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Thursday, July 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 47

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-31

Jacob's Retrospect of Life

Genesis 47:7-9

I. Jacob had lived a long life as we should count it; one of half the length is as much as most men are able to look forward to. And he had lived a holy life; the one great sin of his youth had been punished by a long and hard discipline that had not been in vain. The father whom he had deceived had blessed him again without deceit; and the God of Bethel had been with him still ever since the hour of his first covenant with him. How could he complain of so long a life, so long a pilgrimage, that is, a journey away from home, as being one of too few days. Can the days of pilgrimage be too few? Is it not the object to reach home as soon as the pilgrim can? Or if few why were they evil? Step after step, year after year had brought him nearer to the City which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God. Or if evil he means, not days of sin but days of suffering only much as he had suffered, was it not more than made up to him by blessings? Surely Jacob, when he had seen all his sons in peace together, had lived long enough and happily enough. Enough by our standard of judging, but not by his. There is no impatience in his words; but there is a holy discontent a lofty dissatisfaction with self. Not to be satisfied with the happiness or the holiness he had, with the work that he had done for God, so long as there was greater holiness attained, or more work elsewhere; while he was not the best, to count nothing that he had good such was the temper of Jacob, such of the apostle, and such of every true Israelite.

II. Let this be our temper too. We have, I trust, had our measures of God's grace, and done some sort of service to Him in the year that has just gone by. And yet, were not its three hundred and sixty-five days, its fifty-two Sundays, too few for us? With all the grace, all the happiness that God may have given to any of, were not those few days evil? Have our days attained to the days of Him, our Father and Redeemer, in the days of His pilgrimage? If not, let us be no more content than Jacob was with what our life has been. He who, as at this time, was brought under God's old law fulfilled the whole perfectly: if we with all the grace given us in the Gospel have our years stained with sin, what can we say but what Jacob said? Let us not be satisfied with less with less than the fulfilment of all righteousness, as Jesus fulfilled it. Until we have done this, let us think nothing done; while there is only a single sin on our conscience, however truly repented, however fully pardoned, let us confess the days of our years to be few and evil, and ourselves to be unprofitable servants.

III. And yet while we despise ourselves do not lose hope. Looking to Jesus we are humbled; but also looking to Jesus we are saved. Made like Him by the keeping of His commandments, however imperfectly, made one with Him by His own grace and love, we trust at last to be found in Him, righteous in His righteousness, though our own be nothing, when the few and evil days and years are past, and our pilgrimage finds its end in Mount Zion.

W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 30.

References. XLVII. 8. G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 280. XLVII. 8, 9. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (3rd Series), p. 164.

The Greatness and Littleness of Human Life

Genesis 47:9

The sense of the nothingness of life, impressed on us by the very fact that it comes to an end, is much deepened when we contrast it with the capabilities of us who live it. Had Jacob lived Methuselah's age he would have called it short. This is what we all feel, though at first sight it seems a contradiction, that even though the days as they go be slow, and be laden with many events, or with sorrows or dreariness, lengthening them out and making them tedious, yet the year passes quick though the hours tarry, and time bygone is as a dream, though we thought it would never go while it was going, and the reason seems to be this; that, when we contemplate human life in itself, in however small a portion of it, we see implied in it the presence of a soul, the energy of a spiritual existence, of an accountable being; consciousness tells us this concerning it every moment. But when we look back on it in memory we view it but externally, as a mere lapse of time, as a mere earthly history. And the longest duration of this external world is as dust and weighs nothing against one moment's life of the world within. Thus we are ever expecting great things from life, from our internal consciousness every moment of our having souls; and we are ever being disappointed on considering what we have gained from time past or can hope from time to come. And life is ever promising and never fulfilling; and hence, however long it be, our days are few and evil.

Men there are who, in a single moment of their lives, have shown a superhuman height and majesty of mind which it would take ages for them to employ on its proper objects, and, as it were, to exhaust; and who by such passing flashes, like rays of the sun, and the darting of lightning, give token of their immortality, give token to us that they are but angels in disguise, the elect of God sealed for eternal life, and destined to judge the world and to reign with Christ for ever. Yet they are suddenly taken away, and we have hardly recognized them when we lose them. Can we believe that they are not removed for higher things elsewhere?

Why should we rest in this world when it is the token and promise of another? Why should we be content with its surface instead of appropriating what is stored beneath it? To those who live by faith everything they see speaks of that future world; the very glories of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, and the richness and the beauty of the earth, are as types and figures witnessing and teaching the invisible things of God. All that we see is destined one day to burst forth into a heavenly bloom, and to be transfigured into immortal glory. Heaven at present is out of sight, but in due time, as snow melts and discovers what it lay upon, so will this visible creation fade away before those greater splendours which are behind it, and on which at present it depends. In that day shadows will retire, and the substance show itself.

J. H. Newman.

References. XLVII. 9. H. Woodcock, Sermon Outlines, p. 101. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iv. p. 214. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 279. XLVIII. 1-7. H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 1870, p. 217. XLVIII. 3. J. Oates, The Sorrow of God, p. 81. XLVIII. 15,16. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1972. F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 170. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2261. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Genesis, p. 279. XLVIII. 19. B. R. Wilson, A Lent in London, p. 81. XLVIII. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1630. XLIX. 3, 4. J. C. M. Bellew, Five Occasional Sermons, p. 19.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Genesis 47". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/genesis-47.html. 1910.
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