The Return of Jacob

Wrestling Till Daybreak

“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, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God” (Genesis 28:20,21).

When Paul discusses the Ancient Worthies in Hebrews chapter 11, he does so by way of exhortation to the saints of the Gospel Age. By remembering the faith demonstrated by the Ancient Worthies, they are like a “cloud of witnesses.” “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset up, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Among those whom Paul recalls as examples of faith for our encouragement are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “By faith he [Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9). Paul then recites experiences from the lives of each of these patriarchs to exhort us to follow their example of putting faith into action in our lives.


On other occasions, Paul drew from the lives of the same patriarchs, using experiences that these fathers of faith passed through to teach allegories about the Plan of God. Notably, Paul does this in the book of Galatians. Paul’s point there was to show the brethren in Galatia that the original blessings promised by God in His Plan of the Ages were not contingent upon the Law Covenant, which came later and was a temporary addition (Galatians 3:19). It was intended to operate “till the seed should come,” that is, until Christ would come and initiate the program of blessing “all the families of the earth.” That program unfolds first during the Gospel Age call to the Church (Galatians 3:8,9), and continues through the Millennium to reclaim all who will turn to God during the favorable conditions of that time (Revelation 22:17).

Paul tells us that the church class is counted in with Christ as “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29), so that “we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise” (Galatians 4:28).

Paul then explains that Abraham’s wife Sarah, and Sarah’s bondmaid Hagar, were also typical. Abraham represents God, Sarah represents God’s covenant with Abraham that develops Christ and the Church, Hagar represents the Law Covenant, and Ishmael her child represents Israel, in bondage under the Law. Abraham later took a second wife, Keturah, so some brethren add to Paul’s teaching that she also has a place in the allegory. Keturah bore six sons, representing the world of mankind born in sin during 6000 years. When she became a full wife after the passing of Sarah, the status of her sons was elevated. These two wives represent the spiritual and earthly parts of the Abrahamic Covenant. Taking Keturah as wife after the passing of Sarah represents blessing the world during the Millennium.

Jacob’s Long Absence from the Land of Promise

There is an overarching lesson concerning Jacob and Esau, about the elder serving the younger. Jacob represents the Church of the Gospel Age, and Esau represents those of natural Israel who did not value the spiritual aspect of their birthright. Though Israel was first in time, as the older Esau, they were supplanted as chief heirs of the promises by those of faith, represented by Jacob. These value the promises of God above earthly possessions.

However, when Jacob fled the land of promise and returned after 20 years to resume residency there, we have a different picture. Here the picture pertains to those of natural Israel who vacated the land of promise during the Gospel Age. They return at the end of the age to face, with some trepidation, their Arab brethren, represented in Esau. It is this point of view that we explore here, from the time of Jacob’s return to the land of promise.

As background information, we recommend a paper by Br. Donald Holliday, “Jacob at Jabbok.” (Google “Jacob at Jabbok West Wickham,” it will be the first hit.) A version of this is the article “Jacob at the Ford Jabbok” (Beauties of the Truth, August 1999).

Away for 20 Years

The number two represents the holy Spirit. For example, the two olive trees in Zechariah chapter four represent the Old and New Testaments, which are the source for the oil draining into a seven branched lampstand to provide light. Thus, in some pictures of the Bible 2, 20, 200, or 2000 represent the first age of the Spirit, the present Gospel Age (John 4:40, Judges 15:20, John 21:8, Joshua 3:4). Jacob’s twenty years away from the land then represents the Gospel Age. At the end of the age Israel returns to the land of promise, preparatory to the Kingdom (Genesis 31:38, 41).

Wrestling with an Angel

The experiences we consider here are recorded in Genesis chapters 32 to 35. On his return to the promised land, Jacob was met by angels. How these appeared to Jacob is unclear, but evidently they were numerous. “When Jacob saw them, he said, This is God’s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim” (Genesis 32:2). Mahanaim means “two hosts.” These were a token to Jacob of God’s presence with him during his returning experiences. God had told Jacob to return, so he had an assurance that God would overrule his experiences for good (Genesis 31:13). The angels that Jacob saw would have strengthened his faith in this. God instructing Jacob to return to his homeland may picture Israel returning to their land in our day, encouraged by the prophecies. The angels may represent the providences, often very striking, that have accompanied their return.

What specially concerned Jacob was that he would meet his brother Esau, whose anger, 20 years earlier, had moved him to seek the death of Jacob (Genesis 27:41). Israel, upon their return, has reason to fear their Arab brothers, who time and again have expressed their wish for Israel’s demise (Psalms 83:4).

Jacob sent messengers to Esau, who at the time was in the land of Seir, in Edom. He assured Esau that he had sufficient herds, wealth, and servants, as though to assure his older brother that Jacob had no competition in mind for Isaac’s wealth. But Jacob was not reassured. His ambassadors returned with the message that Esau was coming with 400 men. “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed” (Genesis 32:7). Jacob took precautions to divide his people into groups, so that some could escape in case of disaster. He also set aside successive droves of animals to go beforehand, as gifts to soften the heart of Esau. Jacob sent his family ahead of him across the brook Then Jacob, alone by himself, sought earnestly for God’s protective care for them all. There he remained at the crossing of the Jabbok. “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day” (Genesis 32:24).

The “man” that Jacob wrestled with was an angel. Jacob was intent on securing a blessing from God through this angel, and Jacob would not release his grip, even when the angel put Jacob’s thigh “out of joint” (Genesis 32:25). Jacob was deadly earnest. He needed peace with Esau and God heard him. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Near the close of the struggle, the angel said to Jacob, “Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Genesis 32:26). So it is with Israel. They are wrestling with a burden, but the blessing they seek will not come until the break of the new day.

On this occasion the angel said, “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and has prevailed” (Genesis 32:28). Thus began a new chapter in Israel’s relationship with God. For present day Israel, God likewise will bring them through victorious. Israel will become a people of faith, and by God’s strength they will prevail in every service as an agent of God in the Kingdom.

In the morning, as Jacob passed over Penuel at the River Jabbok, the brothers met, embraced, and wept. Esau’s heart had been softened by drove after drove of gift animals, which Jacob insisted Esau receive as a token of goodwill. So Israel, during this time of their return, has been willing to give concession after concession to their Arab brothers, if only peace could be secured. When the break of day comes, after the intervening stress and strife (as described in Psalms 83), Israel’s Arab brothers will at last recognize the spirit of their brother, and acquiesce.

Esau then returned to Edom, while Jacob turned west, crossing Jabbok a second time as the stream meandered southward. Jacob made camp at Succoth, still east of the Jordan River. Succoth is a word that is often translated tabernacles, as in the Feast of Tabernacles. This feast represents the blessings of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ (Zechariah 14:16-19). Israel, at last, will have peace.

Seven Experiences Follow

Jacob would subsequently cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan proper, and a variety of experiences would follow, as recorded in the remainder of Genesis 33-35. We suggest that these episodes depict other experiences, after the opening of the new day, that will transpire as the Kingdom expands on Earth. All will not be calm in this period of transition.

(1) Purchase. The first city encountered west of the Jordan was Shechem, evidently named after Shechem the son of Hamor, a Canaanite. Later, in the time of Abimelech (Judges 9), Shechem was a city whose people had supported Abimelech (representing Papacy). Here also it seems that Shechem represents those associated with nominal Christianity.

Jacob there bought a parcel of land for his encampment, for 100 “lambs” of silver — evidently a piece of silver equivalent in value to a lamb (Genesis 33:19, and marginal comment). Perhaps this suggests that natural Israel will buy into the prominent point of Christian belief, namely that Jesus was our Ransom who died for us all. Whatever Christendom’s flaws, its central faith is that Jesus died for our sins. This is something not natural to Israel, but it will be received by Israel by this time (Zechariah 12:10).

The “lamb” of silver pertains to Jesus as the lamb slain for us all, and the number 100 appears in the tabernacle in various places indicating Jesus. There were 100 square cubits of cloth for the gate, door, and vail, and 100 silver sockets as a foundation for the Tabernacle.

(2) Dinah. After this, a radical experience followed that led to the ruin of Shechem — just as following Israel’s deliverance, a radical experience will occur that leads to the ruin of Christendom. In the seventh plague, Revelation 16, after the nations have been gathered to the “battle of the great day,” three episodes follow in succession. First the battle, then an earthquake in which Babylon falls, and then a plague of hail. Perhaps the fall of Shechem connects to the fall of Babylon in Revelation 16:19.

The reason for the fall of Shechem was an abuse of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob by his wife, Leah.1 Dinah was the only daughter of Jacob among six brothers and six half-brothers, and is therefore unique in the family of Jacob. Dinah was ravaged by Shechem, and though the men of the city south to make amends — for their own purposes of earthly gain — the sons of Jacob destroyed the city and took a great spoil. This suggests that Christendom falls because they have ravaged the church class during much of the Gospel Age (Revelation 6:10).

The men of Shechem had received circumcision. However, it was not received as a mark of any sanctity on their part. They reasoned that by an alliance with the house of Jacob, “shall not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs be ours? Only let us consent unto them, and they will dwell with us” (Genesis 34:23). This matches the spirit of Christendom, who professes Christ, but their interest is in profit (Revelation 18:12-15).

(1) Apparently some years had passed, sufficient for Dinah to be old enough to have attracted the attention of Shechem. The passing of years is not explicitly referred to in Genesis 33-34, but otherwise Dinah would have been only a young girl.

(3) Cleansing. At God’s direction, Jacob moved on to Bethel (Genesis 35:1). That is where Jacob, when he fled to Padanaram years earlier, had promised devotion to God if he returned safely. Now Jacob had returned safely, as Israel will have achieved safety in their land of promise. Now it was time for Jacob to remember his oath. Accordingly, before setting out from Shechem, Jacob had all of his people put away any “strange gods” and earrings associated with that kind of thing, burying them under “the oak which was by Shechem” (Genesis 35:4). Whereupon they left for Bethel. After the Kingdom has commenced, the first work of cleansing sin will be among Israel, who will have an advance opportunity before other nations appreciate the opportunity.

Shechem is a fitting place to represent a collective commitment by the Israelites to fully serve God. Shechem was the place where God appeared to Abraham when he first arrived in Canaan (Genesis 12:6,7). Shechem was also the location of the Israelites when, under Joshua, they confirmed their commitment to God after conquering Canaan (Joshua 24:1). “And the people said unto Joshua … we will serve Jehovah” (Joshua 24:21). “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak” (Joshua 24:24,25). At the opening of the kingdom, Israel will make a similar commitment.

(4) Deborah. Thereafter, “Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Aljon-bachuth” (the oak of weeping) (Genesis 35:8). Evidently Rebekah had passed away some time earlier, as there is no other mention about her in these chapters. Rebekah, the bride of Isaac, represents the Church class, which is complete and gone before the last experiences of Israel. So it is fitting that Rebekah is not involved.

But here, her nurse died. This is the first time we are told the name of Rebekah’s nurse, but she was mentioned chapters earlier, when Rebekah had first received the call to go to Isaac (Genesis 24:59). Thus, Deborah could represent some who had been on the scene since before the time of the calling of the Church, the Ancient Worthies. They, as a “cloud of witnesses,” have been a helper, nurse, and nourisher for the faith class of the present age. As Mordecai, who raised Esther also represented the Ancient Worthies, in this picture Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse and evidently older than Rebekah, represents the Ancient Worthies.

The “death” of Deborah at this point  suggests the end of the Ancient Worthies in their role as helpers to those of the spiritual classes. Recall that in the cities of refuge, an offender had to remain in the city until the death of the High Priest. This represents that we in the present Gospel Age must remain under the protection of Jesus as our High Priest until his work is complete for this age — and that the world in the approaching Millennial Age must remain under the protection of Jesus as their High Priest until his work is complete in that age. Thus, the “death” of the High Priest does not represent the literal death of Jesus. It represents the cessation of his function as priest in either age. It is similar here, respecting Deborah. Her death does not represent an actual death of the Ancient Worthies, but rather, the end of their ministry to “nurse” the recipients of the Gospel Age calling. Then it will be time for the Ancient Worthies to proceed on to their next work, for mankind in the Millennium.

(5) Benjamin. Jacob’s swelling entourage moved on, and the time came for Rachel to bear Benjamin, a second son to Jacob. Rachel died in child birth and was buried “in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem” (Genesis 35:19). The birth of Benjamin is commonly understood by breth­ren to represent the completion of the Great Company class, at which time the spiritual covenant which has brought Joseph (Jesus and the Church), and Benjamin (the Great Company), to birth, completes its service and passes away (R4437, paragraph 2).

(6) Reuben. The next experience, in Genesis 35:22, probably would not have occurred while Rachel lived. Reuben transgressed in the matter of Bilhah, who is here called Jacob’s concubine, but had been Rachel’s handmaid. Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn. He was in line to be chief heir of the promises and blessings. But he lost all of those privileges in light of this transgression (1 Chronicles 5:1).

In the progressing picture, we are now after the close of the Gospel Age. This experience reminds us that there will be many Christians still living then who do not receive any spiritual reward, although they had an opportunity to receive one, had they been devoted. These will be the unconsecrated Christian believers, who are many. They had “firstborn” opportunities, but they failed to secure them — represented in Reuben, who failed to secure his firstborn privileges. They are related to Rachel, as indicated by their connection to Rachel’s handmaid, Bilhah. But they are not children of Rachel, indicating that they are not products of the spiritual part of the Abrahamic Covenant. These Christians, “unstable as water” in their commitment, do “not excel” (Genesis 49:4). They will have life in the Kingdom. But they miss the exceeding wonders of the heavenly realm.

There was no fruit from this transgression of Reuben. However, Bilhah had borne two sons to Jacob, namely Dan and Naphtali. Bilhah is not the spiritual covenant. That was Rachel. However, Bilhah is related, inasmuch as she was a handmaid to Rachel. Dan does not represent either the Church or the Great Company. Dan represents those who once embraced the heavenly calling, but drew back. Thus they are missing in the list of spiritual Israelites in Revelation 7. The description of Dan in Genesis 49:16-17 depicts Dan as a deleterious influence among the tribes, succumbing to idolatry. Literally, this was fulfilled by Dan going into idolatry as recounted in Judges chapter 18. Spiritually, it is fulfilled by the Dan class falling away among spiritual Israel.

The second son of Bilhah was Naphtali, which means “wrestling” (margin, Genesis 30:8). It reminds us of Jacob wrestling with the angel. We suggest that Naphtali represents the Israelites who had some relationship to the heavenly opportunity, suggested by their connection to Rachel’s handmaid. But Israel failed to receive Messiah at the First Advent, and thus failed to receive the spiritual opportunities then offered to them. They will have a blessed role in the Kingdom, having “wrestled” through the present time of trouble introducing the Millennium. But they will be earthly, rather than spiritual.

In this case, the children of Rachel, and the children of her handmaid Bilhah, refer to specific classes that have been in some way related to the Gospel Age calling. By contrast, Leah refers to those who have always been earthly. Leah’s six sons remind us of Keturah’s six sons, and apply to the same class, the world of mankind born and shaped under the influence of the fall for 6000 years.

Leah’s handmaid, Zilpah, perhaps depicts two features about the restitution host. Zilpah’s first son was Gad, which means “a troop cometh” (Genesis 30:11). Her second son was Asher, meaning “happy” (Genesis 30:13, margin). This describes two aspects of the earthly calling — they are numerous, and they will be happy at the blessings revealed by our Loving God. The name Isaac, who represented the spiritual class, means “laughter,” depicting happiness to a higher degree. But even the world will be happy, blessed, and appreciative.

(7) Isaac. The final episode ending Genesis 35 is the passing of Isaac. At this point every aspect of the Gospel Age will have closed, and the service of Jesus in calling out a heavenly class will have come to an end. Isaac’s age is reported as 180 (Genesis 35:28), that is, 18 raised to one order of magnitude. This connection of Isaac to the number 18 represents the fact that the heavenly calling has been chiefly from the Gentile world. The number 18 appears two times in the New Testament. They are both in the same chapter, Luke 13. The 18 men who died at the tower of Siloam were used by Jesus as a picture of the world of mankind under the curse. Only a few verses later Jesus healed a woman “whom Satan hath bound, lo, these 18 years” (Luke 13:16). She represents those freed from Satan’s dominion, in order to come in to Christ. Similarly, the number 12 indicates the saints called from a Jewish background. In Luke chapter eight Jesus healed a woman afflicted for 12 years (Luke 8:43), and a few verses later he raised the daughter of Jairus, a young girl 12 years of age (Luke 8:42). Both of these represent the healing touch of Jesus upon the Jewish people who accepted him.

The Church is gathered from Jews (12) and Gentiles (18), made one in the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:15). The two pillars of Solomon’s temple may represent the same. Their dimensions were 12 cubits around, and 18 cubits tall, thus recognizing both parts that constitute the body of Christ (1 Kings 7:15. See also “Double Numbers,” Beauties of the Truth, May 2009).

With the passing of Isaac, the work of drawing the bride class, and all the residual efforts associated with it, are at a close. The labors of more than 2000 years will have ended. The powers of Christendom will have been overturned. The Great Company will have been gathered home. Israel will have repented, accepted Jesus, been delivered from their enemies, and accepted the leadership of the Ancient Worthies. A new age for the world will have begun.

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