This chapter begins with a reproof against Ephraim, or the Northern Kingdom of Israel, for feeding himself upon the wind – that is, feeding himself with vain hopes of help from man, when he was at enmity with his God. The nation of Judah is contended with also. On more than one occasion throughout their history, the Jews endeavored to secure safety for themselves by forming alliances with their heathen neighbors. But this was a sin in the eyes of the Lord, and He would reckon with them for it.
In verses 3-5, they are put in mind of what their forefather Jacob did, as well as what God did for him. Here we have the most honorable testimony of the patriarch Jacob, concerning all that transpired at Bethel during that memorable night when he was expecting the furious anger of his brother Esau to break out upon him the very next day (Gen. 32). The Lord speaks of how Jacob took his brother by the heel when they were both in the womb (Gen. 25:20-26); and thus he was a hero for wrestling before he was even born, as if to imply the great events that the Lord’s grace would make him remarkable for in the circumstances of his life. “By his strength,” says the prophet, “he had power with God: Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed.” Jacob himself obviously knew the identity of both God and “the angel,” for he referred to this circumstance when he was on his deathbed. “The God,” said he, as he blessed Joseph’s children, “that fed me all my life long unto this day: the Angel which redeemed me from all evil…” (Gen. 48:15-16). He rightly understood God as the Father, in His covenant-character; and he knew the Lord Jesus to be “the angel of the covenant,” to whom he ascribed the great work of redemption. Jacob had power with both God and the Angel – that is, he took hold of the strength of God’s covenant-promises, and Jesus’ justifying salvation; and in that strength, he prevailed by faith! (See Isaiah 27:5.)
But let us particularly observe that as Jacob found God and His Christ in Bethel, it is added, “and there he spake with us.” And just who is this “he”? None other than the Lord Jesus! And who is the “us”? It is all of the praying descendants of Jacob. Spiritually speaking, we were in the loins of our forefather Jacob when Jesus met him! And then, as if to silence every fear or doubt that might arise in the timid mind, some blessed words come in at the close of this wonderful paragraph of verses: “The Lord God of hosts, the Lord is his memorial!” All the persons of the Godhead are equally engaged in the confirmation of the covenant of redemption to the spiritual sons and daughters of Jacob. And Jehovah takes to Himself this glorious title – “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” – as His memorial forever to all generations! (Ex. 3:15)
When Jacob’s faith in the Divine promise prevailed above his fears – then, by that strength, he had power with God. And this God is the same in all ages and to every generation. Therefore, let those who have gone astray from the Lord be encouraged herein to return to Him. Turn to the Lord by repentance and faith! And let those who are converted by His grace continue to walk with Him in all holiness of life. Let us wrestle with Him for promised blessings, with a holy determination to not give up until we prevail!
In verses 6-11, the prophet follows up the narrative of the life of Jacob with the just and proper resolution which ought to take place in the heart of each of Jacob’s children, as they pursue the steps of their spiritual forefather. “Turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment and wait on thy God continually” (verse 6). The prophet shows the great folly in not following Jacob’s example – not to mention the great sin that is also involved in such a failure.
In verses 12-14, the Holy Spirit is again pleased to refer to the history of Jacob; and here He affectionately speaks of him and his love. And if Jacob is thus spoken of under such tender endearments of character, then what must we say of the Lord Jesus? Jacob fled to Syria to avoid his brother’s anger; but Christ came into this world of ours, in order to remove His Father’s anger from His people. Jacob served Laban as a shepherd for 14 years in order to claim the hand and heart of his chosen bride. But Jesus’ zeal for His Father’s honor, and His love for His Bride (the Church) caused Him to endure the contradiction of sinners against Himself! The sheep that Jacob were able to call his own – as well as the rest of the heritage which he obtained from Laban for his services – cost him great toil and labor. But Jesus did more than merely labor for His sheep; He actually laid down His very own life for them! He died so that His people might live! He became sin and a curse for His redeemed ones, so that they might be delivered from sin and its curse. And now they possess His perfect righteousness as their own. Oh! How low do all human characters sink when they are brought into comparison with the Lord Jesus!
How doubly evil do Ephraim’s provocations appear, in verse 14, as we contemplate the Lord’s grace! Yet notwithstanding this, we may still observe the over-abounding grace of our covenant-God in Christ. He does not give up nor lose sight of His covenant-relationship with His people, in His own dear Son; but rather, as we perceive in this verse, He still calls himself Israel’s Lord. O the depths of the love of God! How brightly does grace shine forth in the glories of His rich, free, sovereign mercy in Christ Jesus! What shall we render to Him in love and praise for all His mercies? Thanks be to Him for His unspeakable Gift!
Lord, we confess that we have often lived a lifestyle of idolatry, but we thank You for not withdrawing from us the gracious tokens of Your merciful presence! Amen.
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illustration by Gustave Doré, 1866 | Wikimedia Commons