A Long Way Home
Jacob’s flight from Mesopotamia is framed by redemptive history. Kent Hughes writes,
“Looking back, it has parallels with Abraham’s leaving the Mesopotamian city of Ur in obedience to God’s call (cf. Gen 12:1-9). Then Abraham took all his people and possessions and left for the land of Canaan. In Genesis 31 his Jacob took all his people and possessions and returned to Canaan. Jacob’s departure thus parallels Abraham’s initial obedience.
“Looking forward, Jacob’s exodus from Mesopotamia provides a prophetic outline of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Here Jacob’s large family flees from Laban; there a multitude of his descendants will flee from Pharaoh. Here his family plunders Laban; there they will plunder Pharaoh and his people. Here Laban is forced to let Jacob’s family go; there Pharaoh will be forced to let Jacob’s descendants go. And all of this is prophetic of the glorious exodus that believers would find in Christ, the ultimate Israel, who plundered the power of evil and led them out of bondage to Satan.
“The driving point of the narrative of Jacob’s escape here in Genesis 31 is that God did it all – through his multiple interventions and constant protection. God would later do exactly the same in Moses’ escape from Egypt. And so it now is in the ultimate exodus in Christ. All glory goes to God, ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen’ (Rom 11:36).” (emphasis mine)
One of the beautiful things about Jacob’s flight is that we see that Jacob has made spiritual progress. He appears in a favorable light! He is now faithful to God. He begins obediently and does not waver. Here this old deceiver is honest and rightly declares his integrity before Laban. Most significantly, this chronically self-sufficient man gives all the credit to God. Jacob’s spiritual progress would also have its parallels in Moses’ spiritual development preceding his leading Israel in its great exodus. Christ the captain of the ultimate exodus, was, as we know, perfect in every way.
As we consider Jacob’s exodus from Mesopotamia, everything is in place. He now has a people – some four wives and eleven children – the genesis of a vast people. His possessions are such that he is remarkably rich. He knows that his people and possessions are from God. God sees that he is ready.
In this dramatic event, there are two stirring scenes that prepare us for a climactic moment. Jacob hearing what Laban’s sons were saying and receiving his instructions from God, and Jacob convincing his wives and departing. But the climax of the drama is a scene of strong characters and strongly voiced emotions, of danger and suspense. How will it turn out?
As we noted, “The driving point of the narrative of Jacob’s escape is that God did it all. That is the nature of reformation. Francis Schaeffer in No Little People wrote, “We must do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.” I believe this is the defining issue in our generation, and in every generation. Ray Ortlund, a PCA pastor reminds us, ‘If we serve the Lord out of our own strengths, out of our own cool… we are not serving the Lord. We are insulting the Lord, while we flatter ourselves that we are serving the Lord.’ He then writes, ‘but if we will turn and humble ourselves, doing the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way then the Lord himself will enter into our work with his glorious power.’
I am reminded of one of my favorite stories of Luther during the reformation. Luther, as we will remember, is usually identified as marking the beginning of the Protestant Reformation on 31 October 1517 when he nailed his famous 95 theses against the abuses of papal indulgences to the door of the Wittenberg church. Although it would be misguided to credit Luther with singlehandedly sparking the Reformation, he is undoubtedly a (if not the) key figure in the drama that played out in the medieval church during the sixteenth century, and which still influences us today.
It is interesting to note, therefore, how Luther himself explained, in a sermon he preached in Wittenberg in 1522, the significant things that had taken place in the span of only a few years. He said:
Once, when Paul came to Athens (Acts 17[:16-32], a mighty city, he found in the temple many ancient altars, and he went from one to the other and looked at them all, but he did not kick down a single one of them with his foot. Rather he stood up in the middle of the market place and said they were nothing but idolatrous things and begged the people to forsake them; yet he did not destroy one of them by force. When the Word took hold of their hearts, they forsook them of their own accord, and in consequence the thing fell of itself. Likewise, if I had seen them holding mass, I would have preached to them and admonished them. Had they heeded my admonition, I would have won them; if not, I would nevertheless not have torn them from it by the hair or employed any force, but simply allowed the Word to act and prayed for them. For the Word created heaven and earth and all things [Ps. 33:6]; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners.
Luther said on another occasion, ‘I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise, I did nothing. And then when I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friend Philip of Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a prince or emperor did such damage to it. I did nothing: the Word of God did it all.’ (emphasis mine)
That is encouragement for us today. God’s Word will bring about reformation. Will you join me in prayer? Will you work for reformation? Will you pray for the Lord to light a fire within you once again for his Word? Will you join the Lord in his work in his way?
Soli Deo Gloria,