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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 16


‘And Jacob said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.’

Genesis 28:16

At Bethel Jacob gained the knowledge for himself of the real presence of a personal God. He felt that he a person, he a true living being, he a reasonable soul, stood indeed before an infinite but still a true personal being—before the Lord Almighty. Then it was that the patriarch entered into the greatness of his calling, and felt for himself the true blessedness of his inheritance.

I. This living sense of God’s presence with us is a leading feature of the character of all His saints under every dispensation. This is the purpose of all God’s dealings with every child of Adam—to reveal Himself to them and in them. He kindles desires after Himself; He helps and strengthens the wayward will; He broods with a loving energy over the soul; He will save us if we will be saved. All God’s saints learn how near He is to them, and they rejoice to learn it. They learn to delight themselves in the Lord—He gives them their heart’s desire.

II. Notice, secondly, how this blessing is bestowed on us. For around us, as around David, only far more abundantly, are appointed outward means, whereby God intends to reveal Himself to the soul. This is the true character of every ordinance of the Church: all are living means of His appointment, whereby He reveals Himself to those who thirst after Him. We use these means aright when through them we seek after God. Their abuse consists either in carelessly neglecting these outward things or in prizing them for themselves and so resting in them, by which abuse they are turned into especial curses.

—Bishop S. Wilberforce.


(1) ‘It was worth while to light on such a place, to get such a dream! My soul, never talk of the accidents of thy life. Never say that any spot, however deserted—that any pillow, however stony—has come to thee by chance. The stone thou rejectest, may become the head of the corner. The stray moment which thou despisest, may be the pivot on which thy fate revolves. The sleep which thou callest weakness, may be the origin of thy princely strength—thy prevailing power with God and man. Tread solemnly the trifling paths of existence. Walk reverently through the days that seem to thee without meaning. Uncover thy head in the presence of things which the world calls commonplace, for the steps of the commonplace way may be thy ladder from earth to heaven.’

(2) ‘This is the hour of Jacob’s conversion. God comes to him at Bethel in grace, and makes him a new man. Cheat and supplanter as he was, fugitive from his father’s house, God sees his value and enrols him among the children of His family.

The whole history of His Church is filled with similar instances of His clearsightedness and mercy.

In the midsummer of 1648, a Royalist soldier, who had been captured by the men of the Parliament after a fierce fight in the streets of Maid-stone, was doomed to die on the gallows. By a kind of miracle he succeeded in making his escape. But “he abode still very vile and debauched in his life, being a great drinker and gamester and swearer.” Yet John Gifford, for that was his name, having had first himself and then his Saviour revealed to him, became by-and-by a preacher of the Gospel in the town of Bedford. He it is who lives in the literature of the world as the Evangelist of The Pilgrim’s Progress. He it was who pointed Bunyan himself, when he was weeping and breaking out with a lamentable cry, to the Interpreter’s House and the place where the Cross of Jesus stands.

The Love which saved Jacob and John Gifford is eager to seek and save me. Has it broken down my rebellion? Has it scattered my suspicious thoughts? Has it kindled in me an answering response of love?’

Verse 17


“How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

Genesis 28:17

I. It must have been the freshness of Jacob’s sense of recent sin that made a spot so dreadful and so blessed seem to him a ‘dreadful’ place. Everything takes its character from the conscience. Even a Bethel was awful, and the ladder of angels terrible, to a man who had just been deceiving his father and robbing his brother. The gates of our heaven are the places of our dread.

II. Strange and paradoxical as is this union of the sense of beauty, holiness, and fear, there are seasons in every man’s life when it is the sign of a right state of mind. There is a shudder at sanctity which is a true mark of life. The danger of the want of reverence is far greater than the peril of its excess. Very few, in these light and levelling days, are too reverent. The characteristic of the age is its absence.

III. Our churches stand among us to teach reverence. There are degrees of God’s presence. He fills all space, but in certain spots He gives Himself or reveals Himself, and therefore we say He is there more than in other places. A church is such a place. To those who use it rightly it may be a ‘gate of Heaven.’

Rev. J. Vaughan.


(1) ‘We also, in our Christian pilgrimage, have an unerring Guide, who never mistakes the way. Have you not heard of the wonderful powers of those Indian guides? Egerton Young was much struck by their sagacity and shrewdness. When he started to go on a pastoral visit to the Nelson River he had a journey of nearly 400 miles over frozen lakes, through dense forests, and across hills and ravines. But no matter whether clouds obscure the sky or not they never lose their way through the primeval forest.

Our pilgrimage is just as tangled, and our Guide is just as reliable. He is never at fault. He who led Abraham forth to new lands, who was Jacob’s guide, and who led Israel like a flock through the desert, will lead His pilgrims in safety through perplexing duties, and perilous pathways. Jesus Christ promised to the disciples that after His departure the Holy Spirit should come to them and guide them into all truth. And that same Holy Spirit was the guide of Christ’s human life. It was owing to the fact that the Holy Spirit was given to Him without measure that his life was so great.’

(2)‘Our blest Redeemer, ere He breathed

His tender last farewell,

A Guide, a Comforter bequeathed

With us to dwell.

And His that gentle voice we hear,

Soft as the breath of even,

That checks each fault, that calms each fear,

And speaks of heaven.

And every virtue we possess,

And every victory won,

And every thought of holiness,

Are His alone.’

Verse 19


‘He called the name of that place Bethel.’

Genesis 28:19

Jacob had his Bethel, and it came to him just at the moment when we should least have expected it, just at the time when he was smarting under the sense of his own sin, and loneliness, and outlawry. The King of Love Himself appears to him, and says: ‘I will go with thee wherever thou goest.’ Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and we never find a man down on his luck, out of work, or in trouble, or in any difficulty, but what the Bible comes and speaks to him, and says: ‘God loves you; Jesus died for you.’ And even now and here, in the midst of your present extremity, God is ready to befriend you. Yea, though thy father and thy mother forsake thee, the Lord will take thee up. Oh, this blessed linking of earth to Heaven, of the sinner to God by the great Mediator Jesus Christ Himself!

I. What makes our Bethel? Is it not the sense of God’s nearness to us and our need of Him? The churches would all be full if the people felt their need of God, for this is God’s house, and we want it to be the gate of Heaven to you all. Now, and here in God’s house, we may look up into Heaven and see there our Saviour, Who loves us with an everlasting love, and round about Him those whom we have ‘loved and lost awhile,’ our dear ones who worshipped perhaps in this very church, who found it good to be here, who often said when they left church, ‘This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven.’ If they could speak to us from Paradise to-day, do you not think they would say something like this: ‘Oh, I am so glad to find you in God’s house, thinking about Him, and His love, and His great claims upon your life. I am so glad to find you there, away from the rush and the roar, and the unsatisfactoriness of mere earthly pleasure and excitement’? What is the great reason why pious men of all ages have built these Bethels? Is it not in order that we, with all our multiplicity of temptation, and difficulty, and work, may have close at hand a quiet, holy, beautiful place where we may draw aside from the cares of earth and get close to God and touch the Unseen, and hear the sweet Voice of Love saying, ‘I will go with thee wheresoever thou goest’? Yes, it was a happy moment in the life of Jacob when he and God could talk thus together. It is the beginning of his better life; it is the time when, very feebly and weakly, but very really, he is putting out his hand and catching hold of the Almighty Hand of God the Father; it is the time when he sees, as in a glass darkly, something of the plan of salvation, and how God desires to link our world with His by the Ladder, Who is Jesus Christ Himself.

II. Let us look at Jacob’s beautiful prayer to God, in which he vows a vow of obedience. This is the use of all Bethels—that as God speaks to us we may make our vows back to Him. Church and church-going will do us no good unless we hear God speaking to us in the reading of His Word, and in the preaching, and in the prayers, and in the music, and unless, having heard God’s Voice, we do our part and answer back and make our vows that God shall be our God. Will you do this, will you rejoice before God with this blessed vow of Jacob’s, ‘The Lord shall be my God’? It will help you so all through your life. This is the house of God; we desire that it should be the gate of Heaven. You see sometimes little children pointing upwards, but the Book says that Heaven is where God is, and if God is here then Heaven has begun upon earth. If God is here, then His love is with us, and we shall grow more loving here and now. Why is it that so many homes are said to be hells, and so many business houses are full of gambling, and impurity, and horrible words? Is it not because God is excluded? Cannot some of us take God into these places and create an atmosphere, and bring about a wonderful sense of nearness to God? Let us see to it that, if our lives are spared, we may practise our preaching, that we may translate it into our daily lives, and that this Bethel of ours that has brought us into touch with God and made us feel how Jesus loves us, shall go with us, and that this God shall be our God for ever and ever.


‘The Pagan had a poor thought of God, but his gods were very present ones. Our God is greater than his, but not less present to his worshippers. The connection between earth and Heaven is nearer than we are apt to imagine. If, as Southey suggests, our sympathies could be sufficiently quickened we might stand on the mountain at sunrise and hear the soft voices of the wild flowers singing their song of praise to God, while the deeper notes of the oaks and pines make up the harmony.

Better than all angelic ministries was the knowledge that God Himself was by his side, the companion of his wanderings. Never more could Jacob be lonely with such a consciousness. Mountains and streams, clouds and tempests, are but His ministers, fulfilling His word. All these attend upon the steps of a good man who acknowledges his sinfulness and humbly waits on God.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 28". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-28.html. 1876.
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