2-1 Jacob: Really Our Example

The fact that " the God of Jacob" became " the God of Israel" means that for natural Israel, the life of Jacob is their supreme prototype in their relationship with God. When we read of " Jacob / Israel" in the prophets, there is usually a connection with one or more of the following:

- " The Lord of Hosts" / Angels, i.e. Angelic work, which was such a feature of Jacob's life

- The language of " return" , as if Jacob's return to his father (31:3,13; 32:9) was a type of Israel's future return, physically and spiritually, to their fathers and their God- and will involve a like humiliation at the hands of their Arab brethren to achieve this

- The language of 'redemption', which is appropriate to the fact that the first reference to the idea of redemption was in Jacob's words (48:16)

- The idea of God being " with you" , as He promised Jacob (28:15)

- The need not to fear, to renounce the fear which was such a characteristic of the faithless natural Jacob

- There is often an association between Jacob / Israel being rebuked and idolatry, as if this was a besetting sin of the early Jacob. 

These connections all emphasize the need to see the turning point in Jacob's life as the wrestling with the Angel, and to realize that this, in essence, must be the experience of all the true Israel of God.  Rom. 9:10-13 reasons that the grace of God shown to Jacob is exactly representative of our experience; chosen as opposed to the man next to us (cp. Esau), not due to our own righteousness, but as a manifestation of pure grace. The way the prophecies of their latter day struggles are recorded with the specter of the man Jacob hanging over them would suggest that they will be especially aware of this in the last days, until they like him come to make Yahweh their very own God, in the person of His Son. Hos. 12:2-13, the most explicit reference in the prophets to Jacob's struggle with the Angel, appears in a prophecy which has ample reference to Israel's latter day repentance. And Jacob is our example, as Jacob was and is Israel's example. Jacob's flight into Syria is set up as typical of Israel going into dispersion as a punishment for their idolatry. But they will return, as Jacob did. Then Israel will not wear a rough garment to deceive any more as Jacob did, then they will have renounced the human side of Jacob and captured his final spirituality for their own (Zech. 13:4). Then, in that glorious day, unGodliness will be turned away from (the people of) Jacob, as it was from Jacob himself (Rom. 11:26). We must remember that all the criticisms and denunciations of 'Israel' are denunciations of Jacob, who primarily was the man Jacob, whose children shared his characteristics. Therefore in some ways we can feed back from the failures of Israel as a people and see the weakness of Jacob as a man. Thus the way Israel were made to " serve with rigour" in Egypt reflected the way Jacob served in the same way with Laban (Ex. 1:13,14), and thereby implies that Jacob was suffering for his sins and was also idolatrous as they were at that time (Ez. 20:8), while he served Laban.  

Particularly in that watershed night of wrestling, Jacob was our example. We really must all go through that process, whether in one night or a longer period. The commentary on that night in Hos. 12 makes this point: " In his (spiritual) manhood (RVmg.) he had power with God...he wept, and made supplication unto him: he (God) found him (Jacob) in Bethel, and there He spake with us, even the (same) Lord God of Hosts...therefore turn thou to thy God" as Jacob made Yahweh his God and turned to Him (vv. 3-6). Jacob is our example. Jacob only truly turned to God that night of wrestling, at the age of 97, despite having been brought up in the ways of the true Gospel, and after having lived almost a century of half commitment to God. We can so easily slip into the same life of half-commitment and never, even for a century, turn to our God with all our heart. Ps. 34:3 promises that the Angel of the Lord will encamp /Mahanaim around all His servants, just as the Angel did at Mahanaim for Jacob. Jacob’s struggle at [or with] Penuel strikes a chord with each of us. Frank Lake has pointed out that each person struggles to find peace in their relationships with others and also with their God- whether or not they are conscious of those struggles(2). Jacob’s experience is clearly set up as representative of our own. 

Jacob Our Example

Yet if Jacob really is our example, we are faced with implications we'd perhaps rather not face. He suffered, really suffered, during those 20 years when he kept Laban's sheep; strife between his wives, driven to having relationships with Laban's ex-women, his cast offs, to try to appease his bitching wives; sleep departing from his eyes, consumed by the drought; wages changed ten times, pining (" sore longing" , 31:30) for the family home where he'd lived at peace for 77 years. When we see our brethren, or ourselves, in these situations, we cry out for the pain to end, for the wayward wife to return, for the redundancy to be cancelled, for the cancer to clear. And so it is God's will that we as His children should cry to Him in these things. But yet ultimately, so often the answer we seek is not the way to that final, desperate turning to our God which Jacob experienced. What really do we expect? Problems to come and then be taken away immediately? All Biblical examples, not least of the Man we fain would follow to the end, are to the contrary. Long term experience of impossible situations, pain at the most vulnerable point...and then the deeper realization of the Kingdom and the grace of the Lord Jesus and the real implications of the covenant of our God with which we are blessed. Yet to achieve this, God will often ask us the very hardest things. The way He asked Jacob to return to " thy kindred" , which meant Esau (cp. 31:13 with 32:9); the very hardest thing for Jacob at that time. And yet this is the spirit of the cross; we are invited to take the hardest road, not just the difficult one. If we don't see this, we simply haven't opened our eyes to God working in our lives; we haven't woken up to what He is really asking us to do (apart from turn up at Christian meetings now and again).  

Jacob And The Last Days

In the same way as natural Israel will be driven towards an increasing identification with Jacob in their final holocaust, so at the same time it seems that spiritual Israel will be also (1). " Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed" (32:7) is the basis of " the time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer. 30:7), the " time of trouble" from which Israel will be Angelically " delivered" (Dan. 12:1) after the pattern of Jacob. Yet this " time of trouble" is picked up by the Lord in Mt. 24:21 and applied to the time of great tribulation " such as was not" which will encompass all God's people, natural and spiritual. What this means is that the Jacob experience must be gone through by all of us, natural and spiritual Israel; and this will entail a desperate praying to God (3) and an earnest repentance, recognizing that we have lived out our parental expectations for too long; and above all, a realization that " this God is our God" , a personalizing of God, a grasping of the wondrous reality of those things which we have previously seen as only so much correct theology and logical theory. But let's not in any way minimize the spiritual struggle and suffering of Jacob. After the pattern of Moses, it seems that the Angel who came to wrestle with Jacob was out to kill him, and it was only his desperate, desperate repentance and pleading to receive the true blessing, the forgiveness of sins, which brought him through to salvation. Let's not see the similarities between ourselves and Jacob and therefore conclude that it will all turn out all right in the end, as it did for him. It's rather like saying 'David sinned with Bathsheba and repented, so I too can repent and all will be OK'; but the depth and intensity of his pleading and self-abasement are hard to plumb. Likewise " We must pray like Moses did" rolls off the tongue far, far too easily, almost doing despite to the spirit of Christ which he reached in those supreme pleadings for God's people. And above all, let's shy away from saying, or at least say far more soberly, things like: " We must carry the cross (brethren!), like Christ did! Think of him in Gethsemane, that's our example!'. All of which is true; but do we realize the depth and height of what we are connecting ourselves with?

Rom. 9:10-13 speaks of Jacob’s experience of grace as if it is ours. But the grace Jacob will receive in the last days is really wondrous- and he is our pattern in this. Hosea 12 speaks of Jacob’s running to Laban as a type of Israel’s dispersion. Then when Jacob returns he won’t deceive as his father did (Zech. 13:4); ungodliness will be turned away from Jacob (Rom. 11:26). The ‘return’ of Jacob in the prophets usually applies to the time of Israel’s repentance. As Jacob reached spiritual “manhood” at age 97, so will Israel finally, in their very old age as a nation (Hos. 12:3-6 RVmg.). So now Jacob is still in Syria, eyes consumed by drought, the family riven by internal strife- but they are being prepared, as are we all, for the final revelation of grace. 

David And Jacob

David was a man who saw the height of Jacob, perceiving Jacob as our example, and the deep significance of his spiritual growth as our pattern. His almost fanatic devotion to " the Law" would have included the record of Jacob- around a fifth of " the Law" which he studied all the day (and deep into the night watches). Consider how he made Jacob's example his own, and how he was able to see himself living out, in principle, Jacob's spiritual growth pattern; and consider how Jacob is set up in Scripture as our example; the God of Jacob / Israel is our God too: 

- " In mine adversity (Heb. tsela, limping) they rejoiced" (Ps. 35:15), " I am ready to halt (tsela) and my sorrow (repentance) is continually before me" (Ps. 38:17) uses a word which occurs elsewhere mainly in the context of Jacob limping after the night of wrestling (32:31).

- " I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant" (32:10) was spoken by Jacob on that night of destiny, in recognition of how he was morally unworthy to receive the promises which God had given him (see context). David picked this up in 2 Sam. 7:18, where he comments on his unworthiness to receive the promises to him, which were an extension of those Jacob received.

- " I cried to thee, O Lord, and unto the Lord I made supplication" (Ps. 30:8) uses the same word as Hos. 12:4 concerning Jacob's supplication to God in earnest repentance and physical request that night.

- Psalm 32 describes David's feelings during the nine months during which he refused to come to real self-knowledge and serious repentance. Appropriately enough, it is shot through with reference to Jacob, especially on the wrestling night. Ps. 38:17 was also penned (or first spoken) against the background of the Bathsheba affair: " I am ready to halt and my sorrow (for sin) is continually before me" . And the word for " halt" is usually used in the context of Jacob halting (limping) after his wrestling.

- " Let people serve thee" was the blessing promised to Jacob in his moment of weakness, as he crouched before his father in fawning deception (27:29). And yet David applies this promised blessing to himself (2 Sam. 22:44).

- Jacob's comment at the end of the wrestling experience was that " my life is preserved" (32:30); and that Hebrew phrase is so often used by David (Ps. 7:2; 22:20; 25:20; 33:19; 56:13; 86:13; 97:10; 120:2). Likewise Jacob commented that the experience had shown him that God had been gracious unto him (33:11); and that Hebrew phrase too is a catch phrase of David's (Ps. 4:1; 6:2; 9:13; 25:16; 26:11; 27:11; 30:8; 31:9 and many others).

- Compare Gen. 48:16 with 2 Sam. 4:9. What Jacob only learnt at the end of his life, David learnt and applied during his life. And we should likewise not be experiential learners, but learn instead from Jacob. 

All these are allusions to that night which was the watershed in Jacob's life, the night when he quit the life of half-commitment, and gave himself completely to God and His Truth, with all this entailed for him. Evidently that night of wrestling had a big impact on David; he saw that it epitomized the spiritual struggle which all God's true children must, must pass through on the way to making Yahweh their God. David exactly associates himself with Jacob in this sense of making God his very own God: " Thou art my king, O God; command deliverances for Jacob" , i.e. David (Ps. 44:4). He too vowed to walk before God in the land (Ps. 116:9), just as Jacob and his fathers had done (Gen. 48:15). It has to be said, really it has to be, that the sense of spiritual struggle and effort in these men doesn't seem very apparent in our community- at least, on the surface.  


(1) My 90% certainty that spiritual Israel will pass through a time of latter day persecution at the same time as natural Israel is detailed at length in The Last Days (London: Pioneer, 1992).

(2) Frank Lake, Clinical Theology (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1966).

(3) The connection between fervent prayer and the faithful in the last days is developed many times in The Last Days (ibid.).

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