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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Recommended Books | Main | It is God Himself... »

    Images of the Savior (14 -- Jacob and Laban)

    “These twenty years I served you in your house, fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flock, and you have changed my wages ten times; if the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been with me, surely now you would have sent me away empty. God saw my affliction and the toil of my hands, and rebuked you last night.”– Genesis 31:41-42

    As we continue to follow the life of our father Jacob, we see that at every step, God causes him to flourish and increase, no matter what contingencies might face him. So it is that, having been driven out from the promised land by the rage of his brother Esau, God used his sojourn in another land to make him into a great family, which should later issue forth in a mighty nation, and eventually, the Christ himself. And likewise, in every cheat and deception that he endured from Laban his uncle, he always prospered and grew stronger, rather than weaker, due always to God's particular care and governance. The time that Jacob spent with Laban, although necessitated by a brother's persecution and marked throughout by hardship and unjust treatment, was the very time when he sprang up in the faith, and began to put forth those buds which would eventuate in the mighty boughs of the Kingdom of God. We would do well to learn from this, for the same mystery is at work even today, among those who are Jacob's heirs and possessors of the promise.

    But let us consider a little more thoroughly how Jacob's life illustrated this truth: first, when Esau forced him to flee from the land of Canaan, which the fathers loved because it signified and held forth to them God's presence, it was then that God first appeared to Jacob in a dream, and showing forth to him mystically and typologically the person of Christ, he thereby confirmed the promises he had made to Abraham and Isaac his fathers. So then, in the sovereign will of God, the effect of the persecution fell out to precisely the opposite case as outward appearances would have, and produced in small measure the reality of which the promised land was but a shadow.

    Then, when Jacob found his uncle Laban, and worked for him seven years that he might take to wife his beautiful younger daughter Rachel, whom he loved most passionately, he was given instead Laban's elder daughter, Leah. But at this deception he likewise came to profit: for Rachel, through whom he had hoped to raise up a nation and a people, and especially the promised Messiah, proved to be barren for many years; but Leah, whom he had been given in trickery, was very fruitful, and would raise up to him many children, among whom would be the sole substance of every blessing ever promised to the patriarchs, the yearned-for Christ. So then, in God's sovereign will, that which was done to Jacob out of despite and trickery turned out for good and blessing, and he prospered greatly.

    In the next place, after Jacob had served yet another seven years for Rachel, Laban prevailed upon him to stay and serve for flocks of sheep and goats; and when the wages had been settled at the mottled, spotted, and speckled offspring among them, Laban by deception removed far from Jacob's flock all such multi-colored animals, so that all the new lambs and goats, being born only of pure-colored parents, could scarcely be spotted at all; and moreover, when this stratagem failed to work, Laban ten times changed the wages of Jacob, saying first that the mottled, then just the speckled, and so on, should be Jacob's wages; but in every instance, God caused the more numerous and the stronger of the kind indicated by Laban to be born in the flock, so that Jacob always increased while Laban grew weaker.

    Now, this whole state of affairs most notably demonstrated a truth which prevails to this day among God's Church, that when we suppose ourselves strong, and hope by our own wits or cunning to grow mighty in the Kingdom, and to work out God's purposes in the world, then we are weak, and should take care lest we fall; but when we are weak and persecuted, then we are strong, and our afflictions will always fall out by God's grace to the furtherance of his Kingdom and a greater conformity of our inner man to his own image (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10; 1 Corinthians 10:12). And thus did our blessed Savior assure us much later, when he often reminded his disciples that the last shall be first and the first shall be last (e.g. Matthew 19:30), which is the great enigma of the Kingdom.

    While we may see this paradoxical truth on display in Jacob's life, and searching the annals of Church history may find it everywhere evinced, that persecution and opposition and every sort of difficulty which we may encounter will always fall out to good effect, and work together for the good of God's people and the growth of the Kingdom, yet we will not understand its deep and unfathomable wonder until we have seen the One whose life was foreshadowed in Jacob's struggles, and is now imitated by the children of Jacob, Jesus Christ the Savior. Consider, dear believer, whoever you might be and however you might be resisted, deceived, persecuted, and mocked, the life of the Fear of Isaac who took flesh for us! He was opposed by all the religious and political leaders of the world, derided by his own people, gnashed upon by all the hordes of hell, and eventually driven out of God's presence indeed, exiled and made a curse on a cross of shame. But oh, how mightily God worked this evil for good, when the wicked hands of men did only what he had foreordained for our blessing and the Savior's mighty reward (see Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28)! By his humility, Jesus won a Name which is above every name (Philippians 2:5-11), and was given a people as his heritage (Isaiah 53:10-12; Hebrews 2:9-13), and made the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29). And shall we murmur if we, like Jacob, or the greater Seed of Jacob, should so be opposed by the world, when we see how greatly God uses every means of worldly opposition to effect a greater reward for the afflicted and needy? Jacob learned in this twenty years that the promised blessings of God could not be brought about by his own cunning; but that God's grace caused them to spring up when he was afflicted and humbled, and unable to seize them by his own strength. Shall we not learn the same?

    But let us observe more particularly just how it was that Jacob flourished in this time of affliction: first, through his struggles with Laban, God made his loins fruitful, and gave to him the twelve sons that should be at the heads of the tribes of Israel. Let us notice that these twelve sons came in the midst of struggle, feuding, and turmoil, as the history of Leah and Rachel's wrestlings will show; and also, that the more despised, such as Leah, and the more base, such as the two maidservants, were in fact the more fruitful; even as today God has not chosen many noble or beautiful in the world's eyes, but chooses the base and unlovely, that his grace might be the more glorious (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

    Second, Jacob flourished in goods, and was given great flocks and many servants, in spite of the trickery of Laban. In the same way, Jacob's true heirs are enriched with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), and by the deceits of the enemy, they only grow richer: for when the world comes and persecutes them, and takes away their houses and lands, they grow rich in joy, and delight to follow in the steps of their Savior (Acts 5:41-42; Hebrews 10:34); and indeed, they are enabled thereby to fellowship in Jesus' suffering, and so assure themselves of a share in his resurrection power (Philippians 3:10-11); so that, no matter how the enemy might change their stratagems in opposing us, we grow richer indeed by all their opposition.

    Before we conclude, let us note a particular type of the cross of our Savior, which serves to display these truths we have learned in a rich typological brilliance; which is the spotted stick that Jacob placed before the eyes of his flock. Jacob, as a type of the Savior, is here serving as the shepherd of his sheep, and causing his flock to grow and increase; and he has chosen, not the pure and spotless, but the mottled, speckled, and spotted alone. So also Christ did not come to call the pure and righteous to repentance, but only sinners and people of ill repute enter into his Kingdom, and become part of his flock (Matthew 9:13).

    And then, the way in which Jacob brings these spotted sheep into his flock is most instructive, for he places before their eyes a stick which is made like them in its mottled and spotted character; and by this means, they come to birth, and are given life, and become stronger than all the other sheep which are of one pure color. In the same way, we are given birth by the Holy Spirit only when he places before our eyes the cross of Jesus, where he was lifted up as a curse, and in the likeness of our sins and deformities. And furthermore, it is only as we continue to gaze upon this cross that we become strong, and far excel all the religious hypocrites around us, who boast in their own unspotted righteousness. Ah, dear believer, let us continue to look hard upon the cross of Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, who was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21)!

    Posted by Nathan on July 11, 2008 12:28 PM

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