Images of the Savior (13 -- Jacob and Esau)
In all the accounts of God's dealing with the patriarchs thus far, we have been primarily struck with these two things, first, God's absolute sovereignty in choosing and calling out the subjects of his redemptive blessing; and second, the surprising and unexpected ways in which he does so, which may be seen both in the choice of the vessels which he should prepare for mercy, and the means by which he should bring this mercy to bear in their lives. Thus, God called Abraham alone, when he had many and mighty nations and nobles which he might instead have chosen; he called Isaac and not Ishmael, although Ishmael was Abraham's eldest son, and begotten of natural and expected means, whereas Isaac was younger and begotten in a most surprising way; and he ensured and ratified the blessing which he had sworn should come through Isaac by commanding that he be put to death on Mount Moriah, before he had been able to extend Abraham's line. In these and in many other ways beside, we see those two notable truths everywhere confirmed and illustrated. Now, as we look to the account of the next generation of the patriarchs, and observe the early life of Jacob and Esau, we will see again the same truths most admirably displayed.
Let us notice, first of all, that there was an enmity and diametrical opposition of spirit between these two twins from the time of their conception, and on throughout their lifetime. Not only were they two very different individuals, but they were of two radically different sorts of people, representative of and standing at the head of two utterly distinct nations, one of whom should be the people of God's favor and grace, and one of whom should forfeit God's blessing, and continue on in a proud and self-reliant mode of existence. This fact is most instructive to us even today, because, inasmuch as these two persons represent all who are in their own class or of their own manner of people, we may learn of which sort we ourselves are by an examination of their lives. If we are as Esau, and hunger after this world's sustenance, and in our hearts are attached to the goods, amusements, and women of this age, and only add on those qualities which we suppose to be necessary to true religion, just as Esau added a wife from the offspring of his uncle Ishmael, hoping thereby to placate his parents and present himself a true child of Abraham, then we may be certain that we will eventually find ourselves in Esau's place, weeping bitterly but finding no place of repentance (cf. Hebrews 12:15-17). But if we are as Jacob, who for all his many faults and shortcomings nevertheless hoped most earnestly in the blessing promised to Abraham, and yearned and labored for the coming of the Christ, then we may be sure that God's grace will not only give us that which we long for, but will likewise change our very natures so that his gift will be compatible with the state of our own hearts. Thus we see that Jacob, through many difficulties and miseries, slowly grew more fitted to enter into the inheritance for which he so ardently yearned, and thus the trials of this age worked in his behalf, changing his own heart so that he might prove himself an heir of the promise indeed; even as we who have hoped in Christ, and who long for his coming again, may know that all things, trials and difficulties not excepted, are being worked together for our good, and will soon fit us for the glorious inheritance which we in no way deserve, but yet love and hope for (cf. Romans 8:28-39).
Then, we must notice as well that all the outward advantages in the struggle between the twins seemed to be Esau's alone; and yet Jacob always prevailed, and so earned his name, the Supplanter. Consider: Esau was the eldest son, and thus the rightful heir of the birthright and the Abrahamic blessing, to all outward appearances. And he was also very vigorous, manly, and charismatic in his personality, so that he felt quite certain of being able to seize all the things he desired by virtue of his many talents and abilities, and indeed did seize many such things, slaying the wild hart with skill and cunning, taking wives at will, and gathering together many goods and a devoted following of at least four hundred skilled men (see Genesis 32:6). And he was, moreover, the favorite of his father Isaac, in whose hands it was to pass on the Abrahamic blessing to one of his sons. And yet, for his gross earthly appetites he forfeited his spiritual inheritance, and when he later sought to retain the Abrahamic blessing, only as a good to be added to the earthly treasures he so obviously delighted in above all, God frustrated him in those designs as well, and reserved the blessing for Jacob. And thus do we see Isaac's faith, as well, in that, after God had granted the blessing to Jacob, against his own designs, he then submitted to the will of God, refusing to answer Esau's supplication with bitter tears, and so acknowledging the sovereign choice of God in his bestowing the messianic blessings upon the son of his favor (see Hebrews 11:20). Let us not fail to notice, however, that Jacob's own cunning in attempting to wrest away by his own devices the blessing for which he hoped only served to drive him out of the promised land of God's presence; and it was only many years later, after he had learned to wrestle patiently with God's Christ in prevailing prayer, that he was brought back in to its borders. So too, if we pursue our sanctification and the realization of our spiritual blessings by the force of our will, we will be frustrated and hindered; but even our failures God will then use to teach us our need for him, and to bring us back to that place where he might shower us with the promised goods of knowing and delighting in him.
In the next place, as we have already mentioned, we must make very clear that this vast difference in the lives and destinies of Isaac's two sons was not at all a matter of their own respective merit or worth, but was conditioned upon God's sovereign selection alone. Let us remember that it was before the twins had been born, and before they had done anything, whether good or evil, that God made his will clear, saying â€œthe elder shall serve the youngerâ€ (Genesis 25:23); as he also proclaimed in another place, â€œJacob I loved but Esau I hatedâ€ (Malachi 1:2-3). And so we see that, the way in which God worked everything out for Jacob's good, and not least of all, the way in which he changed his character, while hardening Esau in the sinfulness of his own character, was not a matter of human choice or effort, but was merely according to the will and mercy of God (Romans 9:10-16). We can never stress this point too highly: for the whole purpose of the accomplishment of redemption is to bring glory and praise to God (see Romans 9:23; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; Ephesians 2:7); and a salvation which is conditioned upon any merit or choice or seeking or inclination to believe in its subject, to that extent, detracts from the glorious mercy and power of the God who saves sinners.
Now, before we conclude, let us mention the several beautiful images of the Savior with which Jacob was comforted, after having been driven out from the promised land because of his own deception and scheming.
On the first night after his forced departure, Jacob lay down to rest in a certain place, and dreamed of a ladder reaching up to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, and with God himself standing above it, and confirming to Jacob the promises that he had made to Abraham and Isaac before him. In this exceptional circumstance, we have a most striking image of the coming Christ; for it is as though God were telling him, â€œAlthough you are being driven out of the land where I have chosen for my presence to dwell, do not be discouraged, for that physical land of Canaan is but a type of the heavenly city where my glory dwells in all its fullness; and no matter how you may be driven about on the earth below, there is a Ladder in place for you, where you might climb up to my very presence, and experience the true fulfillment of all the promised blessings. The Ladder leads to me, and I will be favorable to you, and fulfill my promises with my own glorious presence. And in fact, so far from escaping my presence by leaving Canaan, it matters not at all where you may be, if you only have access to this Ladder; for it is the only way of approaching me that is open to any creature, and even my angels, who come down to mankind to do my will and accomplish my redemptive purposes among them, must of necessity make use of this one Ladder; so that, to climb this Ladder is the only way to my presence, and to have it is to certify all spiritual blessings, no matter where on the earth you might be, and no matter how you might be driven from the physical blessings which typify the realities which are ultimately fulfilled in my very presence.â€
Of course, this Ladder is only a figure for Jesus Christ, who is the one way between God and man, and through whom every redemptive blessing is accomplished and administered; and so it is that Jesus later confirmed the hopes of his disciple Nathanael by telling him, â€œYou shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Manâ€ (John 1:51), by which mode of expression he was telling them, â€œI am Jacob's Ladder, and all the promised blessings of God can come only by me; and, moreover, no man can come into God's presence except by meâ€. With this very comforting image of the Savior did God support Jacob on his earthly wanderings.
But second, we must notice another very instructive type of the Savior in that same account: for in that place, Jacob rested his head upon a Rock, and slept; and after his dream, he then set up that Rock as a pillar, anointed it with oil, and vowed to give to God a tenth of all his possessions. Now, this Rock also typifies the excellent and diverse character of the Christ, who is our only rest and comfort, and the one who pillows and supports our heads in all our wanderings below; and who is also an immovable Rock and fortress for us. Now, this Rock was anointed with oil and set up as a pillar and testimony of God's grace; just as Christ was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 61:1; Matthew 3:16-17), and became a covenant of the people (Isaiah 42:6), and the everlasting and most eloquent testimony to the grace and power of God (see John 1:14). And for this reason, Jacob called that Rock Bethel, which means, â€œThe House of Godâ€; because the Christ would be the true House of God, that is, the place where his presence would come down to dwell among men, and the one Building into whom men must enter, that is, be united with in a real and mystical sense, if they would experience God's presence and blessing. So in two surpassing ways, God imaged forth to his servant Jacob the One who should be the full substance and unique provider of the promised blessings, by picturing him as the only Ladder between God and man, and as the Rock of our comfort, who should go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit and provide a place where men might dwell in God's presence forevermore. And having been so comforted by these visible representations of the gospel, Jacob forthwith promised to God a tenth of everything, as an offering of gratitude; whose example we should do well to follow, offering up the tithe of our entire lives and talents in the service of the King, if we have once seen him in all his manifold beauty, and been assured by the gracious condescension of God that he is ours forevermore, no matter how we may be driven about by our enemies and our own failures while we wander upon this earth below.