Jacob’s Fear And Faith
“ Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children. And You said, I will surely do you good, and make your seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.”
JACOB is the type of a Believer who has too much planning and scheming about him. He is a wise man according to the judgment of the world. Put him down by the side of Laban and if his relative tries to stint him in his wages and to cheat him in all manner of ways, you will see that Jacob, in the long run, will get even with Laban. He seems to have been able to deal, even with that con-man, quite as sharply and not to come off second best in the bargain! Abraham never descended to any of the tricks by which Jacob sought to increase his flocks. He lived like a princely man in simple, childlike confidence in God, willing to be injured rather than to seek his own interests, letting Lot, though a younger man, choose the best part of the land and being quite content to take whatever remained. Because God was with him as his portion, he had no hunger after anything else. He was worth fifty thousand of such kings as the king of Sodom and though he had a right to the spoils of war, he waived them, saying, “I will not take from a thread even to a shoelace. I will not take anything that is yours lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’”
Jacob, if he had been in such a case, would have looked very closely after all the threads, the shoelaces and all the other things that he had captured in the war. He would have said that God gave them into his hands and he would take good care to preserve them. Among worldlings, Jacob would be regarded as a much more sensible man than either his grandfather Abraham, or his father Isaac. But when you come to weigh him in the balances of the sanctuary, although he was a great and good man, and a man of such force of character that he is reproduced in his descendants, even to the present generation, yet, for all that, the weakness of his character lay in the human strength of that character–his power to plot and plan makes him appear as a much smaller and feebler man in the eyes of those who can judge spiritually,than Abraham, his forefather was.
I suppose Jacob’s bargaining faculty came from his mother and she got it from her brother, Laban, and Laban, with his niggardly ways, was enough to infect the whole family. Rebekah, in that artful plot by which she deceived her blind old husband and taught her son to rob his elder brother of his father’s blessing, showed that the same vein was in her–and that she belonged to that plotting, scheming stock. And the mother’s character was strongly manifested in her son Jacob. Hence it is that you find him getting into all manner of trouble. Abraham had his trials and one great supreme trial, but, as a summary of his life, it is written, “The Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.” And everybody feels that Abraham’s life was a most desirable one. It is such a life as we might, any of us, wish to live. But Jacob’s life is not a desirable one. At one time he is bargaining with his famished brother about a mess of red pottage–a transaction which we cannot approve. Then, afterwards, we find him joining with his mother in deceiving his poor old father. It is noteworthy that he who had deceived his father, Isaac, was himself deceived by his uncle, Laban! Such conduct is generally repaid into our own bosoms–our chickens come home to roost and we get back for ourselves what we thought we had given away to others. Jacob’s own summary of his life, as he gave it to Pharaoh, was, “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been,” so full were they of sorrow and trial. I may say of him as was said of many of David’s mighty men, “Nevertheless, he attained not unto the first three.” There he stands, accepted and blest, for he was a man of faith, but the very strength of his character, as I have already reminded you, was the proof of its weakness and caused him many sorrows.
Our text introduces Jacob to us just before that memorable night by the brook Jabbok. He was expecting his brother Esau to come with a troop of 400 men, perhaps to slaughter the whole company. The Patriarch’s state of mind is a mixture of fear and faith. He doubts, yet he believes! He has much distrust, yet he does confide in God, at least to some extent. As two hosts met him, so he, himself, was the representative of two hosts. Solomon says in the Canticles, “What will you see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.” So was it with Jacob. There were both nature and Grace, belief and unbelief, fear and faith battling together in his soul. What a picture he is of many of us in whom a perpetual warfare is being waged between the Law of Grace and the Law that is by nature in our members–between the heavenly principle that cannot die, and cannot sin–and the old nature which is always struggling for the mastery and making us often cry out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
- I am going, first, to speak about JACOB’S FEAR as we have it mentioned in our text–“I fear him, lest he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.”
My first observation is that Jacob, in his fear, is not to be held up as an example to us. He is not to be commended forthus fearing Esau and neither are we to imitate him in this respect. My next remark will, perhaps, seem strange to you, but I ask you to weigh it well and consider it carefully. There is a great deal that Christians feel which they never ought to feel. There are a great many things that Christians do which they never ought to do and there are many places into which Christians go into which they never ought to go. It was so with the ancient Believers and especially with Jacob. His experience is the experience of a good man, but it is not, in all respects, the experience that a good man ought to have. Why should he have been filled with fear at the prospect of meeting his brother? There was no reason for it–his grandfather Abraham would not have had any such fear–and if Jacob had possessed more Divine Grace, he would not have said, concerning Esau, “I fear him.” He knew that God had given him the blessing which Esau despised–again and again had the Lord appeared to him–and he must have known that he was blessed in a way that Esau was not. Why, then, should he fear his brother?
Should the elect of God be afraid of one who has neither part nor lot in the matter? Should he not rather feel that the son of the King of kings must not fear the child of Satan, the heir of wrath? The friends of the wicked Haman said to him, “If Mordecai is of the seed of the Jews, before whom you have begun to fall, you shall not prevail against him, but shall surely fall before him.” And well may Mordecai stand upright in the king’s gate and never bow his head before Haman! Why should he fear and tremble even though Haman has the ear of the king? Mordecai has the ear of the King of kings, so he need not be afraid of anything Haman could do!
Jacob’s fear was wrong, first,
because it followed immediately after a great deliverance. He had left his father-in-law,
Laban, in haste. He had stolen away by night and Laban had hurried after him. Encumbered as Jacob was with so numerous a company which included so many young children and so much cattle, he had to move very slowly–and Laban soon overtook him. He was boiling over with rage when he started and meant to do desperate things, but God interposed and made him put the sword into the scabbard, so that, instead of there being any slaughter, there was as kindly a state of feeling between the two as could be expected under the circumstances. After God had preserved His servant Jacob from the wrath of Laban, it is strange that he should have been afraid of Esau. He has been delivered once, cannot he expect to be delivered again? He has just been rescued from one peril, yet he trembles in the prospect of another!
Do you know anybody who ever acted in that way? If you do not, I do. I know where he lives. I will not say that I live with him, but I will confess, with sorrow, that I have sometimes been that very person. Have you also been one of the same sort of persons? If so, I will not say what I think of you, “How foolish I am to act thus! Howbasely am I acting towards my Lord!” He who has been with us, never changes–what He has done once, He will do again. Is His arm shortened, or His eye blinded, or His heart turned to stone? No! Then surely we ought to have learned by experience to trust in God, even as Jacob ought to have learned from his experience so fresh in his memory and trusted the Lord concerning Esau as He had delivered him from the wrath of Laban!
Another thing that tended to make Jacob’s fear inexcusable was that the angels of God had met him just before. Thechapter from which our text is taken, tells us, in its opening verse, that, “Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.” Messengers from the eternal Throne of God came to salute God’s favorite! And, I suppose, to escort him back to the land that was given to his fathers by a Covenant that could not be broken. The Patriarch was attended, before and behind, or on the right hand and on the left, by two companies of angels, yet he says, “I fear Esau.” Even in the society of those who must have borne a perfume of Heaven upon their wings, standing in the midst of immortal spirits whose faces must have reflected the Glory of their Lord and Master, Jacob says, “I fear Esau.” Again I ask, Did you ever know anybody act in such a fashion as this? Perhaps you say, “I never saw any angels.” No, but you have, by faith, seen the great Angel of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ, and you have had most intimate communion with Him. At His Table, how often has He revealed Himself to us in the breaking of bread? And in the reading or hearing of His Word, how often has He been set forth before us as our Heavenly Bridegroom, the Beloved of our soul? And, sometimes when we have been quite alone, the bright light of His Presence has surprised us and our hearts have burned within us while He has communed with us. Well, then, it has been very shameful on our part if, afterwards, we have feared Esau, or have been afraid of some anticipated trouble, or fearful because of bodily pain, or, perhaps, put out of temper by some trifling matter in the household which should have been altogether beneath our notice as companions of the Lord of the angels! The Lord have mercy upon His servants and forgive our unbelieving fear, for which we will not pretend to make any excuse!
Note, concerning Jacob’s fear, that it probably arose out of the recollection of his old sins. Old sins, like old sores,are very apt to break out again. The very mention of the name of Esau brought up before his mind the day when his mother cooked the “two good kids of the goats,” and took his brother’s goodly raiment, put it on Jacob and put the skins of the kids upon his hands and his neck, that he might deceive his father into the belief that he was his “very son Esau.” Jacob remembered all that and felt that Esau had good reason to be angry, for he had supplanted him twice, and done him grievous wrong. He was afraid of Esau on the principle that “conscience makes cowards of us all.” A sin may be forgiven by God, yet, for all that, its sting may be felt by you 50 years afterwards, just as, perhaps, some of you may have had a bone broken in your boyhood and had it very well set, yet, sometimes, before bad weather, you feel a twinge that reminds you that bone was once broken. Thus it was with Jacob–that old bone began to creak and to threaten that bad weather was coming. If he had dealt fairly and justly with Esau–and left the Lord to settle that matter of the birthright as He had always intended to give it. If he had left God to arrange everything in His own way, and had not been so wise, in his own estimation, like his clever, scheming mother, he would not have been afraid to meet Esau as he now was!
Well, dear Friends, perhaps some old sin is the cause of your fear. If so, I pray you to remember that one sin ought not to lead you to commit another, or to be an excuse for committing another. Suppose that, in your early days, you did sin in a certain fashion, or that, in your later days, you have transgressed in some other way? Should you, therefore, doubt your God? You should be humble in the remembrance of your sin, but you should not, therefore, mistrust the Most High! He is always faithful, whatever we may have been. He did not, at the first, receive us as innocent, but as guilty–yet He saved us. As we look back upon the past, we may well mourn our guiltiness, but let us not doubt our salvation if we have believed in Jesus! Even when God’s people get themselves into trouble, it is very remarkable how He delivers them. They ought to be careful as to how they walk before Him, but even when they are not, and their folly brings them into a net, yet does He come and tear the net in pieces–and the poor captive bird escapes out of the snare of the fowler. Even when we willfully wander from Him, the Lord graciously restores our souls, blessed be His name! Do not, therefore, let the remembrance of our past guilt lead us into any doubt concerning the fidelity of Him who has cast all our sins into the depths of the sea and who will never allow them to be again laid to our charge.
There is this which is commendable to be said about Jacob’s fear–it led him to prayer. What was he doing when hesaid of his brother Esau, “I fear him”? O Brothers and Sisters, if you ever say the same thing, mind that you get to the same place where Jacob was and say it, as he said it, to his God! It is ill to say it at all, but if it is said, it is well to say it to the Lord. Go to Him with whatever troubles you have and unburden your souls at the Mercy Seat. If there is any suspicion or mistrust in your mind or heart–dark and black though the thought may be–yet go and tell Him all! He knows all about it, for He reads your heart, yet go to Him and lay it all before Him and ask Him to cleanse it all away. To go and tell our doubts to our fellow creatures is like spreading an infectious disease–it does not often bring us any comfort–and it frequently causes others to have more distrust who had quite enough of their own before. We ought not to be slack in prayer, for we are ready enough to tell our neighbors all about our trials and troubles, though they cannot help us!
Note, also, that JacobThat was a good thing. “I am not worthy,” he saidto the Lord, “of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have showed unto Your servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan and now I am become two bands.” It is a blessed thing, sometimes, to look back upon our past history in order to revive our confidence in God at the present time. It never does to rely only upon the past and to say, “God favored me at such-and-such a time and, therefore, I am His.” No, you need present mercy–as you cannot liveon the meat you ate long ago–so you cannot exist on only past mercy. Yet, as I have reminded you, you may have seen how the bargemen on the canal push backward to send the boat forward–and you may push backward with your experience in order to send the boat of your life forward in new confidence in God.
I do not speak only for myself when I say that if we will review our lives from the first day until now, we shall be again surprised at the wonderful loving kindness of the Lord towards us. Jacob speaks to the Lord, “of all the mercies,and
all the truth, which You have showed unto Your servant.“ Now, if anybody could have foretold, 20 years ago, to some of you, that you would be in such a good position as you are now in, you would have been filled with delight at the prospect, yet, perhaps, you are not now happy in the possession of it. And if you could have foreseen all the mercy which God has strewn in your pathway, you would have jumped for joy! Yet you do not jump for joy now as you look back upon it. Is not that wrong? Oh, when I think of what the Lord has done for me, personally, I reckon that I would be the very chief of sinners if I should ever mistrust Him again! I can say, and so can you, my Brothers and Sisters in Jesus–
When trouble, like a gloomy cloud,
Has gathered thick and thundered loud,
He near my soul has always stood,
His loving kindness, oh, how good!"
Then, why should any of us ever say, in unbelief–
Beloved Friends, think of the places from which the Lord brought some of you. It is not so very long ago since you were living in sin–perhaps in the worst forms of sin–without hope and without God in the world. Had you died as you were then, where would you have been? Yet now you are numbered among the Lord’s children and you have enjoyed much of His love and been highly favored by Him! I charge you by the abounding mercy which you have received–let these present fears that now molest you, be driven from your bosom!
Furthermore, Jacob was also led to seek out the promise that was most suitable to his case, for he said, “I fear Esau,that he will come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” Now notice how appropriate was the promise that he quoted to meet the case–“And You said, I will surely do you good, and make your seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” Now, if the father is killed and the mother and the children are killed, how can Jacob’s seed be as the grains of sand upon the seashore which cannot be counted? He had a good hold upon his God when he quoted that promise and, Beloved, it may be the same in your experience. You never know the preciousness of the promises till you realize your need of them. You may not know what keys the locksmith has in his possession. Possibly he does not know, himself, how many he has. But if you lose the key to your door, you send for him and he comes with a great bunch of keys–and he tries one, and another, and another, and another till, at last, he finds one that will fit. God’s promises are often so little studied by His people that they are like a great bunch of rusty keys till we really need them! And then we turn them over and we say, of some particular promise, “That just meets my case. Blessed be the name of the Lord, it must have been made on purpose for me! That key fits all the wards of this lock.” And then you begin to prize the promise.
It is, I think, worthy of note that God had not said to Jacob, in so many words, “I will surely do you good.” At least,as far as the Scriptures are concerned, there is no record of any such promise. But He had said to the Patriarch, “I am with you,” and, “I will not leave there.” So, this is Jacob’s version of the promise and it is a true one, too, because if God says, “I am with you,” he means, “I will do you good.” Have you ever heard Brothers pray, in the Prayer Meeting, “Lord, You have promised that where two or three are gathered together in Your name, You will be in the midst of them and that to bless them and do them good”? Well now, that last part is what they have tagged on to our Savior’s words. He did not say, “and that to bless them and do them good,” because it was not necessary to say that. If the Lord is in the midst of them, He must bless them and do them good! So Jacob felt that if the Lord had not put it in just those words, He implied it when He said, “I am with you.” How could the Lord be with him except to do him good? That was his translation of the original text which came out of God’s lips–and that is what the Lord really meant by it. Jacob had gone below the surface and spied out the hidden meaning–and if you should ever be able to see more in a promise than is in it, it is in it! I seem to contradict myself by that paradox, yet it is true. If the Word of the Lord should, in its literal construction, not actually contain all that your faith can see in it, yet over every promise there is this Law of God written, “According to your faith, be it unto you.” And you may rest assured that your faith will never outrun the promise of God! He will keep His promise, not only to the letter, but to the fullest possible meaning that you can impart to it!
II. But I must not say any more about Jacob’s fear, or I shall have no time for speaking about HIS FAITH. Yet I have been speaking about it while I have been talking concerning his fear.
First, JacobHe mentioned his fear of Esau and then he turned to the Lord,saying, “You said, I will surely do you good.” Oh, what a hold he had of God! “‘You said.’ You cannot lie and You said, ‘I will surely do you good.’ You cannot go back from Your word and, ‘You said, I will surely do you good.’” He seems to hold God to it as men hold their fellow men to a promise which they have given. There is nothing that he can see in which he can trust. God seems to be doing nothing, to be quite still–yet Jacob reminds Him of His promise, “You said.” The promise is sufficient for Jacob without any act or deed as yet. “You said, You said, I will surely do you good.”
I must also remind you that
this was what Jacob said when he began to pray. If you turn to his prayer, you will see
that he began by saying, “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, the Lord which said unto me,” and so on. That is the beginning of his prayer and the end of it is, “And You said.” That should always be both the beginning and the ending of prayer. You must never go beyond God’s promises. If He has said anything, that is enough for you, but do not expect that your whims and fancies will be indulged. You must begin your prayer by saying to God, “You said,” and when you do that, the weakest saint or sinner may plead so as to prevail. You can never get a stronger plea than the Lord’s own promise! You can never strike a blow that will more effectually clinch the nail than this, “You said. You said.”
O Brothers and Sisters, I scarcely know how to put this matter before you as I ought, because if God says a thing, who is there among us who shall dare to give Him the lie? If it was years ago that He said it. If it is an old promise, even in the oldest book of the Old Testament, yet there is no such thing as time with God–one day is with him as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day–and the promise is just as good as if He had made it at this very moment! If you could hear God speak now, you would not doubt Him, would you? Well, but did He at any time utter this promise? Then it stands fast forever, for He has never spoken in secret so as to change what He has said in public! Every promise of God is sure to all those who put their trust in Him. Jacob’s faith rested, in its beginning and its end, upon the promise of God–this was the basis of it, and this alone. Can you say that this is the foundation of all your confidence for time and for eternity? If you can, is it not a basis worth resting upon, a foundation fit to build upon? Is there any supposable weight which this Rock cannot sustain? Is there any imaginable trouble which may not be endured while God’s great solemn promise stands forever fast?
Yet Jacob’s faith, while it was resting upon the promise of God, was, nevertheless, a struggling faith. It was a mixture of, “I fear Esau” and, “You said.” Beloved, have you only a struggling faith? Then, struggle on! Never give up struggling. If your faith is only like Jacob’s wrestling, wrestle on, for, notice that Jacob, when he had said to the Lord, “You said,” and quoted the promise, stopped praying, for he was satisfied to leave the case there. So, Brothers and Sisters, if your faith begins only as struggling faith, it is the nature of it to increase and grow till, at last, it comes to be victorious faith! Pray for victorious faith. Ask the Lord to give you the confidence that will not be daunted, the unstaggering faith of Abraham, who, though he was as one dead and his wife far advanced in years, yet knew that God had promised him a son and, therefore, believed that he would have a son–and looked for him without a doubt! And then, when God bade him take Isaac and slay him, he believed that God would even raise him up from the dead, but, somehow or other, He would keep His promise.
Beloved, believe anything except that God can lie. Believe any miracle, any impossibility, or that which ungodly men tell you is an inability. Take it all in, but never let the thought come into your mind that God can be false to you! Oh, if we only believed God as He deserves to be believed, we should be able to move mountains and cast them into the sea! Nothing is impossible to the man to whom it is impossible to doubt his God. A mighty faith, though it is not, in itself, omnipotent, yet lays hold upon the Omnipotence of God and girds itself with Divine strength. Does not the Lord deserve such a faith from us? Yet we shall never have it unless He gives it to us! Oh, that the Holy Spirit would work it in us, preserve it in us and perfect it in us till faith is lost in sight–and hope is changed to full fruition! Never let us doubt the living God for a single moment.
The Lord bless you, dear Friends, and especially bless any of you who have not yet believed in His Son, Jesus Christ! Oh, that they could see the sinfulness of doubting the great God and Jesus Christ, His Son! Oh, that they would but trust Him and confide in Him just as they are! They would never have to lament doing so, but, throughout eternity they would have to bless the Lord who taught them this sweet way of life and peace, namely, the way of simple dependence upon the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ!