Section 2, (Gen. 25 — end).
L M Grant.
ISAAC IN GERAR (vv. 1-14)
A famine occurs in the land, just as it had in the days of Abraham (Gen. 12:10). In that case Abraham went down to Egypt, whereas Isaac went only as far as Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, but the same place where we read of Abraham denying his relationship with Sarah. It may be that Isaac had some thought of continuing down to Egypt, for God appeared to him, telling him not to go there, but to remain in the land of promise (v. 2). He was not told to remain in one place, but to sojourn in the land. He could in this way count upon the blessing of the Lord for himself and his descendants.
Again God confirms the word that He had spoken to Abraham, telling Isaac that “all these lands” (as described in Genesis 15:18-21) He would give to him and to his descendants, thus reaffirming His oath to Abraham and applying it to Isaac (v. 3).
God speaks of multiplying Isaac's descendants “as the stars of heaven.' He does not tell Isaac, as He does Jacob later, that his seed would be “as the dust of the earth” (Gen. 28:14), for Jacob is seen as the father of Israel, while Isaac, typifying Christ, is prominent for His relationship to Rebekah, a type of the church. Since Israel is God's earthly people, the dust of the earth signified
Yet also, as God had said to Abraham, so He assures Isaac, “in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (v. 4). The “seed” here is not their many descendants, for Galatians 3:16 insists, “He does not say, 'and to seeds,' as referring to many, but 'and to your seed,' that is, Christ.” Abraham is typical of God the Father, and in His Son, the Lord Jesus, all nations will be blessed. Interestingly, God adds here, “because Abraham obeyed Me, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes and My laws” (v. 5). This was never stated as a condition to Abraham, but is said after he had lived his life. It shows the sovereignty of God in knowing perfectly well beforehand that this was Abraham's character, which of course was proven in his life. God did not lay down any conditions to Isaac either. As He had told Abraham, “I will,” so He tells Isaac (Gen. 22:15-18).
In spite of God's clear declaration of His faithfulness, Isaac does not take this to heart in being diligent to prove faithful himself. He is snared by the same fault that overtook his father Abraham, telling the Philistines that Rebekah was his sister rather than his wife (v. 7). He was motivated also by the same unfounded fears, thinking that because Rebekah was beautiful, the men of the place might kill him in order to get his wife. He certainly failed as regards his being a type of Christ in this matter. The Lord Jesus will never deny His relationship with the church, though she may sadly at times deny in practice her relationship to Him.
In this case Rebekah is not brought into Abimelech's court, nor is she evidently courted by anyone else over a period of “a long time.” Isaac was also near enough to Abimelech's house that Abimelech could see him showing such affection for Rebekah that would only be the case between husband and wife. How can our true relationship ever be indefinitely concealed? Things must always come out as they are.
When Abimelech faces Isaac with such facts, Isaac can only admit that his fear had moved him in being deceitful (v. 9). Then he must receive a righteous reproof from Abimelech, who told him he had been guilty of an injustice toward the Philistines in misrepresenting the truth. One of his men might easily have treated her as an unattached woman and had sexual relations with her. If a believer does not frankly confess before the world his relationship to the Lord Jesus, he is unfair to the world.
Isaac is not sent away, however. Rather, Abimelech gives orders to his people not to touch Isaac or his wife, on pain of death (v. 11). In view of this, how foolish had been Isaac's fear of being killed by the Philistines! The truth having come out, then we read that Isaac is greatly blessed. The crop he planted that year brought forth one hundred bushels from one bushel of seed, an absolutely maximum yield. This prosperity continued, so that his wealth increased to such an extent that he became the envy of the Philistines (v. 14).
There is important spiritual significance in the envy of the Philistines leading them to stop up the wells that Abraham had dug, and fill them with earth (v. 15). Wells are typical of the living refreshment of the word of God obtained through the work of the man of faith. Only through spiritual diligence do we find the blessing of drinking in the truth of God's word, and Abraham's faith and labor had been rewarded by this refreshment. But the Philistines picture the mere formalism of Christian religion, without its living power. They do not appreciate the pure word of God, but contaminate it with material, earthly doctrines. Earthly pleasures and cares displace the word of God so far as they are concerned. This has happened over and over again in our present dispensation of grace.
WELLS RESTORED (vv. 17-25)
However, the time comes when Abimelech recognizes that Isaac's prosperity is a threat to the Philistines, and he asks him to leave them, which Isaac does, though he does not go far distant, for he was still in the valley of Gerar. In that area he dug a second time the wells that Abraham had before dug, but which the Philistines had filled with earth. Formalistic religion may obscure to us some of the most precious truths of the word of God, as has taken place extensively in Christendom. The energy of faith will labor to restore these, however. Isaac also called them by the same names that Abraham had given them. When we are privileged to recover any truth, let us not think that we have done something original. Rather, let us remember that the truth was in scripture before we discovered it, so that we have nothing to boast of. Let us give it the same name it had long ago.
Digging in the valley, Isaac's servants found a spring of living water, but the herdsmen of Gerar contended for this, claiming that the water was theirs. Isaac named the spring Esek, meaning “contention,” but “the servant of the Lord must not strive” (2 Tim. 2:14), and instead of continuing the strife, Isaac dug another well. However, this too became a matter of contention (v. 21), to the point that Isaac named it Sitna, meaning “hatred.” The wise thing for him to do therefore was to move from the place before digging another well (v. 22). Evidently this was far enough away that the Philistines no longer demanded it for themselves. Isaac called it Rehoboth, meaning “room,” considering that the Lord had made room for him to be fruitful and expand.
However, he finally left the land of the Philistines and went to Beersheba (v. 23). Likely by this time the famine had abated (v. 1). But only then did the Lord appear to him again (v. 24), for Beersheba means “well of the oath,” and indicates that Isaac was learning to depend on the oath that God had made to Abraham and himself. God reminds him that He is the God of Abraham his father, and assures Isaac that He is with him, would bless him and multiply his descendants for Abraham's sake. How often did the Lord remind Abraham, Isaac and Jacob of this absolute, unconditional promise! But we too easily forget what God Himself has purposed concerning us, and we need as many reminders as they. Consider Hebrews 6:16-18.
Isaac's response to God's word is good. He built an altar there (v. 25). Of course this was for offering sacrifices, which would tell us of His appreciation of Christ and the value of His great sacrifice of Calvary. Isaac did not fully understand this, but he did know that only a blood sacrifice was acceptable to God in order that Isaac might be accepted. The promise of God therefore was on the basis of the value of the sacrifice of His beloved son. The altar indicates Isaac's relationship to God, while his tent (as with Abraham) speaks of his relationship toward the world — a pilgrim passing through. In the same place Isaac's servants dug a well, speaking of the refreshment of the word of God energized by the Spirit of God.
A COVENANT WITH ABIMELECH (vv. 26-35)
The prosperity of Isaac served to put questions in the mind of the Philistine king Abimelech and his officers as to whether Isaac might threaten their liberty or their independence. When they come to him, Isaac is puzzled, however, because they had before asked him to leave them, and he considered that they hated him (vv. 26-27). Actually, they were more afraid than they were hateful.
They tell him that they see plainly that the Lord is with him, of course because of his prosperity. They knew well that if a man has power in his hand, he may often use it in oppressing others. Sad to say, even believers are not exempt from this danger, as we see in some of Judah's kings, including Solomon (1 Kings 11:6; 1 Kings 12:4). It is too bad that an unbeliever must require a promise from a believer that he will not harm him. Our character as believers should be such that an unbeliever would have full confidence that we should do him good rather than harm.
But Abimelech reminds Isaac that the Philistines had actually been good to him, and asks that Isaac should respond in the same way. Isaac had no reservations as to making such a covenant, however, and he makes his visitors a feast, while both parties make oaths to one another that they will remain peaceful (vv. 30-31).
At the same time Isaac learns from his servants that they had dug a well and found water (v. 32). They called the well Shebah, meaning “oath,” and the place was therefore called Beersheba (v. 33). But this must have been in confirmation of the fact that this was its name before, for Abraham and Abimelech had made a covenant at Beersheba, naming it this because of their oath (Gen. 21:31-32). These two covenants (between Abraham and Abimelech and Isaac and Abimelech) were the occasion of the well receiving its name, but it is symbolical of the far greater covenant that God made with Abraham and confirmed to Isaac.
But verses 34-35 show us that Esau, the firstborn of Isaac, did not value the promise of God as his fathers did. Isaac had received a wife from the kindred of Abraham, for God's promise was connected with that line, the line of faith. Esau took two wives, both from the Hittites, the children of Heth, which means “fear,” typical of those who live in fear of death rather than by faith. Compare Hebrews 2:15, which speaks of “those who, through fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” How dishonoring to God it is to mix His promise with the fear of death! But mixed marriages have been a source of great trouble throughout history. Esau's marriages therefore were a grief of mind to his parents. May every believer pay closest attention to the serious admonition of 2 Corinthians 6:14 to 18, which begins, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers.”
JACOB DECEIVES HIS FATHER (1-29)
In spite of Esau's wrong marriages, and in spite of God's word that Isaac's older son would serve the younger (Gen. 25:23), Isaac was ready to confer his chief blessing on Esau. We are told in verse 1 that his eyes were dim, and no doubt his spiritual eyes were dim also, evidently because he allowed his natural appetite to take precedence over the revealed will of God (Gen. 25:28) But in order that he might bless Esau, he wanted Esau first to take his bow and quiver of arrows to hunt deer, and bring him cooked venison, “such as I love,” he adds (v. 4).
When Rebekah overheard these instructions, she recognized a threatened emergency, but instead of going in prayer to the Lord, who had told her that Jacob would have the chief place, she took the only way she saw to change things. It is true that her plan worked in the way she wanted, and no doubt God was over this, but still we cannot defend her cunning scheme to deceive her husband. God could have worked the matter out in another way without both Rebekah and Jacob being involved in deception. If they had acted in faith and had depended on God, they may have seen a miraculous answer to the problem, and in this way have reason for deepest thanksgiving, rather then being left with troubled consciences.
Rebekah had Jacob kill two kids of the goats, of which the meat would be young and tender (v. 9), and she was able to prepare it in such a way that Isaac did not even suspect it was not venison. So much for our preconceived ideas of what we like the best!
Jacob was hesitant about the whole scheme. He objected that all his father had to do was to feel his hands and arms, for Esau was a hairy man and Jacob not so (vv. 11-12), But Rebekah urged him to obey her and that she would bear the results of any miscarriage of the plan. One writer defends Jacob in this whole matter because he says that Jacob was responsible to obey his mother, therefore no blame could attach to him! But Jacob was a grown man, not a little child. In fact, even a little child is wrong to tell a lie, whether his mother tells him to or not. Rebekah gave Jacob Esau's clothes to wear, put goat skins on his hands and on the smooth of his neck, and Jacob proceeded with the deception.
He brought the meat to his father and told him that he was Esau. Isaac wondered at Esau's finding venison so quickly, but Jacob hypocritically brought God's name into his deception in order to make Isaac more comfortable (v. 20). Still, Isaac was not too sure that it was Esau speaking to him, and as Jacob anticipated, he wanted to feel him to be certain. It is a lesson for us that we cannot always depend on our sight or on our feelings either. But Isaac allowed his feelings to persuade him, though his hearing told him it was Jacob's voice (v. 21). Still, he pressed further in asking if Jacob was actually his very son Esau, and Jacob flatly lied to him, saying, “I am.”
After finishing his meal, which he thought was venison, Isaac asked his son to kiss him, and he recognized the outdoor smell of Esau's clothes, as being the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed” (v. 27).
His blessing first voices the desire that God would give his son of the dew of heaven. This is typical of the living refreshment of the Spirit of God. Added to this is an abundance of grain and wine. The grain speaks of the Lord Jesus as the food of the believer, whether it may be barley (typical of His character of lowly humiliation on earth) or wheat (symbolizing the higher truth of Christ glorified at God's right hand). Both are valuable in providing needed nourishment for the Christian life. The new wine pictures the joy of a new life in Christ based upon the value of the shedding of His blood. Every Christian father or mother may well desire such blessing for all of their children.
But more than this: Isaac desires and virtually prophesies that people will serve his son. Nations would bow down to him. He would be the master of his brothers. His own mother's sons would bow down to him. Those who cursed him would be cursed, and those who blessed him would be blessed (v. 29).
While Isaac intended all this for Esau, he was not in concord with God's thoughts, for God had decreed that the elder would serve the younger, and Isaac did not realize that he was blessing his second son rather than his first. Jacob was to be the father of the Israelitish nation, and other nations would eventually bow to them. Predominantly, Christ would be born of the line of Jacob, and the force of the prophecy is primarily that all must bow to Christ. But the nation Israel was to have a place above all other nations. Nations who bless her will find themselves blessed, while those who curse her will not escape a curse on themselves. The ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy has never taken place as yet, and will not until Israel is recovered from her present state of unbelief in bowing to the Lord Jesus, the true Messiah of Israel.
ESAU BLESSED IN A SECOND PLACE (vv. 30-40)
Jacob was able to accomplish his ends just in time to leave his father before Esau returned with his prepared venison. He had been quick in finding a deer and preparing it for Isaac, no doubt because he was anxious to receive the blessing. Actually, since he had sold his birthright to Jacob, he was not entitled to the blessing, but he did not tell his father this. He saw an opportunity of getting the blessing of the firstborn, and would get it before his brother became aware of it!
But he found that it was he who was too late. Isaac was shocked when Esau told him who he was (vv. 32-33). At first he questions who had already come, but of course he knew the answer to this. He tells Esau he has blessed the first one who came, and adds positively that “he shall be blessed.” In this way God had overruled Jacob's inexcusable deceit in order that the blessing should be given to the younger son, as God had decreed.
Esau deeply felt the pain of being deprived of the blessing of the firstborn, and cried with an exceeding great and bitter cry, entreating that his father should bless him also. Hebrews 12:16-17 refers to this occasion, speaking of Esau being a profane person who, for one morsel of food sold his birthright, then when he expected the blessing, was rejected, We are told that “he found no place for repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Not that he sought repentance: he sought the blessing, but without repentance. He ought to have repented for despising his birthright, but he found no place to repent.
Isaac could not bless Esau now with the same blessing as Jacob, for he had made Esau the servant of Jacob, as he tells him that his brother had come deceitfully to take away Esau's blessing (v. 35). Esau reminds his father that Jacob's name means supplanter, and that he has been true to his name in taking away both Esau's birthright and his blessing. Did Esau forget that he had willingly sold his birthright to Jacob? This being the case, Jacob was entitled to the blessing too. But Esau wanted the blessing though he had despised the birthright. He entreats his father if he had not at least reserved some blessing for him (v. 36). This is a common affliction among human beings. While they have no interest in that which God has to give in a spiritual way (for the birthright is significant of this), they are most importunate when it becomes a matter of their temporal prosperity and blessings. It is really a matter of their desiring all the blessings that God may give while ignoring the Giver Himself. Thus men may receive much blessing from God, yet at the same calmly refuse to receive the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, as Savior and Lord.
In all this history God was sovereignly working. Jacob was the heir according to His promise. Esau is typical of the flesh, which will not live before God. It must be put into the place of subjection. Yet Isaac does give Esau his blessing, just as God in man's present life provides many material blessings for him in spite of his rebellious character. But Isaac tells Esau he will live by his sword. The flesh is always in conflict, just as the troubled sea cannot rest, and the flesh considers it necessary to fight for its rights. Esau would serve his brother, yet would break Jacob's yoke from off his neck: in spite of his subjection, his rebellious character could not be tamed, just as the flesh continually breaks out in rebellion.
ESAU'S HATRED AWAKENED (vv. 41-46)
This occasion awakened such hatred in Esau toward Jacob that he purposed to kill him after their father's death (v. 41). While it is only written that Esau said this in his heart, he must also have told someone else of his intention, for his mother heard about it, and warned Jacob of it (v. 42).
Rebekah therefore advised Jacob to leave and take a long journey back to Haran, where he could count on the hospitality of her brother Laban. She tells him he should stay there “a few days” until Esau's anger has abated, but the few days turned out to be over 20 years, probably because Jacob was not anxious to see Esau in all that time. But the government of God did not allow Jacob to see his mother again on earth (see Gen. 35:27), though he did see his father. She said she would send for him at the appropriate time and have Jacob brought home again. She was therefore as fully deprived of Jacob's presence as if she had been bereaved of him, as she feared (v. 45).
Rebekah had made that decision for Jacob before she spoke to Isaac about it. But her words to Isaac in verse 46 were altogether different to those to Jacob. She tells Isaac she is tired of living because of the daughters of Heth, two of whom Esau had married. They evidently continued to be “a grief of mind” to her (Gen. 26:35). How many Christian mothers since then have had deep sorrow over their children being married to unbelievers! Rebekah tells Isaac therefore that her life would be miserable if Jacob were to marry one of the daughters of Heth.
JACOB SENT TO PADAN-ARAM (vv. 1-9)
Though scripture tells us that Isaac loved Esau, he had not done as Abraham had in making sure that Isaac's wife was of his own kindred. Rebekah's words to him now evidently awaken him out of such laxity, and he called Jacob and charged him that he must not take a wife of the Canaanites, but must rather go to Padan-aram and take a wife from the kindred of his grandfather, in fact one of the daughters of Jacob's uncle Laban (v. 2). Today a marriage of cousins is not wise because weaknesses have multiplied greatly since sin was introduced into the human family, and special weaknesses attach to each family. Those weaknesses would be doubled by the marriage of two who are closely related, and the children therefore likely to be badly affected. In early history this was not a problem at all.
Isaac again gives Jacob his blessing in verses 3 and 4, desiring that God Almighty might make him fruitful and multiply his descendants, and that through him God's promise to Abraham should be fulfilled, both as to his descendants and as to the possession of the land of promise. It seems clear in this passage that Isaac's thoughts had been corrected, for he did not speak this way to Esau. When God had overruled him in having the blessing given to Jacob, then at least Isaac stayed by this action, and here confirms it in no uncertain terms.
Isaac then sends Jacob away (v. 5). Possibly this was some relief to Esau, for he did not have to kill Jacob, yet would have him far removed from him. But when Esau knew that Isaac had given Jacob his blessing and sent him away with a charge not to take a wife from the Canaanites, and that Jacob had obediently accepted the charge of his parents (vv. 6-7), then Esau was stirred up about the fact that his two wives had not pleased his father (v. 8). Yet how sad was his effort to remedy the situation! Apparently he thought his parents would be more pleased by his adding another wife, just so long as she had some relationship to Abraham! So he took the daughter of Ishmael, the son of the bondwoman (v. 9). This is of course the foolish reasoning of the flesh. He knew his father had only one wife: how could he expect him to be pleased with Esau's having three! In fact, even the third one alone would not be pleasing to Isaac, who had been persecuted by his half brother Ishmael. But “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
JACOB'S DREAM (vv. 10-17)
Jacob goes out from Beersheba (v. 10). This is a striking picture of the nation Israel, the sons of Jacob, for Beersheba means “the well of the oath” and Haran means “mountaineer.” Israel has practically left the ground of the unconditional promise of God and has chosen rather the mountain of law-keeping, as though this could ever bring the blessing of God! Just as Jacob, all the time he was in Haran, retained a character of selfish bargaining, so Israel at present remains in a state of self-righteousness, professing to believe and obey the law, but not submitting to the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3).
We are told only of one of the nights Jacob spent on his way to Haran. He laid down to sleep with a stone for a pillow. No doubt he found the law of God rather a hard resting-place also, for it is as hard as the stones upon which it was written.
Though Jacob was not walking in communion with God, yet God was not stopped from communicating with him. When God sends a dream He has a captive audience (v. 12), and this dream given to Jacob was of particular significance. He saw a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Some have imagined that this intimates that man by his spiritual energy is able to climb up to heaven, gradually ascending by human effort, into favor with God. But it has nothing to do with man's ascending, just as is true when the Lord tells Nathanael he would “see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
This is a prophetic picture of the future restoration of communication between heaven and earth, once interrupted by Adam's sin. The fulfillment of this will be during the 1000 years of peace introduced by the coming of the Lord in power and glory. God gave this dream to Jacob in order to assure him that, in spite of Jacob's failure and wandering, God's purposes remained absolutely certain.
The Lord stood above the ladder and told Jacob, “I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.” There was to be no mistaking the fact that Jacob's blessing did not depend on Jacob's faithfulness. The source of it went back, not only to his father and his grandfather, but to the living God, who had revealed Himself in grace to both Abraham and Isaac, and who would not change His purpose even though Jacob was a failing vessel, just as is true as regards God's purposes as to the nation Israel, whom Jacob represents.
In this dream of Jacob the Lord's initial message to him is that He would give him the land on which he was lying. Though Jacob was in a poor state of soul, the Lord did not reprove him, but emphasized the grace of His own heart. He promised the land to Jacob and his descendants. This has nothing to do with heavenly blessing, but is plainly earthly, so that natural blessings in earthly places is all that is promised to the children of Israel, in contrast to “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places” that are today the possession of all the saints of God, members of the body of Christ, the church (Eph. 1:3).
Consistently therefore, Jacob's seed would be “as the dust of the earth” (v. 14), not “as the stars of heaven” (Gen. 26:4), which was a promise to Isaac because he is a type of Christ in connection with the church, the bride, as typified in Rebekah. The Lord further emphasizes the earthly character of Jacob's blessing in saying that his descendants would spread “to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south.” There are no such directions in heaven. More than this, in Jacob and his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. Israel will be the center of blessing on earth in the coming day of millennial glory, and in identification with Israel all the Gentile nations will be blessed. This is a firm, absolute declaration.
Added to this is the Lord's promise to Jacob personally, that he would be with him and keep him everywhere he went, and would bring him back to the land of promise (v. 15). He would not leave him till his promises were fulfilled completely. This promise is totally unconditional. This is all the more striking when we consider that Jacob was not enjoying a good state of soul. Nothing therefore depended on Jacob's faithfulness.
Jacob was not really going with God at this time, but God was going in pure grace with Jacob. This is typical also of God's preserving hand being over the nation Israel even at a time when they have failed miserably and are in a state of wandering and self seeking. Though for centuries they have been dispersed in this condition of self-will, God “has not cast off His people whom He foreknew,” and He will yet restore them to their land in His own time. Meanwhile they must learn through trial and affliction not to depend on themselves, but on their God who cannot fail.
Jacob's soul was stirred to its depths by the dream. In waking up he was alarmed by the fact that the Lord was in that place and he had not realized it (v. 16). Did he think it might have been better to go on to another place? Could the Lord not meet him wherever he went? However, it is good that the fear of God was deeply impressed on him to such an extent that he called the place “the house of God” and “the gate of heaven” (v. 17), and after 20 years absence he did not forget that place.
JACOB'S FIRST PILLAR AND HIS VOW (vv. 18-22)
Now Jacob sets up the first of four pillars that were landmarks in his eventful life. He set up the stone he had used as a pillow and poured oil on it, calling the place Bethel,” “the house of God.” Abraham had before dwelt between Bethel and Ai (Gen. 12:8), and Jacob simply renames the place. “The name of the city had been Luz previously” (v. 19). This name means “separation,” and reminds us that the house of God must be given a place of holy separation from all the principles of man's civilization.
Though Jacob appreciated God's blessing, yet his faith as to God's promise was pathetically weak. Rather than simply thanking God for the absolute truth of His word, Jacob considered that he also should make a promise to God! But Jacob's promise is conditional, not unconditional, as God's was. Abraham had been strong in faith, giving glory to God, — being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able to perform (Rom. 4:21). But Jacob says, If God will be with me” (v. 20). But what God promises, faith simply believes.
However, did Jacob desire God's presence because he wanted to enjoy fellowship with God? This does not seem to be his motive. Rather, he realized that God was able to bless him and keep him in the way he had chosen to go, as well as supplying his food and clothing. Jacob did not ask for God's way (as Moses did in Exodus 33:13), but rather desired God's blessing in the way Jacob decided to go! But God had told him He would bless him and bring him back to his homeland. All he needed to do was to believe this and therefore be concerned about enjoying the Lord Himself. If this had been his object, how much trouble he would have been spared!
He promises that, on condition the Lord will fulfill all His promises, then when this is accomplished the Lord would be his God. Who would be his God in the meantime? Also he promises that the stone he set would be God's house. How many there are like Jacob who think that in the future they will be concerned about the truth of God's house, but at present think their own house more important!
He vows too that he would surely give to God one tenth of all that God gave to him! Did he seriously think he was being very generous? God had said, “I will,” but Jacob said, 'I will surely.” Of course God's promise is perfectly fulfilled, but there is no record of Jacob's having ever carried out his promise to give God one tenth of all.
JACOB MEETS RACHEL AND LABAN (vv. 1-14)
After many days of travel Jacob came to the land of his relatives. He could not phone to find his directions to their home, nor did he have any street and house number, but it did not take long for him to contact them. A well was of course the most likely place to meet people. Three flocks of sheep were nearby, waiting to be watered, which they could not until a huge stone was removed from the mouth of the well (v. 2). The stone was evidently necessary to prevent humans or animals from accidentally falling into the well. Their practice was to wait until all the flocks were gathered together, then the shepherds would roll the stone away, the flocks would be watered and the stone would be returned to its place.
Jacob finds through questioning the shepherds that he has come to the right place, for their home was at Haran. They knew Laban also, and that he was well (vv. 5-6). More than this, at the very moment Laban's daughter Rachel was coming with her flock of sheep to the well.
However, Jacob was puzzled that the shepherds were still waiting to water their flock, but they tell him that they were unable to do this until there were enough shepherds present to roll the stone from the well's mouth. When all were gathered there they would do this and water the sheep. There is a picture in this of men waiting for the time of universal blessing, which will take place in the millennial age.
Then Rachel arrives with her father's sheep (v. 9). When Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother's brother, and the sheep of his mother's brother, he was moved with amazing strength, rolling the stone away by himself (v. 10). How striking a lesson is this that the energy of faith and love is able to remove great obstacles and bring blessing before the time of “the restitution of all things.” This is what is seen in the present “dispensation of the grace of God.” The Lord Jesus, in pure love and devotion to God, has shown the strength of that love toward the church, His espoused bride, and toward the sheep of God's flock (another type of the church) in the great sacrifice of Himself, in His resurrection power, and in already having “raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Thus the church has been marvelously blessed before the time of the universal blessing in the world, and the living water of the word of God has become most precious to her.
The warmth of family affection then predominates the scene as Jacob kissed Rachel, weeping for joy, telling her that he is the son of Rebekah, her father's sister. Of course they had never met, but family ties can be remarkably strong in spite of this. Rachel left the sheep and ran to tell her father the good news of a relative from a far country (v. 12). Laban also ran to meet Jacob and embraced and kissed him. Thus he welcomed him into his home as his own “bone and flesh” (v. 14). How good it would have been if this attitude had continued throughout their relationship! But when they parted 20 years later, the atmosphere was hostile rather than congenial (vv. 31:25-55).
BARGAINING FOR A WIFE (vv. 15-30)
They had been one month together, with Jacob evidently working for his uncle, when Laban, realizing that Jacob should have wages for his service, asked what Jacob would like for wages. Jacob's character as a bargainer again comes strongly to the fore on this occasion. Laban had an older daughter than Rachel, but she was not so attractive. Jacob was drawn only to Rachel and offered to work for Laban for seven years in order to earn Rachel as his wife (v. 18). Laban agreed to this, evidently conveniently forgetting that his sister Rebekah had been given to Isaac immediately when the servant of Abraham brought his message (Gen. 24:57-61). There was no bargaining then, no suggestion that her father would virtually sell her to Isaac, but simply a willing decision on her part.
Rachel did not belong to Laban, and both Jacob and Laban were totally wrong in placing a mercenary value on a wife. When the Lord created a woman for Adam, He gave her to him as a gift by grace, and grace should always predominate in the sacred relationship of marriage. However, Jacob was willing to work for all this seven years because of his ardent love for Rachel. In fact, the time seemed to him very short in comparison to the prospect of having her as wife. When the time was fulfilled he asked now that Rachel should be given to him (v. 21).
Laban therefore made a marriage feast for them. We may wonder what part Rachel had in the feast, and if she thought she was to be married to Jacob. If so, the shock to her would be as great as that to Jacob. When evening came (and of course darkness with only very dim light at best) Laban had Leah go to share Jacob's bed with him, and Jacob had no suspicion of this until the morning (vv. 21-25). Possibly he had drunk too much wine at the feast, but he was certainly not prepared for such unprincipled deception as this practiced by a near relative
When Jacob faced Laban with his deception in giving him Leah instead of Rachel, Laban coolly answered him that in his country the younger must not be married before the elder daughter. Certainly honesty would have at least informed Jacob of this at the time the agreement was made seven years earlier! It may be that Laban made up this policy in his own mind and considered it adopted by his own country! For surely if it had been the usual custom, Jacob would have heard of it before seven years. But Laban knew that the best way to get Jacob to continue working for him was to do just what he did; so he told Jacob that he could work another seven years for Rachel. What could Jacob do? He still had his heart set on Rachel, so he simply submitted to this unjust treatment, and eventually got her also as a wife.
However, the deception of his uncle might well have reminded Jacob that he himself had before deceived a relative, his own father. Such things have a way of recoiling, under the governing hand of God. It is a striking fact that those who form the character of deceivers will very likely be deceived themselves (2 Tim. 3:13). In this case too Jacob painfully learned the rights of a firstborn, which he had ignored in the case of his brother Esau.
There is a serious spiritual lesson for us in the history of Jacob's two wives. Rachel (meaning “sheep”) is typical of the lovely state of soul in humble submission to God that believers would like to attain. She was the desire of Jacob's heart. But in struggling to get Rachel, he only got Leah, meaning “wearied.” For Leah is a picture of what I really am, not what I desire to be. There was conflict between the two. I may try hard to make myself different, only to find myself “stuck” with what I really am, as Jacob was “stuck” with Leah! This is the struggle of Romans 7, where “I” is seen fighting against “I.”
CHILDREN BORN TO LEAH (vv. 31-35)
It was Leah who bore children, while Rachel remained fruitless for a long time. So that it is the hated “I” that seems to predominate in the experience of a believer who really wants to be what he thinks he should be. Leah bore four sons, Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah (vv. 31-35), while Rachel remained childless. It is good to consider that in spite of Jacob's dislike for Leah, he never made a suggestion of resorting to people's present day practice of putting away his wife. In fact, he kept her longer than Rachel, who died in childbirth and was buried on the way to Ephrath (Gen. 35:19), before Jacob came to his father at Mamre. We are not told of Leah's death, but Jacob says he buried her at Mamre (Gen. 49:30-32).
Thus the proper experience of the believer is that he keeps the fact of what he is longer than he keeps the desire to attain a high spiritual state. In fact, when Rachel died she gave place to Benjamin (meaning “son of my right hand”), a type of Christ in exaltation. Thus, when the Lord Jesus takes the place of my desire for a better spiritual life, it is not hard for me to give up that desire. For I have title to forget myself and find everything in Christ Jesus my Lord. I remain just what I am, but I have a perfect Object, and actually it is only through enjoying Him as my Object that I can have any proper state of soul.
THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN RACHEL AND LEAH (vv. 1-24)
The fruitfulness of Leah moved Rachel to jealousy, then her demand to Jacob for children moves him to anger (vv. 1-2). We may see a serious lesson in Rachel's words, “Give me children or else I die.” If we do not see evident fruit, we have the tendency to give up: the exercise of soul that desires true godliness may virtually die. Many Christians have their proper growth stunted by this very thing.
On the other hand, Jacob's anger does not help the situation. If Christ is not the Object of our lives, our efforts to make ourselves more spiritual will always involve the principles of jealousy, anger and discouragement, which are contrary to the very result we seek to obtain.
Then we too often resort to a humanly conceived substitution, as Rachel did in verse 3. Sarah had done the same in giving Abraham her handmaid by whom to have a child. Rachel ought to have known that this did not work out as Sarah planned, but she thought, as Sarah, that the children of Bilhah, her handmaid, would be hers. When a boy was born (vv. 5-6), Rachel said that God had given her a son, and she named him Dan, meaning “judge.” Bilhah also had a second son whom Rachel named Naphthali, meaning “my wrestling,” because of Rachel's wrestling with her sister Leah. All of this struggle is a picture of the struggle of Romans 7, which only stirs up the evil passions of our hearts, rather than subduing them, as we attempt to do. At first sight it may be that people would not discern any spiritual significance of a history like this, and might wonder why the Lord has gone to such pains to record all the details of this. But all scripture is of vital consequence to every believer.
When Leah had no more children, she resorted to the same tactics as Rachel had, giving her maid Zilpah to Jacob, by whom he had a son, Leah naming him Gad, then another whom she named Asher (vv. 9-13). Gad means “a troop” and Asher means “happy.” Thus we find human support (a troop), and seek to make ourselves happy as we are, without attaining the state we desire, but Leah is not satisfied with this. For as soon as Reuben brings her mandrakes she sees the possibility of having another son. Rachel tried to obtain some with the same purpose, but Leah answered her sharply (v. 15). She knew Rachel's purpose. Thus neither of them was actually content: the struggle continues.
Evidently mandrakes were a cherished delicacy, and Jacob was persuaded to share his bed with Leah that night. His natural appetite leads him, and Leah bears another son, Issachar, meaning “he will be hired.” Then a sixth son is added for Leah herself, named Zebulon, which means “dwelling.” These six are all the sons that Leah herself bore. This pictures the fact that people can struggle hard to accomplish their own ends, but always come short, for seven is the number of completeness, while six is the number of man's work day week. So Leah, speaking of what I am, can only produce that which falls short of any proper satisfaction, though she did then bear a daughter whom she named Dinah (v. 21).
Finally God answered the prayer of Rachel, and she gave birth to Joseph (vv. 22-24), whose name means “adding” because she had confidence that God would add to her another son. Joseph is plainly a type of Christ. A desire for a high spiritual state should thus lead us to the person of Christ, who is the only One in whom such a state is seen. Yet, Joseph gives us only one side of the truth concerning Christ, that is, that He was a Sufferer before being exalted. This is most important for us all to learn, before we are in any condition to appreciate the truth seen in Benjamin, a type of Christ as the Son of the Father's right hand, glorified and exalted to the throne, reigning in glory.
A BUSINESS AGREEMENT WITH LABAN (vv. 25-43)
Appropriately, when Joseph is born, Jacob's thoughts turn toward his proper home in Canaan (v. 25). When the person of Christ dawns upon the vision of the believer, he begins to realize that he should be in God's place for him. However, when Jacob informs Laban of his intention of leaving, Laban is unwilling to be deprived of the service of his son-in-law. He says he has learned by experience that the Lord has blessed him through Jacob's presence there, and does not want to lose this (v. 27). If Jacob had insisted on leaving at that time, he and Laban would have parted on less unpleasant terms than they did later (Gen. 31:25-55). But Jacob agreed to stay on terms that he himself suggested.
He first emphasized what Laban had already admitted, that he had served Laban faithfully, so that though Laban had little when Jacob came, his herd of sheep was greatly increased (v. 39). Both of them recognized that the Lord had done this. Since that time many Gentile nations have actually been blessed by God through the presence of Israelites among them, after Israel was scattered among the nations.
Then Jacob asks, “When shall I provide for my own house also?” Certainly it is right for a man to provide for his own house. Yet Jacob was at the time more concerned for his own house than he was for the house of God. Most of us put our own house first, and it was some years yet before Jacob was finally told by God to return to Bethel (“the house of God”) where he had made his vow (Gen. 31:13).
Jacob suggested wages that seemed to be very low, asking for only the speckled and spotted sheep and goats and the black lambs. The normally colored sheep and goats would therefore all belong to Laban. Such a percentage for Jacob would seem to be low indeed, and Laban saw himself as having the great advantage in this bargain (vv. 32-34). In this there is no doubt that Jacob desired to show that he was depending on God to give him what He wanted Jacob to have, and the element of faith in God was surely present. We know that God answered such faith. Yet we see later that his faith was weak when he resorted to human artifice in trying to make the sheep produce as he desired (vv. 37-42).
All the special class of sheep he left with his sons. Then he himself took all Laban's sheep a long distance from the others, a matter of three days' journey (v. 36), thus assuring Laban that Laban's sheep would not mix with any spotted or speckled. Since Laban's sheep were all a normal color, it was not likely there would be many born for Jacob to claim.
However, in being so far away, Jacob could put into operation his cunning plan by which to make Laban's sheep bear striped, speckled or spotted lambs. Taking fresh rods from trees, he peeled strips of bark off them, then put them in front of the sheep when they came to drink (v. 38). At this time they mated, and the plan worked remarkably for Jacob, for the number of striped, speckled or spotted lambs being born was very large.
There are some who question that Jacob's trickery in verse 37-39 made any actual difference, but whether it did or not, there is a spiritual lesson here that ought to have spoken deeply to Jacob himself. The things that we allow to most occupy our attention will affect us and everything that comes from us. Jacob was allowing his desire for gain to have foremost place in his thoughts. This was bad for him spiritually, and caused him to be selfish and underhand in his actions. But we can generally recognize such principles in natural things, while not seeing their significance in our spiritual lives.
Jacob separated the lambs that he could claim for his own and kept all of his own apart from the flock of Laban (v. 40), then when the stronger sheep of Laban were mating he would use his peeled rods in the watering troughs, which he would not do in the case of the weaker sheep. Thus he was able to secure the stronger sheep while Laban was left with those weaker (vv. 41-42). No doubt Laban was not aware of what Jacob was doing, and Jacob wanted Laban to consider that Jacob was only depending on God to decide how many sheep Jacob should have. How often it is true with us too, that we persuade ourselves we are walking by faith in God while using our own wits to help God out in supplying our needs!
Jacob prospered, but he ought to have realized that this was really by the grace of God, not because of his artifice. God had told him He would bless him, and He did so in spite of Jacob's trickery.
JACOB'S SECRET DEPARTURE (vv. 1-21)
The prosperity of Jacob could not but awaken the envy of Laban's sons. Jacob had gained all of this through his caring for their father's sheep: now the majority of the sheep and the stronger sheep belonged to Jacob. But Laban had agreed to the arrangement, and they could do nothing about it. Before this Laban had recognized that it was Jacob's presence with him that caused Laban to prosper greatly; so he appreciated Jacob. Now Jacob prospers and Laban's attitude toward him changes to that of resentment (v. 2).
We must not excuse Jacob's manipulating as he did. But on the other hand, Laban had been taking unfair advantage of Jacob all the way through. Jacob did the hard work of caring for Laban's flocks for twenty years. Laban had sons who could have helped with this work, but they evidently left the work to one who could do it well. Were Laban and his sons all partaking of the benefits of Jacob's work without having to work themselves? It seemed this was the case. Management commonly considers it has the right to reap all the benefits that labor produces, because management has provided the original capital. but God takes account of the guilt of management in the oppression of its employees (James 5:4).
The time has come when the Lord tells Jacob to return to the land of his fathers (v. 3). There is no reason for him to continue with Laban when there is serious friction in their relationship. While scripture has plainly exposed what Jacob was doing, yet the Lord does not reprove him for this: Jacob knew that his actions were wrong, being not the fruit of faith. The Lord therefore left him to fight that matter out with his own conscience. But God repeats His promise to Jacob, that He will be with him. Such is the sovereign goodness of God toward His servants in spite of their failing ways.
Jacob therefore sent for Rachel and Leah to come to him where he was with the flock, and set before them the facts as to Laban's changed attitude (v. 5). He does defend himself in the whole matter: it would have been better if he had not done so. However, it was true that he had served Laban with great diligence. Here we learn that Laban had changed Jacob's wages ten times. When he saw that Jacob was gaining greatly by one bargain, he would change the terms of his wages. Then the sheep would bear in another way to Jacob's advantage (vv. 7-8). Thus he says that God had taken Laban's flocks and given them to Jacob. He does not tell them of his own trickery in the matter: evidently he had been able to hide this from everyone except the Lord.
He speaks of a dream in which he saw the goats mating in the way that would benefit him, and of the angel of God speaking to indicate that it was God who had caused the animals to bear in such a way as to be to Jacob's advantage. This is no doubt true, but it shows us that there was no need for Jacob to resort to his deceitful actions. God would bless him apart from this. He tells him that He has seen all that Laban was doing to him. It may be true that Jacob's descendants, like Jacob, have often been guilty of deceit, and Gentiles make a great deal of this, but Gentiles, like Laban, have been guilty of treating Israel shamefully, and God takes full account of this also. Gentiles can be just as deceitful as Jews: there is no difference (Rom. 3:22-23).
Jacob reports further to Leah and Rachel that God told him, “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me” (v. 13). This designation, “the God of Bethel, is of very real importance, for it means “God of the house of God.” Jacob had been concerned about his own house (Gen. 30:30), allowing the claims of God's house to wait. But the increase of Jacob's house had not produced peace and happiness in all his relationships. It was time that he learned that true contentment is only found in connection with God's house, where God's interests are paramount. God also remembered Jacob's vow (Gen. 28:20-22), though He only mentions it without comment. But he tells Jacob to return to the land of his family.
Rachel and Leah were fully prepared to move immediately. They realized that there was nothing to tie them to their father. One thing they remembered, that their father had sold his daughters, enriching himself through their sale, so that they became virtually strangers to their own father. We may say that, spiritually speaking, Laban had chosen to sell all spiritual exercise as to (1) what he is (Leah) and (2) what he ought to be (Rachel) in favor of base gain. Far too many professing Christians do the same thing today, rather than go through the exercise of soul that would lead them to find in Christ the one real answer to their need. But Rachel and Leah have good advice for Jacob: “Do whatever God has said to you” (v. 16).
Jacob did not delay his departure. This time he does not consult with Laban, as he had before (Gen. 30:25-26). In fact, he does not even inform him that he is leaving. His sons and his wives ride on camels (v. 17). Of course he had servants also who would be caring for the sheep. He was able to organize all his possessions to put everything in motion three days before Laban even heard of his leaving. Since Jacob had such large possessions now, there was of course some distance between him and Laban. Also the time was opportune for Jacob since Laban was occupied with the shearing of his sheep.
Only four times in scripture do we read of sheep shearing. First, on this occasion (v. 19); second in Genesis 38:13 (Judah); third in l Samuel 25:4 (Nabal); and fourth in 2 Samuel 13:23 (Absalom). In each case, something unpleasantly selfish is involved. Peter was not told by the Lord to “shear My sheep,” but “shepherd My sheep” and “feed My sheep” (John 21:16-17).
Another sad complication takes place also. Rachel had stolen the teraphim (household images) that belonged to her father (v. 19). She had not learned to walk by faith in the living God, but like her father, she needed to depend on what she could see. Though she was a beautiful woman, yet her desire for a religious atmosphere allowed her to indulge in stealing, idolatry and deceit (vv. 34-35). This is common with all human religion: it is only the true knowledge of the Lord Jesus that will preserve us from such things.
LABAN PURSES JACOB (vv. 22-43)
The journey was long, but Jacob ought to have realized that Laban would pursue him. Though he had three days start before Laban learned of his leaving (v.22), Laban did not then delay in taking others with him and pursuing Jacob. After seven days he caught up with him.
Before their confrontation, however, God spoke to Laban in a dream, charging him that he must not speak to Jacob “either good or bad” (v. 24). Of course, he was most likely to speak bad to Jacob, for he was angry with him, and God made it clear that Laban was not Jacob's judge. It is interesting, however, that Laban must not speak good to Jacob. Why is this? It is because God was dealing with Jacob, and Laban must not interfere. This is a needed lesson for all Gentile nations. They must not either defend the Jewish nation, nor oppose them. At the time of the end, some nations will take sides with Israel while others fight against them. But Israel must not be supported in their wrong doing (idolatry), nor does anyone have the right to condemn Israel, for they are God's people and He will deal with them. In fact, He will in sovereign wisdom send the Assyrians against Israel because of their idolatry (Isa. 10:5-6), and when the Roman beast and his armies try to interfere to defend Israel, God will judge them first (Rev. 11-21). Afterward He will judge Assyria also because their intentions against Israel exceed the reasons for God's sending them (Isa. 10:12).
But Jacob must face Laban, unpleasant as the experience must be. Though Laban was angry, God's words to him kept him from going too far in what he said. He asks why Jacob had sneaked away in an underhand manner, as though he was carrying Laban's daughters away as captives (v. 26). Why did he act in such secrecy without even a word to Laban, thus giving Laban no opportunity for giving them a pleasant send-off, including being able to kiss his daughters and their children? He does not hesitate to tell Jacob that he has done foolishly in this matter.
Having spoken of Jacob's foolishness in secretly leaving Haran, Laban tells him that he had the power to do harm to Jacob, yet admits that his desire for revenge was arrested by God's warning him to speak neither good or bad to Jacob. Still, he says, though Jacob was anxious to get back to his father's house, why had he stolen Laban's gods?
Jacob answers his first question first, excusing himself for his secret departure on the ground of his being afraid that Laban might take Leah and Rachel from him by force. This was not sensible, for it is not likely that Laban would want two daughters back under his roof to care for, with their children, without any prospect of their having husbands. Besides, Laban had sold his daughters at a high monetary price.
Jacob however did not at all suspect any of his company of having stolen Laban's idols, probably least of all Rachel. He invites Laban to search through the goods of everyone with him, and to put the thief to death (v. 32). What a shock it would have been to him if Rachel had been discovered! But Rachel was like most of us. We know well how to hide our idols and to deceive even our own loved ones! In fact, Rachel was the last in Laban's search, evidently the least suspected. She was sitting on the images and had a good excuse for not standing (vv. 34-35).
Then Jacob's self-righteous anger begins to boil (v. 36). If only Laban had discovered the idols, how different this would have been! “What is my trespass? What is my sin,” Jacob asks, “that you have so hotly pursued me?” Of course, if there had not been the sin of stealing, there was still the fact of Jacob's having kept his departure a secret from Laban. He tells Laban, since he has searched through all of Jacob's possessions, to set before everybody anything he has found that belonged to him (Laban). Of course he knew that Laban had found nothing.
Then he strongly speaks of the way Laban had treated him. For twenty years, he says, he has served Laban. He had so cared for the females of Laban's flock that they had not miscarried, nor had he taken any of Laban's sheep, even to eat. Any animal that was lost, whether killed by wild animals or whether stolen, Laban held Jacob accountable for: he had to pay for the loss (v. 54). He found himself suffering often by the heat of the day and shivering at night because of the cold, being unable to sleep. He stresses that he had served Laban fourteen years for his two daughters. Of course he had willingly offered to work seven years for Rachel, but had been deceived. Then he had worked six years in order to gain the large number of sheep he now had. But more: he affirms that Laban had changed his wages ten times (v. 41). This must have been true, or Laban would have denied it. It does show the manipulating character of Laban. He was not at all behind Jacob in this artifice.
What Jacob says in verse 42 is also very likely true. It was only the intervention of God that enabled Jacob to accumulate the wealth he had. Laban was so greedy of gain that he would have been content to leave Jacob without any accumulation whatever for his twenty years of labor. He says that God had observed how he had labored and suffered, and therefore had rebuked Laban the previous night.
Laban had little that he could say in defense of himself in answer to Jacob's tirade, but he does use the one argument that he considered valid, “These daughters are my daughters, and these children are my children, and this flock is my flock” (v. 43). Leah and Rachel had been his daughters, but Laban had sold them. The children were actually Jacob's children, though grandchildren of Laban (at least those from Leah and Rachel). As to the flocks, while they had been bred from Laban's flocks, yet they were the wages Laban had agreed to give Jacob for his labor.
Since Leah and Rachel were his daughters, he thought (wrongly) that they were his possession and he had the right to sell them. They were not his own to begin with, let alone after he had sold them. But this verse loudly proclaims the fact that a merely possessive character loses what he tenaciously seeks to hold. Laban found that he was left poorer in various respects when Jacob left him. But he asks, What can I do this day to these my daughters or to their children whom they have borne?” He feels himself virtually bereaved of his family. May we well learn the lesson that this history teaches: what we own is not ours, but the Lord's, and what we selfishly hold we will lose. On the other hand, what we unselfishly give up for the Lord's sake we shall find that we gain in the end. Consider Abraham's willingly offering Isaac (Gen. 22:10-13).
A COVENANT BETWEEN JACOB AND LABAN (vv. 44-54)
However, Laban was subdued enough that, instead of continuing the argument, he suggested that he and Jacob make a covenant between them (v. 44). It is sad to think that he considered this necessary between relatives, for it is again a legal arrangement rather than a trusting relationship characterized by grace, as every family relationship should be. There is still here the evidence of mere confidence in the flesh, rather than the faith that trusts in the living God.
Jacob sets up his second pillar. His first was in Genesis 28:18, where he made his fleshly vow, therefore the pillar of confidence in the flesh. This time his pillar is a memorial to the fact of broken confidence between relatives, a contrast to the first pillar, for it tells us that the flesh has proven it cannot be trusted. A heap of stones further emphasizes this, both Laban and Jacob calling it a “heap of witness,” Laban using the Chaldee language and Jacob the Hebrew (v. 47). They eat upon the heap, not the most comfortable dining room!
It is Laban who pronounces the terms of their covenant, saying that the heap was a witness to it. He introduces the Lord's name here, expecting Him to watch between himself and Jacob when they are absent from one another (v. 49). He is really telling Jacob, “I cannot trust you out of my sight, so I want the Lord to watch.” Of course it was true the other way also. Jacob had learned not to trust Laban. So that this pillar is the milestone in Jacob's life that proclaims clearly the untrustworthiness of the flesh. Very often it takes two parties to expose it to one another!
We may wonder if Laban suspected that Jacob might try to take some revenge against Laban by mistreating Leah and Rachel (v. 50). There is no indication that Jacob had done this before. But as we have seen, Laban was still possessive of his daughters, and felt that he was caring for them better than he expected Jacob would care for them. He was even fearful that Jacob might take other wives as well as Leah and Rachel. After all, he himself had initiated the project of Jacob's having two wives: why did he have a right to complain if Jacob took another also? But his fears were groundless. Jacob never did show any inclination to have another wife, or more.
Then Laban speaks of the heap and the pillar as a separating point between him and Jacob, a witness of the agreement of each not to pass that point in order to do harm to the other (v. 52). The whole covenant might seem rather superfluous to us, for it is not likely that either of them had any intention of passing that point for any purpose: they would be happier living far apart from each other.
While Laban has emphasized the covenant, Jacob offered a sacrifice (v. 54), which was far better. Then he invited the whole company to eat a meal with him. At least the sacrifice was a reminder that God had rights far more important than those of either Jacob or Laban. Eating together served as an easing of the tension between them. so that they could part on comparatively friendly terms. The next morning, before their parting, Laban kissed his daughters and their children, but there is no mention of his kissing Jacob, as he had done at the time of their first meeting (Gen. 29:13).
RETURNING TO FACE ESAU (vv. 1-32)
As Jacob continues his journey we are told that the angels of God met him (v. 1). It was not God Himself as yet who met him, but the angels were no doubt intended as an encouragement for Jacob to be diligent to return all the way to the Lord's place for him. We may wonder in what way they appeared, but Jacob recognized them as “God's host,” and named the place “Mahanaim,” meaning “two camps.” Jacob had not yet learned that his interests ought to be merged with God's interests, therefore he considers God's “camp” separate from his. This has its unhealthy influence over his actions soon after, when he divided his own company into “two bands” (v. 7). How much better it would have been for him if he had prayed the prayer of the Psalmist, “Unite my heart to fear Thy name” (Psalm 86:11). It is always because our hearts are not undividedly devoted to God that we resort to divisions among the people of God.
Jacob realizes that in returning he must meet Esau again. Twenty years previously Esau had spoken of killing him, and he had no knowledge of whether Esau's attitude had changed. He sends messengers to Esau, telling him of his long sojourn with Laban and that he had acquired livestock and servants. He even takes a place of subservience to Esau, calling him “my lord,” and asking that he might find grace in Esau's sight.
The messengers bring back word that Esau is coming with four hundred men to meet Jacob (v. 6). They say nothing as to whether Esau was glad to hear of Jacob or not; and Jacob is thrown into a panic. He is so frightened that, instead of first appealing to the Lord, he divides his company into two bands, thinking that one band may escape if the first is attacked by Esau. Of course such human reasoning was not God's leading. God does not divide His saints in order to sacrifice one part of them for the protection of the other. He loves all His saints, and has no intention of sacrificing any of them to the enemy. But what of ourselves when trouble of any kind threatens us? Though every believer surely knows that our only true resource is in the Lord, yet our first impulse is to try something to relieve us, rather than going first to the One who can really help.
After Jacob had resorted to his own planning, then he prays, addressing the Lord as the God of Abraham and of Isaac, the One who had told him to return to his own country, where God would deal well with him. But where was Jacob's faith to absolutely believe that God would deal well with him in his own land? He ought to have had perfect confidence that God would do this, for God said He would. However, he has learned more than he had when he made his vow at Bethel. He had thought then he would prove fully worthy of whatever blessing God would give him. Now he confesses, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and all the truth which You have shown Your servant (v. 10). At least he is giving up the self confidence that he had before expressed, though he has not yet learned to have total confidence in the living God.
But he has nowhere else to turn, and he earnestly entreats the Lord to deliver him from Esau, his brother (v. 11), for he admits he is afraid of Esau, that he might kill him and his wife and children. “For you said,” he adds, I will surely treat you well, and make your descendants as the sand of the sea” etc. He was virtually saying to God, “You said this, but now Esau might kill me, and what will happen to your promise?” Did he need to plead with God to keep His promise? He did make an error, however, in saying that God had told him he would make his seed as the sand of the sea. God had said this to Abraham (Gen. 22:17), but to Jacob He had promised a seed “as the dust of the earth” (Gen. 28:14)
After prayer Jacob goes back to his planning as to how he can protect himself from Esau (vv. 13-20). Of course he finds afterward that his planning was totally unnecessary. He sets apart 560 animals altogether as a present for Esau, apparently in about six droves with some distance between each. He gave the driver of the first drove instructions as to what to say to Esau when he met him. He expected Esau to inquire as to who the man was and to whom the animals belonged. In reply he was to tell Esau that they belonged to Esau's servant Jacob (why not Esau's brother?), and Jacob was giving them as a present to “my Lord Esau.” When Jacob knew that the Lord had told Rebekah ”the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23), it is sad to see him taking this place of unseemly subservience to Esau. Of course, because of his previous supplanting of Esau, he was moved by both conscience and fear.
Each succeeding driver was given similar instructions, for Jacob assumed that by this means he might appease any antipathy of Esau (v. 20). This is the natural conception of human beings, and they constantly use this method in seeking any proper relationship with God, as though God is going to be influenced by man's giving him presents of things that God has in the first place created! But God is not looking for gifts from men. Rather, He desires their hearts. The droves went on before Jacob, and he lodged that night in the camp (v. 21). However, he did send his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons over the brook together with his possessions (vv. 22-23).
Now God designed matters so that Jacob was left alone. It was time that Jacob was wrestled with, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. No doubt this was the Lord Himself in bodily form, which required an unusual miracle. Certainly the Lord could have subdued Jacob immediately, yet the wrestling continued for hours. However, this was intended to be a significant lesson for Jacob, and for us. The Lord had actually been wrestling with Jacob all his previous life, and Jacob had not surrendered: he continued to struggle against God's dealings with him. How could he properly learn until he had yielded himself to God? His planning, then praying, then going back to his planning was only consistent with his previous character of self confidence rather than confidence in God. He was struggling, yet hardly realized his struggle was against God.
Finally, because Jacob continued to struggle, the Lord simply “touched the hollow of his thigh,” putting it out of joint (v. 25). He could have done this before, but had given Jacob opportunity to submit without any drastic action. Usually, however, we require some hard measures before we learn to truly submit ourselves to God.
Jacob was rendered unfit to wrestle any more, but he was still clinging to the Lord, who told him, “Let me go, for the day breaks.” The Lord could have easily left at once, but He gave opportunity to Jacob to say what he did, “I will not let You go unless you bless me” (v. 26). At least the faith of Jacob was real, though it was weak. He knew he needed the Lord's blessing, though he had acted inconsistently with a spirit of unquestioning faith and dependence on God.
The Lord then first requires Jacob to confess his name by natural birth. But Jacob (“the supplanter”) must have his name changed if he is to receive proper blessing from God. Only when the flesh is touched and shriveled does Jacob receive the name Israel (”a prince with God”). By nature he was Jacob, but by the grace of God he becomes Israel.
God said of Jacob that he would be named Israel because he had “struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” It certainly does not mean that he had defeated God in wrestling, for he actually prevailed only when he was crippled and therefore clung dependently to the Lord. This dependence on God would enable him to prevail with men too. This will prove true in the future day for the nation Israel also; and the same proves true for every believer today who has been brought down to a place of clinging dependently to the Lord. May we know this place well.
Jacob wanted to know the name of his adversary in wrestling, but he is only answered by the question, “Why is it that you ask about my name?” Jacob would not learn that name properly until he was in the place of God's name, that is, Bethel, “the house of God.” It is only in God's way that we really know God Himself (Ex. 33:13). Jacob had begun the trip back to Bethel, but he was not there. Yet the Lord blessed him where he was (v. 29). But until he reached Bethel, he was not called “Israel” at all, for he did not learn quickly to act in the princely dignity becoming to that name. But we are all slow learners.
Jacob called the place “Peniel,” meaning “the face of God,” saying he had seen God face to face and his life was preserved (v. 30). What he understood by this we do not know, but whatever he saw of God was concealed by a human form. Still, he realized the Lord was involved in this encounter, and he would remember it.
As he passed over Peniel we are told “the sun rose upon him.” This is in designed contrast to Genesis 28:11, when he had left Beersheba: “the sun was set.” The night of darkness in our lives passes only when the flesh has been crippled (or judged) and we learn to cling only to the Lord. The sun (typical of the Lord Jesus) rises on our vision in a living, practical way. But Jacob remains crippled (v. 31).
The children of Israel were impressed enough by this to take the outward action of abstaining from eating meat from the hollow of the thigh of the animals they slaughtered. But it was only outward. How little in all this history have they learned in spiritual reality to put the flesh in the place of self-judgment. Similarly, after being established in the land, they could go to Gilgal and ”multiply transgressions” (Amos 4:4), rather than have the serious lesson of Gilgal impressed upon their souls, the lesson of the sharp knives of circumcision cutting off the flesh (Joshua 5:2-9).
THE BROTHERS MEET AGAIN (vv. 1-16)
Jacob's trepidation is not eased when he sees that Esau has passed by all the droves and is coming with his four hundred men to meet Jacob. He even divides his family at this time, putting the maids and their children first, then Leah and her children, followed by Rachel and Joseph, for whom he was plainly the most concerned (vv. 1-2).
Now he must meet Esau, and with a servility that is not becoming to a brother, he bows himself seven times to the ground (v. 3). Of course it was conscience and fear that made him do this, but Esau had no such attitude. He ran to meet his brother, embraced him and kissed him. Then both of them wept. Time had made a difference with Esau particularly. What a relief for Jacob! Indeed, family feuds should never be allowed to continue long without a reconciliation. Only an unusually hard heart could maintain bitter rancor against a brother for long years.
Esau then needs an introduction to Jacob's wives and children, and each in turn are presented in the order that Jacob had previously arranged. Actually, if he had more confidence in Esau, he would have presented Rachel and Joseph first, for they were most important to him (vv. 6-7). Then Esau asks the meaning of all the droves that he met. Jacob does not conceal the fact that this was not a gift given because of his love to his brother, but tells him honestly that he was giving them to him in order to find favor from Esau, — whom he calls “my lord” — virtually as a bribe to secure his good-will! (v. 8).
But even Esau was not looking for any such thing: he tells him that he has enough, therefore that Jacob should keep what belonged to him (v. 9).
Jacob insists that, since Esau's attitude was favorable toward him, he wants Esau to take his present. His words to Esau are far too flattering and exaggerated, when he says that seeing Esau was like seeing the face of God (v. 10.) If this meeting had been like his parting with Laban, he would not have spoken of Esau's face being like the face of God. But he urges Esau to accept his gift, and Esau does so (v. 11). Though we read of Jacob giving this large gift to Esau, we never read of his keeping his promise to give one tenth of his possessions to God!
Now that they have met on friendly terms, Esau proposes to Jacob that they travel together to Seir, Esau going before (v. 12), but Jacob replies, quite plausibly, that he and his large company could not keep pace with Esau's four hundred men. The flocks and herds with young must not be over driven, and his children also were young. Therefore he asks that Esau go on and that he (Jacob) would proceed at a slower pace to come to Esau's residence at Seir (vv. 13-14). Jacob continues to call Esau his “lord,” but he had no intention of obeying Esau's will that he should go to Seir, even though he told him he would do so. When Esau wants to leave some of his company with Jacob to accompany him to Seir, Jacob only responds that there was no need for this.
Why did Jacob not act in simplicity of faith? He could have simply told Esau the truth, that God had directed him to return to Bethel. Was he afraid that Esau might be “put out” by Jacob's not coming to visit with him at least? But would Esau not be more put out by Jacob's deceiving him as he did?
Perhaps one reason for Jacob's deceit was that he was not prepared to fully obey God at the time, for he did not continue to Bethel, but came as far as Succoth, where he built a house and made shelters for his flock and herds (v. 17). Rather than going to Bethel (God's house) he built a house for himself. This was only half-way obedience, and evidently it did not satisfy his own conscience, for he left all these buildings behind and journeyed to Shalem, a city of Shechem. Shalem means “peace,” and Jacob was not at peace at Succoth, but finds it apparently at Shalem. Shechem means “shoulder,” and implies that peace cannot be enjoyed apart from our taking responsibility on our shoulders. Here he does not build a house, but pitches his tent. At least he seems to realize that, in being away from Bethel, he should maintain pilgrim character.
Still, this was also only a half-way measure, and there he bought “a parcel of a field,” typical of “a part of the world,” not a large part, but nevertheless involving him in a compromise that brought some sad results, so that he actually paid far more for this than only his hundred pieces of silver. He erected there an altar, but it was not because of God's word he did so. God told him later to make an altar at Bethel. He names this one at Shalem “El-Elohe-Israel,” meaning “God, the God of Israel.” For it was still not God's honor primarily that he was seeking, but his own blessing. At Bethel his altar's name was “El Bethel,” “God of the house of God,” for then he finally learned that God's glory was more important than Jacob's blessing. God is the God of His own house, not merely the God of Israel.
SHAMEFUL SIN IN JACOB'S HOUSE (vv. 1-31)
Jacob had been concerned about his own house: now he must learn through painful experience that when he puts his house first, he will find trouble and sorrow from his house. Understandably, Dinah the daughter of Leah did not want to be confined to her home, and went out to see the daughters of the land. But it was more than daughters she saw. She became sexually involved with a young man, son of the prince of that land. However, having been guilty of such an act of fornication, the young man did not then reject her, as many would do, but apparently genuinely loved her and spoke kindly to her (v. 3).
Then he appealed to his father Hamor, asking him to intercede with Jacob so that he might marry Dinah. Jacob had heard the news before Hamor came, but had said nothing, waiting till his sons returned from their employment in the field before speaking at all as to the shame of Shechem's sin with Dinah. The sons, when they came, were not only grieved, but very angry at Shechem. Did they not stop to think that the blame was not only Shechem's, but Dinah's also? For though this was sin, it was not rape.
Hamor came at this time to tell them that Shechem had real affection for Dinah and wanted to marry her. At the same time he invited them to remain in the land and have their families intermarry. No doubt to the mind of Hamor this was the honorable way to meet the question. Shechem adds to this that he is willing to pay any dowry that they might ask of him for Dinah (vv. 11-12).
But the sons of Jacob were far from honorable in the way they answered. No doubt Jacob did not suspect their motives at all, but it was with cruel deceit that they told Shechem and Hamor that only if all the males of the land would be circumcised could they consent to Hamor's suggestion, and in fact promised that if the men were circumcised, they will live together as one people, willing to intermarry with the natives there. If they would not agree to be circumcised, then the brothers say they will take Dinah with them and leave the country (vv. 14-17).
The terms of the pact proposed by Jacob's sons were fully agreeable to Hamor and Shechem, and Shechem specifically did not delay to be circumcised because of his love for Dinah. We are told he was more honorable than all the household of his father. The two of them then carried a message to the inhabitants of their city, to the effect that Jacob and his family were friendly toward them and would be glad to settle there and intermarry, but only on condition that all the men of the city should be circumcised as they were. All no doubt recognized that circumcision had a religious connotation and they would not be in the least suspicious of any ulterior design against them. Moreover, the wealth of Jacob's family would be a welcome addition to the area, making all to benefit by them (vv. 20-23). These were persuasive arguments, and found the men of the city fully agreeable, so that all them were circumcised.
Then the cruel treachery of Jacob's sons comes to the surface. Only Simeon and Levi are mentioned here, brothers of Dinah, though Reuben and Judah were also her brothers. The two however attack the unarmed city, killing every male while they were still sore from surgery. Of course this was totally unexpected and the men had no defense. No men were left either to organize any counter attack. Hamor and Shechem also, who had been considerate of Jacob's family, were killed. Dinah was taken from Shechem's house, and other women and children all taken captive, while the possessions of the inhabitants, including all their livestock, were taken as if they were the spoils of war (vv. 26-29).
This whole action was so cruelly unjust that we wonder that there was nothing whatever done in the way of retribution or correction. God has certainly exposed it in all its naked wickedness, and we know He could not approve of anything like this. Yet why was there no recompense? It seems the answer is simply that God does not always settle His accounts quickly: the wheels of His government grind slowly, but He misses nothing, and will in His own time take care of every detail of our ways. At least, as to Simeon, see Genesis 42:24. The other brothers at the same time went through a traumatic ordeal. But the full end of the matter is in God's hands. This is consistent with God's ways always in regard to Israel the nation. He did not allow others at this time to attack Jacob, but He will deal with His people in His own time and way.
Jacob was shocked by the vicious action of his sons, and protested to them that they had given Jacob an odious reputation before the inhabitants of the land, and that he was exposed to the likelihood of being attacked himself and destroyed together with his household. Jacob's sons, however, only answered defiantly, “Should he deal with our sister as with a harlot?” This was not fair-mindedness, for Shechem had not actually dealt that way, and if he had, did that justify Simeon and Levi in their killing all the men of that city and plundering their houses? Their dealings with the city were far worse than was Shechem's sin.
BETHEL AT LAST!
Jacob knew he could not remain at Shechem, though it took a humiliating experience in his own house to drive him away from there. God speaks to him in no uncertain terms. He is to arise and go to Bethel to dwell, and to make an altar there to the living God who had appeared to him before at that place when he was fleeing from Esau. Had he not found out by now that in his seeking the blessing of his own house he had only incurred trouble and sorrow? It is time therefore that he should give God's house and God's interests the first place. Though we ought to learn this lesson early in our Christian life, it seems that we only learn it through painful experience.
When God speaks in this way to Jacob, then Jacob's conscience also speaks. Jacob had allowed room in his own house for idols, but when he thinks of God's house, he knows that God will allow nothing of this kind there. Therefore he tells his household to get rid of these, to be clean and to change their garments (v. 2). There must be no idolatry, no uncleanness and no unsuited clothing in the house of God. These were negatives that must not be ignored, for he adds what was significantly positive, “let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went” (v. 3). He fully acknowledges how faithful God had been in keeping His promise, though as to his own vow to God on that occasion he is totally silent. It has taken him some time to learn that God is truly more faithful than Jacob was. But though we may be believers, we far too often fail in this matter too: we forget to give credit to God for being absolutely dependable in every detail of His ways with us, and we think too highly of our own faithfulness.
Jacob's household gives up their strange gods, which must have included the teraphim that Rachel had stolen from her father, for it is said, “all their strange gods.” We are not told when Jacob learned of these, but at least he knew it now. Added to this were their earrings; and all were hidden under the oak tree near Shechem (v. 4). This is typical of burying our idols beneath the cross of Christ. We too often merely decorate our ears instead of using them for their intended purpose, hearing the word of God.
Obeying God, they journey to Bethel. Of course other cities in the area of Shechem would know of the destruction caused by Jacob's sons, but only the restraining hand of God, implanting fear in their hearts, kept them from pursuing Jacob's company (v. 5).
They arrive at Bethel, which we are reminded was before called Luz, which means “separation,” because we must realize that the house of God has a place separated from the world and from all that has any suggestion of man's work. Here Jacob builds an altar, calling it “El-Bethel” (v. 7). At Shalem he called his altar “El-Elohe-Israel,” which is “God, the God of Israel.” How much less selfish and more objective is this name now, “God of the house of God.” We never have any proper focus in our lives until we come to this point, to realize that God's house and its interests are to claim the first place. Today of course we know that the house of God is “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). Do we have that vital, primary interest in and concern for the entire body of Christ, the Church?
There is a striking dispensational picture here also. Jacob and his company illustrate the returned remnant of Israel, brought back to God's place for them after long years of wandering. For this reason we are told in verse 8 that Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died and was buried under an oak. Rebekah had been a type of the church, the bride of Isaac, type of Christ. Therefore, dispensationally the death of Deborah tells us that “the times of the Gentiles” are finished: the nursing of a heavenly hope comes to an end, for Israel's earthly hope has finally been achieved.
Here at Bethel God appears again to Jacob to bless him, reaffirming that though His servant's name was Jacob (which was not to be forgotten), yet that he was to be called Israel. It was in God's place for him that this name was to have its full significance, for it speaks of the dignity to which God had elevated him by grace, “a prince with God.” Though his name had been changed before (Gen. 32:28), he had still only been spoken of as Jacob until coming to Bethel. In fact, even after this he is sometimes called Israel, but more often Jacob.
In this case God tells Jacob, not that He is the God of Abraham and Isaac, as He did in Genesis 28:13, but “God Almighty” (v. 11). He had shown His sovereign might in keeping His promise to greatly bless Jacob and bring him back to the land. Now that power is to be manifested also in His multiplying the descendants of Jacob, making him into a nation and a company of nations, decreeing also that kings would come from Jacob. His promise in Genesis 28:13-15 had been absolute, with no conditions attached: this promise similarly is unconditional, but adds what is said of “a nation and a company of nations” and kings.
But though Jacob had been absent from the land for many years, yet as to this God reaffirms His promise that the land is to be given to Jacob and his descendants (v. 12). This does not change in spite of the various occasions when the nation has been scattered away from their land and other people have taken temporary possession. God's covenant cannot fail.
The Lord's appearing to Jacob on this occasion is evidently a picture of the revelation of the Lord Jesus to Israel in order to establish His kingdom after the tribulation. He will speak peace to His people and greatly comfort their hearts. Then after establishing peace on earth, He will return on High, as is pictured in verse 13, “God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.” This occasion is directly spoken of in Psalm 47:5: “God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.”
Then Jacob sets up his third pillar, which is his second at Bethel. His first had been one of confidence in the flesh (Gen. 28:18-22); his second was the pillar of broken confidence (Gen. 31:45), signifying the untrustworthiness of the flesh. This third is the pillar of confidence in God. For this time he makes no vow, but pours a drink offering and oil on the pillar, significant of his unfeigned appreciation of the faithfulness and grace of God. He names the place “Bethel” again. He had named the place before, but his naming it the second time no doubt indicates that the significance of this name has become vital and real to him. He has learned to love the habitation of God's house.
THE DEATH OF RACHEL (vv. 16-22)
Since Jacob had reached Bethel, this becomes a starting point of a journey of a different kind, just as the path of a believer today becomes different when he comes to rightly appreciate the truth of the house of God. There are trials still, but looked at now from a viewpoint of calm submission, rather than fleshly scheming as to how to meet them. Jacob journeys (v. 16), and when near to Ephrath (meaning “fruitfulness”), Rachel travailed in giving birth. It was a particularly hard birth, but the midwife sought to comfort her by the assurance that she was bearing a second son, as she had been confident she would (Gen. 30:24).
She called his name Ben-oni, meaning “son of my sorrow,” but in doing so she was taken away in death. Jacob however gave him a totally different name, Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.”
In this history there is vitally important instruction for us. Rachel had been the foremost desire of Jacob's eyes, her name meaning “sheep.” We have seen that this is typical of what a believer often considers most important, a desired state of soul that is fully submissive and attractive, that will tend to make a believer satisfied with himself. Jacob struggled along these lines for years, but such an object has no power in it to enable Jacob to reach it. His eyes were in the wrong direction. After coming to God's house he must realize that God, not Jacob's spiritual experience, is the only Object in whom there is both satisfaction and power. Therefore, Rachel dies, that is typically, Jacob gives up his strong desires; but Rachel is replaced by Benjamin, a type of Christ as “the Man of God's right hand.” Only when the Lord Jesus, exalted now at the right hand of God, becomes the true Object of our hearts, do we give up the useless ambition to improve ourselves morally and spiritually.
Yet when we cease struggling to achieve high spiritual goals in a state of lovely submission, and instead become unfeigned admirers of Christ, it is then that, without struggling, our hearts are brought spontaneously to submit gladly to His sovereign will. What we sought to achieve by the energy of our own wills, is found only in our turning from such self-occupation, judging ourselves and seeing all beauty and perfection in the Lord Jesus. What rest this brings! and what joy!
Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day.” Genesis 35:20 All of this is the lesson of Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Rachel died and was buried “on the way to Ephrath” (v. 19). Her burial was a necessary step on the way to Jacob's reaching a state of fruitfulness, of which Ephrath speaks. This is also called Bethlehem, “the house of bread.” Now Jacob sets up his fourth pillar on Rachel's grave. We have seen that his third pillar was that of simple confidence in God alone. The fourth rightly follows, being the pillar of the burial of earthly ambition or desire. Jacob's four pillars are therefore seen to be important milestones in God's dealings with him. Because God's house, God's interests, find the first place in his life, then he is content to bury all that he was or sought “in the flesh.”
He journeys further, still with his tent, but called Israel, toward Edar, meaning “a flock” (v. 21). The character of the church as the house of God is seen in Bethel, and this emphasizes God's own presence as dwelling with His people. The flock, on the other hand, speaks of the church as a dependent company, constantly in need of care (Acts 20:28). When once we have learned the sweetness of God's presence in His house, then in practical, daily character we are fitted to have part with the saints in seeking their encouragement by shepherding and feeding them.
In this area the sad sin of Reuben is recorded in violating his father's concubine. As to this we are told only, “Israel heard of it.” He makes no angry response, for he has learned to submit himself to God, though we know from Genesis 49:3-4 that he felt it keenly. Reuben was, as Jacob says, “the beginning of my strength.” Now he is to witness in his firstborn the unstable, untrustworthy character of the flesh, just as it surfaced in Jacob himself, though in a different way.
THE TWELVE SONS OF JACOB (vv. 23-26)
We are then told the names of the sons of Jacob (vv. 22-26) — not called Israel in this case, for his sons are to be known simply as of the same sin-infected stock as their father. In spite of this inherited sinful nature, God had ordained that the twelve tribes of the nation Israel were to come from these twelve men. They were not chosen because they were any better than others, but only as a sample of all mankind, an object lesson to teach us all, not only what is our actual sinful condition, but our need of a Savior. No doubt each one of these brothers pictures a distinct feature of the ruin of mankind, and also of God's grace in providing salvation, as Genesis 49:2-27 indicates.
THE DEATH OF ISAAC (vv. 27-29)
The delay has been long, but at last Jacob returns to his father at Hebron. Nothing is said of his mother: she had evidently died before this time. Isaac's eyes had become dim long before, at which time Rebekah seemed strong and energetic, but he outlived her. Esau was not near him either, and we have no idea how he was cared for in his old age.
Many years intervene after this before Isaac died at the age of 180 years. Jacob and Esau were 120 years of age at this time. for they were born when Isaac was 60 (Gen. 25:16). Ten years after Isaac's death Jacob was presented before Pharaoh at age 130 (Gen. 47:9). But Joseph had been sold into Egypt at age 17 and was exalted as Ruler over Egypt 13 years later at age 30 (Gen. 37:1; Gen. 41:46). Following this there were seven years of plenty in Egypt and some years of famine. It seems therefore that Isaac must have died at about the time that Joseph was exalted in Egypt.
Esau and Jacob were both present for Isaac's funeral. Therefore Jacob must have sent word to Esau at the time, so that Esau could come. Nothing is said of whether Jacob was embarrassed to meet Esau again after having deceived him when agreeing to go to Esau's home (Gen. 33:12-17). But at least it is good that the brothers met face to face again. The wisdom of God arranges matters of this kind.
THE FAMILY OF ESAU (vv. 1-18)
This chapter deals with the generations of Esau. Verse 6 tells us that he took his wives, family, and all his possessions, leaving the land of Canaan, going “from the face of his brother Jacob.” The man “after the flesh” cannot dwell together with the one who is chosen by God. Yet Esau (Edom) prospers and develops greatly in a material way, his sons becoming “dukes” (vv. 15-43) before Jacob's family attain such honor (except for Joseph in Egypt). We must remember that Joseph did not exalt himself, but was exalted by Pharaoh; but Esau's family illustrates the common history of the flesh always exalting itself. The long list of names therefore is intended to impress on us the fact that God has taken full account of the flesh and all its activities, finding it only vanity.
JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (vv. 1-11)
How significant is the truth of verse 1: “Jacob lived in the land where his father sojourned, in the land of Canaan.” It had taken him some years to finally settle there, but even though dwelling, he was still really only a sojourner (Heb. 11:9). He did not remain indefinitely, but later went down to Egypt, where he died (Gen. 46:5-6; Gen. 49:33).
We have seen in Genesis 36 a long list of the generations of Esau, but a great contrast faces us in Genesis 37, where we read of the generations of Jacob. Remarkably, his generations center simply in Joseph (v. 2): there is no list of names. The answer to this is simply that the true genealogy of the line of faith centers in the person of the Lord Jesus, of whom Joseph is a type. Working together with his half-brothers in feeding Jacob's flocks, he brought to his father the report of their bad practices. If these things were of a serious nature, it may have been necessary for Joseph to do this, but scripture does not say one way or the other. On the other hand, we know that the Lord Jesus was always right in communing with His Father about the evils of His brethren according to the flesh.
Verse 3 tells us that Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other sons. This was Jacob's failure, for love in a family should be thoroughly impartial and concerned about the true welfare of every child. However, above all this, we are reminded in this history that God's love for His Son is necessarily unique. The garment of many colors Jacob made for Joseph (v. 3) is typical of the many features of the glories of the Lord Jesus, for indeed all the colors of the rainbow are involved in giving us some little picture of the attributes of this blessed person in His very nature as the eternal God.
However, the love of Jacob for Joseph drew out the bitter animosity of his brothers. Jacob was to blame for this, or course, not Joseph, but the same thing has happened in many families. In the case of the Lord Jesus, Israel hated both Him and His Father (John 15:24), nor did they have the slightest excuse for this, as Jacob's brethren might have had for hating Joseph.
We read now of two dreams manifestly sent by God to Joseph, who told them to his brothers, only thereby increasing their hatred toward him. We may question, was it morally appropriate that Joseph should tell them his dreams? But it is clear that God overruled this in His sovereign wisdom, and we are reminded that the Lord Jesus told the Pharisees, “I tell you, hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven “ (Matt. 26:64).
In Joseph's first dream he tells his brothers that he and they were binding sheaves of grain in the field: his sheaf arose and stood erect, and those of his brothers all bowed down to his sheaf (v. 7). Joseph did not likely understand that God designed the dream as prophetic of the fact that Joseph's brothers would yet bow to his authority, as Genesis 42:6 tells us they did. Of course, the most vital lesson here is that all Israel will yet bow to the Lord Jesus, whom they have despised and hated. At the time Joseph's brothers considered it ridiculous that he would ever have dominion over them (v. 8).
The second dream seems to have awakened thoughts of questioning in his brothers' minds. When he told them and also told his father that he dreamed that the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him, his father rebuked him, evidently feeling it was pride on Joseph's part that occasioned the dream, for he realized that the implication was plain that both he and Rachel and his eleven children would bow down to Joseph,. But his brothers envied him. Did this not indicate that they were apprehensive that Joseph would have such a place of authority? We know too that it was not only unbelief on the part of the Jewish leaders that moved their rejection of Christ, but envy (Matt. 27:18).
JOSEPH, SENT BY HIS FATHER, BUT REJECTED (vv. 12-36)
Joseph's brothers had gone to Shechem to feed their father's flock. Shechem means “shoulder,” and speaks of assuming responsibility, which Israel did under law. So the Lord Jesus, sent by the Father, came to the place where Israel was responsible to be, under the law God had given them. Joseph was sent “from the valley of Hebron” (v. 14). Hebron means “communion,” reminding us that the Father sent His Son from the place of intimate communion, which had been the portion of the Father and the Son from all the past eternity.
Joseph did not find his brothers at Shechem, however, just as the Lord Jesus did not find Israel in the place of obedience to the law of God. A man found Joseph wandering in the field and asked what he was looking for (v. 15). Then the man was able to tell him that he had heard his brothers proposing to go to Dothan (v. 17). This holds a most instructive lesson for us. Dothan means “their decree.” Just as Joseph thus found his brothers at Dothan, so the Lord Jesus found Israel in a place of their own decrees and traditions, rather than in the place of subjection to the law of God. He told the Pharisees and scribes, “You have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites, Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying, These people draw near to me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:6-9).
When Joseph was still some distance from his brothers they saw him coming and plotted against him to put him to death (vv. 19-20). Herod, from the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus, was determined to kill Him) Matt. 2:13-16). However, at this time God's sovereign protection was evident, for Reuben, the oldest of the brothers, had some sense of responsibility for a younger brother and was able to influence them not to kill him. Similarly, though the Jews sought often to kill the Lord Jesus, they could not do so until the time God Himself had appointed. In the meantime their fear of consequences restrained them (Matt. 21:45-46).
Reuben suggested simply putting Joseph into a pit from which he could not escape, intending himself to afterward liberate Joseph so that he could return to his father (v. 22). He evidently felt that, being the oldest, he would be answerable to his father for what the brothers did, for evil does not generally continue long without being discovered.
They likely took pleasure in stripping Joseph of his coat of many colors, on account of their jealousy toward him because of his father's favoritism (v. 13). All of this reminds us of men taking the garments of the Lord Jesus and casting lots for them at the time of His crucifixion (Matt. 27:35). Then also, just as Joseph's brothers coolly sat down to eat, so we are told of those who crucified the Lord, “sitting down they watched Him there” (Matt. 27:36).
But an unexpected opportunity arises, of which the brothers take selfish advantage. When a company of Ishmaelite traders appear, traveling toward Egypt, Judah is not slow to recognize an ideal way of getting rid of Joseph and at the same time gaining some monetary profit. He therefore indicates to his brothers that if they killed Joseph and tried to conceal the fact, they would make no profit from this, but in selling him as a slave to the Ishmaelites they would realize a profit as well as having no problem as to how to dispose of a dead body. He also appeals to their sense of some loyalty to their family relationship. Joseph was their brother (v. 27). He seems to have a conscience against killing his brother, but no conscience against selling him as a slave!
The brothers sold Joseph for 20 pieces of silver. There are two points here that compare with Israel's rejection of Christ. He was sold for 30 pieces of silver, and also the Jews delivered Him into the hands of Gentiles. Joseph is taken down to Egypt.
Reuben evidently was not present when the brothers sold Joseph, and in his returning to the pit he is shocked to find him gone (v. 29). His question to his brothers, “and I, where shall I go?” shows his fear of being held accountable. Did he perhaps think that Joseph had escaped and returned to report the whole matter to his father?
Of course the brothers would have to tell Reuben of their selling Joseph. Now they devised the plot of dipping Joseph's coat in the blood of a goat, and bringing it to Jacob, saying they had found it (v. 32). Thus they were guilty of cruel hatred both toward their brother and toward their father. They ask their father to examine the coat, to make sure it was Joseph's. Of course, in recognizing it he surmised that a wild animal had killed and eaten his son. Apparently it did not occur to him to ask them if they found bones in the vicinity or other articles of clothing. For a wild animal would not be so careful as to hide everything else and leave only a bloodstained coat.
Jacob was crushed to the point of deepest depression. This son was one in whom he had found greatest comfort. Now he is certain that Joseph has been killed. His mourning continued for his son over a long period of time, and though all his sons and his daughters sought to comfort him, he did not respond to this. Of course the comforting of his sons would be hypocritical, and we may be sure that Jacob's intense sorrow made their consciences more perturbed. He tells them that the agony of his mourning will not be relieved before he goes “down to Sheol,” the unseen state of soul and spirit when death takes place.
In the meanwhile the Midianites, taking Joseph to Egypt, sold him as a slave to the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard, named Potiphar. Nothing is said here of how intensely Joseph felt the trauma of his ordeal. but we learn something of this in his brothers' later words to one another, “we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen” (Gen. 42:21). Now taken to a far distant country and made a slave at the tender age of 17, how many must have been the hours of his painful agony!
JUDAH'S HISTORY OF SHAME (vv. 1-30)
The story of Joseph is interrupted in this chapter to expose the shamefulness of an important part of Judah's history. We have seen that Judah took the lead in selling Joseph as a slave. In fact, in every relationship of Judah his shame and dishonor is evident. He sold his brother, he deceived his father, he married a Canaanite wife, he had both his sons killed by the Lord for wickedness, he deceived his daughter-in-law when promising his son Shelah to her, then had two sons by the same daughter-in-law (unwittingly).
He pictures the tribe of Judah, which has had a deeply painful history over the ages, so that it will require the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the manifestation of the Lord Jesus in glory, to break down Judah's proud arrogance (Zech. 12:7-14), just as we see Judah personally broken down when having to face Joseph in Genesis 44:18-44. In verse 1 Judah is seen leaving his brothers. The history of his brothers is not considered here, for Israel's long history has really been represented in the history of Judah since the ten tribes were separated from Judah and Benjamin. Judah's marriage to a Canaanite wife (v.2) symbolizes the nation's illicit commerce with Gentile business. For Canaan means “a trafficker,” a principle contrary to true Christian character, but Israel has exchanged any spiritual values she had for the legal principle of trading or trafficking in the world's markets. Shuah's name means “riches,” which the Jewish nation has sought as an object for centuries.
Three sons were born to Shuah, the first one killed by the Lord because of wickedness (v. 7). The second, Onan, agreed to take the widow of Er as his wife in order to have a child that would be officially his brother's. But he did not complete his contract honorably, and the Lord considered this serious enough to kill him also (vv. 8-10). The reason was his absolute selfishness, for the child would not be officially his (though actually so). These two cases illustrate the degrading history of the tribe of Judah. Shelah, the youngest son, is said to possibly mean “sprout,” and indicates at least a preserved remnant that promises a miraculous revival for the nation Israel.
Judah promised Tamar that when Shelah was grown (for as yet he was only young), then she could marry him, meanwhile asking her to remain as a widow in her father's house. But we shall see that Judah failed to keep his promise, just as the tribe of Judah has constantly done.
Eventually Judah's wife Shuah died, for “riches (the meaning of her name) take themselves wings; they fly away” (Prov. 23:5). Judah was not driven to the feet of the Lord by this, but turned to the company of one whom he thought was a prostitute. He had promised to give his youngest son Shelah to Tamar, but had not kept his promise. She therefore took matters into her own hands and deceitfully posed as a prostitute to seduce Judah (vv. 13-15). When he promised to send her a kid as payment for his fornication, she demanded some security, and he gave her three things that were unmistakably his property (v. 18). From this one occasion she conceived a child.
Immediately she left the area and changed her clothes, resuming her widowhood state. Of course when Judah sent the kid, expecting to retrieve the pledge he had left, the messenger was not only unable to find the prostitute, but was told that no prostitute had even been in that place.
Tamar's plan worked as she had desired, and three months later Judah was told that she was pregnant through prostitution (v. 24). He had no hesitation in condemning her, and passed sentence that she should be burned to death. Evidently he never even thought of the man who was involved in the case. Judah could sin without any question being raised, but he considered that for the very same sin Tamar must be killed!
Then Tamar exposed him, sending to him the three items of security he had given her, telling him she was pregnant by the owner of these things (v. 25). Judah at least gave her credit for being more righteous than he (v. 26), though rather, he was more guilty than Tamar, for righteousness was not involved in the matter at all.
Tamar gave birth to twins, one beginning to come first, but superseded by the other (vv. 27-29). This is another lesson of the first being last and the last first, as in the case of Esau and Jacob, and many others.
However, out of this shameful history it is amazing to think that God has seen fit to bring about marvelous blessing. For Judah, Tamar and Pharez are recorded as in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 1:3. In fact, Tamar is one of only four women mentioned in that genealogy, — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and “her who had been the wife of Uriah” (Matt. 1:3-6). But this is intended to impress upon us the marvel of the pure grace of God in reaching guilty sinners in the gift of His holy, sinless Son!
There was no continued relationship between Judah and Tamar, and we have no record either of Tamar's subsequent history.
JOSEPH — FAITHFUL AND TRUSTED THOUGH A SLAVE (vv. 1-6)
How good it is to turn from Judah's sordid history to consider Joseph's history of faithful devotedness to the Lord! The deepest blessing for us in this is of course in the fact of the refreshing way in which Joseph is a type of the Lord Jesus. Just as Joseph learns through suffering, so the Lord Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8).
Joseph was sold in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard. But the Lord was with him (v. 2). He had suffered unrighteously, losing every connection with relatives and friends, and the Lord delights to encourage the lonely and deprived. The result was that he was faithful and dependable in his work, prospering in it, though he was a slave. For this reason Potiphar put him in charge of the work of his entire house, and everything prospered under his direction. This included too the work carried out in the fields of Potiphar (v. 5), so that he was no doubt over many other servants
This faithful, dependable character reminds us of the far more devoted life of the Lord Jesus in His proving Himself through lowly obedience to be fitted for the highest honor of His being entrusted by God to rule over all creation.
JOSEPH FALSELY ACCUSED AND IMPRISONED (vv. 7-20)
But Joseph must learn that further suffering must take place in view of his being eventually promoted to a higher honor than he would have before imagined. If God is to exalt anyone, it must be through suffering. Those who humble themselves to bear the suffering will be exalted, while those who seek to exalt themselves will find themselves abased.
Satan's instrument in this wicked attack was Potiphar's wife. She sought a number of times to seduce Joseph to commit adultery with her (vv. 7-14), but he steadfastly refused, telling her that his master had trusted him with great responsibility in his house. He was not going to prove false to that trust by violating the marriage between his master and his wife. By doing so, he tells her he would be committing great wickedness, and sinning against the Lord.
When Potiphar's wife continued urging Joseph to commit adultery with her, what could he do but firmly refuse? If he reported it to Potiphar, she would accuse him of lying, and probably say that Joseph had tried to seduce her. Finally, when no-one else was present and Joseph had to go into the house to take care of work responsibilities, she caught him by his garment and demanded again that he commit adultery with her. He pulled away, anxious to get far from her, but she held on to his garment while he left the house (vv. 11-12).
She then saw an opportunity of getting revenge on Joseph because he would not join her in evil. She called out for other men, no doubt servants of the household, and told them Joseph had come in with the object of raping her. She said she cried out, and he left without his garment. Thus, from the very time of the incident, she had witness against Joseph that seemed conclusive. When Potiphar came home she told him the same false story, having Joseph's garment there as apparent proof of her evil accusation (vv. 16-18).
Of course Joseph was helpless to do anything. His word, the word of a slave, would mean nothing to Potiphar in comparison to the word of his wife. He was understandably angry with Joseph, and not only demoted him from his high position in Potiphar's house, but put him in prison with others who were evidently mostly political prisoners of Pharaoh (v. 20).
JOSEPH BLESSED BY GOD IN PRISON (vv. 21-23).
But again, as in verse 2, we are told, “the Lord was with Joseph.” How good it is that everyone who suffers for righteousness' sake will have the gracious sympathy of the Lord, and He will not give him up to self-pity and depression. The chief jailer of course observed that Joseph was an honorable man, not a common criminal, and he soon entrusted Joseph with unusual responsibilities for a prisoner. He could see that Joseph was well able to keep things in order even among the other prisoners, and willingly left to Joseph the responsibilities that were normally those of the jailer himself. Again we are told that the Lord was with Joseph and whatever he did the Lord made to prosper (vv. 22-23). It may seem strange that this could be true of a prisoner, but it does indicate that Joseph was not of a negative character, but positive and faithful.
JOSEPH, INTERPRETER OF DREAMS (vv. 1-23)
Two men are seen now to be committed to Joseph's care in the prison, the cupbearer and the baker of Pharaoh, king of Egypt. It is not told us for what offenses they were imprisoned, but they had incurred Pharaoh's anger and this was enough (v. 2). The captain of the bodyguard committed them to Joseph. We may wonder if this captain was Potiphar, who is said in Genesis 39:1 to have this position, but it is possible there was more than one captain.
After some time in the prison both the cupbearer and the baker were given a dream, each one different, but on the same night. The dreams were evidently strongly impressed on their minds, and in the morning Joseph observed that they were worried (v. 6). In kindly questioning them, he draws from them the fact of their having dreams without any means of having them interpreted (v. 8).
Joseph did not profess to be an expert in interpreting dreams, but rather told them, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” In this statement he was indicating that to have any answer they must depend on God Himself to reveal it. But he asks them to tell him their dreams.
The cupbearer's dream was that of a vine having three branches, which in the dream budded, blossomed and brought forth grapes. With Pharaoh's cup in his hand, the cupbearer squeezed the juice from the grapes into the cup and gave it into Pharaoh's hand (vv. 9-12).
Joseph, in communion with the mind of God, had no difficulty in interpreting this dream. “The three branches are three days,” he says (v. 12), and within three days Pharaoh would “lift up his head,” that is, bring him into public view, and restore him to his office of cupbearer.
There is striking spiritual significance in this dream. The three days remind us of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The juice of the grapes signifies the shedding of His blood, He enduring the suffering of the figurative winepress and His blood being shed as the only means of forgiveness of sins. Therefore, as depending on the value of the blood of Christ, the offending sinner is liberated from his guilt and bondage. The cupbearer then pictures the sinner saved by virtue of the shedding of the blood of Christ.
No wonder Joseph then requested of the cupbearer, “Think on me when it shall be well with thee.” This surely speaks to the believer's heart today as being the request of the Lord Jesus. Since He has so greatly blessed us, it is only right that we should show some thankful response.
Joseph desired the cupbearer to speak to Pharaoh on his behalf, appealing to the fact that he had been kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, then was unjustly accused and put in prison (vv. 14-15). It was true enough that there was no cause in Joseph for his being so treated, but how much more this is true of the Lord Jesus, who was totally sinless in every way, yet subjected to far worse treatment than was given Joseph.
The baker, when he heard Joseph's interpretation, expected a favorable interpretation of his dream also. He tells Joseph that in his dream he had three baskets on his head and in the top basket were all kinds of bakery goods for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating out of the basket. Joseph's interpretation is however totally in contrast to that of the cupbearer's dream. “The three baskets are three days; within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on
The significance of this is most important too. The three days would still remind us of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, for while this is great blessing to the believer (1 Thess. 4:14), it is just as surely the condemnation of the unbeliever (Acts 17:31). We have seen that the juice of the grapes is typical of the blood of Christ. It was given into the hand of the king. God is delighted with the value of the blood of His Son, and on this basis alone He forgives sin. But the bakery goods were the work of the baker's hands. They were intended for Pharaoh, just as men intend to please God by their good works, not realizing that these things can never take away the sins they have committed. God can certainly not accept men's works as a substitute for the work of His own Son in bearing the agony of terrible judgment on Calvary. The bakery goods were intended for Pharaoh, just as men think God will accept their works as payment for their sins, but they did not reach Pharaoh's table: the birds ate them. The birds of the air are typical of the Satanic activity of evil spirits, who love to deceive people by flattery of their so-called good works (Matt. 13:4 and 19). It is Satan who gains from this, not God.
Joseph's interpretation of the dreams was proven fully true when the third day arrived. Being Pharaoh's birthday, he made a feast for his servants. Both the cupbearer and the baker were brought forth to public view, but for contrary reasons (v. 20). The chief cupbearer was restored to his former capacity, while the baker was hanged (vv. 21-22). What influenced Pharaoh in these matters is not mentioned, but the evidence of God's presence with Joseph was unmistakable. But the cupbearer's heart was apparently not drawn to God in thankfulness. Rather than speaking well to Pharaoh about Joseph, he forgot him! May the Lord preserve us from being like him. For we who are believers have incomparably more for which to remember the Lord Jesus than the cupbearer had for remembering Joseph. He has not only foretold our deliverance, but has Himself delivered us from all our sins and our bondage by means of the great sacrifice of Himself. Believers may too easily allow this to become almost forgotten as to any practical realization of it; and there is real reason for the Lord's instituting the Lord's supper with the words, “This do in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19).
DREAMS SENT BY GOD TO PHARAOH (vv. 1-8)
Joseph remained in prison two full years longer, a further time of learning in humiliation the practical lesson of self-discipline. But he was under God's eye, and at the right time God sent two dreams to Pharaoh of such a character that he was greatly stirred by them. No doubt he had had many other dreams, but these were so outstanding that he could not ignore them.
In the first dream seven cows came up out of the Nile river, beautiful and well nourished, and were feeding in the meadow. Then seven other cows came up unnourished and ugly, and these ate up the well nourished cows (v. 4). The second dream did not come until he had wakened and then went to sleep again. Then he saw seven ears of grain come on a single stalk, plump and good. Following them were seven other ears thin and scorched by the east wind; and the bad ears swallowed up the good ones (vv. 5-7).
There was such a similarity in the dreams that Pharaoh knew they were intended to convey some meaning. In the morning he was troubled because of them. He therefore called the magicians and wise men of Egypt, but none of them could suggest any interpretation of the dream (v. 8).
JOSEPH INTERPRETS THE DREAMS (vv. 9-32)
Only then did the cupbearer wake up to the realization of his own indifference to Joseph. He told Pharaoh that while he was in prison he and the chief baker had had dreams that distressed them until a young man in the prison, a Hebrew, had interpreted their dreams, and his interpretation proved perfectly correct in each case (vv. 9-13).
In this history of the imprisonment of Joseph and the butler and the baker, God was working graciously behind the scenes to both bring Joseph out of prison and to exalt him in a way that would have naturally been unthinkable for a Hebrew. Pharaoh sent for Joseph immediately, and he came shaved and with a change of clothing. Nothing was said about the reason for which he was put in prison. So far as the record goes, he was never cleared of the charge that was falsely brought against him. He evidently left this in the hand of God, who knows how to care for His servant's reputation.
`Pharaoh then told Joseph that he had been unable to find anyone who could interpret a dream for him, but has heard that Joseph is able to do this (v. 15). Joseph fully disclaims any personal ability or gift for this, telling Pharaoh rather that it is God only who can give the answer, but indicating also that God would give him an answer of peace. This simple confidence in God was the secret of Joseph's receiving such revelations from Him.
Pharaoh then tells Joseph his dreams, adding to what we have read in verses 2-7 the interesting fact that after the seven thin, ugly cows had eaten the seven well nourished ones, the thin ones remained just as thin as before (v. 21).
Without hesitation Joseph interpreted the dream for Pharaoh, saying, “The dream of Pharaoh is one,” that is, the second dream was simply a confirmation of the first. God was showing Pharaoh beforehand what He was going to do in Egypt. The seven cows signified seven years, and the seven good ears of grain signified seven years. Similarly, the seven ugly cows and the seven parched ears of grain each signified seven years (vv. 26-27). God had chosen to reveal to an Egyptian king what He purposed to do. The well fed cows and the good ears of grain indicated that there would be seven years of abundant produce through all the land of Egypt, while the lean cows and the thin ears of grain were prophetic of seven years of famine to follow. Then because of the severity of the famine the good years would be forgotten as though eaten up by the bad years with no helpful result (vv. 28-31). God does such things as this with the object of awakening people to realize that their blessing does not depend on circumstances, but on the God who brings about every circumstance.
The fact that the second dream was a confirmation of the first indicated that the matter was fully established by God and that He would quickly accomplish His purpose.
JOSEPH'S ADVICE AND HIS EXALTATION BY PHARAOH (vv. 33-45)
Joseph then gave Pharaoh some sound advice as to how to prepare for the future. He must appoint a wise, dependable man to manage the great work of gathering produce into storehouses throughout the land of Egypt. This would require many to help. During the seven years of plenty, they would require only one-fifth of the produce of the land to be kept for the future (vv. 33-36). The abundance of the first seven years must have been great. Often when people are greatly blessed they do not consider wisely what the future may hold. After they have squandered the large amount the Lord has given them, they find that the lean years come unexpectedly and they are not prepared. Similarly, when a nation has lived lavishly it is likely that a recession will strike and the whole atmosphere is filled with bitter complaining. Through such things God speaks loudly to men.
The interpretation of the dream was so simple and appropriate that Pharaoh had no difficulty in believing Joseph and therefore in approving of his advice. But not only this, he realized that Joseph was the very man who was qualified for the great work of supervising the storing of Egypt's produce. It was evident to him that the Spirit of God was in Joseph, and since God had revealed the interpretation of the dream to him, then there was no-one so discerning and wise as he (vv. 37-39). 1 Corinthians 2:15 tells us, “he who is spiritual judges all things,” that is, he judges in the sense of discerning. Not only does he discern spiritual things, but he discerns rightly temporal matters better than any unbeliever does, simply because God is the Creator of material things just as well as things that are spiritual.
Thus God used the imprisonment of Joseph as a step toward a far higher dignity than he had enjoyed in the house of Potiphar. He is set over the house of Pharaoh. By Joseph's word all the people of Egypt were to be ruled. Pharaoh would of course not give his throne to Joseph, but would depend on Joseph to be the administrator of all his affairs. The dignity of Pharaoh's position remained, but he gave authority into Joseph's hand (v. 40). There is an analogy here. God remains always in the dignity of eternal glory, yet He has given His beloved Son the place of supreme authority over His creation.
Announcing Joseph as Ruler, Pharaoh even gave him his own ring, clothed him with fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck (v. 42). In all of this Joseph is typical of the Lord Jesus exalted to the right hand of God. The ring, having no end, speaks of His eternal identification with God, the fine linen reminding us of the perfect purity of His Manhood (Rev. 19:8). The golden chain pictures His unity with the Father in His Godhead glory.
Then Pharaoh gives Joseph the honor of riding in his second chariot and having heralds calling on the people to “bow the knee” (v. 43). This surely reminds us of Philippians 2:9-10, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.”
“Pharaoh also said to Joseph, 'I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no man may lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.'” This was an imperial decree, just as God has decreed by the honor of His own name that without Christ there is no true work (the hand) or walk (the foot) in all the world.
Pharaoh gave Joseph the name of Zaphnaph-paaneah, which means in Coptic language “revealer of secrets,” but in Egyptian, “Savior of the world” (v. 45). Both are appropriate as applying to Christ, for He has revealed the Father and the Father's counsels, and by virtue of His great sacrifice on Calvary He is indeed the Savior of the world. As to the wife Joseph was given, Asenath, we are told almost nothing, except that she was a daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. But she is typical of the church, a Gentile bride, being united to the Lord Jesus at a time when He has been rejected by Israel.
JOSEPH STORING FOOD FOR SEVEN YEARS (vv. 46-57)
At this time we are told Joseph's age was 30 years (v. 46), the same as that of the Lord Jesus when He began His public ministry (Luke 3:23). Thus his combined time as a slave and in prison was 13 years. Now he goes out throughout all the land of Egypt, to supervise the organization of plans to gather in to many storage places the tremendous amount of grain that was only one-fifth of the super abundance that was yielded during the fruitful first seven years (vv. 47-48). The amount was so great that it was found impossible to compute it (v. 49).
During the seven plentiful years two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath, the first named Manasseh (v. 51), which means “forgetting,” for, as he says, “God has made me to forget all my trouble and all my father's household.” This is typical of the truth of Christianity: it makes us forget the first creation with its natural relationships and its vexatious trials. But this is because it introduced something better, the new creation, of which Christ is the Head. This is involved in the name of Joseph's second son, Ephraim, which means “fruitful” (v. 52), for only in new creation is there true fruitfulness for God. Manasseh therefore implies the negative side of the truth, Ephraim the positive. Even in the land of Joseph's affliction God had made him fruitful. Thus today, when affliction is to be expected by the Christian, he is already the subject of new creation, and is therefore fitted to bear fruit for God.
The seven years of plenty came to an end, as God had forewarned by Joseph. The famine came, not only to Egypt, but to other countries also. But Egypt alone had prepared for the famine (v. 54). The people of Egypt appealed to Pharaoh for food, and he tells them, “Go to Joseph: whatever he says to you do” (v. 58). How clear is the lesson here for ourselves today. The Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). Therefore He directs us all to the Lord Jesus as the One appointed to care for our needs. Joseph opened all the storehouses of Egypt (v. 56), just as the Lord Jesus has opened the storehouses of heaven by virtue of His great sacrifice of Calvary, for the blessing of those who have found themselves reduced to spiritual poverty. One great contrast, however, is that the Lord Jesus gives freely, “without money and without price.” People from all countries came to Egypt in order to buy food (v. 57). The grace of God in Christ is available for all the nations today, at a time when the whole world is in a state of spiritual famine.
In such a history we are privileged to see that the wheels of God's government, though turning slowly and deliberately, are perfectly directed to accomplish marvelous results that will display the greatness of His wisdom and His grace throughout eternity. The history itself is wonderfully designed by God as a picture of His own working in the more wonderful history of the coming of the Lord Jesus, His rejection by His own brethren, His suffering among Gentiles, but His eventual recognition and exaltation while still His brethren, the Jewish nation, are in a state of unbelief that will require a spiritual famine to eventually awaken them to a deep need that will lead to an unexpected and marvelous revelation of their Messiah, with its abounding blessing.
JACOB SENDS HIS SONS TO EGYPT (vv. 1-24
The famine reaches to Jacob's land. God makes him and his sons to feel the distress of famine until they hear that Egypt has an abundance of food that is available for sale. Jacob therefore orders his sons to take a trip there to buy food (v. 2). Joseph's ten brothers then “went down” (v. 3), indicating that Israel must be humbled in order to receive blessing from God.
Benjamin does not go with them, for Jacob feared for his safety, no doubt specially because Joseph had before been taken from him, and Benjamin was the only son of Rachel remaining. In this matter there is striking spiritual significance. Joseph's brothers had rejected him, a picture of Israel's rejection of the Lord Jesus. Joseph is therefore a type of Christ in suffering before exaltation. Benjamin (“son of the right hand”) is a type of Christ, the Messiah, reigning in glory. At the time when Israel is again awakened because of their need, they will not only have no recognition of Christ as the rejected Sufferer, but even thoughts of a glorious Messiah will be practically dormant in their minds.
When the brothers come they are brought into the presence of the governor himself rather than a lesser authority, but they of course had no idea that they were bowing down to their brother Joseph, though Joseph recognized them. But he spoke roughly to them, asking them where they came from (v. 7). Verse 23 tells us he spoke to them by an interpreter, though of course he knew their language perfectly well, but he would not give them the least inkling that he might be known to them. When they asked to buy food, he accused them of being spies. Though this was not accurate, yet Joseph was seeking to awaken exercise in their hearts as to their past dishonesty. They protest that they are true men, the sons of one man (v. 11). They must later be brought to confess that they have not been true.
When Joseph continues interrogating them, they give him the information that their father had twelve sons, one of them remaining at home, while the other, they say, “is not.” How little they suspected that the governor knew better than that! But now he is going to test them in regard to their attitude toward another younger brother, Benjamin. He tells them that they must be kept in prison while one of their number returns home to bring Benjamin with him (vv. 15-16).
They are all put in prison, however, for three days. Joseph was wisely making them feel the pain of enforced confinement, though only briefly compared to the years of his own imprisonment. After the three days he lightens the sentence against them, for instead of nine being kept in prison, he decrees that only one be kept while the rest return home to bring their younger brother back with them. He did this because, as he said, “I fear God” (vv. 18-20).
These words too spoke to their consciences, for with Joseph present they confessed to each other that they were guilty concerning their treatment of Joseph, “because,” they say, “we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress is come upon us” (v. 21). Reuben reminded them too that he had before remonstrated with them and they ignored him. “Now comes the reckoning for his blood,” Reuben says. They knew it was true that we shall reap what we sow, and they recognize that it is God who is bringing this back upon their own heads, though they do not mention the name of God.
When Joseph heard them speak this way he turned away from them and wept (v. 24), for it was evident that God was beginning a work in their hearts by the convicting of their consciences. But Joseph would not yet reveal himself to them, for a deeper work was yet required which would take more time. Still, God rewarded Joseph's wisdom up to this point by the apparent self-judgment of his brothers, and he would be encouraged, though having to still wait in patience.
He returned to them and took Simeon and bound him before their eyes, a reminder of their having before made Joseph a captive. But without the brothers knowing it, he gave orders to fill all their sacks with grain and to restore their money to them by putting it into their sacks, besides also giving them provision for their journey. So the Lord Jesus, even when He has to use disciplinary measures, cannot forbear to show the kindness of His grace. He does this with people individually, and will eventually do it with the awakened remnant of Israel in order to encourage their further self-judgment and restoration. The law, with its strict regulations and demands, while it might expose men's sins, will never lead them to repentance. Romans 2:4 is most clear, however, in its declaration, which many do not realize, “that the goodness of God leads you to repentance.”
THE BROTHER RETURN HOME (25-38)
The brothers loaded their donkeys and began the return journey without Simeon. But when they stopped for the night, one of them opened his sack in order to feed his donkey, and was alarmed to find his money in the mouth of the sack (v. 27). His brothers too were shocked at this, and realized that this was a matter in which God was definitely intervening, but for what purpose they do not understand. They were afraid. John Newton expresses this reaction clearly in his hymn, “Amazing Grace,” when he writes, “'Twas grace first taught my heart to fear.” It is always grace that brings us face to face with the living God, though because of our sin this experience at first is frightening. This is the first time we hear the brothers mentioning God's name, so that we know that they did not miss what Joseph said as to his fearing God.
Returning home, they recount to their father Jacob their experience with the governor of Egypt (vv. 29-34). Then, opening their sacks, they find the money of all restored to them. Both they and their father were afraid rather than thankful, for they suspected some ulterior design in this. Thus is it with mankind generally. they are suspicious that there must be some “catch” when the free grace of God in Christ Jesus is proclaimed (v. 35).
Jacob is greatly disturbed. He tells his sons that they have bereaved him of Joseph (which was more true than he suspected) and now also of Simeon, and that they want to take Benjamin away with them. “All these things are against me,” he says. He did not have the slightest idea that all these things were going to work out wonderfully for him. Do we not also too frequently have a complaining attitude as though everything is against us? Yet the fact is that everything works together for good to all who love God (Rom. 8:28).
Reuben then proposes to Jacob that he would be responsible for Benjamin if Jacob would send him, and in fact offers the lives of his two sons as surety (v. 37). But such a thing would be folly. If Jacob's son was taken from him, would the death of his two grandsons serve to comfort him? Jacob flatly refuses, saying his son would not go with them to Egypt, for he feared that some type of harm would come to Benjamin which would cause Jacob such grief as to result in his own death (v. 38).
THE BROTHERS, WITH BENJAMIN, RETURN TO EGYPT (vv. 1-15)
The famine continued until Jacob and his family had eaten up all the provision they had gotten from Egypt. Then Jacob urged his sons to go again and bring more food from Egypt (v. 2).
This time Judah (the one who had taken the lead in selling Joseph) protests to his father that the governor of Egypt had absolutely decreed that if they returned without Benjamin they would be refused. Therefore he said they would not go unless they could take Benjamin. He offered to be surety for Benjamin (v. 9), saying that if he did not bring Benjamin safely back again, he (Judah) would bear the blame forever. He adds also that if they had not delayed so long they could have made the second journey and returned by this time.
All of this does not allay Jacob's apprehensions, but the pressure of hard circumstances finally decided him to allow Benjamin to go. Yet he wanted to do all he could to dispose the governor of Egypt favorably toward his sons. He would send a present to him of balm, honey, spices, myrrh, nuts and almonds (v. 11). These things would not be so quickly affected by the famine as would the grain crops, yet it would no doubt demand some sacrifice to send these. Besides this Jacob instructs his sons to both take back the money that was returned in their sacks and to add to this double the amount of money that was required for the food they wanted to buy (v. 12). In sending Benjamin also, he invokes the name of God Almighty, desiring His compassion in the sight of Egypt's governor, that Simeon might be released and Benjamin also be returned safely. As to himself, Jacob bows to the possibility of his being bereaved of Benjamin also (v. 14). The brothers then go down the second time to Egypt and were brought before Joseph.
ENTERTAINED BY THE GOVERNOR (vv. 16-34)
Before Joseph even speaks to them, seeing that Benjamin was with them, he orders his house steward to bring all those men into his own house, and have an animal killed to provide food for them, for they were to dine with Joseph at noon (v. 16). Not only did they see Joseph's face, but were made his favored guests. But this only awakened their fear and suspicion. Grace does this in those who want matters on a legal basis. They were afraid that Joseph was showing such kindness with the motive of finding a pretext for which to steal all they had. How little they knew Joseph's heart! Many there are also who remain unsaved only because they are suspicious of God's grace in Christ Jesus.
Before eating in Joseph's house, the brothers speak to the steward, telling him of their coming the first time and on departing some distance had found in their sacks the money they had brought to buy food. Not knowing how the money had been put there, they tell him they have brought it back, together with money to buy further provisions (vv. 20-22).
The steward responded kindly to them to set them at rest about this matter. “Peace be to you,” he says, “fear not.” They ought only to thank their God, the God of their father, for the money, for he tells them, “I had your money.” This was true: he had it, but had restored it, though he does not tell them this. Then he brought Simeon out to them.
Every kindness was shown them for their comfort, even to the feeding of their donkeys. Hearing that Joseph was to eat with them, they prepared to give him the present they had brought. When he came in they gave it to him, bowing themselves before him to the ground (v. 26).
Of course Joseph was vitally interested in knowing about their father: was he still alive? Yes, they tell him, their father was both alive and in good health. Typically this tells us that in the tribulation period the Jewish remnant will have their thoughts exercised as to their relationship to the living God. Men may say that God is dead, but this is only because they themselves are dead toward God. This has been true for years in communist countries, but now many are awakened to have to deal with a living God. Again the brothers bowed their heads in homage to Joseph, not realizing he was the brother whom they had rejected. The living Son of God will be dealing with Israel during their tribulation, though they will not realize that it is the same One whom they rejected who is exercising their souls.
But Benjamin, the younger son of Rachel is of vital interest to Joseph too, far more so than the brothers could guess (v. 29). We have seen that he is a type of Christ the Messiah of Israel reigning in power and glory. Israel must learn to connect a reigning Messiah with a suffering Messiah, as they have never done before. Of course both are one and the same person, the blessed Lord Jesus, but it takes more than one man to form any adequate picture of that which is perfectly seen only in Christ. Joseph asks, “Is this your youngest brother of whom you spoke to me?” To Benjamin he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.”
But the sight of his brother moved him with such a surge of emotion that he had to immediately leave them and go to his bedroom to weep (v. 30). We can well understand this, for he had not seen Benjamin for well over 20 years. After weeping he returned to his normal self-control, washed his face and came out to eat with his brothers.
Yet even in the house there was a division carefully maintained between them. Joseph ate by himself, the Egyptian servants by themselves, and Joseph's brothers by themselves (v, 32). Here is a reminder that the Lord Jesus is alone in authority over all, while Israel and Gentiles are distinct companies. This will be true in the Millennium. The church of God stands in great contrast to this, for all believers (Jewish and Gentile) are fully united in one body: there is no division between them; and Christ is in their midst as Head, not only as Lord. The Egyptians considered it loathsome to eat with Hebrews. Later, Peter said it was unlawful for a Jew to have any company with Gentiles (Acts 10:28). Peter had to learn then that God had intervened in marvelous grace, to make all believers in this present dispensation of time members of one body, whether Jews or Gentiles. This unity stands therefore in wonderful contrast to the divisions in the Old Testament between Jew and Gentile, and also in contrast to the distinct companies of Jews and Gentiles in the millennial earth.
The brothers were astonished when they found they were seated in order of their ages (v. 33). Israel will be astonished when they find that the Lord Jesus knows them as well as they know themselves — in fact better than they know themselves.
But as they were served, Benjamin was given five times as much as any of the others. One wonders if he did not have difficulty eating it! However, in this the brothers were taught that a younger brother was given greater recognition than those older. They had before rejected a younger brother, and both younger brothers (Joseph and Benjamin) are types of the Lord Jesus in distinct ways, as we have seen. This was the first time all the sons of Jacob had eaten together for well over twenty years, yet only Joseph realized this! The special favor Joseph showed to Benjamin was intended to emphasize to the brothers that God, far from despising a younger brother, gives him a place of honor. Too often the older look down on one younger, but according to natural birth, the Lord Jesus was a younger brother in Israel, and the pride of the older must be brought down.
BENJAMIN ACCUSED WRONGFULLY (vv. 1-15)
The wisdom of Joseph is seen now in such a way as to lead his brothers to repentance without accusing them. He instructed his steward to fill the brothers' sacks with food and again restore their money to them in their sacks (v. 1). But as well as this he tells him to put his own (Joseph's) silver cup into the mouth of the sack of Benjamin. the next morning they were on their way, no doubt rejoicing that this time everything had gone so well.
However, this relief was short lived, for Joseph had told his steward to overtake them and accuse them of returning evil for good in stealing Joseph's silver cup (vv. 4-5). Of course such an accusation was a shock to the brothers. They protested that they would not think of such a thing. The fact that they had brought the money back after having found it in their sacks was surely proof that they were not thieves (vv. 7-8), They are so confident of this that they say if one was found to have the silver cup he should die and the rest would be slaves to Joseph (v. 9).
The steward approved of their words, but was much more lenient in answering them. Of course Joseph had instructed him. He tells them that the guilty one would be kept as a slave to Joseph and the rest could go free, The search began at the eldest, finishing with the youngest, in whose sack the silver cup was found (v. 12). What a shock to them all! What a traumatic experience for Benjamin who knew himself innocent!
The brothers knew they could not leave Benjamin and go home under these circumstances. Heavy-hearted they return to the city, where Joseph was still in his house. Again they bow down to him. Joseph asks them, “What is this deed that you have done? Do you not know that such a man as I can practice divination?” (v. 15).
JUDAH'S BROKEN CONFESSION (vv. 18-34)
It is not Reuben, the eldest, who speaks to Joseph, but Judah, the one who had been leader in selling Joseph as a slave. He does not plead any defense whatever. In fact, though he had not been personally guilty of stealing the cup, yet he realizes that God was in this way reminding him of their previous guilt in selling Joseph. He tells the governor therefore, “God has found out the iniquity of your servants.” In fact, he does not condemn Benjamin and justify himself, but takes his place with Benjamin and his brothers in a willingness to accept the place of slaves to Joseph (v. 16).
However, Joseph answers that he would not require the brothers to be slaves, but would keep only Benjamin as a slave while allowing the others to return home to their father. Joseph knew of his father's affection for Benjamin and that the very mention of their father now would devastate the brothers in having to return to him without Benjamin. Judah in particular had made himself surety for Benjamin, so he found himself in a dreadful predicament. What could he do now but plead for consideration from the governor?
He came near to Joseph, as Israel will yet eventually come near to the Lord Jesus without realizing who He is. He entreats Joseph not to be angry at his further speaking to him, “for,” he says, “you are equal to Pharaoh” (v. 18). So indeed in a coming day Israel will confess that Christ is equal to God. Judah recounts the experience of meeting the governor at first, and Joseph's asking them if they had a father or a brother, and their answer to the effect that their father was still alive and had a younger son, the only remaining son of his mother, for her only other son was dead (not exactly a convincing statement so far as Joseph was concerned!).
Judah reminds him that they had protested before that their father was so attached to Benjamin that he would not think of letting him leave, but that Joseph had firmly insisted that if Benjamin did not come, Joseph would refuse to see them (vv. 21-23). Therefore when Jacob again urged the brothers to go to Egypt to buy food, they told him they could not go unless Benjamin was with them. Their father had responded to this that his wife Rachel had borne him two sons and the first had never returned when he left home, and Jacob considered him to have been killed by wild beasts. He was therefore all the more jealous concerning his younger son and said, “if you take this one also from me and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to sheol in sorrow” (v. 29).
Judah pleads then with Joseph that if he comes back to Jacob without Benjamin the trauma for his father would be so great that he would die, since as he says, “his life is bound up in the lad's life” (vv. 30-31). More than this, Judah tells Joseph that he had become surety for his brother to his father, offering to bear the entire blame himself if he did not bring Benjamin back (v. 32).
The last words of Judah to Joseph are refreshing in the way they reach the root of the whole matter. For he asks Joseph to allow him to take the place of Benjamin as a slave and that Benjamin be allowed to return to his father (v. 33). What a contrast to the way Judah had before treated his younger brother Joseph! This was the end that Joseph had been seeking, to see in Judah a genuine repentance that was willing to suffer as he had made his brother suffer. This is the repentance that is seen in the thief who was crucified with the Lord Jesus. He said that he and the other thief deserved the punishment they received (Luke 23:41).
The last matter that would speak to Joseph's heart was Judah's changed attitude toward his father (v. 34). Judah now was deeply concerned that his father would be utterly grief stricken if Benjamin did not return.
Thus too, when Israel goes through the great tribulation, the sovereign grace of God will work in many hearts to bring them to have real concern for their promised Messiah (Benjamin) and concern for the living God whom they had before dishonored in the rejection of His Son. This work will have begun in their hearts before they ever realize that Jesus whom they rejected (Joseph) is actually their true Messiah.
JOSEPH REVEALS HIMSELF vv. 1-15)
Now that the grace of God has wrought genuine repentance in the hearts of the brothers, and Judah in particular, Joseph is free to reveal to them His own true identity. He was so deeply affected that he could not restrain himself; and called upon all his servants to leave the room. Only his brothers were with him as he broke down and wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it outside the room, including the household servants of Pharaoh (vv. 1-2).
“I am Joseph,” he tells them. What a shock for them! “Is my father still alive?” He wanted such a confirmation from their lips, but they were so stunned thy could not speak (v. 3). What will be the result also when the great Messiah of Israel reveals Himself to the nation, as the Lord Jesus whom they had crucified? “They will look on Me whom they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). Like Thomas, they will be broken down to confess, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
Yet Joseph's brothers would have some troubled fear that now they would have to face punishment for their previous treatment of Joseph. How anxious Joseph was to quieten their fears! He did not command them, but asked them, “Please come closer to me.” When they did, he confirmed that he was their brother Joseph whom they sold into Egypt. But he adds immediately that he does not want them to be grieved or angry with themselves because of this, for it was God who had sovereignly worked in this painful experience in order to preserve life for many (v. 5). If he did not want them to be angry with themselves, then certainly he was not angry with them. Wonderful attitude for an exalted ruler!
Then he lets them know that the two years of famine they had suffered was only the beginning. There were five years to come. They must have wondered how he knew this, but they did not question his word. He seeks to impress on them again that it was God who sent him to Egypt in order to preserve the family of Jacob and to save their lives by a great deliverance (v. 7). Thus too, it is the Lord Jesus by whom God has actually preserved Israel by means of the rejected One being exalted among the Gentiles as He has been during this dispensation of grace now for many centuries, though Israel has been ignorant of the glory of their rejected Messiah.
So then, he assures them, it was not they who had sent Joseph to Egypt, but God; and God had made him (1) a father to Pharaoh (one whose goodness and guidance Pharaoh depended on), and (2) “lord of all his house” (having authority second only to Pharaoh in his household) and (3) a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt (one in charge of the administration of all governmental affairs).
He then instructs his brothers to hurry home to their father, with the electrifying news that God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt, and to tell him that he is to come immediately to Joseph, bringing all his family and his goods with him, and that they might live in the land of Goshen in Egypt (vv. 9-10). Joseph also promises to provide for them during the five years of famine that were yet to come. Thus Joseph returns great good to his brothers for the evil that they had shown him. How much greater yet is the goodness of the Lord Jesus, who has been treated far more shamefully than Joseph was, but will bless Israel (His brethren according to flesh) in overabounding grace in the coming millennial age!
Now that Joseph had fully revealed himself to his brothers and had instructed them to return home to bring their father and possessions to Egypt, he again embraced his brother Benjamin, and both of them wept (v. 14). Of course Joseph had a special attachment to the one who was the son of his mother. But he afterward did the same to each of the other brothers (v. 15) and took time to talk with them.
RETURNING TO JACOB WITH AMAZING NEWS (vv. 16-28)
News of the coming of Joseph's brothers reaches Pharaoh, who is pleased to hear this (v. 16), so that he confirms what Joseph had said, that the brothers should return to Canaan and bring their father and their households with them back to Egypt, where Pharaoh would give them the best of the land (v. 17-18). Of course Pharaoh realized that he was greatly indebted to Joseph and was glad to show his appreciation in this way. More than this, he orders them to take wagons with them from Egypt in order to bring their wives and children and their father. As to their possessions, he tells them not to be concerned, for everything they needed would be provided for them in Egypt (v. 20). Of course they would bring their flocks and herds, and no doubt there would be many things they would not want to leave behind, but Pharaoh wanted them to know that he would supply whatever goods they had need of.
Joseph gave them wagons (which would of course include animals to pull them) and provisions for their journey, even including changes of clothing, but to Benjamin he gave five changes of clothing and added to this three hundred pieces of silver. One wonders if Benjamin might have had a little difficulty in knowing how to handle this! But Joseph's heart was abounding in grace, and he sent to his father ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other food, just for his father's journey. Evidently he did not consider the wagons sufficient to carry all this food.
In sending them away, Joseph told his brothers not to quarrel on the way (v. 24). He knew their character, and the Lord Jesus too knows the natural character of Israel, which is all too sadly reflected in ourselves, even the church of God. They return to their father with the unexpected news that Joseph was still alive and was ruler over all Egypt. Jacob was stunned, and could not believe them. But they told him all the words Joseph had spoken to them. At this time the truth must have come out, that the brothers had sold Joseph into Egypt, for their father had been deceived all these years. But the knowledge that Joseph was living would for Jacob override the deception of his brothers. As well as for Joseph's reported words, Jacob was persuaded when he saw the wagons that had been sent by Joseph. His spirit revived and he said, “It is enough. Joseph my son is still alive. I will go to see him before I die” (vv. 27-28).
JACOB AND HIS FAMILY MOVE TO EGYPT (vv. 1-27)
Nothing is said of the great amount of preparation they must make for their journey, but Jacob is said to take the journey with all that he had, which of course included all his family. On his way he stopped at Beersheba (the well of the oath), which indicates his remembrance of the promise of God on which he was dependent. It is good to see him offering sacrifices there.
That night God spoke to him in a vision, a reminder of the dream God gave him at Bethel when he was going toward Haran (Gen. 28:10-15). But how different are the circumstances! His journey now is away from the land, and it might have been with some trepidation that Jacob was leaving the land of promise. However, He told him, “I am God, the God of your father,” and gave him the encouragement of knowing that God approved of his trip to Egypt at this time (vv. 2-3). In fact, He tells him that He will make of Jacob a great nation there in Egypt. This confirms God's word to Abram in Genesis 15:13, that Abram's seed would be a stranger in a foreign land, where, as servants, they would be afflicted 400 years.
God promises his own presence with Jacob, and that He would surely bring him back again. This return of course referred to Jacob's posterity, the nation Israel. For as to Jacob himself, Joseph would close his eyes, that is, in death, though he was buried in the land of Canaan. He would not personally experience the sufferings his children would.
From Beersheba therefore they all journey in the confidence of the promise of God. Wives and little ones and livestock and other property are all included in this large company traveling to change their dwelling place (vv. 5-7)
We are told now the names of all the household of Jacob, who came with him, indicating that our great God is interested in individuals, not only in nations or great companies. The total was 66 persons (v. 26), plus Joseph and his two sons. Jacob himself is the seventieth.
SETTLED IN A FOREIGN LAND (vv. 28-47:12)
Jacob sent Judah before him to direct the way to Goshen, and the family arrived there in due time. Then Joseph came by chariot to meet his father, whom he embraced, weeping for a long time. Israel's words to Joseph are wonderfully significant, “Now let me die, since I have seen your face, that you are still alive” (v. 30). Israel may die, for Joseph lives! This is the same principle of which John the Baptist speaks in John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When the Lord Jesus is given His place of supreme honor, Israel the nation will be content to be reduced to nothing. How good for us if we personally learn this lesson well, glad to see the flesh put in the place of death in order that Christ may be exalted.
Joseph then prepares his brothers and their households for their being presented before Pharaoh, telling them he will announce their coming to Pharaoh (v. 31) and will tell him they are shepherds, having brought their flocks and herds with them, so that Pharaoh would be prepared to grant them land that would not encroach on the lands of the Egyptians who had accustomed themselves to loathe shepherds. Joseph tells them to let Pharaoh know that they had been shepherds from their youth and of course desired to continue this in spite of the attitude of Egyptians toward shepherds (vv. 31-34). There is a spiritual lesson in this also. God expects His own people to have hearts as shepherds, to care for the needs of souls. The world (Egypt) not only ignores such shepherd care, but resents others who engage in it. In fact, too frequently even believers do not appreciate the pastoral care and concern that a godly saint seeks to show for them. For this reason we sadly neglect to engage in true shepherd work.
JACOB MEETING AND BLESSING PHARAOH (vv. 1-12)
In announcing to Pharaoh the coming of his father and his brothers, Joseph first introduces five of his brothers to him (vv. 1-2). We are not told which ones, but they were likely those who could speak on behalf of their other brothers. They answer Pharaoh's question as to their occupation by confirming Joseph's word that they were shepherds as their fathers were, and that they desired to sojourn in Egypt because there was no pasture available in Canaan on account of the famine. They therefore requested that they might be allowed to settle in the land of Goshen (vv. 3-4).
Rather than directly answering them, Pharaoh speaks to Joseph, reminding us that God gives all blessing through the Lord Jesus, the One in whom He finds great delight. Through Joseph therefore all they desire is freely granted to them, for Pharaoh tells Joseph they may have the best of the land (vv. 5-6). This was pure grace. But also, on the ground of capability, some could be given the position of being put in charge of Pharaoh's livestock. Since he knew Joseph, he expected that at least some of his brothers would be capable men.
Then Joseph presented his father Jacob to Pharaoh. Before Pharaoh speaks, however, we are told that Jacob blessed him. “Beyond all contradiction, the lesser is blessed of the better” (Heb. 7:7). But this is a picture of the coming day, when Gentiles will be blessed through Israel.
In answer to Pharaoh's question as to his age, Jacob speaks of his years as “few and evil,” not attaining to the age of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac (vv. 8-9). He had seen great trouble and sorrow during his 130 year pilgrimage, just as has been true of His descendants, the Jewish nation, who have suffered more affliction than any other nation over a period of centuries. Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh again before leaving him.
Joseph placed his father and his brothers in the best of the land, that is, Rameses in the land of Goshen, in the north and on the east side of the Nile River. This pictures the Lord Jesus restoring Israel to great blessing under subjection to His authority, for we are also told that he nourished them with food (vv. 11-12). How wonderful it will be to Israel in the millennium to be permanently settled and abundantly provided for! Of course the history here is only typical, for Israel soon after found itself in the bitter bondage of slavery to the Egyptians.
EGYPT BROUGHT INTO TOTAL SUBJECTION (vv. 13-26)
The famine was as serious as Joseph had predicted. Egypt and Canaan were both greatly affected. The people continued to buy food from Joseph as long as they had money (vv. 13-14). But when they had spent it all and still needed food, Joseph told them to bring their livestock to exchange for food. This arrangement continued for a year, and the people came to Joseph again telling him they had nothing left except their bodies and their lands. Now they request that Joseph should take their land and also make the people the property of Pharaoh. Are we not to learn from this that it is good for us to brought down to nothing?
The proposition of the people that they and their lands should belong to Pharaoh was agreeable to Joseph, and he removed the people into the cities (v. 20-21). The land of the priests was however exempt from this decree, since they were already supported by Pharaoh and nothing in this respect was altered (v. 22). Though these were not priests who had any ordination by God, they still picture the liberty that true believers in the Lord Jesus are given today. The people illustrate the sphere of government, while the priests speak of the sphere of the free operation of the Spirit of God in grace. As priests of God, all saints today are not under bondage, but full provision is made for them by grace.
Joseph was not a cruel dictator who was seeking his own wealth by impoverishing the people. Some have strangely criticized the plan that he carried into execution, but the people themselves appreciated it (v. 25). He had bought them and their land. Now he tells them he will give them seed to sow the land. For their labor they would receive four fifths of the crop. This arrangement would work remarkably well, only on condition that the rulers were fair-minded and considerate of the people, and that the people would act responsibly. How much better is this than our present day order of government (or disorder) with many thousands of people homeless and unemployed!
However, this strikingly pictures the coming rule of the Lord Jesus in His kingdom. As all the money of the Egyptians was gathered up by Joseph, so the Lord tells us in Haggai 2:8, “The silver and the gold are mine.” Just as the livestock also became the property of Joseph, so the Lord says, “Every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills” (Ps. 50:10). Also, as Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, so the Lord Jesus has by His sacrifice of Calvary bought “the field” (Matt. 13:44), that is, the world (Matt. 13:38), so that in the millennial age it will be declared, “the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1). More than this, Joseph bought the people themselves, and God tells us in Ezekiel 14:8, “All souls are mine.”
Our natural selfishness in considering that what we have is strictly our own has been through the years a terrible detriment to our own happiness. For nothing really belongs to us, as Israel will learn in a very practical way in the millennium. Let believers now remember that we are only stewards, put in charge of what belongs to our Lord, and responsible to give Him some return for all the goodness He shows to us. Only this attitude will give true happiness.
Just as the famine in Egypt resulted in the people becoming the property of Pharaoh, so the great famine of the tribulation period will result in Jews and Gentiles realizing they are really the property of the Lord Jesus, the King of kings. Because of their great trouble they will become more content and happy than they have ever been before, just as the people of Egypt all found blessing through the wisdom and kindness of Joseph. Joseph's administration would make for more equality among the people, with all having at least sufficient for their needs. Present day governments certainly have no reputation like this! Tremendous numbers are suffering to the starvation point, while the number of billionaires in the world increases amazingly. The people of Egypt said they were willing to be Joseph's slaves (v. 25), but Joseph did not treat them like mere slaves.
ISRAEL STILL A DISTINCT PEOPLE (vv. 27-31)
Jacob's family was evidently not put under the same bondage as the Egyptians at this time. Pharaoh had given them land and Joseph had supplied their sustenance (vv. 11-12). They grew and multiplied greatly, not becoming assimilated into the Egyptian culture, but maintaining their identity as the children of Israel.
Jacob remained there until his death seventeen years after his arrival in Egypt. Thus his age at death was 147 years, not as long as were the ages of Abraham (175) or Isaac (180), but longer than Joseph (110). See Genesis 25:7; Genesis 35:28; and Genesis 50:26.
As Jacob knew he was nearing his end, he called for Joseph and asked him to put his hand under his thigh, evidently a symbol of his willingness to do as his father desired of him (v. 29). Jacob wants to be sure that he is not buried in Egypt, but in the burial place of his fathers in Canaan. This was the land of promise, the land God had sworn to give to the seed of Abraham (Gen. 15:7), confirming it to Isaac (Gen. 26:3) and also to Jacob himself (Gen. 28:13). Jacob and his children are not to forget their homeland. Joseph willingly agrees to bury his father in Canaan, and at Jacob's request confirms this with an oath ( v. 31). “Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.” How good it is, after a long checkered life of learning the hard way, to see this aged child of God subdued in lowly worship before the Lord of glory!
ISRAEL'S BLESSING FOR JOSEPH AND HIS SONS (1-22)
A little later Joseph was told that his father was sick, so he brought his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim to visit him. Jacob strengthened himself to sit on the bed. Then Jacob speaks to Joseph of God's first recorded appearance to him (Gen. 28:11-15) at Luz (or Bethel) in Canaan, giving him His special blessing, promising to multiply him into a multitude of people and to give that land to his descendants for an everlasting possession (vv. 3-4). Jacob was therefore not interested in any other land on earth. Though he would himself be in heaven and have no part of the earthly inheritance, he was deeply concerned about the welfare of his descendants, and Joseph too had the same concern.
Now Jacob claims the two sons of Joseph as his own, calling them Ephraim and Manasseh rather than Manasseh and Ephraim in order of their birth (v. 5). This was not just a whim of Jacob's old age, but history has proved it to be an important matter. Jacob had 12 sons at the time, the exact number of administrative completeness. Why should he give Joseph an extra place among the tribes by naming them after his two sons? The wisdom of God was in this, for later we find that Levi was given no distinctive inheritance among the tribes (Num. 1:47-53) because that tribe was separated in order to do the service of God in the tabernacle and among all the tribes. Thus the 12 tribes were each given their distinct inheritance in the land of Canaan, while the Levites were dispersed among the tribes.
However, any sons that Joseph might have afterward would be considered connected with either Ephraim or Manasseh (v. 6).
Verse 7 is the only expression we hear from Jacob's lips as to the death of his favored wife, Rachel. The depths to which his heart was affected is not at all dwelt upon, but though he so restrained his feelings, the memory of it was still real and poignant as he tells Joseph of the exact location of her death and the place of her burial. These were things he would not forget.
By this time Jacob's eyesight had failed, so he did not recognize Ephraim and Manasseh (vv. 8-10), but when Joseph brought them near, Jacob kissed and embraced them, telling Joseph he had not expected to see him again, but that now God had allowed him to see Joseph's sons.
To receive the blessing of Jacob, Manasseh was presented by Joseph on Jacob's right hand side and Ephraim on his left (v. 13), but Jacob crossed his arms, putting his right hand on Ephraim's head and his left on Manasseh's head (v. 14). Verses 15-16 tell us that he blessed Joseph, then invoked the blessing of the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac upon both Ephraim and Manasseh, speaking of God as the One who had fed him all his life. Consistently with his claiming them as his own sons, he asks that his name would be upon them, and the names of Abraham and Isaac, stressing the continuity of the blessing of God upon that family. Also, he says, “may they grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” This is clearly earthly blessing, not having anything to do with heaven.
Joseph was not pleased that Jacob had placed his right hand on Ephraim's head and took hold of his hand to change it to the head of Manasseh, telling him that since Manasseh was firstborn, Jacob should put his right hand on his head. But Jacob firmly refused, for he knew well what he was doing. It is natural to think that the firstborn should have the prime honor, but God often reverses such things. Adam had the place of the firstborn in creation, but Christ has rightly taken the place of having all the rights of the firstborn (Col. 1:15-16). Jacob too no doubt remembered that Esau was set aside so that Jacob would take first place (Gen. 25:23).
Another important feature of this is evident in the meaning of the names of these brothers. Manasseh means “forgetting” and Ephraim means “fruitful,” because Joseph was caused to forget the natural blessings of his father's house, then became fruitful in Egypt. But forgetting is negative: fruitfulness is positive, and the positive must take the first place. Jacob says that Manasseh would become great, but Ephraim would be greater than he (v. 19). Both are blessed (v. 20), but Ephraim is set before Manasseh.
Jacob then calmly speaks of his death, but assures Joseph that God would be with him and bring him again into the land of promise. This referred, not to Joseph personally (except for his bones), but to Joseph's family. He reminds Joseph again that he had given him a portion double to that of his brothers, speaking of taking it by conquest from the Amorites, the enemies within the land of Canaan, though we are given no record of such warfare. But the sufferer, Joseph, is well repaid for all the affliction he had seen.
JACOB'S PROPHECY AS TO THE TWELVE TRIBES (vv. 1-28)
After a life of many failures and troubles, the last days of Jacob stand our in bright relief. His perception of God's ways became much more clear and commendable as he neared the end of his life. Now at the age of 147 he called for all his sons in order to tell them their future that would reach much further than any of them personally would experience, but applies to each tribe, going on to “the last days” (v. 1). For each tribe borrows its character from the character of its head. His failing eyesight did not deceive Jacob, as did that of his father Isaac (Gen. 27:1-25).
REUBEN (vv. 3-4)
Reuben was Jacob's firstborn, portraying Jacob's might and strength, preeminent in dignity and power. But by his glaring failure in self-discipline he forfeited all title to the rights of the firstborn. He stands for the boasted strength of man in the flesh, which eventually (as in the case of King Saul) turns out to be pathetic weakness. The tribe of Reuben then symbolizes Israel's first coming as a nation into the land of Canaan, but very soon forfeiting all title to that land by the corruption of the flesh. As Reuben defiled Jacob's property, so the nation Israel has defiled God's property. This is the history of natural humanity in all ages. The flesh is as unstable and uncontrolled as the water of the seas.
SIMEON AND LEVI (vv. 5-7)
These two brothers are considered together, and united in cruelty and violence. Nothing favorable is said about them at all, and Jacob desired not to have any identification with them in their rampage of murder because of their bitter anger. He refers to their slaughter of all the men in the city of Hamor and Shechem (Gen. 34:25-26). A prophetic sentence is then passed, “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel.” Their unity in evil would result in division even among the tribes.
Jacob's words here are prophetic of the condition of Israel from the time of the Judges until David. After being established in the land by Joshua, it was not long until the nation began to depart from the living God, practically with one accord giving themselves up to idol worship and the gross moral abuses that this involved. Though God delivered them a number of times, they reverted back again to the same low level. Later, when Saul became king, the condition of Israel did not improve, and Saul himself was guilty of glaring murder, even of the priests of God (1 Sam. 22:11-19), and of plotting the murder of David. Under these conditions the people were constantly in discord, divided and scattered.
JUDAH (vv. 8-12)
The prophecy as to Judah is in great contrast to that as to Simeon and Levi, for all is favorable. Though Judah had been guilty of very serious wrong too, his deeply felt repentance evident in Genesis 44:18-34 was such that God was free to bless him greatly. His brothers would praise him (Judah means “praise”). He would subjugate his enemies. His father's children would bow to his authority. He is likened to a lion, the king of beasts, feeding on the spoils of his conquest. The scepter of kingly authority would not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver, until the coming of Shiloh, the Lord Jesus. To Him (Shiloh) would be the obedience of the people.
Verse 11 however intimates His lowly character of identifying Himself with the godly in Israel. For a king was not expected to ride a donkey, but a horse, yet the Lord Jesus is prophesied of in Zechariah 9:9 as coming to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, and the Gospels give the history of this (Matt. 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:35-38). But the vine and the “blood of the grapes” in which He washes His clothes is typical of the voluntary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on Calvary. His eyes red with wine are a contrast to “His eyes like a flame of fire” in Revelation 1:14, where He is presented as judging in righteousness. In Genesis 49:12 He is seen in grace, for also His teeth are white with milk, which speaks of gentle nourishment of the Word of God, a contrast to the sharp sword going out of His mouth (Rev. 1:16), which also refers to the Word of God, but in terrible judgment.
The prophecy concerning Judah then denotes Israel's history from David until the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus. David was of the house of Judah, a “man after God's heart,” not because he was without sin, but because he had a character that confessed and judged his sin (as did Judah). He was a type of Christ the King of Israel, and this prophecy therefore goes right on to the time of Christ's coming in grace and His sacrifice. So far as the flesh is concerned, Judah himself was the same as his brothers, Simeon and Levi. It is not because he was better than they that his prophecy is favorable, but rather, their history signifies the ruin of Israel under law, while God makes Judah typical of the answer to Israel's sin, that is, the coming and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.
ZEBULON (v. 13)
Zebulon was Leah's sixth son, and for some reason is mentioned before Issachar, her fifth son. He would dwell at the seashore, which indicates the time of Israel's being dispersed among the Gentiles, as they have been since their rejection of Christ, for the sea is a type of the Gentile nations, and being a haven for ships implies Israel's trade and commerce with the Gentiles.
ISSACHAR (vv. 14-15)
Issachar is said to be a donkey lying down between two burdens, becoming content to be a slave. Thus, when Israel has been mixed up with Gentiles, she has become a virtual slave to them rather than having Gentiles subservient to her. This condition of things continues through “the times of the Gentiles,” so will not change until the time of the great tribulation.
DAN (vv. 16-18)
Dan was the first son of Rachel's maid Bilhah. “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.” Prophetically this brings us to the time when self-government is resumed in Israel. To some degree this has been true since 1948. But it is added that “Dan shall be a serpent by the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse's heels so that its rider shall fall backward” (v. 17). This prophecy specifically refers to the tribulation period when satanic activity rises to a dreadful height in the proud, deceitful reign of the antichrist in Israel. When we compare this verse with Revelation 7, it seems likely the antichrist will come from the tribe of Dan, for in Revelation 7 Dan is omitted from the 144,000. Well may Jacob add here, “I have waited for Your salvation, O Lord!” Yet even though Dan is missing from the 144,000 sealed in Revelation 7, he will have his place in the blessing of the millennium, for it is plainly declared that he will judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel.
GAD (v. 19)
Gad was the first son of Zilpah, Leah's maid. His name means “a troop,” and this name is used in the prophecy that a troop (armies of enemy nations) would trample Gad (representing Israel) underfoot, as will be fulfilled in the tribulation period, but that Gad will in the end overcome the troop. God will give Israel the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
ASHER (v. 20)
Asher was Zilpah's second son, his name meaning “happy.” The prophecy concerning him implies the rich provision that God will make for the nation Israel, even “royal dainties,” when they are restored to their land in the millennium, a wonderful contrast to their years of deprivation and desolation!
NAPHTALI (v. 21)
Naphtali was the second son of Bilhah, and is here called “a deer let loose; he uses beautiful words.” This describes another side of Israel's blessing in the coming kingdom. After being restrained in bondage for centuries, she will be like a deer let loose in the open to enjoy the liberty she has forgotten was ever possible. This freedom too will bring beautiful words to her lips. Instead of bitter cursing, her mouth will be filled with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. In the Church of God today we are already blessed with such experience, as Ephesians 4:8 tells us, “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” The marvelous death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus has set believers free from a state of captivity; and to express that liberty we are given gifts from God to speak “beautiful words,” words that could never have been spoken before the Lord Jesus died and rose again.
JOSEPH (vv. 22-26)
The two sons of Rachel are left for the last consideration, though they are actually first in importance. For they are both types of the Lord Jesus. Joseph speaks of Christ as the One through whom all blessing in the Millennium will be secured both for Israel and the nations. He is a fruitful bough by a well, drawing refreshment from the well of the Word of God, and his branches running over the wall, the wall of separation between Israel and the Gentiles. His branches run over for the blessing of Gentiles.
This fruitfulness was not hindered by the fiercest opposition that the enemy could mount against Him. Joseph in his many afflictions remained firm and decided in his stand for God, in this way being a lovely type of Christ, who suffered far more than Joseph, His hands being made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob. To press this typical character more fully, it is said in verse 24, “From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel.” As the Shepherd Christ is the example of faithful, tender care. As the Stone He is the solid basis of all blessing.
Verses 25-26 indicate the widespread fullness of the blessing of the Almighty resting upon the Lord Jesus. There are blessings of heaven above, implying, though only faintly, that He would have a heavenly company, as in fact He does today, “blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). “Blessings of the deep that lies beneath” implies the blessing of Gentile nations through the Messiah of Israel (Rev. 17:15). The heavens speak of that which is above Israel, and the deep that which is in a lower place, as Gentiles will rightly be.
As to Israel, the Lord will share with her “blessings of the breasts and of the womb. The blessings of your father have excelled the blessing of my ancestors, up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” The breasts speak of nourishment, and the womb, of fruitfulness, thus showing that the land will produce abundantly. Israel's blessing in Christ will excel the blessings of Jacob's ancestors, Abraham and Isaac, with widespread earthly blessing, “to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” This completes the three spheres of the great blessing connected with the Messiah, the heavens, the deep, and the hills of earth.
All are on the head of Joseph, the one who was separated from his brothers, typical of Christ, blessed after suffering. All blessing then in the coming day will be seen to depend on the One who has suffered total rejection and the ignominious death of the cross, but who has been raised from among the dead and exalted above all heavens.
BENJAMIN (v. 27)
In contrast to Joseph, only one short verse is devoted to Benjamin. He speaks of Christ also, not as the Sufferer, but as “the Man of God's right hand,” who will, as a wolf, strike fear into the heart of His enemies, judging in perfect righteousness all who rebel against divine authority. This will be seen in the judgments of the tribulation and also at the Great White Throne, where at last every enemy will be fully put under His feet. He will gain “the spoil” also, and divide it among believers. In other words, there will be results in blessing for Him and for believers because evil has finally received its just judgment.
Verse 28 concludes the subject of Israel's blessing each of the tribes. It may not sound as though Simeon and Levi were blessed (vv. 5-7), but the honest exposure of their sin is in itself a blessing if they would simply accept it in a spirit of self-judgment.
THE DEATH OF JACOB (vv. 29-33)
Jacob, maintaining full possession of his senses to the end, calmly gives instructions to his sons to bury him with his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, in the cave of Machpelah that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite (Gen. 23:16-20). Jacob was thus indicating that he had the same faith as his fathers in the resurrection power of God. He mentions that Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah and Leah had been buried there. Also, he reminds his sons that the purchase of the cave and the field had been made from the children of Heth, which means “fear.” Those unsaved are the children of fear, who, through fear of death, are all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:15).
The evidence of Jacob's being at this time led by the Spirit of God is beautiful. All seems to be ordered with calm deliberation, every necessary thing attended to in perfect time, so that his death was the expected culmination of all. How different was this than the disorder of much of his earlier life!
JACOB'S BURIAL (vv. 1-14)
The sorrow of Joseph over his father's death is seen in verse 1. It is an interesting study to consider the times in which Joseph is recorded as weeping. In contrast to burial, as in other countries, Joseph gives orders to the physicians to embalm his father. This required forty days, and he was mourned for 70 days (v. 3). Much later than this, Egyptian history records that 30 days were required for embalming and 72 days of mourning were held for a king, which are not significant changes, but the implication is evident that someone did not invent this story later in history, for he would have given the figures he was acquainted with.
Joseph then gained a favorable response from Pharaoh as to burying his father's body in Canaan, as he had sworn to Jacob (vv. 4-6). This called for a tremendous sized funeral procession all the way from Egypt to Canaan, including all the elders of the house of Pharaoh and the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as Joseph's brothers and families except for their little ones (vv. 7-8). Not only this, but chariots and horsemen accompanied them (v. 9). There was nothing like this at the funerals of Abraham or Isaac, but here God is showing to us the sovereignty of His great power and grace in producing sympathy among the Gentiles for His people Israel. Though Israel's immediate father dies, his descendants remain, God giving them favor among the Gentiles.
Coming to the threshing floor of Atad, the company mourned deeply for seven days (v. 10). On the threshing floor the chaff is separated from the grain. It speaks of blessing resulting from suffering, a picture of the nation Israel being eventually blessed through the tribulation (the threshing).
The Canaanites inhabiting the land were so impressed by this sight that they named the place Abel-mizraim, meaning, “the mourning of the Egyptians” (v. 11). Because Joseph had saved Egypt, the Egyptians recognized that salvation came from Israel (John 4:22), and therefore Gentiles have every reason to show deep respect for Israel. We today (Christians) must never forget that our Savior came from Israel.
The sons of Jacob then buried him in the place he had designated (v. 13), which we have seen implies Jacob's faith in a God of resurrection. Then Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt.
JOSEPH'S CHARACTER REMAINS CONSTANT (vv. 15-21)
When their father had died, the brothers of Joseph were fearful that Joseph's attitude toward them would change to one of hostility in recalling the way they had treated him (v. 15). But it was not his father's mediatorship that caused Joseph to show kindness to them for their ill treatment. It was rather his relationship to God that moved him. He had shown the kindness of God to them, just as the Lord Jesus, in a higher way, has manifested the love and grace of God to sinners who had rebelled against Him. More than that, Joseph's words to them had only been good (Gen. 45:4-8). Could they not simply trust his word? Sometimes those who have trusted the Lord Jesus have lingering fears as to whether they might yet possibly be lost. Why is this? Because they do not take simply at face value the truth of His word, such as John 5:24.
The brothers send a message to Joseph telling him that their father had told them to request Joseph that he would forgive the trespass and sin of his brothers. Joseph was so deeply moved by this that he wept (v. 17). Why? Because he was saddened to think that his brothers were doubting his faithfulness. How much more is the Lord Jesus saddened by our doubts of the fullness of His forgiveness! But the brothers even humble themselves to the point of coming to bow down to Joseph and tell Him they are his slaves (v. 18).
Joseph's reply is beautiful: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” (v. 19). Joseph would not think of judging his own case, for only God is Judge. Also, in spite of his exaltation in Egypt, he faithfully maintained his relationship as brother to all Jacob's sons. He did not excuse their evil thoughts against him (v. 20), but insisted that God had used their evil to produce great good in saving many people from death. So also, the Jewish leaders in Israel meant only to do harm to the Lord Jesus in crucifying Him, but they actually fulfilled God's great counsels of love toward mankind in the accomplishing of a perfect redemption. Many have been saved by this from eternal destruction, though others, sadly, have maintained cold hatred against the Lord, and can only expect judgment.
For those who have repented there is not only the fullest forgiveness, but a provision of great blessing, together with words of kindness and comfort, as is seen in Joseph's assurance of blessing for his brothers (v. 21). He desired simply that they should trust him and believe his word. This is what the Lord Jesus desires of us.
THE DEATH OF JOSEPH (vv. 24-26)
Joseph remained in Egypt till his death at 110 years of age, far beyond the end of the famine. Before his death he became a great, great grandfather of Ephraim's descendants and also of those of Manasseh (v. 23). But his years in Egypt did not change his attitude as regards the promise of God. He still had his heart set on the land of Canaan, as has been the case with Jacob's descendants for centuries, though dispersed throughout the whole world. Though personally Joseph would not enjoy the land, yet he fully desired that the nation Israel would do so, as was true of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Therefore Joseph, calmly speaking of his death, commanded that the children of Israel should carry his bones to Canaan for burial when God had fulfilled His promise that He would bring them back to the land. When he died, his remains were embalmed and put in a coffin in Egypt (v. 26). There they remained for centuries till being brought out with Moses in the Exodus (Ex. 13:19), and finally buried along with the remains of his fathers in Shechem (Joshua 24:32).
This vitally interesting book of Genesis, the book of life and of origins, ends in great contrast to its beginning — “in a coffin in Egypt.” For it is only the beginning of God's revelation. How much more wonderful and beautiful is the last word from God in the book of Revelation, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”
L. M. Grant.