Wrestling Jacob


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A look at the life and character of the father of the nation of Israel.

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Author: H. A. Whittaker

Binding: Paperback / Digital (ePub or Kindle download / Edition No.: 4 / August 2022)
Print edition: ISBN 978 0 85189 002 9 | Electronic edition: ISBN 978 0 85189 346 4
Pages: 120
Publisher: The Christadelphian

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2 reviews for Wrestling Jacob

  1. James Wilkins

    The Christadelphian review (from July 1969)

    Wrestling Jacob
    WRESTLING not only with the angel but with himself, Jacob grew through many afflictions—often brought on by his own errors but still divinely controlled—to become Israel, the man of faith, the man of God. Only gradually did he come to recognize and rely on the continued presence in his life of “the God which hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel which hath redeemed me from all evil”; too often, even while constantly pursuing the promise to Abraham, he had relied upon his own will and his own cunning. Only at the last did a chastened patriarch receive the joy of reunion with the beloved son so long given up for lost whom God had sent ahead to “save much people alive”.

    This is the theme unfolded in yet another contribution to the series of biographical studies of some of the great figures of the Old Testament. Written by bro. Harry Whittaker, it has his verve in style and keenness in Biblical research. He can be relied on to bring out much that is fresh and stimulating, the product of his close eye for detail in the narrative. As he himself hints in his foreword, not all will agree with all his interpretations: “Inevitably in some places more than one interpretation is possible. Sometimes the author has mentioned more than one view. Sometimes the reconstruction has necessarily been guided by his own judgment of probabilities. Readers should bear in mind that in many places a confident clear-cut interpretation of the facts narrated is hardly possible. This notwithstanding, the main lessons of the life of Jacob stand out stark and clear. In it, one is persuaded, there is much of value for the modern disciple wrestling with his own problems of faith.”

    The applications to modern life are often apt and pointed, and convey much exhortation. An example is the comment on Jacob’s family life with Leah’s pathetic desire to secure her husband’s love and Rachel’s bitterness at her barrenness: “Those of the seed of Abraham in the twentieth century who find their family life cursed with baneful envies and jealousies do well to recognize what a poison these can be, banishing contentment and peace of mind, embittering day-to-day relationships, drying up the milk of human kindness—and achieving nothing whatever of lasting good. These sorry results flow usually from a selfish unwillingness to come to terms with an unpalatable situation.”

    On Jacob’s attempts to influence the breeding of Laban’s flocks by his “peeled withes”: “There are many Jacobs in the service of God today—men and women who have received clear, gracious, divine assurance of the forgiveness of sins, of unfailing heavenly care and guidance, and by ceaseless angelic concern for all their affairs, and who yet live as though altogether convinced that their own wit and wisdom and scheming and contriving are worth more than anything that the heavenly minister can achieve. It is enough to make angels weep with disappointment. Yet, happily, with some the day of realization comes, as it did for Jacob, early enough to transform a life of assertive self-dependence into a pilgrimage of faith.”

    And a fine piece of spiritual insight, based on the promise “Kings shall come out of thy loins”, when Jacob returned to Bethel: “Is it possible that Jacob interpreted the word ‘kings’ as an intensive plural (an idiom not uncommon in Old Testament Hebrew) meaning ‘a great King’? This would explain his prompt action in setting up as a pillar the stone which earlier had been the place of sacrifice and the site of the heavenly ladder. Now, anointed with blood-red wine and with oil, it became also the symbol of a Messiah-King who was to reach this high office through the shedding of his blood to bring reconciliation between heaven and earth.” As the writer points out earlier in the book, here is “the pillar and ground of the truth”, and Paul’s words on “the house of God” in 1 Tim. 3:15–16 deliberately recall the occurrences at Bethel.

    Altogether, a good example of what can be done in this field.


  2. James Wilkins

    The Testimony review (from March 1976)

    Wrestling Jacob
    ONE OF THE most fascinating features of the Bible is its delineation of character. Indeed the Scriptures are to a large extent a series of character studies, the greatest being that of our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ. In this book Brother Whittaker has looked particularly at the character of Jacob and of those associated directly or indirectly with him. Assessing character from the details supplied is to a certain extent a personal matter and the author makes this quite clear in his text. The book must be read critically; not all will agree with the deductions but all will find stimulus and interest. Some questions are wisely left unanswered or the reader is left with alternative possibilities. This is all to the good provided the reader takes the trouble to weigh up the pros and cons and form his own, possibly tentative, opinion. The author allows himself some flights of the imagination as when he describes Jacob going to receive his father’s blessing “with a quick pulse and flushed cheek”. Leah is described as “bleary eyed”, a term which we are accustomed to use in rather different circumstances; and Jacob is said to have “dubbed” Ben-oni with the name Benjamin.

    A great deal is made of the waxing and waning faith of Leah and Jacob, as characterised by the naming of Leah’s children and the actions of Jacob at various times. One wonders how far we are justified in drawing these conclusions. Many Bible characters are the subjects of Divine assessment which include implied praise and also at times condemnation. We have for example the judgement on Moses, the friend of God, who struck the rock when he was commanded to speak to it; and the condemnation of David, a man after God’s own heart, in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. However there are many actions that we might regard as wrong, about which nothing is said at all. Could it be that we are assessing the situations incorrectly with our limited knowledge of the circumstances? On one particular occasion David departed from truthfulness in his dealings with Saul as for example his message, given through Jonathan, about going to sacrifice with his family (1 Samuel 20:6): yet there is no hint of condemnation in the text. To what extent are we justified in condemning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for actions which may seem to us culpable when no such suggestion is given in the inspired account?

    The emphasis on the faults of Jacob as the scheming brother seems rather excessive, as also the suggestion that Jacob should trust God and do nothing for himself; this could become a sort of fatalism. I feel that the analysis given by Robert Roberts in his Ways of Providence needs to be remembered. Writing of the incident connected with the arrival of Esau he says, “Here we have a visible conflict in Jacob’s mind; the fear that Esau will do him evil struggles with the belief that such an event would be inconsistent with God’s own promises to him. He pleads those promises: acknowledges their fulfilment so far: confesses his unworthiness: throws himself upon God in prayer, and then proceeds to take further precautions … Why should Jacob resort to such measures if he left the matter to God? Why not trust in the mollifying effect of God’s action on the mind of Esau? Well, because Jacob while committing the matter to God recognised the duty of doing his best to bring about the result he desired; and if the steps of those who thus commit their way to Him are directed, may we not conclude that Jacob was moved to take measures which were needful to avert the impending danger?” Later on when speaking of David he writes, “David’s reliance on God did not, in David’s estimation, release David from the use of what means and measures were at his disposal for the bringing about of what he might desire … furthermore, David’s contribution to the achievement of results by the exercise of personal vigilance did not, in David’s estimation, in the least interfere with his indebtedness to God for those results.”

    We would suggest that this book should be read in conjunction with The Ways of Providence (particularly chapters 5 and 6) which cover the same topics and deal particularly with the integration of circumstances with the purpose of God. In this way the reader will benefit from the study of character and motive so well analysed by Brother Whittaker, set alongside the principle of Divine providence so well set forth by Brother Roberts, stressing the underlying principle that God rules not only in the kingdoms of Men but also in the lives of His saints.

    H. J. SALTER

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