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Genesis 28:3. A multitude of people.] Heb. “To a congregation of peoples.” This is the same word which was afterwards applied to the assembled people of God. It corresponds to the ἐκκλησία.—
Genesis 28:5. Bethuel, the Syrian.] Not because he was of the race of Aram, the son of Shem, but because he was a dweller in that land.—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 28:1-5
THE BEGINNING OF JACOB’S PILGRIMAGE
Up to this time Jacob dwelt at home with his father. He had been the plain, domestic man, dwelling in tents. Now he is obliged to become a wanderer, and to face unknown fortunes.
I. The causes which led him to undertake his pilgrimage.
1. His brother’s anger. He must flee away from the rage of Esau. The wrong he had done is now visited upon him. He loses peace of mind, sense of security, and his brother’s love. Thus he is made to reap the bitter fruits of unrighteousness.
2. His mother’s counsel. Rebekah invents an ingenious excuse for Jacob’s sudden departure from his house. She professes to be concerned lest he should form an alliance in marriage with the children of Heth, as his brother Esau had done. (Genesis 27:46.) She probably intended, at first, only to arrange for a brief absence, believing that Esau’s temper would soon cool. This showed a deep knowledge of human nature; for the fiercer the rage, the sooner it spends itself. Rebekah was also prompted by a religious motive. She would save Jacob from the sin into which Esau had fallen; and as she knew that the purpose of God was on the side of her ambition she had faith in that great future which was in store for Isaac. Thus it was adversity that set Jacob on this journey. God by this means was wakening him up to a sense of his own evil and weakness, so that he might learn to find the true refuge and home of his soul. Thus affliction conducts us by new ways in our pilgrimage, so that our extremity may be God’s opportunity to help and deliver us.
II. The Divine provisions for his pilgrimage.
1. The peculiar blessing of the chosen seed. That blessing of Abraham which came from God Almighty is now reversed and secured to Jacob. God had the right to choose the family from whom salvation was to come, and had the power to accomplish the purposes of His will. Jacob was chosen as the covenant son. The original blessing of the father of the faithful was conveyed to him,—a numerous offspring, which was to be God’s family,—the church which is the home of God’s people. Thus Jacob was virtually provided with the hope of salvation.
2. The ministry of man in conveying this blessing. Isaac became at last alive to the real destiny of Jacob. He submits to the will of God after he had so long resisted it. In order that the provisions of the blessings might be carried out, he gives Jacob advice regarding his marriage. Thus furnished, Jacob set out on his pilgrimage. And so we, too, need for our pilgrimage an interest in God’s covenant blessings in Christ, and the ministry of man as the means of bringing us into acquaintance with it.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 28:1. Isaac, though he survived this event forty-three years, has now passed from the scene, and Jacob henceforth takes his place in the patriarchal history. Abraham is the man of active faith, Isaac is the man of passive submission, and Jacob is the man of struggling trial.—(Jacobus.)
The account here given of his “calling, blessing, and charging” him, is very much to his honour. The first of these terms implies his reconciliation to him; the second, his satisfaction in what had been done before without design; and the last, his concern that he should act in a manner worthy of the blessing which he had received. How differently do things issue in different minds. Esau, as well as Isaac, was “exceedingly” affected by what had lately occurred: but the bitter cry “of the one issued in a settled hatred,” while the “trembling” of the other brought him to a right mind. He had been thinking matters over since, and the more he thought of them, the more satisfied he was that it was the will of God; and that all his private partialities should give place to it.—(Fuller.)
Isaac, at length, yields himself to God. He had become satisfied that Jacob was the real object of the blessing.
Genesis 28:2. Jacob was no sooner blest, than he was banished. So our Saviour was no sooner out of the water of baptism, and had heard, “This is my beloved Son,” etc., but He was presently in the fire of temptation, and heard, “If thou be the Son of God,” etc. (Matthew 3:4) When Hezekiah had set all in good order (2 Chronicles 31:0), then up came Sennacherib with an army (Genesis 32:1.) God puts His people to it; and often, after sweetest feelings.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 28:3. The blessing of Jacob is the blessing of the Church of God, which is composed of all people of every kingdom, nation, and tongue.
Many a time have the Jews been carried away captive. Hundreds of thousands perished in the war of Titus, and in the middle ages multitudes were destroyed by persecution. Yet the Jew is to be found in all lands, and amongst every people. Such is the God-given energy, and the inextinguishable life of this marvellous Hebrew race. “Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part of Israel?” (Numbers 23:10.)
The Church is a community of nations, typified already by the theocracy.—(Lange.)
Genesis 28:4. The second item in the covenant blessing is here the inheritance of the promised land—never overlooked—very important in God’s view, as showing His hand in secular and national history. “The blessing of Abraham,” with all its privileges was the patriarchal covenant blessing, comprising rich spiritual benedictions and benefits.—(Jacobus.)
Here he is made “heir of the blessing,” as are also all true Christians (1 Peter 3:9). Cæsar, when he was sad, said to himself, Cogita te esse Cæsarem—“think that thou art Cæsar;” so, think thou art an heir of heaven, and be sad if thou canst.—(Trapp).
Genesis 28:5. The quiet, sedate, home-loving Jacob, becomes a courageous pilgrim. It was adversity that woke up his energies, and put him in the way of God’s blessing.
Persecution is overruled by God for good. It leads to a more decided separation of the Church from the surrounding idolatrous world. Thus the little flock to whom it is the Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom, are often the better for the very rage of the wolves seeking to devour them. They are hereby brought nearer to the Good Shepherd and to one another, while they are more thoroughly sifted, tried, and purified, so as to be separated from the evil that is in the world, and consecrated as a peculiar people to the Lord.—(Candlish.)
lsaac sent away Jacob with his staff only (Genesis 32:10), and to “serve for a wife (Hosea 12:12). It was otherwise, when a wife was provided for Isaac. But Jacob went as privately as he could; “he fled into Syria,” probably that his brother Esau might not know of his journey, and wait him a shrewd turn by the way.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 28:9. Then went Esau unto Ishmael.] To his family, and not to Ishmael himself, who had been dead for fourteen years. (Genesis 25:17.)—
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 28:6-9
ESAU, THE TYPE OF WORLDLINESS AND HYPOCRISY
Esau attempts to repair the error into which he had fallen by marrying into a heathen family, to the great grief of his parents. He knew that his father had charged Jacob to avoid such a wicked course (Genesis 28:1), and that upon this point he would be most accessible. Therefore he resolves to marry into his father’s family. He considered that this would pass with his father as a noble act of filial devotion. But all this is only the wordly policy of the hypocrite. He feigns repentance in order to secure some temporal good or comfort for himself. He is, therefore, the type of hypocrisy and worldliness in religion. He was certainly, all this time, a hypocrite, for he nursed hatred in his heart against his brother, and only waited opportunity to carry out his evil purpose. Such are the characteristics of the religion of hypocrites of all times. What was the case with Esau?
I. His conduct was mercenary. He only cared to win back the temporal advantages of the blessing by any means, even by the pretence of a pious devotion to the wishes of his father. So hypocrites only study their own worldly interests. They are concerned with religion only so far as it will promote these. They are like the multitude who were ready to follow Christ as long as He offered easy blessings, but deserted Him the moment their advantage seemed to lie in another direction. Such men claim to follow Christ as long as they think that their worldly prosperity is promoted by such a profession, but they will barter Him for a consideration when the temptation is strong enough. “What will ye give me, and I will deliver Him unto you.”
II. His conduct was one-sided. Esau wanted to secure the favour and blessing of his father while, at the same time, he was cherishing deadly hatred towards his brother. He wanted to enjoy all the benefits of piety while he wilfully neglected some of its obligations. There are those who would like to secure the favour of God and some of the advantages of religion, while at the same time, they have no respect to all God’s commandments. They wickedly assume a privilege in regard to certain sins. They are willing to serve God in many respects, if only an exception can be made in favour of some particular sin. Such men do not submit themselves to God. They are strangers to the spirit of faith and obedience, and therefore they are not righteous. The servants of God cannot be allowed to choose their own paths of duty by a principle of selfish interest.
III. His conduct was framed by the principle of imitation. Esau presumed to imitate the conduct of his brother, but he was ignorant of the deep grounds upon which it rested. There are many hypocrites in this sense, that they are imitators of the outward conduct and signs of devotion of godly men. Such men deceive themselves. They do not intend to be guilty of a pretence; but are merely imitators of what pious men do and say, though, all the while, they are ignorant of the deep reasons upon which these things are founded. Esau, then, is a type of the worldly man, and of hypocrites who wish to claim some of the advantages of religion without giving themselves up entirely to God, and also of those who imitate the conduct of the truly pious without their deep convictions and felt satisfaction in God. The result of Esau’s conduct is a warning to all whom it may concern. His scheme did not succeed, and he only was landed in worse difficulties. He marries into a family quite outside the pale of the covenant, one which was outlawed and alienated, where even now the pure worship of God had already degenerated. So the hope of the hypocrite shall perish.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 28:6. But he was ever too late, and therefore what he did was to little purpose. An over-late sight is good neither in piety nor policy. How many have we known taken away in their offers and essays, before they had prepared their hearts to cleave to God.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 28:7-9. See what awkward work is made when men go about to please others, and promote their worldly interests by imitating that in which they have no delight. Ignorance and error mark every step they take. Esau was in no need of a wife. His parents would not be gratified by his connection with the apostate family of Ishmael. In short, he is out in all his calculations; nor can he discover the principles which influence those who fear the Lord. Thus have we often seen men try to imitate religious people for the sake of gaining esteem, or some way promoting their selfish ends; but instead of succeeding they have commonly made bad worse. That which to a right mind is as plain as the most public highway, to a mind perverted shall appear full of difficulties. “The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.” (Ecclesiastes 10:15.)—(Fuller.)
Hypocrites will needs do something that they may seem to be somebody. But, for the want of an inward principle, they do nothing well. They cement one error with another, as Esau here; and as Herod prevents perjury by murder, thus while they shun the sands they fall into the whirlpool.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 28:11. And he lighted upon a certain place.] “The term means he fell upon the place, as the providential stopping-place incidentally coming upon it, or coming up to it, as the lodging place for the night. This place was about forty-eight miles from Beersheba, and eight miles north of Jerusalem, near the town of Bethel, and is defined as the place from its being so well known in the history.” (Jacobus.)—
Genesis 28:12. A ladder.] “Whether it was the vision of a common ladder or flight of steps, or whether, as some suppose, it was a pile of mountain terraces, matters little. The flight of steps hewn in the rocky sides of the mountain near Tyre, on the edge of the Mediterranean, is called “the ladder of Tyre.” (Jacobus.)—
Genesis 28:17. How dreadful is this place!] Heb. “Awe-inspiring, commonly rendered fearful or terrible.” (Jacobus.)—
Genesis 28:18. Took the stone.] A collective singular for “stones,” as it appears from Genesis 28:11 that there was more than one of them. Poured oil upon the top of it.] This was an act of consecration to God.—
Genesis 28:19. And he called the name of that place Beth-el.] This name means the house of God, and was not now for the first time given. Abraham also worshipped God here, and found that the place already bore this name. (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3; Genesis 25:30.) But the name of that city was called Luz at the first. “The city in the immediate neighbourhood was, at the time, called Luz. The descendants of the patriarchs transferred the name of Bethel to that city. The Canaanites, not caring for this, continued to call it Luz, which was retained till Joshua occupied the land. Bethel, the holy place, is distinguished from Luz, the city. (Kurtz).—
Genesis 28:20. If God will be with me, and keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to pat on.] “This is not making any condition with God, for this is only a recital of the promise, and is more properly rendered since—inasmuch as. It expresses no doubt or contingency. ‘I, if I be lifted up,’ means ‘as surely as I shall be lifted up.’ And so here—as surely as God will be with me (has promised to be).” (Jacobus.)—
Genesis 28:21. Then shall the Lord be my God.] “And (so surely as) he shall be my God, my covenant God—the same as He has been to Abraham and Isaac, so shall this stone.” (Hengstenberg.)—
Genesis 28:22. God’s house. “A place sacred to the memory of God’s presence—as a place where He manifested Himself. The apostle calls ‘the Church the pillar and ground of the truth,’ alluding to this passage.” (1 Timothy 3:14.) (Jacobus.)—
Genesis 28:22. I will surely give the tenth unto thee.] After the example of Abraham. (Genesis 14:20.) The number ten, being the last of the cardinal numbers, expresses the idea of perfection.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 28:10-22
I. It was vouchsafed to him in a time of inward and outward trouble. The sense of his sin is now lying hard upon Jacob. He had been guilty of deceit, had incurred the anger of his brother, and disturbed the peace of his father’s household. He had claimed his title to the blessing in a self-righteous frame of mind, and gained admission for that claim by unrighteous means. As long as he is supported by his mother’s sympathy and by the excitement of success, he feels but little sense of shame and sorrow. But this is the time with him of outward trouble; and the thought of his sin is forced upon him, and he has also inward trouble. He who had never left his father’s house before, for whom everything was provided, now becomes a wanderer. He is left all alone on an untried journey. He set out in the sunshine, and as he was young and vigorous he could keep his spirits from sinking under despondency. But now night comes on. He has no tent, no pillow. He is alone with himself, all seems desolate around him, and he is like one forsaken. A sense of sin rests upon his soul, and a vague dread of unknown terrors. It was thus when everything in life seemed against him that this vision was vouchsafed.
II. It satisfied all his necessities. I. His spiritual necessities.
(1) It assured him that heaven and earth were not separated by an impassable gulf. Sin has created a distance between God and man. Men feel this when they think at all upon the subject. They think upon the righteous character, and sadly feel that they are not so with God. Jacob felt now that he had sinned, the heavens seemed to him as brass—no opening there, no voice or sign from God above. He himself was oppressed by a sense of sin, and dared not look up. Then it was that this dream assured him that there was no necessity for despair, that heaven and earth, the sinner’s soul and God could yet be brought near together.
(2) It assured him that there was a way of reconciliation between God and man. The gulf was bridged over. There was a way of communication between heaven and earth, in both directions, so that the love of heaven was sent down and the answer of the human heart was returned. Not only was the way to heaven opened, but it proved to be a well-trodden path. Messengers of mercy were descending from the highest heaven, and thankful prayers and praises were ascending thither.
3. It assured him that the love of God was above all the darkness of human sin and evil. God was at the top of this ladder (Genesis 28:13). The Lord above, and the object of His mercy beneath, and a way of communication opened up between both. Thus God is the author of salvation, and we are accepted through a Mediator.
4. It imparted to him the blessings of a revelation from God. The Lord spake to Jacob, renewing the old promises made to his father Abraham, and assuring him that he would have protection to the end (Genesis 28:13-15). It is revelation when God speaks to man. We cannot know the mind and purpose of God concerning us unless He thus declares Himself. Good things might have been prepared for us through the mercy of God, and yet we might have been unaware of them until He was pleased to make them known. There are those who say that we can have no revelation from heaven. But can we deny to God the right to speak and declare Himself—a right which we willingly concede to all His intelligent creatures? We are not left to draw rational, and too often precarious, inferences from the known dealings of God; but we have the advantage of a distinct declaration of His mind. We Christians have heard the voice of God through His word. We have heard His exceeding great and precious promises. We have a “ladder”—a way of reconciliation to God through Christ, who unites the human with the divine. Through and by Him we have access to the Father. Our prayers have free course to ascend to heaven, and the Holy Spirit descends into our hearts to inspire them. In the incarnation, God is no longer at the head of the ladder but at the foot, brought quite near to us, seeing that we have “God manifest in the flesh.”
III. It revealed the awful solemnity of human life. When Jacob awaked out of his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17.) Things that were regarded hitherto as common are now invested with an awful interest and significance, and are felt to be pervaded by a Divine presence. Such is human life when God awakens us to a sense of the reality of things. We may pass through this life quite thoughtlessly, but when we begin to think seriously, then life becomes solemn. Mystery lies on all sides of us. Whence are we? Whither do we tend? This life of ours is touched, overshadowed, and informed by a higher life. When God opens the eye of our soul, we need not travel far to some holy shrine to draw near before Him; for we are already in His house, and at the very gate of heaven. When this dream of life is over, we shall waken up to the true reality of things.
IV. It resulted in Jacob’s conversion. Jacob before this time was a worldly man. He was of the earth, earthy. Now his character is changed, not only outwardly, but inwardly. He becomes a spiritual man. All things are now seen in a new light. To know the realities of God, not from tradition, or as the fruit of speculation, but from a heartfelt and true knowledge, is the conversion of our soul. Balaam felt that Israel was a righteous nation, and that Jacob was a righteous man, when he said, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.” (Numbers 23:10-21.) This vision is Jacob’s conversion, and his conduct afterwards gives evidence of that great change.
1. He erected a memorial of the event. He marked the spot, so that he might ever be reminded of that solemn night. Thus the impressions of the whole scene would be fixed deep in his mind for ever. The value of forms lie in the fact that they give us something material to rest upon. Where God has revealed himself to us is our holy place, our Bethel.
2. He resolved to make God supreme in all his thoughts and actions. “Then shall the Lord be my God.” (Genesis 28:21.) Henceforward he would not worship honour, pleasure, or the world. He would respect all the rights of God, and make a full surrender of himself and of his worldly substance. (Genesis 28:22.) He is now altogether a devoted man; being no longer his own, but belonging to God. To have the Lord for our God is something more than an impression or a saying. It is the doing of His will. Knowledge and feeling are converted into action.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 28:10. Jacob’s departure from his father’s house formed a striking contrast with the pompous mission which had been sent to the same country when a wife was to be procured for Isaac. Without a servant to attend him, or a beast to carry him, being provided only with “a staff” to walk with (as he afterwards informs us), he pursues his solitary way. (Genesis 32:10.) We here behold the heir of the promise, the chosen servant of God, in whose loins were an elect people, and many powerful kings, whose history was to occupy so large a space in the book of God; in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed; a forlorn wanderer, banished from his father’s house, his whole inheritance his staff in his hand. But the sequel informs us that in the midst of this scene of outer and inner darkness God was graciously preparing a message of peace and joy for His exiled servant.—(Bush.)
Genesis 28:11. He lighted upon a certain place, little thinking to have found heaven there. Let this comfort travellers and friends that part with them. Jacob never lay better than when he lay without-doors; nor yet slept sweeter than when he laid his head upon a stone.” (Trapp.)
Jacob, in this wretched condition on his journey, is a symbol of the Messiah. Christ had not where to lay his head. (Lange.)
A solemn conviction is stealing over Jacob of what life is, a struggle which each man must make in self dependence. He is fairly afloat like a young swimmer, without corks, striking out for his life; dependant on self for defence, guidance, choice. Childhood is a state of dependence; but man passes from the state of dependence into that in which he must stand alone. It is a solemn crisis, because the way in which it is met often decides the character of the future life.—(Robertson.)
Probably Jacob found the gates of the city shut upon his arrival, and was obliged to spend the night in the open air. In the time of their darkest calamity God comes to the aid of His servants.
Perhaps the declining sun never withdrew its light from one more deep in gloom than Jacob when he paused at Luz. The canopy of heaven was his only roof—the bare earth his couch—the rugged stone his pillow. Instead of a tender mother’s tender care, he had hardness in its hardest form. The Lord, whose love is wisdom, and whose wisdom is love, leads His children into depths for their good; but leaves them not in depths to their hurt. It was so with Jacob. It will be so, while saints on earth need to be brought low, that they may more securely rise. (“Christ is All,” by Archdeacon Law.)
Genesis 28:12. God made a direct communication to his soul. “He lay down to sleep, and he dreamed.” We know what dreams are. They are strange combinations of our waking thoughts in fanciful forms, and we may trace in Jacob’s previous journey the groundwork of his dream. He looked up all day to heaven as he trudged along, the glorious expanse of an Oriental sky was around him, a quivering, trembling, mass of blue; but he was alone, and, when the stars came out, melancholy sensations were his, such as youth frequently feels in the autumn time. Deep questionings beset him. Time he felt was fleeting. Eternity, what was it? Life, what a mystery! And all this took form in his dream. Thus far, all was natural; the supernatural in this dream was the manner in which God impressed it upon his heart. Similar dreams we have often had; but the remembrance of them has often faded away. Conversion is the impression made by circumstances, and that impression lasting for life; it is God the Spirit’s work upon the soul.—(Robertson).
Our Saviour applies these words to Himself, the true ladder of life, through whom alone we are able to ascend to heaven (John 1:51). He that will go up any other way must, as the emperor once said, erect a ladder and go up alone. He touched heaven, in respect to His Deity; earth in respect of His humanity; and joined earth to heaven, by reconciling man to God. Gregory speaks elegantly of Christ, that he joined heaven and earth together, as with a bridge; being the only true Pontifex, or bridge-maker. Heaven is now open and obvious to them that acknowledge Him their sole Mediator, and lay hold, by the hand of faith, on His merits, as the rounds of this heavenly ladder. These only ascend; that is, their consciences are drawn out of the depths of despair, and put into heaven, as it were, by pardon and peace with God, rest sweetly in His bosom, calling Him Abba, Father, and have the holy angels ascending to report their necessities, and descending, as messengers of mercies. We must also ascend, saith St. Bernard, by those two feet, as it were—meditation and prayer: yea, there must be continual ascensions in our hearts; and as Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending, and none standing still, so must we be active and abundant in God’s work (1 Corinthians 15:58).—(Trapp.)
As connecting earth and heaven it was a striking image of mediation and reconciliation by Him who is the Way. This is the New Testament explanation of it (John 1:51). The idea plainly is of communication opened with heaven, which had been cut off by sin. And the immediate application of it is the providential care which is secured to him by the covenant. Angelic messengers traversing this stairway executing the gracious purposes of Redemption (Hebrews 1:14), and all on the basis of the mediation of Christ, the Angel of the Covenant—this is the traveller’s vision.—(Jacobus.)
Genesis 28:13. God stands above the methods and means of Providence and Grace. The Divine love is the fountain of Redemption.
The heavenly ladder seen by Jacob in a dream, on which angels were ascending and descending, with the Lord himself at the summit, was itself but the weak intimation of a closer union between earth and heaven to be effected in the person of the Son of Man—an union wherein God should no longer appear far off, but near; men now at last beholding the “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”—(Trench.)
By this promise Jacob is secured beyond the reach of his brother’s wrath.
It is remarkable that Abraham is styled his father, that is, his actual grandfather, and covenant father.—(Murphy.)
From Jacob’s ladder we receive the first definite intimation that beyond Sheol, heaven is the home of man.—(Lange.)
What an honour is this to Abraham, that God was not ashamed to be called his and his son’s God! “Friend to Sir Philip Sidney,” is engraven upon a nobleman’s tomb in this kingdom, as one of his titles. Behold the goodness of God, stooping so low as to style Himself “the God of Abraham;” and Abraham again, “the friend of God.”—(Trapp.)
It is enough for us to be assured that God will be the same to us as He has been to our fathers, and that He will perform the same for us. By faith we become heirs of an ancient heritage, which is secure to us as an eternal possession—as long as God is our God.
Genesis 28:14. This expression points to the world-wide universality of the kingdom of the seed of Abraham, when it shall become the fifth monarchy, that shall subdue all that went before, and endure for ever. This transcends the destiny of the natural seed of Abraham.—(Murphy.)
Against his four-fold cross, here is a four-fold comfort.
1. Against the loss of his friends, “I will be with thee.”
2. Of his country, “I will give thee this land.”
3. Against his poverty, “Thou shalt spread abroad to the east, west,” etc.
4. His solitariness; angels shall attend thee, and “thy seed shall be as the dust,” etc. And “who can count the dust of Jacob,” saith Balaam. (Numbers 23:10.) Now, whatsoever God spake here with Jacob, He spake with us, as well as with him, saith Hosea. (Hosea 12:4.—(Trapp.)
Genesis 28:15. He then promises to Jacob personally to be with him, protect him, and bring him back in safety. This is the third announcement of the seed that blesses to the third in the line of descent. (Genesis 12:2-3; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4.—(Murphy.)
Jacob was lonely, on an untried journey, with an uncertain fate before him. What could have been more comforting and assuring than this promise of protection in his travels, a safe return home, and success in his mission; and all because he was heir of the covenant? Thus God’s promises, while they are all-embracing, are suited to our special need.
Esau’s blessing was soon fulfilled; but Jacob’s related to things at a great distance, and which none but “God Almighty” could bring to pass. How seasonable then were those precious promises which furnished at his outset a ground for faith to rest upon!—(Fuller.)
Genesis 28:16. He who had felt no fear in laying himself down to sleep in a lonely place, and under the cloud of night, is now filled with a holy dismay when the morning arose at the thought of being surrounded with God. But the element of joy was not extinguished by the feeling of the awful which the scene had inspired. The Lord had been specially present to him where he little thought of meeting with Him. He had laid him down to sleep, as on common ground, but he found that it was a consecrated place, hallowed by the presence of God Himself in this blessed vision of the night. It seemed a lone and uninviting spot, but it proved to him a magnificent temple.—(Bush.)
He knew His omnipresence. But he did not expect a special manifestation of the Lord in this place, far from the sanctuaries of his father.—(Murphy.)
The commonest things of life become sacred if we only think deeply about them.
We do not really discover God anywhere, not even in His Word, unless He reveals Himself inwardly to our souls. Then do we truly know that God was there, though we knew it not.
Every fresh revelation of God obliges us to confess our ignorance and inattention in the past.
Genesis 28:17. This was the place where God manifested Himself as He was wont to do in the sanctuary.
In whatever place the soul of man feels the presence and power of God, there is the House of God.
The place of God’s public worship is a place of angels and archangels, saith Chrysostom; it is the Kingdom of God; it is very heaven. What wonder, then, though Jacob be afraid, albeit, he saw nothing but visions of love and mercy. “In Thy fear will I worship toward Thy holy temple,” saith David (Psalms 5:7).—(Trapp.)
The last impression made upon Jacob was that of the awfulness of life. Children play away life. It is a touching and softening thing to see the child, without an aim or thought, playing away his young moments; but it is sad indeed to see men and women do this, for life is a solemn mystery, full of questions that we cannot answer. Whence come we? Whither go we? How came we here? Say you that life is short, that it is a shadow, a dream, a vapour, a puff of air? Yes, it is short, but has an eternity wrapped up in it; it is a dream, but an awful, and appalling one, the most solemn dream of eternity that we shall ever have. Remember this is the gate of heaven, this is a dreadful place, the common is the Divine; God is here.—(Robertson.)
Earth is a court of Paradise; life, here below, is a short pilgrimage; our home is above, and the life of a blessed eternity illuminates our path.—(Krummacher.)
Where God’s Word is found, there is a house of God. There heaven stands open.—(Lange.)
We must daily wait at the gate of heaven if we would enter there.
Genesis 28:18. He was in no condition to indulge in sleep. He must be up and expressing the homage of his soul for such precious, gracious revelations.—(Jacobus.)
He set up a memorial of the impressions just made upon him. He erected a few stones, and called them Bethel. They were a fixed point to remind him of the past. The power of this Bethel we shall see in the 35th chap. Herein is the value of forms; impressions, feelings, will pass away unless we have some memorial. If we were merely spiritual beings then we might do without forms; but we are still mixed up with matter, and unless we have a form the spirit will die. Resolve then, like Jacob, to keep religion in mind by the use of religious rites. Church-going, the keeping of the Sabbath, are not religion; but religion hardly lives without them. If a man will say, I can read the Bible at home, think of Christ without attending the Holy Communion, make every day a Sabbath, why his religion will die out with his omission of the form.—(Robertson.)
As Jacob was not induced to set up this stone and worship at it by any superstition or idolatry, so the papists gain nothing in deriving their image—worship from this act; although we read in Leviticus 26:1; Deuteronomy 7:5; Deuteronomy 12:3, that God has expressly prohibited these things.—(Lange.)
Genesis 28:19. This place was long regarded with religious veneration, as we may infer from Jereboam’s having chosen it for the seat of his idolatrous worship of the golden calves (1 Kings 12:28; 1 Kings 12:23), for which reason the prophet Hosea, (Hosea 4:15) alluding to the name given it by Jacob, calls it, Beth-aven, “the house of vanity”—i.e., of idols—instead of Beth-el, “house of God.” In like manner, (Amos 5:5): “Bethel shall shall come to naught.” (Heb. shall be Aven). A good name has no security of permanence where a change for the worse has taken place in the character. God even writes upon His own people, Lo-Ammi, “not my people,” instead of Ammi, “my people,” when by their transgression they forfeit His favour.—(Bush.)
Genesis 28:20. It must not be understood from his conditional mode of expression that he had any doubt as to the fulfilment of the Divine promise, or that he would prescribe terms to his Maker. The language implies nothing more than his taking God at His word—a sincere avowal, that since the Lord had promised him the bestowment of inestimable blessings, he would endeavour not to be wanting in the suitable returns of duty and devotedness. God had promised to be with him, to keep him, to bring him again into the land, and not to leave him. He takes up the precious words, and virtually says, “Oh, let it be according to Thy word unto Thy servant, and Thou shalt be mine, and I will be Thine for ever.” This was all right; for Jacob sought nothing which God had not promised, and he could not well err while making the Divine promises the rule and measure of his desires.—(Bush.)
The order of what he desired is deserving of notice. It corresponds with our Saviour’s rule, to seek things of the greatest importance first. By how much God’s favour is better than life, by so much His being with us, and keeping us is better than food and raiment.—(Fuller.)
The desires of Jacob were moderate. He only asks for the bare necessaries of life. He seeks not high things for himself—no wealth, or rank, or luxury. We know from the case of Solomon that such modest desires are approved by God, who is wont to fulfil them even beyond what we have asked. (1 Kings 3:5-12.)
Nature is content with little; grace with less. “Food and drink are the riches of Christians,” saith Jerome. Bread and water, with the Gospel, are good cheer. One told a philosopher, “If you will be content to please Dionysius, you need not feed upon green herbs. He replied, “And if you be content to feed upon green herbs, you need not please Dionysius.”—(Trapp.)
Genesis 28:21. This is not the condition in which Jacob will accept God in a mercenary spirit. It is the response of the son to the assurance of the father. “Wilt Thou indeed be with me? Thou shalt be my God.”—(Murphy.)
There is clear evidence that Jacob was now a child of God. He takes God to be his God in covenant, with whom he will live. But what progress there is between Bethel and Peniel. Grace reigns within him, but not without a conflict. The powers and tendencies of evil are still at work. He yields too readily to their urgent solicitations. Still, grace and the principles of the renewed man gain a stronger hold, and become more and more controlling. Under the loving but faithful discipline of God, he is gaining in his faith, until, in the great crisis of his life, Mahanaim and Peniel, and the new revelations then given to him, it receives a large and sudden increase. He is thenceforward trusting, serene, and established, strengthened and settled, and passes into the quiet life of the triumphant believer.—(Lange.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 28". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25