© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 29 October 2016
4B28. Abraham, Sarah and Jacob sometimes responded with divided heart-commitment to God:
They only partly believed God’s Covenantal declarations and promises and/or partly obeyed His Covenantal requirements
4B28(a) Abraham began his migration to Canaan
Abraham and Sarah had set out from Ur to go to Canaan, along with their household Gen 11:31b. But his father Terah and also his nephew Lot went with them, instead of being left behind in Ur Gen 12:1a. Actually it was Terah who “took” Abraham with him Gen 11:31a. So as clan patriarch, Terah would have been the leader.
Why Abraham went with his father is not stated. Was it in order to care for him? Or was it to have the added security of his father’s household with him on the long journey? Or did his father simply assert his patriarchal authority by initiating the journey himself and commanding Abraham to be “taken with” him?
For some reason they did not complete the migration to Canaan. They travelled about 1000km north west up the Euphrates valley from Ur to Harran but then settled there Gen 11:31c. This was probably Terah’s decision as the patriarch. It implies that Terah did not really believe that God’s command to Abraham would actually result in blessings for them in Canaan. Abraham was apparently submitting to his father’s authority by settling at Harran.
All of this meant that Abraham was not obeying God’s command to migrate to Canaan. So Abraham had made divided-heart responses to God.
4B28(b) Abraham’s further response to God’s Covenantal promise that He would give the Land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants
Apparently Abraham’s prior confidence in God’s promise of possession of Canaan had been shaken by subsequent events there Gen 15:8. It seems that he now had a divided heart concerning believing God’s promise.
4B28(c) Abraham and Sarah decided that he should try to father a child by her maidservant Hagar
Apparently they thought this would be how God could fulfil His promise to Abraham that he would father an heir. Abraham took Hagar as a second wife and she conceived Gen 16:3-4a. Her son Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86 years old Gen 16:15-16.
This indicated that with the further passage of time, Abraham and Sarah had considered their own prospects of becoming parents as impossible. Although God had promised that Abraham would become a father, Sarah said they should follow her idea because “Yahweh has kept me from having children”. That is, she thought God was deliberately preventing His promise from being fulfilled through her!
They had made a divided-heart response to God’s promise. Although they believed Abraham could become a father, they did not believe that Sarah could be the mother.
4B28(d) Jacob joined with Rebekah in her plot and stole the blessing that Isaac intended for Esau his eldest son
Jacob had previously succeeded in contriving to extract an oath from Esau to sell his eldest son’s birthright to him Gen 25:32-33. So he had already been a schemer like his mother Rebekah. Now he also readily joined in her plot to steal Esau’s right to the eldest son’s blessing! Gen 27:14-22a. Although Isaac was suspicious he was deceived and gave his blessing to Jacob Gen 27:22b-29.
God had already told Rebekah before her twin sons were born that “the older will serve the younger” Gen 25:23. But she apparently did not believe that God would fulfil this. Instead she resorted to her scheming plot, indicating that she had no commitment to God.
Jacob had responded with a divided heart-commitment to God. He believed in and highly valued the blessings as promised under God’s Covenant with Abraham and Isaac. Yet he wanted even more than was due to him, as did his mother. They had deliberately turned to deception to cheat his twin brother Esau out of his rightful patriarchal blessing as the eldest son.
4B28(e) Jacob made a conditional vow to God and then journeyed to Harran
Next morning Jacob set up and anointed a stone pillar at the place of his dream and named it Bethel (“house of God”) Gen 28:18-19. Then in his typically scheming manner Jacob made a conditional vow to God. Only IF God would provide for him and see him safely through his whole journey to Harran and back, THEN “Yahweh will be my God” Gen 28:20-21. Jacob also vowed that THEN the stone pillar would really be the house of God (Bethel) and THEN he would give to God a tenth of all that he had gained Gen 28:22.
So although Jacob was prepared to acknowledge God, he would not commit himself to trusting in God’s promises for his journey. Only on condition of his safe return would he make such a commitment! This again indicated his scheming, divided heart-commitment to God. Jacob then completed his journey to Harran Gen 29:1.
4B28(f) Jacob grudgingly accepted Laban’s deception
Jacob seemed to accept Laban’s highly exploitative terms all too easily Gen 29:28,30b. Was the thought of having Rachel in one week’s time sufficient for him? Or did he just realise that he had no alternative if he wanted her? In any case he had already begun sexual relations with Leah and she had probably already conceived. So he worked unpaid for Laban for seven more years. But he did not love Leah although he loved Rachel dearly Gen 29:30a.
Jacob had made a divided-heart response. Having grudgingly accepted the situation as the only honorable thing to do, he should have loved both his wives and treated them well.
4B28(g) Jacob still lapsed at times into relying on his scheming
Jacob’s peaceful meeting with Esau was followed by debates about Jacob’s gifts to Esau and whether to travel on together Gen 33:8-15. Esau was puzzled and a bit irritated by all of Jacob’s forceful and argumentative tactics Gen 33:11,15. So Jacob’s scheming and dominance tendencies had quickly reappeared! He increasingly seized the initiative and had his own way with Esau, resulting in them parting company Gen 33:16-17.
It appears that Jacob’s struggle with his own scheming nature was still an “open question”. He was still susceptible to relying partially on his own schemes, so having a divided commitment to God.
4B28(h) Jacob partly honoured his vow to God as he began to settle back in Canaan
Jacob bought some land at Shechem and set up his tent, safely completing his return journey to Canaan Gen 33:18-19. Then to mark this highly significant event he erected an altar Gen 33:20. This was dedicated to El Elohe Israel which meant “God, the God of Israel”, or “mighty is the God of Israel”. Since “Israel” was now Jacob’s own name, he was declaring that Yahweh was his God. Jacob was honouring this aspect of his conditional vow made to God at Bethel over 20 years earlier Gen 28:20-21.
Yet there was no mention of him now honouring his vow to give a tenth of all his possessions to God Gen 28:22b. Perhaps he felt he could not afford it after giving away so much to Esau?! This indicates that he was still acting with a divided heart-commitment to God.
1. Archaeological discoveries show that this was a custom adopted in some ancient Near Eastern societies if a wife was childless, in order to ensure there was a male heir to inherit the family estate (see NIV Study Bible, 2008, footnote on Gen 16:2). This was also practiced later by Jacob with the agreement of his wives Rachel and Leah (Gen 30:1a,3-4,9-10). But it was not included in the later OT law codes.(Return to reading).