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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 31–35]

WHEN Laban saw that Jacob had become very rich, he began to envy him, and ceased to regard him with favour. Then God said to Jacob: “Return into the land of thy fathers. I will be with thee.” Jacob rose up without delay, and set out with his family and all he possessed. He had reached the banks of the river Jordan when he began to fear on account of his brother. He sent messengers before him to say to Esau: “Let me find favour in thy sight!” The messengers returned, saying to Jacob: “Esau cometh with speed to meet thee, with four hundred men.” Then Jacob was sore afraid, and he thus prayed: “God of my fathers, O Lord, who saidst to me, ‘Return to thy land’, I am not worthy of the least of all Thy mercies, and of Thy truth which Thou hast fulfilled to Thy servant. With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I return with two companies. Deliver me from the hand of my brother!”

During the night an angel appeared to Jacob with whom he wrestled till morning. And Jacob said to the angel: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.” The angel said to him: “Henceforth thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel (i. e. strength of God), for if thou hast been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?”

He then divided his children, his servants, and his flocks into companies, and putting himself at the head of one of them, he advanced to meet his brother, bowing seven times to the ground before him. But Esau, rejoicing to see his brother Jacob, ran to meet him and embraced him with many tears. Then, perceiving the children, he asked: “Whose are those?” Jacob replied: “They are the children which God hath given me.” And, making a sign to them, they all advanced, and bowed down before Esau. Jacob then presented Esau with several flocks. But Esau refused them, saying: “I have plenty, my brother; keep what is thine for thyself!” Jacob insisted, and said: “I beseech thee, take the blessing which God hath given me!” Then Esau yielded to his prayer, and Jacob, full of gratitude for the protection of God, continued his journey, and arrived in the land of Chanaan. He came to Salem, a city of the Sichemites, where he bought a field; and then, mindful of his vow, he repaired to Bethel to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Thence he went south to Hebron, where his aged father lived. On the way (near Bethlehem) his wife Rachel, died after having given birth to Jacob’s youngest son Benoni or Benjamin (Fig. 10). Isaac was happy that his son had returned, and lived after this about twenty years. Finally, enfeebled by age, he died, one hundred and eighty years old. Esau and Jacob buried him at Hebron.

 

Fig. 10. Rachel’s Tomb near Bethlehem. (Phot. Bonfils.)

All things come from God. When Jacob offered several flocks to his brother, he uttered these beautiful words: “Take of the blessing which God hath given me.” He confessed thereby that it was God who had given, preserved, and increased his flocks.

Faithfulness of God. This story shows how God fulfilled His promise: “I will be thy keeper, and will bring thee back into this land.”

Keeping vows. Jacob, too, was faithful, and kept his vow. After he had parted from Esau, he went to Bethel, and made there an altar. Picture to yourself how he knelt down before the altar, with all his household, and thanked Almighty God from the bottom of his heart.

Necessity makes people pray. In his great fear Jacob had recourse to God. We, too, ought to turn to God for help, comfort and strength in times of trial, fear and need. “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 123:8). The holy apostle James says: “Is any of you sad? Let him pray” (James 5:13).

Prayer does not dispense us from helping ourselves. Jacob did not only pray to God, but he did all that lay in his own power to propitiate his brother. He sent messengers to beg his favour; he sent him presents, and humbled himself, bowing down seven times before him. We should act as he did, in our times of need or trouble. We should, indeed, pray, but we should not sit with our arms folded, but should use every lawful means to help ourselves.

Prayer must be persevering. The holy patriarch, wrestling with God, is a figure of persevering prayer. As Jacob wrestled and cried out: “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me”; so ought we never to give up praying, until we have been heard. Almighty God wills that we should, as it were, wrestle with Him in prayer, do violence to Him, and storm Him with our petitions. By doing so, we become more worthy to obtain what we ask. See the parable of the importunate friend (New Test. XLIX).

The power of prayer. We can see by Esau’s conduct how powerful and effective Jacob’s prayer was. For Esau still bore his brother a grudge, and came with four hundred men to seize him. But, on account of Jacob’s prayer, God changed Esau’s hard heart, and he became friendly towards his brother, and fell on his neck and kissed him, weeping with emotion. See in what manner God can change the hearts of men! “As the division of waters, so the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever He will he shall turn it” (Prov. 21:1).

Hatefulness of envy. Not only was Jacob blessed by God, but, for his sake, God prospered Laban as well. And yet Laban envied his son-in-law, and was unfriendly to him. We can see by Laban’s conduct what a foolish, hateful, and unjust vice envy is.

It is noble to forgive. What is the feeling of your heart, as you picture to yourself those two brothers weeping, and embracing one another? Is it not a moving sight? Is not Esau, forgiving and weeping, a thousand times better than Esau, angry and vindictive? Is it not, therefore, a beautiful and noble thing to forgive those who have injured us? “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.”

Parents are the representatives of God to their children. Jacob said, speaking of his children: “They are the children which God hath given to me.” God gives children to their parents to bring them up for Him, to love and serve Him. On this account, parents are to their children the representatives of God, and children ought to honour them as such.

Jesus Christ, the Author of all grace. The blessing which Jacob wrung from God is a figure of the great gift of grace which Jesus Christ, the true Israel, wrung from heaven for us by His sufferings and death.

APPLICATION. Do you ever refuse to make friends with your brothers and sisters, or any other children who have injured you? Do you not nurse a feeling of resentment? Are you not ill-natured to them? Do you not wish them evil? Do you ask pardon of others (as, for example, your parents) when you have done wrong, and grieved them? Do you easily begin a quarrel? Forgive everyone from your heart! Be at peace with everybody, and especially with your brothers and sisters! Do not aggravate or strike anyone! It is far better to suffer wrong than to do wrong. Say to-day an “Our Father” for all those who have done you any injury!








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