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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 28

 

 

Verse 12-13

DISCOURSE: 43

JACOB’S VISION A TYPE OF THE MINISTRATION OF ANGELS TO CHRIST

Genesis 28:12-13. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it.

NOW that God has given to the world a complete revelation of his mind and will, we are no longer to expect any extraordinary and personal communications with him: but, in former days, he frequently instructed his more favoured servants by dreams and visions. The particular vision recorded in the passage before us is almost universally considered as typical, though few, if any, have given any satisfactory account wherein the type consists. We shall endeavour therefore to put the subject in a just point of view; and for that purpose shall consider,

I. The immediate end of the vision—

When so remarkable a revelation is vouchsafed to man, we may conclude that some end, worthy of the divine interposition, is to be answered by it. The intent of the vision here given to Jacob, seems to be,

1. To dispel his fears of merited evils—

[Jacob could not but be conscious that he had acted a base and treacherous part: and that therefore he had incurred the divine displeasure, at the same time that he had excited a murderous rancour in the breast of his injured brother. He was now fleeing to avoid the effects of his brother’s wrath, and had but too much reason to dread some righteous judgment from the hand of God. But God, who is altogether sovereign in the distribution of his favours, and frequently bestows them at seasons, when, according to our conceptions, they could be the least expected, appeared to him, with expressions of love and mercy. He assured the unhappy fugitive, that he was reconciled towards him, and would give his angels charge over him to keep him in all his way, to protect him from all danger, and to supply his every want [Note: 5.]. Thus were all his apprehensions at once removed, and his mind restored to perfect peace.]

2. To confirm his hope of promised blessings—

[He had received a promise of the birthright, while yet he lay in his mother’s womb; and doubtless he had expected its accomplishment. But when he saw his father dying, and knew that the rights of primogeniture were about to be confirmed to his elder brother, his faith failed him; and, instead of waiting like David for the throne of Saul, he yielded to the solicitations of his mother, and sought to obtain by craft, what, if he had waited God’s time, he would have received in a fair and honourable way. And now he had good reason to doubt, whether he had not forfeited his interest in God’s promise, and entailed a curse upon himself instead of a blessing. But God, on this occasion, renewed his promise to him, almost in the very terms, in which, but a few hours before, it had been declared by his father [Note: Compare 3, 14 with, 4.] ; and thus assured to him, not only a numerous seed, and the inheritance of Canaan, but (which was infinitely the dearest right of primogeniture) the descent of Christ from his loins. From henceforth therefore we behold him walking steadfastly in the faith of Abraham, looking forward with joy to the day of Christ, and maintaining a conduct suitable to his profession.]

While the vision was replete with personal benefit to Jacob, it conveyed instruction also to the Church, by,

II. Its typical reference—

Instead of supposing, with all writers upon this subject, that the ladder was a type of Christ in his divine and human nature mediating between heaven and earth (which is fanciful, and without any warrant from Scripture), we rather think that the vision itself was the type (if it was indeed a type), and that it prefigured,

1. The testimony which angels were to give to Christ—

[Our Lord himself has cast the true light on this passage. In his conversation with Nathanael, he tells the young convert, that he should one day see that realized in him, which had been shadowed forth in Jacob’s vision [Note: John 1:51.]. Accordingly we find that as, from the first conception of Christ in the womb to that very hour, the angels had deeply interested themselves in every thing that related to him, so they continued on all occasions to wait upon him, to soothe his sorrows, to animate his courage, to fulfil his will, and to bear testimony on his behalf [Note: Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43; Luke 24:4-7; Luke 24:23.]. More than twelve legions of them would have come to his succour if he had desired their aid [Note: Matthew 26:53.]. Here then is a correspondence between the type and antitype: Jesus was a man of sorrows, and cast out by his brethren, who said, “This is the heir, come let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours [Note: Luke 20:14.].” But God would not leave his beloved Son without witness, or without support; and therefore opened a communication between heaven and earth, that the angels might have continual access to him, whilst “he himself stood, as it were, at the top of the ladder” to direct their operations.]

2. The confirmation which his people’s faith was to receive from that testimony—

[The circumstances of Nathanael and his other disciples, to whom this ocular demonstration was to be given, were not unlike to those of Jacob, to whom the vision was vouchsafed. They had believed in Jesus; but their faith was to be sorely tried, so that they should be reduced almost to despair. There was however a seasonable support to be afforded them by the intervention and agency of angels. It was the repeated testimony of angels that first inspired them with hope [Note: John 20:12.], and that, afterwards, at the time of Christ’s ascension into heaven, filled them all with a pleasing expectation, that they should one day see him come again in power and great glory [Note: Acts 1:11.]. In consequence of their declarations, no less than of the declarations of Christ himself, “they returned to Jerusalem with great joy,” and waited for the promised effusion of the Holy Ghost, “knowing in whom they had believed, and assured, that he would keep that which they had committed to him.” Thus in this respect also did the type receive a suitable accomplishment.]

For our further improvement of this history, we may observe,

1. There is no person so guilty, but God is willing and desirous to shew mercy to him—

[We cannot but admire the extent and freeness of that mercy with which God revealed himself to this guilty fugitive. We have a similar instance in the mercy shewn to Saul, at the very instant he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of Christ [Note: Acts 9:1-6.].” And, has not the Apostle told us, that he was intended of God to be in this respect a monument of God’s long-suffering, and a pattern to those who should hereafter believe on him [Note: 1 Timothy 1:16.] ?” Let none then despair; but, whatever evils they have brought upon themselves by their iniquities, and whatever reason they may have to dread the wrath, either of God or man, let them call to mind the example before us; and turn unto him, who has promised “that he will in no wise cast them out.”]

2. There is no distress so great, but God is able and willing to deliver us from it—

[God has thousands of angels at his command, and has appointed them to “minister unto those who shall be heirs of salvation [Note: Hebrews 1:14.].” These he orders to “encamp round about his people, and deliver them [Note: Psalms 34:7.].” Let us then suppose ourselves as destitute as Jacob himself, having only the earth for our bed, a stone for our pillow, and no other canopy than the heavens; still, a vision of God, with the ministry of his angels, shall render our situation both comfortable and happy; yea, shall make it appear to us as “the very house of God, the gate of heaven [Note: 7.].” And such a confirmation will these “visions of the Almighty” give to our faith and hope, that we shall be fitted for all future trials, and be enabled to testify on God’s behalf, that “he will never leave his people, till he has fulfilled to them his promises in their utmost extent [Note: 5.].”]


Verse 15

DISCOURSE: 44

THE MANNER IN WHICH GOD DISPENSES HIS FAVOURS

Genesis 28:15. Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land: for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

THE study of profane history is exceeding profitable, inasmuch as it brings us into an acquaintance with human nature in all its diversified forms, and thereby qualifies us to discharge all our own duties with more wisdom and propriety. But sacred history, besides that it sets before us incomparably brighter examples of virtue, has this peculiar advantage, that it brings God himself to our view, and exhibits him to us in all the dispensations of his providence and grace. The account which is here given us of his intercourse with Jacob, will serve to shew us, in a very striking point of view, in what manner he disperses his favours.

I. He bestows them sovereignly—

[Jacob had grievously sinned both against God and man, in personating his brother, in imposing on his father, in blasphemously ascribing to God what was the fruit of his own device, and in fraudulently obtaining his brother’s birthright. Having incensed his injured brother, he was now fleeing, to avoid the effects of his indignation. And in what manner should we suppose that God would meet him, if indeed he should deign to notice such a miscreant? Would he not say to him, as he afterwards did to the fugitive prophet, “What dost thou here, Elijah?” Or rather, instead of noticing him at all, may we not suppose that he would send a lion to destroy him [Note: 1 Kings 13:24.] ? But behold, for the displaying of the riches of his own grace, he revealed himself to him in a most instructive vision; he confirmed to him all the promises that had been made to Abraham and to Isaac; and even extended beyond all former bounds the manifestations of his favour.

A similar instance we have in the Apostle Paul; whom, at the very instant that he was labouring to extirpate the followers of Christ, God was pleased to stop, not, as might have been expected, with some signal judgment, but with singular expressions of his regard, conferring oil him the highest honours, and communicating to him the richest blessings.

And may not we also admire the sovereignty of God in the exercise of his mercy towards ourselves? Wherefore is it that we are favoured with the light of his Gospel, when so many myriads of our fellow-sinners are left in darkness and the shadow of death? If we have experienced in our souls the efficacy of divine grace, may we not look back with wonder to the period of our conversion, when we were either drinking iniquity with greediness, or proudly establishing our own righteousness in opposition to the righteousness of Christ? Let us deliberately consider our state when God first caused a ray of light to shine into our minds, and implanted his grace in our hearts, and we shall esteem ourselves no less indebted to the electing love of God, than Jacob, or Saul, or any other whom he has ever chosen [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.].]

II. He times them seasonably—

[The fugitive patriarch was now in a very desolate and forlorn condition, wearied in body [Note: From Beersheba to Beth-el was about forty miles.], and distressed in mind. Probably his conscience now smote him, and he was saying with himself, as Joseph’s brethren afterwards did, “I am verily guilty concerning my brother [Note: Genesis 42:21.].” How welcome then must the tokens of God’s regard be to him at that season! What a support under his present trials! what an antidote against any future calamities!

Thus it is that God interposes on the behalf of his people, and “repents himself for them, when their strength is gone, and there is none shut up or left [Note: Deuteronomy 32:36.].” When the contrite soul is bowed down, under a sense of guilt, and ready to say, There is no hope; then does God speak peace unto it, saying, “Be of good cheer, I am thy salvation.” Just as, in Hagar’s extremity, God sent his angel to point out to her a spring, whereby the life of her child was unexpectedly preserved, so in ten thousand instances he appears for us, when we are ready to despair of help: and though his interpositions on our behalf are less visible than these, yet every one of us has reason to acknowledge the truth of that proverb, “In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen [Note: Genesis 22:14.].” Let us but review our lives, and call to mind the aids of his Spirit under temptations, trials, difficulties; let us see how marvelously we have been upheld when conflicting with sin and Satan, and we shall confess indeed, that “he is a present, a very present, help in trouble.”]

III. He imparts them suitably—

[It is probable that Jacob’s reply to the advice of his mother was now, in his apprehension, about to be verified; and that he expected a curse rather than a blessing. His evil conscience now might well suggest to him such thoughts as these: ‘God has forsaken me, and some great evil will come upon me. I can never hope to return again to my father’s house in peace, or to enjoy the blessing which I have so treacherously pained.’ To remove these apprehensions, God vouchsafed to him exactly such tokens of his regard, as were best calculated to allay his fears. In the vision, God shewed to him both his providential care, and his redeeming love: for doubtless, while he discovered to him the ministry of angels who were commissioned to protect him, he also shewed him that promised Seed, who was in due time to spring from him, and whom at that very instant he typically represented [Note: This is more fully opened in the preceding Discourse.]. In the promise, he assured him, that his presence should follow him; that his power should preserve him; that he would bring him back again to that very land; and that not one of all the promises that had been ever made to him, should fail of accomplishment.

In this respect also we may trace the tender mercies of our God towards all his people. His manifestations of himself to them, and his application of promises to their souls, are wonderfully suited to their several necessities. We cannot indeed justify those, who open the sacred records, and expect that the portion of Scripture, on which they cast their eye, shall be a kind of literal direction to them; (a most unwarranted and delusive method of ascertaining the mind of God!) but this we must affirm, that, whatever we want, whether wisdom, or strength, or grace of any kind, it shall be given us, if we ask in faith. And the experience of all the saints attests the truth of that promise, “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”]

IV. He continues them faithfully—

[God had given promises, not to Abraham only and to Isaac, but to Jacob also, while he was yet in his mother’s womb. But instead of fulfilling them to him after this flagrant instance of misconduct, he might well have said to him, as he did to his unbelieving posterity, “Thou shalt know my breach of promise [Note: Numbers 14:34.]:” “I said indeed, that thy house and the house of thy father should walk before me for ever: but now it shall be far from me: for them that honour me I will honour; and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed [Note: 1 Samuel 2:30.].” But he had spoken, and would not go back: for his word’s sake he would not cast off his offending child, or even suffer one jot or tittle of his promises to fail.

Thus to his descendants in future ages did God manifest his fidelity; insomuch that Joshua, after eighty years’ experience, could appeal to the whole nation, saying, “Ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof [Note: Joshua 23:14.].”

To us also will he approve himself faithful. “He will not cast off his people, because it hath pleased him to make us his people [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.].” He has said, I will never leave thee, I will never, never forsake thee [Note: Hebrews 13:5.]. “He may indeed hide his face from us for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will he have mercy on us: the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed; but the covenant of my peace,” says he, “shall not be removed: for like as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee [Note: Isaiah 54:7-10.].”]

Improvement—

1. For caution—

[We have seen that Jacob inherited the blessing which he had gained by treachery; and that, where sin had abounded, grace did much more abound. But shall we do evil that good may come; or commit sin that grace may abound? God forbid. We must never expect the blessing of God but in the way of duty.]

2. For encouragement—

[If through temptation we have fallen into sin, let us not flee from God, like Adam, but go to him in humble hope that he will magnify his mercy towards the chief of sinners.]


Verses 16-19

DISCOURSE: 45

JACOB’S PILLAR AT BETH-EL

Genesis 28:16-19. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep; and 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. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. [Note: Preached at the chapel erected and endowed by the Rev. Lewis Way, in Stansted Park (Sussex), on the day previous to the consecration of it by the Right Rev. Lord Bishop of St. David’s, and the Hon. and Right Rev. Lord Bishop of Gloucester, on January 24th, 1819: the day on which is annually commemorated the Conversion of St. Paul.] ON whatever side we look, we see abundant evidence that “God’s ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts.” With us, there are laws of equity prescribed for the regulation of our conduct in the whole of our intercourse with men; and on our strict observance of them the welfare of society depends. But God is not restrained by any such rules in his government of the world: men having no claims whatever upon him, he has a right to dispose of them, and of all that pertains unto them, according to his own sovereign will and pleasure. This right too he exercises in a way, which, though inexplicable to us, is manifest to all. In the conversion of St. Paul we see this in as striking a point of view as it can possibly be placed. St. Paul, even to the very moment of his conversion, was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of our Lord, having voluntarily enlisted himself in the service of the high-priest to execute against them his cruel decrees. He was, as he himself tells us, “a blasphemer, and injurious, and a persecutor;” nor had so much as one penitential pang, till he was arrested by the grace of God, and favoured with a sight of that very Jesus, whose interests he was labouring to destroy. Somewhat of a similar display of God’s grace may be seen in the history before us. Jacob had been guilty of base deceit in relation to his brother’s birthright. He had even represented God himself as confederate with him in that wicked act, and as facilitating by an extraordinary exercise of divine power the attainment of his object. By this treacherous conduct he had greatly incensed his brother against him, and rendered any longer continuance under his father’s roof unsafe. Rebekah, who had instigated him to this wickedness, recommended him to flee: and, to reconcile Isaac to his departure, proposed that he should go to his uncle Laban, and take a wife from amongst his own relatives, and not connect himself with any of the daughters of Canaan, as his brother Esau had done. This however was a mere pretext: the true reason of his departure was, that he feared the wrath of Esau, and fled to avoid the effects of his merited indignation. Thus circumstanced, it could not fail but that he must at this time be in a state of much disquietude, not only as being driven from his family at the very time that his pious and aged father was supposed to be dying, but as having brought this evil on himself by his own base and treacherous conduct, and as having provoked God to anger, as well as man, by his impiety. Wearied with fatigue of body and anxiety of mind, he laid himself down to rest under the open canopy of heaven, with nothing but the bare ground for his bed, and a stone for his pillow. If it be asked, why he did not go into the adjacent city to seek a more comfortable lodging there; I answer, that it was altogether owing to the state of his mind: and his conduct in this respect was perfectly natural; the pain of a guilty conscience uniformly indisposing men, not only for society, but even for any corporeal indulgence.

Who would have thought that under such circumstances he should so speedily be honoured with one of the most wonderful manifestations of God’s love that ever were vouchsafed to mortal man? Yet on this very night did God draw nigh to him as a reconciled God, and pour into his bosom all the consolations which his soul could desire.

Well might Jacob express surprise at this marvellous display of God’s love and mercy: and I pray God that somewhat of the same holy feelings may be engendered in us, whilst we consider,

I. His unexpected discovery, and

II. The grateful acknowledgments which it drew from him.

I. We notice his unexpected discovery—

There were two things with which Jacob was favoured on this occasion; a vision, and a voice. In the vision, he saw a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, and angels ascending and descending upon it, whilst God himself stood above it to regulate their motions. This imported, that, however destitute Jacob at this time was, there was a God, who ordered every thing both in heaven and earth, and who by means of ministering angels would effect in behalf of his believing people whatsoever their diversified necessities might require. By the voice, he was informed, that all which had been promised to Abraham and to Isaac, respecting the possession of Canaan by their posterity, and the salvation of the world by the promised Seed, should be fulfilled, partially in his own person, and completely in his posterity. Thus did God exhibit himself to him on this occasion as a God of providence and of grace, and, under both characters, as his God for ever and ever. Such a revelation, at such a time, and such a place, a place where the grossest idolatry prevailed to the utter exclusion of the only true God, astonished him beyond measure, and constrained him to exclaim, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not” He now saw that God was not confined to any place or country; and that wherever he should reveal himself to man, there was “the house of God, and there the gate of heaven,” through which the vilest sinner in the universe might gain access to him.

To prosecute this subject further in reference to Jacob is unnecessary. It is of more importance to consider its bearing on ourselves. Know ye then, that, though the vision and the voice had a special respect to Jacob, and the circumstances in which he was more immediately interested, they are eminently instructive to us also, and that, not merely as prophecies that have been fulfilled, but as illustrations of the way in which God will yet magnify the riches of his grace towards his believing people.

How wonderful on many occasions have been the dispensations of his providence! Circumstances as much unlocked for as Jacob’s possession of the land of Canaan, have not unfrequently occurred; and, though perhaps small in themselves, have led to results, which have been of the utmost importance through our whole lives. Had we been more observant of the leadings of providence, and marked with more precision the time and the manner in which the different events of our lives have occurred, we should be no less struck with wonder and amazement than Jacob himself. And how extraordinary have been the communications of his grace! Perhaps when we have been surrounded on every side by men immersed in the cares and vanities of this world, ourselves also destitute of all holy principles, and under the guilt of all our past sins, we have been brought to hear the word of God, and to feel its power, yea and to taste its sweetness also, through the manifestations of the Saviour’s love to our souls. Possibly, even the enormity of some particular sin has, as in the case of Onesimus, been the very means which God has made use of for bringing us to repentance, and for converting our souls to him. It may be that, like Zaccheus, we have gone to some place, where we contemplated nothing but the gratification of our curiosity; and have been penetrated beyond all expectation by a voice from heaven, saying, “Come down, Zaccheus; for this day is salvation come to thy soul.” Perhaps some heavy affliction has been made the means of awakening us to a sense of our lost estate; and through a manifestation of Christ to our souls we have found a heaven, where we anticipated nothing but accumulated and augmented sorrow. Yes verily, there are witnesses without number, at this present day, that God still acts in a sovereign way in dispensing blessings to mankind; and that those words are yet verified as much as ever, “I am found of them that sought me not; I am made manifest to them that asked not after me [Note: Romans 10:20.] !”

And now let me ask, Whether the effect of such manifestations be not the same as ever? Have we not on such occasions been ready to exclaim, “This is the house of God! this is the gate of heaven?” Yes: it is not in the power of outward circumstances, however calamitous, to counterbalance such joys as these. Even the terrors of a guilty conscience are dissipated in a moment; and peace flows in upon the soul like a river.

The practical effects upon the life which will result from this experience may be seen in,

II. The grateful acknowledgments which it drew from Jacob.

“He rose up early in the morning, and took the stone which he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el; but the name of the city was called Luz at the first.” He determined to erect a memorial of the stupendous mercy that had been vouchsafed to him, and to serve his God in that very place which had been so commended to him by the providence and grace of God. Accordingly he took the stone on which he had reclined his head, and erected it for a pillar, and poured oil upon it, in order to consecrate it to the special service of his God. We have no account of any express command from God that oil should be applied to this purpose by him: but in after-ages it was particularly enjoined to Moses to be used in consecrating the tabernacle, together with all the holy vessels and instruments that were employed in God’s service [Note: Numbers 7:1.] ; as also to be used in all the peace-offerings that were presented to the Lord: “This is the law of the sacrifice of peace-offerings, which he shall offer unto the Lord. If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes mingled with oil, of fine flour, fried [Note: Leviticus 7:11-12.].” Thus not only under the law, but long before the law, we behold the solemn rite of consecration performed by one of God’s most highly-favoured servants; and a place that was common before, rendered holy to the Lord by the administration of this ordinance. And how acceptable to God this service was, may be judged from hence, that, twenty years afterwards, God again appeared to Jacob, and reminded him of this very circumstance, saying, “I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me [Note: Genesis 31:13.].” “Arise, and go up to Beth-el, and dwell there; and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother [Note: Genesis 35:1.].” And in obedience to this command, we are told, “Jacob came to Luz, that is, Beth-el, and built an altar there, and called the place El-beth-el, because God there appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother [Note: Genesis 35:6-7.].”

Do we not then see in this record how we also should mark the interpositions of God in our behalf? Does it not become us to remember them, and to perpetuate the remembrance of them for the instruction and encouragement of others? Should not the honour of God be dear to us; and, if the place which God has signalized in so remarkable a way, have hitherto been distinguished by the name of Luz (a place of almonds, and of carnal delights), should we not labour to convert it to a Beth-el, and to render it to all future generations a house of God, and, if possible, the very gate of heaven? Let the idea be derided as it may by them that know not God, this is an action worthy of a child of Abraham, a service acceptable and well-pleasing unto God.

In the verses following my text we have the vow of Jacob respecting this place recorded: “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.” Thus, whilst he consecrated here an altar to the Lord, he provided for the service of that altar by an actual endowment. What might be his circumstances, or the circumstances of his family, in future life, he knew not: yet he bound himself by this solemn and irrevocable vow. What any ignorant and ungodly man might think of this, it is easy to imagine: but I find not in all the inspired volume one single word that discountenances such a conduct. I find, on the contrary, the whole people of Israel contributing according to their power towards the erection of the tabernacle, and stripping themselves of their ornaments in order to furnish it with vessels for the service of their God—I find David, the man after God’s own heart, even when not permitted to build the temple himself, devoting not less than eighteen millions of money to the preparing of materials for it—I find similar exertions made by others, at a subsequent period, for the rebuilding of the temple—and I find a poor widow, who had but one farthing in the world, commended for casting it into the treasury, to be expended for the Lord. In whatever light then the lovers of this world may view such an appropriation of wealth, I have no hesitation in saying, that it will never be condemned by our God. What if, by means of it, God’s salvation be made known, and his name be glorified? What if many who have immortal souls, now sunk in ignorance and sin, “be turned by means of it from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God?” What if, by the erection of an altar here, there be in this place somewhat effected towards the accomplishment of that promise, “In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the Lord: and it shall be for a sign and for a witness to the Lord in the land of Egypt; for they shall cry unto the Lord because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a Saviour, and a Great One, and he shall deliver them [Note: Isaiah 19:19-20.] ?” Should God so honour this place, and so testify his acceptance of the sacrifices that shall here be offered, how will they bless him, who have been born to God in this place! and how will they bless him, who have been his honoured instruments of erecting an altar here, and of consecrating it to his service!

What now remains, but that I endeavour to improve this joyful occasion for the benefit of those who hear me?

Are there any here who are bowed down under a sense of sin? Peradventure, though you may have come hither only to witness a novelty, God has brought you hither to speak peace unto your souls, and to anoint you to the possession of a kingdom, when you have no more contemplated such an event than Saul did, when he was in the pursuit of his father’s asses. Know ye of a truth, that God is in this place, though ye may not be aware of it. Know, that he is a God of love and mercy, as much as ever he was in the days of old. Know that he has still the same right to dispense his blessings to whomsoever he will, even to the very chief of sinners. Know that he has not only the same communication with men as ever through the instrumentality of angels, but that he has access to the souls of men by his Holy Spirit, who is ready to impart unto you all the blessings of grace and glory. Know that the Seed promised to Jacob has come into the world, even the Lord Jesus Christ; and that he has fulfilled all that is necessary for our salvation. He has expiated our guilt by his own blood upon the cross; and has made reconciliation for us with our offended God; so that through Him all manner of sin shall be forgiven unto men, and “all who believe in him shall be justified from all things.” O Beloved, only look unto Him, and whatever were the load of guilt under which you groaned, you should find rest and peace unto your souls: “Where sin had abounded, His grace should much more abound:” and “though your sins were as scarlet, they should be as wool; though they were red like crimson, they should be white as snow.”

It may be that some one may have come hither, who, though not particularly bowed down with a sense of guilt, is oppressed with a weight of personal or domestic troubles. Who can tell? God may have brought such an one hither this day, in order to fill his soul with heavenly consolations. O that, if such an one be here, God may now appear unto him as a reconciled God, and “say unto him, I am thy salvation!” O that by the word now spoken in God’s name, there may this day be “given unto him beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that he may become a tree of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, and that God may be glorified!” You have done well that you have come hither; for it is in the house of prayer that God pours out more abundantly upon men the blessings of grace and peace: “He loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” Thousands and millions of afflicted souls have found in God’s house such discoveries of his love, and such communications of his grace, as they before had no conception of: and you at this hour, if you will lift up your soul to God in earnest prayer, and cast all your burthens upon him, shall say before you go hence, “This is the house of God: this is the gate of heaven.” Know of a truth, that one ray of the Sun of Righteousness is sufficient to dispel all the gloom and darkness of the most afflicted soul: and, if only you will direct your eyes to Him, however your afflictions may have abounded, your consolations shall much more abound.

I trust there are not wanting here some who can bear testimony to the truth of these things by their own experience; and who, from the discoveries which they have received of the Saviour’s love, “are filled with peace and joy in believing.” To such then will I say, Bless and magnify your God with all the powers of your souls: “let the children of Zion be joyful in their King;” let them “rejoice in the Lord alway;” let them “rejoice in Him with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” At the same time, even whilst they are, as it were, “at the very gate of heaven,” let me particularly caution them against that kind of joy which is tumultuous, and that kind of confidence which borders on presumption. There is a holy fear, which is rather increased than dissipated by heavenly joy; and a solemn awe, that always accompanies the manifestations of God to the soul. Observe the state of Jacob’s mind on this occasion: “He was afraid; and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Thus blended in its nature, thus tempered in its exercise, thus chastised in all its actings, should our joy be. It is of great importance that we should all remember this: for there is amongst the professors of religion much joy that is spurious, much confidence that is unhallowed. We may have great enlargement of heart; but we must “fear and be enlarged:” we may possess much joy; but we must “rejoice with trembling.” Even in heaven itself the glorified saints, yea, and the angels too, though they have never sinned, fall upon their faces before the throne, whilst they sing praises to God and to the Lamb. Let such then be your joy, and such your sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.

But let not all your gratitude evaporate in unsubstantial, though acceptable, emotions. Think with yourselves what you can do for Him, who has done so much for you. Say with yourselves, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits?” Think how you may improve your mercies for the good of your fellow-creatures, and the honour of your God. Of Jacob it is said, “He rose up early in the morning, and took the stone and raised it for a pillar.” Let it be thus with you also: lose no time in honouring your God to the utmost of your power. Account all you have, whether of wealth or influence, as given to you for that end. Determine that those who are around you shall have before them the evidences of true piety, and such memorials as shall, if possible, lead them to the knowledge of the true God. Jacob had it not in his power at that time to do all that his heart desired: but he did what he could; and twenty years afterwards, when his means of honouring God were enlarged, he executed all his projects, and performed the vows which he had made. Thus let your desires be expanded to the uttermost; and then fulfil them according to your ability. So shall you have within yourselves an evidence that God is with you of a truth; and having been faithful in a few things, you shall be rulers over many things in the kingdom of your God.


Verses 20-22

DISCOURSE: 46

JACOB’S VOW

Genesis 28:20-22. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, 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.

IT is thought by many, that it is wrong to make any kind of vows. But the propriety of making them depends on the manner in which they are made. If, for instance, we make them in our own strength; or hope that by them we can induce God to do for us what he is otherwise unwilling to perform; or imagine that the services which we stipulate to render unto God will be any compensation to him for the mercies he vouchsafes to us; we are guilty of very great presumption and folly. Vows are not intended to have the force of a bargain or compact, so as to involve the Deity in obligations of any kind; but merely to bind ourselves to the performance of something which was before indifferent, or to impress our minds more strongly with the necessity of executing some acknowledged duty. Of the former kind was Hannah’s vow, that if God would graciously give unto her a man-child, she would dedicate him entirely, and for ever, to his immediate service [Note: 1 Samuel 1:11.]. Independently of her vow, there was no necessity that she should consecrate him to the service of the tabernacle: but she greatly desired to bear a son; and determined, that if God heard her prayer, she would testify her gratitude to him in that way. Of the latter kind was the vow which Israel made to destroy both the Canaanites and their cities, if God would but deliver them into their hands [Note: Numbers 21:2.]. God had before enjoined them to do this; and therefore it was their bounden duty to do it: and their vow was only a solemn engagement to execute that command; which however they could not execute, unless he should be pleased to prosper their endeavours. That such vows were not displeasing to God, we are sure; because God himself gave special directions relative to the making of them, and the rites to be observed in carrying them into execution [Note: Numbers 6:2; Numbers 6:21.]. Even under the New-Testament dispensation we find Aquila vowing a vow in Cenchrea [Note: Acts 18:18.] ; and St. Paul himself uniting with others in the services, which the law prescribed to those who had the vows of Nazariteship upon them [Note: Acts 21:23-24.].

The first vow of which we read, is that contained in our text: and extremely instructive it is. It shews us,

I. Our legitimate desires—

Man, as compounded of soul and body, has wants and necessities that are proper to both: and whatsoever is necessary for them both, he may reasonably and lawfully desire. We may desire,

1. The presence and protection of God—

[The Israelites in their journeys from Egypt to the promised land passed through a “great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water [Note: Deuteronomy 8:15.]:” and such is this world wherein we sojourn. Dangers encompass us all around: and, if left to ourselves, we never can reach in safety the land to which we go. Well therefore may we adopt the language of Moses, when Jehovah threatened to withdraw from Israel his own immediate guardianship, and to commit them to the superintendence of an angel; “If thou go not up with us, carry us not up hence [Note: Exodus 33:1-3; Exodus 33:12-15.].” “It is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps [Note: Jeremiah 10:23.]:” nor will any created aid suffice for him: “his help is, and must be, in God alone.” If God guide us not, we must err; if He uphold us not, we must fall; if He keep us not, we must perish. We may therefore desire God’s presence with us, and so desire it, as never to rest satisfied one moment without it. “As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks,” says David, “so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God [Note: Psalms 42:1-2.].” And, when he had reason to doubt whether God was with him or not, his anguish was extreme: “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me, while they daily say unto me, Where is thy God [Note: Psalms 42:9-10.] ?” This was the language of the man after God’s own heart; and it should be the language also of our souls.]

2. A competent measure of earthly comforts—

[These also are necessary in this vale of tears. Food we must have to nourish our bodies, and raiment to cover us from the inclemencies of the weather: these therefore we may ask of God: beyond these we should have no desire: “Having food and raiment we should be therewith content [Note: 1 Timothy 6:8.].” To wish for more than these is neither wise [Note: Proverbs 30:8-9.], nor lawfull [Note: Jeremiah 45:5.]. Nor even for these should we be over-anxious. We should rather, like the fowls of the air, subsist on the providence of God, and leave it to Him to supply our wants in the way and measure that he shall see fit [Note: Matthew 6:25-26.]. Yet it is proper that we make it a part of our daily supplications; “Give us this day our daily bread.”]

3. The final possession of the promised land—

[Canaan was desired by Jacob not merely as an earthly inheritance, but chiefly as an earnest of that better land which it shadowed forth. None of the patriarchs regarded it as their home: “they dwelt in it as sojourners, and looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God [Note: Hebrews 11:9-10; Hebrews 11:13-16.].” There is for us also “a rest” which that land typified [Note: Hebrews 4:8-9.], and to which we should look as the end of all our labours [Note: Hebrews 11:26.], and the consummation of all our hopes [Note: 2 Timothy 4:8.]. It is “the inheritance to which we are begotten [Note: 1 Peter 1:3-4.],” and “the grace which shall surely be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:13.].” To be waiting for it with an assured confidence, and an eager desire [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 1:23.], is the attainment to which we should continually aspire; yea, we should be “looking for it and hasting to it” with a kind of holy impatience [Note: 2 Peter 3:12.], “groaning within ourselves for it, and travailing as it were in pain,” till the period for our complete possession of it shall arrive [Note: Romans 8:22-23.].]

All these things God had previously promised to Jacob [Note: 5.]: and he could not err, whilst making God’s promises the rule and measure of his desires. The engagement which he entered into, and to which he bound himself in this vow, shews us further,

II. Our bounden duties—

Though the particular engagement then made by Jacob is not binding upon us, yet the spirit of it is of universal obligation—

1. We must acknowledge God as our God—

[“Other lords have had dominion over us:” but they are all to be cast down as usurpers; and God alone is to be seated on the throne of our hearts [Note: Isaiah 26:13.]. No rival is to be suffered to remain within us: idols, of whatever kind they be, are to be “cast to the moles and to the bats.” We must avouch the Lord to be our only, our rightful, Sovereign, whom we are to love and serve with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength. Nor is it sufficient to submit to him merely as a Being whom we are unable to oppose: we must claim him with holy triumph as our God and portion, saying with David, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee [Note: Psalms 63:1.].” It is remarkable that this very state of mind, which was yet more conspicuous in Jacob in his dying hour, is represented as characterizing the people of God under the Christian dispensation: “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him; we will rejoice and be glad in his salvation [Note: Isaiah 25:9 with Genesis 49:18.].”]

2. To glorify him as God—

[The two particulars which Jacob mentions, namely, the building of an altar to the Lord on that very spot where God had visited him, and the consecrating to his especial service a tenth of all that God in his providence should give unto him, were optional, till he by this vow had made them his bounden duty. With those particulars we have nothing to do: but there are duties of a similar nature incumbent on us all. We must maintain in our families, and promote to the utmost in the world, the worship of God; and must regard our property as his, and, after we have “laboured with all our might” to serve him with it, must say, “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given thee [Note: 1 Chronicles 29:2; 1 Chronicles 29:14.].” There must be one question ever uppermost in the mind; What can I do for God; and “what can I render to him for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” Can I call the attention of others to him, so as to make him better known in the world? If I can, it shall be no obstacle to me that I am surrounded with heathens; nor will I be intimidated because I stand almost alone in the world: I will confess him openly before men: I will “follow my Lord and Saviour without the camp, bearing his reproach:” I will “esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt:” whether called to forsake all for him, or to give all to him, I will do it with alacrity, assured, that his presence in time, and his glory in eternity, will be an ample recompence for all that I can ever do or suffer for his sake. He has bought me with the inestimable price of his own blood; and therefore, God helping me, I will henceforth “glorify him with my body and my spirit, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.].”]

Address—

1. To those who are just entering upon the world—

[Be moderate in your desires after earthly things. You can at present have no conception how little they will contribute to your real happiness. Beyond food and raiment you can have nothing that is worth a thought. Solomon, who possessed more than any other man ever did, has pronounced it all to be vanity; and not vanity only, but vexation of spirit also. And, whilst it is so incapable of adding any thing to your happiness, it subjects you to innumerable temptations [Note: 1 Timothy 6:9.], impedes in a very great degree your progress heaven-ward [Note: Habakkuk 2:6.], and greatly endangers your everlasting welfare [Note: Matthew 19:23-24.]. “Love not the world then, nor any thing that is in it [Note: 1 John 2:15-16.]:” but “set your affections altogether on things above.” In your attachment to them there can be no excess. In your desire after God you cannot be too ardent: for “in his presence is life, and his loving-kindness is better than life itself.” Set before you the prize of your high calling, and keep it ever in view: and be assured that, when you have attained it, you will never regret any trials you sustained, or any efforts you put forth, in the pursuit of it. One hour spent in “your Father’s house “will richly repay them all.]

2. To those who have been delivered from trouble—

[It is common with persons in the season of deep affliction to make vows unto the Lord, and especially when drawing nigh to the borders of the grave. Now you perhaps in the hour of worldly trouble or of spiritual distress regretted that you had wasted so many precious hours in the pursuit of earthly cares and pleasures, and determined, if God should accomplish for you the wished-for deliverance, you would devote yourselves henceforth entirely to his service. But, when delivered from your sorrows, you have, like metal taken from the furnace, returned to your wonted hardness, and forgotten all the vows which were upon you. Even “Hezekiah rendered not to God according to the benefits conferred upon him,” and by his ingratitude brought on his whole kingdom the heaviest judgments, which would have fallen upon himself also, had he not deeply “humbled himself for the pride of his heart [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:25.].” Do ye then, Brethren, beware of trifling with Almighty God in matters of such infinite concern: “it were better never to vow, than to vow and not pay [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:4-5.].” God forgets not your vows, whether you remember them or not. At the distance of twenty years he reminded Jacob of his vows; and then accepted him in the performance of them [Note: Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:3; Genesis 35:6-7; Genesis 35:9-12.]. O beg of him to bring yours also to your remembrance! and then “defer not to pay them,” in a total surrender of yourselves to him, and a willing consecration of all that you possess to his service [Note: Romans 12:1; 1 Corinthians 8:3-5.].]

3. To those whom God has prospered—

[In how many is that saying verified, “Jeshurun waxed fit and kicked.” But, Beloved, let it not be so with you. It were better far that you were spoiled of every thing that you possess, and driven an exile into a foreign land, than that you should “forget God who has done so great things for you,” and rest in any portion short of that which God has prepared for them that love him. Who can tell? your prosperity may be only fattening you as sheep for the slaughter: and at the very moment you are saying, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry;” God may be saying,” Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” Know that every thing which thou hast is a talent to be improved for thy God. Hast thou wealth, or power, or influence of any kind, employ it for the honour of thy God, and for the enlargement and establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom. Then shalt thou be honoured with the approbation of thy God; even with the sweetest manifestations of his love in this world, and the everlasting enjoyment of his glory in the world to come.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 28:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-28.html. 1832.

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