," as meaning, "Let me go in the form you have known me, that you may know me in a higher and more spiritual way; Serm. v. Class. 1, § 6.) though we may feel all this, the change is wrought: Jacob is now Israel, for "as a prince we have power with God and man, and have prevailed." (Note: Hieron. in Psalm. cxiii. "Anima videns Deum," is one of the translations which Jerome gives of the name Israel; but he confesses elsewhere, (Quoest. Heb. in Gen.) that our common rendering, "a prince with God," is more correct, as derived from sarah [H8280] and el [H410].)
But a price has to be paid for this. Jacob, to have God's strength, must lose his own strength. The man "whose hand lays hold" is not a "prince of God," until the hollow of his thigh is out of joint (Gen. 32:25). When he is weak, then is he strong. The power of Christ only rests on him in his infirmities (2 Cor. 12:9, 10). Who has learnt this lesson of the cross? Are there not souls, who have toiled and accomplished much as respects their outward man, who have served for Laban's flocks, yet are conscious that Esau, the carnal mind, not only lives, -- for he will yet live, -- but is keeping their spirit from the full enjoyment of heavenly things? Will their fruits give them the power they lack? Never. Would we be Israels? These are the conditions, -- to go up over Jordan, and wrestle alone, and be smitten in the fleshly part, and lamed, and halting; so shall we have power with God and man; and because so few will submit to this, there are many Jacobs, but few Israels. (Note: Greg. M. in Ezech. l. ii. h. 2, § 12.)
Such is this stage as known within. Without, it is the experience of those who are toiling on, to take their flocks and children into the promised land. The world now is left behind. Its pursuit has not stopped the elect, who is now close to heavenly things. Then fleshly professors arise, false brethren, like Esau, born in the house of the Son, and yet like him profane men, whose very wrath drives the elect in self-despair to God, till from Jacobs they are transformed into Israels. The details in this view I need not repeat: -- how the elect divide the flocks, by such division hoping to go more safely; -- how, spite of this, some of the rough and animal natures we have won, though freed from the world, are given into the hand of carnal brethren, in the hope that thus the true heirs may be saved; -- how such planning cannot give us rest; -- how prayer is the true and unfailing means of strength; -- how wrestling and darkness must be our experience; -- how in feebleness and pain we meet our carnal brethren; -- how those, who have once bitterly opposed, receive us graciously; -- how the proffered aid of such is declined, lest the babes and flocks be overdriven; for "if men should overdrive them one day, all the flock would die" (Gen. 33:13); -- all this and much more here is known to those, who have attempted to guide flocks out of the world into heavenly places. The way remains the same as of old; and the just shall walk in it safely, though transgressors fall therein.
VI. -- THE SOJOURN IN SUCCOTH, AND DINAH'S FALL
Chapter 33:17-20 and 34
AT this stage, after so many labours and prayers, escaped from Laban and Esau, and standing on the ground of promise as "a prince of God," Jacob might have expected that he and his would now be permitted to rest in quietness. But at this point new foes appear, by whom the worker is severely wounded, when he least expects, and where he most acutely feels it. For the virgin daughter of Jacob now falls, seduced by the Hivite who yet is in the land.
We see here the special snare which assails the elect, when, having escaped from the dominion of the world and the flesh, he now has entered heavenly things. Wicked spirits assail some of our best affections, and succeed in corrupting what the world and the flesh had not corrupted. For no ground is exempt from snares; nay, more, the higher and better the ground, the more grievous may be the failure there. Satan rages most against the best. He will go into swine, if cast out of men (Matt. 8:31); but he would rather stay in men, and still more in an angel, if it were possible. He will go into earth, if cast out from heaven; but he struggles hard to dwell in heavenly things (Rev. 12:7-12). And yet we act as though attainment made us secure; as though, because we have forsaken the outward man, and are changed from Jacob into Israel, and have been delivered from the power and dominion of the flesh, no further peril still awaited us; whereas, here, out of the reach of the flesh and outward man, our purest affections may be defiled by other more devilish, because more inward, forms of evil. This is the lesson learnt by Jacob here, as we too often learn it, by actual failure and shameful humiliation.
First to mark what led to this fall. Jacob yields to the temptation, peculiar to this stage, of resting in his attainments instead of still pressing on. He seems to think, that, being now free from Laban and Esau, and come to the borders of Canaan, he has advanced far enough. He settles where he is. He "builds a house," and "buys a field" (Gen. 33:17, 19), and thus prepares the way for Dinah's ruin. And the soul which by grace has come thus far, and has escaped from the dominion of the carnal mind and outward man, is tempted to think, that, because "a prince of God," it is now safe; that therefore it may sit down, and rest secure in its attainments. But not in attainments, but in attaining, are we safe. Thus even the strivings of our flesh, grievous as they are, may serve our spirit, by keeping us from resting before the time, while our gifts and blessings may be as snares to us. We are apt to think that our flesh is only a dead weight, while we regard all freedom of spirit as good and to be coveted. Longer experience teaches us to be thankful for all, for the strivings of the flesh, as well as for the grace of the inward man; for cold and heat, for strifes and peace, for falls and risings, yea for all things; to rejoice in infirmities, and distresses, and fightings and fears within, as well as in visions of the Lord and revelations (2 Cor. 12:1, 10); to be watchful in times of blessing and rest; above all, to be humble at every fresh gift, knowing that it is in gifts and attainments we fail most signally. We know this, and yet no sooner have we attained some blessing, than we attempt to rest in it, and so by our own act prepare the way for fresh disquietudes.
For this settling led to Dinah's fall. If Jacob may buy a field and settle there, his daughter will go and see the daughters of the land. The result is, she is defiled; for "Shechem, the son of Hamor, the Hivite, saw her; and he took and lay with her, and defiled her" (Gen. 34:1, 2).
Dinah, the daughter of Leah, represents those affections of the elect, which spring from outward principles. (Note: See on chap. 30.) The Hivite is an evil spirit of Canaan's seed; if I do not err, the spirit of religious formalism. For Canaan was the spirit of mere external worship; (Note: See on chap. 10.) and the Hivite is the same spirit, only at a further stage (Gen. 10:15-17). This spirit, which lives "till the redemption of the purchased possession" (Eph. 1:14), is sure to appear whenever we come to heavenly things. Then, if we rest in attainments, formalism creeps in, and by it some of our purest affections are defiled. (Note: Gregory the Great alludes to this inward fulfilment, Reg. Past. pt. iii. c. 29, admon. 30.) This leads to bitter inward conflict, which, though from zeal for God, is not approved of Him. For polluted affections cannot be cleansed by anger. Dinah is fallen, though Jacob's sons may rage. In the next place, there may be a kind of anger against sin which in God's sight is worse than the sin and fall which occasions it; and of which, at a further stage, like Jacob, we learn to say, "Cursed be their anger, for it was cruel" (Gen. 49:7). (Note: In the history of Saul, Hivites again appear in a scene similar to this, in which they are judged by one who is zealous for the house of Israel, while his judgment of them is pronounced cursed. Saul, "in his zeal to the children of Israel, slew the Gibeonites," who were Hivites (Josh. 9:3, 7), and for this mistaken zeal a curse comes on his house. See the history, 2 Sam. 21:1-14.) God knows how much of inward conflict is the result of pride; mere vexation at seeing how easily we may be defiled. Zeal and judgment are easier than confession. But violence with ourselves on account of failure will not amend it. We need as much patience towards the failure within us, as towards the evil which is without us in the different forms of worldliness.
Such are the fruits of resting in attainments, and of supposing that because the world and flesh are left, and we are Israels, we may be secure. Often have I beheld this scene, not only in the inward experience of souls, who have gone far and laboured long and well, but in the failure of more than one true congregation, which, delivered from the world and carnal men, has been seduced by worse spirits. Heavenly places are no defence from such a fall. It is when we already stand on the ground of promise that Canaan's seed harass us.
But the outward fulfilment here may to some be more striking; and in this view most important is the lesson, not only to halting Jacobs, but to zealous Levis. Jacob has now reached the promised land. True servants have brought those whom they have won into heavenly places. The outward world has long since been left. Carnal brethren too, who like Esau have sought to stop us, by grace are overcome. At this stage, so sweet is the rest, that the elect settles where he is instead of pressing onwards. Then the virgin of Israel falls. Some body, which is the outward expression of a truth, and the fruit of loving service, is found to be corrupted and seduced by wicked deceivers. Formalism creeps into the church, (Note: It is to be remembered that Dinah is Leah's daughter, not Rachel's, and so figures a congregation which is the offspring of outward truth. See on chap. 29.) the natural result of settling down and resting in attainments. Would any congregation be seduced, if the fathers and young men toiled and journeyed on? But the church halts and is seduced; then, as a first step, the seducers are admitted to certain holy ordinances; for a fallen church always brings in many to such forms, although they are confessedly submitted to for wrong and selfish ends; and then some of the true heirs of promise, grieved to the heart at such awful profanation of the church and things of God, finding judgment easier than confession, arise with cruel zeal to judge and cut off the seducers. Instead of asking of the Lord how the fallen can be helped, they take the iron sword of truth, and rage with it bitterly. (Note: Respecting iron, see on chap. 4:22.) The fiercest wrath which I have ever seen has been that of brethren judging the evil. But such zeal does not cleanse a fallen church, and much of the wrath is against facts, as if Dinah had not fallen, to save their own credit. Alas! such zeal, common as it is, profits not at all; and at length we learn that such judgment is "cursed," and that confession would befit us far better. Yet how many count it holy zeal to contend against the defilers of a fallen church, even when her whoredom has been manifest. (Note: I have met with very little on the spiritual sense of this chapter among the Fathers; probably for the same reason that they say so little of Noah's fall, or of Nimrod, or Babylon; namely, that the scene described was not familiar to them. They had not seen, as we have, the fall of the Church and the useless wrath of some of Jacob's sons. See the Glossa Ordinaria here. Augustine is quoted as giving the same interpretation; but I have not been able to find the passage.)
Is the sword then never to be used -- is there to be no cutting off, no judgment or excommunication of offenders? Judgment surely there must be at times, and divine zeal against evil, as we see in Abraham (Gen. 14:14); but not to maintain a fiction, as though a harlot could again be made a chaste virgin; far less to supersede that confession which becomes us for that fall of the church which is our common shame.
Nevertheless out of this wretched scene the Lord can work His own purpose. Even by such distresses as this are the elect rescued from resting in attainments and hastened on to Bethel. And the Simeons and Levis, though their wrath is cursed, are blessed; their ways are a reproach to the truth, and "make them to stink among the inhabitants of the land" (Gen. 34:30); their haste to judge also carries its own judgment with it: "I will," says the Spirit of God, "divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel" (Gen. 49:7); -- a lot which always overtakes such spirits; -- but the grace, which redeemed them, keeps them, and through many trials saves them at last.
The same act comes out in the dispensations. Israel ceased to be a pilgrim, and so the first wife's daughter fell. The virgin of Israel plainly was defiled. Nevertheless the Pharisees and Scribes, the Simeons and Levis of their day, instead of confessing, raged against the shame, cutting off and judging those who had corrupted Israel. Thus Pharisaism was "the concision," not "the circumcision" (Phil. 3:2, 3). But the fallen daughter of Israel could not by such means be restored. The Spirit of the Lord went not with such zealots, but said, -- all Christ's life was saying it, -- "Cursed is their anger, for it was fierce, and their wrath, for it was cruel." For such judgment answered no end, save to make poor Israel to stink among the nations. "They pleased not God, and were contrary to all men" (1 Thess. 2:15). What a lesson for all succeeding generations! When shall we learn that Pharisaic judging helps no one? When shall we, not possess only, but be possessed by, the Spirit of the Lord?
VII. -- THE RETURN TO BETHEL
WE have seen how attainments, through resting in them, may become a snare to the elect, and lead to grievous defilement. Now again we see how falls may help us on. Jacob's rest brought shame: the shame advanced and freed him. Such is our path, and such the grace of God, that our falls and mistakes may be a means to nurture our true growth; as a tree extracts fresh strength from the soil which is enriched by its own decaying leaves and fallen blossoms. In this way are we led on; by blessings learning our weakness; by weakness, the riches of our God.
Thus Dinah's fall advanced Jacob. He could not, amidst such shame and conflict, rest longer where he was. And by this self-same thing, what zeal is wrought in us, what vehement desire and clearing of ourselves, yea, what fear and carefulness (2 Cor. 7:11)! But Jacob is helped by other means. God's word comes directly commanding him to go up to Bethel (Gen. 35:1). Such a word of God comes, often as we are faint and fail, and, by recalling God's purpose, effects a change, first in ourselves, then in our position. For "Jacob said to his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make there an altar unto God who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. And they gave to Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem" (Gen. 35:2-4). So the word both leads us on and sanctifies. The uncleansed cannot advance, for certain stages are only reached as we are sanctified. But by the word true servants judge themselves. Before God speaks, idols may be suffered: when His voice is heard, they are confessed and put away.
The progress now is very marked. There is advance in reference to each of the blessings enjoyed by the elect servant. Of these the first is "the everlasting hills" of promise, and in these "the blessings of heaven above and of the deep which lieth under:" the second is "the wife of youth," "blessings of the breasts and womb," the fountain from whence springs forth the stream of Israel: the third is the Lord Himself, "the God of thy fathers, even the Almighty who shall help and bless thee" (Gen. 49:25, 26). Here there is advance respecting each of these, involving trial and grief, yet real blessing also.
First, Jacob's advance opens to his view lengths and breadths of the land as yet unknown (Gen. 35:6, 16, 21). There is true progress in the knowledge and possession of what the Lord has promised him; not without apparent danger, but "the terror of the Lord was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob" (Gen. 35:5). Thus, when, under a sense of failure and defilement, we again press on, fields on fields of promise open to us, which we have heard of, but till now have never realised. The Canaanite is indeed upon this ground, that is false spirituality, ready to assail and wound us in the way. (Note: For the Canaanite, see above, on chap 34.) But God preserves His own. "So Jacob came to Bethel, he and all the people with him, and built an altar, and called the place El-bethel." So far from losing by his advance, it gives him deeper acquaintance with and insight into the treasures of the "everlasting hills."
Here, on the ground where he had seen earth joined to heaven, with angels of God ascending and descending upon man, the elect receives fresh revelations. "The Lord appeared," saying "I am God Almighty," and promising afresh possession of the land, not to Jacob only, but to his seed after him (Gen. 35:9-12). In struggles of spirit, Jacob had met the Lord, and had asked to know the name of Him who wrestled with him (Gen. 32:29). But until now, that name, revealed to faith (Gen. 17:1), in the toil of service had not been apprehended. "God Almighty" had not "appeared" to Jacob. Now He appears, revealing Himself by the name which alone could quiet the busy worker. And as Abraham, hearing this name, was content at once to give up the strength of the flesh, and to judge himself by circumcision; so Jacob by the same blessed name is freed: henceforth his hand ceases to lay hold, to allow the Almighty to effect and order all for him.
Then at this stage three women are removed, whose life directly or indirectly had affected Jacob more than any others. Deborah, Rachel, and Bilhah, the first the nurse, the second the wife, the third the handmaid, are all now taken from him. The first two die; the last is defiled; for Reuben, Leah's first-born, "went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine" (Gen. 35:8, 16-19, 22).
What has been said of Sarah's death will explain the inward fact expressed by the death of these women. (Note: See on chap. 23.) Men are always certain minds: the women, the affections or principles of truth with which they are united. These, whether men or women, all die out; that is, they pass away as outward forms, thereby to be more spiritualised. This is what now takes place with Jacob's nurse and wife. Those truths or affections, which are set forth by these women, now as outward forms die and pass away; not to perish, for truth never perishes, but through the dissolution of the outward form to exist in a higher and purer way; while Bilhah, Rachel's maid, who represents that lower and servile principle, by which nevertheless some good fruit has been brought forth, is now defiled by Jacob's first-born, that is, by the unlawful workings of other fruits of true service. (Note: See on chap. 29 respecting Bilhah and Reuben. These things are all but ineffable, and cannot fully be expressed.) Deborah, the nurse, dies first. A nurse is one whose office it is to care for babes and sucklings. Deborah therefore is that which serves such as have need of milk. As having belonged too to Laban's house, and been engaged with Rebekah before she left Padan-Aram, Deborah would partake of the character of that land, and so be rather outward and natural, such truth in fact as babes and sucklings need. Now, having fulfilled her work, she passes away. Rachel too, as an outward form, now departs in bearing fruit; even as that spiritual principle, which she represents, is changed from an earthly form to a spirit through its very fruitfulness; giving birth to another form of life, which is indeed "a child of strength," though at first it seems "a child of sorrow." (Note: Benoni, the name which Rachel gave to her son, means, "son of my sorrow;" but his father called him Benjamin, that is, "son of the right hand." As to the "right hand," compare Psalm 80:17 and Psalm 110:1.)
Few, however, will apprehend this. Adam's way, in trusting the creature more than God, in listening to the tempter, in choosing knowledge more than life, in hiding from God, or in laying the blame on some other, will be known by all who have come to themselves; for old Adam is in all his progeny. The picture therefore will be plain. But the form of life set forth in Jacob is not in all, much less that stage of it which is here presented to us. Still this stage, though attained by few, is to be reached. Let us not judge it impossible, simply because as yet it is beyond us. Rather let us press on that we may know it; and such as cannot follow here now may follow hereafter.
Such is this scene within. Without, the details will to not a few be more manifest. In this view we see how the very fall of the Church awakens some to further progress. True servants cannot rest where pollution is made manifest. Then comes some word of God, recalling His purpose, which leads to the putting away of idols and uncleannesses. Thus are the elect stirred up afresh, and pass on to know yet more of God and of their own privileges. Then comes fresh grief, for surely it is a grief to find bodies we have loved, and which in different ways have helped us, as outward bodies ready to be dissolved, or, what is worse, to be defiled by some in Israel. Yet this too must be known by true servants, when they come to some of the higher stages in heavenly things. The outward Church is found to be corrupted by the first-born sons, who should have been its help and safeguard; who, puffed up with pride, usurp another's place, to their own great loss and to the shame of all in Israel; (Note: See Gloss. Ordin. in loco.) while the true Church is seen as an outward form to die, only to live a higher life with God and in God. Some true servants have seen and known all this. It is well, that, ere they see it, they are from Jacobs made Israels, and know the Lord as "God Almighty."
The dispensations too reflect this scene. After the defilement of the first wife's daughter, that is, the Jewish dispensation, the Spirit of Christ as Worker led on the elect to greater knowledge and enjoyment of heavenly places. There Rachel, the beloved wife, dies; that is, the Church, as an outward form, in due time is seen to pass away; while the Worker yet survives through many griefs to see Joseph's glory and dominion over all the land of Egypt.
A little while, and our eyes shall see that glory, and the things which now distract us shall for ever pass away. As we can bear it, bring us into that day, O Lord; and while darkness is yet safer for us, be Thou, yea, and for ever, our everlasting dwelling-place.
VIII. -- THE SEEDS OF JACOB AND ESAU
Chapter 35:23-29 and 36
AS a fit conclusion to Jacob's course, we have his seed summed up (Gen. 35:23-29), in contrast to Esau's generations (Gen. 36:1-43). Here are the results of these two lives; Jacob's sons setting forth the fruits of that spirit of service, which springs from true sonship; Esau's line, the fruits of the flesh or carnal mind, as it appears at this stage of man's development. (Note: See on chap. 25:24-34.) Each form of life can only bear its proper fruit. That of the flesh still fleshly, and that of the spirit spiritual.
Jacob's fruit in all is twelve sons, six by Leah, two by Rachel, and two by each of the handmaids; all fruits of the same elect spirit, but differing according to the principle or affection which produces them; the sons of Leah, the first-born, representing those fruits which are produced by the elect from forms of outward truth, such as understanding, obedience, service, rule, joy, and communion, for so the names are interpreted: Rachel's children, those later fruits of patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, which grow from the contemplative life; the handmaids' sons, the fruits of those more servile principles, which, as they are owned and blessed of God, bear justice, conflict, power, or happiness. (Note: For the names of these sons, and their interpretation, see on chap. 29 and 30.) The spirit of service bears all these, and in them, spite of many errors and imperfections, the Lord is glorified.
Esau's line is then displayed, first his sons by Canaanitish wives, and then his fruit by Ishmael's daughter. The names of his immediate sons all express some good quality; for the fruit of the flesh, in its Esau form is good in its way, though not good as measured by the divine standard. For "all flesh is grass" (1 Pet. 1:24); and grass at the best is soon dried up and withered. But some of their names imply polish at least, if not a recognition of God and respect for His protection. Eliphaz, and Reuel, and Korah, and Jaalam, express in their names good things which even the elect might wish for. (Note: Jerome interprets all these names, (Nom. Heb.) but it is difficult to speak with certainty of all. I do not therefore give them; but the following seem to be beyond dispute: -- Eliphaz, "God is my endeavour;" Reuel, "the friend of God;" Korah, "smooth" or "polished;" Jaalam, "hidden" or "protected.") In the grandsons there is a falling off: Omar, Gatam, and Kenaz, describe a worse condition; (Note: Omar, "a speaker;" Gatam, "their clamour;" Kenaz, "a hunter" or "drinker.") while the names of the subsequent kings of this race, as Bela, Jobab, and Husham, are all variations of misery. (Note: Bela, "a devourer;" Jobab, "a howling;" Husham, "raging.") Such are the fruits of the religious flesh, at first in measure good, but soon degenerating, till their corruption proves that religious flesh is but flesh, and fair Edom only a variation of old Adam.
Nevertheless this line is great in the world. Even in the first generation, the children of one wife, Aholibamah, all become "dukes" (Gen. 36:18); the grandsons all have this title (Gen. 36:15-17), which, only varied with that of "king," is kept through all this genealogy. So is it yet within. The fruits of the true spirit are little valued in the world. The carnal fruits which grow out of the elect are such as, being in measure of the world, the world can appreciate: with just so much of outward goodness as the flesh when trained and taught by the spirit can appreciate, and yet enough of the world to please the world, with a zeal for seen and present things. Such fruits must be great in the world: they may even be counted good fruit, but their end will shew their true nature; for by them the things of the house of the elect are taken to make a kingdom for self out of the land of Canaan (Gen. 36:6-8).
This is better seen without. In this view the sons of Esau and Jacob set forth in figure the further growth of those opposing seeds, which, though born in the house of the Son, and from one common mother, end far apart, the one as kings in Mount Seir, the other as keepers of sheep upon the ground of promise. Jacob's sons are not all alike; the elect, as they grow, develope many differences; some Reubens, some Judahs, some Dans, but all making one Israel, who return after long toil to dwell in heavenly places. Esau's children differ as much: even as the carnal seed out of the Son exhibit great variety, one common mark, however, being upon them all, that sooner or later they all attain to rule of some sort, building up a kingdom out of the land, while the elect remain to the end as humble shepherds in Canaan. "Eight kings in succession reigned in Edom, before any king reigned over the children of Israel" (Gen. 36:31-39). St. Paul marks this of the Church's carnal seed: "Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us" (1 Cor. 4:8-12); for carnal brethren want a kingdom now, and the desire and need of rule is sooner felt, and rule is sooner developed with them, and, as they think, perfected, than with the spiritual. Thus are they great in the world; their course in almost all things being in direct contrast to that of the elect. The one leaves Canaan to dwell in Mount Seir; the other comes back from toil in the world, to dwell in Canaan. Jacob brings all the souls he has gotten, and "comes to Isaac his father to Mamre, which is Hebron" (Gen. 35:27). "Esau took his wives, and all that he had gotten in the land of Canaan, and went and dwelt in Mount Seir" (Gen. 36:6-8). (Note: The LXX. read here, kai eporeuthe ek tes ges Chaanan.) The elect, having felt the power of the world far more than carnal brethren ever feel it, (for the carnal seed never try to win it,) come back with what they have won to rest in heavenly places; while the Esaus, born in the house of the Son, and enriched with so much of its truth as they can use for self exaltation, go forth never to return, preferring in their own strength to establish an earthly kingdom.
Thus Esau dwelt in Mount Seir (Gen. 36:8). This ground had for long been the stronghold of gigantic Horims, against whom the king of Shinar had come up, and smote them, without dispossessing them (Gen. 14:5, 6); but "the children of Esau destroyed them before them, and dwelt in their stead even to this day" (Deut. 2:12, 22). Hither Esau seems to have been drawn by his marriage with Aholibamah, for she was one of Seir's daughters; (Note: Esau's wife Aholibamah was "the daughter of Anah, the daughter," or (as the Samaritan version, the LXX., and other ancient versions read), "the son of Zibeon;" Gen. 36:2. In Gen. 36:20-24, we read that "Anah, the son of Zibeon," was one of the "sons of Seir, the Horite, who inhabited the land.") and here, having dispossessed Seir's sons, Esau reigns in the kingdom of that ungodly line to which he had allied himself. The Church's carnal seed have just done this. Having first formed an alliance with the world, they end by taking its kingdom; driving out certain gigantic evils, against which Babylon the great had struggled unsuccessfully, to found a kingdom of bloodshed and force, which, though famed far and near for its strength and terribleness (See Jer. 49:16; Obad. 3), and destined even to give a king to Israel by whom the true King shall be mocked and set at nought (Luke 23:11), is doomed to be destroyed, as it is written, -- "For his violence against his brother Jacob shame shall cover him, and he shall be cut off for ever" (Obad. 10).
Of this kingdom much might be said. The names of the sons of Seir, whom Esau dispossessed, and whose names and acts are not recorded in vain, shew the forms of evil which are opposed and can be destroyed even by carnal Christians. The names I cannot touch here; (Note: Jerome (Nom. Heb.) has attempted an interpretation.) but I may observe that to one act peculiar prominence is given. Mules, we are told, were discovered by one of Seir's race: -- "Anah found mules, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father in the wilderness" (Gen. 36:24). (Note: Our authorised version, after all objections to it, seems to be correct. The LXX. do not translate the word, which we render "mules," but simply read iamein, which is the Hebrew, yemiym [H3222] written in Greek letters. Aquila and Symmachus do the same. The Rabbins explain the word to mean mules. So does the Arabic verbion.) This mixture of seeds so opposed to nature (Gen. 1:24), and law (Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:9-11), but which soon found such favour that king's sons used mules by way of distinction (2 Sam. 13:29; 18:9), began among the sons of Seir. Not by chance is the fact recorded in their genealogy. Not in vain is it linked with Esau's seed, as characteristic of the race to which he had allied himself.
I cannot say more of these lines, though I am assured that every point contains a lesson for us. I will only add a few facts, which are plain and standing types of what has been and must be. Under David's rule, Edom was subject to Israel (2 Sam. 8:14). In the days of the failure of the kingdom, even before Babylon led Israel captive, Edom rebelled (2 Kings 8:20, 22). Later on, towards the end of the dispensation, a son of Edom was ruling in Jerusalem, and Edomites were reckoned Jews. (Note: Herod was an Edomite or Idumaean. For proof of the Edomites being considered Jews, see Josephus, Antiq. l. xiii. c. 9, § 1, and Whiston's note on the passage.) The elect had fallen so low, that the rule of the carnal seed was scarcely felt to be a degradation. How far the carnal seed of the Church is now confounded on all hands with the spiritual, -- how busy it is to build the temple, -- how it rules, and seeks to slay the Heir, -- how instead it only destroys the Innocents, -- how spite of its crimes for a while it seems to prosper, -- how all these things shew where we are, -- I leave for others, whose eyes by grace are opened, to weigh and consider.
Such then is Jacob's course, for every age the type of that evangelic service which is the fruit of faith and sonship; too full of human craft at first, "laying hold with its hand," to perform the work by human energy; but schooled through much grief and many disappointments, to learn its own faults and weakness and insufficiency, till, lame and smitten in the flesh, at length it becomes a "prince of God," and prevails mightily. Such service is dear to God. No form of life more represents the ways and mind of heaven; for it stoops, like angels, to serve; yea, like the Lord of angels, it comes down from the hills and wells of Canaan to outward men to save some of them. In all this, much failure comes out; and the worker, like every sower of seed, has his feet defiled in the miry ways of the field of this world; yet he works on, sowing the seed with tears, to return at length in joy, bearing his sheaves with him. Mark again what is, and what is not, Jacob's work. He serves, and so wins flocks and children, whom he may lead to Canaan. He does not attack or dispossess the monstrous Horims; for the opposition to gigantic evils in the world, though it may be the work of some of the children of the True Son, is Esau's labour, not Jacob's. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. There yet are souls, whose only idea of service is to grapple, like Esau, with the monstrous evils which have grown up in this world, and to set up some rule or order instead, in which the things of Isaac's house are taken to make a kingdom in Seir, out of the land of Canaan. Such work must not be judged. Israel may not meddle with Esau's children, who have dispossessed the Horims (Deut. 2:4, 5, 12). But this is not Jacob's work. He serves to bring souls from the ground midway between tradition and reasoning to know the ground of promise, -- work, which to carnal eyes seems less and meaner than Esau's, but which is only accomplished by a wrestling which the carnal seed know nothing of. But what Esau ever doubted that the kingdom in Seir was far grander and better than the tents and flocks of Jacob in Canaan?
But it is time we should pass on from Jacob to Joseph, in whom a still further development of the elect appears.
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