Jacob Was Left Alone: Jacob Have I Loved

Genesis 32:24‑32  •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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In tracing the history of Jacob, and in contemplating his natural character, we are again and again reminded of the grace expressed in those words, "Jacob have I loved." The question why God should love such a one, can only receive for an answer the boundless and sovereign grace of Him who sets His love upon objects possessing nothing within them; and who calls things that be not, as though they were; "that no flesh should glory in His presence." Jacob's natural character was most unamiable; his name indeed was at once the effusion of what he was, "a supplanter." He commenced his course in the development of this, his disposition; and until thoroughly crushed, as in these verses, he pursued a course of the merest bargain-making.
On leaving his father's house, Jacob makes a bargain with God. "If God," says he, "will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee." Gen. 28:20-2220And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: 22And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. (Genesis 28:20‑22). Here we find him making a bargain with God Himself, the full evidence of what his real character was. Then again, mark him during the period of his sojourn with Laban; see there what plans, what deep-laid schemes to promote his own ends. How plainly it is seen that self was the grand object before his mind, in all that he put his hand to. So it is in the course of this thirty-second chapter. He is deeply engaged in plans to turn away the dreaded wrath of his more manly, though badly treated, brother Esau.
But there was one circumstance with regard to Jacob in this chapter which deserves attention. He is seen laboring under the painful effects of a bad conscience with regard to his brother; he knew that he had acted toward him in a way calculated to call out his anger and revenge, and he is therefore ill at ease at the prospect of meeting him. But God had a controversy with Jacob. He had to lead him through a course of education that was to teach him that "all flesh is as grass." Jacob thought only of appeasing Esau by a present. True, he turns aside in this chapter to offer up confession, and prays; y e t, notwithstanding it is manifest that his heart was engaged about his own arrangements for appeasing Esau, more than anything else. But God was looking at him in all this, and preparing a salutary course of discipline for him, in order to teach him what was in his heart. For this purpose was Jacob left alone. All his company, arranged according to his own plan, had passed on, and he himself was awaiting this much-dreaded interview with Esau.
There is peculiar force in the words, "Jacob was left 'alone." Thus is it with all who have been trained in the school of God; they have been brought in the stillness and solitude of the divine presence, there to view themselves and their ways where alone they can be rightly viewed. Had Jacob continued amid the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen, he could not by any means have enjoyed the same calm and sober view of himself and his past course as he was led to in the secret of the presence of God. "Jacob was left alone." Oh, there is no part of a man's history so important as when he is thus led into the solitude of the divine presence! It is there he understands things which were before dark and inexplicable. There he can judge of men and things in their proper light; there too he can judge of self, and see its proper nothingness and vileness.
In Psalm 73 we find a soul looking abroad upon the world and reasoning upon what he saw there-reasoning to such an extent that he was almost tempted to say it was vain to serve the Lord at all.
In Psalm 77 we find a soul looking inward, and reasoning upon what he saw within - reasoning to such an extent as to question the continuance of God's grace. What was the remedy in both cases? "The sanctuary." I went into the sanctuary of God; and then understood. So it was with Jacob; his "sanctuary" was the lonely spot where God wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. The careful reader will find that this passage, when taken as it stands, affords no foundation for the popular idea, namely, that it furnishes an instance of Jacob's power in prayer. That no such idea is set forth will at once appear from the expression, "There wrestled a man with him"; it is not said that he wrestled with the man, which would give an entirely different aspect to the scene. I believe that so far from its proving Jacob's power in prayer, it rather proves the tenacity with which he grasped the flesh and the things thereof. So firmly indeed did he hold fast his "confidence in the flesh," that all night long the struggle continued. The "supplanter" held out, nor did he yield until the very seat of his strength was touched, and he was made to feel indeed that "all flesh is as grass." Such is the obvious teaching of this very important scripture. Instead of Jacob's patience and perseverance in prayer, we have God's patience in dealing with one who needed to have his "old man" crushed to the very dust ere God could make anything of him.
This momentous scene gives us the grand turning point in the life of this extraordinary man. We are here reminded of Saul's conversion: Jacob, with the hollow of his thigh touched, like Saul, prostrate in the dust between Jerusalem and Damascus. We observe on the one hand the broken fragments of a "supplanter," and the elements of God's mighty "prince"; on the other hand, the fragments of a persecutor and injurious one, and the elements of God's mighty Apostle. And we may ask, What means the expression, "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me"? What but the utterance of one that had made the wondrous discovery that he was "without strength"? Jacob was let into the secret of human weakness, and therefore felt that it must be a divine struggle or nothing. He thinks no more of his goodly plans and arrangements, his presents to appease "my lord Esau." No; he stands withered and trembling before the One who had humbled him, and cries, I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me." Surely this is the gate of heaven! Jacob had, as it were, arrived at the end of flesh; it is no longer "me," but "Thee." He clings to Christ as the poor shipwrecked mariner clings to the rock. All self-confidence is gone, all expectations from self and the world blasted, every chain of self-devised security dissolved like a morning cloud before the beams of the sun. All his bargains availed him nothing at all. How miserable must everything that ever he did have seemed to him; yes, even his offer to give a tenth to God, when thus laid in the dust of self-abasement and conscious weakness!
The mighty Wrestler says, "Let Me go, for the day breaketh." What a striking expression, "Let Me go." He was determined to make manifest the condition of Jacob's soul. If Jacob had without delay let go his grasp, he would have proved that his heart was still wrapped up in his worldly plans and schemes; but on the contrary, when he cries out, "I will not let Thee go," he declares that God alone was the spring of all his soul's joy and strength; he in effect says, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee" (Psalm 73:2525Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. (Psalm 73:25)); or with the twelve in the sixth chapter of John, "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
"I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me." Such will ever be the happy effect of a thorough acquaintance with our own hearts. Jacob now gets his name changed; he must not be any longer known as the "supplanter," but as a "prince," having power with God through the very knowledge of his weakness; for "when I am weak, then am I strong." We are never so strong. Peter never displayed selves weak, even as "water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again" (2 Sam. 14:1414For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again; neither doth God respect any person: yet doth he devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him. (2 Samuel 14:14)); and, on the contrary, we are never so weak as when we fancy ourselves strong. Peter never displayed more lamentable weakness than when he fancied he had uncommon strength; had he felt somewhat of Jacob's happy condition when his sinew shrank, he would have thought, acted, and spoken differently.
We should not turn from this passage without at least seeing distinctly what it was that gave Jacob "power with God and with men"; it was the full consciousness of his own nothingness. Who that hearkens for a moment to those precious words, "I will not let Thee go, except Thou bless me," and beholds the humbled patriarch clinging closely to the One who had broken him down, can fail to see that Jacob's "power" consisted in his "weakness"? There is nothing here of Jacob's power in prayer. No; all we see is, first, Jacob's strength in the flesh, and God weakening him; then, his weakness in the flesh, and God strengthening him. This is indeed the great moral of the scene. Jacob was satisfied to go halting on his journey, seeing he had learned the secret of true strength. He was able to move along, using the words afterward uttered by the Apostle Paul, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:99And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)). Yes, "my infirmities" on the one hand, and "the power of Christ" on the other, will be found to constitute the sum total of the life of a Christian.