|Topical Bible Study||January 1950|
GOD’S PLAN IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Two Brothers Meet
Regardless of what Esau originally had in mind by journeying with four hundred men to meet Jacob, by the time they actually did meet he displayed no anger, nor did he so much as refer to what had occurred twenty years before. All of this was in the Lord’s providence, and who can say that the sending of presents to Esau, and Jacob’s earnest praying did not have much to do with this kindly reception. We think it is quite possible that the “angels of God” who met Jacob soon after he parted from Laban at Mount Gilead, may have given him detailed instructions as to how to prepare Esau for this meeting. This might well have been the Lord’s way of answering Jacob’s prayer for deliverance from the hand of Esau. Esau was not destroyed, but reformed.
Ways of escape for God’s people are usually outlined in advance of their prayers as seems to have been the case with Jacob. When we seek special blessings of wisdom and strength from the Lord we usually find the answers to our prayers already recorded in his Word, indicating that the Lord knew our needs in advance, and made provision for them.
Esau inquired why the vanguard of cattle and sheep had been sent on ahead, and when Jacob explained that they were sent as presents he protested against accepting them, explaining that he already had all he needed. However, this seems to have been merely a display of eastern politeness, for it did not require much coaxing on Jacob’s part to persuade his brother that he should accept the gifts.
This might well indicate that the sending of the gifts may have had much to do with Esau’s changed attitude. It could also indicate that the delayed answer to Jacob’s prayer might have been partly because the Lord was waiting for Esau to change his mind, for he does not coerce the minds of his creatures.
Had Jacob not waited on the Lord he might well have met with quite a different reception from Esau. The two brothers had no mutual interests of sufficient importance to keep them together, so after the friendly meeting, Esau returned to Seir, leaving Jacob to choose a location for himself.
For the time being Shalem, a city of Shechem, marked the end of Jacob’s journey from Padan-aram, the home of Laban, his father-in-law. It was a distance of approximately 500 miles. He pitched his tent in front of Shalem. He bought there a field and erected an altar. Apparently he felt that another important episode in his life had reached a successful conclusion so he commemorated it by the erection of an altar.
He called the altar El-elohe-Israel, that is, “God, the God of Israel.” Thus again we find the patriarch acknowledging his faith in God, and expressing particularly his appreciation for the deliverance from the hand of Esau which had just been wrought. Recognition of this is suggested by the use of his new name, Israel, in connection with the altar. He had prevailed with God, and God had prevailed for him, and this great victory which God had given to him was something worthy of being commemorated.
THE SEED PROTECTED
There is not a great deal in this chapter which is of special interest to the Christian today. Principally, it records an episode in the life of Jacob and his sons which reveals the overruling providence of God in preventing his chosen people from intermarrying with others, for to have done so would have prevented the fulfilment of the divine promise pertaining to the “seed” through which all the families of the earth were to be blessed.
In the episode we see manifested both virtue and deceit, and it is apparent that the code of laws which guided Jacob’s sons favored the doing of evil that good might follow. It was wrong for Shechem to defile Jacob’s daughter, and we can understand the animosity it created in the minds of her brothers. Hamor, Shechem’s father, made overtures ‘to Jacob concerning the matter, suggesting a general practice of intermarrying, since, as he supposed, they were all to dwell in the land together.
The account does not indicate what Jacob’s reaction to this may have been. The boys took the matter in hand to settle it their own way. Seemingly they consented to Hamor’s proposal, but on condition that all the males among his people be circumcised. Since Hamor made a definite proposal that his son take their sister as his legal wife in keeping with the customs of the day, her brothers’ conception of defilement was evidently based on the idea that Shechem was uncircumcised, hence their proposition that the Hivites be circumcised.
While this proposal was accepted, and acted upon in good faith, it was not so made, and this certainly must go down to the discredit of Jacob’s sons. It was their strategy in rendering the males of the tribe incapable of self-defense in order that they might be able to destroy them.
Jacob was greatly agitated over the incident, for he realized that it would bring down upon them the wrath of the people throughout that whole area. Perhaps he recalled his own deception of Esau, and of how he felt the necessity at that time of fleeing from the wrath of his brother. As we have already noted, Jacob was not a brave man, and now again his fears were aroused, and not without justification.
THE PROMISE REPEATED
As always, God was able to overrule the mistake of his people for a further outworking of his plans. Before the incident recorded in the previous chapter, Jacob seemed content to remain in Shechem, but this was not the Lord’s will; so in view of the hostile attitude of the neighboring people which he was sure would result from his sons treacherous dealings with the Hivites, he was quite willing to follow the Lord’s request to move on to Bethel.
The Lord requested Jacob to build an altar at Bethel, to the God who appeared to him when he first fled from his brother Esau. Seemingly Jacob took from this request a gentle reminder that he had been too lenient in permitting his family to worship the gods of his father-in-law, Laban, for he instructed all in his household to put away their strange gods in order that there be nothing to interfere with his worship of the true God who, as Jacob says, “answered me in the day of my distress.” The family complied with Jacob’s request, turning in all their idols, and these were buried under an oak tree by Shechem.
This matter taken care of, Jacob began his journey to Bethel. In case we might wonder how it was possible to escape from their hostile neighbors without being attacked or pursued, the record tells us that the “terror of God” was upon the cities in the district so that the people feared to molest Jacob and his sons. There is no indication of what brought about this condition, but we know that God always has a way of accomplishing his purposes as they are being worked out through his chosen people.
Finally they arrived at Bethel, another name for which was “Luz.” Here, in keeping with the Lord’s instructions, Jacob built an altar and renamed the city El-Bethel, “because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.” On that occasion God promised to go with Jacob, and to bless and keep him, and he had fulfilled his promise. Now he was back where he started his flight from Esau, and the Lord was still with him. How Jacob must have praised the Lord for all that he hath done for him!
On this occasion God took the opportunity to renew to Jacob that wonderful promise he had made to Abraham. It is well to keep in mind that the entire narrative of these chapters is related to the manner in which God proposes to fulfil his oath-bound covenant with Abraham. The individual incidents recorded are of little value except as they are related to this one main theme—the theme which, in reality, is the principal one of the entire Bible.
God told Jacob that a nation and a company of nations would issue from him, and that kings would come out of his loins. Some erroneously claim that this is fulfilled in the British Commonwealth of Nations, but the Apostle Paul doesn’t agree. Paul shows that the fulfillment of this and similar promises is in the development of the faith seed of Abraham, and we know that this faith seed shall reign as kings with Christ.—Rom. 8:17; 11:15,25,26
In these few verses we have a touching account of the death of Rachel, the wife for whom Jacob served Laban, her father, fourteen years. She died giving birth to Benjamin. Verse 18 speaks of her soul departing. The word soul here is a translation of the Hebrew word nephesh, meaning life. It does not denote that Rachel had some mysterious entity within her which escaped when she died. The account means simply that her life left her.
Edar is mentioned only this once in the Bible. According to Jerome it was 1,000 paces outside of Bethlehem. Aside from a reference to the sin of Reuben, the remainder of these verses are concerned merely with a brief statement identifying the twelve sons of Jacob, the heads of the twelve tribes of the Israelitish nation.
Jacob finally got back home to his father Isaac, in Mamre, “where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.” While the land had been promised to Abraham and his seed, neither he nor his descendants actually possessed it while he lived, being merely sojourners therein.
“Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people.” This does not mean that an immortal soul escaped from Isaac’s body. The term “ghost” is a poor translation. It should be life, and the statement simply means that Isaac gave up his life. He was gathered to his fathers; that is, they were all together in the state of death, and awaiting the resurrection. It is interesting to note that Jacob and Esau co-operated in the burial of their father. Following their reconciliation, they apparently remained on friendly terms.