Divine Faithfulness. Genesis 25:19 - 35:29
Lamentations 3:21-23, "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness." That is a familiar promise, and the trouble with familiar promises sometimes is that they become too familiar and we take things for granted and for get what is happening around those promises in context. The context of the book of Lamentations is that the prophet Jeremiah is grieving over the destruction of the temple in 586 BC. That was the end of the first temple period and Jerusalem was laid waste. It was a time of incredible devastation, death and destruction. So he was expressing his grief over Israel, over Israel's failure to trust God and the discipline that God has brought upon them, and in the midst of this he is reminded that God is always faithful.
In the beginning of the chapter Jeremiah is reflecting on what he has seen. "I am the man that has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light. Surely against me is he turned; he turns his hand against me all the day. My flesh and my skin has he made old: he hath broken my bones. He has besieged me, and surrounded me with bitterness and woe. He has set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old. He has hedged me in, so that I cannot get out: he has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry and shout, he has blocked my prayer. He has enclosed my ways with hewn stone, he has made my paths crooked." And he goes on and talks about the grief that he is going through. By recognizing what he is going through it drives him to an even greater understanding of God's faithfulness. As he thinks through his circumstances, his situation, he is driven to go back to the historical manifestation of God in the history of Israel as an example to demonstrate that no matter how bad things may get, not matter what may happen, God is continuing to be faithful to His promise which is ultimately embedded in the Abrahamic covenant—that God would always be faithful to that promise.
For some time we have been in the toledot of Isaac, and the focus has been on Jacob. We want to review this whole section, and the main theme comes back to divine faithfulness, that God is faithful to that promise He has made despite human failures, flaws, and the fact that Jacob just really isn't a very likeable person from what we read in the Scripture. And with the episodes concerning Jacob's sons we recognize that they are not our favorite people. Yet God is always faithful. So this is the dynamic that goes on in our lives when we face problems and difficulties and challenges that seem insurmountable, just like Jeremiah facing the destruction of Jerusalem which was a historically tragic situation. He is removed from Jerusalem and the promised land, and yet he is driven to recognize on the basis of everything that has happened that God is faithful.
When we hit problems we need to be able to think in terms of people and events that are going on in the Scripture that relate to what we are going through in our own lives so that we can then understand the principles and the doctrines that are there to make the application.
The key events of this section
There was the birth prophecy in Genesis 25:23 where God says that the wrestling that is going on in Rebekah's womb is the struggle of two nations. Jacob and Esau represent two nations and they are wrestling with one another in the womb. This is later on used as a picture of God's sovereign choice in history. It doesn't have to do with selection in salvation, it has to do with God's sovereign plan in history as to whom He is going to work through in bringing about the blessing and salvation for the entire human race. The birth prophecy sets the context that there will be this rivalry between Esau and Jacob. In light of that we have Jacob's two deceptions. Jacob the heel-grabber is the youngest and is the one who is trying to supplant. Rather than recognizing God's promise at the beginning that the older, Esau, would serve the younger, and relaxing in that promise, he is trying to get it for himself. So he is impatient, he is not waiting on God's plan, God's way and God's timing, he is trying to make it happen rather than let God bring it about.
Then there was the deception of Isaac by Rebekah and Jacob which resulted in Isaac giving the blessing to Jacob. The problem now is that Esau gets left out and there is not much of a blessing left. This is a legal act. Isaac had to honor what he had already done and there wasn't any way to reverse it.
Sandwiched in between Genesis 25 and 27 is Isaac's conflict with the Philistines. We see that he follows the same pattern as his father, Abraham. Sin nature trends seem to get passed on genetically. Isaac lies about Rebekah. So he is deceptive, trying to solve his problems on his own, he is fearful, but God nevertheless protects him because God is faithful to the promise—the seed promise. God not only protects Isaac but He prospers him and reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant with him.
Genesis 38-32 is a section which deals with Jacob running for his life. God is going to discipline him with someone who is just like him—Laban. Jacob has to run for his life because Esau is bringing threats, and he leaves the land and goes north to Padanaram where the his uncle Laban is, and there he is going to look for a wife. Here we enter into another sub-theme that is so important: separation from the world. Rebekah doesn't want him to take a wife from among the Canaanites and bring her into the environment of the seed, so she sends him back home and he is going to get a wife there—Rachel.
As Jacob is leaving the land he goes to Bethel where God renews the Abrahamic covenant. He promises him that He will protect him, prosper him, take care of him, and will bring him back to the land. So this becomes a foundational promise for Jacob for the next twenty years.
Then we have the episode of the bride swap on chapter 29.
God provides heirs in chapter 30:1-24. We see the sons that are supplied through Rachel and Leah, through Bilhah and Zilpah, as the family grows. These are the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel.
As Jacob is being prepared to leave the land and God is now going to prosper him and develop his wealth there is the episode with the spotted sheep and divine guidance. There we emphasized that divine guidance takes place by direct revelation. This is such a difficult issue for so many people today and such a challenge because there are too many people who think that somehow the Holy Spirit is just some kind of inner light, inner vibration, so that when we go through some kind of difficulty we just wait for the Holy Spirit to tell us what to do. There are many problems with that. It is not biblical. It misunderstands the whole concept of God's will. There are two categories of God's will. There is God's sovereign will which is His plan for history. We don't know what it is. We don't know what God has decreed for tomorrow until tomorrow is over with. Then we have God's moral and revealed will. This is "revealed," it is what God says you should do and this is what you shouldn't do. The only way we know this is that God reveals it to us. Direct revelation from God began with creation. God appeared in the garden to Adam and Eve. That is direct revelation. There is non-verbal revelation or general revelation where we see the results of what God has done, but it doesn't give us specific content. You can't look at the heavens and come up with the sin problem. You have to have special revelation. There has to be the revealed will in order to interpret general revelation or nature. So ultimately it always comes down to the revealed will. And if God is no longer revealing Himself in direct or special revelation – the canon is closed – then we can't ask questions like "God, show me what to do tomorrow" because that is asking for specific special revelation which has ceased. God says, "I have given you the rule book!" Our job now is to take all the wisdom principle He has given us and to apply them to our circumstances and situations. This is the process of spiritual growth. God has given us the completed canon of Scripture to give us that wisdom framework for making decisions. It is not based on some kind of mysticism.
God's will is either revealed, in which case it is limited to Scripture today, or it is unrevealed and relates to His sovereign will. Those are the only two options we have. It is appropriate to pray that God would make us aware of all the issues that we need to be aware of in a decision-making process, and for God to guide and direct us in that process, but it is inappropriate to ask God to show us whether to take option A or option B. The latter would be saying that we don't want to be responsible for the decisions we make and that we want God to make them for us. The bottom line on that is that when things don't go well we can blame God!
The next couple of chapters dealt with people testing. Families are hard to deal with. Jacob is tested by the people in his life and he is tested first of all by Laban, and finally he has to learn to trust God and follow God's guidance.
When Jacob returned to the land he offered a sacrifice to God because he recognized that it was God who had protected him through all those twenty years outside of the land in the presence of Laban. In everything that was going on God prospered him. God fulfilled that promise that He had made to Jacob back in chapter 28 at Bethel, that He would prosper him and take care of him and bring him back to the land. Back in the land he meets this man with whom he wrestles all night, and it is here that Jacob begins to realize his spiritual destiny and he rests in God's provision. In chapter 32 as he is coming back to the land he has to face up to Esau. Last time he saw Esau, Esau was breathing threats of murder and so he is fearful, "very much afraid and distressed," and that impacted how he sent everybody else ahead and he hung toward the back. The wrestling with the angel all night is a picture of what has been going on in his life spiritually, and eventually he prevails, not in the sense that he overcomes the angel but that he is able to call upon the angel who he recognizes as God to bless him. And for the first time God now gives him the blessing. Earlier he had gotten it from Esau, Isaac gave him the blessing, but now that he has reached maturity and has learned to trust God, God is going to begin to distribute that blessing to him. God gives him the blessing and also a new name, Israel: one who prevails with God, indicating that he has trusted God and that there is a new Jacob.
There is also a family failure, and in chapter 33 we see this with Jacob because when he meets Esau, Esau wants him to come with him to Edom and Jacob just isn't quite ready to trust him and begins to compromise. He doesn't go all the way to Bethel, he only goes to Succoth, lives there for a while, and then from there he goes to Shechem. There is still a superficial relationship with God, he builds and altar there, but it is at Shechem that he has the major failure in the family with Dinah. This indicates another theme, the theme which goes back to why Rebekah wanted him out of the land and wanted him to go and live with the family so that he would not come under the influence of the Canaanites and assimilate their culture. That would destroy the family spiritually. But that is exactly what happens with Jacob's sons. He has not been successful in isolating them from the culture around them and they are just as pagan as any of the Canaanites. This starts to set the stage for why God has to take the descendants of Abraham out of the land, eventually to Egypt which is where Genesis will end, in order to isolate them and protect them from the influences of paganism. The principal there is that as believers we have to isolate ourselves as much as possible from the influences of the cosmic system around us. The only way we can ultimately do that is by protecting our soul with Bible doctrine.
In chapter 35 Jacob finally returns to Bethel, but before he goes back there has to be a cleansing. They have to put away all of the false gods, they have top separate themselves from the paganism that they have adopted, at least in the superficial sense, and then he returns to Bethel and builds an altar to God there ands completes his vow.
That gives us the overview, and the one thing that stands out through this whole episode is that God is always faithful. Despite the failures, the flaws and everything else, God consistently continues to work in the life of Jacob in order to bring him to maturity and bring to fruition the promises that God has made. When we look at this there are several key doctrines that stand out. First of all, blessing is based on grace. Blessing was not based on what Jacob did or who he was, it was based on grace, what God was and what He decided to do in history. Grace is always based on God's grace, not on what we do or what we are.
Secondly, grace is not based on human merit. We don't get blessed because we pray, because we read our Bible everyday, because we give to the church, etc. The blessing of God it determined before anything else happens in our spiritual life. It is set aside for us, it is our potential, and it is distributed on the basis of our maturity. God doesn't begin to truly bless Jacob until there is that maturity that is exhibited at Peniel. Before that God has blessed and prospered him but not on the basis of who Jacob was, it was on the basis of the Abrahamic covenant and the promise that God had made to Jacob at Bethel. We saw the transformation of Jacob to Israel, from being a conniver to a prince with God, and that came after a period of time. Spiritual growth doesn't happen over night.
The next thing we see is the increasing paganism of the descendants of Abraham. They just don't have the drive to have a relationship with God that Abraham had. It is fine to experience the blessing but they don't come away being called the friend of God as God identified Abraham. But what wraps everything up here is divine faithfulness. That is what comes across in all these chapters.
Genesis 36:2, "Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan." That ought to be a red flag right away. He is assimilating to the Canaanites. "Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite; and Bashemath Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth." So we see a merger of Ishmael's line with Esau's line. The information about these individuals is lost in history, but the significance of this wasn't lost to the Jews. To understand the significance of chapter 36 we have to put ourselves in that mental framework of a Jew sitting outside the land, getting ready to go into the land.
There are two toledots in Genesis chapter 36, in verses 1 and 9. The first one deals with Esau's family and the second one deals with the chieftains of Esau's line and their growth as they establish themselves politically and as a political power in the Middle East at that time. The point of these two sections is to show God's blessing of even Esau and his descendants because He had made a previous promise to Abraham that He would make Abraham the father of many nations.
In Deuteronomy 23:7 God said, "You shall not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother." They were to recognize that they were family, relatives, and they were blessed by God, and that God was behind the blessing to Esau. This was part of the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.
In Genesis 36:1-8 it is made clear to us who Esau is. "Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom." Then in verse 8, "Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom." Mount Seir and the term "Seir" is a reference to the people who lived in this area prior to Esau moving into the area. There were Seir and the Horites. In the second part of this chapter from verse 9 on is the description of the ascendancy of the Edomites in this area. It lists the various descendants in vv. 9-14. From v. 10-19 it develops the basic chieftains that came from Esau's family and identifies who they were. All of this is to show the Jews who are outside the land that Esau had grown to a very powerful nation. In verses 20 down through verse 30 it talks about those who were there prior to the Edomites. Then what we see is the merger of the Horites with the Edomites in order to establish the Edomite kingdom. In verses 31-39 is a list of the Edomite kings and their cities, and then at the very conclusion are the plans and the territorial possessions of the Edomites. The point of all that is to show God's faithfulness to His promise.
If God is faithful in blessing them because of His promise to Abraham, then when we get caught in jambs and go through adversity and it seems the world is going to end and everything is falling apart, we can do the same kind of thing that Jeremiah is doing in Lamentations. We can grieve, we can sorrow over what has happened, but it doesn't end there. We don't stop in the depression, we don't stop and wallow in the grief and self-pity, but we are driven by that to focus on the consistent faithfulness of God in history. So we have to teach ourselves and train ourselves to think through the Scripture and ask where there were situations historically in the Old Testament where there was failure, where people have gone through divine discipline or God has just taken them through difficult circumstances and adversity in order to teach them to trust Him and follow Him. This is a process. These are designed to teach us different truths about God, His person, His character, and His faithfulness.