Jacob—The Mild-tempered and Peaceable Man of God
ARE you ever tempted to take the law into your own hands because of an injustice? Do you ever feel stirred to use force to get what is coming to you? Although this is the policy of the nations of the world, it may not be the policy of the true servants of Jehovah God. Instead, they must heed the counsel: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says Jehovah.’” Yes, under such conditions the wise course is for us to remember the words of Jesus: “Happy are the mild-tempered.” “Happy are the peaceable.”—Rom. 12:19; Matt. 5:5, 9.
A faithful servant of God whose course proved the wisdom of mildness of temper and peaceableness was Jacob. He showed these qualities in his dealings with his father, his twin brother, his father-in-law, his sons and outsiders. Time and again he chose not to fight for his rights, preferring peace to the fruits of contention. He was richly blessed, both spiritually and materially, setting an example for us.
God, in answer to Jacob’s father’s prayers, caused Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, to conceive twins after a barrenness of almost twenty years. Before the two were born Jehovah foretold that the older would serve the younger. At the birth of the twins the older, because of his hairy skin, was called Esau, which means “Hairy.” The younger was named Jacob, meaning “Supplanter; Taking Hold of the Heel,” because at his birth he took hold of the heel of his brother.—Gen. 25:21-26.
Jacob, in contrast to Esau who loved outdoor life and was a cunning hunter, was an honest, harmless and innocent man who preferred to live in tents. Jacob appreciated spiritual things; his God Jehovah was close and real to him, as can be seen by his vow and prayers. He put great confidence in the promise of God that his father had inherited from Abraham. Without doubt Jacob noticed that Esau did not highly value this treasure, otherwise he would hardly have dared to suggest that Esau give it up for a mere bowl of stew. Had Esau truly appreciated his birthright, then, even though ravenously hungry, he would have spurned Jacob’s offer. But no, Esau was a materialistic, fleshly-minded man. Jacob did him no injustice in bargaining with him for the birthright.—Gen. 25:27-34.
Although Esau had sealed the bargain with an oath, he made ready to receive the blessing that went with the birthright at his father’s hands. Jacob apparently was reluctant to force the issue by arguing with Esau or with his father Isaac. It took Rebekah to persuade Jacob to take the necessary steps—which he did by impersonating Esau—so as to secure for himself the blessing that went with the birthright to which he was now entitled. Besides, did not God indicate that Jacob would receive the birthright by foretelling that the older would serve the younger?—Gen. 27:1-40.
Still, most Bible commentators find fault with Jacob. They speak of his “trickery and deceit,” and of his “fraudulent grasping of Esau’s birthright,” and so forth. But all such adverse criticism of Jacob is out of order. Rather, Esau is the one to be censured for wanting to receive the birthright blessing after having sold it. Certainly Isaac did not hold it against Jacob, for shortly thereafter, when sending Jacob to his mother’s relatives to get a wife for himself, he again blessed Jacob. And God’s Word, instead of censuring Jacob, censures Esau: “Esau despised the birthright.” “I loved Jacob, but I hated Esau.” “Anyone not appreciating sacred things, like Esau, who in exchange for one meal gave away his rights as firstborn.”—Gen. 28:1-4; 25:34; Rom. 9:13; Heb. 12:16.
JACOB ACQUIRES A LARGE HOUSEHOLD
By this time Jacob was a man past seventy years old and his destination, Paddan-aram, was some five hundred miles away. En route Jehovah appeared to him in a dream, repeated the Abrahamic promise to him and assured Jacob that he would go with him and that he would have a safe return. Upon awakening, Jacob worshiped Jehovah and made a vow to give Jehovah a tenth of all he acquired upon his safe return.—Gen. 28:13-22.
Arriving at his uncle Laban’s place, Jacob met and fell in love with his beautiful cousin Rachel. He agreed to work seven years for Rachel, which seven years seemed like but a few days because of his love and appreciation of Rachel. But at the end of the seven years Laban, under the cover of night, palmed off his older and plainer daughter Leah on Jacob. Jacob could have risen up in arms against such a palpable fraud, but he did not. Instead, he agreed to serve another seven years, Rachel being given to him the following week. Jacob, in thus preferring peace to strife, was not harmed thereby. Had he stood his ground and insisted on having only Rachel he would have had but two sons instead of twelve and a daughter. And let it be noted that Leah bore both Levi and Judah, the family heads of the two most honored tribes of Israel.—Gen. 29:1-35.
After Jacob had served Laban fourteen years and after the birth of his eleventh son, Joseph, he asked Laban to send him back to his own country. But Laban demurred because ever since Jacob came to him he was prospering. Jacob agreed to remain upon the condition that he would get all the speckled and color-patched sheep, the dark-brown young rams and the color-patched and speckled she-goats. Jacob now began to look out for his own interests, though not neglecting Laban’s flocks; Jehovah also greatly prospered him. Now Laban and his sons became envious of Jacob. Noting this, Jacob chose an opportune time to leave for his own country.—Gen. 30:25–31:18.
Upon discovering that Jacob had left him, Laban pursued after him and, at the end of seven days, caught up with Jacob. But not before Jehovah appeared to Laban and warned him not to speak bad to Jacob. When Laban met Jacob he began to quarrel with Jacob, but Jacob stood his ground. He pointed to his faithful record of twenty years of hard work and how unfairly Laban had treated him, changing his wages ten times. Selfishly, dishonestly, and hypocritically, Laban claimed that all Jacob had really belonged to Laban, thus discounting Jacob’s twenty years of hard labor. In the end, however, he concluded with Jacob a covenant for peaceful relations between the two households. To memorialize it they set up a monument of stones which they named “Witness heap” and “The Watchtower.” Then Laban went back and Jacob proceeded on his way.—Gen. 31:19-55.
Faced now with the prospect of meeting Esau, Jacob sent ahead messengers to plead reconciliation. When these returned with the news that his vengeful brother was coming toward him with four hundred men, Jacob earnestly appealed to Jehovah for help. At the same time he dispatched to Esau a most generous gift consisting of sheep, goats, camels, cattle, asses, more than five hundred all told.
After dispatching this gift Jacob met a stranger who began to grapple with him and who proved to be an angel of God. Jacob grappled with this one all night, and in the morning let him go only on the condition that he bless Jacob. The angel then blessed Jacob and told him that his name no more would be Jacob but Israel, because he had successfully contended with God.—Gen. 32:22-31.
Fearing the worst, Jacob had divided his camp into two parts so that should one part be attacked the other could escape. However, when Esau met Jacob he embraced him and kissed him and both burst into tears. Though Esau assured Jacob that he himself had many possessions, Jacob insisted that he accept his gift, which he did. Jacob’s prayers and actions in harmony with his prayers proved fruitful.—Gen. 33:1-16.
BACK IN CANAANLAND
In time Jacob settled down in Canaan near Shechem. One day his daughter Dinah, failing to guard her associations, visited the pagan daughters of the land. She was noticed by one of the chieftains of the land, who violated her. Jacob evidently intended to pursue a course similar to that taken by his father and grandfather under somewhat similar circumstances, that of peace. But not so his sons. They cruelly wreaked a bloody vengeance on the entire city to avenge their sister’s humiliation. This caused Jacob to complain: “You have brought trouble upon me in making me a stench to the inhabitants of the land, . . . whereas I am few in number, and they will certainly gather together against me and assault me and I must be annihilated, I and my house.” No doubt to avoid this eventuality, Jehovah instructed Jacob to leave the area and go to Bethel. Additionally God caused fear to come upon the people of the land so that they did not pursue Jacob and his household.—Gen. 33:18 to 35:7.
During the journey that followed, Jehovah again appeared to Jacob and restated the precious promise to him; Jacob’s wife Rachel died giving birth to her second son Benjamin; Jacob’s first-born son Reuben played false to his father by having relations with Bilhah, one of his father’s concubines; and, not long after Jacob reached Hebron, where his aged father Isaac was dwelling, his father died at the age of 180 years.—Gen. 35:9-29.
Once again Jacob and his household settled down in Canaanland. Having lost Rachel, his favorite wife, it was but natural for Jacob to bestow special affection upon her first-born son Joseph. This, together with Joseph’s relating certain dreams foretelling his exaltation, was so resented by his brothers that they determined to do away with him, but were persuaded by Judah to sell him into slavery instead. They then gave his father to understand that Joseph had been slain by wild beasts. Famine caused Jacob to send his sons, except Benjamin, the youngest, to Egypt for supplies, where, unknown to him, Joseph was now premier. When Jacob heard of this he was so overjoyed he did not think of demanding an explanation of his sons. He accepted Joseph’s invitation to come to Egypt, and on the way Jehovah assured him that such was his will and that Jacob would become a great nation.—Gen. 46:1-4.
JACOB IN EGYPT
Jacob was now 130 years old and, as he told Pharaoh, they were few and distressing, few compared to those of his father and grandfather, both of whom outlived Jacob by about thirty years. Joy, however, was to crown his old age. He and his household were settled in the region of Egypt best suited for their flocks. And not only did he once again see Joseph, but he also saw Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh and blessed them and uttered prophecy regarding them that later was fulfilled.—Gen. 47:3-12; 48:8-16.
Imagine now aged Jacob, 147 years old, surrounded by his twelve sons as he speaks his testament and utters divine prophecy. It is at the same time a day of judgment, as it were. He begins by strongly condemning his first-born son for having defiled his father’s lounge. Next, he severely rebukes his sons Simeon and Levi for their bloody avenging of their sister Dinah’s violation. The first three sons having eliminated themselves by their course of action, Jacob gave the chief blessing to Judah: “The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him the obedience of the people will belong.” (Had not Judah showed himself the most dependable and mature of all Jacob’s sons, by his defense of both Joseph and Benjamin? Surely he had!) Then came prophecies regarding the remaining eight of Jacob’s sons and instructions as to the burial of his remains. “Thus Jacob finished giving commands to his sons . . . and expired.”—Gen. 49:1-33.
Truly Jacob was a man of God, mild in temper and peaceable. He lived close to God and made frequent use of prayer, and God honored him by repeatedly appearing to him. Because Jacob was not quick to fight for his rights God maneuvered matters so that Jacob received what was due him. He was singularly blessed in receiving the Abrahamic promise and in becoming the father of the nation of Israel. Above all, he had Jehovah’s approval and received one of the highest honors a mortal could receive: he had his name associated with the one true God Jehovah, for time and again we read of Jehovah being termed “the God of Jacob.”—2 Sam. 23:1; Ps. 81:1, 4.
Jacob is further honored in that he served to picture the Christian congregation of 144,000 members. Just as Abraham pictured Jehovah God and Isaac pictured Jesus Christ, so Jacob pictured the bride of Christ. (Matt. 8:11) It is to these especially that the words of Jesus apply: “Happy are the mild-tempered ones, since they will inherit the earth. Happy are the peaceable, since they will be called ‘sons of God’.” (Matt. 5:5, 9) The remnant of these on earth in modern times are also termed Jacob at Jeremiah 30:7-11, where their distressing experiences during and shortly after World War I are foretold.
Jacob is a fine example for all God’s servants today. They too must have a keen appreciation of spiritual things and be mild-tempered and peaceable. Also to be imitated by them is Jacob’s willingness to endure hardships for the sake of the sheep entrusted to his care. (Gen. 31:36-42) Truly, “all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction.”—Rom. 15:4.