The writer to the Hebrews tells us concerning Abraham that “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob the heirs with him of the same promise: for he, (and they) looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:9-10). The record goes on to tell us that “if they had been mindful of that from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country that is an heavenly: Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God for he hath prepared for them a city” (Heb 11:15-16).

We note four things from these passages of Scripture:

  1. Jacob was to be a co-heir with his father and grandfather in the promises of God made to them.
  2. Having left Chaldea they never thought of returning there.
  3. Their future inheritance of the land of promise was to be when that land became heaven-like. In the meantime they were sojourners in it.
  4. That the preparation of it to be so described was all to be of God.

Now the prophet Ezekiel in speaking of this future time states in his prophecy chapter 36 concerning Israel (the whole chapter should be read), that following their regathering and cleansing from iniquity “ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be my people and I will be your God” (v 28). Concerning the land, the prophet states in verse 35, “This land that is desolate is become like the garden of Eden” and that this work is to be the work of God, “I the Lord hath spoken it, and I will do it”.

Our minds are taken back to the paradise of God which He created for our first parents – a garden in which he walked, communed with Adam and Eve and all was at peace and in harmony, in other words – heavenly. Transgression of God’s law changed all that. The wrath of God was made manifest; paradise was lost in the widest significance of that expression, all compounded in the phrase, “the fall of man”. It was indeed a descent, a fall from being very good, of being just a little lower than the angels to a degenerate state suffused with sin and death. Yet in spite of it all, God’s purpose makes manifest that the elevation of man to an equality with the angels and all that is associated with it will yet be achieved – that this work of redemption is what constitutes the gospel, that it is all of Him.

Now what has this to do with the Atonement and particularly as that subject was understood by Jacob? Let us see!

Following the advice of Rebekah his mother and the charge of Isaac his father to take a wife of his kindred living in Padan-aram, the record in Genesis 28:7 says that “Jacob obeyed his father and mother … And went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. En route he came to a certain place and tarried there all night because the sun was set” (Gen 28:11). That night he had a dream: “behold a ladder set up on the earth and the top of it reached unto heaven and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it, and behold the Lord stood above it …” (verses 12 & 13).

Then was given to him by God the same promise, in the same terms as had been given to Isaac and Abraham. We can be quite sure that Jacob would be fully aware both of the content and the substance of this promise even before this event, for it formed the hope and faith of his immediate forebears. Now it was assured to him in a context which emphasised certain other facets in its accomplishment. These were, that there was a connection between the land and place whereon he stood and heaven itself. Secondly that the angels of God who did His Will were the active instruments through whom the work involved in the consummation of the promises would be superintended. The effect would be first the elevation of the land of promise to a condition which should be heavenly and everything connected with it therefore, including its occupants, be so constituted as to befit that description. Afterwards that same blessing would be effective over the whole earth in accordance with the promise. However long a period this should take in its accomplishment – and the ladder and the length of it suggested a long time – the angels were assuredly in control of affairs on the earth particularly relative to the land of promise, but also in respect of the world at large where its affairs impinged on the fulfilment of the promises. So Jacob upon awakening from this vision of the future called the place “Bethel” – the House of God, the gate of heaven – expressive words.

What he had seen were the means whereby the lower order of things on the earth brought about by man’s disobedience would be elevated, including men’s minds, so that the will of God should be done as it is in heaven. This was the work of God through the Elohim. Moreover there is more than a suggestion that the sleep of Jacob was typical of his death, that his awakening was that of resurrection, that the anointed stone set up as a pillar was none other than Jesus the Christ through whom the whole work should be perfected and the earth become the abode of the Lord.

But it is when we come to Genesis 33 that Jacob’s deep understanding of the atonement is revealed. After the remarkable incident of his wrestling with an angel and his name being changed to Israel, meaning a ruler or prince with God, we read that following his meeting with Esau, he came to Shalem, “a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-Aram; and pitched his tent before the city. And he bought a parcel of a field where he had spread his tent before the city and he bought a parcel of a field where he had spread his tent at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of money. And he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel” (Gen 33:18-20). For the sake of clarity we make the observation that the opening phrase of verse 18 is better rendered “Jacob came in peace to a city called Shechem” (See Bullinger’s Companion Bible).

In our fourth essay we made note of the fact that when Abraham left Haran, which is Padan-aram, he travelled south through Canaan “passed through the land unto the place of Shechem … Where the Lord appeared unto Abram and said, Unto thy seed, (the word is in the singular) will I give this land and there builded he an altar unto the Lord who appeared unto him” (Gen 12:6-7). We observed that this was the first altar that he built with all its significance relevant to our subject and the relationship between this and the promise of God.

Now we have the record that Jacob in returning from Padan-aram came to the same place, for Shechem is Sichem, and there built another altar upon a piece of ground which he purchased. What we may well ask is the significance of this action? Why give the altar a name and what does it mean? It is so easy to read, note the actions of Jacob and completely miss the wonderful message bound up in it all. In the first place a little research will reveal that this altar of Jacob was the seventh from that built by Abraham. Jacob was the third of the fathers of Israel from whom their name is derived. Three is the Scriptural number marking Divine wholeness or completeness. Seven is the scriptural number denoting divine perfection coupled with everlasting things. In this context therefore one would expect something very special about everything associated with this altar. Nor are we disappointed when we consider the name given to it. At this point we make reference to a book written by Sister E J Lassius, the daughter of Bro John Thomas, entitled, “Yahweh Elohim” being a study of the Memorial name. On page 15 she makes reference to Jacob’s altar quoting extracts from the writings of his father. First of all the marginal rendering in the Authorised Version of El, Elohe Israel, the name of the Altar, as God, God of Israel does not convey the fulness of its meaning. Bro Thomas states “Two persons are represented here, The Father by himself being El, or power, but when associated with the son of man, who when so associated was powerful – “anointed with Holy Spirit and with power” he was El Eloah, the power immediately manifested, the power being one – the medium of manifestation – Eloah”.

That elucidation I find speaks volumes concerning the deep understanding and appreciation in the mind of Jacob of the atoning work of Christ. That the meaning of the name had a direct reference to that work there can be no doubt because it is given to an altar with all that was thereby signified as a place of sacrifice; and a very special altar it was too as we have shown. Moreover the one who was to be the “power of God unto salvation” mediately made manifest was the Word made flesh. He was the one of whom the Psalmist speaks when he refers to the man of God’s right hand “upon the son of man whom thou makest strong for thyself” (Ps 80:17).

However he was to be for Israel, the Prince of God, resulting from his atoning work, for the Apostle Peter declares, “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom ye slew and hanged on a tree, him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and Saviour for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30). In what fulness therefore the mind of Jacob discerned the purpose of God in Christ, the El Eloahh Israel, the perfect sacrifice who would bring to completion the purpose of God and bring everlasting life, peace and righteousness to light through the gospel.

But there are more allusions to this great work. As we have seen, the place of the Altar was at Shechem. This too has a meaning – indeed, two meanings! A simple reference to a concordance reveals that it has the significance of: 1. A shoulder; 2. One portion. We have had the great joy and privilege of visiting Israel, and of going to Shechem, now called Nablus. It is indeed in the midst of the land, set high in the mountains equidistant from the Mediterranean Sea and the river Jordan, some 35 miles north of Jerusalem. Traveling through the town towards the Jordan valley the road descends and one can look back and see that Shechem is built upon a shoulder of ground between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim. A little reflection will show how that here again is a wealth of spiritual ideas centred in Jesus.

Shoulders are used to carry things; to bear burdens upon. The prophet Isaiah records concerning our Lord in well-known words, “surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted but he was wounded for our transgressions he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:4-6). Couple these words with those found in Isaiah 9:6: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” and you have the Atonement and the completion of God’s purpose prefigured in wonderfully expressive concise terms in which every word is telling. And if that was not enough, what of the meaning of the “one portion”?

Well, we find that when Jacob was at the very end of his life living in Goshen in Egypt, Joseph visited him together with his two sons and Jacob blessed them in the manner stated in Genesis 48 – we draw attention however to verses 21 and 22: “and Israel said unto Joseph, Behold I die, but God shall be with you and bring you again into the land of your fathers. Moreover I have given to thee one portion above thy brethren which I took out of the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow”. This was none other than the portion of ground at Shechem which Jacob had purchased from the children of Hamor (Gen 33:19) and upon which he had erected his altar with so significant a name. The land had evidently been captured by the Amorites and Jacob had to take it by force, as later on his descendants did again, as Joshua 24:15-18 records.

But why was this portion of land so important to Jacob living as he was at the time hundreds of miles away in Egypt, and why give it to Joseph?

It was evidently in the forefront of his mind. The answer, quite apart from Jacob’s feelings towards Joseph as his favourite son and the firstborn of Rachel, can only be because of all that was associated with it, which Jacob with the eye of faith perceived.

Joseph of all his sons was pre-eminently a type of the Messiah so that it was altogether apposite a gift. Nor was Joseph himself lacking in understanding or appreciation, for at the time of his death he said unto his brethren, I die, and God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel saying, God will surely visit you and he shall carry up my bones from hence” (Gen 50:24-25). In accordance with those instructions, Joshua 24:32 confirms that the bones of Joseph which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt buried they in Shechem in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph”. Somewhere there still, for they had embalmed him, lies the body of Joseph awaiting the resurrection and the confirmation of all that is there enshrined in the atoning work of Jesus and his subsequent rulership of the world. But we cannot even leave the subject there. For immediately following this gift to Joseph with all its deep spiritual overtones “Jacob called unto his sons and said, Gather yourselves together that I may tell you that which shall befall in the last days” (Gen 49:1)

What follows would take up more space than can be spared to enlarge upon, even relative to our subject. But restricting comment to the words concerning Joseph with his peculiar association with Shechem we can only marvel at that which is predicted.

“Joseph is a fruitful bough even a fruitful bough by a well whose branches run over the wall, the archers have sorely grieved him and shot at him and hated him but his bow abode in strength and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, from thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel” (Gen 49:22-24).

Then follows the blessings in all their plenitude that would ensure because of the one here portrayed. This is none other than the future Messiah. This is the greater than Joseph, who like him was separate from his brethren. He was pre-eminently the one whom the archers grieved and shot at and hated. The Scribes and Pharisees sought at every opportunity to entrap and wound him. Their enmity knew no bounds. But until his hour was come, the shafts of their barbed tongues were powerless to take him – he passed through their midst. His strength lay in Yahweh – Ail Shaddai – whose strength was made manifest in him. He was indeed the shepherd, the good shepherd, he was indeed the stone of Israel which they rejected, but is made the headstone of the corner. The stone shortly to smite the image of men’s power and grind it to powder.

He it is – the rod out of the stem of Jesse, the Branch that grew out of his roots, a fruitful bough, whose fecundity is still yet producing seed beyond the wall of the nation of Israel to us Gentiles. And it was in the knowledge of all these mighty truths that this great man, the El Elhoahh Israel “must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh he to a city which is called Sychar – Shechem – near to a parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey sat thus on the well, and it was about the sixth hour” (Jno 4:4-6).

It would need more than one essay to do justice to what is depicted and was there enacted. Just a thought or two for readers to enlarge upon. The sixth hour was midday – the sun overhead, no shadows – the light of the world. The play upon words in respect of the well – a gift of God, for that is what in the East it is regarded – Jesus himself the gift of God besides that which he bestows – life eternal. The different words that are used for “well” – in verse 6, it is used for a spring of water – himself – which when partaken of becomes a well of water springing up into everlasting life in the recipient.

His reading of the mind of the woman of Samaria – “he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes neither reprove after the hearing of his ears, but with righteousness shall he judge the poor and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is 11:3-4). “Come, she said, see a man which told me all things that ever I did, is not this the Christ?” (Jno 4:29). Indeed, he was. Here is a little cameo picture of the Judgement seat. Sitting on the well at Shechem, between Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, the one of blessings, the other of cursings, the distinction between the two and the separation. His abiding with the Samaritans two whole days (v 40), their belief in him, “we have heard him ourselves and do know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (v 42). So for the past 2000 years he has by his word been taking out of the Gentiles a people for his name and we confidently endorse the affirmation of the Samaritans.

What exhortation all this is, what exposition of the work of our dear master, in his Atonement for sin and the consummation of God’s purpose in him. Let students go further and consider the Shechem was a city of refuge – a place to which a man under sentence of death could flee for security in hope of escape until the death of the High Priest released him from that bondage and fear. The analogy plainly stated in Hebrews 6:13-20.

Finally (only because of space), the reference in Joshua 8 to the building of an altar in Mount Ebal, Shechem, of whole stones over which no man had life up any iron and they offered thereon burnt offerings unto the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings” (verse 31), the obvious reference to Solomon’s temple, and there being no sound of Iron in it’s building (cp 1Kings 6:7) and the Atonement.

The writing of the law upon it’s stones and the reading of it to all, with it’s blessings and cursings. Then, as Joshua 24 records the setting up in Shechem of a great stone by the sanctuary of the Lord as a witness to the covenant made with the people who declared their allegiance in word and action to the Lord.

All this, and much else besides is God manifestation. All the facets of the Atonement centred in Christ are wonderfully prefigured. It is as though the thoughts of Jacob expressed by him in the naming of the altar at Shechem are made manifest to us by the inspired word in the record of the events associated with it. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honour of kings to search out a matter (Prov 25:2). The exercise serves to uplift the mind, confirm our faith, strengthen our resolve and cause us to wait with patience for the consummation of all things.

Eric Phipps