“Jacob’s Portion is not like these because he is the one who formed all things. Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of Armies is his name.”
Jeremiah 51:19 CSB
Through the Bible: Jeremiah 51-52
Whenever there is a “one-off“—a singular occurrence in Scripture of a word, phrase, or name—it is always worth digging deeper. Scholars call this a hapax legomenon , a fact you will absolutely never be quizzed on at a barbecue.
Still, we believe that every word matters, even if it is only used once.
“Jacob’s Portion” (CSB), or the Portion of Jacob (most other translations) is one such hapax, used only by Jeremiah. Granted, a concordance search will bring up Jeremiah 10:16, but since 51:17-19 is a word for word repetition of 10:14-16, I would still call it a one off. So why here? Why now? And what does it mean that God is the Portion of Jacob?
God is the Inheritance of Jacob
It may seem a little strange to hear God, the sovereign creator of the universe, describe Himself as belonging to anyone. Yet, He says here that He is the portion (Hebrew heleq— also translated elsewhere as inheritance or allotment) of Jacob.
In context, God is contrasting Himself with the goldsmith’s idols. Jeremiah 51:17 and 10:14 describe “his” (the goldsmith’s) carved and cast images, which are worthless and a lie. The gods the goldsmith made belong to the goldsmith, because he made them. In contrast, the God who made Jacob belongs to Jacob.
But God isn’t just the Portion of Jacob. He is also the Portion of Jeremiah. In Lamentations 3:24, Jeremiah writes, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.” And that’s not all:
- He is the portion of Aaron (Num. 18:20).
- He is the portion of Levi (Dt. 10:19).
- He is the portion of David (Ps. 16:5, 142:5) and Asaph (Ps. 73:25).
- He is the portion of the writer of Psalm 119:57.
Jacob is the Inheritance of God
In the second half of Jeremiah 51:19, God flips the phrase. Not only is He Jacob’s portion, but Israel (another name for Jacob) is God’s Portion. Go back to the contrast with the goldsmith in verse 17. The idols could belong to the goldsmith, but the goldsmith couldn’t belong to the idols, because all they were was stone or wood or metal. They were no more capable of having a relationship with a human being than a Chia Pet. But catch this: God is more like the goldsmith than He is the goldsmith’s idols. The goldsmith made the idols; they are his. The Lord made us; we are His.
And just as Scripture is filled with verses about God being our portion, it is filled with verses about us being God’s portion:
- “Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine,” (Ex. 19:5)
- “The Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage” (Dt. 32:9).
- “I have called you by name; you are mine” (Is. 43:1)
- “And the Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem” (Zec. 2:12).
How can God belong to us and we belong to God at the same time? That doesn’t make sense, does it? Well, it doesn’t make sense outside the context of relationship. Back to the goldsmith and his idols. That is a one-way relationship. The goldsmith can pledge himself to his idols, but they can’t pledge anything to the goldsmith.
But our portion is the living, breathing, feeling, giving, loving, grieving, passionate, jealous God! He desires an intimate, personal relationship with His people. This is why marriage is such a vivid illustration of the relationship God wants with us. It is a mutual giving of a man to a woman, and a woman to a man. Song of Songs 6:3 words it perfectly: “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.”
But Why Jacob?
But why does Jeremiah say that God is Jacob’s inheritance? It seems like he should have used Israel, the name God gave Jacob when He entered into covenant with him (see Gen. 35:10). After all, talking about Jacob’s portion just reminds me of how Jacob stole his brother Esau’s blessing, and how Jacob’s very name (“Cheater”) highlights his deceit, his flawed character, his utter unworthiness to receive the Lord as his portion (see Gen. 27:36).
And that is when it hit me. God calls Himself Jacob’s Portion to emphasize the fact that Jacob didn’t deserve it. None of us do. It is an act of pure, unmerited grace that God allows us to receive Him and claim Him as our Lord.
I take this personally because my name, James, is the Hellenized form of Jacob. I am a cheater. I have been deceitful. I am fantastically flawed and utterly unworthy to lay claim to the salvation that is mine. But the Lord is my portion as surely as He is Jacob’s. And just as surely, He can be Yours, too. Oh marvelous grace of our matchless King!
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