How does Jacob's story inform our covenant children?

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Polanus1561

Puritan Board Senior
I can only gather that Jacob should not need to manipulate others to indeed be blessed by God. But it is quite hard to apply this narrative, say, if you want to preach this to children.

1. We read the story knowing Jacob was elected.
2. (Did Jacob know of his election? I believe so)
3. Thus, it is not so easy to apply this to covenant children.
4. The dynamic of stealing a blessing is not applicable today.
5. Yet, am I missing something? I can only talk about the deficient morals of the family here. But what is the gospel application here?

@Contra_Mundum any thoughts?
 
The Jacob narrative poses deep questions and includes many subtleties and mysteries. In my view, this makes it wonderful for teaching to kids! There's so much to discuss, including the points you bring up, as we contemplate what's happening in Jacob's heart and how God works in his people. The account makes for great discussion, which is far better than spoon feeding obvious answers that hold little tension or mystery.

In broad terms, I teach the story of Jacob's life as being about a man who comes to faith and then grows in faith, for God's redemptive purposes. That is, he learns to believe God's promises and to trust God to apply those promises to him. That's the gospel teaching. Always keep in mind that the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are gospel promises that ultimately are about Christ. When those guys believe, they are believing the truth about Jesus and trusting him for salvation even though many of the details about him are shadowy at that time.

I feel like my teaching notes on the Jacob narrative barely scratch the surface of all we might discuss and often do discuss when I teach kids about Jacob. I never know what mysteries of God we might delve into along our way through Jacob's story. But I do have a long-ish overview of Jacob's life that I often teach at Bible camp, and I will try to attach the notes from that. The overview is rough and leaves out much, but perhaps you find something helpful in it.

If you like listening to audio, I also recommend the Jacob episodes from the Proclaiming Christ podcast. It is not yet finished going through Jacob's life, but so far it has done an excellent job of looking at the narrative with an eye for how to teach/preach it.
 

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The Jacob narrative poses deep questions and includes many subtleties and mysteries. In my view, this makes it wonderful for teaching to kids! There's so much to discuss, including the points you bring up, as we contemplate what's happening in Jacob's heart and how God works in his people. The account makes for great discussion, which is far better than spoon feeding obvious answers that hold little tension or mystery.

In broad terms, I teach the story of Jacob's life as being about a man who comes to faith and then grows in faith, for God's redemptive purposes. That is, he learns to believe God's promises and to trust God to apply those promises to him. That's the gospel teaching. Always keep in mind that the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are gospel promises that ultimately are about Christ. When those guys believe, they are believing the truth about Jesus and trusting him for salvation even though many of the details about him are shadowy at that time.

I feel like my teaching notes on the Jacob narrative barely scratch the surface of all we might discuss and often do discuss when I teach kids about Jacob. I never know what mysteries of God we might delve into along our way through Jacob's story. But I do have a long-ish overview of Jacob's life that I often teach at Bible camp, and I will try to attach the notes from that. The overview is rough and leaves out much, but perhaps you find something helpful in it.

If you like listening to audio, I also recommend the Jacob episodes from the Proclaiming Christ podcast. It is not yet finished going through Jacob's life, but so far it has done an excellent job of looking at the narrative with an eye for how to teach/preach it.
Thanks Jack. I will take a look.
A further thought I had is, covenant children face the temptation of Esau to love worldliness than the promise of the gospel. Jacob's sin has this special nuance that I still am not getting (how can our children be like Jacob?)
 
(how can our children be like Jacob?)
They can learn to trust God's promises. Like Jacob, they may begin life under God's promises and be aware of those promises, even desiring them greatly (or desiring some of the worldly blessings that may accompany them), but they will have to learn to rest in God and trust his timing. Rather than chase after his blessings for worldly reasons, they must learn to receive from God. Jacob, the "tricky guy," didn't really get much by his own sinful schemes. Notice that although he scammed Isaac, he doesn't have the covenant promises of God yet in Genesis 28:1-4. But "Israel," who had learned to wrestle with God in life, ended up greatly and repeatedly blessed and became a man who sought God for those blessings (Genesis 32:9-12; Genesis 32:26; Genesis 35:1-4). The blessings in this story are covenantal blessings, previews of all the blessings we have in Christ. These are ours by God's grace through faith, not finagled out of God by our scheming (though the account brilliantly shows us that sometimes it's hard to tell, just by looking at outward actions, what is the difference between scheming and faith).

Surely there are moral, behavioral lessons we might draw from Jacob's saga. But mainly, we should be interested in his story because it shows us how God grows faith in us, over a lifetime, keeping his covenant promises. It is not a simple, do-this-thing-like-Jacob story. It is about how, by God's grace, Jacob ends better than he begins. Don't mainly look at the story for something to tell children to do. Use it to show them what they can expect from God when they, by faith, live under his promises. They can expect growth in that faith, covenant blessings that stretch beyond this world (Hebrews 11:10), and glory that reaches full flower beyond the grave (Genesis 50:7-9).
 
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Ah, I forgot about the @iainduguid books (he also wrote that series' volume on Abraham). I recommend both books. There's no doubt they have influenced how I teach kids about the patriarchs, even if I can't remember anymore exactly which points I got from him. Thanks, Iain!
 
Don't worry Dr Duguid, it was the first book I am reading for this!

I am still wrestling if both or one of the brothers knew about the prophecy... hardly any contextual clues
 
I can only gather that Jacob should not need to manipulate others to indeed be blessed by God. But it is quite hard to apply this narrative, say, if you want to preach this to children.

1. We read the story knowing Jacob was elected.
2. (Did Jacob know of his election? I believe so)
3. Thus, it is not so easy to apply this to covenant children.
4. The dynamic of stealing a blessing is not applicable today.
5. Yet, am I missing something? I can only talk about the deficient morals of the family here. But what is the gospel application here?

@Contra_Mundum any thoughts?
My first thought on "stealing a blessing today" was on the verse The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Matt. 11:12

Thomas Watson wrote a great book on it. https://www.monergism.com/blog/heaven-taken-storm-ebook
 
I can only gather that Jacob should not need to manipulate others to indeed be blessed by God. But it is quite hard to apply this narrative, say, if you want to preach this to children.

1. We read the story knowing Jacob was elected.
2. (Did Jacob know of his election? I believe so)
3. Thus, it is not so easy to apply this to covenant children.
4. The dynamic of stealing a blessing is not applicable today.
5. Yet, am I missing something? I can only talk about the deficient morals of the family here. But what is the gospel application here?

@Contra_Mundum any thoughts?
I'll weigh in (by request), but the other replies are most likely abundantly sufficient.

I would like to say that Jacob is possibly my favorite Bible character, apart from the Savior. I preached twice on his life-story in the course of my ministry. I relate to Jacob because he is a covenant-child (among many other things), and we follow his life from birth to death--including childhood, conflict, sin, repentance, marriage, exile, travails, successes, etc.; he is a man of faith, fluctuating between weak and strong at various times. Other than Jesus Christ, only David's story (and literary output) cover more chapters in the whole Bible than Jacob's by my rough estimate; and we don't have more than the barest relation of David's early life, meeting him as we do when he is a youth already.

That said, Jacob (like other biblical characters of note) is secondarily a character of "personal relation" in the Bible, at the few or many levels one may attempt it. Before he is a covenant child, and an elect son, he is a type of the Elect One (Is.42:1; Lk.9:35; Jn.1:34 var.). We should even take Jacob's failures, and realize that where the type falls terribly short, the Antitype succeeds; and where the type does succeed in some manner, the Antitype succeeds superlatively.

As the sons of Isaac start off in life, the twins do not really present us (the readers) with the spiritual diversity we may expect given the way their stories unfold. Jacob seems to value what his brother despises in the birthright, but it isn't apparent that his motive in desiring the birthright is noble or spiritual. Jacob takes advantage of his brother, capitalizing on the weakness he spots and exploits, to take complete control of his family's inheritance. Jacob, who was entitled to 1/3 of his father's estate as the younger son, does not trade inheritances with Esau; he takes his brother's double-portion and gives him a bowl of soup.

But was this transaction a spiritual quest, some effort at bringing about the birth oracle (he may or may not have known)? Or was it purely his mercenary interest? And the fact he took first this thing from his brother, then later on the blessing--does not this call into question the oft-assumed theory that Esau is the stronger brother per the birth oracle? As O.T.Allis once commented long ago, the birth oracle is only well-interpreted in hindsight.

Particularly in terms of the blessing, which was certainly first and foremost a spiritual authority--the text (Moses) goes out of the way to show us this vital truth: it is contrary to a proper spiritual tenor to seek to obtain or gain spiritual blessings by carnal and even underhanded means. God was not above using Jacob's perverse willingness to go along with his mother's deceit to divert the blessing to his chosen son; but neither was he about to approve Jacob's ungodly and selfish grasping. Jacob may have thought himself (following Rebeckah's lead) God's pre-selected advantaged; but he did not wait on the Lord (ala David) for the unexpected (as to the timing) elevation.

{continued below]
 
As a result of Jacob's wrestling away of his brother's inheritance and presumed blessing (following Isaac's preference), God ensured that Jacob was exiled right away from his inheritance and the tents of blessing. Jacob was cast out upon a hostile world with nothing but the staff in his hand, while his grudge-bearing brother with murder in his heart watched over the family estate to which he had no title so long as Jacob lived. Esau's unspiritual character is gradually revealed bit by bit in the story, but ask yourself if his bitterness at this moment doesn't make some carnal sense.

I think Esau is presented as someone not "only a father could love," but as someone many people admired and who had qualities most respected--even nobility--in ordinary, earthly terms. Esau's failure should be viewed exclusively through a spiritual lens. Esau's reconciliation with his brother after more than 20yrs is multi-layered. As readers, we are carried along with the fears of Jacob (and who knows if God swung Esau around emotionally at the last second, or caused him to be moved because of Jacob's presents); but when the brothers meet again there is not one hostile word from Esau, not one reminder of past hurts. Esau is magnanimous, and if we did not know better we might even say he demonstrated spiritual maturity, due to man looking on the outward appearance. Esau abandoned the spiritual kingdom over which his brother was set to reign, and found himself a kingdom of his own (already existing) over which he managed to gain the ascendancy. He gained the world he so loved, and lost his soul.

At one level, Jacob departs his home as a way of feeling divine rebuke. He is brought to see the truth, repents of his worldly ambition, and resolves by the Lord's help to complete his exile. At another level, we see the elect man departing his home to go into the world, filled with the Spirit and seeking a bride which he will bring home again to his father's house to fill many rooms there. Along the way, he meets another deceiver--the master deceiver Laban--who shows Jacob the kind of manipulative genius he might have been, if not for the electing grace of God. Laban eventually aims to take Jacob's blessing--which is the Presence of the Lord--using carnal means (like Jacob did). Laban has a "magical" view of gods and spiritual power. Jacob (in Laban's perspective) has quite a Genie on the leash, only Jacob is on Laban's leash; and so this "Jehovah" must serve Laban ultimately.

Of course, the one true God is not like Laban imagines; and God smartly turns the tables on Laban while blessing his chastened and wiser elect son Jacob. Jacob waits until the Lord directs him: it is time to leave, to return home. Even his wives are ready to get out of Dodge. Laban tries to chase down Jacob (and Laban's purloined magic-gods, which wife Rachel did steal), anticipating Pharaoh's pursuit of the children of Israel (and the gods of Egypt they took with them in their hearts). God triumphs over Laban and his impotent idols, and the elect man goes on his way seeing the armies of heaven who were all the time watching to defend him.

These are but a few of the thoughts I have meditated on, and preached while going through the life of Jacob. Covenant-child Jacob must learn to appropriate the faith that is his externally, but must be taken internally through heart-circumcision to make the outward sign acceptable for its true meaning. No one should expect to take and use spiritual blessings for profit, who is unspiritual. Jacob may have wanted the Lord originally with no more spiritual intention than his brother or Laban would use God, if they could. But then he was prevented from that course by God himself. Then he was confronted with his sinful purpose, and the painful discipline that God lovingly brought on him. But that correction was accompanied by God's singular promise, not to leave or forsake Jacob until he had brought him back to "the gate of heaven." No covenant-child, whether compliant all along or disturbingly casual to start about his spiritual heritage, should fail to convert; so that what is within conforms to the visible signs without, and the signs bear witness to a reality within.

I hope this is helpful.
 
Matthew Henry can be helpful here. "For this he [Jacob] is to be commended, that he coveted earnestly the best gifts; yet in this he cannot be justified, that he took advantage of his brother's necessity to make him a very hard bargain (v. 31)." https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary/matthew-henry-complete/genesis/25

The concise commentary puts a finer point on it: https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary/matthew-henry-concise/genesis/25

I think promoting a desire for the blessings of God, but a caution against pursuing those blessings by our own means preaches well.
 
I appreciated all of the input that has been given. I think we all owe @Contra_Mundum a debt of gratitude, seeing as he has time and again poured himself into the detailed and edifying responses which he provides on PB, in addition to caring for the flock that is under his care personally.

I notice that no one has mentioned Gen. 32:24-30, where Jacob does indeed seek the a blessing from the Lord. When he is the violent man, and "takes the kingdom by violence." Matt. 11:12
 
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