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Jacob's Flight and Exile
[This chapter is based on Genesis 28 to 31.]
THREATENED with death by the wrath of Esau, Jacob went out from his
father's home a fugitive; but he carried with him the father's blessing;
Isaac had renewed to him the covenant promise, and had bidden him, as
its inheritor, to seek a wife of his mother's family in Mesopotamia. Yet
it was with a deeply troubled heart that Jacob set out on his lonely
journey. With only his staff in his hand he must travel hundreds of
miles through a country inhabited by wild, roving tribes. In his remorse
and timidity he sought to avoid men, lest he should be traced by his
angry brother. He feared that he had lost forever the blessing that God
had purposed to give him; and Satan was at hand to press temptations
The evening of the second day found him far away from his father's
tents. He felt that he was an outcast, and he knew that all this trouble
had been brought upon him by his own wrong course. The darkness of
despair pressed upon his soul, and he hardly dared to pray. But he was
so utterly lonely that he felt the need of protection from God as he had
never felt it before. With weeping and deep humiliation he confessed his
sin, and entreated for some evidence that he was not utterly forsaken.
Still his burdened heart found no relief. He had lost all confidence in
himself, and he feared that the God of his fathers had cast him off.
But God did not forsake Jacob. His mercy was still extended to His
erring, distrustful servant. The Lord compassionately revealed just what
Jacob needed--a Saviour. He had sinned, but his heart was filled with
gratitude as he saw revealed a way by which he could be restored to the
favor of God.
Wearied with his journey, the wanderer lay down upon the ground, with a
stone for his pillow. As he slept he beheld a ladder, bright and
shining, whose base rested upon the earth, while the top reached to
heaven. Upon this ladder angels were ascending and descending; above it
was the Lord of glory, and from the heavens His voice was heard: "I am
the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac." The land
whereon he lay as an exile and fugitive was promised to him and to his
posterity, with the assurance, "In thee and in thy seed shall all the
families of the earth be blessed." This promise had been given to
Abraham and to Isaac, and now it was renewed to Jacob. Then in special
regard to his present loneliness and distress, the words of comfort and
encouragement were spoken: "Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee
in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this
land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have
spoken to thee of."
The Lord knew the evil influences that would surround Jacob, and the
perils to which he would be exposed. In mercy He opened up the future
before the repentant fugitive, that he might understand the divine
purpose with reference to himself, and be prepared to resist the
temptations that would surely come to him when alone amid idolaters and
scheming men. There would be ever before him the high standard at which
he must aim; and the knowledge that through him the purpose of God was
reaching its accomplishment, would constantly prompt him to
In the vision the plan of redemption was presented to Jacob, not fully,
but in such parts as were essential to him at that time. The mystic
ladder revealed to him in his dream was the same to which Christ
referred in His conversation with Nathanael. Said He, "Ye shall see
heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son
of man." John 1:51. Up to the time of man's rebellion against the
government of God, there had been free communion between God and man.
But the sin of Adam and Eve separated earth from heaven, so that man
could not have communion with his Maker. Yet the world was not left in
solitary hopelessness. The ladder represents Jesus, the appointed medium
of communication. Had He not with His own merits bridged the gulf that
sin had made, the ministering angels could have held no communion with
fallen man. Christ connects man in his weakness and helplessness with
the source of infinite power.
All this was revealed to Jacob in his dream. Although his mind at once
grasped a part of the revelation, its great and mysterious truths were
the study of his lifetime, and unfolded to his understanding more and
Jacob awoke from his sleep in the deep stillness of night. The shining
forms of his vision had disappeared. Only the dim outline of the lonely
hills, and above them the heavens bright with stars, now met his gaze.
But he had a solemn sense that God was with him. An unseen presence
filled the solitude. "Surely the Lord is in this place," he said, "and I
knew it not. . . . This is none other but the house of God, and this is
the gate of heaven."
"And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had
put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the
top of it. "In accordance with the custom of commemorating important
events, Jacob set up a memorial of God's mercy, that whenever he should
pass that way he might tarry at this sacred spot to worship the Lord.
And he called the place Bethel, or the "house of God." With deep
gratitude he repeated the promise that God's presence would be with him;
and then he made the solemn vow, "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: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall
be God's house: and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give
the tenth unto Thee."
Jacob was not here seeking to make terms with God. The Lord had already
promised him prosperity, and this vow was the outflow of a heart filled
with gratitude for the assurance of God's love and mercy. Jacob felt
that God had claims upon him which he must acknowledge, and that the
special tokens of divine favor granted him demanded a return. So does
every blessing bestowed upon us call for a response to the Author of all
our mercies. The Christian should often review his past life and recall
with gratitude the precious deliverances that God has wrought for him,
supporting him in trial, opening ways before him when all seemed dark
and forbidding, refreshing him when ready to faint. He should recognize
all of them as evidences of the watchcare of heavenly angels. In view of
these innumerable blessings he should often ask, with subdued and
grateful heart, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits
toward me?" Psalm 116:12.
Our time, our talents, our property, should be sacredly devoted to Him
who has given us these blessings in trust. Whenever a special
deliverance is wrought in our behalf, or new and unexpected favors are
granted us, we should acknowledge God's goodness, not only by expressing
our gratitude in words, but, like Jacob, by gifts and offerings to His
cause. As we are continually receiving the blessings of God, so we are
to be continually giving.
"Of all that Thou shalt give me," said Jacob, "I will surely give the
tenth unto Thee." Shall we who enjoy the full light and privileges of
the gospel be content to give less to God than was given by those who
lived in the former, less favored dispensation? Nay, as the blessings we
enjoy are greater, are not our obligations correspondingly increased?
But how small the estimate; how vain the endeavor to measure with
mathematical rules, time, money, and love, against a love so
immeasurable and a gift of such inconceivable worth. Tithes for Christ!
Oh, meager pittance, shameful recompense for that which cost so much!
From the cross of Calvary, Christ calls for an unreserved consecration.
All that we have, all that we are, should be devoted to God.
With a new and abiding faith in the divine promises, and assured of the
presence and guardianship of heavenly angels, Jacob pursued his journey
to "the land of the children of the East." Genesis 29:1, margin. But how
different his arrival from that of Abraham's messenger nearly a hundred
years before! The servant had come with a train of attendants riding
upon camels, and with rich gifts of gold and silver; the son was a
lonely, footsore traveler, with no possession save his staff. Like
Abraham's servant, Jacob tarried beside a well, and it was here that he
met Rachel, Laban's younger daughter. It was Jacob now who rendered
service, rolling the stone from the well and watering the flocks. On
making known his kinship, he was welcomed to the home of Laban. Though
he came portionless and unattended, a few weeks showed the worth of his
diligence and skill, and he was urged to tarry. It was arranged that he
should render Laban seven years' service for the hand of Rachel.
In early times custom required the bridegroom, before the ratification
of a marriage engagement, to pay a sum of money or its equivalent in
other property, according to his circumstances, to the father of his
wife. This was regarded as a safeguard to the marriage relation. Fathers
did not think it safe to trust the happiness of their daughters to men
who had not made provision for the support of a family. If they had not
sufficient thrift and energy to manage business and acquire cattle or
lands, it was feared that their life would prove worthless. But
provision was made to test those who had nothing to pay for a wife. They
were permitted to labor for the father whose daughter they loved, the
length of time being regulated by the value of the dowry required. When
the suitor was faithful in his services, and proved in other respects
worthy, he obtained the daughter as his wife; and generally the dowry
which the father had received was given her at her marriage. In the case
of both Rachel and Leah, however, Laban selfishly retained the dowry
that should have been given them; they referred to this when they said,
just before the removal from Mesopotamia, "He hath sold us, and hath
quite devoured also our money."
The ancient custom, though sometimes abused, as by Laban, was productive
of good results. When the suitor was required to render service to
secure his bride, a hasty marriage was prevented, and there was
opportunity to rest the depth of his affections, as well as his ability
to provide for a family. In our time many evils result from pursuing an
opposite course. It is often the case that persons before marriage have
little opportunity to become acquainted with each other's habits and
disposition, and, so far as everyday life is concerned, they are
virtually strangers when they unite their interests at the altar. Many
find, too late, that they are not adapted to each other, and lifelong
wretchedness is the result of their union. Often the wife and children
suffer from the indolence and inefficiency or the vicious habits of the
husband and father. If the character of the suitor had been tested
before marriage, according to the ancient custom, great unhappiness
might have been prevented.
Seven years of faithful service Jacob gave for Rachel, and the years
that he served "seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to
her." But the selfish and grasping Laban, desiring to retain so valuable
a helper, practiced a cruel deception in substituting Leah for Rachel.
The fact that Leah herself was a party to the cheat, caused Jacob to
feel that he could not love her. His indignant rebuke to Laban was met
with the offer of Rachel for another seven years' service. But the
father insisted that Leah should not be discarded, since this would
bring disgrace upon the family. Jacob was thus placed in a most painful
and trying position; he finally decided to retain Leah and marry Rachel.
Rachel was ever the one best loved; but his preference for her excited
envy and jealousy, and his life was embittered by the rivalry between
For twenty years Jacob remained in Mesopotamia, laboring in the service
of Laban, who, disregarding the ties of kinship, was bent upon securing
to himself all the benefits of their connection. Fourteen years of toil
he demanded for his two daughters; and during the remaining period,
Jacob's wages were ten times changed. Yet Jacob's service was diligent
and faithful. His words to Laban in their last interview vividly
describe the untiring vigilance which he had given to the interests of
his exacting master: "This twenty years have I been with thee; thy ewes
and thy she-goats have not cast their young, and the rams of thy flock
have I not eaten. That which was torn of beasts I brought not unto thee;
I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it, whether stolen
by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought consumed
me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes."
It was necessary for the shepherd to watch his flocks day and night.
They were in danger from robbers, and also from wild beasts, which were
numerous and bold, often committing great havoc in flocks that were not
faithfully guarded. Jacob had many assistants in caring for the
extensive flocks of Laban, but he himself was held responsible for them
all. During some portions of the year it was necessary for him to be
constantly with the flocks in person, to guard them in the dry season
against perishing from thirst, and during the coldest months from
becoming chilled with the heavy night frosts. Jacob was the chief
shepherd; the servants in his employ were the undershepherds. If any of
the sheep were missing, the chief shepherd suffered the loss; and he
called the servants to whom he entrusted the care of the flock to a
strict account if it was not found in a flourishing condition.
The shepherd's life of diligence and care-taking, and his tender
compassion for the helpless creatures entrusted to his charge, have been
employed by the inspired writers to illustrate some of the most precious
truths of the gospel. Christ, in His relation to His people, is compared
to a shepherd. After the Fall He saw His sheep doomed to perish in the
dark ways of sin. To save these wandering ones He left the honors and
glories of His Father's house. He says, "I will seek that which was
lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that
which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick." I will "save
My flock, and they shall no more be a prey." "Neither shall the beast of
the land devour them." Ezekiel 34:16, 22, 28. His voice is heard calling
them to His fold, "a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a
place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain." Isaiah 4:6.
His care for the flock is unwearied. He strengthens the weak, relieves
the suffering, gathers the lambs in His arms, and carries them in His
bosom. His sheep love Him. "And a stranger will they not follow, but
will flee from him; for they know not the voice of strangers." John
Christ says, "The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he
that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not,
seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth; and the wolf
catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he
is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd,
and know My sheep, and am known of Mine." Verses 11-14.
Christ, the Chief Shepherd, has entrusted the care of His flock to His
ministers as undershepherds; and He bids them have the same interest
that He has manifested, and feel the sacred responsibility of the charge
He has entrusted to them. He has solemnly commanded them to be faithful,
to feed the flock, to strengthen the weak, to revive the fainting, and
to shield them from devouring wolves.
To save His sheep, Christ laid down His own life; and He points His
shepherds to the love thus manifested, as their example. But "he that is
an hireling, . . . whose own the sheep are not," has no real interest in
the flock. He is laboring merely for gain, and he cares only for
himself. He studies his own profit instead of the interest of his
charge; and in time of peril or danger he will flee, and leave the
The apostle Peter admonishes the undershepherds: "Feed the flock of God
which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but
willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being
lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." 1 Peter
5:2, 3. Paul says, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the
flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed
the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I
know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among
you, not sparing the flock." Acts 20:28, 29.
All who regard as an unwelcome task the care and burdens that fall to
the lot of the faithful shepherd, are reproved by the apostle: "Not by
constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind." 1
Peter 5:2. All such unfaithful servants the Chief Shepherd would
willingly release. The church of Christ has been purchased with His
blood, and every shepherd should realize that the sheep under his care
cost an infinite sacrifice. He should regard them each as of priceless
worth, and should be unwearied in his efforts to keep them in a healthy,
flourishing condition. The shepherd who is imbued with the spirit of
Christ will imitate His self-denying example, constantly laboring for
the welfare of his charge; and the flock will prosper under his care.
All will be called to render a strict account of their ministry. The
Master will demand of every shepherd, "Where is the flock that was given
thee, thy beautiful flock?" Jeremiah 13:20. He that is found faithful,
will receive a rich reward. "When the Chief Shepherd shall appear," says
the apostle, "ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." 1
When Jacob, growing weary of Laban's service, proposed to return to
Canaan, he said to his father-in-law, "Send me away, that I may go unto
mine own place, and to my country. Give me my wives and my children, for
whom I have served thee, and let me go: for thou knowest my service
which I have done thee." But Laban urged him to remain, declaring, "I
have learned by experience that the Lord hath blessed me for thy sake."
He saw that his property was increasing under the care of his
Said Jacob, "It was little which thou hadst before I came, and it is now
increased unto a multitude." But as time passed on, Laban became envious
of the greater prosperity of Jacob, who "increased exceedingly, and had
much cattle, and maidservants, and menservants, and camels, and asses."
Laban's sons shared their father's jealousy, and their malicious
speeches came to Jacob's ears: He "hath taken away all that was our
father's, and of that which was our father's hath he gotten all this
glory. And Jacob beheld the countenance of Laban, and, behold, it was
not toward him as before."
Jacob would have left his crafty kinsman long before but for the fear of
encountering Esau. Now he felt that he was in danger from the sons of
Laban, who, looking upon his wealth as their own, might endeavor to
secure it by violence. He was in great perplexity and distress, not
knowing which way to turn. But mindful of the gracious Bethel promise,
he carried his case to God, and sought direction from Him. In a dream
his prayer was answered: "Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to
thy kindred; and I will be with thee."
Laban's absence afforded opportunity for departure. The flocks and herds
were speedily gathered and sent forward, and with his wives, children,
and servants, Jacob crossed the Euphrates, urging his way toward Gilead,
on the borders of Canaan. After three days Laban learned of their
flight, and set forth in pursuit, overtaking the company on the seventh
day of their journey. He was hot with anger, and bent on forcing them to
return, which he doubted not he could do, since his band was much the
stronger. The fugitives were indeed in great peril.
That he did not carry out his hostile purpose was due to the fact that
God Himself had interposed for the protection of His servant. "It is in
the power of my hand to do you hurt," said Laban, "but the God of your
father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak
not to Jacob either good or bad;" that is, he should not force him to
return, or urge him by flattering inducements.
Laban had withheld the marriage dowry of his daughters and had ever
treated Jacob with craft and harshness; but with characteristic
dissimulation he now reproached him for his secret departure, which had
given the father no opportunity to make a parting feast or even to bid
farewell to his daughters and their children.
In reply Jacob plainly set forth Laban's selfish and grasping policy,
and appealed to him as a witness to his own faithfulness and honesty.
"Except the God of my father, the God of Abraham, and the fear of Isaac,
had been with me," said Jacob, "surely thou hadst sent me away now
empty. God hath seen mine affliction, and the labor of my hands, and
rebuked thee yesternight."
Laban could not deny the facts brought forward, and he now proposed to
enter into a covenant of peace. Jacob consented to the proposal, and a
pile of stones was erected as a token of the compact. To this pillar
Laban gave the name Mizpah, "watchtower," saying, "The Lord watch
between me and thee, when we are absent one from another."
"And Laban said to Jacob, Behold this heap, and behold this pillar,
which I have cast betwixt me and thee; this heap be witness, and this
pillar be witness, that I will not pass over this heap to thee, and that
thou shalt not pass over this heap and this pillar unto me, for harm.
The God of Abraham, and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge
betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac." To confirm
the treaty, the parties held a feast. The night was spent in friendly
communing; and at the dawn of day, Laban and his company departed. With
this separation ceased all trace of connection between the children of
Abraham and the dwellers in Mesopotamia.
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