Tarry with him a few days - It was probably forty years before he returned, and it is likely Rebekah saw him no more; for it is the general opinion of the Jewish rabbins that she died before Jacob's return from Padan-aram, whether the period of his stay be considered twenty or forty years. See note on Genesis 31:55, etc.
- Isaac Blessing His Sons
The life of Isaac falls into three periods. During the first seventy-five years he is contemporary with his father. For sixty-one years more his son Jacob remains under the paternal roof. The remaining forty-four years are passed in the retirement of old age. The chapter before us narrates the last solemn acts of the middle period of his life.
Isaac was old. - Joseph was in his thirtieth year when he stood before Pharaoh, and therefore thirty-nine when Jacob came down to Egypt at the age of one hundred and thirty. When Joseph was born, therefore, Jacob was ninety-one, and he had sojourned fourteen years in Padan-aram. Hence, Jacob‘s flight to Laban took place when he was seventy-seven, and therefore in the one hundred and thirty-sixth year of Isaac. “His eyes were dim.” Weakness and even loss of sight is more frequent in Palestine than with us. “His older son.” Isaac had not yet come to the conclusion that Jacob was heir of the promise. The communication from the Lord to Rebekah concerning her yet unborn sons in the form in which it is handed down to us merely determines that the older shall serve the younger. This fact Isaac seems to have thought might not imply the transferrence of the birthright; and if he was aware of the transaction between Esau and Jacob, he may not have regarded it as valid. Hence, he makes arrangements for bestowing the paternal benediction on Esau, his older son, whom he also loves. “I am old.” At the age of one hundred and thirty-six, and with failing sight, he felt that life was uncertain. In the calmness of determination he directs Esau to prepare savory meat, such as he loved, that he may have his vigor renewed and his spirits revived for the solemn business of bestowing that blessing, which he held to be fraught with more than ordinary benefits.
Rebekah forms a plan for diverting the blessing from Esau to Jacob. She was within hearing when the infirm Isaac gave his orders, and communicates the news to Jacob. Rebekah has no scruples about primogeniture. Her feelings prompt her to take measures, without waiting to consider whether they are justifiable or not, for securing to Jacob that blessing which she has settled in her own mind to be destined for him. She thinks it necessary to interfere that this end may not fail of being accomplished. Jacob views the matter more coolly, and starts a difficulty. He may be found out to be a deceiver, and bring his father‘s curse upon him. Rebekah, anticipating no such issue; undertakes to bear the curse that she conceived would never come. Only let him obey.
The plan is successful. Jacob now, without further objection, obeys his mother. She clothes him in Esau‘s raiment, and puts the skins of the kids on his hands and his neck. The camel-goat affords a hair which bears a great resemblance to that of natural growth, and is used as a substitute for it. Now begins the strange interview between the father and the son. “Who art thou, my son?” The voice of Jacob was somewhat constrained. He goes, however, deliberately through the process of deceiving his father. “Arise, now, sit and eat.” Isaac was reclining on his couch, in the feebleness of advancing years. Sitting was the posture convenient for eating. “The Lord thy God prospered me.” This is the bold reply to Isaac‘s expression of surprise at the haste with which the dainty fare had been prepared. The bewildered father now puts Jacob to a severer test. He feels him, but discerns him not. The ear notes a difference, but the hand feels the hairy skin resembling Esau‘s; the eyes give no testimony. After this the result is summarily stated in a single sentence, though the particulars are yet to be given. “Art thou my very son Esau?” A lurking doubt puts the definite question, and receives a decisive answer. Isaac then calls for the repast and partakes.
He gives the kiss of paternal affection, and pronounces the benediction. It contains, first, a fertile soil. “Of the dew of heaven.” An abundant measure of this was especially precious in a country where the rain is confined to two seasons of the year. “Of the fatness of the earth;” a proportion of this to match and render available the dew of heaven. “Corn and wine,” the substantial products, implying all the rest. Second, a numerous and powerful offspring. “Let peoples serve thee” - pre-eminence among the nations. “Be lord of thy brethren” - pre-eminence among his kindred. Isaac does not seem to have grasped the full meaning of the prediction, “The older shall serve the younger.” Third, Prosperity, temporal and spiritual. He that curseth thee be cursed, and he that blesseth thee be blessed. This is the only part of the blessing that directly comprises spiritual things; and even this of a special form. It is to be recollected that it was Isaac‘s intention to bless Esau, and he may have felt that Esau, after all, was not to be the progenitor of the holy seed. Hence, the form of expression is vague enough to apply to temporal things, and yet sufficiently comprehensive to embrace the infliction of the ban of sin, and the diffusion of the blessing of salvation by means of the holy seed.
Esau‘s blessing. Esau comes in, but it is too late. “Who then?” The whole illusion is dispelled from the mind of Isaac. “Yea, blessed he shall be.” Jacob had no doubt perpetrated a fraud, at the instigation of his mother; and if Esau had been worthy in other respects, and above all if the blessing had been designed for him, its bestowment on another would have been either prevented or regarded as null and void. But Isaac now felt that, whatever was the misconduct of Jacob in interfering, and especially in employing unworthy means to accomplish his end, he himself was culpable in allowing carnal considerations to draw his preference to Esau, who was otherwise unworthy. He knew too that the paternal benediction flowed not from the bias of the parent, but from the Spirit of God guiding his will, and therefore when so pronounced could not be revoked. Hence, he was now convinced that it was the design of Providence that the spiritual blessing should fall on the line of Jacob. The grief of Esau is distressing to witness, especially as he had been comparatively blameless in this particular instance. But still it is to be remembered that his heart had not been open to the paramount importance of spiritual things. Isaac now perceives that Jacob has gained the blessing by deceit. Esau marks the propriety of his name, the wrestler who trips up the heel, and pleads pathetically for at least some blessing. His father enumerates what he has done for Jacob, and asks what more he can do for Esau; who then exclaims, “Hast thou but one blessing?”
At length, in reply to the weeping suppliant, he bestows upon him a characteristic blessing. “Away from the fatness.” The preposition (מי mı̂y ) is the same as in the blessing of Jacob. But there, after a verb of giving, it had a partitive sense; here, after a noun of place, it denotes distance or separation; for example, Proverbs 20:3 The pastoral life has been distasteful to Esau, and so it shall be with his race. The land of Edom was accordingly a comparative wilderness (Malachi 1:3). “On thy sword.” By preying upon others. “And thy brother shalt thou serve.” Edom was long independent; but at length Saul was victorious over them 1 Samuel 14:47, and David conquered them 2 Samuel 8:14. Then followed a long struggle, until John Hyrcanus, 129 b.c., compelled them to be circumcised and incorporated into Judaism. “Break his yoke.” The history of Edom was a perpetual struggle against the supremacy of Israel. Conquered by Saul, subdued by David, repressed by Solomon, restrained after a revolt by Amaziah, they recovered their independence in the time of Ahab. They were incorporated into the Jewish state, and furnished it with the dynasty of princes beginning with Antipater. Esau was now exasperated against his brother, and could only compose his mind by resolving to slay him during the days of mourning after his father‘s death.
Rebekah hearing this, advises Jacob to flee to Laban her brother, and await the abatement of his brother‘s anger. “That which thou hast done to him.” Rebekah seems not to have been aware that she herself was the cause of much of the evil and of the misery that flowed from it. All the parties to this transaction are pursued by a retributive chastisement. Rebekah, especially, parts with her favorite son to meet him only after an absence of twenty years, if ever in this life. She is moreover grievously vexed with the connection which Esau formed with the daughters of Heth. She dreads a similar matrimonial alliance on the part of Jacob.
Threatened with death by the wrath of Esau, Jacob went out from his father's home a fugitive; but he carried with him the father's blessing; Isaac had renewed to him the covenant promise, and had bidden him, as its inheritor, to seek a wife of his mother's family in Mesopotamia. Yet it was with a deeply troubled heart that Jacob set out on his lonely journey. With only his staff in his hand he must travel hundreds of miles through a country inhabited by wild, roving tribes. In his remorse and timidity he sought to avoid men, lest he should be traced by his angry brother. He feared that he had lost forever the blessing that God had purposed to give him; and Satan was at hand to press temptations upon him. PP 183.1
The evening of the second day found him far away from his father's tents. He felt that he was an outcast, and he knew that all this trouble had been brought upon him by his own wrong course. The darkness of despair pressed upon his soul, and he hardly dared to pray. But he was so utterly lonely that he felt the need of protection from God as he had never felt it before. With weeping and deep humiliation he confessed his sin, and entreated for some evidence that he was not utterly forsaken. Still his burdened heart found no relief. He had lost all confidence in himself, and he feared that the God of his fathers had cast him off. PP 183.2
But God did not forsake Jacob. His mercy was still extended to His erring, distrustful servant. The Lord compassionately revealed just what Jacob needed—a Saviour. He had sinned, but his heart was filled with gratitude as he saw revealed a way by which he could be restored to the favor of God. PP 183.3
Wearied with his journey, the wanderer lay down upon the ground, with a stone for his pillow. As he slept he beheld a ladder, bright and shining, whose base rested upon the earth, while the top reached to heaven. Upon this ladder angels were ascending and descending; above it was the Lord of glory, and from the heavens His voice was heard: “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.” The land whereon he lay as an exile and fugitive was promised to him and to his posterity, with the assurance, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” This promise had been given to Abraham and to Isaac, and now it was renewed to Jacob. Then in special regard to his present loneliness and distress, the words of comfort and encouragement were spoken: “Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” PP 183.4Read in context »
Jacob had ever been a man of deep and ardent affection; his love for his sons was strong and tender, and his dying testimony to them was not the utterance of partiality or resentment. He had forgiven them all, and he loved them to the last. His paternal tenderness would have found expression only in words of encouragement and hope; but the power of God rested upon him, and under the influence of Inspiration he was constrained to declare the truth, however painful. PP 237.1
The last blessings pronounced, Jacob repeated the charge concerning his burial place: “I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers ... in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah.” “There they buried Abraham and Sarah his wife; there they buried Isaac and Rebekah his wife; and there I buried Leah.” Thus the last act of his life was to manifest his faith in God's promise. PP 237.2
Jacob's last years brought an evening of tranquillity and repose after a troubled and weary day. Clouds had gathered dark above his path, yet his sun set clear, and the radiance of heaven illumined his parting hours. Says the Scripture, “At evening time it shall be light.” Zechariah 14:7. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.” Psalm 37:37. PP 237.3
Jacob had sinned, and had deeply suffered. Many years of toil, care, and sorrow had been his since the day when his great sin caused him to flee from his father's tents. A homeless fugitive, separated from his mother, whom he never saw again; laboring seven years for her whom he loved, only to be basely cheated; toiling twenty years in the service of a covetous and grasping kinsman; seeing his wealth increasing, and sons rising around him, but finding little joy in the contentious and divided household; distressed by his daughter's shame, by her brothers’ revenge, by the death of Rachel, by the unnatural crime of Reuben, by Judah's sin, by the cruel deception and malice practiced toward Joseph—how long and dark is the catalogue of evils spread out to view! Again and again he had reaped the fruit of that first wrong deed. Over and over he saw repeated among his sons the sins of which he himself had been guilty. But bitter as had been the discipline, it had accomplished its work. The chastening, though grievous, had yielded “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Hebrews 12:11. PP 237.4Read in context »
Rebekah repented in bitterness for the wrong counsel which she gave to Jacob, for it was the means of separating him from her forever. He was compelled to flee for his life from the wrath of Esau, and his mother never saw his face again. Isaac lived many years after he gave Jacob the blessing, and was convinced, by the course of Esau and Jacob, that the blessing rightly belonged to Jacob. SR 89.1
Jacob was not happy in his marriage relation, although his wives were sisters. He formed the marriage contract with Laban for his daughter Rachel, whom he loved. After he had served seven years for Rachel, Laban deceived him and gave him Leah. When Jacob realized the deception that had been practiced upon him, and that Leah had acted her part in deceiving him, he could not love Leah. Laban wished to retain the faithful services of Jacob a greater length of time, therefore deceived him by giving him Leah, instead of Rachel. Jacob reproved Laban for thus trifling with his affections, in giving him Leah, whom he had not loved. Laban entreated Jacob not to put away Leah, for this was considered a great disgrace, not only to the wife, but to the whole family. Jacob was placed in a most trying position, but he decided to still retain Leah, and also marry her sister. Leah was loved in a much less degree than Rachel. SR 89.2Read in context »
To gain the birthright that was his already by God's promise, Jacob resorted to fraud, and he reaped the harvest in his brother's hatred. Through twenty years of exile he was himself wronged and defrauded, and was at last forced to find safety in flight; and he reaped a second harvest, as the evils of his own character were seen to crop out in his sons—all but too true a picture of the retributions of human life. Ed 147.1
But God says: “I will not contend forever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before Me, and the souls which I have made. For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid Me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts unto him and to his mourners.... Peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him.” Isaiah 57:16-19. Ed 147.2
Jacob in his distress was not overwhelmed. He had repented, he had endeavored to atone for the wrong to his brother. And when threatened with death through the wrath of Esau, he sought help from God. “Yea, he had power over the Angel, and prevailed: he wept, and made supplication.” “And He blessed him there.” Hosea 12:4; Genesis 32:29. In the power of His might the forgiven one stood up, no longer the supplanter, but a prince with God. He had gained not merely deliverance from his outraged brother, but deliverance from himself. The power of evil in his own nature was broken; his character was transformed. Ed 147.3
At eventide there was light. Jacob, reviewing his life-history, recognized the sustaining power of God—“the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil.” Genesis 48:15, 16. Ed 147.4Read in context »
The people of God will then be plunged into those scenes of affliction and distress described by the prophet as the time of Jacob's trouble. “Thus saith the Lord: We have heard a voice of trembling, of fear, and not of peace.... All faces are turned into paleness. Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” Jeremiah 30:5-7. GC 616.1
Jacob's night of anguish, when he wrestled in prayer for deliverance from the hand of Esau (Genesis 32:24-30), represents the experience of God's people in the time of trouble. Because of the deception practiced to secure his father's blessing, intended for Esau, Jacob had fled for his life, alarmed by his brother's deadly threats. After remaining for many years an exile, he had set out, at God's command, to return with his wives and children, his flocks and herds, to his native country. On reaching the borders of the land, he was filled with terror by the tidings of Esau's approach at the head of a band of warriors, doubtless bent upon revenge. Jacob's company, unarmed and defenseless, seemed about to fall helpless victims of violence and slaughter. And to the burden of anxiety and fear was added the crushing weight of self-reproach, for it was his own sin that had brought this danger. His only hope was in the mercy of God; his only defense must be prayer. Yet he leaves nothing undone on his own part to atone for the wrong to his brother and to avert the threatened danger. So should the followers of Christ, as they approach the time of trouble, make every exertion to place themselves in a proper light before the people, to disarm prejudice, and to avert the danger which threatens liberty of conscience. GC 616.2
Having sent his family away, that they may not witness his distress, Jacob remains alone to intercede with God. He confesses his sin and gratefully acknowledges the mercy of God toward him while with deep humiliation he pleads the covenant made with his fathers and the promises to himself in the night vision at Bethel and in the land of his exile. The crisis in his life has come; everything is at stake. In the darkness and solitude he continues praying and humbling himself before God. Suddenly a hand is laid upon his shoulder. He thinks that an enemy is seeking his life, and with all the energy of despair he wrestles with his assailant. As the day begins to break, the stranger puts forth his superhuman power; at his touch the strong man seems paralyzed, and he falls, a helpless, weeping suppliant, upon the neck of his mysterious antagonist. Jacob knows now that it is the Angel of the covenant with whom he has been in conflict. Though disabled and suffering the keenest pain, he does not relinquish his purpose. Long has he endured perplexity, remorse, and trouble for his sin; now he must have the assurance that it is pardoned. The divine visitant seems about to depart; but Jacob clings to Him, pleading for a blessing. The Angel urges, “Let Me go, for the day breaketh;” but the patriarch exclaims, “I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me.” What confidence, what firmness and perseverance, are here displayed! Had this been a boastful, presumptuous claim, Jacob would have been instantly destroyed; but his was the assurance of one who confesses his weakness and unworthiness, yet trusts the mercy of a covenant-keeping God. GC 616.3Read in context »