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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  


Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Unvarnished Truth: Life’s Greatest Story

What This Lesson Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:

The focus of this week’s study is how we can glorify God and enjoy our relationship with Him as we live out our daily lives. 



Sept.  04

One Great Creator


Sept. 11

One Great Purpose


Sept. 18

One Great Problem


Sept 25

One Great Savior


Oct. 02

One Great Commitment


Oct. 09

One Great Task






We were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.


Isaiah 43:1-7





Enter A Relationship With God (Isa. 43:1-2)

Enjoy God’s Love (Isa. 43:3-4)

Bring God Glory (Isa. 43:5-7)


In Isaiah 40, the theme changes from one of judgment and exile that characterized chapters 1—39 to one of hope and restoration, which continues through chapter 66.  The Lord made it clear that Israel’s unresponsiveness had brought on His judgment and the hardship of exile.  Yet, in chapter 43, He assured them of His presence and plan to restore the dispersed people to their homeland.  As a result, God inspired the prophet Isaiah to address many situations in Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Several passages in Isaiah’s later chapters deal with the “servant” of the Lord, who is sometimes identified with the nation Israel (41:8). Occasionally, however, the servant texts point ahead to the suffering and death of Jesus (52:13–53:12; see 1 Pet. 2:21-25). In Isaiah 43 the servant was Israel, who had been disobedient to God (42:18-20) and had received God’s judgment (vv. 22-25).

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Where do I fit in? It’s easy to fill our lives with things and activities. Busyness can drown out the quiet, nagging question that asks: What’s the purpose of all I’m doing? What have I really accomplished? God created us for so much more than what we often settle for. He created us with purpose and for a purpose. Life becomes rich and full as we discover and live out God’s purpose for our lives.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Enter A Relationship With God (Isa. 43:1-2)

1 Now this is what the Lord says—the One who created you, Jacob, and the One who formed you, Israel—“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. 2 I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.








1.   What is the setting for this focal passage?

2.   What does the Lord say in verse 1?

3.   What do you think is implied by the fact that God used the words “created” and “formed” in verse 1?

4.   Why do you think Isaiah reminded the Israelites of God’s creative work?

5.   What do we know about Jacob?  (See the short and long definition in Digging Deeper.)

6.   Why do you think God makes a distinction between Jacob and Israel (v. 1)?

7.   What “hope” does the Lord give His people in verse 1?

8.   What comfort do you get from God telling His people “Do not fear”?  Explain your answer.

9.   Why do you think some believers find this hard to do so much criminal activity in our world today?

10.   How can we equip ourselves to “fear not”?

11.   What might Isaiah reminded the Israelites of in verse 2?

12.   What do you think would happen if God’s people really took verse 2 to heart?

13.   What do you think would change in our community if we really believed we belonged to God?

14.   How would you answer the question: “What’s the purpose of life?”

15.   When was a time you asked yourself, “What am I doing here; am I really making a difference in my Christian walk?”

16.   What are some things that could happen when an item isn’t used for its intended purpose?

17.   What do you think happens to a believer when he/she is not being used for his/her intended purpose?

18.   How would you describe the results when you use something in a way for which it was not designed?

19.   What are some things you have done that didn’t turn out so well?

20.   What are some things that you do that provides you with a fulfilling sense of purpose?

21.   How can these verses be seen as both comforting and troubling?


Lasting Lessons in Isa. 43:1-2:

1.  God created and formed all people.

2.  Because God has redeemed us and calls us by our names, we should not fear.

3.  God will be with us, no matter what dangers we face.



Enjoy God’s Love (Isa. 43:3-4)

3 For I Yahweh your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior, give Egypt as a ransom for you, Cush and Seba in your place. 4 Because you are precious in My sight and honored, and I love you, I will give people in exchange for you and nations instead of your life.

1.   How would you explain the meaning of verse 3?

2.   What do the names of God in verse 3 tell you about Him?

3.   What do you think the Lord meant that He gave “Egypt as a ransom for you, Cush and Seba . . . “?

4.   What does the word “ransom” mean in the context of verse 3?

5.   What was the ransom God gave for the Israelites?

6.   What do we know about Cush and Seba?  (See Digging Deeper.)

7.   Based on verse 4, how did God see the Israelites?

8.   What do you think God meant that He would give people and nations for the Israelites?

9.   Is this still valid today, or has God’s attitude toward His people changed?

10.   Who are God’s people today’s world?

11.   How would you explain what statement 3 in Lasting Lessons means for us today?

12.   What does it mean to you to fully enjoy God’s love?

13.   What steps can we take to recognize and more fully enjoy God’s love?

14.   What does the statement We should enjoy God’s love, immersing ourselves completely in it, rather than splashing in its puddles.” mean to you?

15.   Do you think fully enjoying God’s love is conditional? 

16.   If so, what conditions do you think a believer must meet?

17.   What are some things that distracts you from enjoying God’s love?


Lasting Lessons in Isa. 43:3-4:

1.  God is Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, our personal and the only Savior.

2.  Because of His great love for us, God has ransomed us even though we sinned against Him.

3.  We should enjoy God’s love, immersing ourselves completely in it, rather than splashing in its puddles.



Bring God Glory (Isa. 43:5-7)

5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north: Give them up! and to the south: Do not hold them back! Bring My sons from far away, and My daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone called by My name and created for My glory. I have formed him; indeed, I have made him.”

1.   Why do you think God told the Israelites not to fear for He was with them?

2.   Does He tell us the same thing today?  If so, why?

3.   How many times do you think God needs to tell believers before they will believe it?

4.   Why do you think people continue to be afraid even though they know that God is with them?

5.   What are some things that causes a believer to fear?  What do you think causes that fear?

6.   What did God tell Isaiah regarding the Israelites’ descendants (v. 5)?

7.   For what reason are all the sons and daughters, Israelite descendants, to be brought together?

8.   Where were they to come from and where were they to gather? 

9.   If we are not called by God’s name should we be afraid?  Why?  (See Deut. 38:19)

10.   What three statements in verse 4 tell us how God feels about Israel? 

11.   What does it mean to glorify God?

12.   Do you believe that to glorify God we will need to have our attitudes, our emotions, and our actions focused on doing His will?

13.   Do you think this needs to be a full-time effort?  If so, why?

14.   If you were created to bring glory to God, is that your goal each day?  If not, why not?

15.   What does it look like to glorify God in your everyday life?

16.   What role model comes to mind when you think of living a life that glorifies God?

17.   What do you need to change in your life so your focus each day will be to bring glory to God?


Lasting Lessons in Isa. 43:5-7:

1.  We should not fear because God is with us.

2.  God loves us so much—we are precious in His sight—that He has redeemed us through Jesus’ blood.

3.  We are created by God, and thus our chief focus (end and goal) in life should be to glorify Him.



We tend to think of salvation in terms of the benefits we derive from it.  We focus on forgiveness, peace of mind and heart, hope, heaven, and so forth.  Certainly all those benefits are valid and are to be celebrated as the Lord’s blessings that come to all who have professed faith in Christ as the living Lord and Savior. 

That being said, salvation is not just about us.  It is also about more that what we can get out of it.  We were created, redeemed, saved, and bought into a right relationship with God through Christ for His sake as well.  Having experienced His love and grace, we are to bring glory to His Name and Joy to Him as we enjoy Him forever.  That is our great purpose as His children.

So, when it come to bringing glory to your Savior, where do you stand?  Is glorifying Christ a part-time job with you?  Does it rate a top priority in your life?  On a scale of 1 (just a spark of glory) to 10 (a full explosion of glory), how do you rate your glorification of your Savior, Jesus Christ?  If your effort is just a spark and you want it to become greater, rely on God’s Holy Spirit to provide you with what you need to brighten your glorification of Jesus.  He will, if you seriously want it to happen.

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version:  Isaiah 43:1-7

Isaiah 43:1-7 (KJV)

1 But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. 2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. 3 For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. 4 Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. 5 Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; 6 I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; 7 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.


New King James Version:   Isaiah 43:1-7

Isaiah 43:1-7 (NKJV)

1 But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. 4 Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored, And I have loved you; Therefore I will give men for you, And people for your life. 5 Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, And gather you from the west; 6 I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, 'Do not keep them back!' Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth--7 Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him."



New International Translation:  Isaiah 43:1-7

Isaiah 43:1-7 (NIV)

1 But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west.
6 I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth--7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."


 (NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from five sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament,Believer's Bible Commentary,The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” “The Moody Bible Commentary,” and “Matthew Henry's Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)


Lesson Outline — “One Great Purpose” — Isaiah 43:1-7




Enter A Relationship With God (Isa. 43:1-2)

Enjoy God’s Love (Isa. 43:3-4)

Bring God Glory (Isa. 43:5-7)


The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament:  Isaiah 43:1-7

Grace Abounding and Despised (43:1-7)

The whole chapter expounds the redemptive grace of the Lord toward his people grace that is highlighted at the end by reference to the people’s sin (cf. Kidner, “Isaiah,” in loc.). 43:1-7 The words “but now” (v. 1) link this chapter with chapter 42, where the prophet declared the consequences of Israel’s refusal to obey the law of their God. Here Isaiah declares they will experience God as their Redeemer (cf. 44:1; Rom 3:21; Eph 2:13). These verses are controlled by the repeated exhortation not to be afraid (vv. 1, 5). The names “Jacob” and “Israel” together suggest God’s grace to an unworthy people and his great purpose for them. His names and titles are reassuring, for all those in v. 3 imply a special relationship between God and his people, while his activities on their behalf—such as creation (out of “nothing” in Egypt) redemption, and protection—demonstrate his loving concern, made explicit in v. 4.

God promises his people that he will gather them from every quarter, the passage making many allusions to the Exodus. The waters and the rivers look back to the Red Sea and the Jordan, and the fire perhaps points to Daniel 2 (v. 2; cf. Ps 66:6, 12). The nation’s preciousness to him suggests a filial relationship (v. 4; cf. Exod 4:22-23), which becomes individualized in v. 7 (cf. Deut 14:1). As the firstborn of Israel were ransomed by substitution at the Passover and subsequently (Exod 13:14-16), so God would ransom Israel as his own firstborn, so called in Exodus 4:22-23. The statement “I am the LORD, your God” (v. 3) would remind every Jewish reader of Exodus 20, where the divine description is followed by the words “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exod 20:2). So, learning from this significant past event, they could rest in his promise to bring them again into their own land, this time from every point of the globe. Fear is banished as God’s nature, his activities, and his promises to his people are considered.

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Believer's Bible Commentary: Isaiah 43:1-7

Comfort From Israel's Restoration 

43:1-7.   In tones of tender love, Jehovah assures His people that they need not... fear, because He who created, formed, redeemed, and called them will be with them in the flood and fire. The Holy One of Israel gives Egypt as their ransom, a promise that was fulfilled after the return of the Jews from captivity. Vine writes:

The Lord rewarded Cyrus the Persian Monarch for liberating them, by permitting him and his son Cambyses to possess Egypt and the neighbouring kingdoms. Seba was the large district between the White and the Blue Nile, contiguous to Ethiopia. The possession of these lands was not merely a gift, it was a ransom price (a kopher, or covering), the people on whose behalf payment was made, being covered by it.

Because Israel is precious, honored, and loved, God will give men in exchange for her, that is, judgment will fall on the Gentiles in every direction in order that His sons and His daughters might be restored to the land. Verses 5-7 describe that restoration.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Isaiah 43:1-7

43:1.  In spite of Israel’s lack of response to God’s judgment, God has not changed his plan and purpose for them. He created them. He formed the nation. He tells them to stop being afraid for He has redeemed them.

He gave them the name “Israel.” He claims them as his own just as He did when He brought them out of Egypt and brought them to himself (Exo. 19:4).

43:2.  Because of God’s judgment, Israel would pass through waters, rivers, fire and flames, but God would always be with them. They could always put their complete trust in Him, and they would never be totally destroyed.

43:3.  God is who He is: Yahweh, the eternal, faithful, covenant-keeping God, He is Israel’s God, the Holy One of Israel who revealed himself to Isaiah (ch. 6), Israel’s Savior.

Because He is who He is, He gave Egypt for their ransom. That is, He delivered them from bondage at the cost of destructive plagues on Egypt (Exo. 10:7) and the destruction of Egypt’s army (Exo. 14:28, 30f; 15:1, 3ff). Cush and Seba were affected as well.

43:4.  Because Israel was (and still is) precious (valuable) in God’s sight, honored by Him, and because God loves them, He will give other people instead of them. The repetition of this idea in different words shows emphasis. His purpose is still to deliver Israel.

43:5-6.  Now God points them ahead to a later time when Israel would be scattered in all directions. But God again tells them to stop being afraid for He is with them. He will bring their descendants who are alive at the end of the age--not the ones originally scattered. He will bring them from all directions, even from the very ends, the most distant parts of the earth. This does not refer to the return from Babylon in 538-536 B.C., where they only came from the East.

43:7.  The primary reference here is back to 43:1 where God is talking about Israel. They are the ones called by his name, created for his glory, formed by his mighty hand, the nation He made. He will not give up on them.

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary - Isaiah.  Copyright © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.


The Moody Bible Commentary: Isaiah 43:1-7

The stark picture painted at the end of chap. 42 leaves Israel's future in a moment of ambiguity. Isaiah 43 and 44 addresses this ambiguity by assuring Israel that God will protect His people.

43:1-4.  At the outset, the prophet grants Israel assurance of God's continued loving presence. God is Jacob's Creator and Redeemer. His actions against Israel are not permanent. The nation will not be imprisoned in exile forever because no one may steal God's possession (v. 1). The reference to Israel's redemption in v. 1 may be intended to recall the exodus from Egypt. Moreover, the imagery of passing through waters is reminiscent of the exodus (v. 2). The Targumim make specific reference to the Exodus: "When you first passed through the Red Sea my word sustained you, Pharaoh and the Egyptians, who were like the waters of the river, did not stand against you." Though the Targum's paraphrase is not definitive, it does suggest that certain segments of the broader interpretive community understood v. 2 as referring to the exodus.

While it is tempting to agree with the Targum, other factors must be taken into account. For instance, the second half of the verse does not refer to water, but to walking through fire, which does not appear to have any particular connection to the exodus from Egypt. The reference to Egypt in v. 3 is not related specifically to the exodus, either. Instead, Egypt is given as ransom for Israel. In addition neither Cush (Ethiopia) nor Seba (modern Yemen) appear in the Exodus narrative. It may be best to recognize that the exodus from Egypt, which would be ingrained in Israel's memory, is difficult to avoid in this context. Activating this memory, however, does not require that the entire verse be connected to the exodus. Instead, the passage brings to mind the ongoing protection of the Lord with an echo from the exodus reinforcing the point. God promises to redeem Israel because the nation is precious to God (v. 4). The word "precious" describes that which has great value either because of rarity or intrinsic worth. Since there are many nations, likely here, Israel is precious to God because of the nation's value to Him. Nevertheless, it was God's choice of Israel that gave the nation its intrinsic value (Dt 7:7-8). God considers Israel so precious, honored, and loved that He will sacrifice other nations, namely Egypt, in its stead.

43:5-7.  God's comforting assurance includes the promise of Israel's regathering. The call not to fear appears once again (v. 5) and is associated with the Lord's promise to regather Israel from across the world. The mention of east and west (v. 5) and of north and south (v. 6) underscores the completeness of the return. God's scattered people will be reconstituted from the four corners of the earth. They will be rescued because they are God's special possession, His creation formed for the glory of God (v. 7). Surely they will not remain hidden as prisoners of the nations but will be reconstituted as an independent nation.

SOURCE: The Moody Bible Commentary; by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham; © 2014 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Database © 2015 WORDsearch.


Matthew Henry's Commentary:  Isaiah 43:1-7

Overview of Isaiah, Chapter 43:

The contents of this chapter are much the same with those of the foregoing chapter, looking at the release of the Jews out of their captivity, but looking through that, and beyond that, to the great work of man's redemption by Jesus Christ, and the grace of the gospel, which through him believers partake of. Here are, I. Precious promises made to God's people in their affliction, of his presence with them, for their support under it, and their deliverance out of it (v. 1-7). II. A challenge to idols to vie with the omniscience and omnipotence of God (v. 8-13). III. Encouragement given to the people of God to hope for their deliverance out of Babylon, from the consideration of what God did for their fathers when he brought them out of Egypt (v. 14-21). IV. A method taken to prepare the people for their deliverance, by putting them in mind of their sins, by which they had provoked God to send them into captivity and continue them there, that they might repent and seek to God for pardoning mercy (v. 22-28).


This chapter has a plain connexion with the close of the foregoing chapter, but a very surprising one. It was there said that Jacob and Israel would not walk in God's ways, and that when he corrected them for their disobedience they were stubborn and laid it not to heart; and now one would think it should have followed that God would utterly abandon and destroy them; but no, the next words are, But now, fear not, O Jacob! O Israel! I have redeemed thee, and thou art mine. Though many among them were untractable and incorrigible, yet God would continue his love and care for his people, and the body of that nation should still be reserved for mercy. God's goodness takes occasion from man's badness to appear so much the more illustrious. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (Romans 5:20), and mercy rejoices against judgment, as having prevailed and carried the day, James 2:13. Now the sun, breaking out thus of a sudden from behind a thick and dark cloud, shines the brighter, and with a pleasing surprise. The expressions of God's favour and good-will to his people here are very high, and speak abundance of comfort to all the spiritual seed of upright Jacob and praying Israel; for to us is this gospel preached as well as unto those that were captives in Babylon, Hebrews 4:2. Here we have,

 I. The grounds of God's care and concern for his people and the interests of his church and kingdom among men. Jacob and Israel, though in a sinful miserable condition, shall be looked after; for,

1. They are God's workmanship, created by him unto good works, Ephesians 2:10. He has created them and formed them, not only given them a being, but this being, formed them into a people, constituted their government, and incorporated them by the charter of his covenant. The new creature, wherever it is, is of God's forming, and he will not forsake the work of his own hands.

2. They are the people of his purchase: he has redeemed them. Out of the land of Egypt he first redeemed them, and out of many another bondage, in his love, and in his pity (ch. 63:9); much more will he take care of those who are redeemed with the blood of his Son.

3. They are his peculiar people, whom he has distinguished from others, and set apart for himself: he has called them by name, as those he has a particular intimacy with and concern for, and they are his, are appropriated to him and he has a special interest in them.

4. He is their God in covenant (v. 3): I am the Lord thy God, worshipped by thee and engaged by promise to thee, the Holy One of Israel, the God of Israel; for the true God is a holy one, and holiness becomes his house. And upon all these accounts he might justly say, Fear not (v. 1), and again v. 5, Fear not. Those that have God for them need not fear who or what can be against them.

 II. The former instances of this care.

1. God has purchased them dearly: I gave Egypt for thy ransom; for Egypt was quite laid waste by one plague after another, all their first-born were slain and all their men of war drowned; and all this to force a way for Israel's deliverance from them. Egypt shall be sacrificed rather than Israel shall continue in slavery, when the time has come for their release. The Ethiopians had invaded them in Asa's time; but they shall be destroyed rather than Israel shall be disturbed. And if this was reckoned so great a thing, to give Egypt for their ransom, what reason have we to admire God's love to us in giving his own Son to be a ransom for us! 1 John 4:10. What are Ethiopia and Seba, all their lives and all their treasures, compared with the blood of Christ?

2. He had prized them accordingly, and they were very dear to him (v. 4): Since thou hast been precious in my sight thou hast been honourable. Note, True believers are precious in God's sight; they are his jewels, his peculiar treasure (Exodus 19:5); he loves them, his delight is in them, above any people. His church is his vineyard. And this makes God's people truly honourable, and their name great; for men are really what they are in God's eye. When the forces of Sennacherib, that they might be diverted from falling upon Israel, were directed by Providence to fall upon Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba, then God gave those countries for Israel, and showed how precious his people were in his sight. So some understand it.

 III. The further instances God would yet give them of his care and kindness.

1. He would be present with them in their greatest difficulties and dangers (v. 2): "When thou passest through the waters and the rivers, through the fire and the flame, I will be with thee, and that shall be thy security; when dangers are very imminent and threatening, thou shalt be delivered out of them." Did they, in their journey, pass through deep water? They should not perish in them: "The rivers shall not overflow thee." Should they by their persecutors be cast into a fiery furnace, for their constant adherence to their God, yet then the flame should not kindle upon them, which was fulfilled in the letter in the wonderful 235preservation of the three children, Daniel 3. Though they went through fire and water, which would be to them as the valley of the shadow of death, yet, while they had God with them, they need fear no evil, they should be borne up, and brought out into a wealthy place, Psa. 66:12.

2. He would still, when there was occasion, make all the interests of the children of men give way to the interests of his own children: "I will give men for thee, great men, mighty men, and men of war, and people (men by wholesale) for thy life. Nations shall be sacrificed to thy welfare." All shall be cut off rather than God's Israel shall, so precious are they in his sight. The affairs of the world shall all be ordered and directed so as to be most for the good of the church, 2 Chronicles 16:9.

3. Those of them that were scattered and dispersed in other nations should all be gathered in and share in the blessings of the public, v. 5-7. Some of the seed of Israel were dispersed into all countries, east, west, north, and south, or into all the parts of the country of Babylon; but those whose spirits God stirred up to go to Jerusalem should be fetched in from all parts; divine grace should reach those that lay most remote, and at the greatest distance from each other; and, when the time should come, nothing should prevent their coming together to return in a body, in answer to that prayer (Psa. 106:47), Gather us from among the heathen, and in performance of that promise (Deu. 30:4), If any of thine be driven to the utmost parts of heaven, thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, which we find pleaded on behalf of the children of the captivity, Nehemiah 1:9. But who are the seed of Israel that shall be thus carefully gathered in? He tells us (v. 7) they are such as God has marked for mercy; for,

(1.) They are called by his name; they make profession of religion, and are distinguished from the rest of the world by their covenant-relation to God and denomination from him.

(2.) They are created for his glory; the spirit of Israelites is created in them, and they are formed according to the will of God, and these shall be gathered in. Note, Those only are fit to be called by the name of God that are created by his grace for his glory; and those whom God has created and called shall be gathered in now to Christ as their head and hereafter to heaven as their home. He shall gather in his elect from the four winds. This promise points at the gathering in of the dispersed of the Gentiles, and the strangers scattered, by the gospel of Christ, who died to gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad; for the promise was to all that were afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call and create. God is with the church, and therefore let her not fear; none that belong to her shall be lost.

SOURCE: Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Old Testament; Parsons Church Group, A Division Of Findex.Com; Omaha Nebraska.



Jacob (v. 1)—Jacob was the twin brother of Esau (Gen. 25:26). His name was changed to “Israel” by God. Both names also referred symbolically to the Hebrew people.

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

Jacob (jay’ cuhb):  Personal name built on the Hebrew noun for “heel” meaning, “he grasps the heel” or “he cheats, supplants” (Gen. 25:26; 27:36). Original ancestor of the nation of Israel and father of the twelve ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen. 25:1—Ex. 1:5). He was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, younger twin brother of Esau, and husband of Leah and Rachel (Gen. 25:21-26; 29:21-30). God changed his name to Israel (Gen. 32:28; 49:2).

Texts from Ugarit and Assyria have persons named Jacob, but these are not Israelites. Their name is often connected with one of their gods, becoming Jacob-el or Jacob-baal. In such a form, it probably means “may El protect.” The Old Testament knows only one Jacob. No one else received the patriarch’s name.

Between the Testaments other Jews received the name Jacob; the one New Testament example is the father of Joseph and thus the earthly grandfather of Jesus (Matt. 1:16). Jacob stands as a strong witness that the God who made all the people of the earth also worked in Israel’s history, calling the patriarchs to a destiny He would fulfill even when they least deserved it.

Jacob in Genesis:  Jacob’s story occupies half the Book of Genesis. Living up to his name, Jacob bargained for Esau’s birthright. Parental partiality fostered continuing hostility between Esau, the hunter beloved of his father, and Jacob, the quiet, settled, integrated person favored by his mother. The tensions between brothers seemed to threaten the fulfillment of the divine promise.

Esau’s thoughtlessness lost him his birthright and allowed Jacob to have material superiority. Nevertheless, Isaac intended to bestow the blessing of the firstborn upon Esau. The oracle Rebekah received (25:23) probably encouraged her to counter Isaac’s will and to gain the blessing for her favorite son by fraud. The blessing apparently conveyed the status of head of family apart from the status of heir. To his crass lies and deception, Jacob even approached blasphemy, using God’s name to bolster his cause, “Because the Lord your God granted me success” (27:20 NRSV). The father’s blindness deepened the pathos. The blind father pronounced the blessing he could never recall. Jacob became the bearer of God’s promises and the inheritor of Canaan. Esau, too, received a blessing, but a lesser one. He must serve Jacob and live in the less fertile land of Edom, but his day would come (27:40). The split between brothers became permanent. Rebekah had to arrange for Jacob to flee to her home in Paddan-aram to escape Esau’s wrath (27:46-28:1).

At age 40, Jacob fled his home to begin his life as an individual. Suddenly, a lonely night in Bethel, interrupted by a vision from God, brought reality home. Life had to include wrestling with God and assuming responsibility as the heir of God’s promises to Abraham (28:10-22). Jacob made an oath, binding himself to God. Here is the center of Jacob’s story; all else must be read in light of the Bethel experience.

In Aram with his mother’s family, the deceiver Jacob met deception. Laban tricked him into marrying poor Leah, the elder daughter, before he got his beloved Rachel, the younger. Fourteen years he labored for his wives (29:1-30). Six more years of labor let Jacob return the deception and gain wealth at the expense of his father-in-law, who continued his deception, changing Jacob’s wages ten times (31:7,41) Amid the family infighting, both men prospered financially, and Jacob’s family grew. Eventually he had twelve children from four women (29:31-30:24).

Intense bargaining ensued when Jacob told Laban he wanted to follow God’s call and return to the land of his birth. Supported by his wives, who claimed their father had cheated them of their dowry (31:15), Jacob departed while Laban and his sons were away in the hills shearing sheep. Starting two days later, Laban and his sons could not overtake Jacob until they reached Gilead, 400 miles from Haran.

Laban complained that he had not had an opportunity to bid farewell to his daughters with the accustomed feast. More importantly, he wanted to recover his stolen gods (31:30,32). These gods were small metal or terra-cotta figures of deities. Without the images, his family lost the magical protection which he thought the gods provided from demons and disasters. Since no fault could be found in Jacob’s conduct in Haran, all Laban could do was to suggest a covenant of friendship. Laban proposed the terms as (1) never ill-treating his daughters, (2) never marrying any other women, and (3) establishing the site of the covenant as a boundary neither would cross with evil intent. Jacob was now head of his own household. He was ready to climb to a higher plane of spiritual experience.

As Jacob approached the Promised Land, a band of angels met him at Mahanaim (32:1-2). They probably symbolized God’s protection and encouragement as he headed southward to meet Esau for the first time in twenty years. Esau’s seemingly hostile advance prompted a call for clear evidence of God’s guarding. Shrewdly, Jacob sent an enormous gift to his brother and divided his retinue into two groups. Each group was large enough to defend itself or to escape if the other was attacked. To his scheme Jacob added prayer. He realized that it was ultimately God with whom he must deal. When all had crossed the Jabbok River, Jacob met One who wrestled with him until daybreak (ch. 32).

The two struggled without one gaining advantage, until the Opponent dislocated Jacob’s hip. Jacob refused to release his Antagonist. Clinging to Him, he demanded a blessing. This would not be given until Jacob said his name. By telling it, Jacob acknowledged his defeat and admitted his character. The Opponent emphasized His superiority by renaming the patriarch. He became Israel, the one on whose behalf God strives. He named the place Peniel (face of God), because he had seen God face to face and his life had been spared (32:30).

Jacob’s fear of meeting Esau proved groundless. Seemingly, Esau was content to forget the wrongs of the past and to share his life. As two contrary natures are unlikely to live long in harmony, Jacob chose the better course turning westward to the Promised Land. Esau headed to Seir to become the father of the Edomites. The twins did not meet again until their father’s death (35:27-29).

From Succoth, Jacob traveled to Shechem, where he built an altar to God. The son of the city ruler raped Jacob’s daughter, Dinah. Jacob’s sons demanded that the Shechemites be circumcised before any intermarriages were permitted. The leading citizens followed the king in the request. They hoped to absorb the Hebrews’ wealth and property into their own. While the men of Shechem were recovering from surgery and unable to defend themselves, Simeon and Levi killed them to avenge their sister. Jacob condemned their actions, but had to leave Shechem.

From Shechem, he returned to Bethel. Once again he received the patriarchal promises. Losses and grief characterized this period. The death of his mother’s nurse (35:8; 24:59) was followed by the death of his beloved wife Rachel while giving birth to Benjamin at Ephrath (35:19; 48:7). About the same time Reuben forfeited the honor of being the eldest son by sexual misconduct (35:22). Finally, the death of Jacob’s father, who had been robbed of companionship with both sons, brought Jacob and Esau together again at the family burial site in Hebron.

Although Chapters 37-50 revolve around Joseph, Jacob is still the central figure. The self-willed older sons come and go at his bidding.

Descent to Egypt:  When severe famine gripped Canaan, Jacob and his sons set out for Egypt. At Beer-sheba Jacob received further assurance of God’s favor (46:1-4). Jacob dwelt in the land of Goshen until his death. Jacob bestowed the blessing not only upon his favorite son Joseph, but also upon Joseph’s two oldest sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. He was finally laid to rest at Hebron in the cave Abraham had purchased (50:12-14).

Four New Testament passages recall events in his life. The woman at the well in Sychar declared to Jesus that Jacob provided the well (John 4:12). Stephen mentioned the famine and Jacob’s journey to Egypt in the course of his defense before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:8-16). Paul presented

Jacob as an example of the sovereign choice of God and of the predestination of the elect (Rom. 9:10-13). The writer of Hebrews held up Jacob as one of the examples of active faith (Heb. 11:9,20-22).

Jacob’s Character Throughout the narrative a persistent faith in the God of the fathers shines through. Jacob’s life was a story of conflict. He always seemed to be running from someone or something—from Esau, from Laban, or from famine in Canaan. His life, like that of all Israelites, was a checkered history of rebellion and flight.

Jacob is no ideal. Jacob’s better nature struggled with his sinful self. What raised Jacob above himself was his reverent, indestructible longing for the salvation of his God.

Jacob’s Religion:  As the religion of Israel and thus the roots of Christianity claim to derive from the patriarchs, it is necessary to attempt to understand Jacob’s spiritual life.

Jacob’s religion was consistent with the beliefs and practices of his fathers. He received instruction from Isaac concerning the history of Abraham, covenant, and the great promises. Jacob encountered God at Bethel at the moment of greatest need in his life. He was fleeing from home to distant unknown relatives. A secondhand religion would not do. Jacob’s dream was his firsthand encounter with God. The threefold promise of land, descendants, and a blessing to all nations were personalized for him. Jacob saw in the vision the majesty and glory of God. At Bethel Jacob worshiped God and vowed to take Yahweh as his God.

At Peniel, Jacob wrestled face-to-face with God. He saw how weak he was before God. It taught him the value of continued prayer from one who is helpless. Jacob emerged from Peniel willing to let his life fall into God’s control. He was wounded but victorious. God gave him a crippled body but a strengthened faith. It was a new Jacob—Israel—who hobbled off to meet Esau. He had learned obedience through suffering.

Theological Significance:  God did not chose Jacob because of what he was but because of what he could become. His life is a long history of discipline, chastisement, and purification by affliction. Not one of his misdeeds went unpunished. He sowed deception and reaped the same, first from Laban and then from his own sons.

Jacob’s story is a story of conflict. The note of conflict is even heard before his birth (Gen. 25:22-23). However, in the midst of the all-too-human quarrels over family and fortune, God was at work protecting and prospering His blessed.

With the other patriarchs God acted directly, but with Jacob God seemed to be withdrawn at times. Yet, God was no less at work. He worked through unsavory situations and unworthy persons. Even in Jacob’s web of conflict and tragedy, God’s hand guided, though half-hidden.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Cush (cuhssh):

1. Son of Ham and grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:8). Thus in this Table of Nations he is seen as the original ancestor of inhabitants of Cush, the land.

2. A nation situated south of Egypt with differing boundaries and perhaps including differing dark-skinned tribes (Jer. 13:23) at different periods of history. The Hebrew word Cush has been traditionally translated Ethiopia, following the Septuagint, or earliest Greek translation, but Cush was not identical with Ethiopia as presently known. Moses’ wife came from Cush (Num. 12:1), probably a woman distinct from Zipporah (Ex. 2:21). Cush was an enemy of Egypt for centuries, being controlled by strong pharaohs but gaining independence under weak pharaohs. Zerah, a general from Cush, fought against Asa, king of Judah (910-869) (2 Chron. 14:9). Finally, Pi-ankhi of Cush conquered Egypt and established the twenty-fifth dynasty of Egyptian rulers (716-656) with their capital at Napata above the fourth cataract. Isaiah 18 may describe some of the political activity involved in Cush’s establishing their power in Egypt. Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9) was one of the last of the pharaohs from Cush. Isaiah promised that people who fled from Judah and were exiled in Cush would see God’s deliverance (Isa. 11:11; compare Zeph. 3:10). Isaiah acted out judgment against Cush, probably as the rulers of Egypt (Isa. 20:3-5; compare 43:3; 45:14; Ps. 68:31; Jer. 46:9; Ezek. 30:4-5,9). In Ezekiel’s day Cush represented the southern limit of Egyptian territory (Ezek. 29:10). Cush’s strength could not help Thebes escape from Ashurbanipal, king of Assyria, in 663 B.C. Nahum used this historical example to pronounce doom on Nineveh, the capital of Assyria (Nah. 3:9). Ezekiel listed Cush as one of the allies of Gog and Magog in the great climatic battle (Ezek. 38:5). The psalmist proclaimed that God’s reputation had reached even unto Cush (Ps. 87:4). Job saw Cush as a rich source of minerals, especially topaz (Job 28:19).

By the time of Esther, Cush represented the southwestern limits of Persian power (Esther 1:1). Cambyses (530-522) conquered Cush for Persia.

Cush is mentioned in Genesis 2:13 as surrounded by the Gihon River. The Gihon is usually associated with Jerusalem as a spring (1 Kings 1:33). Some Bible students identify Cush here with the Kassites, the successors to the old Babylonian empire, who controlled Babylon between about 1530 and 1151 B.C. Such students connect this with Genesis 10:8, where Cush is associated with Nimrod, whose kingdom centered in Babylon (Gen. 10:10). Other Bible students would see Gihon here as another name for the Nile River and Cush as referring to the land south of Egypt. A clear solution to this problem has not been found.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Seba, Sabeans (ssee’ buh, ssa bee’ anss): A group of people thought to be akin to the Israelites through either Ham (Gen. 10:6-7) or Shem (Gen. 10:28). They settled southwest Arabia (modern Yemen) and became prosperous traders. One of the major caravan routes was in their control. They dealt mainly in rich spices, gold, and precious stones. The Sabeans also were agrarian, developing elaborate irrigation devices to make their region more fertile.

The queen of Saba (Sheba) traveled to Jerusalem (about 1,500 miles) during Solomon’s reign to strike trade agreements with the thriving Israelites (1 Kings 10:1-10). The Sabeans are credited with domesticating the camel so that such journeys could be made. Matthew 12:42 promises the “Queen of the South” will condemn the people of Jesus’ day in final judgment, indicating she had more faith than they. Some have tried to identify her homeland as Ethiopia.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.




The Holy One of Israel

By Jerry W. Lee

Jerry W. Lee is professor of Old Testament, Florida Baptist Theological College, Graceville, Florida.

THE NAME “THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL” is not unique to Isaiah, but he was the first person and prophet to use this phrase as a name for God.  From the evidence, the conclusion the Isaiah coined the term seems entirely justified.  From his knowledge of God’s revelation through Moses, and from his awareness of both Amos and Hosea, Isaiah built this name on divine revelation.

In the entire book bearing his name, Isaiah used the phrase 25 times.  Many scholars divide the Book of Isaiah into 2 main books: Isaiah 1 – 39, and Isaiah 40 – 60.  Within each division at least three sections occur.  One argument for the unity of the entire book is that the author used the name “the Holy One of Israel” almost equally in both divisions.  In Isaiah 1 – 39, the name is used 12 times.1 In Isaiah 40 – 66, the author used the same name 14 times.2 Such an equal division seems to be intentional rather than accidental.

The term “the Holy One of Israel” is found 6 times outside the Book of Isaiah.3 In each occurrence, however, the name for God was used after Isaiah had popularized the name.  J. Hardee Kennedy examined every usage of the phrase outside the Book of Isaiah and wrote, “All evidences lead to the conclusion that the term ‘the Holy One of Israel’ belongs peculiarly to the Roll of Isaiah.  Formulation of the complete term and the initiation of its use are the work of Isaiah the son of Amoz.”

When Isaiah used the phrase “the Holy One of Israel,” he based it on divine revelation that was given to others prior to his time.  When God called Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt, He impressed on Moses that He was a God of holiness.  When Moses approached the burning bush to see why it was not consumed, God commanded Moses’ reverence and worship.  He demanded that Moses take off his sandals.  He explained, “For the place where you are standing is holy ground” (Ex. 3:5, NIV).  The presence of a holy God made the location holy.  Moses acknowledged that fact by obedience and reverence.  When God gave instructions to build the tabernacle, the predecessor of the temple, the area symbolizing God’s Person was called the holy place whereas the area symbolizing God’s Person was called the holy of holies (Ex. 25:30; 26:33-35).  Only the high priest was able to enter that place, and he could do so only after a process of sacrifice and ritual cleansing.

When the Lord set forth His demands for acceptable worship, He called for holiness on the part of His people.  He declared, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45, NRSV; compare Rom. 12:1-2).  Worship of the Lord that was void of holiness was declared unacceptable.  Amos condemned Amos condemned each worship as leading to judgment rather than blessing (Amos 2:6-16).

Hosea, an eighth-century prophet in Israel, the Northern Kingdom, who preceded Isaiah in Judah, the Southern Kingdom, used the term “holy” as a name for Yahweh.  He called Him “the Holy One” (Hos.11:9).  Hosea realized that the God who called Israel from adultery and unfaithfulness to Himself could best be characterized by His holiness.  Isaiah took the term a step further when he called Him “the Holy One of Israel.”

The word “holy” conveyed several concepts.  First, the word signified that which was separate.5 (As Norman Snaith said, the idea should be conveyed as “’separated to’ rather than ‘separated from.’”6)  The temple was considered a holy place in that it was set apart to God.  In Isaiah 6 the prophet heard the seraphim praise God as holy, holy, holy.  God was rather unapproachable in His exaltation.  He was high and lifted up.  Isaiah viewed God as the “Wholly Other.”7 God’s transcendence did not mean that He was remote, however, but that He possessed otherness from man.8 As Isaiah experienced Him, God was so far removed and exalted beyond man that an act of reconciliation resulting in communion could only be achieved through some act of intervention on God’s part.  Only a compassionate, loving God could bridge that chasm between God and man.  So one of God’s seraphim took the burning coal and touched his lips with it.

The word “holy” also conveyed the idea of being clean, pure, and free of all impurity.9 The word has its roots in metallurgy where an ore is heated to such a degree that all impurities are burned away.  Another significance of the word is seen in the polishing of a metal mirror.  Time and environment would cause such a mirror to tarnish.  The mirror would be rubbed and polished until all oxidation and impurities were removed so one could see his likeness reflected in it.  In Isaiah 6 the prophet was smitten by his sinfulness.  He declared that he was ruined (undone); he was unclean.  Again only God could deal with his sin in such a way at to effect salvation.

Isaiah introduced the Holy One of Israel in his opening chapter.  He declared, “They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him” (Isa. 1:4, NIV).  The two names appear in an appositional form.  The declaration makes it to appear that the Lord and the Holy One of Israel are one and the same.  A similar conclusion may be drawn from references to the Lord and the Holy One of Israel in Isaiah 5:19,24 and 10:20.  In Isaiah 11 and 12, however, the prophet made a distinction between the two names.  He predicted a coming One who had not yet appeared.  His coming into their midst to bring salvation would be a cause for great rejoicing.  For the first time it is evident that the term referred to a person who had a special relationship both with the Lord and with Israel.  Of this person, J. Wash Watts wrote the following:

“Again the God-man is seen.  ‘The Holy One’ describes deity. ‘Of Israel’ describes his immanence as the one related to Israel, the one whose covenant with Israel obligates him to use all his holiness for its fulfillment.  The prophetic view of the fulfillment of the obligation is one of the most extensive, the most thoroughly analyzed, and the most meaningful previews of the Christ to be found anywhere.  The great heights of Messiah’s spiritual influence seen in the Book of Comfort are not found here, but the foundations of them are laid in chapters 11 and 12.10

In Isaiah 43 the Holy One of Israel is identified as God in at least seven ways.  First, he is called Yahweh (Lord) in verses 1 and 3.  The word “Yahweh” is the peculiar name where by Israel addressed her God so as to distinguish Him from the gods of the heathen.  Yahweh was the God of the covenant who called men into a personal relationship.  Second, He is called the Creator (vv. 1,15).  Thus, the Holy One of Israel is seen as the agent through whom God created all things (John 1:3; Col. 1:16).  Third, the Holy One of Israel is the Provider of providential care for His people (Isa. 43:1-2).  He has elected His people by calling them to Himself and will protect them from ultimate dangers.  They need not be afraid.  He is adequate. 

Fourth, the Holy One of Israel is Sovereign over all the nations (v. 3).  He has special interest in the nation Israel, but He also controls nations that do not know and recognize Him, such as Egypt, Ethiopia, and Cush.  Fifth, the Holy One of Israel is the Restorer of Jacob (vv. 5-6).  Though Israel may be scattered among the nations, He will gather them to Himself.  Sixth, the Holy One of Israel is no less than the Eternal One (v. 13).  He was present before all things and will endure through eternity.  He has no beginning and no end.  He is timeless.

Seventh, the Holy One of Israel is the Redeemer (v. 14).  He is the goel, the Kinsman Redeemer.  In whatever precarious and desperate circumstances Israel may find themselves, He will redeem them from all harm.  He will perform the obligations of the closest of kin to assure His people’s ultimate welfare.

Evidently Isaiah used the term “the Holy One of Israel” to portray the Person of Messiah.  Salvation could be found in Him alone.  Of that truth He calls each of us to be His witnesses (v. 10).  We must declare Him to other peoples.  We do have a story to tell to the nations!

1.  Isaiah 1:4; 5:19,24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19; 30:11,12,15; 31:1; 37:23.

2.  Isaiah 41:14,16,20; 43:3,14; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7; 54:5; 55:5; 60:9,14.

3.  2 Kings 19:22; Psalms 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Jeremiah 50:29; 51:5.

4.  J. Hardee Kennedy, “The Holy One of Israel in the Roll of Isaiah,” 6-7, unpublished doctoral dissertation, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 1947.

5.  Norman Snaith, Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament (New York: Schocken Books, 1964), 30.

6.  Ibid.

7.  Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 25-30.

8.  Snaith, 47.

9.  Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962), 872.

10. J. Wash Watts, Old Testament Teachings (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1967), 279.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Fall 2000


Jacob: All We Know

By Fred Downing

Fred Downing is associate professor of religion, Louisiana College, Pineville, Louisiana.


HE STORY OF JACOBthe one who wrestled with God—is an imposing narrative.  In fact, the spiritual biography of this grandson of the great patriarch, Abraham, covers the last half of the Book of Genesis.  Jacob casts a lengthy shadow across this important book, but the nature of his long pilgrimage is less clear.  Although his story is told with a sober realism, the meaning of his life attempts to elude us just as Jacob tried to escape from his brother, Esau.  Consequently, one is not surprised that the story of Jacob’s spiritual journey is one of conflict and contrast, irony and paradox.  All of these are important elements of his story and add to the powerful portrayal of the patriarch’s biography.  They also leave the reader with something of an enigmatic impression of Jacob’s pilgrimage.

Jacob’s life was characterized by conflict.  Yet the first word about him is that he was an answer to prayer (Gen. 25:21).  Rebekah, like her mother-in-law, Sarah, before her, was barren.  When Isaac prayed to the Lord, his prayer was granted.  Even before the birth, Jacob and Esau struggled within Rebekah’s womb.  Then the Lord said to Rebekah: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples, born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger that the other, the elder shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23, RSV).

This mood of conflict which appears in the Jacob story prior to his birth continues throughout the entire narrative.  The twins who struggled together in Rebekah’s womb appear to be wrestling in the very act of childbirth.  For as Esau was being born, Jacob grabbed him by the heel and held on (Gen. 25:26).  This event seemed to foreshadow Jacob’s later character, and he spent much of his life “wrestling” with his brother, his family, his God, and likely with himself and others.

It is important to note in reading of Jacob that a “divine reversal” takes place at the outset.  God seemingly predetermined that “the older shall serve the younger.”  However, also notice that Jacob took his brother’s birthright through heartless exploitation (Gen. 25:29-34) and gained his father’s blessing through deception and lies (Gen. 27:1-29).  For many sensitive readers, Jacob’s “supplanting” of his brother and deception of his father pose a moral problem.  This issue is only intensified by the fact that Jacob’s experience at Bethel, with its emphases on the divine promise and blessing (Gen. 28:15), comes precisely after the deception of his father and the exploitation of his brother.  It seems that in abrupt fashion, God granted the blessing given formerly to Abraham and Isaac.

Does this mean that the Bible condones Jacob’s deception and lying?  The answer is no!  Both Jewish and Christian commentators seem to agree that Jacob was “a man of flesh and blood” whose relationships and dealings with others “depict a man who is a master of cupidity and intrigue, bent upon getting ahead in the world at all costs.”1  In contrast to Abraham and Isaac, who both are described as living to a ripe old age, Jacob can only say that the years of his life have been “few and evil” (Gen. 47:9).2

Jacob was the quiet and mild-mannered son who seemed to love home and family life and the attentions of his mother.  Yet he was forced to flee whom and what he held dear to spend twenty years in an exile which would show his traits of exploitation and deception turned against himself.  There in Haran the guiding hand of Laban, the revered family member, was supposed to protect him.  However, Jacob the trickster was tricked and make the victim of his own kind of deception.  Was Laban’s trickery a retribution for Jacob’s exploitation of his father’s blindness?  This is more than a faint echo of the ancient Israelite understanding that Justice and judgment ultimately belong to God, who controls history and the destiny of individuals.

Consequently, when Jacob declared to his blind father, Isaac, that he had found the game so promptly “because the Lord your God granted me success,” he proclaimed (albeit ironically) one of the most profoundly true explanations of the meaning of his life’s journey (Gen. 27:20, RSV).  In addition to its vivid portrayal of the human condition, the biblical portrait of Jacob as supplanter, trickster, and deceiver emphasizes another central point: the calling and spiritual vocation of Jacob, who became “Israel,” did not rest in the goodness or merit of the patriarch, but rather in the free and mysterious will of God.  Therefore, the word from God to Rebekah when the twins were yet unborn—that “the older shall serve the younger”—not only seems to foreshadow the future when Jacob won the struggle, but also to demonstrate that Jacob was predestined by God to be the father of the Chosen People.

The rest of the Jacob story seems to have a theological structure that is suspended much like a bridge supported by two pillars.  The two pillars which secure the bridge are the accounts of Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Gen. 28:10-19) and his wrestling with God at the Jabbok River (Gen. 32:22-32).  Remove these pillars or fail to see their significance and Jacob remains Jacob.  Without the important experiences of Bethel and Peniel, Jacob remains the deceitful and self-centered portrait and vivid example of the perverse nature of the human condition.

Jacob’s life is a study of the tension between the ways of God and the ways of people; between human perversity on one hand and the element of divine grace on the other.  The Bethel narrative (Gen. 28), with its divine promise and blessing quickly following the stories of Jacob’s deception of his father and exploitation of his brother, does not condone Jacob’s conduct.  Rather, it seems to imply that through the mystery of divine election and purpose God can overcome human perversity.

What appears to be most striking about the text is the way it differs from similar stories involving Abraham and Isaac.  Neither of the earlier patriarchs expressed any great surprise when God made Himself known.  For Jacob, though, his dream at Bethel was an extraordinary experience.  He awoke with startled shock.

The God of the fathers had appeared to him, thereby acknowledging his election to this spiritual heritage.  Jacob received a promise tha God would bless him and bring him back again to his homeland.  Jacob’s response was one of fear, and he said: How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17, RSV).  Jacob arose the next morning and made a vow.  It was not one of absolute faith and commitment as Abraham lived out in his time of testing, but for Jacob it was a beginning.  It was an important announcement that his life would have significant religious dimensions (see Gen. 28:18-22).

What followed in Jacob’s pilgrimage after the Bethel experience was a twenty-year exile in Haran.  It was a time when he was manipulated and exploited by Laban.  However, Jacob also continued his exploitive ways.  He “grew exceeding rich” (Gen. 30:43, RSV), and “Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before” (31:2, RSV).  Jacob then went from the land of Haran, called by God to return to the land of his birth (Gen. 31:13).  He departed only to be hotly pursued by Laban.  A bitter argument ensued, finally settled by a covenant.

What occurred next is one of the most enigmatic episodes in the life of the patriarch and for that matter in Scripture.  It was something of a “watershed” event in Jacob’s life, and the second important pillar in the theological structure of his life story.  Before this event at eh ford on the Jabbok River, Jacob seems to have had a weak personality.  Compared to Abraham and Isaac, Jacob’s destiny seemed to this point to be mediocre.

A metamorphosis took place that night on the edge of the Jabbok River.  Before, Jacob could claim no great heroic act.  Yet, in the darkness of the night he wrestled with God and prevailed, and the next day he limped out to meet his brother—a brother who had in rage sworn to kill him at first sight.  Who was the mysterious aggressor who changed Jacob’s life?  The commentators disagree.  Some say a bandit or shepherd, perhaps an angel, or Jacob’s divided self.  Although Jacob first identifies this eerie figure as a “man,” he finally concludes that this is none other than God Himself: “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life’s preserved’” (Gen. 32:30, RSV).

The episode remains mysterious!  However, the teaching seem clear.  At an important and dangerous time Jacob the trickster wrestled through the night with the very God of Israel!  A transformation occurred in the life of the patriarch.  Jacob would not release the “man” until he had received the divine blessing.  Jacob was marked forever by this struggle—he limped out to meet his brother the next day, lame from his “dark night of the soul.”  This meeting on that night “represents the transformation of sly and clever Jacob into Israel, the ancestor of the people of God.”3  At daybreak Jacob was a different man, and the destiny of Israel was changed.

The story of Jacob is an important narrative of two men: Jacob as Jacob, and Jacob who becomes Israel.  As a story of Jacob who is Jacob, this is a biography of the human condition realistically portrayed.  As a story of Jacob who becomes Israel, though, it is a story which challenges one to the life of faith and rigorous encounter with God.                                                                                                      Bi

1.  Harrelson, Interpreting the Old Testament (New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, Inc., 1964), pp. 61-62.

2.  Sarna, Understanding Genesis (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1966), p. 183.

3.  Harrelson, p. 63.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 42, No. 3; Spring 2016.




(10.123)  What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? What king led the people in singing and praising God, leading God to destroy the armies of the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites?   Answer Next Week:

Last week’s question: Who took bones our of tombs and burned them on an altar to defile it?  Answer: Josiah; 2 Kings 23:16