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No. 111: Crisis Time: Patriarchal Prologue, Part 3

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 111
Copyright (c) 1998 Biblical Horizons
November, 1998

Jacob and Solomon

God gave wealth and possessions to Jacob, and then threatened to take them all away at Peniel. Jacob wrestled with God, and through prayer Jacob saw through the crisis by faith and was made victor (Hosea 12:4). The Kingdom period in Israel concerns the same themes.

We begin with Solomon, who is a representative of the whole. God came to Solomon early in life with promises, and because Solomon asked for wisdom, God gave him also wealth and possessions. Solomon built the Temple and his influence went out through the world so that even the Queen of Sheba visited him. But then Solomon fell. He multiplied gold (estate), horses (warrior "sons"), and women (glory; see discussion later on), in violation of the laws of kingship (Deuteronomy 17; 1 Kings 10-11); but all three of these were part of his larger estate. We are not told of a crisis, but we don’t need to be told of one because the pattern has been made clear. In the middle of his life, Solomon did not wrestle with God about keeping the kingdom as His steward. Rather, Solomon usurped the kingdom for himself, with the result that God sent rebels against him for the rest of his days, and with the further result that the kingdom turned against him because he had reduced them by taxes and forced labor.

Jacob had been willing to part with much if not most of his possessions; he sent a great deal of wealth to Esau in order to buy him off. With the blessing of God, Jacob’s scheme worked well. This was only because Jacob had wrestled with God. We aren’t told what Jacob argued with God, but we can know what it was from the Genesis 32:11-12: "You can take my flocks and herds and give them to Esau, but please do not take my wives and children, for they are Your people and I am their protector." God was pleased with Jacob and called him the victor.

Jacob had promised God a tithe, and now God had come to collect. God intended to give not only His tithe but everything to Esau, and that was the test for Jacob. And it is our test as well: ARE YOU WILLING TO GIVE ME YOUR ESTATE? That’s an easy question for a poor man to answer, so God asks the poor man for his son. God asks the rich man for his estate. Jacob was a rich man. Jacob had acted righteously and judiciously to build up his estate, but as we have seen in our previous essay, God thwarted his best efforts. God made it clear to Jacob that his estate had come from God alone, just as God made it clear to Abraham that his son had come from God alone. Now God seemed to want it back, and Jacob like Abraham was willing to give it. All he wanted in return was for God to bless him, and God did so.

This was, sadly, not how Solomon responded to his mid-life crisis. He held on to his possessions, magnifying them through taxes enforced by an army of horsemen, and living splendidly with 1000 women. As a result, Solomon’s "Esaus" were not becalmed, and God stirred them up to afflict his rule. Seeking to magnify his kingdom, Solomon succeeded only in diminishing it. And after his death, the kingdom split when his son Rehoboam continued in his footsteps.

The divided kingdom and the frequent wars between Northern Israel and Southern Judah simply played out on a large scale the conflict between Esau and Jacob. The Israelite kings went apostate immediately and stayed apostate continually without any true repentance: a bunch of Esaus.

WILL YOU GIVE ME YOUR ESTATE? The righteous kings of Judah did so, for they devoted great monies to rebuilding the Temple when it was in disrepair. The wicked kings of Judah kept their estates for themselves.

The story of Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard is a signal for the character of the period and of its crisis events (1 Kings 21). Ahab wanted the vineyard because it was right next to his palace; he wanted to extend his estate. We know that this was a time of death-crisis for Ahab, because he took ill and was bedridden over the matter. Ahab failed to see through the crisis by faith, and heeded Jezebel’s advice to put Naboth to death. Instead of leaving his estate in God’s hands, Ahab sought to secure his estate by oppression. Then Elijah came and said that because of this sin Ahab would die and be eaten by the dogs and birds. We notice that it was not for any of Ahab’s many other sins, including introducing total idolatry into Israel and allowing his wife to kill the prophets, that he was sentenced to be cursed. Ahab had already been sentenced to death (1 Kings 20:42), but not to the full curse.

Finally, the many lesser crises of the period culminated in the great crisis of the days of Jeremiah. That prophet, and almost all the prophets, condemned the people for the idolatry of icon veneration, but primarily for brother-brother sins. The wealthy in Judah refused to give up their wealth, which meant their slaves. The fullest picture of this is seen in Jeremiah 34: The wealthy freed their slaves when they feared Jerusalem would be conquered, and then took them back when Nebuchadnezzar departed the city’s gates for a while. They refused to obey God and give up their possessions in accordance with the demands of His law.

But the focus of the crisis came when Jeremiah announced that God had told him that He was giving all the nations into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 25). God had given the kingdom to Judah, and now God was demanding it back again. God was going to give it to the "Esau" Nebuchadnezzar. Would the people submit to God’s plan and wrestle with Him, through prayer, for the blessing? No, they would not. Had they been willing to see through the crisis, as Jacob had, God might have let them keep the kingdom after all. As it turned out, of course, they lost it completely. Not only did Nebuchadnezzar take the reins of government as emperor over a vassal state, which is all God had promised, but he deported them as well and Judah ceased to be a nation on the earth.

Those who maintained faith, however, and saw through the crisis, received the blessing. They trusted God’s good purposes and submitted to His plan. Foremost among these were Daniel and his friends, who wound up with the highest glory and influence among the Gentiles, though they were made eunuchs, thereby receiving a form of Jacob’s "foot" wound. ("Feet" in the Bible sometimes refers to or represents the privates; Judges 3:24; Ruth 3:7; 1 Samuel 24:3. Jacob’s was a literal foot wound, of course.)

Jeremiah also saw through the crisis, and afterwards was blessed by Nebuchadnezzar’s soldiers — though the sinful Judahites spoiled it for him and dragged him off to Egypt.

Those who hearkened to Jeremiah and Ezekiel became the core of the post-crisis community. Their "limp," their humility, was that Judah never became a strong visible kingdom again. They were scattered through the empire, but as witnesses. Their influence was great, and many Gentiles converted. They had given up their physical estates and material dreams, and had received something far better, becoming a nation of witnesses, a whole nation of future-creators. They had exchanged ruling the present for ruling the future, and had thereby become more God-like than before. Their hidden glory was symbolized in Ezekiel’s mighty City-Temple (Ezekiel 40-48).

God might have taken it all away from Jacob and left him only with his family. Jacob was willing for this to happen, but only if God would bless him. Because of Jacob’s faith it did not happen, and Jacob’s influence and witness was magnified, through Joseph, to the whole world. Jacob became a future-creator.

Once again, the mid-life, mid-culture crisis concerns the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As we have seen, this Tree concerns kingship and rule, but it also concerns eldership and glory-influence over the future. It is these latter aspects that come to the fore in the crisis that ends the Kingdom era. As it turns out, visible, external kingship and rule is not the highest form of maturity; there is another stage beyond it, so to speak. The elders in Israel did not rule during the period of the kings; rather, they served as advisors. In the Restoration era, the whole nation of the Jews became elders. Daniel advised Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus; Mordecai and Nehemiah advised Darius-Artaxerxes-Ahasuerus. Throughout the successive empires, Jews were known as people of wisdom and learning and their influence was great, until they apostatized in the days of the Maccabees. Even after that, they continued to be respected.

Let us now summarize. In the story of Jacob and in the history of the kingdom, the focus is on the brother-brother relationship, especially as that relationship is played out at the human level in the relationship of rich and poor. The mid-life crisis concerns the brother-brother relationship: Will you free the slave, the poor, the fatherless, the widow? Will you give up your estate, considered most pointedly in these human terms? Solomon wouldn’t, and the rich in Zedekiah’s day wouldn’t. Those who pass the test, who see through the crisis by faith, are ready for the Tree of Rule and can become elders.

The test of the Tree of Knowledge, as it comes to us as individuals and nations, means at least two things in its Jacob dimension: Will you wrestle with God for the blessing, and not try to seize or retain it for yourself by political power (such as slavery, oppression, closed union shops, protective tariffs, etc.)? Will you give your estate, your security and your glory, to God, even if it looks as if they will be given to your enemy? If we see through the crisis by faith, we shall inherit.

 

 

The Structure of the Jacob Narrative (Genesis 25:12–37:1)

Formulated by the No-Nonsense James B. Jordan

 

A. Genealogy of Ishmael, 25:12-18

B. Isaac’s genealogy, 25:19

C. Sons of Isaac, 25:20-21

D. Struggle for dominance, 25:22

E. Word from Yahweh, 25:23 / Birth of sons, 25:24-26

F. Dealing with false son, sinfully adored by Isaac, 25:27-24

G. Struggle with Gentiles, 26:1-22

H. Covenant with Gentiles, 26:23-33

I. Esau and inheritance; Jacob rejected, 26:34–28:9*

J. Theophany of God with angels, 28:10-22

K. Jacob arrives to Laban, 29:1-14

L. Laban turns against Jacob, 29:15**

M. Work for wives, 29:16-30

N. Sons by nature, 29:31–30:21

N’ Son by miracle, 29:22-24

M’ Work for estate, 30:25-43

L’ Laban’s sons turn against Jacob, 31:1-16

K’ Jacob leaves Laban, 31:17-35

J’ Theophany of God with angels, ch. 32

I’ Esau and inheritance; Jacob received, 33:1-17

H. Covenant with Gentiles, 33:18–34:24

G’ Struggle (war) with Gentiles, 34:25-31

F’ Dealing with false gods, 35:1-8

E’ Word from Yahweh, 35:9-15 / Birth of son, 35:16-20

D’ Struggle for dominance, 35:21-22a

C’ Sons of Jacob, 35:22b-27

B’ Isaac’s death, 35:28-29

A’ Genealogy of Esau, ch. 36

 

 

* Esau’s wives, 26:34-35

Isaac’s blessings, 27:1-45

Esau’s wives, 27:46

Isaac’s blessing, 28:1-5

Esau’s wives, 28:6-9

**Laban stops treating Jacob as a brother and reduces him to wage-slavery.