The Prince of God, Jacob, had met the enemy, Esau, face to face, and had walked away without a scratch, even though the enemy had made known his intent to kill this Prince of God. Both men after this meeting parted without a drop of blood being shed, even though the situation was tense for a time. Esau had come with four hundred men to meet his brother, who was now a cripple and was encumbered with, and held back from fleeing by, two wives, their handmaidens and twelve children, none of which was a teenager yet—though the oldest was very close to it.
This Prince came with great riches in the form of oxen, asses, flocks, menservants, and womenservants. Anyone who wanted to become rich in a dishonest way would find this group an easy prey in this open country near the River Jabbok. Jacob and his family sat there like sitting ducks. There, alone and without bodyguards, they could easily be robbed of all that which they had. And for a man seeking revenge, things could not be more suitably arranged.
To get even with Jacob—and why do we speak of getting even, when we always mean doing more harm to one than that one did to us? —Esau was in a position not simply to kill him, but to destroy the whole family. He could have made his brother suffer tremendously before taking his life. He could have killed all of his children, one by one before Jacob’s eyes, and then slain Jacob as well. A time for revenge, a setup that would satisfy rage and bitter hatred was there. And yet Jacob walks away without a scratch; and instead Esau offers to help him on his way back to their father.
We must not, however, fail to see that this amazing turn of events is not due to a mellowing of Esau over a period of twenty years. It was not because of the abundant gift that Jacob pressed upon the man who threatened to kill him. It was not because Esau now believed that Jacob was harmless and could be trusted. It was because there is a God in heaven Who is faithful to His promises, and protects His people in a mercy that faileth never and in a grace that abideth ever.
Proverbs 21:1 applies here: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will.” No, Esau is not a king, even though Jacob bowed so often before him and called him his Lord. But the principle is there. God had Esau under complete control. Esau could not lay one finger upon God’s Prince. God stood between Jacob and Esau. And Jacob was as good as ten thousand miles away from Esau, as far as Esau’s power to hurt, and the strength of these four hundred men, are concerned.
And let us take hold of that truth for ourselves. We tend to quote it and think of it when we get marvelous deliverances like Jacob did. When the enemy of the Church is frustrated, when his intent and attempt to destroy is thwarted, we say that God is on the throne and fighting for us. And that surely is true. But let us understand that every king, every authority, every temporal ruler over us on the local, state, or national level is, as far as his heart is concerned, in the hand of God, and is turned by God whithersoever it pleases Him. When they bungle things, when they show ineptness for the duties of their offices, when they squander the money they demand unnecessarily, when they lead the nation to ruin, all this also is because the Lord has their hearts in His hand as rivers of waters. These are not above His power. These do not act apart from His sovereign, eternal counsel. Solomon makes no exception, and we ought not make any exception to the truth that all men in authority over us are in the hand of God as far as their hearts are concerned; and what they do, that hurts as well as benefits, must be understood in the light of this truth that the God of our salvation has them in His hand to execute what He in His wisdom, and love for His Church, has planned so that the day of Christ may come. All too often we look at the ruler, the man in authority over us, and in spiritual nearsightedness fail to see the hand of God upon him. No, we are not atheists, and we confess God and pray to Him, worship Him in the sanctuary on the Sabbath, and insist that our children be taught the things of their natural life in the light of His Word. And yet in many instances we are practical atheists in that we rule Him out of the works which He does through men.
And it must be admitted that Jacob did exactly that here in this incident. He had prayed a very earnest prayer when he heard that Esau was coming with four hundred men. He sought God’s help. He lifted his eyes up to Him Who has the heart of every man in His hand to turn him whithersoever He pleases. There is not atheism to be found in Jacob in his prayer in Genesis 32:9-12. There was no atheism in Jacob when he threw himself upon God after he had been touched in the thigh and crippled. Then he cried out for a blessing from God. But find one word in Genesis 33 that indicates that before unbelieving Esau Jacob is confident with implicit trust in God. Indeed, in verse 10 he mentions God by name. In verse 11 he confesses that God had dealt graciously with him. But his old man of sin manifests itself so clearly, and so plainly has the upper hand here, that before Esau Jacob does manifest much practical atheism. Would you commend Jacob for telling Esau that seeing him face to face was “as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me”? Was Jacob there declaring that he did see the face of God in this complete turn about on the part of the man who intended to kill him? Jacob saw Esau, and that Esau was pleased with him. He is tremendously relieved to find himself in the good graces of Esau. And though he speaks of God, he does not confess God to have turned Esau’s heart, because he, Jacob, was the one in whom God was pleased. And that God blessed him and had dealt graciously with him is language that an atheist can and often does use. Many of them in our land sing, “God bless America” rather than “God bless His Church in all nations, tongues, and tribes.”
But what particularly shows that the old man of sin in Jacob has the upper hand here—even while there is that undercurrent of faith of the new man in Christ—is the fact that he behaves as one who must turn the heart of Esau as the rivers of water by his own ingenuity. Esau offered protection to Jacob there on the way to his father’s house. And Jacob refused it. Understand well, that protection of the unbeliever is not always to be rejected. Besides, did Jacob know Esau to be an unbeliever? He knew of his sins of spiritual carelessness, of marrying heathen wives, and of his threat to kill. But did he have anything concrete on which to base a conviction that Esau was an unbeliever? It is true that Esau does not utter one word in this whole encounter that shows any faith. But is that not true of us so often; even though we are believers, and have the new principle of life in us?
It is what Jacob does not say that is as important as what he says. He gives an excuse for not traveling in the company of Esau. And his reason is a legitimate one. The children, the women, the cattle could not travel at the speed that Esau and his four hundred men would want to travel. Esau felt the reasonableness of Jacob’s objection. He did not flare up with anger and call Jacob a tricky old customer with which to deal. No, there was logic in Jacob’s answer. He spoke the truth, and Esau was convinced of it. But was this Jacob’s sole and chief reason for wanting to go it alone? Was this a manifestation of his faith in God, and an evidence that he was trusting in Him to turn the hearts of his enemies, so that he could have that protection that God had promised?
There is a matter here also that we can learn from, and that we do well to note. We, sometimes, try to find and give “good” reasons for our deeds which are contrary to the teachings of the Word of God. How often do we not hear of the joining and yoking of believer with unbeliever on the basis of the calling of man to provide food and clothing and shelter for his family? The Word of God in no uncertain terms and in unmistakable language in II Corinthians 6:14-18 not only warns against unequal yoking with an unbeliever, but emphatically insists that there can be no fellowship, no harmony between them. The only way that believer and unbeliever can agree and work together is that the believer walk in unbelief. The unbeliever cannot meet the believer on holy ground. The believer will have to leave the principles of the Word of God to get along with and work together with the unbeliever.
The unbeliever says, “Let us break the fifth commandment. Who cares about honouring those in authority over us? The things of this earth are more important than God’s law. Let’s go on strike. Let’s get the owner over the barrel so that we can make more money fall out of his pockets and into our hands.” And the believer, unequally yoked with him, as a member in his organization, has either to say, “I cannot go along with breaking of God’s law,” or, to retain his membership and benefit from the coercion and dishonouring of the God ordained authority, he must say, “I agree with you. There is concord between us. I will drop my Christian principles. I will with you break the fifth commandment for the sake of my flesh.” It is the believer who has to give in, not the unbeliever. The leopard cannot change its spots, and so the lamb has to take on spots to be like the evildoer with whom he is unequally yoked.
And then it is that so often we find the same tactics as used by Jacob. Men will say, “But it is my God-given duty to provide for my family.” A principle of God’s Word is presented as a reason for not walking according to the principles of God’s Word. Our statement before men, our reason, is in itself legitimate. But does it hold before God?
The allotted space is almost filled, all too early. But let me make one necessary observation yet. Will it be any different when the mark of the beast is demanded in the days of the Antichrist? Will not that calling of the father and husband to provide for the needs of his family be MORE pressing and painfully real? Now, in this day, a man can get another job with less pay, and live on a lower standard of living in order to live on the standards of God. Now a man can become poor in this earth’s goods to be laying up for himself treasures in heaven. But in these days not too far ahead of us, there will be no way to buy or sell without unequal yoking with the unbeliever.
Let it be clearly understood therefore that, although it is man’s calling to provide for his family, it is not his calling to do so in a sinful way. He may not do so in the way of denying his faith. And understand well that in the days of the Antichrist, we will not be dealing with a man like Esau who leaves Jacob unscratched. We will be dealing with a cruel instrument of Satan who desires and seeks our complete ruin. And we will not have to satisfy either Esau or Antichrist but stand before a holy God with our reasons for our behaviour. That we satisfy men—yea even the spiritual leaders in the Church—is not what counts. Will God agree with us as to the reason for our behaviour in this vale of tears?