Jacob's Four Pillars
- The Pillar of Fleshly Self-Confidence
- The Pillar of the Knowledge of the Untrustworthiness of the Flesh
- The Pillar of Confidence in a Living God
- The Pillar of the Giving up of Every Earthly Hope
In the Old Testament God is four times called "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob". In the New Testament His characteristic name is revealed as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". No doubt this Old Testament name shows us that God was seeking to reveal Himself in some measure at least as a Trinity; Abraham is a type of God the Father, Isaac a type of the Lord Jesus, the Son, and in Jacob we see the working of the Spirit of God.
Jacob himself is not a type of the Spirit of God, nevertheless he is typical of the Spirit's working in the people of God. I believe this is the reason God is called the God of Abraham, and of Isaac and of Jacob. He has a threefold character in nature and we see this beautifully portrayed in these three men. In the case of Jacob there was the working of the Spirit of God in bringing him from the place of distance back into the presence of God. Jacob voluntarily left the place of blessing but God did not finish dealing with him until He had brought him back to the place that He intended him to have.
Thank God this is true in regard to every child of God as well as in regard to the nation of Israel. In this respect Jacob is a very striking type being the immediate father of all Israel, so that the end of his history will be beautifully seen in Israel being restored in the land and blessed with every natural blessing in earthly places. Now, however, there are four rather striking milestones in the history of Jacob in the four pillars that he set up and I would like to consider each of these.
Jacob's First Pillar : The Pillar of Fleshly Self-Confidence
"And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan..... And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Padan-Aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebecca, Jacob's and Esau's mother..... And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went towards Haran. And he lighted on a certain place, and lodged there, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of the place, and made it his pillow, and lay down in that place. And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to the heavens. And behold, angels of God ascended and descended upon it. And behold, Jehovah stood above it. And he said, I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land on which thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places to which thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done what I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awoke from his sleep, and said, Surely Jehovah is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had made his pillow, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el; but the name of that city was Luz at the first. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and keep me on this road that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and a garment to put on, and I come again to my father's house in peace - then shall Jehovah be my God. And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that thou wilt give me I will without fail give the tenth to thee."
At this time Jacob was not in a good state of soul, he was going out from the presence of the Lord, from the place where God had promised blessing because his mother was afraid for his life and because his father told him to go elsewhere to get a wife.
Esau had taken a daughter of the land and they did not want the same thing to happen to Jacob (26:34-35). When Jacob was sent to get a wife from Padan-aram among his relatives Esau went and got another wife from the daughters of Ishmael (28:9), he no doubt thought, 'My parents do not want wives of Canaanites so I will get a daughter of Ishmael, she is, after all, a daughter of Abraham". Abraham was the father of Ishmael, and he thought that in this way he was going to please his parents; but this is the way of the flesh. In Esau we find that kind of nature which likes to please men in a certain way, but he wanted to please himself first; that is the way of the flesh, there is no thought of God.
Some people have said that Esau was a better person than Jacob but I do not believe that is correct. God does not expose everything about Esau that He might have, but He does expose the inconsistencies and wrongs of His own people, He does that for us and He does that to show us the flesh in ourselves (and we can be very thankful for that). He does not have to expose the wrongs of others, although, even Esau had absolutely no right to expect the blessing from his father as he had sold his birthright to Jacob. It is true enough that Jacob was wrong in the way he got the blessing and his mother was wrong too.
Other people make the mistake of justifying Jacob because God said, "Jacob have I loved" (Mal.1:2), saying God does not love a schemer. Jacob was wrong in deceiving his father. Jacob himself knew he was wrong. When he went out he went out with a bad conscience. When eventually he came back to meet Esau how did he feel? Well he knew that he had done wrong because he fell to the ground before Esau seven times and six times called him "My lord" (33:3,8,13,14(x2),15). He was afraid of his brother, this deception bothered him from that very time until he met Esau again, nevertheless Esau was one who despised the birthright, and Jacob was one who valued it. Here I think is a very important principle, the child of God values what God has to give, Jacob valued it even though he used a wrong method to get it. This is characteristic of a child of God, to take what God freely gives, this being the source of all power all joy and all blessing. In other words, we must accept, as a gift by grace, that which God bestows. This is true of every spiritual blessing on the part of the believer, he has "every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph.1:3), we have only to take them and use them. As regards material blessings, the Lord sees fit to give them to us or to withhold them from us according to His divine wisdom in the way in which He sees it will work for our greatest good whether it be physical health or whatever it may be.
Jacob went out from Beer-sheba towards Haran. The meanings of these place names are very important. Beer-sheba means 'the well of the oath' and Haran means 'mountaineer'. We have a picture of Israel going out from the presence of God, from the promise of God's blessing (that is the 'well of God's oath'), and going to sojourn in the mountain, the mountain of law-keeping. This is the case with every true believer who gets away from the Lord who loves to have His own near Himself. When a person gets away he firstly gets taken up with law-keeping, he may know enough to realise that the ten commandments are not the rule of life and yet at the same time he will take the same attitude, he will take a legal attitude in regard to his entire life. The further a person gets from the Lord the more legal he becomes, as a matter of fact, and seeks to justify himself, this was true of Jacob throughout his history, and it is true also of the nation of Israel. God blessed Israel at the beginning, He said "I have borne you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself" (Ex.19:4).
The grace of God had brought Israel out of the land of Egypt. Now, if grace had done this, would it not have been wise of them to depend entirely upon His grace and say, 'Lord, we will just depend upon you entirely for everything'? Israel did not have that kind of attitude any more than Jacob did here. Jacob said, "If God will be with me.... look at the things I will do, I will give a tenth of everything to God". He promised that he would please God but a promise like this meant nothing to Him.
Israel took the same position when they said, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex.19:8). God proposed giving them the law and they, even before God told them what the law would be, said they would keep it (Ex.24:3), then when Moses read them the law they said the same thing, "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Ex.24:7). Afterwards Moses wrote in a book and again they said the same, that they would keep the law. The fact is that they did not know what their own hearts were and so they had to learn this by experience; this was true in all the history of Jacob, he had to learn that he himself was unable to deserve the blessing that God had promised. To Abraham God had given unconditional blessing or promise, He had said, "in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Gen.22:17). God promised this unconditionally to Abraham.
Thank God He reiterates this also in the case of Jacob, that that blessing would stand. This is what was involved with 'the well of the oath'. Now, instead of standing absolutely upon the truth of God's word, receiving the blessings God has to give and thanking Him for them, how easily we can say, 'Well, maybe I ought to help God to do what He wants to do', I may have an idea of God's counsels and decide to help Him out. We see this continually in Scripture. God told Abraham he would have a son and when he and his wife saw that they were old they decided to help the Lord out (Gen.16).
Is it not often so with us also, we want to help God out in regard to what He does. We see this also with Jacob when he obtained the blessing that Isaac had determined to give to Esau. Rebekah was in a panic and no doubt Jacob was too. What would have happened if they had not done what they did? They had to do something in a hurry. God had promised Rebekah that "the older shall serve the younger" (Gen.25:23) and besides this Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob, so what were they to do to get the blessing which Esau was right at the point of getting? Well we do not know what would have happened if they had not acted as they did. Would anything have happened? Yes, of course something would have happened. If Rebekah had simply gone to the Lord and told Him that He had promised that the elder should serve the younger and left the whole matter to the Lord He would have taken care of it in just the way He saw fit, He would have worked a miracle, but instead, we see how they decided they needed to help the Lord out and while they did not change God's counsels one bit they gave themselves bad consciences. That is the way it is with far too many things with us, I am sure. How good for us to let the Lord do His own work and to be found in prayer dependent upon God.
Jacob, on the way to Haran, stopped at "a certain place" and took one of the stones there for his pillow and lay down to sleep. I do not suppose he was too comfortable lying on a stone, and I think this is symbolic of the fact that he was uncomfortable, he did not have an easy conscience. The stone speaks to us of the law. A number of times in Jacob's history we see something that reminds us of the hard and cold tables of stone upon which the commandments were written. That is not exactly the kind of pillow that you want but it contrasts with that of John the apostle. John had for a pillow Jesus' bosom (John 13:23); what a difference! The Lord delights to have real, true communion with His disciples, He longs for this, but when one gets away we see from Jacob's history what happens.
"The sun had set". The Lord appeared to Jacob in the dark after the sun was set. This is quite different from the Lord's appearance to Abraham in the heat of the day as he sat in his tent door (Gen.18:1) where everything was clear and bright and Abraham ran to meet the Lord. There was then a remarkable picture of communion, with the heart enjoying the Lord's presence. I suppose in "the heat of the day" we have the thought of afflictions, trials and pressures, yet the heart of Abraham was still ready to welcome the Lord, but if the Lord had appeared to Jacob in the heat of the day what would he have done? If Jacob had seen the Lord coming he would have run away. I do not think Jacob would have stayed the night in that place if he had known what was going to happen. Notice what he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not how dreadful is this place"! That is characteristic of a soul who is out of communion with God, and yet how wonderful to see the grace of God in dealing with that man.
Jacob's dream looks forward to the millennium when restored communion is going to be known between earth and heaven, the ladder being set up on the earth the top of which reaches to heaven, in other words, peace is established on earth, the angels of God ascend and descend upon this ladder. How the heart longs for this. Look at the world today in the awful state of confusion it is in with no knowledge of God, no word from God to meet the deep need of man in all his misery and ruin. Many centuries have passed in which God has been completely silent, but what a day is soon to come when communication between heaven and earth is again to be perfectly established. God is looking forward to this, His heart longs for the day when Israel will be in proper communion with Him and when all the earth will break forth in singing, but to Jacob it is only a dream, with the Lord standing above the ladder.
In all that God had to say to Jacob how marvellous that everything that He spoke of was the way in which He was going to bless him; there was not one word of reproach to Jacob. This is one reason that some say that Jacob had done no wrong because if he had God would have reproved him. But is it always true that God reproves men when they have done wrong? No, it is not. In Scripture there were many cases where men had done wrong and were not reproved by God. Abraham definitely did wrong in the way that he denied that he was the husband of Sarai saying that she was just his sister (Gen.20:2) and God plagued Abimelech's house for his taking of Sarah into his household. God did not reprove Abraham, Abimelech did and I think that hurt Abraham more than if God had because Abimelech was an unbeliever.
Jacob knew perfectly well that he was wrong, he knew he did not deserve such a blessing as this. Is not this true of all of us, that we know perfectly well that such blessings are not deserved by us. Yet God still said that this blessing was going to be Jacob's, "the land on which thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed". There ought to have been a lesson right there at that moment for Jacob. God did not say 'the land to which you are going to', but rather, 'the land right here is the land you are going to get'. That made Jacob a little uncomfortable because he was leaving it, he did not intend to stay. No doubt he was uncomfortable about this, but nevertheless God simply told him the facts of what He was giving him, the greatness of the blessing.
"thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth".
Here it is the earthly scene that He was speaking of in connection with Jacob. God also spoke of the stars of heaven in connection with Abraham (Gen.15:5, 22:17) and Isaac (Gen.26:4) and this speaks of the heavenly scene, but with Jacob, being a type of the nation of Israel, it was the dust of the earth that was spoken of, and he was to "spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places to which thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done what I have spoken to thee of".
How grand a word this is. Even though Jacob was not walking in a proper course (and he knew it), the Lord said, "I am with you". Can the Lord go with a believer on a wrong course? Well, He did not say He approved of Jacob's course, yet in spite of this the Lord said "I am with you"; and the Lord certainly was with Jacob. Jacob acted wrongly on far too many occasions later on in the way he acted towards Laban, but the Lord blessed Jacob in spite of this. God had promised him this and He did it. We may ask the question, 'Would God have blessed him so greatly if he had not used his own means to get more wealth?' Well, he used some pretty deceitful means in his dealings with Laban to get more flocks and herds but he did not have to do that because God had promised He would bless him before that; all Jacob had to do was trust God for it.
"I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places to which thou goest".
Is that not grand in relation also to the history of the people of Israel? Has He not been with that nation in whatever places they have gone, and yet they have suffered terribly. Can we say that God is still with them? Yes we can. God has allowed them to suffer because of their disobedience, and we will too if we get away from God. Jacob was not in a good conscience and the Lord kept on troubling him. Whichever way he turned so long as he was doing his own will he got into trouble. The Lord was dealing with Jacob. God did not have to say much here, the fact of His pure grace was enough to strike into the heart and conscience of Jacob. If we knew something more of the grace of God we would use it a great deal more effectively than we do, but divine grace was working here for the sake of the blessing of that man, God intended to bring him back again.
After having all this, Jacob appreciated deeply what God promised although there was still on Jacob's part a good deal of clinging to his self-righteousness. He never did see his mother again after this. By the time he got back he was ninety-five years of age so that his mother had died although his father was still living. All these things had a very great bearing on him. Jacob had a sad life in many respects so that at the end he could say, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained unto the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage" (Gen.47:9). That is what he felt like, and I am sure we can find a remarkable kinship in our own lives with that of Jacob. All this certainly shows us that Jacob depended upon divine grace and grace would bring him back.
Waking from sleep Jacob said,
"Surely Jehovah is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven".
No doubt it is good for us to have a true reverence for the name of God but there would not be any reason for him to be in fear or terror if he had been walking in any true measure of communion with the Lord. The Lord's presence should bring two things to the heart of the believer, firstly, the fact of God's divine truth, majesty, glory and dignity should subdue the heart before Him, and there should also be the deepest delight and joy in being in His presence. However, though Jacob had the fear of God before his eyes, there was no freedom and communion. He was afraid.
God met Jacob there and that is the reason he called it Beth-el, 'the house of God' and in so doing he recognised a very important principle in God's divine ways. He raised a pillar up and called it God's house, but still he kept on going the wrong way. I suppose there are a great many people who have some respect for God's house and yet they do not have any intention of submitting to the order of God's house, but the fact remains that every true believer, everyone redeemed by the blood of Christ, is of God's own household. It was a long time before Jacob eventually was brought back to God's house. On the spot where Jacob raised the pillar there was a wilderness but it was where God was. That is the important thing in reference to God's house, it is where God Himself is. For a long time after this Jacob was busy occupying himself in providing for his own house, it was his own things that counted more than anything else and God had to deal with Jacob until he eventually got back to God's house.
The Philippians were told about Timothy, "For I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's" (2:20-21). Perhaps this is not common with us, but here was one man, Timothy, who would care for their state. In the book of Haggai God had to rebuke the nation of Israel because every man went to their own house and the house of God was left desolate (Hag.1:4). In reference to the house of God the principles involved here have to do with all that is God's order in relation to His divine interests. God's interests are the most important. We have to ask ourselves, do we put our personal interests or God's interests first? Bethel was named Luz at the first. Luz means 'separation', and Bethel, 'house of God'; the house of God is always in separation from everything else, nothing that is of the world has any place in the house of God. At this time Jacob's interests were of far more importance to him than God's interests, and so he set up the pillar poured oil on top of it and left God's house. This was a milestone in the history of Jacob; he made a vow on this occasion:
"If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God, and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee".
This vow is astounding. God had clearly promised to Jacob that He would be with him. Is not this what Israel has done, saying, 'If God will keep His side of the covenant surely we will keep ours'. In fact Jacob was more emphatic than God was! He said "I will surely give a tenth to thee". This is quite a bargain, 'If God gives me a thousand dollars I will give him one hundred'! Is not this the attitude of the flesh, as though you or I could ever deserve anything from God? This is the principle in regard to Israel, God had promised them blessing for eternity, in the land no doubt, but then Israel said, 'We will show God that we are able to deserve this'. This is the attitude of the flesh, God gives me blessings and they are so marvellous I turn around and say, 'I will show You just how I deserve them', instead of bowing my heart and acknowledging that I do not deserve anything, and then accepting them thankfully from the hand of God. Divine grace is simply that principle by which we accept the blessing and take no credit for it, but rather gives God the entire glory. Oh, how long it takes man to learn this lesson! How long it has taken for Israel, going about to establish their own righteousness and not submitting to the righteousness of God.
The lesson is hard to learn simply because man has confidence in the flesh. This first pillar is a pillar of fleshly self-confidence, and that is the very same principle we see in Peter. The Lord told him he would deny Him, but Peter thought that he loved Him too much for that and so he said that even if all the others denied Him he would not; he was self-confident. Again, in regard to Israel, when they failed and had been brought back to God they made further covenants but every time they made one they broke it. Such thoughts are hopeless. Just as men today should realise that it is hopeless to try to improve the condition of the world yet they do not, they are still trying hard to improve the conditions, but wherever they work to improve them another condition arises worse than the one before. The whole world is beyond such help, that is, man after the flesh, in whatever way, thinks he can improve himself and that he deserves the blessing of God.
Jacob had to endure all those years of pain for him to learn that it was no use trusting his own fleshly energy, (and he was an energetic man, a man of strength, he put everything he had into it). He found out that all power comes from God, and that God alone was going to have the glory for accomplishing everything. How good it is for us to recognise this. In the end God will have the glory even if it is at the expense of man's pride.
Jacob's Second Pillar : The Pillar of the Knowledge of the Untrustworthiness of the Flesh
"And Jacob continued his journey, and went into the land of the children of the east...... ...... And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be? And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her...... And Jacob saw the countenance of Laban, and behold, it was not toward him as previously. And Jehovah said to Jacob, Return into the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee..... And Jacob was angry, and he disputed with Laban...... I have been these twenty years in thy house: I have served thee fourteen years for thy two daughters, and six years for thy flock; and thou hast changed my wages ten times. Had not the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac, been with me, it is certain thou wouldest have sent me away now empty. God has looked upon my affliction and the labour of my hands, and has judged last night. And Laban answered and said to Jacob, The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the flock is my flock, and all that thou seest is mine; but as for my daughters, what can I do this day to them, or to their sons whom they have brought forth? And now, come, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be a witness between me and thee. And Jacob took a stone, and set it up for a pillar. And Jacob said to his brethren, Gather stones. And they took stones, and made a heap, and ate there upon the heap. And Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, and Jacob called it Galeed. And Laban said, This heap is a witness between me and thee this day. Therefore was the name of it called Galeed, - and Mizpah; for he said, Let Jehovah watch between me and thee, when we shall be hidden one from another: if thou shouldest afflict my daughters, or if thou shouldest take wives besides my daughters, - no man is with us; see, God is witness between me and thee! And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold the pillar which I have set up between me and thee: let this heap be witness, and the pillar a witness, that neither I pass this heap to go to thee, nor thou pass this heap and this pillar to come to me, for harm. The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us! And Jacob swore by the fear of his father Isaac. And Jacob offered a sacrifice upon the mountain, and invited his brethren to eat bread: and they ate bread, and lodged on the mountain. And Laban rose early in the morning, and kissed his sons and his daughters, and blessed them; and Laban went and returned to his place." (Gen.29:1,15-20; 31:2-3,36a,41-55)
The first pillar in the life of Jacob (that of his self-confidence) was built on the occasion of his promise to give a tenth to God of all that God would give him (as a matter of fact we never have any record that Jacob ever did so, yet he had promised he absolutely would), but God's promise (and what a difference) was absolute, clear, simple and direct, there was no "if" connected with it. Jacob may have said "If God would be with me" (and did not keep his promise) but God, of course, kept his promise perfectly. Then we considered how utterly unwise is the thought of any confidence in self or the flesh. However, from the time of this pillar in chapter 28 until the next pillar, the same principles characterised Jacob, that of self-confidence. No matter how many setbacks he had he continued to try to help God out in regard to what God was going to do for him, he thought it necessary for him to help God, he thought he would be used of God to bring about the blessing that he wanted, but he had to learn that he himself was untrustworthy, he had to face this truth. However, his history in chapter 29 is remarkable in many ways, if he had not acted in accordance with some of the principles we see here he would never have had so much trouble.
In verses 1-14 we have a picture of the blessing yet to come to all creation with the stone being rolled away from the well mouth so that water might gush forth and there might be the flowing forth of the Spirit of God, God pouring forth His Spirit upon all flesh. However, Jacob came and asked the shepherd if they know his brother in law, and they pointed out Rachel coming with her sheep to the well. It is very likely that her sheep were fewer than the number of the other sheep. We have something of the thought here "Fear not, little flock, for it has been the good pleasure of your Father to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32).
There are some who will be blessed before the time of the universal gathering, we see this in what follows here. Jacob saw Rachel and when he saw her he went near and rolled the stone from the well's mouth and watered the flock of Laban, his mother's brother. He must have been strong to do that as it took all the shepherds to do it. They had to wait until all the shepherds were there and they would roll the stone together, but Jacob went and rolled it back by himself when he saw Rachel. The principle that stands out is this, the stone is the law that holds back the blessing that man is going to receive from God and it is that alone which really keeps back what God has to give. Man feels that he deserves something so long as he tries hard enough, but still the stone is on the well's top preventing the water coming forth. The same is seen in the stone on the grave of Lazarus, the same stone that Jacob would use for himself as we see later on (John 11:39-40).
Here the law is set back and in the very dispensation in which you and I live there is blessing before the time of universal blessing, the blessing has come to us now. We see the principle in Jacob receiving strength on the powerful principle of love. Love has the strength that law has not. Love has strength to take law away completely. So Jacob's affection for Rachel gave him the energy that God used. If only Jacob had acted on this principle consistently. If he had followed this he would never have had the difficulties that he had. This is true of every child of God, if you and I always acted on the divine principle of true divine love operating in our hearts we would certainly divide the number of trials we have and we would find that life would be a great deal more simple. Actually, divine love should be that which characterises everything that happens to the believer. This is true in Christianity. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom.5:5). Love operates in different ways, love is always jealous for the blessing and welfare of its own; what is not is of the flesh: it certainly is not true of God. God would like to see blessing for mankind; and Jacob, acting on this principle, was able to have remarkable strength. Being without strength told me I needed the strength of God; and what is it? It is God's love shed aboard in our hearts by the Spirit of God; this is where true power is.
Once we descend from that level down to the level of law and require certain things or promise certain things we lose our strength. May God stir up souls regarding this.
Jacob loved Rachel and he kissed her and lifted up his voice and wept, then when Laban came he kissed Jacob. Their souls were happy to be with one another. But was that the way they parted from one another? No, it was not. Later on when they did part Laban kissed his daughters and their children but it does not say he kissed Jacob. Sometimes we get to know each other too well, that is, where each of our difficulties lie. For if I get to know my brother very well I get to know myself a little better too, and if my brother is wrong in various ways this only show me what I am myself. This is the lesson that stands out in the history of these two men. We will come to that later, but here at first everything seemed fine. Laban said,
'Because you are my brother can you serve me for nothing? Tell me what will your wages be?'
And here is where Jacob makes a serious mistake. I used to feel very sorry for Jacob, when he was deceived by Laban and got a wife he did not want (he wanted Rachel, not Leah), but do you know where Jacob went wrong? He got Leah by bargaining. You may say, 'How do you figure that out?' It is because Jacob was guilty of dreadfully misrepresenting the relationship that most beautifully represents the relationship between Christ and the church, a relationship of absolutely pure grace. Jacob brought it down to a level of merely a legal thing instead of recognising it as a thing of pure grace.
Proverbs 31:10 says "Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies". What was the price in this case? Seven years wages; it was all completely wrong, a wife is worth a lot more than that, far more. "Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the Lord" (Prov.18:22) (favour is grace). So the marriage relationship beautifully represents the pure grace of God. This is something that should never have been so badly mishandled by Jacob. Of course we know that many nations have acted similarly and sell their daughters, the husbands paying a dowry when they marry. In reality this is the selling of the woman. Did Rachel belong to Laban? Do my children belong to me? No, they do not. My wife does belong to me, but my children do not. That is something to keep in mind. Scripture says in Ephesians 5, a good number of times, "your own wife", but so far as I am aware we do not find the expression "your own children", instead we read 'When a man leaves his father and mother' (Gen.2:24). He does not belong to his father and mother.
We all learn by experience that daughters have to move on, they are simply being trained for the Lord by their parents, the Lord has practically leant them to the parents for the time being. Daughters are not the parents possessions, they are certainly not ours to sell, that would be a dreadful thing; but that is what Laban did. Laban was just as guilty as Jacob. Here then this beautiful picture of the relationship of grace between Christ and the church is marred by Jacob and Jacob therefore deserved what he got, he should have known better.
Take the cases in the book of Genesis of how men obtained their wives.
- First there was Adam, who was one man at least who could not possibly have had two wives, he was given one wife and he had no choice. There was an example right from the very beginning that it was not God's idea that men should have more than one wife, but "therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh". Now this was badly abused later on,
- but take another case that is most beautiful, probably one of the most beautiful pictures of the church, that of Isaac (chapter 24) and how the servant was sent by the father to receive the bride for his son. Isaac stayed at home and God's leading was seen in the servant who brought the bride to him, and we are told that Isaac loved her and she comforted him after his mother's death. Isaac is one man we read of who had only one wife. Men go shopping around looking for what they want, and when they get what they want they are not satisfied, that is the way of men, but if it is only my own choice that I think of I will not be satisfied. This attitude is foolish: if we desire a relationship, it is God who provides the bride. In that case we are told that Rebekah was asked, "Wilt thou go with this man?" and she said, "I will go". There was no question of money being involved at all, although gifts were given in both directions, but that is perfectly right.
In reference to the grace of God certainly gifts are given. Does not the Lord give marvellous gifts to His own, but there is no mention of any bargaining taking place. So the frustrating experience of Jacob shows that anyone who resorts to law keeping in order to get blessing from God is going to find out that he will not get the blessings he thought to get. That is a hard lesson. Such a man will not get anything. Why not leave the choice to God? Why not leave the matter in God's hands? If he had said, 'I would like to have Rachel as my wife' that would have been fine, but bargaining has no place in a relationship such as this.
Leah means 'weary' and Rachel 'sheep', and although Jacob loved Rachel and hated Leah, nevertheless he got Leah as his wife. Laban told him it was not good to give the younger before the firstborn and therefore when the time came after Jacob had worked for seven years he got Leah not Rachel. He found he was stuck with her. He had Rachel afterwards but he kept Leah a lot longer, for Rachel died first. I suppose naturally we feel very sorry for Jacob in regard to this, no doubt he felt it keenly when Rachel died later. I have no doubt that God used this for the deepest blessing to his soul and He uses similar experiences in reference to the blessing of our own souls. So long as there is any self confidence in us God will work to bring it down. Was it not self confidence on Jacob's part that gave him the thought of paying for a bride? He thought he could work for her, he thought 'I will just show how much work I will do to deserve her', but no matter how much we work we do not deserve a bride, we do not deserve anybody or anything. This man had to learn that his works were of no value with regard to God's blessing.
We have in these two cases some very striking principles. Rachel is a picture of what a believer would like to be. Does it seem attractive if you and I could reach the stage of thorough perfect submission, having sheep-like submission before the Lord Jesus? It would be good. When one is converted very often this is a real desire of the heart (and Rachel was the chief desire of the heart of Jacob), and after this there is a longing to have a life of perfect submission to God, one of absolute devotion. Are there any here who wish they were not more devoted than they are? But while that is a good object no doubt, yet it is the wrong object. Here is where souls have to learn what God's intention is for us. If, for instance, I could obtain this life of real, full-hearted devotion in every respect, if I got to a point like that, what would happen? I would say to myself 'When I reach this state......'. It is an illusion, it is the wrong object, more than that, I get the thought of being better than other people and that is worse still.
The flesh in me is just as bad as in the worst criminal on earth. That is one thing that is hard for a Christian to learn. We have to learn that the flesh is just as bad as it always was, and actually that is the lesson that we learn in Leah. Leah means "weary", and whereas Rachel is what I desire to be, Leah is what I actually am. Just as Jacob was stuck with Leah so you and I are stuck with ourselves. We are what we are whether we like it or not. If other people look at us and criticise us maybe they are right, often they are. We have got a lot to criticise ourselves for; the fact is that self is thoroughly useless to God. The struggle that takes place between Rachel and Leah is precisely the same struggle that we see in Romans 7. Some have thought that this struggle is between the flesh and the Spirit, but they are wrong, it is "I" fighting against "I", "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (v.19). Here the soul is struggling against self. It is the good "I" (if we can call it that) fighting against the bad "I", or, it is Rachel fighting against Leah. It is my conception of what I should be, fighting against what I really am, and there is no rest in all that chapter until the heart is turned away altogether from self and turned to Christ. Paul presents himself as in Christ, it is not him at all, and Jacob had to learn the same lesson, and he learnt it through these two wives so that by the time he got to the end, by the time he lost Rachel he had learnt submission. This is a real lesson, not until I give up the thought of perfection in the flesh will I find a true submissive spirit.
Leah bore four sons first of all when God saw that she was hated (Gen.29:31-35). Have we ever hated ourselves? That which I really am I learn to be rather disappointed in. A man would be deceiving himself to think that there was any good in him, and it is far too easy for us to deceive ourselves. Although Jacob loved Rachel so much, beautiful and well favoured, yet was she absolutely trustworthy? No, later on she stole the idols of her father and hid them in her tent and deceived her father. This is like our own hearts. The lesson is this, that the desire to achieve a high spiritual state has in it the elements of idolatry and of deceit. In other words, if a person wants to reach a certain state he will try to deceive himself into thinking that he can make it, and to make himself think he is really better than he really is. There can be no perfection while we remain in the flesh.
A man who told me that he had for 47 years lived without sin was now in a hospital in bad health. Well, there must be something wrong because if a man is without sin he would not be sick. I asked him how he was and he said, 'I am fine, I am improving every day'. What a wonderful man to have lived without sin for 47 years and to be still improving! The day previously we had been talking together about the Spirit and the flesh in the believer and he agreed about this, though I did not go to any lengths about it, so I answered him by saying, 'Would you mind telling me what it is that is improving? Is the flesh improving?' He said, 'No'. I said, 'What about the Spirit of God? Can He improve?' Of course He cannot. The flesh can never improve, nor can the Spirit, He is absolute perfection. How wonderful the fact that the believer has the Spirit of God in His perfection dwelling within him to occupy the heart with the absolute perfection of Christ, so that he can turn away from the awful repulsiveness of the flesh completely.
Job said, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). Is that a real experience with us? Is this true with every one of us here, do we absolutely hate ourselves? Jacob hated Leah. Do I hate myself? There are not many people who would like to go that far and say they hate themselves, yet Job said so. If a person is told that he is to hate himself in order to find blessing from God he could not do that, it would be impossible. The reason Job hated himself is given in the preceding verse, "I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes". If you are actually in the presence of the Lord Jesus, and look into His face and see absolute perfection and beauty there to satisfy your heart completely, is it a great thing to hate yourself? You will naturally hate yourself in comparison with Him, you will have done with yourself and have nothing more to do with yourself. This is a great lesson to be learnt.
I also mentioned the fact that there is not only deceit in a man thinking he is obtaining a place like this but there is idolatry because such a man is actually worshipping himself, he is worshipping a state to which he wants to raise himself instead of forgetting himself and worshipping the Lord. I heard a story of a preacher who was very distressed about what he called 'the old man', he had so much trouble with sin in his heart, he was struggling with it, no doubt he was the state described in Romans 7. He considered that he wanted to completely eradicate the sin from his nature and so he went up a mountain one evening and decided to spend the night in prayer and so he prayed and by the morning he felt wonderful, he was quite sure that he had succeeded in completely ridding himself of the evil of the flesh. Then as he started down the mountain he saw the smoke curling up from the town below, and he thought, 'How much better have I been occupied that they. Oh that old man again!' He was occupied with himself. How much better that a heart is thinking of Christ, and turning away from self!
C.H.Spurgeon on one occasion was approached by a preacher who was very disturbed by the fact that the sinful nature was giving him so much trouble, and Mr Spurgeon said to him, 'It is really giving you some distress, is it not?' He said, 'Yes, it certainly is', and Spurgeon said, 'It serves you right for expecting any good to come out of that cesspool of iniquity of that heart of yours.' It was rather blunt perhaps, but it is true.
The only thing to do is to turn away from it. The true power of the believer is found only in occupation with Christ; forgetting the flesh and looking outside of self to the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God. This was the case later in Jacob's history when Rachel died and Benjamin, "the son of my right hand", a type of Christ, was born. In other words, when Jacob gave up Rachel, he gave up the thought of attaining any kind of perfection in the flesh, he exchanged her for Benjamin, a type of Christ at God's right hand. There is the strength. There is a soul that is satisfied with Christ not with self. Christ is the object and not attaining a good, high spiritual state. This is what is called 'the subjective state'; the state of my own heart. Looking inside of myself what do I see? I see that which needs subjection. If I am looking at my subjective state I will never be happy, never be satisfied with "I" as the object. I have to look outside of myself, and there I see Christ at the right hand of God, that is what satisfies me. This does, of course, have an effect on my subjective state too, it has a wonderful effect, but it happens without my thinking about it, that is what is so wonderful, I think about Christ and it has that effect.
Jacob stayed with Laban and served again for Rachel after obtaining Leah. After Rachel bore Joseph it awakened in his heart the desire to leave and go back to his own land (30:25). What does Joseph typify? He is a type of Christ. Both the sons who were born of Rachel are types of Christ, whereas Leah's children typify Israel according to the flesh, and in the children of bondmaids we have the thought of Israel reduced to a state of bondage which took place in the time of the captivity and remain to this day, for in fact Israel is in bondage to the Gentiles. However, in the case of the two sons of Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin, we find Israel's state being 'in Christ'. Those two are types of Christ, and it takes both of them to be types of Christ - Joseph is a type of Christ rejected by man, cast out and despised, but exalted amongst the Gentiles, and Benjamin is a type of Christ in majesty, power and glory at God's right hand.
However, in a believer's life very often after going through such a struggle as we have been considering, he recognises he needs Christ, he needs the Son of God who came into the world to save sinners, the One who has suffered and died, and he enters somewhat into the fact of the Lord Jesus being a sufferer, the fact of what the Lord Jesus has done for him on the cross, 'being Joseph' down here practically and at the same time there is an awakening in his heart of a desire to get back to God's place for him, yet there does not seem to be a power there to take him back. Why not? Well, we do not only get Christ's suffering, we get Christ at the right hand of God. The heart looks up and sees Jesus at the right hand of God. It takes us back to God's grace. However, those lessons are brought out later in the life of Jacob, he had still to learn by experience that there was too much self confidence, he had to learn through the subsequent experiences something of the fact of his own utter untrustworthiness.
After the wages had been appointed, Jacob said he would serve his father for the cattle and he used devious means to get them. Then he said they would separate three days journey so that they would be sure that no cattle would get mixed up. There was the cunning of the flesh involved in this. It was true enough that Laban acted the same way, Laban was wrong too, he changed Jacob's wages ten times and so he was just as wrong, but Jacob found out by experience that he was just the same as Laban so far as the flesh was concerned. That is a pretty serious thing to consider. Everyone of us, Christian or not, is just the same as the world so far as the flesh is concerned. If we resort to a mere legal principle we will do the same thing as they. Oh how we need the grace of God, how we need the love of Christ operating continually in our souls. Now the motive behind Jacob's action had been that of love for Rachel, but he could not trust God thoroughly to take care of these things. How important to us to trust the living God, to depend upon God to do things for us instead of depending on our own abilities.
All of these things are seen in Jacob's second pillar erected as he left Laban and returned to the land of blessing with his two wives and their children, showing that Jacob had learned to have no confidence in the flesh.
Jacob's Third Pillar : The Pillar of Confidence in a Living God
"And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and 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. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother. But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth. And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel." (Gen.35:1-16)
This is a very definite climax and anticlimax in the history of Jacob. We see two distinct, but linked, pillars raised by Jacob in this chapter, the first of them (Jacob's third) was built in the same place where he built the first one, in Bethel, this was on the occasion of his going out where he had vowed that he would give a tenth of everything that he had to God and that God would be his God. This was the pillar of self-confidence, confidence in the flesh.
The second pillar was practically the opposite, built after he had parted from Laban, in disagreement and distress. This pillar would tell us of the untrustworthiness of the flesh. He had to learn this and he had been learning it in some measure until we come to this third pillar. The flesh cannot be depended upon in any way, we must learn to depend upon the living God and not ourselves in any respect.
Jacob had to learn this by experience and everyone of us will have to learn it by experience too. We do not just learn it by being told. It is something that has to be wrought in the soul and God may put the soul through very deep waters, pain, suffering and distress in order to teach this to us. Certainly Peter is a very striking example of this. I have often asked the question about which was the worst thing in Peter's life, his confidence in himself or the sin which he committed when he denied the Lord Jesus. I believe the first one was the worst. His self-confidence was worse than those sins which he committed publicly. God knew this and he had to strike at Peter's self confidence and so God allowed Peter to fall publicly by denying Him in order that he would realise that he could not depend upon himself. That is what is going to happen to all of us if we have confidence in the flesh in any respect. God will see to it that we are put through some circumstance where we will have to lose confidence in ourselves. This is good for us.
Jacob was told to go up to Bethel. God had appeared to him before at a similar time when there was friction between his household and Laban's. Jacob saw Laban's face that it was not warm towards him as it had been before, then God told him to leave. God will bring circumstances to such a point where it is almost imperative that we leave but Jacob then turned aside to Succoth and then to Shechem where he bought a parcel of field. This was a part of the world, he was settling down there instead of continuing on to Bethel as God had told him, that is why he had such an extremely sad incident with his daughter Dinah who went out to see the daughters of the land and became involved with one of the sons of the land. Then the brothers of Dinah were extremely cruel and deceitful and when the people of Shechem were unable to fight back Simeon and Levi killed all the males. They did it out of revenge, their father said, but of course it was absolutely bad, thoroughly sinful. You may ask why did not God do something about this, were they not guilty of a horrible crime? Yes, they were, but there was no retribution. The people of the land were dreadfully afraid, the terror of God was upon them, they could not do anything. A crime took place and nothing was done to set this matter right. Do not think for a moment that God would allow those two sons of Jacob to go without suffering for this afterwards, they would certainly face the consequences. Simeon was the leader in this and he was the one who was taken at a time later by Joseph and bound and put in prison.
God was dealing with Jacob and God would see to it that the things that Jacob had done that were wrong would turn and face him, in different ways, but nevertheless in such a way that Jacob could easily discern that these were the results of his former disobedience and failures. I am sure this often happens with us, God will perhaps not speak extremely sharply to us but sufficiently that we can discern that He is dealing with us about the past, and it will hurt. Jacob, for instance, deceived his father and later his sons deceived him. He had no regard for the rights of the firstborn and he found out that in Laban's company the rights of the firstborn were paramount and he got Leah for a bride first. The past was coming up and facing him. A number of things like this happened in Jacob's history. Dear friends, we do not get away with anything, I think that is important for us all to remember. God takes perfect account of these things. This is always the case, we may as well recognise now that we cannot get away with anything.
Let me ask the question, would we really be glad if we could get away with anything? At the judgment seat of Christ would we be glad? No, we would not. Do we want a God like that? No, we do not. The believer wants a God who faces everything as it is. Thank God, He does. However, that will not make us any more discouraged at the judgment seat of Christ, not a bit. We will be thankful at the judgment seat that everything is rightly taken care of, we will see the perfect balance of God's ways. We do not see this now. Sentence against an evil work is not always speedily executed, yet God always takes account, and the mills of His government grind exceedingly small. Jacob experienced this, and even though he came to the place where his soul was deeply blessed he had by then learnt the lesson that God sought to teach him that God's government was not going to stop there, rather Jacob learnt to submit to God's judgment and later on he found that he had to submit to a good deal that was very painful, but the spirit of submission that he learnt was then good to see.
God said firstly,
"Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother....."
That was a reminder to Jacob. The Lord said, "You are going back to Bethel, the place you left, that is the place where I met you before and which you called Bethel, the house of God. All these years you have been wandering about taking care of your own house (and acting deceitfully about it too), now it is time that you got back to My house. You are concerned about your circumstances, you are concerned about your interests. What about My interests now?' God has a house too. It had to be said in the days of Haggai, "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your panelled houses, and this house lie waste?" (Hag.1:4). It is important to have a real concern about the house of God, and the house of God today is "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim.3:15). Do we love those principles that deal with the gathering of God's people, or are we so concerned about our own things that the gathering of the Lord's people comes in a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth place, or even the last place? The gathering of the people of God is vitally worthwhile and God seeks to draw souls to this to see what it means to be gathered according to the truth of Scripture, according to the principles of the house of God.
Jacob was told to go there and dwell there. Jacob had previously said to Simeon and Levi "Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house" (Gen.34:30). Now Jacob said to his household and to all that were with him, "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bethel [the house of God]; 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".
He was concerned about his own house, but now he said to his household, "throw away your strange gods that are among you". How long had they been there? For far too long is the answer. Jacob was not told to do this, so why did he say this? Immediately Jacob thought of going to the house of God he recognised that it was no place for idols. There might have been lots of room in Jacob's house for idols, and sometimes we have too much room in our houses for idols, but there is no room in God's house for idols, they cannot exist there and Jacob recognised this. I cannot bring my own furniture to God's house. If I come and visit you and tell you I would like to displace some of your furniture with my own you might well tell me to go, but people do this with God, they talk about a certain place being 'God's house' and yet they bring their own furniture in, they have their own form and their own arrangement, everything is arranged according to their own ideas. This will not work, you cannot call this God's house, you cannot call this the proper principles of God's house, God has His own. Imagine someone coming into Solomon's house where he had all his servants sitting in their proper place and saying, 'I think we ought to change the order here, I have some ideas that are better than yours'. The Lord Jesus knows exactly what to do in God's house and we have the order laid down in Scripture.
Paul wrote to Timothy in his first Epistle , "that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth". A good deal of the New Testament is occupied with this.
Then 2 Timothy gives us the truth of how the house is to be ordered when disorder is all around us so we have no excuse not to be "vessels unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work" (2 Tim.2:21). At a time when the whole of Christendom is seething in actual rebellion against the truth of God it is a marvellous privilege to be able to stand for the truth. God is not defeated by all the trouble that there is in the world, He still has a path for His saints in the midst of all the confusion. We can be thankful for this in the depths of our souls for the way in which He preserves His saints and preserves true assembly testimony when everything is breaking apart all around us. However, in regard to the individual, God deals with him just as He dealt with Jacob in order to bring him to recognise this.
God does have a house, He has an order that is perfectly right and He wants to show it to us, but as long as we have our own self interests, our own self will, and think that we know how to do things, we will never learn the truth of these things. That is why Jacob had to be broken down.
Jacob also told his household to, "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments". There is certainly no place in God's house for filthiness either, there must be that which is clean, that which is suited to the house of God. Garments speak of people's habits, that which is seen outwardly, and they must be conformed to God's character in connection with the gathering of the people of God. If one, for instance, takes his place at the breaking of bread, remembering the Lord Jesus in His death, he has a place totally distinct and separate from the world around, he takes this place as sanctified and therefore his habits must be in true conformity to this, he certainly should not have the same kind of habits that the world around has, they are to be different. An idol is anything that would come in between the soul and God. Any object that the soul puts before it that displaces God in the heart is an idol.
"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".
Is not this exactly what God had promised that He would do for him? God said "I am with thee in all places wherewith thou goest" and Jacob had to admit, 'Yes, God has been with me'. In going back Jacob did not say a word about his promise to God, there is not a mention of Jacob keeping his vow. All the way through there is not the slightest indication in all Jacob's history of him ever paying his vow to God. That certainly is very striking.
In response to this Jacob's household gave to him all the strange gods that were in their hands and the earrings that were in their ears. Hands are for doing work. They had idols in their hands. Hands are for working for the Lord, not for idols. Ears are for hearing not for ornaments. People often ornament the flesh and their idols gain character from this. This is what happened in the making of the golden calf, they took off their golden earrings to make it. So ornaments of flesh, that which flatters the flesh, give character to these idols. But Jacob hid them under the oak that was by Shechem. The oak tree speaks of man in his strength whereas the cedar speaks of man in his weakness, so that the strength of man is buried beneath the oak.
In spite of the bad savour Jacob's household left behind, when they left the nations would not pursue after them. So Jacob came to Luz in the land of Canaan, that is Bethel. We mentioned earlier that Luz means "separation" and Bethel, "the house of God", the two things go closely together. For there to be any true appreciation of the house of God there must be separation from everything else, the house of God stands absolutely alone, nothing else can approach, it is that which is absolutely perfect and pure. God wants every believer at that place.
This does not mean He expects every believer to be sinless now, but He wants every believer in the place of purity. It does not say that He wants purity within us, but He does want purity, that is, the judgment of that which is of man in the flesh, there is to be no admixture of evil and good principles together. We are to "follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim.2:22). A pure heart is not a sinless heart, rather it is a heart that is occupied with the holiness of the Christ of God. Is Christ the object of our own hearts? That is a real test for every gathering of the people of God, what is the reason we gather? Do we gather in practice to the Person of the Lord Jesus or is there something else as well? Do I gather because I like the particular company, is this the thought? The vital thing in any gathering is that Christ is the centre. Having a pure heart is having Christ as the only object of our hearts without any admixture. It is not 'Christ and something else', but 'Christ only, the centre'. That is true in the house of God. After all, the One who dwells there is the God of heaven and earth Himself, He is the One to whom our souls are brought.
So arriving at Bethel Jacob built an altar and called the place El-Bethel. In Shechem he built an altar and called it El-Elohi-Israel, 'God, the God of Israel' (Gen.33:20), as much as to say, 'God is my God'. He liked to think of a God who belonged to him, but now, in this case, he called the place "God of the house of God', as much as to say, 'I belong to God'. Is not that more important? Rather than to have a God who belongs to us, is it not more important for us to belong to God? I think that is the lesson that is involved here. Jacob had to learn to be completely done with himself and brought to God. So this is really the end of the journey in one respect, he is brought to the place now where he recognises that God is everything and he, Jacob, is nothing. He builds the altar - now there is true worship. God told him to build the altar there but it is the worship now of the heart that recognises that God Himself is absolutely supreme. This is what true worship is, it is a recognition of God's divine glory being infinitely higher than everything else.
Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died there and she was buried beneath Bethel, under an oak. The name of the oak was Allonbachuth, 'the oak of weeping'. Apparently Deborah had come with them from the house of Laban. We do not read of her at all elsewhere and she must have been quite old at that time as she was Rebekah's nurse, that is, she was the nurse of the mother of Jacob. Why is she mentioned now? Well, maybe she was also the nurse of Rachel and Leah, but she accompanied them at this time and then she died. There is certainly a good dispensational lesson here. I cannot tell you the moral lesson, but dispensationally we have the thought of the time of the Gentiles now being ended. Rebekah is a type of the church. The servant of Abraham fetched her as a bride for Isaac and had brought her back to him and Isaac was comforted after his mother's death. His mother would speak of the remnant of Israel, the remnant according to grace 'dying out' when the church was brought in. That is the truth beginning the church period, the remnant of Israel began the church but that remnant died out and there will not be any born again remnant of Israel as a distinct company again until the tribulation period. I think we have here in the death of Deborah, the nurse of Rebekah, the fact of the heavenly hope passing away, in other words, Jacob brought back to the land is a picture of Israel coming back to their land for blessing. There is no more hope of a people for heaven, that is, not the thought any longer, rather, it is an earthly people now before God, the heavenly people have been taken to God and so this is the end of the times of the Gentiles and the introduction again of the blessing of Israel. I believe that is the typical lesson here. Deborah was also buried under an oak, the oak of weeping.
"And God appeared unto Jacob again....."
and notice the blessing that God gives to Jacob,
"Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land".
In some respects this is practically a repetition of what God had said the first time at Bethel except He did not say "I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places to which thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land". Jacob at that time was going out and God said, 'I will bring you back again', God said nothing more about this to Jacob, He did not say, 'I am going to go after you and deal with you until I have got you back here in the land'. God had accomplished this purpose in Jacob and all He did then was to tell him two things, firstly, that He was God Almighty, that is, He drew attention to His own Person, secondly, He drew attention to His promise. Jacob's attention was drawn to the Person of God Himself and to the fact of His promise which could not fail. God had told him something of this before but He added to it the fact that He was going to deal with him and bring him back in government. He did not mention government any longer, God had accomplished already in Jacob that which His government had sought to accomplish, that is, to bring about a submissive spirit. Jacob was then brought back to obey the word of God. It is essential in any child of God to come to the end of himself, to say 'I am going to do just what God says, I am just sick and tired of ordering my life for myself, I have had enough of this'. That is the lesson that Jacob learnt here. God then drew attention to two things, that He remained as He was and that His promises could not change.
It is beautiful to see that Jacob then said not a word about his original vow on his second visit to Bethel. I think Jacob remembered it. God brought him right back to Bethel, and when he got back there, there was nothing said about his old vow, and he made no further vows, he was completely silent in that regard.
Scripture tells us to "Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black." (Matt. 5:34-36).
In the Old Testament many vows were made and there it was right to make them. Israel made vows under law, they said they would keep the law, "All the words which the Lord hath said will we do" (Ex.24:7), but they did not keep the law. It was all right to make the vow, God did not tell them not to do it, but not to keep it once it was made was a bad thing. This was true all through the Old Testament. Many, many times covenants were made and every time they were broken. The Old Testament teaches that man is so utterly untrustworthy that it is no use making vows. What is the sense then? Why not perform without making a vow? The Old Testament Scripture says, "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay" (Eccl.5:5). This is confirmed by the Lord Jesus when He said, "Do not swear at all" and James when he said "swear not, neither by heaven, nor by the earth, nor by any other oath; but let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay, that ye do not fall under judgment" (Jas.5:12), that is, there is to be no making oaths, nor vows, rather the believer today is under the grace of God. Jacob was repeatedly told by God that He was full of kindness towards him. God did not ask him to make a vow, and he would have been far better off if he had not, but making the vow only demonstrated the fact that he could not be trusted.
If a person is very certain that he is altogether trustworthy let him make a vow then, let him go ahead and see what happens. If this serves to wake a person up to realise that he has a sinful nature and he needs Christ, he needs to trust someone outside of himself, well then, perhaps in the long term it serves a purpose.
Jacob then set up his third pillar. Again he renamed the place. He did the same that he had done before, he set up the pillar the second time, but he left the vow completely out. This was, of course, a memorial. In each case the pillar was there as a memorial, and as Jacob looked back at the four memorials surely he was pretty sad at the events of the first two. The first one was all wrong and therefore he had to put another one in its place. When he set up this pillar, it was the pillar of confidence in God. What a contrast to the first one, a pillar of confidence in self. Almighty God had spoken and Jacob submitted to this. There was nothing more than that. Jacob let God speak and said nothing in return. It is good for us to do that too, to let God have His rights.
In this pillar we have the thought that Jacob reached the place that God had intended him to reach.
Jacob's Fourth Pillar : The Pillar of the Giving up of Every Earthly Hope
"And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day." (Gen.35:17-20)
Why did Jacob not stay at Bethel? Well, no doubt he was there for some time, but there are further spiritual lessons to be learnt and the places that follow indicate something of the character of these too. However, the last pillar and the preceding pillar are very closely linked together. Ephrath means 'fruitfulness'. After one has come to the house of God there is going to be fruitfulness, there is a journey still to take, it is not just a matter of settling down in the land. Though you and I, who are saved by the grace of God and are members of the body of Christ, the church of God, know the truth regarding gathering (and thank God for it, and I trust we will never move way from it), yet at the same time we are not here to settle down as if everything is fine, there are still exercises of soul through which we are going to have to pass, we are still journeying. In type we are in the land, and we are journeying on to the land before us, but Ephrath speaks of the fruitfulness of the soul that is the result of our being in God's place for us.
Rachel's death was certainly one of the most painful lessons that Jacob had to learn. It went deep into his soul, and yet in his history nothing is said about how Jacob felt about it. He mentioned a long time later to Joseph, "And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan on the way, when there was yet a certain distance to come to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem" (Gen.48:7). He felt it, yet I think in Jacob we now have a submission of heart that recognised that it had come from the hand of God and he was subject to it. He had learnt his lesson, learnt to submit to God.
Now let us gather up the thoughts in regard to Rachel. Leah is a type of what I actually am, and Leah was hated; Rachel is a type of what I would like to be, the spiritual state I would like to attain. As a Christian I would like to be far more spiritual than I am, and I have to say I would like to rise to a high state if possible, but I have to give that up, Jacob had to give Rachel up. However, at the very time Jacob gave Rachel up he arrived at the state God had in mind for him. If we have as an object getting to a high spiritual state we will never make it; if we give it up we will have this state brought to us, we will receive Benjamin. Benjamin is a type of Christ glorified at the right hand of God. Rachel called him Ben-Oni, "the son of my sorrow" but Jacob called him Benjamin, "the son of my right hand". We have a type of the Lord Jesus here as the One in whom is all power. Jacob had to give up Rachel, the desire of his heart, to gain Benjamin. If we give up the desire for a high spiritual state and seek Christ instead as the object of our souls, that spiritual state will come by itself, we will not be thinking of the spiritual state but nevertheless the spiritual state will be there. If I see all beauty and glory and perfection in the Lord Jesus what will happen? I will voluntarily submit. If I see everything in Christ and if I try to make myself submissive I will never make it, it will never work, that is the struggling with the flesh to make it something but I cannot do that, instead I have to have my eyes fixed on Christ there at the cross.
All the time that Jacob was struggling for a submissive character with Rachel he never found it but as soon as he gave Rachel up he did. Now this is a hard way to find submission. What Jacob desired most on earth practically, Rachel, he had to give up. Dear friends, do you not think it is a good lesson to us all? What have we got here on earth anyway? What is there on earth worth living for? Mary Magdalene had to do that as well, she had to give up that which for her was most precious. The Lord Jesus told her, "Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I ascend to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God" (John 20:17), in other words, 'You are going to have me in glory, Mary,' He as much as said, 'You will not have me on earth any longer, you may be heartbroken because you have not got me here, but you are going to have me in glory'. That is just what our souls need, to have our hearts looking up to Christ there in the glory.
In this case Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave, and "that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day", this pillar of the giving up of every earthly hope. These last two pillars go together. If my confidence is in a living God (the third pillar) then the giving up of the sweetest earthly hopes (the fourth pillar) is not hard. However, we are not told to give them up without having something better. How can I do this? When I know that I have a living God I have the promise of God and I have everything that God has to give me in Christ. Then it is possible. What does earth mean? Is it not a joy to leave all that behind? Would it be a marvellous thing right now if the Lord Jesus were to suddenly come and we see Him face to face? Would any of us regret having to leave behind anything on earth? It would surely bring a lot of joy to the soul to see the Lord in all His heavenly worth. The best that one could desire, the best that Jacob could desire must simply be left behind. That is the pillar of Rachel's grave until this day.
These four pillars then, are memorials in Jacob's life which he never forgot and they have a relevance to each and every one of us today.