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Bible Lives  

2. Jacob


2-3-3 Jacob's Perception Of God

Consider the evolution of Jacob's perception of God:

Yahweh thy (Isaac's) God (27:20) This is almost cynical; the sort of thing an unbaptized child of a believer might say to their parents
Yahweh is in this place...how dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God (28:16,17) Jacob feared God with the fear of one who has no real relationship with Him
If God will be with me...then shall Yahweh be my God: and this stone...shall be God's house (28:20-22) The implication was that Jacob didn't consider Yahweh to be his God at that time. Jacob's words sound as if he believed in 'God' as a kind of force or spirit, but did not have Yahweh as his personal God. And yet God had promised Abraham that He would be the God of his seed (17:7,8); Jacob was aware of these promises, and yet he is showing that he did not accept their personal relevance to him at this time. The fact at the end he does call God his God reveals that he then accepted the Abrahamic promises as relevant to him personally. His offer to give a tithe to God if God delivered him would have been understood in those days as saying that Yahweh would then be his king (cp. 1 Sam. 8:15,17); and yet he evidently felt that Yahweh wasn't then his King.  There is no record that Jacob ever did build a temple or tithe; but at the end of his life he realizes that God had kept His side of the deal, in that He had been with him and fed him all his life long. The fact he hadnít kept his side of the deal made Jacob realize the huge grace of GodÖ
Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? (30:2) Jacob starts to further realize the power of God
Yahweh hath blessed thee since my coming (30:30) Jacob saw God as the one who gave physical blessing; he saw the promises of Divine blessing as primarily re. material blessing. He missed their basic import, which was of forgiveness and the Kingdom (Acts 3:26,27)
The God of my father (31:5) Not my God
God... God... the Angel of God (31:7,9,11) He perceived God as an Angel, like Isaiah he knew therefore he deserved to die
Laban said: " The God of your father appeared unto me..." (31:29) That Jacob worshipped the God of his father rather than his own God was well known. " Your (plural) father" (cp. " thee" in the previous and following verses) may suggest that Jacob was confident enough of his father's God to have introduced it to his family, although he himself still had not reached the point where he had made this God completely his own.
Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac, had been with me, surely thou hadst sent me away empty. God hath seen my affliction (31:42) Again, not my God. And he saw God as the supplier of physical blessing; he understood the promise to Abraham that " I will be with thee" as referring to blessing of cattle more than anything more spiritual.
" The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us (Laban said). And Jacob sware by the fear (i.e. the God) of his father Isaac" (31:53) This seems to be emphasizing that Laban swore by his fathers' gods, because he knew no better, and Jacob did likewise. A Baptist is a Baptist because his father is, and at the beginning of spiritual life, a Christian can be one for no better reason than his parents are. Jacob was still at this stage in middle age. And so so many of us must pass through that inevitable growth curve of Jacob.
O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Yahweh... (32:9) He came to see that 'God' was Yahweh (cp. notes on 28:20 above); he saw that there was only one 'God', and that the vague sense of 'God' which he had was in fact 'Yahweh'. But still he speaks of this Yahweh-God as someone else's God.
Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name (32:29) Jacob knew the Yahweh Name, he knew the name El Shaddai (Ex. 6:3); surely he was asking for a deeper exposition of the Name. He realized his need to draw closer to God. But the Angel grants him the blessing of forgiveness, and says that Jacob doesn't need such an exposition, because he now knows the character of God: he has received such grace and forgiveness and future assurance. This is the Name / character of God revealed. Thus Jacob realized that he knew the theory of God, but not the practice. Latter day Jacob, natural and spiritual, are little better. In so many ways, so often, we know but don't believe; and it has been commonly observed that the problem with us is that we are right in doctrine but very weak in practice. This shouldn't surprise us. It was exactly the characteristic of our father Jacob. But the God of Bethel is our God too, and will bring us through to a deeper maturity. That night, Jacob reached " manhood" , spiritual maturity (Hos. 12:3 RV).
I have seen God face to face (32:30) He perceived God as that Angel
The children which God hath graciously given thy servant...God hath dealt graciously with me (33:5,11) He saw God as the one who graciously gave physical blessings, and also as the God who gives spiritual grace / mercy to undeserving sinners like himself. Thus a growing appreciation of grace was a facet of Jacob's perception of God and spiritual growth.
He erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel (33:20) This seems to have been a flash of spiritual insight, a peak of faith which was not afterwards sustained; not only did Jacob accept the new name God had given him (although he needed reminding of this again in 35:9), he saw that 'God' was his God, the God behind the powerful ones (Angels) who looked after Jacob / Israel. Still he saw God as pre-eminently physically powerful, and manifested in many Angels. And still he had not fulfilled his promise to make Yahweh his God.
God (Heb. el), who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way (35:3) God is still a God who gives physical blessings. Jacob has previously only spoken of Yahweh or elohim. He thought it was the elohim who had appeared to him at Bethel; now he sees more clearly the concept of one God.
God Almighty give you mercy before the man (43:14) Jacob's perception of God was as very powerful, One who can give undeserved grace to men like Jacob's sinful sons. He uses a term he has not previously used: El-Shaddai, the Almighty El. Using new terms for God reveals a deepening of understanding of Him. We likewise will grow in our knowledge of Him through the trials of life. Consider how poor Hannah was driven through the sorrow of her life to coin the phrase " the Lord of hosts" for the first time in Scripture (1 Sam. 1:11), so strong became her sense of the strength and manifestation of Yahweh in His Angels.
" I am God (el), the God (elohim) of thy father...I will make of thee a great nation" (46:3), as God had promised Abraham and Isaac This is God's encouragement to Jacob to fully accept Him as his own God, not just see Him as his father's God. Even at 130, Jacob had to be helped to break free of his parental background, and make God his own God. It was also an attempt to make Jacob see that the true God was not just an Angel, but the power behind the Angels. This would imply that Jacob was so blinded by God manifestation that he failed to see the God that was being manifested. We have the same problem, and a sign of spiritual maturity is the awesome realization of the reality of God on a personal level.
God Almighty appeared unto me (48:3) Jacob's perception of the power of God, this one Almighty El,  is growing. Ex. 6:3 says that Yahweh appeared to Jacob " by the name of God Almighty" , so presumably this Name was declared to Jacob at the vision in Bethel; for this, Jacob says, was when God primarily " appeared" to him. And yet he is only recorded as using this name 50 years later. It took 50 years for the fact that God really is ALL mighty to sink in, and for him to come out with this publicly.
I had not thought to see thy face: and, lo, God hath shewed me also thy seed (48:11) He realizes that God does exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think (Eph. 3:20)
God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which shepherded me all my life long, the Angel... (48:15) Now Jacob is getting closer to a personal perception of God; he realizes that the same God who was with Abraham and Isaac has been with him. He sees elohim as essentially only one God.
God make thee as Ephraim ... God shall be with you and bring you again into the land of your fathers (48:20,21) Now Jacob's perception of God is as a God who does something in the future, in fulfilment of His promises of the Kingdom
I have waited for thy salvation, O Yahweh (49:18) Yahweh is a saviour God, not just a provider of children, cattle and land for the present; and now, at long last, Jacob associates Yahweh with himself; Yahweh has become his God, as he promised 70 years before. Ex. 6:3 says that Jacob knew the Yahweh Name from the time God appeared to him; but it took him a lifetime to make Yahweh his very own God.
The mighty God (abiyr) of Jacob (from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel [Jacob; i.e. Messiah]), even the God (El) of thy father (Jacob)....the Almighty (49:24,25) I could almost weep for joy here. Finally, at long last, Jacob got there. He says three times the same thing; God is my God, Yahweh- Messiah will be the my rock, my stone, yes, He is the God of your father Jacob, He is ALL-MIGHTY to save. That promise made 70 years previously in semi-belief, he had now fulfilled. He had made Yahweh his God. He was not only the  God of his father and grandfather. The God who can do all things, not only physically but more importantly (as Jacob now realized) spiritually, was with his very own God. No wonder he dies repeating this three times over. And remember, he's our pattern. Jacob coins a new name for God: the abiyr, translated here " the mighty [God]" . This word occurs only in five other places, and each time it is in the phrase " the mighty one (abiyr) of Jacob" (Ps. 132:2,5; Is. 1:24; 49:26; 60:16). Likewise, the Lord used new titles of God in his time of ultimate spiritual maturity as he faced death (Jn. 17:11,25). Many of the Messianic Psalms refer to God as " my God" , and it was one of the phrases in the Lord's mind in His final, glorious maturity (Mt. 27:46). Moses in his final speech of Deuteronomy often encouraged Israel that God was thy (singular, personal) God. Jacob knew God's mightiness for himself in a very special way; he knew His gentle forgiveness of all his pride and self-will, that mighty forgiveness, that mighty patience with him, that Almighty salvation of him which had been made possible. In the same way we will each be given the name of God, and yet this Name will be known only to us (Rev. 2:17; 3:12; 14:1); it will be God's Name, but in a form entirely personal to us. In dim foreshadowing of that glorious relationship with God, Jacob reached something of this even in his mortal life. And so the God of Duncan is not quite your God, and the God of (e.g.) Robert Roberts is not quite my God. The whole concept is wondrous, really. We are straining at the limit of our possible perceptions.

 


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