Wednesday, December 13, 2006

“Jacob Becomes Israel”

Special Insights No. 11
Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Beginnings and Belongings”
(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“Jacob Becomes Israel”

Jacob, whose name means supplanter, is a character study in the two covenants. Certainly his life illustrates the operation of the old covenant principles of works righteousness. Here is one who certainly longed for the birthright covenant blessings. His view was toward the future and the life to come. This was commendable over the attitude of Esau who lived his life for the present. This is why scripture characterizes Esau as a profane person. He despised God’s covenant and viewed the law of God as something of a bondage.

The problem with Jacob, however, was that he sought to obtain the promises of the covenant through his own conniving instead of letting God work out His own will and time. This was a repetition of Sarah and Abraham’s mistake.

The next twenty years Jacob spent in the employ of his uncle Laban, who was even more sharp and conniving in nature than was Jacob. Jacob could have exhibited a cheating and manipulative spirit, but he did not. The Spirit of God wrought a mighty change in his character. The only reason Jacob stayed so long was because of his fear of Esau’s wrath. He never once heard from home that his brother had relented his death threat.

Finally, the conditions of employ under Laban became so intolerable that Jacob was compelled to leave with his wives, entourage, and livestock. This precipitated a showdown with Esau who heard of his return and responded with four hundred ruthless warriors under his command intent on wiping out everything of Jacob’s encampment.

The night before their meeting has gone down in history as symbolic of Jacob’s trouble. Still overshadowed with the great evil deception of the past he sought God in prayer. He confessed his sin. This is what seemed to overwhelm him the most.

Jacob was a strong man having tended the livestock for so many years. “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Gen. 32:24). This unknown assailant might have been a bandito or robber for all Jacob knew. But neither one prevailed in the match until “he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him” (vs. 25).

This had to have been the most painful physical experience Jacob had ever encountered. It overshadowed the emotional and spiritual pain he had just been going through. In that instant he knew exactly who he was dealing with for only the Lord Himself could have dislocated his hip. “It was Christ, ‘the Angel of the covenant,’... ” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 197).

“And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (vs. 26). With his hip out of joint it was absolutely impossible for him to stand on his own. He grabbed the Lord, not letting go. His total reliance was on the Lord in order to do anything. When the Lord sought to be released, Jacob would not disengage.

Jacob’s faith reached its apex here. All self-reliance was gone. That conniving, sneaking character was forsaken. That is why the Lord asked him, “What is thy name? And he said, Jacob” (vs. 27). “Resting upon God, he had ceased from his own works, so that he was no more the supplanter, seeking to further his own ends, but the prince of God, who had fought the good fight of faith, and had laid hold on eternal life” (E. J. Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant, p. 115, Glad Tidings Publishers edition).

“And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (vs. 28). Jacob’s power with God was not his human prowess or ability. His power came by virtue of a humbled heart where self was crucified and faith was focused on his Deliverer alone.

Ellen G. White, in quoting Jacob’s response, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me,” makes this observation. “Had this been a boastful, presumptuous confidence, Jacob would have been instantly destroyed; but his was the assurance of one who confesses his own unworthiness, yet trusts the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God” (op. cit., p. 197). God is not seeking sharp bargainers with which to promise His grace. “The error that had led to Jacob’s sin in obtaining the birthright by fraud was now clearly set before him. He had not trusted God’s promises, but had sought by his own efforts to bring about that which God would have accomplished in His own time and way. ... Jacob had been taught how vain is the help of man, how groundless is all trust in human power” (op. cit., pp. 197-201).

His old covenant name, Jacob, was changed by God to a new covenant status, Israel. Israel means one who prevails with God. The only way to prevail with God is to surrender all hope in man’s power and believe in God’s word alone.

A similar test of faith will come upon every believer in the last days as the enemies of God’s people surround them for the final slaughter. If we have not confessed and repented of our sin beforehand, when the heart-searching time comes we shall not be able to stand because of our dependence upon self. If we have humbled our souls and sent our sin to the heavenly high priest then when Satan accuses our conscience of wrong-doing we will admit ourselves capable of such wickedness, but in Christ we are fully covered by the blood. Then this will be our victory in overcoming by the blood of the Lamb. All self-reliance will be renounced by clinging to our covenant Substitute and Surety.

The Lord delivered his friend Jacob from the onslaught of brother Esau in a most signal manner which proved to be a reconciliation between the two antagonists. Likewise, God will deliver his faithful saints in the final days of earth’s history. They will be Israelites indeed—faith warriors who trust in God to win the war for them.

—Paul Penno

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