"The God of Jacob is our refuge." Psalm 46:7
This divine title—"The God of Jacob"—is found at least fourteen times in the Old Testament; and in addition, three times we read of "The mighty God of Jacob." Such frequent repetition argues a deep significance, and suggests valuable lessons to be learned. We never read of the God of Moses, the God of Joshua—or the God of Solomon. Why then has God identified Himself with Jacob? What is there in the Lord's dealings with this man, which will suggest to us the import of this title? What is the particular significance of this expression which occurs and recurs through the Psalms like a familiar refrain?
1. The God of Jacob is the God of ELECTION.Jacob supplies us with the clearest and most unmistakable illustration of God's sovereign election to be met with in all the Bible. Whatever quibbles may be raised in reference to God's choice of Abraham to be the father of the faithful—or of the nation of Israel to be the recipients of His peculiar favors—there is no getting round God's election of Jacob. The case of Jacob gives the most emphatic refutation to the theory that God's choice is dependent upon something in the creature—something either actual or foreseen—and shows that the eternal election of certain individuals unto salvation—is due to no worthiness in the subjects—but results solely from God's sovereign grace. The case of Jacob proves conclusively that God's choice is entirely sovereign, wholly gratuitous, and based upon nothing but His own good pleasure. "Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by Him who calls—she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' Just as it is written: 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.' " (Romans 9: 10-13)
The God of Jacob then, is the God who chooses one—and passes by another. He is the One who exercises and exhibits His own sovereign will. He is one who shows Himself to be the Most High God, ruling in heaven and earth and disposing of His creatures according to His own eternal purpose. He is the One who singles out the most unlikely and unworthy objects—to be fashioned into vessels of glory. Yet, He is the One who necessarily always acts in harmony with His own divine perfections.
Election is not as some have supposed—harsh and unjust—but is a most merciful provision on the part of God. Had he not from the beginning chosen SOME to salvation, ALL would have perished! Had he not before the foundation of the world chosen certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son—the death of Christ would have been in vain so far as the human race is concerned!
Reduced to its simplest terms, ELECTION means that God chose me before I chose Him. Said our Lord, "You have not chosen Me—but I have chosen you." (John 15:16) We love Him—because He first loved us. Election means that before I was born, yes, before the foundation of the world, I was chosen in Christ and predestined unto a place in God's family. Election means that we believed—because He made us willing in the day of His power. Election then, strips the creature of all merit, removes all ground of boasting, strikes us helpless in the dust, and ascribes all the glory to God!
2. The God of Jacob is the God of all GRACE."But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things . . . so that no one may boast before Him." 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
If ever there was a man who illustrated in his own person, that God has chosen the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised—it was Jacob. According to the flesh, there was nothing winsome or attractive about Jacob. Selfish, scheming, deceitful, treacherous, untruthful—he was a most unlovely character. What was there in him to attract the love of God? Absolutely nothing! We would have thought that Esau was a fitter subject for God's favors. Exactly! But God's thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. Spiritual realities are hidden from the wise and prudent—and are revealed unto babes. Self-righteous Pharisees are passed by—while wicked publicans and harlots are constrained to partake of the Gospel banquet. The rich are ignored—while the Gospel is preached to the poor. Esau is hated—while the "worm Jacob" (Isaiah 41:14) is loved with an everlasting and unfathomable love!
The full force of this divine title, "The God of Jacob," can only be apprehended by a careful study of the patriarch's experiences. The first time we see God entering his life that memorable night at Bethel. A fugitive from his father's house, fleeing from his brother's wrath, with probably no thought of God in his mind at all, "When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep." (Genesis 28:11) As we see him there, asleep on the bare ground, we get a striking picture of man in his natural state. Man is never so helpless—as when asleep! It was while he was in this condition, that God appeared to him, and said, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." The God of Jacob then, is the God who met Jacob while he had nothing, and deserved nothing but wrath—and who gave him everything. Happy indeed are they who have such a God for their God!
3. The God of Jacob is the God of Infinite PATIENCE.A careful study of the whole life of Jacob as it is recorded in Genesis, is necessary to discover the whole force of this fact. We can now only call attention to the leading events in that life, leaving our readers to work out the details for themselves. To say that Jacob was naturally a most despicable character, and that as a believer he lived a most God-dishonoring life, is only to state a fact which is well known to all Bible students. What we desire to particularly emphasize in this connection, is the continued and marvelous forbearance of God in dealing with His wayward child.
At the hour of his birth, God made known the fact that Jacob was to have the firstborn's portion—yet, instead of waiting God's own good time and way to secure for him his inheritance, Jacob resorted to ignoble and underhanded methods to obtain it for himself. The picture presented in Genesis 27 is truly a pathetic one. In brief, the facts were as follows:
God announced to Rebecca, that Esau was to serve his younger brother, Jacob—which was the equivalent of saying that the place and portion of the firstborn, was promised by God to Jacob. Now Esau was Isaac's favorite son and he rebelled against the idea of Jacob being exalted above him. Isaac thereupon conceives a plot. In the time of his old age he calls Esau to him, speaks of his approaching death, bids his son prepare food for him, "so that I may give you my blessing before I die." The hurry and secrecy which marked his actions reveal a determined effort to thwart the purpose of God and to transfer the blessing to his older son. Though Esau must have been acquainted with the divine purpose and though he had actually sold his inheritance to Jacob at an earlier date—yet, seeing an opportunity to recover and regain his lost birthright, he readily falls in with his father's plan.
But Rebecca, with whom Jacob was the favorite, had overheard Isaac's plot, so she sets out to subvert it with a counter-plot. She is determined to preserve for Jacob, the blessing which Jehovah had promised him. She felt a great wrong was about to be done her favorite son; she imagined the purpose of God was in danger; she believed that wrong means would justify a right end. Having laid her plans, she takes Jacob into her confidence, and instructs him how to proceed in order to get the better of Esau. Now what ought Jacob to have done? Clearly, it was a great trial of faith. God's promise seemed about to fail; apparently His purpose was to be defeated. There was only one right course for him to follow, and that was to lay the whole matter before God and supplicate His aid. Man's extremities are God's opportunities! But God was not in his thoughts; he had more confidence in fleshly means, and therefore he agreed to carry out his mother's scheme.
It is important to note here, that Jacob's fall was no mere succumbing to a sudden and unexpected temptation. The twelfth verse of Genesis 27 unmistakably brings out the fact that the deception which Jacob practiced upon his father was a deliberate and premeditated act. He clearly saw the sin of it in the sight of God, and feared that he might bring down upon him the divine curse—yet, nevertheless, he defiantly complies with his mother's suggestions. His preparations were quickly and cleverly made, and the food which his mother had prepared, is brought to his father. He boldly declares that he is the firstborn, lie follows lie, Isaac is completely deceived—and Jacob obtains the blessing. The sequel is well known. The plot is uncovered, the deception is unveiled, Esau's anger is kindled—and Jacob flees for his life.
It is at this point that the marvelous grace and patience of our God comes out. On the first night of his absence from home, God reveals Himself in a vision to Jacob and promises Himself to be with the fugitive, to protect him wherever he went, and to bring him back again into the promised land. Jacob's response to these gracious declarations reveals the conditions of his heart: "Then Jacob made a vow, saying—If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the Lord will be my God." (Genesis 28:20,21) This vow which Jacob made well reveals the bargaining spirit of the man, and shows how little he knew of the character of God.
Passing over the years which he spent upon the farm of his father-in-law, we note the next appearance of God to Jacob. "And the Lord said unto Jacob—Return unto the land of your father's, and to your kindred; and I will be with you." (Genesis 31:3) Years before, on the night when He was first revealed to him, God had promised to bring His erring child back again to the land of promise. No doubt an intense longing had filled Jacob's heart throughout his exile. The time had come for God to commence the fulfillment of His promise and to reveal to Jacob that it was now His will for him to start on his homeward journey—and once more God assures him that He will be with him.
What is Jacob's response to this? His first thought was to secure the wages which were due him from Laban—wages which were in the form of cattle and sheep, many of which had been gotten by a trick. His next thought was to steal away secretly. Instead of telling his father-in-law that God had commanded him to return to Canaan, "he stole away secretly" (v. 20) taking with him "all the livestock he had acquired." (v. 18) Confidence in God was altogether lacking; faith in His gracious promises was a negative quantity; and his conduct was most unworthy and unfitting in one so highly favored by Jehovah.
"As Jacob and his household started on their way again, angels of God came to meet him. When Jacob saw them, he exclaimed, 'This is God's camp!' So he named the place Mahanaim." (Gen 32:1,2) This was one of God's tender mercies and provisions for the way. A long and difficult journey lay before Jacob, so the Lord assures His child that angels are his attendants. But no sooner have these heavenly visitants appeared and disappeared, than Jacob forgets all about them and acts as though they had no existence. "Jacob now sent messengers to his brother, Esau, in Edom, the land of Seir. He told them, "Give this message to my master Esau: 'Humble greetings from your servant Jacob! I have been living with Uncle Laban until recently, and now I own oxen, donkeys, sheep, goats, and many servants, both men and women. I have sent these messengers to inform you of my coming, hoping that you will be friendly to us." (vv. 3-5)
As he journeys toward the land of Canaan memory revives and conscience is at work. He thinks of the brother he has wronged and is afraid. You may say that was quite natural. True, had Jacob been an unbeliever. But God had promised to be with him and bring him back again into the land of his fathers, and He was well able to deal with Esau. But again we see that God was not in his thoughts. He has more confidence in his own wisdom and devices—than in divine aid. The message which he sent to Esau was utterly beneath the dignity of a child of God: such fawning phrases as "my master Esau" and "your servant Jacob" tell their own sad tale.
But Jacob's hopes are disappointed. No friendly greeting comes from Esau; on the contrary, there are indications that he has designs upon his brother's life. Esau was coming to meet Jacob, and with him four hundred men!
Jacob is now thoroughly afraid: "Jacob was terrified at the news. He divided his household, along with the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps. He thought—If Esau attacks one group, perhaps the other can escape." (vv. 7,8) Instead of casting himself upon the Lord, he at once begins to plan and scheme. Having completed his plans, he then turns unto God and supplicates His aid. Alas! how true to human nature. Scarcely had he risen from his knees, than once more he leans upon the arm of flesh, Esau's host drove out of his mind "the host of God." Having divided his party and possessions into two companies, so that in case one was attacked and destroyed the other might escape, and thus a part at least be spared, Jacob then prepares and sends on ahead a costly present for Esau, that by this means his brother's wrath might be appeased. (vv. 13-20) Thus instead of allowing God to manage Esau, Jacob by his slavish cringing, seeks to buy his brother's favor. Truly, "The fear of man brings a snare."
But the above only provides a dark background—upon which may shine forth the riches of divine grace! In spite of all his unbelief, lack of confidence in God, and trust in himself; Jehovah once more appears to His servant, this time in the form of a man who wrestled with Jacob all night (Genesis 32:24-30). But even so, Jacob has still to learn that "Whoever puts his trust in the Lord shall be safe." The actual meeting with Esau still had to be faced, and when the crisis is reached the old Jacob once more came to the fore. As Esau approached him, seven times Jacob bowed himself to the ground (33:3). What an unfitting position to take, for one occupying the relationship to God which Jacob enjoyed. The excessive deference here shown to the brother he had wronged, betokened to servile fear—evidently designed to suggest that he was still prepared to acknowledge Esau's superiority.
The generous way in which Esau acted, put Jacob to shame. He showed himself quite friendly toward this brother—in fact anxious to help him. How often the children of God compare unfavorably with the children of the world! Esau suggests that the two companies unite, and that they journey together to the old home. Jacob meets this generous proposal in a very characteristic way, and by means of a plausible excuse, cleverly declined it. Fear still possessed him. He thinks that perhaps Esau's mood perhaps might change—and the old enmity might awaken. Jacob therefore suggests that Esau go on ahead, while he with his children and flocks come along more slowly in the rear. He promises to meet him at Seir. (33:14) But no sooner had Esau and his four hundred men departed, than Jacob deliberately journeys in the opposite direction, and went and settled in Succoth. Thus by his lying and treachery, once more Jacob dishonored the Lord. Moreover, Jacob did not content himself with temporary stay in Succoth; he built him a house there, evidently purposing to abide in that place. This act of his was not only a wrong done to Esau—but in defiance of God's plain command, "Return to the land of your fathers." (Genesis 31:3)
"Where sin abounded—grace did much more abound." The more unworthy the subject—the more is God's grace glorified. In spite of Jacob's waywardness and wickedness, in spite of his distrust and disobedience, in spite of his repeated failures—God still deals with him in mercy. "God appeared to Jacob once again when he arrived at Bethel after traveling from Paddan-aram. God blessed him and said, "Your name is no longer Jacob; you will now be called Israel." Then God said, "I am God Almighty. Multiply and fill the earth! Become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will pass on to you the land I gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants." (Genesis 35:9-12) How incomparable is God's patience! How infinite is His forbearance! How matchless is His grace!
Jacob is a pattern case. Unless our eyes are dim, we can not help but see in the sad history of the old patriarch, a faithful description of our own characters. Our experience is very much like his. The evil heart of unbelief abides in us, and only too often regulates the life of the believer. Like Jacob, we are ever planning and scheming, and then asking God's blessing upon our devices. Like it was with Jacob, God has appeared to us again and again, cheered us with His promises, delivered us out of the hand of the enemy, guided us by His Spirit, protected us with His angels—yet we continue to grieve and dishonor Him. We are slow to learn. Fresh crises invariably result in fresh failures. But blessed be His name, Jacob's God is our God. He bears with us in infinite patience. He suffers our dullness with wondrous forbearance. He never leaves us nor forsakes us. he is with us to the end. Happy, thrice happy, they who can say, "The God of Jacob is our refuge!"
4. The God of Jacob is the God of Transforming POWER."At evening time—it shall be light." The sunset of Jacob's life, reveals the triumph of God's mighty grace. In the closing scenes of his life, we see the spirit victorious over the flesh. Not only is it deeply interesting to study closely the last pages of the patriarch's biography—but they bring before us the marvelous transforming effects of God's power.
"And they left Egypt and returned to their father, Jacob, in the land of Canaan. "Joseph is still alive!" they told him. "And he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!" Jacob was stunned at the news—he couldn't believe it. But when they had given him Joseph's messages, and when he saw the wagons loaded with the food sent by Joseph, his spirit revived. Then Jacob said, "It must be true! My son Joseph is alive! I will go and see him before I die." (Genesis 45:25-28)
At first, the news that Joseph was alive seemed too good to be true—but the wagons he had sent to reassure his father convinced him; his spirit revived and he at once set out on the journey to Egypt. It is beautiful to note that the first thing recorded after the journey was begun was an act of worship on the part of the aged patriarch: "So Jacob set out for Egypt with all his possessions. And when he came to Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father, Isaac." (46:1) Long years of discipline in the school of experience had at last taught him to put God first. Before he goes down to Egypt—he worships the God of his father Isaac! At once God met him, and said, "Jacob, Jacob!" Note the ready response (46:2), "Here I am." No need now to send an angel—Jacob had learned to recognize the voice of God himself.
Another scene brings out the remarkable change which divine grace wrought in Jacob's character. "Then Joseph brought his father, Jacob, and presented him to Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh." (Genesis 47:7) The aged and feeble patriarch is brought before the monarch of the mightiest empire in the world. And what dignity now marks Jacob! What a contrast to the day when he bowed himself seven times before Esau! There is no cringing and fawning here. Jacob takes the true place of a child of God. He was the son of the King of Kings, an ambassador of the Most High God. Brief is the record—yet how much the words suggest, "And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years." (v. 9) At last Jacob had learned that his home was not here, that he was but a stranger and sojourner on the earth. He sees now that his life is but a journey, with a starting-point and a goal—the starting point, conversion; the goal, heavenly glory!
"When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, "If I have found favor in your eyes—promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried." (Genesis 47:29, 30) Once more we see the evidences of the change which had been wrought in Jacob. This request of his not to be buried in Egypt but in Canaan, carries with it far more than appears on the surface. God had promised, many years before, to give Jacob and his seed the land of Canaan, and now the promise is "embraced." Jacob had never possessed the land, and now he is dying in a strange country. But he knows God's Word is true, and his faith evidently looks forward to resurrection. At last his besetting sin (unbelief) is laid aside and faith triumphs. This is confirmed by the words which immediately follow: "And Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff" (Genesis 47:31).
"By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff." (Hebrews 11:21) The account of this is found in Genesis 48. All through this chapter we see how God was now in all Jacob's thoughts, and how His promises are the stay of his heart. He recounts to Joseph, how God had appeared to him at Luz (v. 14) 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" (v. 15), and as the One "who redeemed me from all evil." Setting aside the inclinations of the flesh, and the will of man (Joseph's own desire), Jacob bows to God's will and by faith blesses Joseph's sons, setting "Ephraim before Manasseh." (v. 20) After blessing Joseph's sons, Jacob turns to their father and says, "I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers." (v. 21)
How unlikely was this! Joseph was now thoroughly settled and established in Egypt. No longer is Jacob walking by sight. Firm now was his confidence, and with an unshaken faith—he grasps the promises of God (that his seed shall inherit Canaan) and speaks out of a heart filled with a quiet assurance.
The last scene (Genesis 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 Genesis 49:1) he has thought for nothing but things future!
One word here is deeply instructive: "I have waited for your salvation, O Lord." (49:18) We saw at the beginning of his life, that "waiting" was something quite foreign to his nature: instead of waiting for God to secure for him the promised birthright, he sought to obtain it himself. But now the hardest lesson of all has been learned. Grace has taught him now to wait. Truly, "the path of the just is as the shining light—which shines more and more unto the perfect day"!
To sum up: God took Jacob as the one through whom he could best show forth His grace and power. What more suited for the display of His grace than the chief of sinners! Whom shall He take up to exhibit His power but the one who by nature was the most intractable! And the God of Jacob is our refuge. He is the God of Sovereign election, the God of matchless grace, the God of infinite patience, the God of transforming power! This is the One "with whom we have to do." Those of us who have already "passed from death unto life" already know something of His wondrous grace and marvelous forbearance. May we experience more and more of His might transforming power!