Jacob the Patriarch (4)
Pope Shenouda III | 27 March 2011
Jacob fled from the face of his brother Esau who had intended to kill him. Strange indeed was such hatred and strange his ignorance! Could he prevent the blessing that went to Jacob, that peoples serve Jacob, and nations bow down to him, that he become master over his brethren, and his mother’s sons bow down to him, that the older serve him though the younger? (Gen 27: 29; 25: 23) Esau was defying the divine dispensation, unlike his father who despite intending to bless Esau, submitted to the divine will when he remembered God's promise. Isaac said affirming, "Indeed he shall be blessed." (Gen 27: 33) Esau nevertheless disobeyed and showed ignorance, for the blessing implied the coming of Christ from the offspring of the firstborn, how then would he kill Jacob before the coming of Christ from his offspring! How would he kill him before the fulfillment of the other blessing Isaac had given him, that he multiply and be an assembly of peoples (Gen 28: 3)? It was impossible, but Jacob in fear fled from his face.
Jacob walked alone in fear in the desert, waiting for the fulfillment of God's promises. He used to be scared from Esau the skilful hunter who was physically stronger than he was. Even in their mother's womb, Esau set him aside and came out first, red, like a hairy garment all over (Gen 25: 25). Both wrestled concerning the birthright and the blessing, and when those went to Jacob, the spirit of revenge entered into the heart of Esau, and the spirit of fear the heart of Jacob. He fled not knowing if the blessing of Isaac would prevail over the hatred of Esau or not. In spite of the faults of Jacob, God did not punish him immediately. Suffice the fear he was experiencing, and the punishment would be inflicted afterwards. It was time of need for God's care, rather than His Justice and punishment, for God always supports the weak and those in tribulation so that He might attract them. Truly said David the Prophet, "Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man." (2 Sam 24: 14) God did not want to leave his son alone, afraid, and without the care of the father and the kindness of the mother, in trouble and confusion. Although he brought upon himself such a state, God did not let him suffer the consequences of his own acts, for He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities (Ps 103: 10). It was then time for God's support, while Jacob was in the desert, in the gloom of day and darkness of night, in fear of the mount with its wild animals, reptiles, and insects, and in fear of the revenge of his brother. He needed God's support lest he say, where then is the promised blessing, "the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth" (Gen 27: 28)
The blessing then does not mean the broad way, for although David the Prophet, for instance, received the holy ointment by the hand of Samuel the Prophet, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him (1 Sam 16: 13), he suffered many hardships. He suffered much persecution from King Saul, who kept pursuing him, but in due time David obtained the blessing of that holy ointment.
Jacob therefore had to wait for the Lord to act in due time, and in a way suitable to His divine dispensation. It was a period of weaning from all human support, from his mother's kindness and guidance who encouraged him to deceive his father, then to flee and stay with his uncle Laban, commanding him to obey her (Gen 27: 8, 13; 43). When he was with no human support, God appeared to deliver him out of the trouble. He began to feel God's hand in his life. Before that he had no idea about God except that He was the God of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, to whom they offered sacrifices (Gen 28: 13).
A personal relationship started between him and God, who took the first step when Jacob at sunset was tired of walking. Jacob sought a place to sleep, took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep (Gen 28: 10, 11).
Not able to bear seeing Jacob lying on the earth on a stone, God began to act and to establish a relationship with him. Perhaps Jacob thought he was alone in the mount, so God wanted to reveal to him that he was not alone. Though lying on the earth, there was a link between earth and heaven. God showed him a strange dream in his sleep: a ladder on the earth and its top in heaven and God's angels ascending and descending on it, and the Lord Himself standing over it speaking to him and blessing him! That was the first of many meetings between Jacob and God, in which God revealed Himself to him.
Jacob had believed in inheritance, being the son of Isaac the believer and his God is the God of Isaac, but after that meeting, he went further to believe in communion and experience, to speak with God. No more did he need blessing from his father Isaac. He now gets it from the mouth of God Himself who said to him, "Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen 28: 14) God also gave him a promise: "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land." (Gen 28: 15) What a wonderful meeting, with God, His angels, and His heaven! These three represent his new spiritual life, before which he only conversed with his mother, his father, and his brother, but now a change happened in his life, a new chapter of his life started. That scene, the ladder, heaven, and the angels had a great influence on Jacob, and deeper was the influence of his talk with God. When he woke up, he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" (Gen 28: 17) For the first time the Scripture mentions "the house of God", called afterwards "Bethel".
The first time we read about angels appearing to people was when the Lord with two angels appeared to our father Abraham, and when two angels went to Sodom and saved Lot and his family (Gen 19: 1- 18), and when an angel of the Lord prevented Abraham from slaying his son Isaac (Gen 22: 11, 12). This now happened to Jacob as well, for we read about angels ascending and descending. Jacob was thus the first man to see a number of angels together. Perhaps, in his confusion, he was in need to feel that he had a big family from above that was capable of bringing him upwards to a heavenly world. Again, while going on his way in fear of meeting Esau, he met a big number of angels, which he describes as "God’s camp" (Gen 32: 1, 2). The angels gave him such comfort that he needed much all through his journey.
The ladder between earth and heaven likewise was a source of comfort to him, for it proved that heaven is not separate from the earth, even though it brought forth thorns and thistles. It was a symbol of reconciliation and restored life, a symbol of the Lord Christ who made this reconciliation and revealed to the earth the love of heaven, and a symbol of our mother the holy Virgin who brought forth the Savior to the world, who we call in the praise song "the ladder of Jacob". Jacob also had a deeper comfort than that of the ladder, the angels, and heaven; I mean God Himself who conversed with him from over the ladder (Gen 27: 27; 28: 1). Though not deserving, Jacob received the blessing thrice, for God does not give the Spirit by measure (Jn 3: 34). He gives in our bosom good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over (Lk 6: 28). He looks to our need, not to our worthiness.
To Jacob who was fleeing in fear, God gave blessing and promises instead of disciplining and punishment. The Lord said to him, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go." This had its impact on Jacob. He became sure that the Lord was in that place but he was not aware of that (Gen 28: 16). This often happens, as in the case of the disciples from Emmaus who met with the Lord (Lk 24: 15, 16). Sometimes tribulations make us unaware of God's presence with us, as Gideon said to the Angel of the Lord, "O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about." (Judges 6: 13)
Jacob was unaware of God's presence with him, for it was the first time God appear to him, and His words were the first divine words that touched his ears.
He began to feel how God is near at the time of tribulation. Blessed is the tribulation then if it brings us near to God. That is why God permits it that we suffer hardships so that we may seek Him and He delivers us. Actually, Jacob did not seek God or call Him, but certainly, his need cried out to God with no words. Did the Lord not say to Moses, "I have surely seen the oppression of My people … I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them"? (Ex 3: 7, 8) How then did Jacob get to know that the Lord was with him? He knew this fact through the tribulation, and it removed away fear from him. If Esau thought of killing him, his life was in the Lord's hands, not in Esau's. Do not then think of the danger, but of God and of the open door in heaven. Let God's word be in your ears always. Do not think of Esau or of his strength and threats, or of killing and death. Jacob felt peace of heart when he heard God's promises, so he made a vow if God kept him actually, not only in a dream, "The Lord shall be my God." (Gen 28: 20, 21) His grandfather Abraham offered the tithes to Melchizedek (Gen 14: 20). Now he, his grandson, says, "All that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You." (Gen 28: 22) Let this be a lesson to everybody, to give the tithes, not only of the salary, but of all that the Lord gives us as Jacob did, following the steps of his grandfather Abraham, for gratitude to the Lord. Furthermore, Jacob consecrated to the Lord the place where the Lord appeared to him. Let us contemplate on this next week, God willing.