Summary: This article was written and published Oct. ’14. Jacob is intimately connected with the nation of Israel. This connection goes well beyond the fact that his twelve sons are the heads of the twelve tribes which form the expanse and limits of the nation itself. Jacob’s life and experiences are a type prefiguring the ongoing history of the Jews. What we see as the character of Jacob reflects the general characteristics that the nation itself would develop. Because this association would be such a great reality, God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Far more than his grandfather Abraham, Jacob’s life experiences find a reflection in the history of the Jewish nation.
Jacob is a very interesting man. He had a lot of different experiences in his life – experiences with the world, with enemies, with family, and in a very distinct way with God. Jacob’s grandfather Abraham walked with God and was known as a friend of God. This was not the case with Jacob. He is known for struggling with God, wrestling with Him. Abraham was the one who trusted God, believed God’s words and promises spoken to him (Rom. 4:17-22). He willingly became a sojourner – a pilgrim and stranger – in the land that God had promised was actually his to possess. This was a testimony to his faith in God (Heb. 11:9, 13). By these things and more Abraham is said to be the father of us all – those of the same type of faith as Abraham (Rom. 4:12, 16). But when we consider Jacob, for the most part of his life, we see an entirely different kind of experience. I believe we should find it to be a good example of a certain type of walk that the believer is not to emulate. Jacob did not walk with God, not like Abraham. The story of Jacob turns out to be one of many experiences, mostly sad and miserable, while God looks after him from a distance. The faithfulness of God preserves him, despite his going his own way and doing his own thing. Only at the very end of his life do we see any resemblance in him of the faith of his grandfather.
The example of Jacob may teach the believer many lessons. The faithfulness of God is one we have already mentioned. God made promises to Abraham. Those promises were unconditional. They were made in the sovereignty of God, by His sovereign choice, and therefore depended on God’s faithfulness alone in being fulfilled. They had no dependence on Abraham; they had no dependence on man. It is really to this point, if I may be so bold to say, God has to be faithful to fulfill His promises, or He cannot be God. He is not a man that He should lie. He is not like man at all. As the scriptures declare, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: That You may be justified in Your words…” (Rom. 3:3-4) God will be faithful to His word and promises (Is. 55:11). He will be faithful to His own plan and counsels (Eph. 1:9-11, 3:10-11). Also His gifts and callings are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). All these statements imply the same meaning – as for God Himself, as it concerns His own things of which He is the source, He will be faithful to do exactly as He has said. He will be justified in all His words.
So the promises to Abraham were unconditional. Most of them involved the future nation of Israel. Some form of natural descent would be involved in God fulfilling the promises. God then repeated these same promises to Isaac and Jacob. Now we must ask: How would any unbelief on Jacob’s part affect the faithfulness of God? It simply doesn’t. How would the character of Jacob’s walk influence the fulfilment of promises God spoke to Abraham? It simply can’t. God remains faithful regardless of what man does. This is the first lesson to be learned from Jacob’s life – not from Jacob’s character, but from who God is and what God is in His person.
Now this faithfulness is seen mainly in God providentially “preserving” Jacob wherever he goes and through whatever situations he gets himself in. God keeps His eye on Jacob. It is not Jacob walking with God and communing with Him in the way. Still, Jacob is the “elect” of God. God did not choose Esau, his twin brother. The nation of Israel would come from the loins of Isaac and Jacob; it would not be through Ishmael and Esau. Jacob’s twelve sons would be the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. But here is a distinct truth: The “real” Israel, that which is “elect,” would come through Jacob as the sovereign choice of God (Rom. 9:6-13). Here we see the reasoning why God preserves and watches over Jacob. It was for the sake of the promises God made to Abraham. In preserving Jacob God would be preserving a natural line of descent that would form the nation. The “elect” of Israel to whom the promises would be fulfilled, would be God’s choice from among the descendants of Jacob.
You might be questioning my use of the phrase “the descendants of Jacob.” Of course these are also the descendants of Abraham. The nation of Israel is said to have come from Abraham (John 8:33). Their boast was always that Abraham was their father (John 8:39, 53, Matt. 3:9). But with Jacob, all his natural descendants would be included in the nation of Israel. This was not the case with Abraham or Isaac. The choice of God enters in to exclude Ishmael and Esau, and all their descendants. From this point on, what God acknowledges as the nation of Israel is only that which comes from the loins of Jacob. This shows a very intimate connection between Jacob and the nation; a connection even more so, in a sense, than that of Abraham. This is an important characteristic to remember in this discussion.
Abraham is the depository of the promises. But he had to have a son through which the natural line of descent would begin. He had to have a son that would serve as a guarantee that the promises would be fulfilled by God, even after his death. Ishmael was his son, but he was the decision and reasoning of the flesh; he was the result of the choice of Sarah and Abraham, and this was the working of the flesh. They soon found out that this was not God’s choice. This was not God’s counsel and plan for starting the natural line, nor was it God’s election. God is sovereign; this was not His will, this was not His doing. This result simply would not stand. It would never give Him glory. It was the work of man and could only give glory to man. The nation would not descend from Ishmael, nor would the slave son be “elect” or heir of the promises. Isaac would be the child of promise (Rom. 9:6-9, Gal. 4:22-23). The right to the promises and the natural line of Israel would pass through him (Gen 21:10-12).
The same reasoning applies in the birth of the twins. God is the sovereign God. Esau was not God’s choice. His decision was that the natural line in the second generation would pass through Jacob. So God declared His choice, “The older shall serve the younger.” Events transpire in God’s providence to made this the case. It was for this reason: “…that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls.” (Rom. 9:11) God makes certain choices in “election.” Then He orders events so that his elections always fulfill His intended purposes. As the sovereign God, not only does He have the right to do so, but He also has the wisdom and power to accomplish all His counsels.
Let’s discuss this idea of God’s “election” so we have as clear an understanding as possible. Certain characteristics and qualifications can be noticed:
1.) In Scripture, “election” always refers to a sovereign choice of God. It never is man choosing anything (Rom. 9:11, 16). This is a simple definition. If you will accept this, it becomes a simple understanding. This becomes a big part of any believer knowing God. I’m not saying this is fullness of divine knowledge – only divinity can truly know divinity (Matt. 11:27). But God has revealed certain things; He has revealed this about Himself. He is a sovereign God, and there is no other god besides Him. Sovereignty means that God makes choices exclusive of man. As a believer you have to know this; it helps you walk and commune with God, and it helps you to give glory only to God. For example, God did not look at Ishmael after he was born and say, “Well, you know, Sarah had an idea, whether that was a good idea or not, it doesn’t matter now. It’s too late. This wasn’t what I wanted, but I’ll just have to honor it and work with it.” I know this sounds sarcastic, please forgive me for that, but it does make a point: The sovereign God doesn’t do this. He makes His choices according to His own purposes, and He will ever be faithful to make His choices good (Rom. 9:11).
2.) The promises made to Abraham involve the nation of Israel. In the plain and direct language of the promises made, they all revolve around the nation. Even though it was always God’s choice, the election in Israel that ever and at all times formed the “real Israel” still had to be physical descendants of Abraham. The elect of Israel have to be of the nation of Israel by natural descent – they still had to be the natural branches. This is an important point, yet a confusing point, even to many theologians.
3.) God’s choices through natural descent established the forming of the nation of Israel. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the elect of God. I believe Jacob’s twelve sons were all elect of God. This does not mean that every Israelite ever born from this point is the “election” of God forming the “real Israel” then and now – see how many carcasses fell dead in the wilderness (Heb. 3:17-19). In this example it was said, “Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?” (Heb. 3:16) In other words, the entire nation came out of Egypt; it was all the physical descendants of Jacob. As for all Israelites, they are the natural descendants, the natural branches, and the promises “pertained” to them as the natural heirs (Rom. 9:3-5). Yet we know of the existence of a “real” Israel in and among the nation. “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham.” (Rom. 9:6) However, as you can see, the elect of Israel still must be from the line of natural descent.
4.) For the promises to eventually be fulfilled, God must be faithful to preserve the line of natural descent. Throughout Israel’s history, and even as they continue today as scattered in the nations, God has been faithful to meticulously do this. For it is out of the natural descendants that the elect of Israel are chosen by God. So we understand why God kept His eye on Jacob, regardless of his behavior. By election, the natural line would pass through Jacob. He was both a natural descendent of Abraham and the election of God. Esau only had one of these qualifications.
5.) God has many different groups that are the objects of His election. The two subjects of Scripture of great importance are the church and Israel (although this is not inclusive – they are not the only groups). God’s election in these two is similar in that it is always the choice of God, but this doesn’t make the two groups the same. It is wrong for man to mix together what God has separated and made distinct, and this is true concerning the church and Israel. Election is for the accomplishing of God’s purposes (Rom. 9:11). But God has clearly revealed in Scripture that He has different and distinct purposes for the church from that of Israel. This is easily seen in their callings: one is heavenly, the other is earthly (Heb. 3:1). It is easily seen in the different timing of their elections: the church’s election is before the foundation of the world (II Tim. 1:9, Eph. 1:4-6), while Israel’s comes after the world was created and as part of the world. God’s election of the church is out of every nation, while the election of the “real” Israel is within the confines of one nation. So Paul speaks of the election of believers that forms the true church (Rom. 8:28-33, Col. 3:12), while Jesus, in His prophetic passages in the gospels, speaks of an elect Jewish remnant chosen by God at the end (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31, Mark 13:20, 22, 27, Luke 18:7). In one of his visions on the isle of Patmos, John sees the Jewish remnant being chosen and sealed by God on the earth in the last days (Rev. 7:1-8).
God was faithful to look after Jacob, and to preserve him (Gen. 28:15). But Jacob never enjoyed the relationship with God that Abraham and Isaac had. This is an important characteristic about Jacob to remember. He spent a good amount of his life outside the Promised Land. This was the opposite experience from his father and grandfather. Jacob’s experiences are with the world and as part of the world. And the world prospers him. And this is a dangerous place to be in. I know we want to think that God prospered him. But all the time he is out of the land, he is out of the will of God.
To gain a proper understanding of the life and experiences of Jacob, and how we may properly apply them, we must be mindful of His character. Even early in his life, with the help of his mother, he was known as a deceiver. He gained certain advantages and material possessions by trickery and deceit. This was a character trait that is part of Jacob for most of his life. By it he gained many things, yet through the deceptions of others he suffered much. As I said previously, Jacob had a lot of experiences, most of which did bring him material gain, but with it misery, heartache, and fear.
Jacob’s walk was not of much faith. There isn’t any doubt he wanted the promises. There is no doubt he loved to physically prosper. But he always goes about things in a carnal way. A walk by sight with fear and deception is the best way to describe him. He deceives Laban and runs in fear from him. He deceived Esau and has to do the same, and this more than once. Jacob shows little faith in God, but plans and schemes his way in the flesh. Observe how long he goes on in life before he ever has an altar to worship God? Is wrestling all night with God a display of faith? It shows Jacob’s efforts in the flesh! Jacob’s character is that he struggles with God all night long – that is, for most of his life. Who was Jacob wrestling for? Abraham intercedes for others in the presence of God (Gen. 18:17-24), while Jacob wrestles for himself (Gen. 32:24-26). It shows how God simply would preserve Jacob, keeping him from harm for the majority of his life. Not until the dawning of a new day would Jacob receive a blessing – essentially not until the end of his life.
After Jacob wrestled all night with God (the angel) his name was changed to Israel (Gen. 32:28). This becomes the crux of our whole investigation. Jacob is a type and shadow. The nation of Israel would come through him. He would have twelve sons that God would use to form this people, this nation. His life and experiences, his character and behavior, all would reflect and prefigure the character and experiences of Israel. All Jacob’s wanderings, his wrestling with God, his fear of his brother and father-in-law, his desire, conniving, and deceptions to gain earthly blessings, are types and shadows of the character and behavior of the nation that would come from his loins. Jacob is Israel’s truest and greatest type in Scripture, and his name change confirms this. Much later in their history we see this testimony by Elijah on Mt. Carmel:
I Kings 18:31
“And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Israel shall be your name.”
The amount of time Jacob spends outside the Promised Land is a type of Israel’s history – most of Israel’s time is spent scattered among the Gentile nations where their presence profanes the name of Jehovah (Ez. 36:16-21). It is one thing for Abraham to wander as a pilgrim in the Promised Land, but Jacob wanders as an outcast in a strange land (Gen. 31:11-13). God had promised Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…” (Gen. 28:15) Yet this watching and preserving of Jacob was always for a greater purpose in God’s counsels – “…and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you. “What did God speak to Jacob? “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.” (Gen. 28:13) Most of Israel’s history is spent scattered among the Gentiles. Even though God does not acknowledge Israel, He does look after them as He did with Jacob (Ez. 11:16, Is. 8:14-17). However, God’s purposes for Israel are to bring them back to the land (Jer. 32:37-41, Ez. 11:17, 20:40-42, 36:28, Is. 60:21, Amos 9:14-15).
“Thus says the Lord God: When I have gathered the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and am hallowed in them in the sight of the Gentiles, then they will dwell in their own land which I gave to My servant Jacob.”
“Yes, I will rejoice over them to do them good, and I will assuredly plant them in this land, with all My heart and with all My soul.”
Jacob never walked with God in much faith. He mainly went by sight and was interested in material possessions. He lived with a lot of fear. His wrestling was human pride and efforts in the flesh. At that time God refused to reveal His name to Jacob – it wasn’t a walk that depended on God (Gen. 32:29). It was not of faith. It was not communion with God. At the end of his life his own testimony was, “…few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” (Gen. 47:9) Jacob knew that the quality of his walk with God was not that of Abraham and Isaac. His life represents the dealings of God with a soul that does not walk with Him, and yet, it is a life that God preserves (Gen. 32:30).
The same characteristics are found with the nation of Israel. Their law gives them a walk by sight. Their religion is an accumulation of fleshly ordinances and rituals of no real benefit (Heb. 9:8-10). The law is not of faith (Gal. 3:12). The sacrifices of the law were not pleasing to God (Heb. 10:1-8). The Jews request signs (I Cor. 1:22). We also read, “…but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at the stumbling stone.” (Rom. 9:31-32) Israel’s entire history is a wrestling match in the flesh with God. Although they possessed all the advantages and privileges God could give (Rom. 9:3-5), still their history is one of human pride and efforts without the knowledge of God (Rom. 10:1-3). As Jacob went, so will Israel.
Jacob doesn’t get the blessing until the dawning of a new day (Gen. 32:24-26). For Israel this new day is the millennium. Then they will be blessed of Jehovah. Then they will have their Messiah, their Melchizedek priest, who will bring out bread and wine, and bless them on behalf of God Most High (Gen. 14:18-20). They will have a new covenant where the law will be written by God on their hearts and minds (Jer. 31:31-34, Ez. 11:17-20); the nation will do the law and be blessed accordingly (Deut. 28:1-13, Ez. 37:21-25). In the millennium Israel will be the greatest and most prosperous nation on the face of the earth (Ez. 34:23-31, Is. 60:11-22) . Jacob’s dream of the ladder set up on the earth that reached to heaven shows the ending purpose of God for Israel in the millennium (Gen. 28:12-15). With Jehovah the God of Israel above and Jacob below, Israel will be restored in the land (v. 13). They will grow and multiply in numbers (v. 14), and their prosperity will be for their blessing, and the blessing of all the Gentile nations on the earth (v. 14). Israel will be the house of Jehovah on earth in connection with the heavens above. However, there is one caveat revealed later about the ladder – the channel of heavenly blessings coming down to both Israel and the Gentiles nations on the earth is Jesus Christ, the Son of Man (John 1:51).
There are still many other experiences in Jacob’s life that serve as types of Israel. At the end of his life Jacob lived in Goshen, the best of all the land of Egypt. Jacob and his people are placed there and set apart in the most favored country of all under the power of the throne. This was after Joseph, when apart from Jacob and his brothers, and left for dead, had risen to the right hand of the power of the throne. Joseph, as a type of Jesus Christ exalted to the right hand of the power on High, is the reason and means for the millennial blessing of Israel in the Promised Land.
I could go on with many more examples of the types and shadows portrayed in the Scriptures. We have spoken very little of Joseph, while there is so much more to be said of the types found in his life. What of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Rebekah, and Eliezer? All these and more, in different situations, character, and experiences, are used as types to prefigure greater realities and substances. But Jacob is our concentration here. His life was a sad tale of deceit and wrong done to him, but God watching over him in providence. Jacob was preserved by God according to the promises – therefore it was by the faithfulness of God to keep His own word. But Jacob’s life serves as a most remarkable type. Whatever character and behavior Jacob showed, in time these are seen in the nation of Israel. All Jacob’s circumstances and experiences are generally reflected by Israel. If Jacob was blessed and at peace at the end of his life, his family prospering and multiplying in Gohsen, then Israel will be blessed in a greater way at the end. Jacob is the type that prefigures Israel’s entire history, and it is shown by this verse:
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”