Friday, December 31, 2010

Jacob in the School of Sorrow

Theodore H Epp

by Theodore H. Epp

SORROW IS ONE of God's means to make permanent in believers' lives the lessons of grace He has taught them. God had been dealing with Jacob for 30 years, and now, back at Bethel Jacob was where God wanted him to be. Now God began to make permanent-to press deep into his heart-the lessons He had taught him during those 30 years.

From the day that Jacob fulfilled hi~ vow at Bethel to the day he learned that Joseph was alive and the ruler in Egypt, Jacob was scarcely out of the furnace of affliction.

God makes no mistakes. He knows what He is doing. Sorrow is not necessarily punishment, but it strengthens believers in Him by perfecting their faith arid confidence in Him. Sorrow is often used for spiritual training. Through the process of chastening, God makes believers into the kind of sons He wants them to be. Sorrow is intended to yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness: "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11). The peaceable fruit of righteousness comes only "afterward" after the chastening.

Jacob felt the chastening hand of God even while he was at Bethel. After returning to Bethel, "Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Beth-el under an oak: and the name of it was called Allon-bachuth" (Gen. 35:8). Deborah was probably the nurse who went with Rebekah when she left home to marry Isaac (24:59). Deborah must have been dear to Jacob since she had likely been his nurse as a child. She may have come to Jacob earlier to inform him of his mother's death. Doubtlessly she had filled a vacant spot in his heart after the death of his mother.

Deborah's death was the final separation of Jacob from his unregenerate life at home. The last link had been broken. There was no one left now to remind him of his past unregenerate life. Back at Bethel, Jacob was now ready for God to deal the death blow on anything that could link his life to the old ways and keep him from God.

This truth is also important for believers today. Colossians 3:1-4 says, "If [since] ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead [have died], and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." Galatians 2:20 says, "I am [have been] crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth 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."

Jacob's Wife Dies

Then Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife, died while they were enroute to Ephrath (Bethlehem). "Bethlehem" means "the house of bread." Jacob was traveling from the house of God (Bethel) to the house of bread (Bethlehem). Genesis 35:16 says, "And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour." Note that there was only "a little way" between Bethel and Bethlehem. Although these were literal cities, they point out a principle. The house of God and the house of bread are closely connected. When believers put God first in everything, Be provides the needs of their lives. Christ Himself told His disciples; "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. 6:33).

When Rachel "was in hard labour, ... 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 Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem" (Gen. 35:17-19).

Rachel named the child "Ben-ani," which means "son of sorrow." However, Jacob named the child "Benjamin," which means "son of my right hand." Rachel's death was one of Jacob's deepest sorrows. She died Sorrowing, but he triumphed in faith and called the child "son of my right hand," which was the same as calling him "the victorious one."
Jacob took a victorious stand for God in spite of the, fact that this had touched upon the most precious thing in his life. Rachel's death and burial broke Jacob's main link with his past carnal life at Haran. He had gone there to get a wife and had been guilty of many carnal things. "Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day" (v. 20). Jacob established a pillar near the house of bread in remembrance of this one who had been so very precious to him.

Because Jacob had returned to Bethel and had been fully restored to fellowship with God, he was now able to fulfill the second part of God's command: "Return ... to thy kindred" (31:3). Thus, Jacob was on his way to his father, Isaac, who lived-in Mamre. That is where Jacob was going when Rachel died in childbirth along the way.

Reuben's Sin

As Jacob and his family continued on their way to Mamre, his firstborn, Reuben, committed a great sin. The Bible says, "And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar. And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine: and Israel heard it" (vv. 21,22). Three times in these two verses Jacob is referred to by his new name, Israel. Jacob's life was now characterized by his new name.

When Reuben committed fornication with the concubine, it says that. "Israel heard it." Before, when "Jacob" had learned of his sons' wickedness, he did nothing about it. But in Reuben's case, "Israel" was concerned about t the things of God and did not let the sin go unpunished. Although it is not recorded in Genesis 35 how Jacob judged Reuben's sin, what he did was recorded later. Jacob said, "Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch" (49:3,4). Reuben, as the firstborn, had rightful possession to the birthright, but Jacob said, "Thou shalt not excel." Jacob thol:Oughly judged Reuben's sin and took away his birthright.

Reuben's birthright was given to Joseph. This is evident from I Chronicles 5:1, 2: "Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and· of him came the chief ruler, but the birthright was Joseph's)."

1. How does God sometimes use sorrow in a believer's life?

2. What was the significance of Deborah's death?

3. Why is it significant that Bethlehem ("the house of l;>recid") was only "a ,little way" from Bethel ("the house of God")?

4. What do the names "Ben-oni" and "Benjamin" mean?

5. What link in Jacob's life was broken by Rachel's


6. Where had Jacob been going when Rachel died?

7. What was Reuben's punishment for his sin?

8. Why is it significant that Jacob punished Reuben's sin?

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