From Jacob to Jesus
Genesis 49:10; Luke 1:33
December 6, 1992 | Ray Pritchard
Our final study in the life of Jacob is different from all the rest. When we began, he was still in his mother’s womb. When Genesis brings his story to a close, he is buried in the cave of Machpelah, along with his father and grandfather. In between, this man of restless faith never stopped moving—from Beersheba to Bethel to Haran to Gilead to the Jabbok to Succoth to Shechem to Bethel again to Ephrathah to Migdal Eder to Mamre to Beersheba again to Egypt and finally back to the Promised Land where he was buried in the Cave of Mach-pelah—and those are just the moves we know about. In 147 years Jacob never let the grass grow under his feet.
But now his story is over, and he passes into the list of great Bible characters. Compared to Abraham, his faith was not as great. Compared to Joseph, his worldly achievements were much less. Compared to Isaac, Jacob did very well for himself. He was not the greatest man in the Old Testament, but he belongs not far from the top of the list. Others did more, perhaps, but no one left such an indelible imprint. For nearly 4000 years since his death, every time someone has mentioned the nation of Israel, they have paid unknowing tribute to Jacob.
Our purpose in this final study is to place Jacob into the larger context of biblical revelation. A river of connected history flows from Genesis to Revelation, spanning thousands of years and hundreds of generations. Those who believe the Bible have long argued that although it contains 66 books written by many different people over 1500 years, it has but one message: God’s plan to bring salvation to the world through Jesus Christ. In one way or the other, everything in the Bible fits around that great theme.
The Old Testament says, “He is coming!” The Gospels say, “He is here!” The book of Acts says, “He has come!” The Epistles say, “He is Lord!” Revelation says, “He is coming again!”
History, then, is His Story. Everything in the Bible either leads up to his coming or explains the meaning of his coming or promises that he will come again. Some years ago Norm Geisler wrote a book called To Under-stand the Bible, Look for Christ. In his book he demonstrated how Christ is seen in all 66 books of the Bible. In Genesis he is the Seed of the Woman, in Exodus he is the Passover Lamb, in Leviticus he is the Blood Atonement, in Numbers he is the Star of Jacob, and so on. Seen correctly, the Bible is Christocentric—which means it has Christ as its central focus.
In this study we want to discover how Jacob fits into God’s larger plan to bring Jesus Christ to the world. How do you get from Jacob to Jesus? What is the connection between the Heel-Grabber and the Son of God? Is there a thread that runs from Bethel to Bethlehem?
The Unfolding Promise
Our story begins in the Garden of Eden in those tragic few moments after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit. Paradise was violated by the entrance of sin. Satan had won, God’s plan had been foiled, our First Parents had fallen from innocence. From that moment sin spread out across the earth, staining everything it touched.
What would God do? How would he deal with people who had chosen to turn away from him? Would he destroy Adam and Eve and start over again? No. Salvation begins with the simple observation that God didn’t give up on the human race. God was determined to do something! He would not let Satan win the battle for planet earth.
The rest of the Old Testament is the progressive unfolding of God’s plan to counteract what happened in Eden. At that point in time God made a promise that, while vague, was the first glimmer of hope after the Fall. That promise can be traced across the centuries as God slowly clarifies the promise by narrowing its scope. The promise in its purest form was this: God would do something about sin by sending someone to the earth. But who and how and where and when?
Let’s trace the unfolding answer to that question:
1. He will be a member of the human race.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) This verse contains an amazing amount of information concerning God’s plan to rescue the human race:
1. God’s plan centered in a specific person.
2. That person would be a man.
3. He will enter the human race by being born of a woman.
4. He will do battle with Satan.
5. Satan will strike a blow against him but will not defeat him.
6. He will crush Satan and his power.
The Deliverer, when he comes, will be the “seed of the woman”—that is, he will not be an angel or some super-natural creature, but he will be a man and will enter the human race by being born of a woman. Genesis 3:15 is thus the first link in the long chain that leads us to Bethlehem.
2. He will come from the Semitic peoples.
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem!” (Genesis 9:26) After the Flood of Noah, the line begins to narrow. Noah has three sons, but the Deliverer must come from one of them. Noah declared that the Deliverer would come from the descendants of his son Shem—who is the father of the Semitic peoples of the world.
3. He will be a son of Abraham.
“I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing … all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2,3) Many years later God spoke to Abraham while he was in Ur of the Chaldees, calling him to leave that city for a land God would afterward show to him. Abraham obeyed and ended up in the Promised Land. This represents a great narrowing down of the promise—from all humanity to one solitary man. The Deliverer must come from among Abraham’s descendants.
4. He will be a son of Isaac.
“… through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed…” (Genesis 22:18) The promise narrows even further as God now specifies that the promise will come through Isaac—not through Ishmael.
5. He will be a son of Jacob.
“… All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” (Genesis 28:14) Isaac had two sons—Jacob and Esau. By custom, Esau should have received the promise as the first-born. But he sold that right to Jacob for a bowl of “red stuff.” Would God honor that transaction? The answer is yes, even though it involved some degree of unfairness on Jacob’s part. In that mysterious dream of the stairway to heaven, God repeats to Jacob the promise previously made to his father and grandfather. Thus the line is narrowed again.
6. He will come from the tribe of Judah.
“The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” (Genesis 49:10) Jacob had 12 sons. Which one would be chosen to carry on the promise? By rights it should have been Reuben, the first-born. But he sinned and was passed over. The same is true of Simeon and Levi. When Jacob came to his fourth son Judah, he uttered one of the most amazing prophecies in all the Bible. For 2000 years Genesis 49:8-12 has been regarded as one of the greatest Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Although Jacob was old and dying, with eyes of faith he saw through the mist to a day when the tribe of Judah would take leadership in Israel. The people of Judah would be lion-like in courage and strength. Their tribe would lead the way; the other 11 tribes would follow.
The scepter (the sign of regal authority) would rest with Judah until “Shiloh” comes. “Shiloh” is either a proper name for the Messiah or it is a Hebrew contraction meaning “he to whom it (the scepter) belongs.” If it is a proper name, then “Shiloh” means “the one who brings peace.” That may well be correct, since Isaiah 9:6-7 calls Messiah the “Prince of Peace” and Micah 5:5 says of the Messiah that “he will be their peace.” If it is a Hebrew contraction, Jacob is prophesying that the Messiah will be the rightful ruler of the world. Both thoughts are true, of course, and it is possible that both thoughts are intended by the expression “Shiloh.”
Here is a simple outline of Jacob’s prophecy concerning Judah in Genesis 49:8-12:
1. Judah will be the dominant tribe in Israel. 8
2. Judah will be lion-like in courage and strength. 9
3. The Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah. 10
4. Messiah’s coming brings peace, joy and prosperity. 11-12
Although Jacob predicts dominance for Judah, this prophecy was not fulfilled for many centuries. Israel’s earli-est leaders came from other tribes:
Moses from Levi
Joshua from Ephraim
Gideon from Manasseh
Samson from Dan
Samuel from Ephraim
Saul from Benjamin
But after Saul was rejected, God chose a man from the tribe of Judah to be king.
7. He will be a descendant of David.
In I Samuel 16 things begin to change. After rejecting Saul as king, God chooses the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd boy named David. He eventually becomes the king of Israel. In time he will be considered as Israel’s greatest king, her model warrior, her finest statesman, her poet laureate and “the sweet singer of Israel.” In this one man are bound up all the hopes and dreams of a nation longing for the fulfillment of the ancient promises.
At the height of his career God made an amazing promise to David. “… the Lord himself will estab-lish a house for you … I will raise up your offspring to succeed you … Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (II Samuel 7:11,12,16) This promise is the most specific yet. Not only will the Deliver come from the line of David, he will also rule over David’s kingdom and will reign upon David’s throne. More than that, David’s “house” and “kingdom” and “throne” will last forever.
These sweeping promises go beyond merely the human rulers who followed David—Solomon, Asa, Hezekiah, Josiah, to name only a few. Although these men were righteous before God, because they were human, they could never reign from David’s throne forever. Mortal men could never exhaust this great promise. It demands a Ruler who will live forever. But what person could fulfill that requirement? David could not have imagined the answer to that question.
The promise has now become very specific indeed. We have moved from a member of the human race to a descendant of Shem to Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah to the tribe of Judah to David to the descendants of David and ultimately to someone who can reign forever on David’s throne.
Who could the Deliver be and where will he come from and how will he be recognized? The next two promises begin to answer those questions.
8. He will be born of a virgin.
Many years pass as the people of God wait for the Deliverer to come from heaven. Then in the days of King Ahaz God once again narrows the line. This time he specifies how the Deliverer will enter the world: “… the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) A virgin birth! I wonder what Ahaz thought when he heard that? Come to think of it, I wonder what Isaiah thought? Only God could have conceived of such an event. The Messiah will indeed be a member of the human race, but his entrance will signal that he is no ordinary person. He enters the world supernaturally because he is the One sent by the Father. In the fact of the virgin birth, we have a hint (though not more than that) of the Messiah’s true identity—fully God (thus miraculously born of a virgin) and fully man (thus born of a woman).
9. He will be born in Bethlehem.
The line narrows once again—this time to specify exactly where the Messiah will be born. Out of all the cities and villages of Israel, he will be born in Bethlehem. “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2) The phrase “from ancient times” could literally be translated “from days of eternity” (the NIV margin). This ties directly back to Genesis 49:10, which speaks of a ruler who comes from Judah. It also adds the crucial fact that Messiah’s origins are from “days of eternity.” This helps explain how the Messiah can reign on David’s throne forever. Since his origins are from eternity, he will have an eternal reign.
When all these prophecies are taken together, we have an amazing portrait of the Messiah:
1. He will be a Jew.
2. He will come from the tribe of Judah.
3. He will be a descendant of David.
4. He will be born in Bethlehem.
5. He will be born of a virgin.
Who would fit all those qualifications? Many people could fit the first one, fewer the second, fewer still the third, very few the fourth, but only one person in history has ever met the fifth qualification. His name is Jesus Christ.
Where does Jacob fit into all this? He fits in at four specific points:
1. He is the fifth link in the chain—son of Isaac, father of Judah.
2. He is mentioned in the genealogies of Matthew 1 and Luke 3.
3. He foretold that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah.
4. He gave his name to the nation of Israel.
That last point needs some elaboration. Jacob had two names—Jacob (given by his parents) and Israel (given by God). After his death, the nation eventually called itself “Israel” in his honor—looking to him as its Founding Father. But later in the Old Testament, God often referred to the nation Israel as “the house of Jacob.”
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she had been chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah, these were the words used to describe what he (the Messiah) would accomplish: “and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever…” (Luke 1:33)
There it is! The last step in our journeys with Jacob. Now we can add one final place to our list:
To the Jabbok
To Bethel again
To Migdal Eder
To the Cave of Machpelah
Jacob was in Bethlehem? Yes, he was there in the person of his direct, physical descendant—Jesus Christ. He was there when Jesus was born as a “son of Jacob” to rule over the “house of Jacob.” And although Jacob and Jesus are separated by 1800 years, Jacob prophesied of his coming and was mentioned at his birth.
One other note. When the Apostle John tried to describe Jesus Christ in Revelation 5:5, he called him “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” That picture of Christ goes all the way back to Genesis 49:10. When our Lord came the first time, he came as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) When he returns to the earth, he will come as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Thus the story of redemption stretches from the first pages of the Bible to the last pages of the Bible. History is His Story!
When we celebrate Christmas, we don’t simply celebrate what happened at Bethlehem. We celebrate God’s plan which started in Eden and continues to the end of history.
Jacob and Esau—One Last Look
Our story is not yet complete. Let’s go back and look at Jacob and Esau one final time. If we roll the tape back to the very beginning, we discover that these two boys were completely different from the moment of their birth. Esau came out first, but Jacob came out grabbing Esau’s heel. That set a pattern that never changed over the years—Esau the leader and Jacob the heel-grabber.
I think it’s perfectly fair to say that Esau had more of the outward characteristics we usually associate with success. He was physically strong, athletic, outgoing, and loved to hunt in the fields. By contrast, Jacob was quiet, domestically-inclined, an introvert and a thinker. With Esau, everything is on the surface—what you see is what you get. When he’s mad, you know it; when he’s happy, you know it. He’s quick to anger, but just as quick to forgive. He is capable of great destruction—and just as capable of great acts of forgiveness and reconciliation.
With Jacob, you just never really know. He is smarter than Esau, a clever man, a deep thinker, a dreamer and a schemer—always looking for a way to get an edge on the competition. If he is angry, you don’t always know it because Jacob knows how to control his emotions.
Who is the better leader? Esau.
Who is the better thinker? Jacob.
Who would you choose to lead your company? Esau.
Who would you choose to close a big deal? Jacob.
Who would be more likely to rally the masses? Esau.
Who would cut corners to save a company from bankruptcy? Jacob.
Twin brothers—born to the same parents, yet fundamentally different people.
What Happened to Esau?
One of the points we passed over in our study of Jacob’s life is what happened to Esau. We know that he moved to the area of Mount Seir and became the founder of the Edomite people. Genesis 36 tells the rest of the story. At first glance, this appears to be just another boring genealogy—but it is much more than that. Verse 1 says, “This is the account of Esau.” Verse 2 tells about his wives, verse 10 about his sons, verse 15 about his descendants, verse 31 about the later rulers of Edom. The list is long and impressive, showing that Esau founded a vast kingdom that flourished long before Israel came out of Egypt. The final verse of Genesis 36 says, “This was Esau the father of the Edomites.” What’s the point? Genesis 36 is telling us about Esau’s great worldly success. He wasn’t a failure from the standpoint of accomplishing something with his life. The dozens of names in this chapter testify to his greatness, to his ability to build a great nation, to rally men to his cause, to establish a nation that would last nearly 2000 years after his death.
Esau Got the World, Jacob Got the Lord! 3. He will be a son of Abraham.
Although it is not evident in our English Bible, Genesis 37:1 is meant to go with all of Genesis 36. That is, one little verse balances against 43 very detailed verses. What does Genesis 37:1 say, “Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.” That’s it? What does it mean? Moses is contrasting Esau’s great worldly success in Genesis 36 with the struggles of Jacob in Genesis 37. For most of his life, Jacob struggled while Esau rose to prominence. Why is that? Because Jacob had chosen to walk with God and seek his blessing, while Esau (though having his good points) chose to despise the birthright and seek the blessings of this world. God gave Esau worldly prosperity because that was all he was going to get!
Esau got the world!
Jacob got the Lord!
Alan Ross puts this contrast in proper perspective:
In contrast to the expanding, powerful Esau, Jacob was dwelling in the land of the sojournings of his father … He had no kings, no full tribes, no land to govern. He too was a sojourner. Delitzsch notes poignantly that “secular greatness in general grows up far more rapidly than spiritual greatness.” … The promised spiritual blessing demands patience in faith, and emphasizes that waiting while others prosper is a test of faithfulness and perseverance. (Creation and Blessing, p. 588)
From the beginning Esau was blessed with the ability to do well in the world. To borrow a modern phrase, he’s got the “right stuff.” Yet Jacob is the one God chose to stand in the line of promise. For his entire life, Jacob seemed to come in second when compared with his older, more successful brother. At his death—and for many generations thereafter—the sons of Esau appeared to outshine the sons of Jacob.
“You Shall Not Pass Through”
Centuries pass and the sons of Jacob become a great nation in Egypt. At the same time the sons of Esau prosper in Edom. Eventually Moses arises to lead the people of God out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. But in order to get there quickly, they needed to pass through the land of Edom. Numbers 20 records their request for permission to travel through—and Edom’s belligerent reply: “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.” (18) When Israel asked a second time, the reply was simple: “You may not pass through.” (20) Then Edom came out against Israel with a large and powerful army, threatening war if the people of Israel traveled across their land. “Since Edom refused to let them go through their territory, Israel turned away from them.” (21)
This animosity—traceable to the competition that had existed between Jacob and Esau—continued across the years. Once Israel was in the land, Edom became one of her most hated enemies. The two countries fought each other numerous times—and when they didn’t fight, they eyed each other suspiciously. There is constant conflict, bloodshed, warfare, hatred and hostility. The sons of Jacob and the sons of Esau never got along, never trusted each other, never even liked each other.
We come now to the end of the Old Testament era. Edom was eventually conquered and the Romans added some territory to it and called the whole region Idumaea. They then appointed a certain man to be the king of Idumaea. His descendants to the throne considered themselves to be Jews, but the Jews never accepted them—partly because of their connection with Rome, but mostly because of their connection with Edom. To the Jews, these Idumaean kings were half-breed imposters.
A Tale of Two Kings
Then one dark night in Jerusalem two kings met face to face. One sat on a bejeweled throne, heir to a vast fortune, ruler of the land, surrounded by his lackeys, his courtiers, his hangers-on, and his soldiers. The other stood before him, clad in the simple robes of a man from Galilee. The king on the throne was ruler over an earthly empire. The other king claimed to rule over the hearts of men. One king could snap his fingers and call a legion of soldiers. The other had no army save a ragtag band of uneducated Galileans—mostly fishermen and farmers. He was a king in name only.
He had no crown, but one was soon to be provided.
He had no throne, but the praises of his people.
He had no scepter, but the scepter of his righteousness.
He had no robe, but the mocking soldiers would soon see to that.
One was the King of the Idumaeans.
The other claimed to be the King of the Jews.
Questions, But No Answers
That night at long last Jesus the son of Jacob stood before Herod the son of Esau. The only time they met was the night before Jesus was crucified. As so many times in the past, the son of Esau appeared to have the upper hand while the son of Jacob appeared to be down on his luck. The man on the throne smiled because he had heard about this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth. Now he would hear him for himself. He was hoping to see this man perform some miracles.
But Jesus performed no miracles for Herod. He knew that the son of Esau would be impressed by a dazzling display of power; he also knew his heart—like Esau’s—was empty. When Herod asked many questions, Jesus gave no answer because he knew that Herod—like Esau—had no sense of ultimate values in life. He was curious, but he was not hungry for the truth. Like Esau, Herod was hungry for the things of this world.
After a few minutes, Herod gave up and joined his soldiers in mocking Jesus. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate … and Pilate sent him out to die. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they were enemies. How ironic. The son of Esau joins forces with the man from Rome to put to death this troublesome son of Jacob.
The next day Jesus was crucified, and it appeared that Herod was right about Jesus. Perhaps the sons of Esau had finally defeated the sons of Jacob. That was Friday. Sunday came, and the world turned upside down. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. That ragtag band of followers took his message and spread it to the ends of the earth.
What of Herod? He ends up as a footnote in history, a forgotten man whose only claim to fame is that he par-ticipated in the trial of Jesus Christ. After 2000 years, we never speak of Herod except to mention that one fateful night in Jerusalem. And Jesus has become the centerpiece of history—so important that we mark the passing years by the time of his coming to earth—B.C. or A.D.
Four years after that night, Herod was deposed, dethroned and sent into exile. He died a forgotten man. To this day, Jesus reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He waits in heaven for his return to the earth as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
Are You A Son of Jacob?
Throughout history all of humanity has been divided into two categories—the sons of Esau and the sons of Jacob. The sons of Esau are the successful people of the world who have everything going for them but are empty on the inside. The sons of Jacob are those people who may not have great worldly wealth, but they have bowed their knees before King Jesus and have crowned him Lord of all.
Which line are you in? Are you in the line of Esau or the line of Jacob?
You may be successful—but that’s not enough.
You may be spiritually sensitive—but that’s not enough.
You may be curious about God—but that’s not enough.
You are still in the line of Esau until you bow before Jesus and crown him Lord of your life. Here is the wonder of salvation: Though you may be a son of Esau at this moment, you can become a son of Jacob right now. All that is required is that you open your heart to Jesus Christ. Say Yes to Jesus. Crown him King of your life.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that your plan spans the centuries. We thank you that history really is His Story. Give us faith to believe that Jesus Christ has done enough—and all that is left for us is simply to believe. May the sons of Esau become the sons of Jacob through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.