THE FIRST LAST AND THE LAST FIRST
By D. M. PANTON.
A momentous principle uttered by no one but our Lord - "there are last that shall be first, and there are first that shall be last" (Luke 13: 29) - is embodied for ever in Esau and Jacob, the two patriarchs who are set and studied incarnation of interchange of destiny. For God had foretold the interchange ninety years before their birth (Gen. 25: 23); they were born twins and, in the very act of birth Jacob sought to supplant [displace and take the place of] Esau by a grip on the heel; the interplay of their later life fills a large part of the Old Testament drama; the birthright - a Throne: "let nations bow down to thee" (Gen. 27: 29) - was the shifting prize; and Esau, to whom it belonged, lost it, and Jacob, whose it was not, gains it. This is the concrete example for all time of a dramatic interchange of position - the first last, and the last first - possible, and perhaps frequent, among the children of God [today]; and what reinforces our Lord's words with tremendous emphasis is that the Holy Spirit applies the type, and on its dark and dangerous side, to Christian believers. "Look carefully," He says, "lest there be anyone [among you] that falleth short of the grace of God; lest there be any fornicator or profane person, as Esau, who for one mess of meat sold his own birthright" (Heb. 11: 15). All down the ages, and in every camp of the saints, Esau and Jacob reappear, and will to the end of time.
Now we have the Holy Spirit's own analysis of Esau: "a profane person, as Esau." Bluff, generous, impulsive, daring; an athlete, living in the open; a man of quick emotions and strong passions: Esau had a large and loveable character; and, as the eldest son of the sole God-chosen family on earth, what a primacy was his! But the Holy Spirit says he was profane - unhallowed, unsanctified, defiled, polluted, common. In the crisis of his life his inferiority, his un-sanctity, sprang to light. "For one mess of meat he sold his own birthright." With tremendous irony and perfect truthfulness all earth's transient passions are catalogued under a mess of meat. It is the bartering, for present passion, of future glory: it is mortgaging the [millennial] Kingdom for worldly gain: it is counting God's conditional promises cheap - "Esau despised his birthright" (Gen. 25: 34) - and present advantage dear. Esau disobeyed his wisest descendant's law: "Buy the truth, and sell it not" (Prov. 23: 23).
Esau and Jacob awake at last; but Esau wakes only after the Prize is irrevocably forfeited. "Esau cried with
an exceeding great and bitter cry, Bless me, even me
also, O my father" (Gen. 27: 34).
It was the bitter cry of Mirabeau: - "If I had not
degraded my life by sensuality, and my youth by evil passion, I might have
therefore the Lord's principle, namely, the first slipping back last - comes
into operation. The moment comes when an oath of God makes the forfeiture
irrevocable. Millions of Christians have sung, every Sunday for
centuries, the actual warning words which the Spirit applies (Heb. 3: 11) to the
Now we turn to the other twin in the great race. All down the years Jacob - the word means 'supplanter' - has seen visions, but never lived them: the most defective of all Bible saints, he is the man whose unsanctified subtlety amounts to craft: now, in the last lap, when ninety-seven years of age, we find him the only character in the Bible a suddenly complete victor in his sunset. For Jacob had originally bought what Esau sold: that is, all his life, faultful and stumbling though it was, he coveted God's highest, he acted on the prophecies, and never lost the heavenly vision: exactly reversing the action of Esau, he barters earthly passion for coming royalty, and sacrifices the body to the spirit, the present to the future, time to eternity.
Jacob is the embodiment of all the wrestlers who through the midnight of this dark Age reach the dawn, and supremely of racers who started badly. Through the midnight at Peniel he wrestles until the dawn, "with tears" (Hos. 12: 4), a soul suddenly and forever awake. The literal in a type is the spiritual in the antitype: the clenched fist, the taut muscle, the ceaseless vigilance, the unyielding grip - it is not only strength, but concentration; not only concentration, but intensity; not only intensity, but endurance. [Eternal] Salvation is received by resting, not wrestling: the Prize is won by wrestling, not resting. It is holy tenacity (obstinacy, resolution, retentiveness) of purpose, dogged refusal to be beaten, quick recovery when knocked out. God's tremendous earnestness - the wrestling Angel - must be matched by an earnestness as tremendous by all who would be Godlike and God-crowned.
Parobolically we are next shown what invariably follows the great awakening and the complete consecration. "And when the angel saw that he prevailed not against him" - that no block, no barrier, not even the guillotine or wild beasts in the Colosseum, could throw the wrestler - "he touched the hollow of his thigh" -he shrivelled the sciatic nerve: and "Jacob halted upon his thigh " - carried for ever the withering touch. God asks of His victors not medals or ribbons, but scars. "I bear in my body," says Paul, Christ's stigmata, the weal’s of the floggings. Exactly as Esau's sin pampers the body, so Jacob's devotion withers it. As rocks are scarred and grooved with the convulsions of long ago, so the saint carries the wounds of a lifetime of holiness: "it is better," says the Saviour, "to enter into life halt," like Jacob, "rather than having two feet to be cast into Gehenna" (Mark 9: 45). Both Esau and Jacob had seen the vision: the one, clutching at earthly pride and power, sells his glory; the other, wrestling through the midnight, reaches the Dawn, (Gen. 32: 31).
now the Jehovah Angel sets His seal on the victorious wrestler. "And he said, Thy
name shall be called no more Jacob" - 'supplanter,' layer of snares; for the old insanctity has died in the midnight wrestle - "but
down the ages it is an ever repeated story. The Cardinal of