Down By The River
Still More Reflections on the Life and Transformation of the Patriarch Jacob
By Richard Allen – November 14, 2022
I’m guessing that if we could ask the Patriarch Jacob to relate the greatest angelic encounter he had in his life, he would mention his dream of the Angels of God at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22), or the dream he had when Angels instructed him regarding the color of the goats and sheep to be born to him (Genesis 31:10-13), or he might even mention the Angels greeting him as he left his truce meeting with Laban at Mahanaim – literally the place of two camps – as he returned to his homeland (Genesis 32:1-2). But I would also guess that if we asked him which encounter was the most amazing, he would relate to us his encounter with “the Angel of the Lord” by the River Peniel. After first sending his wives, servants and children to the other side, Jacob sat alone, and there appeared a man who wrestled with him all night (Genesis 32:22-32). We later learn that Jacob knew it was none other than God, probably in a theophanic manifestation, that is, God in a physical form. This encounter was the transformative moment in Jacob’s life, leaving him with a physical limp so he would never forget its significance.
We will come back to this encounter. In my Blog two weeks ago, we watched the Patriarch Jacob learn a valuable lesson in God’s school over a 20-year period: “What goes around, comes around.” Jacob’s family problems, especially his dueling wives, each vying for his attention and affections, should have reminded Jacob of the rivalry that he had with his brother, Esau. And his father-in-law Laban’s deception and dishonesty should have vividly displayed to Jacob his own deception toward his father, and scheming toward his brother. While all of these dramas were in full swing, Jacob was still crossing wits with his devious father-in-law, Laban. But in spite of Laban’s desire to do harm to Jacob, God prevented him. In fact, Laban using “divination” realized that God had blessed him because of Jacob (Genesis 30:27), yet still wanted to swindle his son-in-law out of his wives, children and livestock. At some point, Laban’s attitude toward Jacob took a turn for the worse. We read of Laban’s sons thinking that Jacob had stolen everything from Laban, that is “their wealth and inheritance.” Regardless of their false notions, Jacob had finally realized that God was defending and prospering him. In this context, Jacob was told by God to leave Haran, and return to his home:
“Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father's, and from what was our father's he has gained all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you’ ” (Genesis 31:1-3).
So Jacob, seeing that his “grabbing days” (at least with Laban) were coming to a close, has a private discussion with his two wives. He reminds them of their father’s cheating ways and the dream that God had given him, showing his protection from Laban the whole time he was in Laban’s service (Genesis 31:4-16). He further relates to his wives that he has now realized that Laban, along with his sons, were at the point where Jacob was considered a liability and if possible, would send him away just as he came – with nothing. Knowing the deception and dishonesty of their father Laban, Rachel and Leah agreed with Jacob and said in Genesis 31:16:
“All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.”
Jacob, still “wheelin’ and dealin’ ” waits until Laban is away shearing sheep, then leaves with all of his wives, children, servants, flocks and herds. But Laban pursues Jacob for seven days, looking to take back what he feels is rightfully his, THAT IS, EVERYTHING JACOB OWNS! But God meets with the old schemer Laban in a dream along the way and warns him: “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad” (Genesis 31:24). This sets up the eventual confrontation where Laban and Jacob square off. The big difference in this meeting is, that Jacob is not guilty of taking what rightfully belongs to him – even if Laban thinks differently. As they sit down to negotiate, the air is thick with Laban’s feigned offense and outright lies:
“Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of timbrels and harps? You didn’t even let me kiss my grandchildren and my daughter’s goodbye. You have done a foolish thing. I have the power to harm you; but last night the God of your father said to me’, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ ‘Now you have gone off because you longed to return to your father’s household. But why did you steal my gods? ‘ ” (Genesis 31:26-30).
You have to admit, this old goat Laban is quite the schemer. He tells Jacob that he’s mad because he was deprived of giving his daughters and grandchildren a “farewell party.” We know better as Laban reveals in the above quoted scripture reference: “I have the power to harm you, but last night the God of your father said to me, Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.“ Laban then says that his indignation was over his stolen gods, most likely silver statues of pagan gods that the superstitious Arameans used to protect them and their households (the fact that these gods were themselves stolen, tells you how devoid of power they were). As it turns out, Rachel had stolen them – but having learned all too well from father Laban – she used feminine wiles to conceal her thievery, setting up Jacob’s righteous rebuttal of Laban for his 20 years of grabbing and deception. Jacob, not knowing of his wife’s theft – even mocks Laban to “Put it (the idols) here in front of your relatives and mine, and let them judge between the two of us” (Genesis 31:37). Jacob further recounts how he had been honest, hard-working and selfless in his care of Laban’s flocks – all the while making Laban (and himself) wealthy men in the process (Genesis 31:38-42). An emboldened Jacob states what had really been going on, when he says:
“If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, you would surely have sent me away empty-handed. But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you” (Genesis 31:42).
Wow! The grabber has now started to realize that it was not his cleverness, or hard work, or even his faithfulness – it was GOD who was with him and rebuked his adversary, Laban! This is another life lesson which took Jacob 20 years to figure out. Laban then goes on to confirm his own dishonest appraisal when he says plainly: “Everything you have, wives, children, servants, livestock ARE ALL MINE, yet what can I do today about these daughters of mine, or about the children they have borne? Come now, let’s make a covenant, you and I, and let it serve as a witness between us.” (Genesis 31:43-44). After chasing Jacob the grabber for seven days, Laban the grabber rebuked by God, decides to make a deal with Jacob for the only option left to him: “You better not mistreat my daughters” (Genesis 31:50). After setting up a heap of rocks to bear witness, Laban departs with nothing to show for his long journey except, exhaustion.
God was teaching Jacob several lessons as he prevailed over Esau – even though Jacob had obtained his birthright and blessing through devious means. God allowed Jacob to prevail over Laban, another wheeler dealer like himself after Jacob’s 20 years of honest service. Laban learned that God had been with him – and was now leading him back home to face Esau, the brother whom he had defrauded. Knowing this, you would think that Jacob could trust God, that his faith would finally be strong enough not to worry, and to stop wheelin’ – dealin’ and grabbing. But the life of faith is often fraught with doubts and relapses because of trusting the flesh. In this, Jacob was no different than many of us. Even with the amazing deliverance from Laban which God provided him, he was still grabbing, wheelin’ and dealin,’ as he got ready for his eventual meeting with the brother he treated so shamefully. His scheme involved dividing his wives, children, servants and possessions into two groups. If Esau, coming with a small army of 400 men attacked one group, the other might get away. He was also planning to give his brother an elaborate and expensive gift, 550 head of livestock – to be sent ahead in two waves, hoping to appease his anger. It’s here we pick up the story I began in the first paragraph.
The same Jacob who had grabbed,schemed, scammed and matched wits with both his brother and his father-in-law, was plotting once again. He had an elaborate scheme of appeasement or escape in place to counter Esau and his army of 400 men. No worries, Jacob has it all under control. As long as he was still standing, Jacob the “heal-grabber” would find a way to prevail – NO MATTER WHAT! But as I started this Blog, with little or no explanation Jacob the grabber has another man grabbing at him, wrestling with him all night long. And we know from the context that Jacob knew it was none other than the Lord God with whom he wrestled. This wrestling match left Jacob with a lifelong hip impairment. So, what is this, a man striving with God? And why would God stoop to wrestle with a mere man? Why would a man think he could wrestle with God? What is going on here? Let me add two more lessons (#7 & #8) to the six we’ve already learned from the Life of the Patriarch Jacob:
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “How to go from a Grabber to a Leaner in 147 years.” (Blog date October 24, 2022)
1.) How I behave toward others will come back on me with a vengeance.
2.) If I’m to fulfill God’s purposes, I will need to do things God’s way – and not through
3.) Even if I act in the flesh using human means, God can still use my poor choices for His
Purpose and Glory.
Three lessons from the Life of Jacob from “What Goes Around, Comes Around.” (Blog date October 31, 2022)
4.) Reciprocal Providence is a great teacher in the hands of a Sovereign God. Scripture may not tell us, but Jacob couldn’t have missed the irony of his own deception and violation of his brother’s birthright coming back on him.
5.) In our sin and weakness we may start out “grabbing, wheelin’ and dealin,” yet in God’s
faithfulness and chastening over time, we learn to trust Him – and see that our lives are
not in our own feeble hands. They are under His Sovereign control from cradle to grave.
6.) God patiently bears with the weaknesses of His children, as we struggle to learn from life as we live it, in three ways: From our own sins, from the sins of others toward us and general mistreatment from the world’s system.
Two lessons from the Life of Jacob from “Down By The River.” (Blog date November 14, 2022)
7.) Even if we don’t see the obvious signs, God is always with His children, working “all n
things together for their good and His purposes,” behind the scenes. From an eternal perspective -- He has our back!
8.) God restrains our adversaries, limiting their ability to harm or cause His Eternal Purposes for us to fail.”
In future Blogs we’ll return to Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob still had one more big lesson to learn!