Gleanings In Genesis

37. The Sunset of Jacob's Life

Genesis 37-49

It is not easy to decide which of the two is the more wonderful and blessed- the grace of God which has given the believer a perfect standing in Christ, or the grace which ever bears with the believer who fails so miserably in making his state correspond with his standing. Which is the more remarkable that, judicially, my sins are all put away forever, or, that in His governmental dealings God treats so leniently with my sins as a saint? Though it is true we reap as we sow, it also remains true concerning believers that God "hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities" (Ps. 103:10).

That is a marvelous word which is found in Numbers 23:21, a word that has been of untold comfort to many of the saints- "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel." These words were spoken by God through the mouth of Balaam, spoken of that very people who so frequently were wayward and filled with murmuring. Mark, the prophet does not say that iniquity and perverseness were not in Jacob. That would not give the believer confidence, which is the very thing God desires to give. It could never assure my poor heart to be told there was no sin in me for, alas I know too well there is. What I am to rest in is the wondrous fact that God sees no sin on me- that gives the conscience peace. God saw no perverseness and iniquity on Israel because He looked at them as under the Blood of the Lamb. And why is it that God sees no sin on believers? It is because "the Lord hath laid on Him (on Christ) the iniquities of us all" (Isa. 53:6).

In view of this, what a walk ought to be ours. Surely we can do nothing now which would displease the One who has dealt so wondrously toward us. Surely we ought now to render a ready and joyful obedience to Him who has done so much for us. Surely we ought to abstain even from every appearance of evil. And yet that word "ought" condemns us, for it implies our failure. I would not say to one who was fulfilling his duty, You ought to do so and so. Should I say to any one, You ought to do this, the plain inference is that he is not doing it. How wondrous then, how heart- affecting, is the patience of grace which bears with our failures, with our base ingratitude, with our Christ-dishonoring ways! And so we say again, it is difficult to determine which is the more amazing: whether the love which hath washed us from our sins, or the love which loves us "to the end" despite our unloveliness.

These are the reflections suggested by a review of Jacob's history. As we have followed the Holy Spirit's record of Jacob's life we have marveled again and again at the matchless patience of God in His dealings with one so intractable and unworthy. Surely none but the "God of all grace" (1 Pet. 5:10) would have borne with such an one so long. Ah! such is equally true of the reader and of the writer. The only way in which it is possible to account for God's dealings with you and with me, these many years, is the fathomless and matchless grace of our God. Truly He is "long suffering to usward" (2 Pet. 3:9).

Not only is it affecting to trace the dealings of God through the changing scenes of Jacob's life, but it is also beautiful to mark the triumphs of Divine grace as these are exemplified in his closing days. The path of the just "shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Prov. 4:18). And plainly is this manifested in the case of our patriarch. So feeble were the manifestations of the Divine life in Jacob in his early and middle life, so much did he walk in the energy of the flesh, that it is difficult to determine exactly when his spiritual life really began. But as he draws near the end of his earthly pilgrimage it becomes increasingly evident in him as in us that "though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). The sunset of Jacob's life reveals the triumph of God's mighty grace and the marvelous transforming effects of His power which works upon material that seemed so unpromising. It is to some of the fruits of the Divine life in Jacob that we would now direct attention.

And what is it which produces these fruits? One answer to the question is found in Hebrews 12 "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth . . . Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:5, 6, 11). Do not these scriptures furnish a key to the closing scenes in the life of our patriarch! How plainly we may discern God's chastening hand upon him. First there is the death of the faithful nurse Deborah (Gen. 35:8), and this is followed almost immediately by the decease of his beloved Rachel (Gen. 35:19), next we read that his eldest son "went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine" (Gen. 35:22), and then Isaac dies (Gen. 35:29). Poor Jacob! sorrows came upon him thick and fast, but the hand of Divine chastisement is soon to fall still heavier. Jacob is touched now in his tenderest spot- Joseph, his favorite son, is taken from him, and mourned for as dead. This was indeed a severe blow, for we read "And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him" (Gen. 37:34-35).

How are these afflictions to be viewed? As marks of the Divine anger? As judgment from God? Surely not. Not so does God act toward His own. Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth. Even afflictions are among his love-gifts, sent in faithfulness, sent for our blessings, sent to exercise our hearts, sent to wean our affections from things of earth, sent to cast us more upon God that we may learn, experimentally, His sufficiency. The losses which Jacob suffered and the trials he was called upon to meet were among the "all things" which worked together for his good.

But not immediately did God's disciplinary dealings with our patriarch yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness- that comes "afterward" (Heb. 12:11). At first, we see only the resistance of the flesh. When Jacob's sons returned from Egypt Simeon was not with them, and what was worse, they informed their father that the lord of Egypt's granaries required them to bring Benjamin with them when they came back again. Listen to the petulant outburst from Jacob's lips when he hears these tidings, "And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me" (Gen. 42:36). Poor Jacob! He is looking at the things that are seen, rather than at the things unseen. He is walking by sight rather than by faith. It does not seem to have occurred to him that God might have a wise purpose in all these events. He judged by ‘feeble sense.' But ere undertaking to pass sentence upon Jacob let us remember that word in Romans 2:1, "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgeth: for wherein thou judgeth another, thou condemneth thyself; for thou that judgeth doest the same things."

Not long, however, does Jacob continue in such a state of mind. The next thing recorded of him reveals a better spirit: "And the famine was sore in the land. And it came to pass, when they had eaten up the corn which they had brought out of Egypt, their father said unto them, Go again, buy us a little food" (Gen. 43:1-2). The relief which had been obtained by the first journey to Egypt of Jacob's sons and the corn they had brought back was soon exhausted. The famine was yet "sore in the land." Jacob bids his sons "Go again, buy us a little food." Does not this word "little" evidence the beneficent effects of God's disciplinary dealings with him? Unbelief and avarice would have wished for much food so as to hoard against a prolongation of the famine. But Jacob is contented with "little." No longer do we see him, as aforetime, selfish and greedy; instead, he is desirous that others, whose stores were running low, should have a part as well as himself; and, so far as the unknown future was concerned, he would trust God.

But now a difficulty presented itself. Jacob's sons could not go down to Egypt unless Benjamin accompanied them, and this was the last thing his father desired. A struggle ensued in the breast of our patriarch; the affections of the father are pitted against the calls of hunger. To allay Jacob's fears, Judah offers to stand as surety for his younger brother. And Jacob yielded, though not without a measure of reluctance. Yet, it is sweet to notice the manner in which the aged patriarch acquiesced. It was not the sullen consent of one that yielded to an inexorable fate when, in heart, he rebelled against it. No, he yielded in a manner worthy of a man of God. After arranging that every possible means should be employed to conciliate the lord of Egypt, he committed the whole issue to God.

"Take also your brother, and arise, go again unto the man: And God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that He may send away your other brother, and Benjamin: If I be bereaved of my children, I am bereaved" (Gen. 43:13, 14). Note how Jacob speaks of God- "God Almighty," or "God, the Sufficient One." This was the name under which Abraham was blessed (Gen. 17:1). This was the name used by Isaac in blessing Jacob, "God Almighty bless thee," etc., (Gen. 28:3). In using this name here, then, Jacob rests on the covenant promise and blessing, and thus we see that his prayer was a prayer of faith. Note further, his confidence in God's sovereign power, seen in his request that God would so move upon the man at the head of Egypt that he would be made willing to send Jacob's sons away. Finally, mark here his spirit of resignation- "If I be bereaved, I am bereaved."

Is it not lovely to mark the sequel. Jacob committed Benjamin into the hands of God, and he was returned safely to his father. When God deals with His saints He usually touches them in their tenderest parts. If there be one object around which the heart has entwined itself more than any other and which is likely to be God's rival, this it is of which we must be deprived. But if, when it is taken from us, we humbly resign it into God's hands, it is not unusual for Him to return it. Thus Abraham on giving up Isaac, received him again; so David, on giving himself up to God to do as seemed Him best, was preserved in the midst of peril; and so, in the present ease of Benjamin, who later was returned to Jacob.

When Jacob's sons returned home they brought with them a strange talc Joseph was yet alive, in fact governor over all the land of Egypt. Little wonder that at first Jacob refused to believe his sons, for the news seemed too good to be true. But we read "And they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said unto them: and when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived. And Israel said, It is enough; Joseph my son is yet alive; I will go and see him before I die" (Gen. 45:27, 28). It is beautiful to note the change here from Jacob to Israel, especially as this is carried on into the next verse, "And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac" (Gen. 46:1). Thus, the first thing recorded of Jacob after his long journey to Egypt had begun, was the offering of sacrifices to God. Long years of discipline in the school of experience had, at last, taught him to put God first; ere he goes forward to see Joseph he tarries to worship the God of his father Isaac! Beautiful, too, is it to note that here God met him for the seventh and last recorded time (see Gen. 28:13; 31:3; 32:1; 24; 35:1, 9), and said, "Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I. And He said, I am God, the God of thy father; fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation. I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again; and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes" (Gen. 46:2-4).

Arrived in Egypt, restored to Joseph the aged patriarch is brought before Pharaoh: "And Joseph brought in Jacob his father, and set him before Pharaoh; and Jacob blessed Pharaoh" (Gen. 47:7). The aged and feeble patriarch stands before the monarch of the mightiest empire of the world. And what dignity now marks Jacob! What a contrast from the day when he bowed himself seven times before Esau! There is no cringing and fawning here. Jacob carries himself as a child of God. He was a son of the King of kings, and ambassador of the Most High. Brief is the record, yet how much the words suggest when we remember that "the less is blessed of the better" (Heb. 7:7). Note, further, "And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, the days of the years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty years" (Gen. 49:7). At last Jacob has learned that his home is not here, that he is but a stranger and sojourner on earth. He sees now that life is but a journey, with a starting point and a goal- the starting point, regeneration; the goal, heavenly glory.

In Hebrews 11:21 we read, "By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff." It is striking to observe that here the Holy Spirit passes by the feebler struggles of Jacob's faith and goes on to mention the brightness of its setting glory, as it beautified the closing scenes of this vessel of God's choice. Two distinct acts of Jacob are here singled out: the former is recorded in Genesis 48, the latter in Genesis 47:31. Into the probable reasons for this reversal of the historical order we cannot now enter, but a brief word concerning these two manifestations of faith will be in place.

"And the time drew nigh that Israel must die: and he called his son Joseph, and said unto him, If now I have found grace in thy sight, put, I pray thee, thy hand upon my thigh and deal kindly and truly with me: bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt: But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place. And he said, I will do as thou hast said. And he said, Swear unto me. And he sware unto him. And Israel bowed himself on the top of his staff." It is exceedingly beautiful to notice this act of worship and what occasioned it. There is more here than meets the eye at first glance. This was no mere sentimental whim of the aged patriarch. God had promised, many years before, to give to Jacob and to his seed the land of Canaan, and now His promise is "embraced," Jacob had never possessed the land, and now he is about to die in a strange country. But he knows God's word cannot fail, and his faith looks forward to resurrection. At last the easily besetting sin (unbelief) is laid aside, and faith triumphs. Having secured from Joseph the assurance that he should not be buried in Egypt, but that his remains should be carried up out of Egypt and placed in the sepulcher of his fathers, Jacob "worshipped (bowing himself) on the top of his staff." It was a blessed exhibition of faith, and of his confidence in God, that He would do all that He had said and perform all that He had promised.

The second act of Jacob to which the Holy Spirit calls attention in Hebrews 11 is recorded in Genesis 48. All through this chapter we may see how God was now in all Jacob's thoughts, and how His promises were the stay of his heart. He recounts to Joseph how God had appeared to him at Luz (Gen. 48:3) and how He had promised to give the land of Canaan to him and his seed for an everlasting possession. He spoke of God as the One who "fed me all my life long unto this day" (Gen. 48:15), and as the One "which redeemed me from all evil," which was only another way of acknowledging that "goodness and mercy" had "followed" him "all the days of his life."

Jacob was now about to die, and he wishes to bless the two sons of Joseph. Joseph had his own desires and wishes on this subject, and his desire was that Manasseh, the firstborn, should receive the blessing. Accordingly, he placed Manasseh at Jacob's left hand and Ephraim at his right, so that Jacob's right hand might rest on the head of Manasseh and his left on Ephraim. But though Jacob's natural eyesight was dim, his spiritual discernment was not. Deliberately, Jacob crossed his hands "guiding his hands wittingly" (Gen. 48:14), or, as the Hebrew reads, literally, "he made his hands to understand." Note it is expressly said that "Israel" did this: it was the new man that was acting, not the old man, "Jacob." And "by faith" he blessed both the sons of Joseph. Truly, it was not by sight or reason. What was more unlikely than that these two young Egyptian princes, for this is virtually what they were, should ever forsake Egypt, the land of their birth, and migrate to Canaan! How unlikely, too, that each should become a separate tribe. And how improbable that the younger should be exalted above the elder, both in importance and number, and should become "a multitude of peoples" (Gen. 48:19). How impossible for him to foresee (by any human deduction) that long centuries afterwards Ephraim should become representative of the kingdom of "Israel," as distinct from "Judah." But he had heard God, rested on His word, and believed in the sure fulfillment of His promise. What a grand display of faith! Nature's eyes might be dim, but faith's vision was sharp: in his bodily weakness the strength of faith was perfected.

After blessing Joseph's sons, Jacob turns to their father and says, "Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers" (Gen. 48:21). How utterly unlikely this appeared! Joseph was now thoroughly established and settled in Egypt. But no longer is Jacob walking by sight. Firm indeed was his confidence, and with an unshaken faith he grasps firmly the promises of God (that his seed should enter Canaan), and speaks out of a heart filled with assurance.

The final scene (portrayed in Gen. 49) presents a fitting climax, and demonstrates the power of God's grace. The whole family is gathered about the dying patriarch, and one by one he blesses them. All through his earlier and mid life, Jacob was occupied solely with himself; but at the end, he is occupied solely with others! In days gone by, he was mainly concerned with planning about things present; but now (see Gen. 49:1), he has thought for nothing but things future! One word here is deeply instructive: "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord" (Gen. 49:18). At the beginning of his life "waiting" was something quite foreign to his nature: instead of waiting for God to secure for him the promised birth right, he sought to obtain it for himself. And so it was, too, in the matter of his wages from Laban. But now the hardest lesson of all has been learned. Grace has now taught him how to wait. He who had begun a good work in Jacob performed and completed it. In the end grace triumphed. At eveningtide it was light. May God deepen His work of grace in the writer and reader so that we may "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1).

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