“Thoughts on Dealing with Bad Behavior” and “Who is Jacob (or Israel or Zion)?”

HOW DO WE EXPLAIN OUR EVIL BEHAVIOR?

A couple of days ago I added a page to “Roy’s Reflections” in which I was thinking through how most of the world tries to address evil and sinful behavior and why these approaches don’t work. These approaches don’t work because they dismiss and intentionally ignore the central problem, which is the basic sinfulness of man. Any approach to evil behavior that ignores man’s fundamental problem is bound to fail. Anyway, you may enjoy reading what I said and seeing if you agree or disagree with me. It’s a separate page of the blog. (“How Does the World Approach the Problem of Evil Behavior?”)

WHO IS “JACOB” IN THE OLD TESTAMENT? THEOLOGICAL STUDY FROM PSALM 24 (#54)

I have been reading through the Psalms in my morning devotional time and have been thrilled to find more gems in psalms that I have read many times. One of the beauties of the Bible is that no matter how many times you have read a given text, there are still treasures to be discovered. As I was reading Psalm 24, I was again struck by the concept of “Jacob” expressed in verse 6. The passage reads that the person who may ascend the hill of the LORD “shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face – even Jacob.” (Psalm 24:5-6 NASB) Now the question I am asking and proposing to answer is, “Who is this ‘Jacob’?”

IS “JACOB” ETHNIC ISRAEL?

A quick answer might be that Jacob is another word for ethnic Israel, which in this context would mean the Hebrews or the Jews. It means the people of Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who lived in the Promised Land in Old Testament times. That would be the quick answer. But as we examine the passage carefully, the quick answer does not appear to be the correct answer. Notice how “Jacob” is described here in this psalm. “This is the generation of those who seek Him, Who seek the LORD’s face.” Clearly seeking the LORD’s face describes only a very small portion of the Hebrew people who lived in Canaan during ancient times. Most of the Hebrews either lived with scant attention paid to the LORD or they lived in open rebellion to the law of the LORD. Few actively sought the LORD’s face. Reading further in the psalm, we see that “Jacob” has clean hands and a pure heart and has not sworn deceitfully. In other words, “Jacob” lives with integrity and exhibits practical righteousness in his life. Again, only a few in ancient Israel would qualify for these accolades. No honest reading of the Old Testament would ascribe to the Jews of ancient Israel these characteristics. So the godly character attributed to “Jacob” in Psalm 24 is not exhibited by the nation of Israel as presented in the Old Testament. But in addition to that, notice what is promised to “Jacob” in this psalm. “Jacob” is promised to “receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” The blessing mentioned here refers to favor from the LORD. It refers to grace in terms of God’s unmerited favor. Those who received this blessing lived righteous lives as a result of receiving God’s grace. In Israel there were few individuals who displayed righteous lives, and “righteous” certainly does not describe the nation of Israel as a whole. “Jacob” also received righteousness. From the New Testament we know that there is none righteous, not even one, so that anyone who is righteous has had that righteousness imputed to him from God Himself. In other words, any righteousness man receives is an alien righteousness that is his by imputation. Finally notice that “Jacob” received righteousness from the God of his “salvation.” This means that “Jacob” is saved from his sins. From the New Testament again we know more about salvation than we can glean from the Old, but it must be acknowledged that among Old Testament national Israel (“Jacob”) there was only a remnant that was saved. There were few who knew the God of their salvation and many who instead bowed down to the Baals. From these observations and this reasoning, I must reach the conclusion that “Jacob” as used here in this psalm certainly does not refer to national, ethnic “Jacob” (“Israel”) since the characteristics of “Jacob” in this psalm are very different from the characteristics of the nation of Israel presented to us in the Old Testament Scriptures.

So then, if “Jacob” does not refer to national Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob, who is the “Jacob” mentioned here? The answer is important in reading the Old Testament and in understanding prophecy. Let’s examine “Jacob” as described by this verse (Psalm 24:6) and see if we can find a likely suspect. We read that the “Jacob” described here is the generation that seeks the LORD’s face. Who could that generation be, this generation that actively seeks the LORD’s face, and where could we find such a generation? Although the performance varies according to their sanctification, the people who actively seek the LORD’s face are the people the New Testament calls the church, the “generation” identified as the followers of Jesus. Throughout the New Testament those who claim to follow Jesus are called to seek the Lord and to strive for righteous living. Then is “Jacob” in the Old Testament the word for the true followers of the Lord, whom the New Testament will describe as followers of Jesus? Maybe so. To test this theory, let’s see what else we see in Psalm 24. In verse 4 we see that “Jacob” has clean hands and a pure heart. Again, this is a description of what the Scripture requires believers to have. Believers are to live morally clean lives and to have a pure heart before God (Matthew 5:8). So again the Bible’s description of the believer agrees with this verse’s reference to “Jacob.” Finally in Psalm 24:5 we read that “Jacob” is promised to “receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Now this description is exactly how the Bible describes believers. Believers have received the unmerited favor of God in their being chosen for salvation and they have received the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ through their faith in Him. Theologically there is no group of people, indeed, there is not even an individual person who is declared righteous except those who have received that righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. “There is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).” That is, the only ones who are righteous are the true followers of Jesus. So on all the counts it appears that the “Jacob” described in these verses is not the nation of Israel, but is that small remnant who truly worshiped and obeyed Yahweh.

CONCLUSION: THE IDENTITY OF “JACOB”

My conclusion, then, is that, when the Old Testament refers to “Jacob” (or “Israel”) in a prophetic or figurative context, the Scripture is not referring to ethnic Israel, but is referring to those people who truly follow and worship the LORD (Yahweh). The New Testament equivalent to “Jacob” (or “Israel”) is the true church of Jesus Christ made up of all those who have been chosen and then redeemed through their faith in the Messiah. If this hermeneutical point will be kept in mind when reading the Old Testament prophetic literature or the Psalms, it will make references to “Jacob” or to “Israel” easier to interpret.

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