"Oak of Weeping" by Eben - Dedicated to El Shaddai
Commentary on the Ballad
Who were the ancient people called Hebrews who descended from Abraham (or Nahor and Abram of Ur)? What were they like? What was God's plan for the family line that ran from Abraham to Isaac and then to Jacob? Why were they special to God? They are special, indeed. Sarah, Abraham's wife, is mentioned more than two hundred times in the Bible, in both Old Testament and New Testament, whereas Mary (Jesus's mother) is mentioned only about thirty or so times. Without Sarah, there would have been no Messianic line producing the Savior, Jesus! The same can be said for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! This commentary will hopefully give some answers to the questions we naturally have, but if you already know the answers proceed to the ballad. Otherwise, please read on.
This ballad celebrates the life of Jacob, his many, many troubles, and how God intervened in his distress to start him on the road to becoming a holy Patriarch of Israel, a father and perserver of the Messianic Line, not just a forefather of the Israelite people. Though he was involved in the strife-filled time of Isaac his father's contacts with the rival, militarily-predominant Philistines (they had five large, allied cities with all their surrounding `villages and could raise huge, chariot-equipped armies to fight their foes) and the conflict over wells and limited water sources, though he had observed how God was with Isaac in the dicey conflict with Philistia (which must have seemed trivial later when he came to face seven such hostile nations!), Jacob's own story and walk with God actually begins in Genesis 27, where he schemes to gain Isaac's blessing reserved for the first-born son, Esau. Tricking the aged, blind Isaac into thinking he was Esau, he gains his objective, the blessing of the first-born which carries such great weight, but he also gains his rival Esau's fearsome wrath. From that time Esau was determined to kill his younger brother, waiting for the right time when he could do it without his father being alive or aware enough to punish him. Esau had already grieved his parents by going against their wishes and marrying two Hittite women, who because they were from the idol-worshiping population of the land were not only idolatrous aliens to God-fearing Isaac and Rebecca but who went out of their way to make the household miserable with their idolatrous ways and attitudes. Rebecca had already warned Jacob about Esau's murderous plan, and she went to Isaac and sought a reason--the taking of a wife for Jacob--as her pretext for getting Jacob safely away from Esau. Hearing of Esau's intention from his mother, Jacob fled the camp, to go to Padan-Aram where his uncle Laban lived, hoping to find refuge and possibly a wife.
On the road God met him, at the place of Jacob's most deperate straits, which was at a place Jacob later named "Bethel," which means, "House of God." Here God's grace came down to the fugitive chased by Esau's vengeful ghost. This is the place where the heavens opened, and Jacob saw a glorious staircase on which angels ascended and descended before the throne of God. God spoke to Jacob, reaffirming the Covenant He had made with Abraham, and then with Isaac, in which He had promised them the land all about them, to give it to them and their descendants, as well as convey to them a blessing that would bless all the people of the earth. God promised to be with the fleeing, frightened Jacob, to preserve his life from all danger, so that he would return to his home without harm. Having received this wonderful assurance that he would live and not be slain by Esau, and that the God of Abraham and Isaac was now his God, Jacob arose in the morning a better man. He even made a solemn vow after dedicating the site with a pillar made of the stone pillow he had used during the night to lay his troubled head upon: "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God, and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house, and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee."
This event at Bethel marks the beginning of how God got hold on a mean-hearted, scheming "mama's boy" and "supplanter" (the meaning of the name, "Jacob") and began making a great-hearted man of God out of him, a fit instrument with which to create a holy nation and people who would not only serve the Lord but form the nation of Israel from which the Blessing of the whole earth would someday come--that Blessing being, of course, Jesus Christ the Messiah. This is also the portrayal of how God revealed himself to Jacob as El Shaddai, the wonderful and mighty, nurturing and perserving God of the Covenant first instituted with Abraham. As El Shaddai spread his almighty wings over Jacob's life and soul, Jacob was increasingly changed. As Jacob successively bowed to the will of God at in each crisis of his life, he found great success and the fulfillment of God's promises made to him at Bethel. As Jacob struggled to keep the God of Blessing in his grip, a most gracious God strengthened him to win that battle but at the end of the struggle touched the hollow of his thigh and weakened him in his own human natural strength, thus making him even more dependent on God for everything than he would have been if left alone. Thereafter, Jacob limped through life, leaning on the Lord his God! Jacob's worst enemy was not Esau his vengeful brother, as it turned out, but himself. But with God's ever-faithful help, Jacob was ultimately victorious over the deep flaws in his nature and character and also over the troubles of his life, though his own sons proved sources of greatest distress, and who jeopardized Jacob's very life in the treacherous slaughter of the helpless Shechemites--not to mention selling off Jacob's favorite son Joseph as a slave into cruel Egyptian bondage and later lying to their father that a wild animal had killed Joseph. Despite all these trials, Jacob ended a happy man, though it took nearly all his life to arrive at that state. But why Jacob and not Esau? Genesis says the Lord loved Jacob and hated Esau. God's reasons for His choice is clear. Esau despised his birthright and thought so little of the Covenant God had made with Abraham he sold his birthright for a bowl of stew Jacob had made. That is how much Esau valued all what God had promised Abraham and Isaac. Jacob, on the other hand, was the underdog, the younger brother who bitterly envied Esau the First-born, for he coveted Esau's precious birthright and the blessing of Father Isaac upon the First-born above everything else, and risked his life to wrest them away from Esau--in other words, he sought to gain the Patriarchal Kingship by violence and pressing into it as believers in Christ are exhorted to press into the Kingdom of God and take it by "violence". He chased after what the birthright and blessing entailed for himself and all his descendants, realizing their tremendous value would never, never diminish. God honored this seeking after the legacy of the glorious Covenant and the Patriarchy, even though Jacob got his father Isaac's patriarchal blessing by hook and mostly crook, because God knew how to work the hard-pressed heart of Jacob in the winepress of adversity to the point where Jacob repented and was broken enough to be made into God's man. But even above all this, what is it we can learn from Jacob's experience of man and God? His wrestling with the Angel of the Lord at the brook of Jabbok (where the author has journeyed, by the way), what really was that all about? Perhaps we can't learn anything unless we admit first to private gods, idols of the secret heart. These must be acknowledged if we are to gain the only true God--or they will block, hinder, and prevent us from reaching the Lord in truth. Jacob served his own gods as a youth--gods of self mainly, self-advancement, ambition, pride, and covetousness. These gods had to be given up if he was to ever become a man of God. Do we serve any such gods? When the lights are off, and we sit in darkness alone and nobody is looking, what is the thing or things our hearts turn to for satisfaction? What secret gods do we bow to? Now the Ballad can properly begin, and to God be the glory:
El Shaddai of Israel,
Faithful Shepherd of your flock!
Though troubles round old Jacob fell,
You were his Refuge and his Rock.
O help us, Lord, in our distress,
To rescue us and save our lives,
When sins and foes around us press
And evils swarm like bees from hives.
Grant your mercy to us now
As we dig our idols down2>
Beneath this oak (in tears we bow)
That grows near sunny Shechem Town.
Delivered from his brother's hand,
(The Lord saved Jacob in his guilt)
The fearsome Esau with his band
Returned to Seir they had built.
With tears of joy poor Jacob gazed
On two twin mountains in the west;
With thankfulness he limped half-dazed
To sacrifice to God his best.
The city Shechem lay close by,
And Jacob bought a piece of land;
His altar to the God Most High
Was raised on Israel's own sod.
"God, the God of Israel"--
The One who met him near by Luz
Now dwelled in Jacob's heart, "Bethel."
Yet his safe place soon was past,
Bloody deeds his sons performed;
From favored neighbor to outcast
Great enmity for him was formed.
Dinah was the start of it,
Young and restless she did stray,
And while in town on a visit
Poor Leah's daughter lost her way.
Shechem was Prince Hamor's son,
With young Dinah he had his way;
Despite the evil he had done,
He fell in love with her that day.
Hamor, Prince of Shechem Town,
Took his son to see Jacob;
By a young oak they walked on down
To Jacob's camp, and heard great sob.
All the women knew and moaned
(Jacob still did trust in God);
Though his sons beat thighs and groaned
He would not raise a vengeful rod.
"Give us Dinah," Hamor pled.
"My Shechem's soul full longs for her;
And let my people with yours wed."
And property he made a lure.
Treacherous were Leah's sons,
Simeon and Levi too:
"As water flows and man's blood runs,
As we all are, so must be you!
"If you will circumcise each man,
Then we will make our peoples one;
But if you will not, though you can,
Then of this bond we will have none."
Soon all Shechem's men lay sore,
Israelite as Hamor led;
Then cries were heard from each house door,
As sons of Jacob smote each bed.
Pitiless, they murdered them,
Helpless men they took and slew;
'Til streams of blood ran from Shechem,
In anger oxen hamstrung too!
Death cries rose from the city,
Heard afar from Shechem's wall;
And Jacob's sons took much booty,
For women, livestock, they seized all.
Jacob stooped by his tent door,
Dinah's brothers entered camp;
Strange bleatings, cries, made great uproar,
And donkey's hooves did smite and stamp.
Jacob gazed on each his son,
Simeon and Levi shook
With secret fear for what was done,
And yet with pride they met his look.
"You have brought on me a sword,"
Jacob said to them alone;
"For now my name will be abhorred,
Whenever this foul deed is known.
"Canaanite and Perizzite
Hold the land, to the Great Sea;
If they should come, against me fight,
Both me and you destroyed will be."
Simeon and Levi said:
"Dinah is our sister yet!
Should he cast her on harlot's bed?"
But Jacob's eyes on God were set.
Honor of his name all lost,
Jacob called on Isaac's Fear;*
The storms of life that men accost
Fall back as Abram's God draws near.
Faithful God of Israel
Answered to his agony;
"Arise, and go to yon Bethel,
And made an altar there for me.
"There you fled from Esau's wrath.
There you met the God Who gave
A Light to shine upon your path
When no man then yur soul could save."
Jacob rose with thankful heart,
Strength and wisdom won from God;
No other name could grace impart,
Nor shelter him with mighty rod.
"Cast away all gods foreign,"
Jacob said to his household;
And inwardly all saw their sin,
Their breath was gone, hot blood ran cold.
Only Jacob's God could save;
Canaanite and Perizzite
Were rising like a mighty wave--
Against so many none could fight.
"Purify yourselves, and take
Garments fresh and clean to wear;
To Bethel let us go and make
An altar to God's faithful care.
"He is Lord Who rescued me--
Refuge in my great distress;
Where'er I go His hand I see,
My faithful Rock: His steadfastness!"
So they gave up foreign gods,
All they clung to they cast down;
And magic earrings of Ashdod's
With tears fell thick upon the ground.
Nearby rose a sapling oak;
Jacob went alone one day;
He wept and dug, his tears did soak
The hole in which the idols lay.
Stood across his life's pathway;
And yet he knew his Shepherd's touch
That led him through the darkest day.
No one dared to fight them now;
Fortress cities watched in fear
As Jacob's sons with holy brow
Returned to Bethel, hearts made pure.
Shepherd God of Israel
Mighty made the least of them;
No chariot against their El
Could touch so much as Jacob's hem.
*Name of God, denoting Isaac's great reverence
**Oak of weeping
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