And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
Jacob’s journey of faith was filled with twists and turns, deep valleys of despair and great mountains of euphoria and of vision. We are often too hard on Jacob and suspect him of motives that the Bible never mentions, at least not definitively. In order to understand Jacob, we should always return to the vision God gave to Rebekah his mother at his birth, that he was the child of promise (Genesis 25:23). The families of Abraham, Isaac, and now of Jacob (or “Israel” as his new name that God had given him) were divinely commissioned families, with a mission to bless the world. We will never understand Jacob apart from God’s election of him, and the ongoing purpose for which God had chosen him.
Left to himself, just like you and me, Jacob would descend into insignificance, pettiness, egoism, and selfishness, and he would have been at best a mere footnote in the story of the Bible. But because God had chosen him for His purposes, his story is moved along by the continual watchcare of God, and by the periodic visitations by God, reminding him of his purpose, mission, and significance.
We, like Jacob, are drab, ordinary, petty little creatures by ourselves. Hardly anything is so boring as a self-centered person, and this is what we all are in our sin, and all that we will aspire to by ourselves alone. The upward call of God in Christ Jesus, as Paul called it (Phil. 3:14), makes life interesting – No! More than interesting – it makes it a thrilling adventure of fulfilling a great purpose, the greatest purpose imaginable, the mission of God to redeem the world to Himself.
We read Jacob’s life story with interest because he was called of God, and others will look at our lives as interesting for the same reason, that we understand and identify ourselves as the church – the “called out ones” as “church” means in the original Greek – that live for a greater purpose. If we will lose ourselves in this purpose, then we will make an eternal difference for Christ and will find true personal fulfillment along the way. “The ungiven self is the unfulfilled self,” as the Overstreets observed.
We may look at Jacob’s brief peaceful interchange with Esau, who believed he had real reasons for anger and revenge, in a skeptical way, that Jacob trusted in God, was delivered by God, but then got out of the situation as quickly as he could. Perhaps that was what Jacob was feeling, that God had rescued him from Esau’s wrath, that God had cooled the temper of Esau and Jacob’s diplomacy had helped sooth Esau’s desire for revenge, but that there was no wisdom in hanging around, just in case Esau changed his mind. But there is another way to see this interchange, and perhaps this is a better way, that Jacob was still focused God’s mission for Jacob, that the visitations by God meant more than safety, and that the impressed on Jacob’s heart the high purpose of his life. Jacob still retained personal weaknesses, but I believe he removed himself and his people away from Esau not in fear alone, but in faithfulness to the call of God. Remember, Esau’s wives were Hittite women, and had turned his heart away from pure devotion to the One True God. Any long association with Esau’s family and people would likely lead to the corruption of his own family.
People of God’s vision must be true to that vision. We must be about our father’s business. As Abraham had done, so Jacob did. He made a tent for himself, but an altar for the worship of God. Let us be clear on this, that God’s worship and God’s reputation is of much more value than our homes or houses. Would you do right to build a great house for yourself when the needs of God’s houses of worship are neglected, when the altar of the cross is neglected, and when people around the world have not yet heard of Christ’s love? Surely God must lead us to know what is right and what is wrong in this matter – we need the wisdom of God and His practical leadership in our hearts to know what we should do – we do indeed need homes, and should have good homes, not shacks, to live in, but of which of the two is more important there can be no doubt. God’s Work, God’s Message, God’s Purposes are infinitely more important than the size and shape of our houses.
Take this act of Jacob – to build a tent for himself and an altar for God – as a testimony of his faithfulness and as an example of faith for us to follow. And let the Spirit guide you to know how you should apply this in your life.