Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Jacob?

This is in the now-for-something-completely-different category... a "Bible study" question. Why are God's covenant people named after Jacob/Israel? Why not after Abraham, who after all, is the father of the faithful; or after Isaac, who is the "son of promise"? There's not a whole lot about Jacob that is... exemplary. What is it about Jacob... or perhaps better, what is it about God?

32 comments:

smokin joe said...

good question ... I'll have to think about that. Just as a wild guess... does it have anything to do with showing God's grace? The choice of Jacob over Esau? and the transformation of wily Jacob into striving and overcoming Israel?

John M. said...

I'm thinking... Great question Brian. I sure would like to hear Dow Robinson's and Frank Dawson's thoughts on this one.

Initial Observations (Not conclusions; hopefully fruit for discussion):

Abraham as the "Father of Faith" takes a transcendent place which allows him to be claimed by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the three patriarhs or "Fathers".

Jacob the "father" of the twelve tribes, the archtype who was set to wander, experiences a special revelation of God, tricked and deceived (after he had done the same), and who strives to know God and to overcome adversity and danger (from his own brother), to survive and eventually prosper...

steve H said...

I don't have a final answer, but it seems to me there is a somewhat practical explanation. Abraham and Isaac each had one son through whom the "covenant" continued. Literally speaking, one would have to say the child of Abraham or the child of Isaac. Jacob, on the other hand, fathered the 12 tribes so in the most literal sense the "people" were the children of Jacob/

I think there is also a generational reality to this. God typically works through multiple generations to fulfill his purposes. Joseph, imperfect as he was, was the fruit of two faithful (although also imperfect) generations. The promis was for descendants like the stars and sand. For two generations this promise had to be held by faith. Then multiplication began to happen with Jacob.

Brian Emmet said...

Good points all. I don't mean this to be an abstract question, so by all means bring any thoughts you have on how this story of Jacob "works," on us and in us, today. I understand that one way to answer the question "Why Jacob?" is "God decided!" But Jacob's story seems to invite us into itself, to ask these kinds of questions...

John M. said...

Is there some significance to the fruit begining to multiply with the third generation?

Perhaps that could explain why "our" generation of Covenant bros. (the second spiritual generation) has not been as fruitful as some of us hoped. Perhaps the fruit will began to multiply with the third generation...

Patrick said...

This is an interesting topic! Where exactly did it come from? And there is a possibility of getting Dr Dow Robinson's insight into this before the discussion is over, albeit maybe through the grapevine.

I think one of the main reasons, besides God's simple choice, is the fact of the wrestling match. It seemed like God appreciated the fact that Jacob was so determined to get what God had for him, he fought for it to his own hurt. What are the dynamics of that struggle scene?

I'm also interested in the fruit multiplying in the third generation concept. Are there other examples of this in the Bible? Science? Life in general?

smokin joe said...

Here is something I found on a web site about Jacob:

http://www.ccel.org/s/schaff/encyc/encyc06/htm/iii.lv.viii.htm

"Jacob's character is best illustrated by his double name. He is called Jacob because of his dexterity and cunning, which always give him the advantage over the physically stronger Esau and over the shrewd Laban. On account of his weakness and his subordinate position Jacob accommodates himself to the will of the stronger, yet always succeeds in attaining his end by courage and tenacity. However much dissimulation there was in his conduct, Jacob did not employ it for sordid gain. As Israel he strives for the blessing of God because he has recognized therein the highest good. He devotes his whole energy to obtaining the blessings of the covenant (Hos. xii. 4-5). It is true that Jacob's character does not show the comparative straightforwardness of Abraham, and therefore he can not be regarded as a model for all time. He is not an ideal, even according to the standard of Israelitic ethics, but a man whose sinful nature struggles against his better self; but he was purified by the suffering which made his life a sadder one than that of his forefathers (xlvii. 9). What raises Jacob above himself is his reverent, indestructible longing for the salvation of his God, which after long struggles attains complete satisfaction."

Dr. Sam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Sam said...

I have benefitted greatly from the life of Jacob for most of my Christian walk. Just recently with this topic I've become aware of some things that I knew were going on with Jacob but now I have some labels for them. I think I understand the guy better today.

I see him sort of like, "The Rise and Fall of an Extreme Narcissist: His Rise to True Glory!"

I see where you his personality was already predisposed (genetically?) to be a Type A person, competitive, overpowering, and "supplanter" as his name suggests when he was born.

I see where his father wimped out and his mother pampered him thus forming a the foundation for extreme selfishness in his life.

His mother was a master schemer (a synonym of "Jacob"). Hence the son took on those traits. His mother knew how to manipulate the father. I believe deep down in her heart she disrespected and probably was angry at her husband because he did not meet her emotional needs. She was probably not permitted to "disrespect her husband" by confronting him. She had to bottle it in. She then parentified Jacob by making him her favorite and creating an alliance with him (emotional incest). See my article at this link:
PARENTIFICATION

Hence, Jacob continued a multigenerational dysfunction.

I'll just say this for now. :)

Brian Emmet said...

Wow! Wheee!

John M: hmmm, I like the thought about second generations. Isaac, the second generation, is an interesting figure. Kind of passive, he doesn't "do" or accomplish much, but he does carry the blessing and hand it off (well, kind of) to the next generation.

Patrick: I was looking for some topic that wouldn't immediately land on "church"! And I am personally intrigued by Jacob's "wrestling" as well. By all means, lasso Dow in any way you can!

Jose: Thanks for the Schaff quote!I'm finding myself reading Jacob differently from Schaff... I'm not finding anything admirable in Jacob, including the wrestling! Why does he "wrestle" for what he already has? He has already been declared by God to be the carrier of the blessing.

Dr. Sam: Hmmm...something generationally dysfunctional in Israel as a people? When you look at Jacob's 12 sons... the way he plays favorites with Joseph...and seems to "mess up" blessing Joseph's two sons... Jacob is also described as " a quiet man, who stayed close to home," compared to Esau, who was "a man of the open fields." Does this fit with Type A?

Another question (not that we don't already have plenty!): as Dr. Sam pointed out, Rebekah is a primary agent in this story. When the twins are struggling in her womb, she "inquiries of the LORD," who tells her that "the older will be servant to the younger." Does she ever tell this to Isaac? Why doesn't Isaac know that the blessing is to go to Jacob, not Esau?
Ominous note: when Jacob questions his mom about her plan (to "steal" Esau's blessing), Jacob worries, not about the rightness of the plan, but whether it will work. Rebekah replies, "Let the curse (i.e., any curse that may come from their subterfuge) fall upon me, my son." Rebekah then disappears from Scripture--after this scene (Genesis 27), the only mention anywhere else in Scripture, is a very indirect reference to her being buried in the family cemetery (Gen 49). Her actual death scene is, unusually, never reported.

John M. said...

Brian, I thought Schaff was a bit too positive on Jacob also.

Sam, spoken like a true psychotherepist! Interesting stuff. Emotional incest...talk about a dark twist.

Brian, interesting observation about Rebekkah's "disappearence" from scripture.

This is kind of fun. If we keep chewing on this as a group, we may come to some truly fresh insights.

Dr. Sam said...

Brian,

You just gave me some insight. Jacob was close to the apron strings and Essau was out there. Both still lived at home...he, he, he...

It is possible that Jacob was the "softer one" and therefore more wimpy but more manipulative. He was probably a genius in how to get his own selfish way since he was pampered by his mother. He probably saw God more like a mother and was shocked when God jumped on him and mugged him. A wild God, eh? I got mugged once in real life, scared the s??t out of me! I was traumatized. God the Mugger! So be it.

John Norton said...

"What raises Jacob above himself is his reverent, indestructible longing for the salvation of his God, which after long struggles attains complete satisfaction."

This part of the Schaff I liked in particular. I am not convinced that Jacob was "reverent," but his indestructable longing seems undeniable. God's choice of Jacob seems as likely as His choice of David. Both criminals, both deceptive, both honored for a desire to know God, to be after the heart of God.

smokin joe said...

great comments all: I don't want to overlook anyone, but I do want to respond to Brian's observation that there was nothing admirable in Jacob, including his wrestling all night with God. I agree.

The whole point of the imagery of the wrestling is not about Jacob seeking to lay hold of the blessing, it is about God seeking to overcome Jacob's reliance upon his own strength, cunning, maneuvering, and deceptions. Until Jacob came to the end of his own attempts to 'work a deal', God could not release full blessing to him. Notice that the night spent in wrestling came as he was caught between a proverbial rock and a hard place. His brother coming from ahead to kill him; his uncle coming from behind to do him no good. He was out of ideas and room to maneuver. Notice that when he finally did go walking to meet his brother, he was walking with a noticeable limp – no longer the strong and self-sufficient Jacob, but the limping Israel. The question we must ask ourselves is have we worn ourselves out wrestling with God sufficiently to surrender and allow him to conquer our hearts and to walk in our weakness?

Dr. Sam said...

Some interesting points:

Jacob was manipulating and trying to control events on the dark night. He was scared to death of his brother coming possibly to kill him so he sent the gifts ahead. He sent his family away to be out of harms way. He was all alone. That was when God gets him. That is when God gets us, when we think we have it all figured out and then God comes crashing through a warp hole in the Universe and grabs us! Intense pain! We feel like we are going to die. Jacob struggles and fights the incredible strength of the stranger. Then he touches what some think is the most powerful muscle in his body (Wiki: "The quadriceps femoris (Latin for "four-headed [muscle] of the femur"), also called simply the quadriceps, quadriceps extensor, or quads, is a large muscle group that includes the four prevailing muscles on the front of the thigh. It is the great extensor muscle of the knee, forming a large fleshy mass which covers the front and sides of the femur. It is the strongest and leanest muscle in the human body.")

God depotentated ("to take energy out of") and disabled Jacob permanently in such a way that he would never forget the lesson of being broken and clinging. He met God as a man of manipulation standing on his own two strong feet. He left limping but massively changed from the inside and with a new name,Israel, "God contended."

Patrick said...

Dr Sam, that is a good insight into the wrestling match. I know God usually cripples what we rely on most outside of Him.

I like John's lines here, and Joe's, below. God's choice of Jacob seems as likely as His choice of David. Both criminals, both deceptive, both honored for a desire to know God, to be after the heart of God.

The question we must ask ourselves is have we worn ourselves out wrestling with God sufficiently to surrender and allow him to conquer our hearts and to walk in our weakness?

I'm glad God chooses criminals and such.

Brian Emmet said...

I track with Joseph's and Sam's point that "the wrestling match" was not, as usually portrayed, "Jacob wrestles with God," but "God wrestles with Jacob"! Jacob does emerge from this match limping, and he seems to limp for the rest of his days, but still: in the ensuing encounter with Esau, I'm not sure that Jacob has "repented" or really had a change of heart. He says of the gifts he sends along in advance that his hope is to "pacify" Esau. Once he and Esau hug and weep, Jacob insists that Esau accept the gifts--by so doing, Esau will be culturally prohobited from taking vengeance, i.e., the acceptance of the gifts will be seen as a making-of-peace between the brothers. Jacobnever offers a word of apology and is clearly anxious to get rid of Esau and his guys, insisting (a) that his crew will need to move too slowly for Esau and his crew and (b) he doesn't really need their help or presence anyway. Jacob further promises to meet up with Esau in Seir, but as soon as Esau is over the next hill, Jacob diverts to Succoth. He NEVER goes to Seir, and the only time he and Esau meet again is when they bury their dad. That scene is noteworthy for its brevity.

My point is (to continue the wrestling metaphor) I'm not sure at what point in this story God actually "pins" Jacob. But you're probably seeing some things I have missed.

Thanks, all, for your comments. I'm having some fun with this--hope you are as well!

Brian Emmet said...

I see my comments are on the long side... I'll try to rein myself in a bit.

smokin joe said...

your words on the LONG SIDE??? Ha, ha, ha.... give me a break ... you are the most concise and undertated communicator (although ironic) I know ... and you are among some worldclass-loquacious writers here; with me and John Meadows at the front of the line, occasionally Steve before he reached enlightenment and dear Jeremiah before he got too busy participate. You had a grand total of 264 words ...

by-the-way, I am enjoying this discussion about Jacob also, and the spiritual gems we are gleaning from it. It is nice to talk about something that is not quite as heavy as the future of the church for a change....

John M. said...

I, too, am enjoying this discussion. Perhaps Jacob represents the uiversal nature of us all. Without God apprehending us, wrestling us to the ground, giving us a "limp" and then graciously sparing us, we would all be unbroken "Jacobs".

I have a question. Who [literally] did he wrestle with that night?

smokin joe said...

In Academia, the word ‘patriarchy’ is considered to be a really bad word. Patriarchy, in that understanding, stands for arbitrary male abuse of womanhood. It is not just abuse, but an entire social structure accompanied by a philosophy or world-view that men are inherently superior to women and ought to be in authority over women. There are plenty of negative historical examples throughout western history that can be cited to support this view (of course, I recognize that counter arguments can be made about Christianity’s liberating mission with women, especially in the primitive church).

Patriarchal ‘cultures’ are especially traced back to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob: and include Islamic, Jewish and Christian cultures (I wonder where Greek or Hellenistic culture fits into this?)

Any thoughts about this? Common horror stories from the Old Testament include Lot offering his daughters to the Sodomites, and the guy who gave his concubine to some lusty neighbors who raped her to death, and then he cut her up into pieces and sent the pieces out to the tribes of Israel.

Strong stuff!

Brian Emmet said...

Interesting: after Jacob wrestled with God, or God wrestled with Jacob, Jacob named the place "face of God". Then when he meets up with Esau, he says, "seeing your face is like seeing the face of God." Just elaborate cultural politeness... guilty conscience... manipulation...?

Patriarchy so easily slides into idolatry: God = male. Particularly as Jesus' people, we have no business understanding God as father in any ways other than what Jesus has given to us. We can't "reason our way," or move by analogy, from earthly fathers to God the Father. Every kind of "archy" slides into idolatry, be it patriarchy, matriarchy, oligarchy, even anarchy... same thing with the "-cracy" word group--aristocracy, democracy, meritocracy... Both groups have to do with rulership, so it's not surprising that they slide so easily into idolatry. There's a lot at stake!

Dr. Sam said...

Good comments from Joseph and Brian,

Before Brian posted his note I was thinking of how the world has reacted towards male headship and what has happened is that men have been undergoing a process of feminization. That is just as bad as the badness of patriarchy. Women who feminize tend to be masculine in the process of castrating their sons and husbands. Already the Hispanic/Latin (i.e., Spaniard, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish countries) and even many Asian cultures are cultures where the women covertly or overtly control. They are matriarchal. The African American are already there with the absence of the male and usually the grandmother is mothering and fathering her children and her grandchildren. The men are just sperm-donors having children with more than one woman. Already the US White Caucasian men are becoming affected by this. The media's portrayal of men as wimps and little boys, metrosexuals, mama's boys, etc.

Jacob was pampered by mom and a brat maximus was created. Jacob was used to having his way always. His mother taught him how to lie and manipulate the father and brother. She was not a nice person in my opinion. Her husband, in my book wimped out and abrogated his role as husband. He seems to have narcissistic traits also being oblivious to what is going on to some degree.

smokin joe said...

very true! I guess that shows us that God's blessing can rest on people who are not very nice. The challenge before us is how to be godly, and masculine men, who are able to empower and release strong and capable (and feminine) women to walk beside us, not behind and not ahead of us. True partnershp.

Patrick said...

If I could pose a question here, though we aren't at our normal quota of comments:

what makes a man a "man"? what are the defining characteristics of masculinity? of a godly man? how does that differ from what the American society would define as a man?

In my process, this is an important issue for me, as I am coming into "manhood." (marriage, responsibility, etc.) In your journeys, what are some of the walls and battles that you have had to overcome and conquer? and how did you do it?

sidenote: A lot of the 20/30 something year-old "men" I know spent valentines day together this past saturday.

Brian Emmet said...

I thought Patrick's questions were worth a separate conversation, so there's a new post up on that. Jacobites/Jacobeans can continue that conversation here.

Joseph said...

CHECKING ON BLOG ENTRY....

smokin joe said...

by-the-way, I don't know who "JOSEPH" was ... but it was not me. We don't have any extra layers of security on this blog, in order to make it as easy as possible for people to post ... I hope we don't have to begin to add more security.

Joseph 2 said...

Jacob; so much in a name. He is to me, one of the most poignant and instructive "ensamples" in the Old Testament writings. Thankfully, his position as Father of Israel didn't depend on his desire or efforts but entirely upon Gods' Mercy. I love him because his life speaks hope to me. His sojourn, with its' twists and turns is a remarkable demonstration of Gods' love for him, and all like him. Like him, we were predestined to become Israel also. His path is our path.
God was so patient with Jacob. He let him exhaust his own strength and devices over many years until at last he was led to cross the brook Jabbok. There he was "left alone". there he was emptied as the word Jabbok suggests. When there was no more initiative in him, God took the initiative for it says a man wrestled with him. Never think for a moment that Jacob got God in an armlock and made Him say uncle. God desired to go one more big step in His dealings with this man. Jacob had all his life wanted Gods' blessings but he pursued them in his own strength and cunning. As they wrestled, Jacob from the depths of his being still desired Gods' Favor. Gods' requirement was couched in the question "what is thy name". In your essential nature my dear Jacob, who really are you? Jacob had had enough, he answered truthfully and humbly. Not Dr. Jacob, not even Mr. Jacob but YA-CUB. Supplanter, heel catcher, liar, double dealer, deceitful coniver full of guile, worm. In this one word answer, he made a full confession of his character. He repented, not so much of sins but of himself. His confession then became the platform for his deliverance. Immediately he became Israel, a prince with God. Separating the word itself, we have ISRA-EL, or ruled by God. G. Morgan Campbell rightly points out that the secret of Jacobs' strength lies in his mastery by God. God had crippled him to crown him, had broken him to make him whole. Centuries later ,one Nathaniel stood before Jesus. I see the Lord smiling as he mused in His heart over a wrestling match he had had so many years before. Now however, He saw before him " an Israelite, in whom there was no guile indeed" I would do no violence to the verse by stating an Israelite in whom there was no Jacob indeed. In further contrasting Nathaniel with Jacob, He promised him that he would see the reality of what Jacob only dreamed, the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and decending upon the Son of Man. Jesus personified that ladder and the rungs were made from the cross that made it possible for all like Jacob to climb it. Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? More than we can possibly comprehend and therefore much can come out of Jacob because of it.
Jesus had his Brook Jabbok where He emptied Himself, He was "left alone" at calvary, and He wrestled with Sin, the Jacob in every man. In the cross and in Jacob, Sin was unmasked and Love reigned triumphant. So the very thing which "disqualified" Jacob to be called the Father of Israel is the very thing that qualified him, so that God should receive all the glory. Abraham is the Father of our Faith, Issac the Son of Promise, the fullfillment of the promise came through faith to Jacob and all through the tender mercies of God. Jacob, so much in a name.


Joseph

Brian Emmet said...

Welcome, Joseph 2! I appreciated your thoughtful and reflective comments--you've obviously done some thinking about this, and thanks for sharing some of that thinking with us. Please, keep coming to the blog and keep those comments coming!

Has anyone ever noticed the way in which Jacob struggled for blessing, sought blessing, grabbed hold of blessing... but never is said to have "blessed" anyone, until he blesses Pharoah? I found that interesting. Jacob/Israel is also the first person in Scripture to recognize God as Shepherd (Genesis 48:15).

smokin joe said...

hey Joseph K., awesome insight into Jacob. That sounded like a great outline for a teaching about integrity and trust in God.

John M. said...

Joseph 2, welcome! Wow! Thanks for your thoughts on Jacob. Very rich. Very helpful. Don't make these your last!

Why don't you join us over on the other thread (topic) on manhood and masculinity. I have a hunch you would have some important things to say to us on that topic also. Several of the young men are listening in and/or participating.