Jacob in the Presence of God

By Andrew C. Skinner

Skinner, Andrew C., “Jacob in the Presence of God” in Sperry Symposium Classics: The Old Testament, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson (Provo and Salt Lake City: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, and Deseret Book 2005), 117–132.

Jacob in the Presence of God

Andrew C. Skinner

 

Andrew C. Skinner is dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University.

Few prophets in the Old Testament teach us more about covenant making and personal revelation than Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes. Jacob was a son of promise and of the promise. His own father was the meek and obedient Isaac, whose willingness to be offered as a sacrifice in the presence of God forever stands as a similitude of the Atonement of God’s Only Begotten Son (see Genesis 22; Jacob 4:5). Indeed, the Apostle Paul refers to Isaac as Abraham’s “only begotten son” (Hebrews 11:17). As a consequence of obedience, the promises God had established with Abraham were handed down to the patriarch’s posterity—from Abraham to Isaac, from Isaac to Jacob (see Genesis 22:16–18; 26:1–5), and so on.

It is not difficult to imagine that as children Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were taught or, at the very least, heard about their father’s and grandfather’s supreme faithfulness. As the brothers matured, however, they took different paths. Esau became a cunning hunter, while Jacob is described in the Hebrew text as an ‘ish tam, a man “whole, complete, perfect” (Genesis 25:27b). The implication is that Esau was concerned about one pursuit to the exclusion of other important considerations.

As a younger man, Esau seems to have possessed little sensitivity to spiritual matters. Certainly, he thought more about immediate physical concerns than either the covenants of God or those turning points in life which go on to determine the future. Thus, Esau sold the birthright (see Genesis 25:29–34). And, like some of us, he valued what was lost only after it was gone (see Genesis 27:38).

Esau added to his own misery and that of his parents by vowing to kill Jacob because of the lost birthright and blessing, even though he himself was responsible for the loss and Isaac did give him a blessing in the end (see Genesis 27:39–42). Moreover, Esau married outside the covenant, which caused great grief to Isaac and Rebekah (see Genesis 26:34–35). Without doubt, Esau’s behavior was on his mother’s mind when she exclaimed: “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob [also] take a wife of the daughters of Heth . . . what good shall my life do me?” (Genesis 27:46). In other words, Rebekah saw all her life’s work, all her planning and teaching about the importance of the Abrahamic covenant, all her care in guarding and guiding its perpetuation according to divine desires, as worthless and wasted if Jacob were to follow in Esau’s footsteps.

Here we see the Old Testament at its best, for the recurring problems of the ages are laid bare in an ancient context. Is there anything so heart-wrenching for a parent as a child of hope choosing to devalue covenants of the eternal family bond or anything so depressing as a loved one who esteems lightly matters of the Spirit? Do faithful parents of any gospel dispensation ever not worry about their Esaus?

After Esau saw “that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father,” he took another wife from the lineage of Ishmael, Abraham’s posterity (Genesis 28:8–9). But again he missed the point. It was not simply a matter of marrying someone from a proper family; it was a matter of understanding and appreciating the significance of the covenant, of one’s whole attitude toward sacred things.

By contrast, Jacob trifled not with sacred things (see D&C 6:12). He chose to obey his mother and father in many things and ultimately set out on a journey to seek a wife from among a known and acceptable branch of the covenant family. That was of paramount importance to his mother, for she was ever conscious of God’s promises regarding her twin boys, especially the promise of Jacob’s ascendancy over nations, though he was the younger (see Genesis 25:23). Perhaps Jacob’s foretold soberness and obedience were qualities that had been developed, nurtured, and proven over and over throughout the long eons of a premortal existence and thus lay at the heart of Jehovah’s promise to Rebekah of Jacob’s future greatness (see Genesis 25:23–26).

Before Jacob left his home to go to Padan-aram, his father, Isaac, blessed him in accordance with patriarchal privileges and reconfirmed to him the opportunity of receiving the blessings and covenant of Abraham: “Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother. And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; and give thee the blessings of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham. And Isaac sent away Jacob” (Genesis 28:2–5).

With this blessing fresh on his mind, Jacob left Beer-sheba on what would prove to be a journey of many years. What Jacob thought about on this first leg of his travels we do not know, but one supposes it was about the covenants of the Lord and promises of obedience. For when he got to the place he would later name Bethel, he settled down to spend the night and, while asleep, a marvelous vision was opened to him (see Genesis 28:11–15).

Jacob saw a ladder on the earth, which reached to heaven. Ascending and descending on the ladder were the angels of God, sentinels to the portals of heaven. Above the ladder was the Lord Himself, whom Jacob heard and with whom he would make the very same covenant that his grandfather Abraham had made—the same covenant his father, Isaac, had prepared him to receive. “And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:13–15).

When Jacob arose in the morning, he sanctified the site of his vision with anointing oil and vowed, or covenanted, to live in complete harmony with God’s will. He concluded his affirmation with a promise to tithe all that he would come to possess (see Genesis 28:18–22).

The significance of Jacob’s first vision was at least sixfold. First, as the Prophet Joseph Smith indicated, this vision was Jacob’s opportunity to begin to comprehend for himself “the mysteries of Godliness.”[1] From this comment we also know that Jacob was a righteous Melchizedek Priesthood holder, because the Doctrine and Covenants teaches that “this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God” (D&C 84:19). Jacob would later use that key to unlock a spiritual door.

Second, Jacob’s status as a prophet was confirmed. He heard the voice of the Lord Jehovah, the premortal Christ, and, as the Apostle John later taught, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).

Third, Jacob learned that in his seed, or through his own lineage, all the other families of the earth would be blessed (see Genesis 28:14). That promise was literally fulfilled in the mortal advent of the Savior, Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:16), and it is not impossible that Jacob glimpsed that fulfillment. Moreover, this promise has also been fulfilled as Jacob’s seed have become Melchizedek Priesthood ministers and missionaries of the name and gospel of God, which gospel will ultimately bring salvation, even eternal life, to everyone who receives it (see Abraham 2:10–11).

Fourth, Jacob learned that if he kept the covenant, God would be with him everywhere he went, that God would fulfill everything He promised to do for Jacob, and that God would bring him back to the land of his inheritance.

Fifth, Jacob learned that sanctity and place can be, and often are, linked together. “Surely, the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not; . . . this is none other but the house of God,” said Jacob (Genesis 28:16–17).

Sixth—and this point ties the other five points together—Jacob received his endowment at Bethel on the occasion of his first vision. President Marion G. Romney said:

When Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, he had a dream in which he saw himself on the earth at the foot of a ladder that reached to heaven where the Lord stood above it. He beheld angels ascending and descending thereon, and Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord there were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord. . . . Temples are to us all what Bethel was to Jacob. Even more, they are also the gates to heaven for all of our unendowed kindred dead. We should all do our duty in bringing our loved ones through them.[2]

The great promises and blessings proffered to Jacob on this occasion were conditional rather than absolute. Nowhere does the text say that they were sealed or ratified with surety at this point, as is sometimes supposed. Jacob would have a long time to prove his loyalty and secure for himself the unconditional guarantee of all the terms of the covenant. Neither does the text say that Jacob’s dealings with the Lord constituted the ultimate theophany, or revelation of God, which the scriptures promise to the faithful. Such would come later, after years of righteousness. From Bethel, Jacob undoubtedly came away understanding the order of heaven, the possibilities for exaltation, and the promises of the Abrahamic covenant if he proved faithful.

Other great prophets have left us accounts of their Jacob-like experiences, especially the Apostle Paul and the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith said, apparently to help us understand his own visions: “Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder—the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter. I could explain a hundred fold more than I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision, were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.”[3]

Jacob’s life after the vision at Bethel (see Genesis 29–31) is one of the best-known biblical love stories, set as it is against the background of a manipulative uncle turned father-in-law. It need not concern us here, except as it points out Jacob’s patience and loyalty to God in the face of frustrations, challenges, and manipulations. After more than twenty years of labor under the household rule of the scheming and jealous Laban (see Genesis 31:1–15, 38), Jacob finally left Padan-aram to return to the land of his covenantal inheritance. But his departure was not without a final confrontation with the father of his two wives, who hotly pursued Jacob’s caravan. Ultimately, Jacob and Laban came to a respectful parting of the ways and established a boundary covenant, which would long divide the territory of the Israelites from the northern Aramaeans (see Genesis 31:44–45). But, the point is, Jacob’s life was never one of ease or devoid of challenges and conflicts. Indeed, Jacob says in effect to Laban at a moment of intense frustration during their last confrontation: “Why are you chasing me? Why won’t you let me go home in peace? What is my sin against you? I have served you in the day when drought consumed me and at night in frost and sleep departed from my eyes . . . You have changed my wages ten times . . . and except the fear of God had been with me, surely you would have sent me away destitute” (see Genesis 31:36–42).

Perhaps that last statement is one we should focus on when we think of Jacob. God was with him as had been promised. In the face of every trial, Jacob remained faithful and retained the companionship of the Lord who watched over him. It was, after all, the Lord who commanded Jacob to leave Laban’s land and return to the land of Canaan. The vision of God’s instruction to leave Padan-aram bears a significant similarity to one given to Abraham, in which he also was told to leave a country and go to Canaan (see Genesis 1:11–13; see also Abraham 1:16–18).

Jacob’s journey home was remarkable for its continuing theophany. En route, the patriarch was met by “God’s host,” angels of the Lord, who undoubtedly blessed him. It is also likely these angels reminded Jacob of his powerful and life-changing vision of the ascending ladder at Bethel when he was leaving the promised land twenty years before. Now, Jacob was returning and carrying with him those troubles incident to the brotherly conflict with Esau, which had been partially responsible for his flight from Canaan in the first place. The angelic ministration during Jacob’s return trip appears to have been a sign and a reminder of divine protection and assistance in what surely must have seemed to Jacob an inevitable and intense confrontation with Esau.

That the looming conflict weighed heavily on Jacob’s mind seems beyond question, because immediately after his encounter with the angels, Jacob sent messengers to Esau’s territory in hopes of laying the groundwork for a peaceful reunion with his brother (see Genesis 32:3–5). The messengers returned with gravely distressing news: Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. Jacob became exceedingly fearful and divided his entourage into two groups intending to preserve at least part of his covenantal family should Esau attack. The threat of a vengeful brother probably cannot be overestimated, for it was a life crisis of staggering proportion. In Jacob’s mind, his family, as well as the covenant itself, faced annihilation. Just as important, the promises of God were on trial. Perhaps for a moment or two they looked like empty words and hollow phrases. But this life crisis set the stage for two events that would confirm forever the course of Jacob’s future. First, Jacob yearningly prayed to God for safety; second, he wrestled that night for a desperately needed blessing at the hand of Deity (see Genesis 32:9–13, 24–30).

We do not know how long Jacob prayed that day at the river Jabbok, but surely his prayer was intense. In it, Jacob acknowledged the Lord’s goodness as well as his own sincerely felt unworthiness before God. He pleaded for deliverance from the impending catastrophe, reminding God that He had told Jacob to leave Padan-aram and that He had also promised Jacob that his posterity would be as innumerable as the sands of the sea. How could this promise come to pass if Jacob and his family were annihilated? (see Genesis 32:9–12).

That night, as Jacob was settling down, inspiration came. He selected a large herd of animals as a gift to be given to Esau and instructed his servants how to offer the present when Esau approached (see Genesis 32:13–21). Jacob’s gift of 580 animals indicates how much wealth he had accumulated while in the land of Laban and how much he had prospered through the Lord’s guidance.

Next, Jacob sent his wives and eleven sons away from the main camp, across the Jabbok River on the east side of the Jordan, so they could have an extra measure of protection. Then, with the provisions set in order, Jacob was left alone—alone in terms of mortal company—to ponder, pray, and prepare.

Night is a horrible time for those who face trials. How much more difficult the night must be in the face of a test of a lifetime, an Abrahamic test of complexity and contradiction. Nighttime seems to magnify challenges; at night problems seem to weigh particularly heavy on the mind. Night is the time when the prince of darkness does his best work.

At some point, Jacob was joined by a being who would wrestle with him for the rest of the night. The details of Jacob’s wrestle are not made clear in the biblical record, but we have enough information that we can see profound truths and patterns in this episode of the patriarch’s life.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Jacob’s wrestle was physical as well as spiritual, because the text is emphatic in its description of Jacob’s dislocated hip (see Genesis 32:25, 31–32). Perhaps that detail is mentioned precisely to show that his wrestle was a literal as well as a metaphoric occurrence. It is also reasonable to suppose that Jacob’s opponent that night was a being from the unseen world of heavenly messengers, a divine minister possessing a tangible but translated body, because he was able to wrestle all night and throw Jacob’s hip out of joint (see Genesis 32:24–25).

That the personage was merely a mortal seems unlikely, first of all, because the text takes care to point out that Jacob was left completely alone, with no other humans close by (see Genesis 32:22–24). Second, the nature of Jacob’s encounter was of special and profound consequence. The Hebrew word used to describe Jacob’s visitor is simply ‘ish, meaning “man,” with no overt reference to divine status.[4] Nevertheless, the same word is used elsewhere to denote divine messengers in several Old Testament passages that deal with angels or heavenly beings who are sent to convey revelation. When used in this way, the word also often connotes the operation of the principle of divine investiture of authority—the authorization that God grants to others to speak in His name, even sometimes as though they were God Himself. “Thus, the angel of Yahweh ([Hebrew] mal’akh) often appears in the form of an ‘ish, ‘a man.’ Either both terms are used interchangeably for an angel . . . or angels who appear at first only as men [but] afterwards speak with divine authority (Gen. 19:12ff.; Jgs. 13:3ff.; Josh. 5:15) or even as God Himself (Gen. 18:9ff.), or they act in the place of God (19:10f.; Jgs. 13:20) . . . Also in the prophets, the angel of God appears in the form of an ‘ish.[5]

As implied in Doctrine and Covenants 129:4–7, divine messengers of Jacob’s day (or any dispensation, for that matter) who had physical contact with earthly beings had to possess physical bodies themselves. The Prophet Joseph Smith “explained the difference between an angel and a ministering spirit; the one a resurrected or translated body, with its spirit ministering to embodied spirits—the other a disembodied spirit, visiting and ministering to disembodied spirits.”[6] Furthermore, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith indicated that whenever divine messengers had a mission to perform among mortals, those messengers “had to have tangible bodies” and thus were translated beings.[7]

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that translated beings are coworkers with God to bring to pass His great plan of salvation. “Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets.”[8] Of Enoch, the preeminent translated personage, the Prophet said: “He is a ministering Angel to minister to those who shall be heirs of Salvation.”[9]

It seems very unlikely that the being involved with Jacob was Jehovah Himself, because the Lord did not yet possess a physical body. And the being could not have been a one-time mortal who was now a resurrected being because Christ was the “firstfruits” of the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20), the first of our Heavenly Father’s children on this earth to be resurrected. Therefore, one of two possibilities regarding the identity of Jacob’s night visitor is that he was a translated being who had been an inhabitant of this earth, since “there are no angels who minister to this earth but those who do belong or have belonged to it” (D&C 130:5).

Though encounters with translated beings in Jacob’s day are not explicitly recorded, those beings certainly existed. Enoch and his entire city had been translated and taken up into heaven as a result of their righteousness (see Moses 7:18–24). Melchizedek possessed that same kind of great faith. He “and his people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken” (JST Genesis 14:34). In fact, other men with that same faith and possessing the same priesthood as Melchizedek and Enoch had also been translated and taken up into heaven (see Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 14:32).

At Jabbok, Jacob faced a crossroads. He was brought to the brink of his faith and understanding. He stood in the place his grandfather Abraham had stood when God asked for the life of Isaac, and Abraham could not see how the promises of the covenant (specifically the promise of a great posterity) would be fulfilled. But Abraham was obedient in the face of a test that shook him to his very core. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The sacrifice required of Abraham in the offering up of Isaac, shows that if a man would attain to the keys of the kingdom of an endless life; he must sacrifice all things.”[10] Furthermore, in an 1833 revelation, the Prophet wrote, “Therefore, [the Saints] must needs be chastened and tried, even as Abraham” (D&C 101:4).

Jacob likewise was obedient in the face of his ordeal and desired a blessing to strengthen his resolve and faith. He wanted and needed greater light, knowledge, and power. Despite his intimate contact with Deity and his temple experience twenty years earlier, the threatening situation with Esau was more than he could comprehend. How could the covenant continue if the bearers of the covenant were destroyed? In faith he wrestled for a blessing with a divine visitor, one appointed to guard the portals of heaven and also sent to test Jacob’s resolve and his request. They wrestled all night, and Jacob would not let the celestial sentinel go until he gave Jacob the requested blessing. Jacob’s resolve was great, and his fortitude enduring.

Other men and women in every dispensation have had to wrestle at some point in their lives for blessings, greater truth, and light from God. Sometimes, those spiritual wrestles or struggles of tremendous magnitude have become intensely physical even though they have not encountered a tangible being as Jacob did. Enos said at the beginning of his record that he wanted to tell us “of the wrestle which [he] had before God” (Enos 1:2). The story of his wrestle has become a classic account of persistent, powerful faith exercised in order to receive a blessing at the hand of God.

Likewise, Alma “labored much in the Spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer” that others would be blessed (Alma 8:10; emphasis added). Though it was to no avail, for the people hardened their hearts and rejected the Spirit, the wrestle was a great blessing in Alma’s own life as the Lord revealed Himself to the prophet (see Alma 8:15).

The Prophet Joseph Smith applied the concept of “wrestling for a blessing” to Zacharias, whose situation, at least in principle, parallels that of Jacob. Zacharias had no children. He “knew that the promise of God must fail, consequently he went into the temple to wrestle with God according to the order of the priesthood to obtain a promise of a son.”[11]

President Brigham Young said that all of us are situated “upon the same ground,” in that we must “struggle, wrestle, and strive, until the Lord bursts the veil and suffers us to behold His glory, or a portion of it.”[12] And so it was with Jacob on that lonely night near the River Jabbok, when he began to wrestle with a divine visitor for a blessing—a blessing that would, in President Young’s words, “burst the veil” and shower down on him greater light and glory from God. The biblical text at this point is most instructive:

And he [the visitor] said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he [Jacob] said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he [the visitor] said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he [the visitor] said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he [the visitor] said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he [the messenger] blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved (Genesis 32:26–30).

This passage discloses some specific concepts that illuminate Jacob’s experience and ultimately suggests the other possible identity of Jacob’s visitor. First we see that Jacob’s spiritual tenacity, aided by his great physical strength, achieved for him his desired result. After intense persistence and endurance, Jacob was rewarded with an endowment of power as the divine minister said, “for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men” (Genesis 32:28). This great endowment came in accordance with the principle described in Ether 12:6: “For ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” As President Young might have said, after the wrestle comes the bursting of the veil.

Second we discern that the bestowal upon Jacob of the rich gift, or endowment, of power followed a familiar pattern. Jacob was asked first to disclose his given name, and then he was given a new name, Israel, which symbolized his struggle before God and men for a blessing. Jacob’s blessing that night seems to have been bestowed in two stages. After the divine visitor announced that Jacob had been given a new name and great power, which was the first stage of the blessing, Jacob then turned the tables and asked the name of the visitor: “Tell me, I pray thee, thy name” (Genesis 32:29). Perhaps he was really asking what name or personage the visitor represented and by whose authority he, the visitor, bestowed the new name and new power. Numerous passages of scripture show that the Hebrews attached great importance to the meaning and possession of names. A name of power was a symbol of authority. In some respects, even to know a name was regarded as giving one power or control over the object or being in question.

The visitor answered Jacob’s question with another question: “Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?” (Genesis 32:29). The messenger wanted to know why Jacob was asking. But the biblical text at this juncture records no response from Jacob, and yet some exchange must have taken place, for the visitor was satisfied enough that he gave Jacob something more, something beyond a new name and new power. “He blessed him there” (Genesis 32:29).

The sequence of events up to this point is clear:

1. Jacob wrestled all night for a blessing in the face of great trial, in which he, his family, and the fulfillment of the covenant all faced annihilation.

2. Jacob was asked for his name, and he disclosed his own given name to a divine being or minister.

3. Jacob was then presented with a new name.

4. Jacob was next given an endowment of power, which would be recognized in the eyes of both God and men.

5. Jacob was finally given an additional blessing, and the divine being was not heard from again.

The text is silent about the nature of the additional blessing. We get only Jacob’s response to the blessing bestowed upon him at that moment. But what an arresting response it was, for it tells us what we may read into the narrative. The text says, “And he [the divine being] blessed him there. . . . And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:29–30). Let there be no misunderstanding; the text says Jacob was blessed, and then the very next words out of his mouth which are (or, perhaps, can be) reported to us are, “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30). Thus, the great blessing Jacob received that night was no less than the ultimate theophany of his (or anyone’s) life—his being privileged to enjoy the literal presence of God and to have every promise of past years sealed and confirmed upon him.

Thus, the other, and likely, possibility regarding the identity of Jacob’s visitor is that it was God Himself. Not Jehovah—for He did not yet possess a physical body. Rather, it would have been God the Father or Elohim. As we have already seen, the term “man” (Hebrew, ‘ish) used in Genesis 32:24 to describe Jacob’s visitor, was a word sometimes used anciently to refer to God. In fact, the ancient rabbis believed that “man” was one of the many titles of God. In addition, the phrase “face to face” (Hebrew, panim ‘el panim) occurs several times in the Hebrew Bible, each referring to a heavenly vision, and only once does God not perform the visitation.

In the end, one supposes it could be argued that the identity of Jacob’s visitor is not so important as the fact that the result of the visit was that the patriarch ultimately saw God and came to know that he had seen Him. In terms of the physical wrestle Jacob experienced, Hugh Nibley states, “The word conventionally translated by ‘wrestled’ can just as well mean ‘embrace’ and . . . this [was a] ritual embrace that Jacob received.”[13]

Conclusion

The events described in chapter 32 of Genesis may be seen as the culmination of a process begun twenty years before at Bethel, when Jacob first encountered God and became a candidate for exaltation by vowing to live according to the Abrahamic covenant. At Bethel, Jacob had his first temple experience, according to President Romney. For twenty years thereafter, Jacob proved himself at every hazard and under every circumstance.

In describing circumstances like Jacob’s, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “When the Lord has thoroughly proved [someone], and finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter. . . . Now what is this other Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, . . . that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and they will take up their abode with him, . . . and the Lord will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at.”[14]

That describes Jacob. The crisis of Jacob’s life at the River Jabbok pushed him to the brink of his understanding—it pushed him to the limits of his faith. Life seemed to hang in the balance. Perhaps just as important to Jacob was the possibility that God’s promises to fulfill the Abrahamic covenant through him were all empty words, that God was not omnipotent and omniscient, that He was, after all, just like the gods of the Canaanites.

Events on the eve of that life crisis caused Jacob to wrestle for a blessing, just as Enos and Alma would do. His wrestle resulted in, to use President Brigham Young’s poignant words, “the Lord burst[ing] the veil . . . to behold [reveal] His glory.”[15] Indeed, the story of Jacob’s wrestle discloses tokens and promises with which all his posterity, literal or adopted, may become familiar. At the River Jabbok, Jacob was given the ultimate blessing and guarantee that can be given in mortality—the guarantee of eternal life sometimes referred to as calling and election made sure. Years later, as he was blessing the sons of Joseph, the aged patriarch referred to events on the night of his wrestle when he mentioned “the Angel which redeemed me from all evil” (Genesis 48:16).

Thus we see a pattern and are able to recognize consistency in the great plan of happiness given to all people by a loving Heavenly Father. Joseph Smith taught that “all that were ever saved, were saved through the power of this great plan of redemption, as much so before the coming of Christ as since; if not, God has had different plans in operation, (if we may so express it,) to bring men back to dwell with himself; and this we cannot believe.”[16]

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob desired, sought for, wrestled for, and craved the literal presence of God. They prayed for it, worked for it, and lived for it. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were successful in their quest, and the Old Testament is a powerful, personal record of their success. The Doctrine and Covenants tells us that these patriarchs “have entered into their exaltation, according to the promises, and sit upon thrones, and are not angels but are gods” (D&C 132:37).

We are the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the inheritors of the Abrahamic covenant. What is the Abrahamic covenant to us? Is it not candidacy for exaltation? As with Jacob, the task of turning candidacy into reality is up to us. Let us wrestle for this blessing as we continue to worship in the temples of our God.

 

[1] Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1932–51), 1:283.

[2] Marion G. Romney, “Temples—The Gates to Heaven,” Ensign, March 1971, 16.

[3] Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 304–5.

[4] Joseph Fielding Smith thought it “more than likely” that the visitor was a messenger but not an angel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1970), 1:17.

[5] G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Eerdmans, 1983), 1:233.

[6] Smith, Teachings, 191.

[7] Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:110–11.

[8] Smith, Teachings, 170.

[9] Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, comp. and ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook (Orem, UT: Grandin Book, 1991), 41.

[10] Smith, Teachings, 322.

[11] Smith, Words, 235; emphasis added.

[12] Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1856), 3:192; emphasis added.

[13] Hugh Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 243.

[14] Smith, Teachings, 150–51.

[15] Young, in Journal of Discourses, 3:192.

[16] Joseph Smith, The Evening and the Morning Star, March 1834, 143.