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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Genesis 35

 

 

Verses 1-15

Genesis 35:1-15

God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there

Jacob’s second journey to Bethel

I.
IT WAS UNDERTAKEN AT THE CALL OF GOD.

II. IT WAS ACCOMPLISHED IN THE SPIRIT OF OBEDIENCE AND CONSECRATION.

III. IT WAS ACCOMPANIED BY THE DIVINE PROTECTION.

IV. IT WAS FOLLOWED BY INCREASED SPIRITUAL BLESSING.

1. The old promises were renewed.

2. He has increased knowledge of God.

3. His religious character is purified and raised. (T. H. Leale.)

The second journey of Jacob to Bethel

I. REFRESHING OF EARLY RECOLLECTIONS.

1. Respecting this pilgrimage to Bethel, observe, first, that it was done by Divine direction--“God said to Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel.” Let us not imagine that a voice spoke articulately. There were simple modes of thinking in those days; men had not learnt to philosophize on their mental operations. They strongly felt an impulse within them. They knew that it was a higher one, and in the simple poetry of thought they said, “God is speaking.” The voice that spoke to Jacob was the voice within him, the voice of conscience--the same voice that speaks to us.

2. Observe, secondly, Jacob’s preparation for this act of remembrance. He puts away the strange gods from his household.

3. The third thing we mark here is the consecration of the place (Genesis 35:1). It is not in reference to God, but for a help to our own feelings that we consecrate certain spots of earth and buildings. There are sacred places, not sacred for their own sake, but sacred to us. Where we have loved and lost, where we have gained new light and life, the church where our forefathers worshipped, the place where we first knew God--these are by instinct hallowed. Hence we are told that God met Jacob in Bethel; not that He came down from another place, for He is everywhere, but that Jacob experienced a feeling of awe, a feeling that God was then specially near to him. In this meeting of Jacob with God, there are two facts to observe.

II. THE GATHERING OF HIS DISFORTUNES.

1. The first of these was one not so keenly felt--the death of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse. He buried her at Bethel, under an oak (Genesis 35:8), and the story gives us an interesting view of the ancient relation between master and servant.

2. But Jacob’s second blow was of a different kind--Rachel dies, his early and youthful passion, his beloved wife, the only one whom, with all his strength of affection, Jacob loved, and whose children were dearer for her sake to him than all the others. Even his father and fondly indulgent self-sacrificing mother he seems to have regarded with coldness. From this moment he becomes a mourner for the rest of his life; and yet we can see the infinite good of this. Jacob was a selfish, comfort-loving man; these sorrows drew him out of himself to think of something higher.

3. The last blow was the death of Isaac. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Jacob’s return to Bethel

I. GOD REMINDS OF HIS BENEFACTIONS. “God, that appeared to thee,” &c.

1. An incident of the past brought to mind.

2. The place of future dwelling indicated.

3. Continual worship required for continued favours. The altar should not be absent from the home.

II. THE BENEFACTOR’S WILL OBEYED (Genesis 35:2-3).

1. An immediate response. “Then.”

2. A proposal for preparation. “Put away”--wrong thoughts, desires, purposes, practices.

3. A summons to Divine service. Self-devotion first, then concern for all whom we can influence.

III. THE BENEFACTOR’S GOODNESS ACKNOWLEDGED.

1. He declared God’s supremacy.

2. He owned God’s kindness.

3. He realized God’s presence. (M. Braithwaite.)

Lessons from the life of Jacob

I. EVERY SPIRITUAL HISTORY HAS ITS SPECIAL PLACES, WHERE MEMORY LOVES TO LINGER, AND WHERE SPIRITUAL POWER PERTAINS.

II. SPECIAL MERCIES DEMAND SPECIAL REMEMBRANCE.

III. THE TEXT MAY BE APPLIED TO A DEVOUT REMEMBRANCE OF THE TIME AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF OUR EARLY CHRISTIAN LIFE.

1. Diligence in searching the Scriptures.

2. Fervour of private prayer and devotion.

3. Careful cultivation of the public means of grace.

4. Ardour of Christian zeal and work. The strong man grows stronger by exercise, so the robust Christian is always an active one.

IV. BETHEL WAS THE SCENE OF “VOWS” WHICH HAD BEEN PARTIALLY NEGLECTED AND FORGOTTEN. Prosperity has turned more heads than Jacob’s.

V. “DWELL THERE.” A picture of a man of activity and business retiring to spend the leisure of age amidst the contemplations of religion and the memories of its power. (G. Deane, B. Sc.)

Jacob sent to Bethel

I. GOD’S COMMAND TO WORSHIP.

1. This intimates that God places man in the most favourable circumstances to obey His commandments.

2. It intimates the employment of man’s highest and noblest faculties.

3. It implies the necessity of having the consciousness of God’s presence.

4. It suggests the spirit of entire dependence upon God.

II. THE NECESSARY PREPARATION TO OBEY THIS COMMAND.

1. A willing heart.

2. A determination to have all obstacles removed.

3. A sincere love for the pure.

III. THE RESULT OF POSSESSING A WORSHIPPING SPIRIT.

1. A manifestation of Divine power.

2. Safety in the midst of foes. (Homilist.)

Forgetfulness of God’s goodness

I. HERE IS A REFERENCE TO JACOB’S PAST EXPERIENCE OF JEHOVAH’S KINDNESS. “The God that appeared to thee.”

1. His fleeing from the wrath of an enraged brother.

2. The manifestation of God to him as his Friend.

3. His consecration of himself to God.

II. HERE IS A CALL FOR GRATITUDE TO GOD FOR HIS PAST KINDNESS. “Arise, and go to Bethel.”

1. God was peculiarly kind to Jacob. He had given him more than he asked--two wives, ten children, and large possessions (chaps. 29., 30., 31.).

2. God had subdued the anger of his brother, even though Esau had kept it up twenty years.

3. Jacob returned to his own country, but forgot his vow. He settles down for eight years before he visits Bethel, and not then until visited by a domestic affliction, and God thereby reminded him of his neglected duties; then he and his household went up to Bethel, and paid his vows, and had a renewed instance of God’s favour.

III. HERE LEARN A LESSON OF GRATITUDE TO THE GOD OF ALL YOUR MERCIES. For this is recorded for that purpose.

1. How many mercies have you to be thankful for! Not only common, but special mercies.

2. Many a place has been a Bethel to the Christian’s soul.

3. Think of your vows and resolutions, and carry them out, and you will have renewed seasons of enjoyment, and fresh instances of the Divine favour. (The Evangelical Preacher.)

The forgotten vow

I. THE VOW MADE.

II. THE VOW FORGOTTEN. A common occurrence.

III. THE VOW CALLED TO REMEMBRANCE.

1. The Lord is never at a loss for means in order that His ends may be gained.

2. Mark the way in which He acts here.

3. Has not the Lord brought your vows to your remembrance?

IV. THE VOW PAID.

Lessons

1. How soon the influences of the most impressive scenes may pass away.

2. God’s forbearance when the performing of the vow is so long delayed.

3. By acting rightly ourselves, we influence others.

4. Bethel was to Jacob the house of God, and he went there. So it is right for you, in a particular place and in a marked manner, to perform your vow. (A. F. Barfield.)

Jacob returning to Bethel

I. JACOB WAS NOW IN A MOURNFUL STATE OF MIND, AND YET A VERY COMMON ONE.

1. Forgotten mercies.

2. Forgotten vows.

II. Let us look now at THE COMMAND GIVEN TO JACOB IN HIS FORGETFULNESS.

1. The Lord remembers our promises and vows.

2. The Lord often reminds His people of their forgotten mercies and vows. He did so in this case again and again.

III. We come now to our third point--THE OBEDIENCE THE PATRIARCH RENDERED TO THE DIVINE COMMAND.

1. Here is something to surprise us. There were strange gods, we find, in the house of Jacob at this time; yes, idols in the house of almost the only man in the world who worshipped the true God; and he knew they were there, and tolerated them. Well may we ask, how was this? We must go back for an answer. The Rachel whom he so tenderly loved, and for whom he had so patiently waited and laboured, was an amiable and affectionate woman; but she wanted one thing, and that one thing was a decided love for the Lord God of Israel. She had been brought up in an idolatrous country, and she herself was half an idolater. Accordingly, when he married her, he introduced a worshipper of false gods into his house; she had her secret idols, and she brought them with her. Here began, perhaps, Jacob’s own forgetfulness of God, and here undoubtedly began much of the ungodliness and wretchedness of his children. Shall I say that we may learn here the vast importance of the connections which we form in the days of our youth? that there is a loud warning given here to the pious young never to let their affections wind round one who does not plainly and decidedly love the Lord? to let the heart break rather than give the heart to an idolater? I had rather speak to men like this patriarch, men who have households, children, and servants. I would say to them, Dear brethren, look through your houses” and ask, “Are there no idols here? Is there nothing here that takes God’s place in our hearts or our children’s? Is there nothing here that is opposed to God’s will and law, and tends to God’s dishonour?” Bad books, bad company, dangerous amusements, practices which the world does not condemn nor even some of those who profess to live above the world, but such as will not bear the trial of Scripture for one moment, such as you would see the evil of in a moment did they not in some way or other fall in with your taste or interest--these are all idols; these will lead to irreligion and ungodliness in your houses: these will bring down on you God’s displeasure and judgments. Mischief will rise up in your families from these things, and through your families God will smite you for them.

2. There is something also here to instruct us. It is the promptitude and decision of the patriarch’s obedience. (J. Bradley, M. A.)

A call to religious observances

I. JACOB CALLED TO SERIOUS CONSIDERATION. Bethel was forgotten. How often is it forgotten by us! Time wears out the impressions of mercies received. Afflictions come upon us, public calamities, and the approach even of pestilence; we are alarmed and distracted, but we never think of our vow, and of raising our altar, and beginning a thorough, speedy downright conversion to God as the God of mercies. Brethren, we should often turn back the book of our lives. We are fond of reading many books, but no book would be so profitable as the book of our past history.

II. THE PROMPT OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE ADMONITION WHICH JACOB RENDERED. The pious man, the conscientious master of a house, loses no time when Providence concurs with his own conviction of duty, in rousing him to religion, and in reminding him of his past neglects and family derelictions; and, therefore, we find Jacob addressing his household, and all that were with him, thus: “Put away the strange gods,” &c.

1. Jacob addresses his household as one who well knew that he was answerable to God for it.

2. He exhorts them to put away the strange gods that were among them. Alas! idols will enter the best family, in spite of Jacob, because they are the creatures of the human heart, and they regard not Jacob’s prohibition. Therefore, when providences are moving, when conscience is awakened, when every heart trembles, then Jacob must say to his family--and every head of a family, every master, every parent, must say unto his household--“Put away the strange gods that are among you.” For whatever takesthe place in our heart of the Lord God, is a strange god and an idol; whatever takes the place of God’s name is an idol; whatever takes the place of God’s revelation, God’s truth, is an idol. A strange god! “Covetousness, which is idolatry.” A strange god! The world is the strange god of the worldly-minded. Talents, beauty of person, dress, pleasure, are the strange gods of the young.

3. But besides putting away their strange gods, Jacob called his family to purity of heart. “Be clean, and change your garments.”

4. Family prayer. The preceding led up to this.

At Bethel again

I. THY ADMONITION FROM GOD. How common a fault it is, to put off some religions duty to what we think a more convenient season! Then, oftentimes, God reminds us by some affliction--some loss--some calamity--of our want of earnestness, and bids us do what we had long left undone in His service.

II. THE PURIFICATION OF JACOB’S HOUSEHOLD.

1. The strange gods were to be given up and put away.

2. They were, moreover, to cleanse themselves and to change their clothes. Outward signs of inward consecration and cleansing.

III. THE FULFILMENT OF JACOB’S VOW.

IV. THE RENEWAL OF GOD’S PROMISE.

1. God reminds Jacob of his recent change of name.

2. God reminds Jacob of His own Almighty power.

3. God renews the Abrahamic promise in its threefold form of--

Family reformation; or, Jacob’s second visit to Bethel

There are critical times in mast families; times when much decision of character will be needed on the part of the father to guide things aright. Even the heathen outside began to smell the ill savour of Jacob’s disorganized family, and the one alternative was--mend or end. If you notice, Jacob himself was in a bad way. His business was to remain in Canaan a mere sojourner, dwelling in tents, not one of the people, but moving about among them, testifying that he looked for “a city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He expected to inherit the land, but, for the time being, he was to be a stranger and a sojourner, as his fathers Abraham and Isaac had been. Yet at Succoth we read that he built booths--scarcely houses, I suppose, but more than tents. It was a compromise, and a compromise is often worse than a direct and overt disobedience of command. He dares not erect a house, but he builds a booth and thus shows his desire for a settled life; and though it is not ours to judge the purchase of land at Shechem, still it looks in the same direction. Jacob is endeavouring to find a resting-place where Abraham and Isaac had none. I will not speak too positively, but the patriarch’s acts look as if he desired to find a house for himself, where he might rest and be on familiar terms with the inhabitants of the land. Now the Lord his God would not have it so. Children of God cannot mix with the world without mischief. The world does hurt to us and we to it when once be begin to be of the world and like it. It is an ill-assorted match. Fire and water were never meant to be blended. The seed of the woman must not mix with the seed of the serpent. A stand must be made. Something behoves to be done, and Jacob must do it. The Lord comes in, and He speaks with Jacob, and since the good man’s heart was sound towards God’s statutes, the Lord had only to speak to him and he obeyed. He was pulled up short, and made to look at things, and set his house in order, and he did so with that resolution of character which comes out in Jacob when he is brought into a strait, but which at other times is not perceptible.

I. First, then, WHAT WAS TO BE DONE?

1. The first thing to do was to make a decided move. God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there.” You must hasten away from Shechem, with its fertile plains, and make a mountain journey up to Bethel, and dwell there. You have been long enough near these Shechemites; mischief has come from your being so intimate with the world. You must cut a trench between yourselves and the associations you have formed, and you must go up to Bethel and remain there awhile. Every now and then we shall find it necessary to say to ourselves and to our family, “We must come out from among worldlings, we must be separate. We are forming connections which are injurious to us, and we must snap the deceitful bonds.”

2. Now they must revive old memories. “Go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.” A revival of old memories is often most useful to us, especially to revive the memory of our conversion. Then you must come back to your first hours of communion. Where you lost your joy you will find it, for it remains where you left it. Then go back mourning and sighing to Bethel, and pray that the old feelings may be revived in you.

3. But now, again, Jacob must keep an old vow. I do not quite remember how many years old that vow was, but I suppose some thirty or so; yet he had not kept it. Be very slow to make vows, brethren--very slow. They should be but very seldom presented, because all that you can do for God you are bound to do as it is; and a vow is often a superfluity of superstition. But if the vow be made, let it not wait beyond its time, and complain of thee to thy God. An old and forgotten vow will rot and breed most solemn discomfort to thy heart; at first it will gnaw at thy conscience, and if thy conscience at last grows hardened to it, others of thy powers will suffer the same petrifying process. Moreover, a vow forgotten will bring chastisement on thee, and perhaps the rod will fall upon thy family.

4. It appeared to Jacob, next, that if he was to fulfil his vow, it was necessary to reform his whole house; for he could not serve the Lord and worship other gods. He said to all that were with him--to his sons first, and then to his hired servants and the rest--“Put away the strange gods that are among you.” Yes, it must come to that. If I am to get back to my old position with God I must break my idols. And then next he said, “Be clean.” There was to be, I suppose, a general washing, indicative of purgation of character by going to God with repentance and seeking forgiveness. Jacob also said, “Change your garments.” This was symbolic of an entire renewal of life, though I fear me they were not all renewed. At any rate this is what was symbolized by “Change your garments.” Alas, it is easier to say this to our families than it is to get them to do it. And do we wonder? Since it is so much easier for ourselves to say than it is for ourselves to do. Yet, beloved, if your walk is to be close with God, if you are to commune with the God of Bethel, you must be cleansed.

5. Well, then, the next and last thing which they were to do was to celebrate special worship. “Let us arise, and go up to Bethel, and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.” When we get wrong and feel that there must be a decided change, we must set apart special times of devotion. Family prayer is the nutriment of family piety, and woe to those who allow it to cease. I read the other day of parents who said they could not have family prayer, and one asked this question: “If you knew that your children would be sick through the neglect of family prayer, would you not have it? If one child was smitten down with fever each morning that you neglected prayer, how then?” Oh, then they would have it. “And if there was a law that you should be fined five shillings if you did not meet for prayer, would you find time for it?” Yes. “And if there were five pounds given to all who had family prayer, would you not by some means arrange to have it?” Yes. And so the inquirer went on with many questions, and wound up with this: “Then it is but an idle excuse when you, who profess to be servants of God, say that you have no time or opportunity for family prayer!” Should idle excuses rob God of His worship and our families of a blessing? Begin to pray in your families, and especially if things have gone wrong get them right by drawing near to God more distinctly.

II. And now I come to my second point--WHAT HAPPENED IN THE DOING OF IT? Well, several things happened, and one or two of those were rather surprising.

1. The first was that all heartily entered into the reforming work. I am sure they did, because the fourth verse says, “They gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands”--all of them--“and all their earrings which were in their ears.” He had not said anything about their earrings. Was there any hurt in their earrings? For a woman to wear an earring is not such a dreadful thing, is it? Perhaps not, but I suppose that these earrings were charms, and that they were used in certain incantations, and heathenish customs. Now, as soon as Jacob speaks they all give up their idols and their earrings. I like this. It is a blessed thing when a man of God takes a stand, and speaks, and finds that his family are all ready to follow. Perhaps it was the fear that was upon them just then, the fear of the nations round about which made them so obedient. I am not sure it was a work of grace; but still, as far as outward appearance went, there was a willing giving up of all that could have grieved the Lord. And you will sometimes be pleased, Christian friends, when things get wrong and you determine to set them right, to see how others will yield to your determination. You ought to take courage from this.

2. Another circumstance happened, namely, that protection was afforded him, immediate and complete. “They journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.” “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him”; and now that Jacob has determined to set things right he walks unharmed. You do not know how much of personal trouble which you are now bearing will vanish as soon as you determine to stand out for God. You do not know how much of family difficulty that now covers you with dread will vanish when you yourself have feared the Lord, and have come forth decidedly and determinedly to do the right.

3. In the next place the vow was performed. They came to Bethel, and I can almost picture the grateful delight of Jacob as he looked upon those great stones among which he had lain him down to sleep, a lonely man. He thought of the past, rejoiced in the present, and hoped for the future, for now he had come to be with God and to draw near to Him.

4. But what else happened? Why, now there came a death and a funeral. Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died. Her name means a bee. And we have had old nurses ourselves, have we not, who have been like busy bees in our household. The good nurse died when they seemed to want her most, but it was better for her to die then than that she should have departed when Dinah’s shame and Simeon’s crime had made the household dark. It was better that she should live to see them purged from idols and on the road to her old master Isaac, for then she would feel as if she could say, “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” The moral of the incident is that the Lord may heat the fire all the more when He sees the refining process going on, and we must receive the further trial as a token of love and not of anger if He smites us heavily when we are honestly endeavouring to seek His face.

III. Now we close with the third head, namely, WHAT FOLLOWED THEREON. All this putting away of idols and going to Bethel--did anything come of it? Yes.

1. First, there was a new appearance of God. Read the ninth verse. “And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him”: this was a new appearance of God. It is worth while to have been purged and cleansed, and to have done anything to be favoured with one of those Divine visits in which we almost cry with Paul, “Whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell: God knoweth.” A clear view of God in Christ Jesus and a vivid sense of Jesus’ love is a sweet reward for broken idols and Bethel reformations.

2. The next thing that came of it was a confirmation to Jacob of his title of prince, which conferred a dignity on the whole family. For a father to be a prince ennobles all the clan. God now puts upon them another dignity and nobility which they had not known before, for a holy people are a noble people. You that live in God’s presence are in the peerage of the skies. Such honour have all the saints who follow the Lord fully. God help us to keep close to Jesus, and enjoy daily communion with Him.

3. And then, next, there was given to Jacob and his family a vast promise, which was, in some degree, an enlargement of a promise made to Isaac and to Abraham before. “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.” I do not remember anything said to Abraham about a company of nations, or about kings coming out of his loins, but out of the loins of Israel, a prince, princes may come. God puts upon His promise a certain freshness of vastness and infinity now that Jacob has drawn near to Him. Brethren, God will give us no new promise, but He will make the old promises look wondrously new. He will enlarge our vision so that we shall see what we never saw before. Have you ever had a painting which hung neglected in, some back room? Did it one day strike you that you would have it framed and brought into a good light? When you saw it properly hung on the wall did you not exclaim, “Dear me! I never noticed that picture before. How wonderfully it has come out”? And many and many a promise in God’s Word will never be noticed by you till it is set in a new frame of experience. Then, when it is hung up before you, you will be lost in admiration of it.

4. I will not detain you except to say that you may also expect very familiar communion. Notice the thirteenth verse, “God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.” Talked with him! Talked with him! It is such a familiar word. God talking with man. We say “conversing” when we are speaking in a dignified manner; but “talking!” Oh that blessed condescension of God when He speaks to us in the familiar tones of His great love in Christ Jesus. There is a way of converse with God which no tongue can explain: they only know it who have enjoyed it. (C. H.Spurgeon.)

The revival

1. Observe, a season of prosperity is too frequently a season of religious decline. The religion of the Gospel, though it is a scheme of mercy, is a system of discipline. An undisturbed enjoyment of the goods of this world has, at the best, a sensualizing tendency. Now it is in these circumstances of repose--of gradual yielding to allowed indulgence--of lethargic sinking into spiritual self-complacency and inactivity, that men are apt to forget the vows of their distress, and, even within the sphere of their own influence and authority, to suffer sin around them without marking it with that holy indignation with which, at one time, it would have been reprobated and discountenanced. Without meaning to justify any thing decidedly wrong, the declining Christian, from the consciousness of his own listless and unprosperous state, and from a false application of the very principle of justice, deals more leniently with the faults of those around him than he would have done formerly, and remains silent when he ought to administer reproof. In the midst of comforts and indulgence we lose something of that holy jealousy, circumspection and activity, to which the heavy pressure of affliction and temptation had given birth.

2. But observe that God will not suffer His people to sink habitually into this state of spiritual sloth. He will, in His own time, deal strictly and retributively with the true Israel. We see this in the case of Jacob. Painful and humiliating as was the visitation to which he was exposed, yet the whole evil might easily be traced to one source. The disgrace of his daughter, the fraud and cruelty of his sons, the dishonour and danger of his whole family, and the stain brought upon the cause of God and truth, might be all fairly attributed to his incautious sojourning among an unenlightened and careless people, at a time when he should have hastened to Bethel for the performance of his vow. The more we are enabled to look into the history of individual Christians, the more we shall find that their respected afflictions are especially calculated to correct the prevailing evil of their characters; and that they may be traced to close connection with some of their prominent moral defects. The naturally proud man is frequently touched in the very core of his pride. The covetous man is often annoyed by worldly anxieties and losses. Still even the afflictions which are permitted to arise out of a Christian’s errors have a merciful intention. Their specific object is the more ample sanctification of his soul and body. They are to work out for him “the peaceable fruits of righteousness.”

3. But observe, that when God really calls a man to a review, and a cleansing of his ways, He makes him serious and in earnest. Any attempts at reformation which originate in merely human effort, are in their extent partial, and in their duration transitory. And it is indeed a beautiful sight when we see the soul of a sincere Christian thoroughly awakened by the dispensations of providence, and by the quickening power of the Spirit of grace, to renewed devotion and activity for God. When the command comes with power into the soul, “Arise, and go up to Bethel,” then there is no more parleying, delaying, or excuse. The same spirit is shown in the conduct of Jacob. He appears at once to have been roused to aim strenuously at the revival of religion both in himself and his family; and he addresses himself without delay to the confession of his neglect, to the performance of his duty, and to a close inspection into the state of his household, that they also, in whatsoever thing they had sinned against the Lord, should be thoroughly reformed and corrected. Such a work of revival is the work of God; and wherever it occurs, it will be marked by certain characteristics which cannot easily be mistaken; for they savour too strongly of that heaven from whence alone grace and holiness flow, to be fairly attributed to any other source. The call of God to renewed devotion produces a sincere surrender of all idolatrous attachments, either to the things or the persons of this world. “Put away your strange gods. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods that were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them in the oak which was Shechem.” The call of God produces a cessation from all impurity of the flesh and of the spirit. The reviving call of God will appear in an honest endeavour to repair those breaches which negligence has made, and to remedy by greater effort the evil of time wasted, opportunities lost, evil habits acquired and strengthened, and vows unpaid. “Let us arise, and go up to Bethel, and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress.” The call of God to a revival of religion will appear in a renewed and faithful application, in the means of grace, to God, as a reconciled and covenant God; and this one of the most prominent features--one of the most satisfactory indications of a sincere revival of religious hope and devotion. Again; a sincere revival of religious influence in the heart leads to renewed endeavours to produce a gracious change in those connections over whom we have any influence. It is not sufficient to a gracious spirit to serve God alone. If we feel His love, and value His salvation, we shall be anxious for others--both for the honour of God, and for their eternal welfare. The unfailing mercy of the Lord extended yet farther; for we observe that when the humbled and penitent patriarch presented himself at last at Bethel, and built his promised altar there, “God appeared unto him again,” in unchanging faithfulness and grace, “and blessed him, and renewed with him there His covenant and His promise.” The subject addresses itself especially to one class of hearers--to those who, by experience, can sympathize with Jacob in this part of his history. It speaks to those who have “felt the powers of the world to come, and tasted of the heavenly gift.” (E Craig.)


Verses 1-29

JACOB’S RETURN

Genesis 35:1-29

"As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way."- Genesis 48:7

The words of the Wrestler at the brook Jabbok, "Let me go, for the day breaketh," express the truth that spiritual things will not submit themselves to sensible tests. When we seek to let the full daylight, by which we discern other objects, stream upon them, they elude our grasp. When we fancy we are on the verge of having our doubts for ever scattered, and our suppositions changed into certainties, the very approach of clear knowledge and demonstration seems to drive those sensitive spiritual presences into darkness. As Pascal remarked, and remarked as the mouthpiece of all souls that have earnestly sought for God, the world only gives us indications of the presence of a God Who conceals Himself. It is, indeed, one of the most mysterious characteristics of our life in this world that the great Existence which originates and embraces all other Beings should Himself be so silent and concealed: that there should be need of subtle arguments to prove His existence, and that no argument ever conceived has been found sufficiently cogent to convince all men. One is always tempted to say, how easy to end all doubt, how easy for God so to reveal Himself as to make unbelief impossible, and give to all men the glad consciousness that they have a God.

The reason of this "reserve" of God must lie in the nature of things. The greatest forces in nature are silent and unobtrusive and incomprehensible. Without the law of gravitation the universe would rush into ruin, but who has ever seen this force? Its effects are everywhere visible, but itself is shrouded in darkness and cannot be comprehended. So much more must the Infinite Spirit remain unseen and baffling all comprehension. "No man hath seen God at any time" must ever remain true. To ask for God’s name, therefore, as Jacob did, is a mistake. For almost every one supposes that when he knows the name of a thing he knows also its nature. The giving of a name, therefore, tends to discourage enquiry, and to beget an unfounded satisfaction as if, when we know what a thing is called, we know what it is. The craving, therefore, which we all feel in common with Jacob-to have all mystery swept from between us and God, and to see Him face to face, so that we may know Him as we know our friends-is a craving which cannot be satisfied. You cannot ever know God as He is. Your mind cannot comprehend a Being who is pure Spirit, inhabiting no body, present with you here but present also hundreds of millions of miles away, related to time and to space and to matter in ways utterly impossible for you to comprehend.

What is possible, God has done. He has made Himself known in Christ. We are assured, on testimony that stands every kind of test, that in Him, if nowhere else, we find God. And yet even by Christ this same law of reserve if not concealment was observed. Not only did He forbid men and devils to proclaim who He was but when men, weary of their own doubts and debatings, impatiently challenged him, "If thou be the Christ tell us plainly," He declined to do so. For really men must grow to the knowledge of Him. Even a human face cannot be known by once or twice seeing it; the practised artist often misses the expression best loved by the intimate friend, or by the relative whose own nature interprets to him the face in which he sees himself reflected. Much more can the child of God only attain to the knowledge of his Father’s face by first of all being a child of God, and then by gradually growing up into His likeness.

But though God’s operation is in darkness the results of it are in the light. "As Jacob passed over Peniel, the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh." As Jacob’s company halted when they missed him, and as many anxious eyes were turned back into the darkness, they were unable still to see him; and even when the darkness began to scatter, and they saw dimly and far off a human figure, the sharpest eyes among them declare it cannot be Jacob, for the gait and walk, which alone they can judge by at that distance and in that light, are not his. But when at last the first ray of sunlight streams on him from over the hills of Gilead, all doubt is at an end; it is Jacob, but halting on his thigh. And he himself finds it is not a strain which the walking of a few paces will ease, nor a night cramp which will pass off, nor a mere dream which would vanish in broad day, but a real permanent lameness which he must explain to his company. Has he missed a step on the bank in the darkness, or stumbled or slipped on the slippery stones of the ford? It is a far more real thing to him than any such accident. So, however others may discredit the results of a work on the soul which they have not seen-however they may say of the first and most obvious results, "This is but a sickness of soul which the rising sun will dispel; a feigned peculiarity of walk which will be forgotten in the bustle of the day’s work"-it is not so, but every contact with real life makes it more obvious that when God touches a man the result is real. And as Jacob’s household and children in all generations counted that sinew which shrank sacred, and would not eat of it, so surely should we be reverential towards God’s work in the soul of our neighbour, and respect even those peculiarities which are often the most obvious first-fruits of conversion, and which make it difficult for us to walk in the same comfort with these persons, and keep step with them as easily as once we did. A reluctance to live like other good people, an inability to share their innocent amusements, a distaste for the very duties of this life, a harsh or reserved bearing towards unconverted persons, an awkwardness in speaking of their religious experience, as well as an awkwardness in applying it to the ordinary circumstances of their life, -these and many other of the results of God’s work on the soul should not be rudely dealt with, but respected; for though not in themselves either seemly or beneficial, they are evidence of God’s touch.

After this contest with the angel, the meeting of Jacob with Esau has no separate significance. Jacob succeeds with his brother because already he has prevailed with God. He is on a satisfactory footing now with the Sovereign who alone can bestow the land and judge betwixt him and his brother. Jacob can no longer suppose that the chief obstacle to his advance is the resentment of Esau. He has felt and submitted to a stronger hand than Esau’s. Such schooling we all need: and get, if we will take it. Like Jacob, we have to make our way to our end through numberless human interferences and worldly obstacles. Some of these we have to flee from, as Jacob from Laban; others we must meet and overcome, as our Esaus. Our own sin or mistake has put us under the power of some whose influence is disastrous; others, though we are not under their power at all, yet, consciously or unconsciously to themselves, continually cross our path and thwart us, keep us back and prevent us from effecting what we desire, and from shaping things about us according to our own ideas. And there will, from time to time, be present to our minds obvious ways in which we could defeat the opposition of these persons, and by which we fancy we could triumph over them. And what we are here taught is, that we need look for no triumph, and it is a pity for us if we win a triumph over any human opposition, however purely secular and unchristian, without first having prevailed with God in the matter. He comes in between us and all men and things, and, laying His hand on us, arrests us from further progress till we have to the very bottom and in every part adjusted the affair with Him-and then, standing right with Him, we can very easily, or at least we can, get right with all things. And it should be a suggestive and fruitful thought to the most of us that, in all cases in which we sin against our brother, God presents Himself as the champion of the wronged party. One day or other we must meet not the strongest putting of all those. cases in which we have erred as the offended party could himself put them, but we must meet them as put by the Eternal Advocate of justice and right, who saw our spirit, our merely selfish calculating, our base motive, our impure desire, our unrighteous deed. Gladly would Jacob have met the mightiest of Esau’s host in place of this invincible opponent, and it is this same Mighty One, this same watchful guardian of right Who threw Himself in Jacob’s way, Who has His eye on us, Who has tracked us through all our years, and Who will certainly one time appear in our path-as the champion of every one we have wronged, of every one whose soul we have put in jeopardy, of every one to whom we have not done what God intended we should do, of every one whom we have attempted merely to make use of; and in stating their case and showing us what justice and duty would have required of us, He will make us feel, what we cannot feel till He Himself convinces us, that, in all our dealings with men, wherein we have wronged them we have wronged Him.

The narrative now prepares to leave Jacob and make room for Joseph. It brings him back to Bethel, thereby completing the history of his triumph over the difficulties with which his life had been so thickly studded. The interest and much of the significance of a man’s life come to an end when position and success are achieved. The remaining notices of Jacob’s experience are of a sorrowful kind; he lives under a cloud until at the close the sun shines out again. We have seen him in his youth making experiments in life; in his prime founding a family and winning his way by slow and painful steps to his own place in the world; and now he enters on the last stage of his life. a stage in which signs of breaking up appear almost as soon as he attains his aim and place in life.

After all that had happened to Jacob, we should have expected him to make for Bethel as rapidly as his unwieldy company could be moved forwards. But the pastures that had charmed the eye of his grandfather captivated Jacob as well. He bought land at Shechem, and appeared willing to settle there. The vows which he had uttered with such fervour when his future was precarious are apparently quite forgotten, or more probably neglected, now that danger seems past. To go to Bethel involved the abandonment of admirable pastures, and the introduction of new religious views and habits into his family life. A man who has large possessions, difficult and precarious relations to sustain with the world, and a household unmanageable from its size, and from the variety of dispositions included in it, requires great independence and determination to carry out domestic reform on religious grounds. Even a slight change in our habits is often delayed because we are shy of exposing to observation fresh and deep convictions on religious subjects. Besides, we forget oar fears and our vows when the time of hardship passes away; and that which, as young men, we considered almost hopeless, we at length accept as our right, and omit all remembrance and gratitude. A spiritual experience that is separated from your present by twenty years of active life, by a foreign residence, by marriage, by the growing up of a family around you, by other and fresher spiritual experiences, is apt to be very indistinctly remembered. The obligations you then felt and owned have been overlaid and buried in the lapse of years. And so it comes that a low tone is introduced into your life, and your homes cease to be model homes.

Out of this condition Jacob was roughly awakened. Sinning by unfaithfulness and softness towards his family, he is, according to the usual law, punished by family disaster of the most painful kind. The conduct of Simeon and Levi was apparently due quite as much to family pride and religious fanaticism as to brotherly love or any high moral view. In them first we see how the true religion, when held by coarse and ungodly men, becomes the root of all evil. We see the first instance of that fanaticism which so often made the Jews a curse rather than a blessing to other nations. Indeed, it is but an instance of the injustice, cruelty, and violence that at all times result where men suppose that they themselves are raised to quite peculiar privileges and to a position superior to their fellows, without recognising also that this position is held by the grace of a holy God and for the good of their fellows.

Jacob is now compelled to make a virtue of necessity. He flees to Bethel to escape the vengeance of the Shechemites. To such serious calamities do men expose themselves by arguing with conscience and by refusing to live up to their engagements. How can men be saved from living merely for sheep-feeding and cattle-breeding and trade and enjoyment? how can they be saved from gradually expelling from their character all principle and all high sentiment that conflicts with immediate advantage and present pleasure, save by such irresistible blows as here compelled Jacob to shift his camp? He has spiritual perception enough left to see what is meant. The order is at once issued: "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went." Thus frankly does he acknowledge his error, and repair, so far as he can, the evil he has done. Thus decidedly does he press God’s command on those whom he had hitherto encouraged or connived at. Even from his favourite Rachel he takes her gods and buries them. The fierce Simeon and Levi, proud of the blood with which they had washed out their sister’s stain, are ordered to cleanse their garments and show some seemly sorrow, if they can.

If years go by without any such incident occurring in our life as drives us to a recognition of our moral laxity and deterioration, and to a frank and humble return to a closer walk with God, we had need to strive to awaken ourselves and ascertain whether we are living up to old vows and are really animated by thoroughly worthy motives. It was-when Jacob came back to the very spot where he had lain on the open hillside, and pointed out to his wives and children the stone he had set up to mark the spot, that he felt humbled as he cast his eye over the flocks and tents he now owned. And if you can, like Jacob, go back to spots in your life which were very woful and perplexed, years even when all continued dreary, dark, and hopeless, when friendlessness and poverty, bereavement or disease, laid their chilling, crushing hands upon you, times when you could not see what possible good there was for you in the world; and if now all this is solved, and your condition is in the most striking contrast to what you can remember, it becomes you to make acknowledgment to God such as you may have made to your friends, such acknowledgment as makes it plain that you are touched by His kindness. The acknowledgment Jacob made was sensible and honest. He put away the gods which had divided the worship of his family. In our life there is probably that which constantly tends to usurp an undue place in our regard; something which gives us more pleasure than the thought of God, or from which we really expect a more palpable benefit than we expect from God, and which, therefore, we cultivate with far greater assiduity. How easily, if we really wish to be on a clear footing with God, can we discover what things should be cast revengefully from us, buried and stamped upon and numbered with the things of the past. Are there not in your life any objects for the sake of which you sacrifice that nearness to God, and that sure hold of Him you once enjoyed? Are you not conscious of any pursuits, or hopes, or pleasures, or employments which practically have the effect of making you indifferent to spiritual advancement, and which make you shy of Bethel-shy of all that sets clear before you your indebtedness to God, and your own past vows and resolves?

"But," continues the narrative, "but Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died": that is, although Jacob and his house were now living in the fear of God, that did not exempt them from the ordinary distresses of family life. And among these, one that falls on us with a chastening and mild sadness all its own, occurs when there passes from the family one of its oldest members, and one who has by the delicate tact of love gained influence over all, and has by the common consent become the arbiter and mediator, the confidant and counsellor of the family. They, indeed, are the true salt of the earth whose own peace is so deep and abiding, and whose purity is so thorough and energetic, that into their ear we can disburden the troubled heart or the guilty conscience, as the wildest brook disturbs not and the most polluted fouls not the settled depths of the all-cleansing ocean. Such must Deborah have been, for the oak under which she was buried was afterwards known as "the oak of weeping." Specially must Jacob himself have mourned the death of her whose face was the oldest in his remembrance, and with whom his mother and his happy early days were associated. Very dear to Jacob, as to most men, were those who had been connected with and could tell him of his parents, and remind him of his early years. Deborah, . by treating him still as a little boy, perhaps the only one who now called him by the pet name of childhood, gave him the pleasantest relief from the cares of manhood and the obsequious deportment of the other members of his household towards him. So that when she went a great blank was made to him: no longer was the wise and happy old face seen in her tent door to greet him of an evening; no longer could he take refuge in the peacefulness of her old age from the troubles of his lot: she being gone, a whole generation was gone, and a new stage of life was entered on.

But a heavier blow, the heaviest that death could inflict, soon fell upon him. She who had been as God’s gift and smile to him since ever he had left Bethel at the first is taken from him now that he is restored to God’s house. The number of his sons is completed, and the mother is removed. Suddenly and unexpectedly the blow fell, as they were journeying and fearing no ill. Notwithstanding the confident and cheering, though ambiguous, assurances of those about her, she had that clear knowledge of her own state which, without contradicting, simply put aside such assurances, and, as her soul was departing, feebly named her son Benoni, Son of my sorrow. She felt keenly what was, to a nature like hers, the very anguish of disappointment. She was never to feel the little creature stirring in her arms with personal human life, nor see him growing up to manhood as the son of his father’s right hand. It was this sad death of Rachel’s which made her the typical mother in Israel. It was not an unclouded, merely prosperous life which could fitly have foreshadowed the lives of those by whom the promised seed was to come; and least of all of the virgin to whom it was said, "A sword shall pierce through thine own soul also." It was the wait of Rachel that poetical minds among the Jews heard from time to time mourning their national disasters -Rachel weeping for her children, when by captivity they were separated from their mother country, or when by the sword of Herod, the mothers of Bethlehem were bereaved of their babes. But it was also observed that that which brought this anguish on the mothers of Bethlehem was the birth there of the last Son of Israel, the blossom of this long-growing plant, suddenly born after a long and barren period, the son of Israel’s right hand.

Still another death is registered in this chapter. It took place twelve years after Joseph went into Egypt, but is set down here for convenience. Esau and Jacob are, for the last time, brought together over their dead father-and for the last time, as they see that family likeness which comes out so strikingly in the face of the dead. do they feel drawn with brotherly affection to greet one another as sons of one father. In the dead Isaac too, they find an object of veneration more impressive than they had found in the living father: the infirmities of age are exchanged for the mystery and majesty of death; the man has passed out of reach of pity, of contempt: the shrill, uncontrolled treble is no longer heard, there are no weak, plaintive movements, no childishness; but a solemn, august silence, a silence that seems to bid on-lookers be still and refrain from disturbing the first communings of the departed spirit with things unseen.

The tenderness of these two brothers towards one another and towards their father was probably quickened by remorse when they met at his deathbed. They could not, perhaps, think that they had hastened his end by causing him anxieties which age has not strength to throw off; but they could not miss the reflection that the life now closed and finally sealed up might have been a much brighter life had they acted the part of dutiful, loving sons. Scarcely can one of our number pass from among us without leaving in our minds some self-reproach that we were not more kindly towards him, and that now he is beyond our kindness; that our opportunity for being brotherly towards him is forever gone. And when we have very manifestly erred in this respect, perhaps there are among all the stings of a guilty conscience few more bitterly piercing than this. Many a son who has stood unmoved by the tears of a living mother-his mother by whom he lives, who has cherished him as her own soul, who has forgiven and forgiven and forgiven him, who has toiled and prayed, and watched for him-though he has hardened himself against her looks of imploring love and turned carelessly from her entreaties and burst through all the fond cords and snares by which she has sought to keep him, has yet broken down before the calm, unsolicitous, resting face of the dead. Hitherto he has not listened to her pleadings, and now she pleads no more. Hitherto she has heard no word of pure love from him, and now she hears no more. Hitherto he has done nothing for her of all that a son may do, and now there is nothing he can do. All the goodness of her life gathers up and stands out at once, and the time for gratitude is past. He sees suddenly, as by the withdrawal of a veil, all that that worn body has passed through for him, and all the goodness these features have expressed, and now they can never light up with joyful acceptance of his love and duty. Such grief as this finds its one alleviation in the knowledge that we may follow those who have gone before us; that we may yet make reparation. And when we think how many we have let pass without those frank, human, kindly offices we might have rendered, the knowledge that we also shall be gathered to our people comes in as very cheering. It is a grateful thought that there is a place where we shall be able to live rightly, where selfishness will not intrude and spoil all, but will leave us free to be to our neighbour all that we ought to be and all that we would be.


Verses 2-4

Genesis 35:2-4

Put away the strange gods that are among you

The putting away of idols

I.
MANY CHRISTIANS ARE SUFFERING FROM SPIRITUAL DECLENSION. They hardly realize it, it has crept on them so quietly; but they have drifted far away from their Bethel and Penuel. Gray hairs are on a man before he knows. Summer fruit is beginning to rot within long before its surface is pitted with specks. The leaf’s connection with the branch is severed, even when it looks green. The devil is too shrewd to make Judases at a stroke; he wins us from the side of Christ by hair-breadths.

II. IDOLS ARE THE INEVITABLE SYMPTOM OF INCIPIENT DECAY. Go at autumn into the woods and see how the members of the fungus tribes are scattered plentifully throughout the unfrequented glades. All through the long scorching summer days their germs were present in the soil; but they were kept from germinating by the dryness of the air and the heat of the sun. However, there is now nothing to prevent it; nay, the dank damp of decay is the very food of their life. Where the shade is deepest and the soil most impregnated with the products of corruption, they love to pitch their tents. Wherever, therefore, you find these fungus growths, you may be sure that there is corruption and decay. Similarly, whenever there has set in upon the spiritual life the autumn of decay, you will be sure to find a fungus--growth of idols--the sorrowful symptoms that the bright summer time has passed, or is passing away from the soul.

III. THESE IDOLS MUST BE SURRENDERED BEFORE THERE CAN BE VICTORY OR PEACE. The reason for Jacob’s flight before those alien tribes was, of course, the censurable and merciless action of his sons; but above and beyond this lay the fact that Jacob had been giving some measure of countenance to the existence of idolatry in the camp. I always find in Christian experience that failure and defeat indicate the presence of some idol somewhere and the need of more complete consecration to God. It may be a hidden idol; and it may be hidden by the Rachel of your heart, lovely and beloved: but if it be there it will be the certain cause of disappointment. You say that you do not find yourself able to overcome besetting sin; that you are tripped up before you look to Christ; that you are sometimes hot as juniper-coals, and then cold as ice; you talk about your experiences as if Christ had failed--no such thing! Get down on your knees, search out the idols, ransack all the camel baggage in spite of all that Rachel may say, bring out the accursed things, and bury them. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)

Buried idols

Jacob did not break or burn the idols, but hid them. Jacob’s besetting sin was double-dealing, and it appears to us the text is another example of the patriarch’s special failing. He was not altogether weaned from his idols, he had a lingering regard for them; he did not, even yet, yield himself fully to Jehovah. Let us show--

I. How WE MAY STILL BE GUILTY OF THE EQUIVOCAL CONDUCT RECORDED IN THE TEXT.

1. We are thus guilty when we retain privately those evil practices we have renounced in public. Iniquity is iniquity to God, whether done in the eye of the sun or wrought in thickest darkness; whether coarse or refined; whether called by its true name or wrapped in glozing gilded speech. Burke tells of that “sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness.” This is rhetoric. When vice is divested of all grossness it has not lost a particle of its evil in the judgment of heaven; the secret idol, the idol skilfully veiled or richly adorned by taste, is equally hateful to God with the open and gross idolatries of inferior civilization.

2. We are thus guilty when we practise partially the evils we have renounced as a whole. In the days of the English Reformation, the reformers finding the coloured windows in the churches to be objects of reverence to the people, ordered them to be broken and replaced by plain glass. But where the authorities had a love for the beautiful they contented themselves by taking out a few panes here and there--a saint’s head, a martyr’s nimbus, an angel’s wing, and having thus mutilated the figures, trusted they would do no harm. Somewhat after this fashion are men apt to renounce the world and sin. We deal delicately with things, habits, associations, pursuits, pleasures, employments, which ought to be utterly sacrificed, and sacrificed for ever.

3. We are thus guilty when we retain mentally what we have renounced in action. It is possible that the idols of life which have no longer any concrete existence may find asylum in the heart and brain, and be most steadily worshipped there. This is true--

II. We must feel the importance of COMPLETE CONSECRATION TO GOD. This secret clinging to sin is a source of weakness, unhappiness, and peril. The apostle writes to the Romans, “ye are dead to sin.” How completely this idea cuts us off from the world of evil! how utterly it separates us from all godlessness and wickedness! We once heard a converted Persian relate that when he was converted to Christianity his angry kindred considered him a dead man, and celebrated his funeral obsequies accordingly. They were not far wrong. When one is converted to Christ he has absolutely renounced sin, the world may justly count him dead, and all the vices follow his bier. (W. L. Watkinson.)

A needed reformation

No sooner is Jacob admonished to go to Bethel, than he feels the necessity of a reformation, and gives command for it. This proves that he knew of the corrupt practices of his family, and had too long connived at them. We are glad however to find him resolved at last to put them away. A constant attendance on God’s ordinances is dwelling as it were in Bethel; and it is by this that we detect ourselves of evils which we should otherwise go on in without thought or concern. It is coming to the light, which will manifest our deeds, whether they be wrought in God or not. Wicked men may reconcile the most sacred religious duties with the indulgence of secret sins; but good men cannot do so. They must wash their hands in innocency, and so compass God’s altar. Jacob not only commands his household to put away their idols, but endeavours to impress upon them his own sentiments. “Let us arise,” saith he, “and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.” He is decided for himself, and uses all means to persuade his family to unite with him. His intimating that God bad heretofore “answered him in the day of his distress,” might be designed not only to show them the propriety of what he was about to do, but to excite a hope that God might disperse the cloud which now hung over them on account of the late impure and bloody transaction. (A. Fuller.)

Lessons

1. Grace keeps hearts close in obedience unto God’s call.

2. It is the duty of conscience in all governors of families and others to enjoin all with them to obey God’s call. It is no violence.

3. It is rulers’ duty in order to reconcile God, so much as they may, to bring souls to repentance.

4. The first part of repentance is to depart from evil.

5. Governors are bound to turn all under them from outward evils which they may prevent.

6. Images and relics of idolatry may not be suffered in the families of Jacob’s children.

7. Repentance requireth not only negative but positive cleanness.

8. Typical repentance in outward washings was in the Church before the law was written.

9. Real endowment with righteousness unto God’s likeness was intended by it (Genesis 35:2).

10. It is Jacob’s work to rouse his family to move towards God (so good rulers will do) when he himself is roused by Him.

11. Not only preparation but motion must be in penitents to God’s house.

12. Repentance is then complete when men are brought fully home to God.

13. God is reached unto when His true worship is entertained by men.

14. God may and doth use some eminent minister to set up His worship, that others might know 2:15. God is known to Jacob and his seed to be a God answering prayer.

16. All good providences to Jacob are mercies truly to his family.

17. Mercies of God to our fathers while we enjoy them bind us to own and worship the same God (Genesis 2:3). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Lessons

1. When rulers obey God’s call, He maketh subjects obey theirs.

2. Where God overpowers, souls freely and fully part with their desired jewels of vanity and superstition.

3. Good rulers will execute as well as enjoin sentence against false gods.

4. In bringing false worshippers to God, it is good to bury the monuments of their sin out of sight.

5. Jacob-rulers will not be content but in the destruction of all means of false worship.

6. Monuments of idolatry must die at Shechem, and not live at Bethel (Genesis 35:4). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Verse 6-7

Genesis 35:6-7

So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him.
And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el; because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother

The obituary of a name

“Jacob” is dead; “ Israel” still lives. I want now to pronounce the obituary of “Jacob.” There are just two classes of lessons to be learned from the story of Bethel and Penuel, for there were just two persons in contact and conflict in this thirty years’ war. The type of all is found in the early vision of the ladder. At the foot of it lay Jacob on his pillow of stone: “And behold, the Lord stood above it.” Hence one class of lessons will instruct us concerning God, and one concerning man. One touches on doctrine, the other on duty. So everywhere “ The Scriptures principally teach what we are to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

I. We begin with the lessons of DOCTRINE. The same Divine Being, with all attributes and characteristics unchanged, rules to-day as then. It is wisely worth our while to note how He is wont to deal with a free-willed human creature, and how He manages a world of such.

1. Mark, for one thing, how independent God is in choosing His especial agents. He chooses whom He will for His purposes; and He chose this man Jacob.

2. Now let us learn a second lesson, and possibly we shall derive some slight help before we get through with that. See how wise God is in discriminating character. Why did God choose Jacob rather than Esau? Because he was the more serviceable man of the two. The long run in those days was a more desirable thing than the short cut. Patient steadiness was more serviceable for the Divine ends than mere executive rush. James would have been better than Peter to go on Old Testament errands.

3. But we pass on to a third lesson: indeed, we feel the need of it. Mark here how persistent God is in preparing men for a better life by means of His choice. Just tell over the old fable as you used to tell it to your little children, for there is an illustration of Divine truth in it; I mean that about the coward whose cure was effected by an enchanted sword put in his hand. He was timid enough, but the trusty blade was of itself belligerent. He could not drop it, for it clung to his hand. He could not run to the rear, for the sword remained steadily at the head of the attack. He could not surrender, for the moment he got his foolish lips ready to cry for quarter, the weapon had already leapt from the scabbard and was fighting like a thing of life. So at last he began to understand it, then he began to obey it, then he began to watch it, then he began to trust it; and then he began to be a new man under its working. And home from the campaign he came, the welkin ringing with praises of his prowess. There is fine truth in that little tale. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. It converts the man who carries it. And before you go any further in commenting on the singular choice God made of Jacob, thoughtfully consider that the choice was the exact force which made Jacob Israel.

4. One more lesson under this head; see here how perfectly satisfied God seems to be with the result of His election.

II. Lessons of DUTY.

1. One is concerning the recognition of God in even the personal biographies of men.

2. Another lesson is concerning what are sometimes called hard cases. “All the wood-carvings in God’s temple have been made out of knots!”

3. A third lesson is concerning the value of even one high attainment of grace. You see in some true Christians the glory of superior meekness; in others the beauty of unusual zeal. So on: these excellencies are costly. They are rare; they have used up labour; they have been found with pain; but they transform and transfigure the whole character. The little child asked its aged grandparent as it laid its tiny finger in the furrow of his forehead, “What made that wrinkle?” He might well ask, for an artist would have said it alone was the old man’s feature of beauty. But what made it? An early sorrow first cut it, deep, sharp, painful. Then a time of generous success rounded its edges somewhat. Then a loss went over the line and made it plainer. As life rolled on, that wrinkle became one of the permanent institutions of the countenance, so that things gladdening and things saddening all went into it. And by-and-by there came to be fixed this quiet, resigned, gentle line in the face, to give it all its character. The Italians call Time “an inaudible file.” It took fifty years to smooth and fashion that one exquisite expression. So there are lines on the soul which do not come at conversion or grow in an hour. It is better to begin early to work for such. Any one may miss his chance by being careless and getting behindhand.

4. Our final lesson is concerning the folly of losing thirty years of time. (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)

Jacob back at Bethel

I. THAT MEN ARE LIABLE TO SUFFER LOSSES IN THIS WORLD EVEN WHEN OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDMENTS.

II. THAT WHEN OBEYING GOD’S WORD WE MAY EXPECT TO MEET GOD HIMSELF.

1. Meeting God is to have a greater knowledge of ourselves.

2. Meeting God is to have a clearer revelation of Him.

3. Meeting God will increase our usefulness.

4. Meeting God gives us an assurance of the future.

III. MEETING GOD IS A MEMORABLE EVENT. (Homilist.)

Lessons

1. God securing His by His terrors upon enemies, they come in safety where God calleth them.

2. Names of places old and new may be indifferently used without superstition.

3. God’s providence brings all with Jacob into the place of His security (Genesis 35:6).

4. Jacob is working to honour providence, even as that worketh to save them.

5. Double indigitation of God’s name do His saints make upon continued goodness.

6. The revelation of God by Himself or angels requireth worship from His saints to the utmost (Genesis 35:7). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Grateful memory

In the midst of his greatest prosperity George Moore never forgot “auld Cumberland.” His mind was always turning back to the home of his birth and the scenes of his boyhood. The very name of Cumberland had a charm for him. When any Cumberland lad called upon him at his office, he welcomed him cheerfully, asked him to his house, and often got him a situation. (S. Smiles.)

Past scenes

The early childhood of Dean Hook was spent at the rectory of Hertingfordbury, and to this, the house of his earliest recollections, he ever looked back with the loudest affection. A very few years before his death he made a journey with his youngest son specially to see it: to pace once more the pleasant lawn and garden, and to see if the names were still legible which in his boyhood he had carrel upon some of the trees that shaded the path by the river-side, the names of himself and of his friend William Page Wood, together with the names of Shakespeare and Milton, both of whom they loved with passionate devotion.


Verse 8

Genesis 35:8

Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died

Lessons

1.
Sad providences in the loss of dearest friends may befall the saints when they are in duty with God.

2. Parents’ friends should be dear unto, and accepted with their children also, especially gracious ones (Proverbs 27:10).

3. Death and burial are the events of providence unto the holiest and the oldest and dearest friends.

4. Burial places are of natural and not religious consideration, any fit place pointed out by providence.

5. Old gracious friends, as they live desired, so they die lamented.

6. Lamentations for good old friends, deceased, is a duty beseeming God’s church, yet not without hope.

7. Saints mourn for the loss of friends for goodness sake, not for gain. Jacob had no gain by Deborah.

8. Monuments of said providences, and lamentations over them, are not unbeseeming saints to make. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Death of Deborah

“But,” continues the narrative, “but Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died”; that is, although Jacob and his house were now living in the fear of God, that did not exempt them from the ordinary distresses of family life. And among these, one that falls on us with a chastening and mild sadness all its own, occurs when there passes from the family one of its oldest members, and one who has by the delicate tact of love gained influence over all, and has by the common consent become the arbiter and mediator, the confident and counsellor of the family. They, indeed, are the true salt of the earth whose own peace is so deep and abiding, and whose purity is so thorough and energetic, that into their ear we can disburden the troubled heart or the guilty conscience, as the wildest brook disturbs not and the most polluted fouls not the settled depths of the all-cleansing ocean. Such must Deborah have been, for the oak under which she was buried was afterwards known as “the oak of weeping.” Specially must Jacob himself have mourned the death of her whose face was the oldest in his remembrance, and with whom his mother and his happy early days were associated. Very dear to Jacob, as to most men, were those who had been connected with and could tell him of his parents, and remind him of his early years. Deborah, by treating him still as a little boy, perhaps the only one who now called him by the pet name of childhood, gave him the pleasantest relief from the cares of manhood and the obsequious deportment of the other members of his household towards him. So that when she went a great blank was made to him: no longer was the wise and happy old face seen in her tent door to greet him of an evening; no longer could he take refuge in the peacefulness of her old age from the troubles of his lot; she being gone, a whole generation was gone, and a new stage of life was entered on. (M. Dods, D. D.)

Rebekah and her nurse; or, friendly counsels to employers and employed

Here is a servant remaining in the same family through four generations, leaving Laban’s house with Rebekah, when a young bride, going with her into a distant country, living and serving in that family till one after another are conveyed to the grave. First, the elements of character in servants; second, the elements of character in the employer that would help to form and lead to the appreciation and honour of such a character in the employed.

I. I will begin by detailing SOME OF THE MORE IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF CHARACTER IN SERVANTS.

1. There must be in the servant a sense of responsibility to God.

2. Then you have another characteristic, that of willingly and cheerfully doing her work.

3. Then servants must be truthful.

4. Then faithfulness--just let us look at this. Faithfulness is to action what truthfulness is to word.

5. Faithfulness also implies frugality.

6. Then with regard to the influence on little children; as, you know, nursery rhymes and nursery talk cling to the child, when it has forgotten things that he had acquired in maturer life.

7. Then another thing is obedience.

II. Now, a few remarks in regard to THE CHARACTER OF EMPLOYERS.

1. He too must have the fear of God in his heart, as the ground of all his obligations, not only to God, but to his fellow-creatures.

2. Then there must be justice done by the employer to the employed.

3. In the next place, there must be order on the part of the employer.

4. Then next there must be right example before the servants on the part of the master and mistress.

5. Benevolence should be another part of the master’s character. Finally, I would direct the employer and employed to that world where the faithful servant of God will receive an inheritance that will never pass away, and a crown that will never perish, and where both masters and servants, who have followed the Lord in their lives, will become priests and kings unto God for ever. (T. Thomas.)


Verse 9-10

Genesis 35:9-10

God appeared unto Jacob again

Lessons

1.
God useth to knit comforts unto griefs for His saints. When creature comforts go out of sight, God cometh in.

2. God’s appearance is enough to countervail the disappearance of any comfort.

3. In various ways God hath appeared to His saints, but now only in Christ.

4. Repeated manifestations of Himself doth God afford to the necessities of His saints.

5. All God’s gracious appearances are to bless His people.

6. God’s blessing for this life and that which is to come is effectual. (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Lessons

1. God makes good His general blessing in special effects to His saints.

2. God minds His saints of their own mean name and state in changing 2:3. God alone removeth the lost estate and name of His people.

4. God alone bringeth His saints to a higher name and state.

5. God’s sanction alone settles the name and glory of His saints.

6. This sanction God repeats at His pleasure for His people (Genesis 2:10). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

He called his name Israel--

The Divine culture of a human life

I. THE WAY IN WHICH ALL JACOB’S PREVIOUS CULTURE TENDED TO THIS ONE RESULT OF MAKING HIM AN ISRAEL.

II. THE WAY IN WHICH ALL JACOB’S SUBSEQUENT EXPERIENCES IN LIFE TENDED TO THE CONFIRMING IN HIM OF THE CHARACTER OF AN “ISRAEL.” Even to the end of Jacob’s life, God did not wholly remit His discipline. Loss of Joseph, famine, anxiety respecting Benjamin, &c.

III. WHAT A GLORIOUS ISSUE IT WAS TO A LIFE SO UNTOWARDLY BEGUN, THAT, BY THE DIVINE CULTURE, IT SHOULD BE THUS TRANSFORMED FROM THE CHARACTER OF A “SUPPLANTER” INTO THAT OF AN “ISRAEL.”

1. It is a glorious thing for a man, by means of a Divine discipline of life, to be made acquainted with the characteristics of his own nature.

2. It is a glorious thing to have life enriched with manifold experiences.

3. It is a glorious thing to be made conscious of moral improvement and advantage.

4. It is a glorious thing to be brought into intimate fellowship and communion with God. (W. Roberts.)


Verse 11

Genesis 35:11

I am God Almighty

God’s arm sufficient

In like manner God has spoken to Abraham: He had said, “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me and be thou upright.
” The declaration of almightiness is, according to the sacred narrative, the first declaration of God concerning Himself. A sense of power is one of the first endowments to which we awaken. Almightiness is power without limit. God cannot lie, He cannot be tempted with evil, He cannot act contrary to His own nature, but He can do all that He wills to do.

1. God can create. He can create what He wills, when He pleases, as He will, and for His own pleasure. He has created all things--all matter, all spirit.

2. God can create, and He can make, that is, adapt, fashion, mould, and organise all these materials. We can make, but we cannot create; God can do both.

3. God can control all He makes and creates. God can over-rule; He can create, and make, and control, and He can over-rule. For example, He can permit His image on earth to be broken, and then repair the ruin, and make the ruined image much more glorious than the primitive likeness. This is over-ruling. He can allow sin to enter the world without Himself being chargeable with the entrance of that sin; and He can take it away by an all-sufficient sacrifice. He can suffer all nations to walk for a time in their own ways, and then He can restore them to the paths of righteousness.

4. God can destroy. He can blot out all races and classes of creatures, as He has done on our planet. He can reduce the world to chaos, or burn it with fire, and resolve it into its original elements. He can cause them to fly as vapours through space afterwards. Often has He destroyed cities, and their memorial has perished with them, and perhaps has He destroyed worlds.

5. God can retain His own life from everlasting to everlasting. “I am,” saith He, “that I am.” There is no limit put to God’s power by decay or by death, or by any prospect or fear of such dissolution. No plan is contracted, no work is interrupted.

6. Every attribute of God is a power. His infinity is the fulness of power; His eternity the continuance of power; His spirituality the highest kind of power, power inexhaustible and incapable of weariness. There is power in His knowledge. If there is power in our limited information, what power there must be in the knowledge that embraces all things. There is power in His wisdom, power in His love, power in His blessedness, power in the happiness, and power in the peace of God. There is power in God’s own sense of power. There is power in all that constitutes His goodness. God has no weakness, or shadow of impotency; none from the presence of any evil, and none from the absence of any good; no fear, no remorse, no doubt, no hesitance, no suspicion, no imperfection. To God all things are possible. Is anything too hard for Him?

7. God can redeem. Such was the sufficiency of God for this work, that He so loved the world as to give His only Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. And in the application of the provisions of this redemption, what do we see? We see men born again; so great is God’s power, that we find in connection with the Christian dispensation, there is new creation--old things passing away, all thing becoming new. This dispensation finds men dead in sin; it leaves them quickened. It finds them grovelling on the earth like wounded worms; and it fits them to fly in the heavens as with the wings of the eagle. Brethren, fear to rebel against this God Almighty. How vain is your resistance and your defiance. What if you set Him at naught! You may judge as to the issue; who will prevail--you, a mortal, dust and ashes, or this God Almighty; (S. Martin.)


Verses 16-20

Genesis 35:16-20

Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem

The death of Rachel

I.
IN ITS SOLEMN AND MELANCHOLY ASPECT.

1. It was death upon a journey.

2. It was death in the time of travail.

3. It was death just when his old fond desire was accomplished.

II. IN ITS HOPEFUL AND PROPHETIC ASPECT.

1. It teaches the doctrine of victory through pain.

2. It teaches that death is not annihilation. “As her soul was in departing (for she died)” (Genesis 35:18). Death is here represented, not as the complete extinction of all thought and feeling, but as the separation of soul and body. It is not a sinking into nought, but only a change of state and place.

3. It teaches us what is the characteristic mark of God’s chosen people. Israel of old had the portion of affliction, and thus became the time of the Messiah, whose peculiar and distinctive mark was, that He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Rachel was theancestress of the suffering children of Israel.

4. It teaches a lesson of encouragement to all mothers dying in similar circumstances. (T. H. Leale.)

Rachel’s death

Thus she that had said, “Give me children, or I die,” died in child-birth! Several circumstances which attended this afflictive event are deserving of notice.

Her words, if reported to Jacob, with the recollection of the above prophetic hint, would raise his hopes, and render his loss more affecting, by adding to it the pain of disappointment. They appear to have no influence however on Rachel. She has the sentence of death in herself, and makes no answer; but turning her eyes towards the child, and calling him “Ben-oni, the son of my sorrow,” she expired!

Lessons

1. Providence ordereth the saints below no long settlement, but to move sometimes from desired places.

2. Motions from Bethel to Ephrath, from God’s comforts to God’s chastenings are ordered to God’s saint’s by himself.

3. Providential afflictions may betide God’s dearest servants unexpectedly in their ways.

4. Souls exorbitantly desirous of children, may have them from God with bitterness enough (Genesis 35:16).

5. The bitterest pains in child-bearing may befall the best of women.

6. It is the midwife’s honour, with God’s Spirit, to be pitiful and comfortable unto women in travail.

7. God doth add sons to His in their earnest desires sometimes, wherein they may take little delight (Genesis 30:24),

8. Providence sometimes brings living children out of dying mothers (Genesis 35:17).

9. Killing pains in child-bearing may befal souls to much longing for children.

10. Dying mothers in their passions may name children their griefs and not their joy.

11. Souls die not, but go out of bodies to God who gave them Ecclesiastes 12:7).

12. Tender affection in fathers name their children more dear which they have with loss of wives (verse 18).

13. Rachels may die when Leahs live, the beloved before the despised.

14. Comely interment is a duty to relations in all places, where providence calleth them away.

15. Places notable for births and burials are sometimes noted by God’s spirit (verse 19).

16. It is suitable to nature and not contrary to grace, to set up and keep memorials of deceased relations.

17. Durable monuments of providences may be useful for posterity.

18. It is not unlawful to leave monuments of the dead, only vanity and superstition avoided (verse 20). (G. Hughes, B. D)


Verse 18

Genesis 35:18

Ben-oni

The marks of a Ben-oni

These words were spoken of Rachel, Jacob’s wife.
Her youngest child had just been born: she was very sick, and was going to die. The little child was lying by her. She called to see it; she kissed it, and called his name Ben-oni. Ben-oni means, “the son of my sorrow.” This child was about to occasion the death of his mother, and therefore she gave him this name. She was sorry to leave her husband, her family, and her friends; and this feeling of sorrow led her to call his name Ben-oni. “But his father called him Benjamin.” Benjamin means, “the son of a right hand.” Our right hand is a great comfort and blessing to us. What could we do without a right hand? Now, every child that is born into this world will be either a Ben-oni or a Benjamin. There is not much difference between these two names, but there is a great deal of difference between the natures which they represent. Now, the great question for us to consider is, What are the marks of a Ben-oni or of a Benjamin? We shall mention four things which may always be considered as the marks of a Ben-oni; and the opposite of these, of course, will be the marks of a Benjamin.

I. The first mark of a Ben-oui--“a child of sorrow”--is ILL-TEMPER. Suppose you had to walk four or five miles with a pebble in your shoe; or suppose you had to wear a coat or dress with a pin sticking in it; or suppose you had to lie all night in bed with a porcupine by your side, sticking you with his sharp-pointed quills--what an uncomfortable thing it would be! But none of these things are so uncomfortable as to be connected with an ill-temper. All peevish, cross, ill-natured children are Ben-onies--children of sorrow to their parents and the families where they dwell. There was a rich nobleman in England who had a little daughter named Anne. They were very fond of her; for she was a fine little creature, very lively, and merry, and affectionate, and exceedingly beautiful. But she had a very ill temper. When anything vexed her she would fly into a rage, and turn and strike any one that provoked her. After every fit of anger she would be ashamed and sorry, and resolve never to do so again. But the next time she was provoked it was all forgotten, and she was as angry as ever. When she was between four and five years of age, her mother had a little son, a sweet little tender baby. Anne’s nurse, who was thoughtless and wicked, loved to tease her, because she was so easily irritated, and so she told her that her father and mother would not care for her now, because all their love and pleasure would be in this little brother, and they would not mind her. Poor Anne burst into a flood of tears, and cried bitterly, saying, “You are a naughty woman to say so! Mamma will always love me; I know she will, and I’ll go this very moment and ask her.” And she ran out of the nursery and hastened to her mother’s room. The servant called after her: “Come, miss, you needn’t go to your mother’s room; she won’t see you now.” Anne burst open the door, but was instantly caught hold of by a strange woman she had never seen before. “My dear,” said this woman, “you cannot see your mother just now”; and she was going on to tell that it was because she was very sick, and could not be disturbed. But she was too angry to listen; and she screamed and kicked at the woman, who was obliged to take her by force and carry her back to the nursery. When she put her down she gave the servant a charge not to let her go to her mother’s room. This added to her rage. But the thoughtless, wicked servant, instead of trying to soothe and quiet her, burst out into a laugh, and said, “I told you that, miss. You see your mamma does not love you now.” Then the poor child became mad with fury. She seized a smoothing-iron, and, darting forward, threw it upon the baby’s head as it lay in the cradle. The child gave one struggle, and breathed no more. Anne’s mother died that night of grief, Anne grew up in the possession of great riches. She had every outward comfort about her that money could procure; but she was a very unhappy and miserable woman. She was never known to smile. The thought of the terrible consequences of that one outburst of passion pressed upon her like a heavy burden all her days. Ah! what a Ben-oni this girl became! She was a child of sorrow to her parents. Her ill-temper made her so. If you give way to such tempers, my dear young friends, you will certainly be Ben-onies; but if you strive and pray against such feelings, and try to be gentle, kind, and pleasant to those around you, then you will be Benjamins--children of the right hand to your parenta. See, now, how differently such children will act. A gentleman was walking on the Battery, in the city of New York, one day, and, as he passed a little girl who was cheerfully rolling her hoop, he said to her, “You are a nice little girl”; to which she replied, patting her little brother on the head, “And Bobble is a nice little brother too.” Here was a good-temper, which would make this dear child “ a child of the right hand” to her parents, and cause her to be loved by all who were about her.

II. The second mark of a Ben-oni is IDLENESS. Idle children love to lie in bed in the morning; they love to do nothing all day, if they can help it, but play. It is a great trouble to get them to study, to read, or to work. Now, idle children always make idle men; for the habits which children form while they are children will surely remain with them when they grow up to be men and women. Now, we are to remember, dear children, that God is busy at all times, and almost everything that God has made is busy. Look at the sun; it is always at work, shining and shining and shining from one Fear’s end to the other. In the daytime it is shining in our part of the world, and when it is night to us it is shining in the opposite part of the world. And so it is with the moon--always shining in one part of the world or the other. So it is with the sea; its waves are rising, and falling, and rolling, and flowing continually. So it is with the rivers; they are continually running, from the fountains where they spring, on, on to the ocean. And so it is with the little birds, and little fishes, and the bees, and the ants--none of these are idle. A gentleman in England had an estate which was worth over two hundred pounds a year. For a while he kept his farm in his own hands, but at length found himself so much in debt that he was obliged to sell one-half of his place to pay up. The rest he let out to a farmer for several years. Towards the end of that time, the farmer, on coming to pay his rent, asked him whether he would sell his farm. The gentleman was surprised that the farmer should be able to make him an offer for his place. “Pray, tell me,” said he, “how it happens that, while I could not live upon twice as much land, for which I paid no rent, you are regularly paying me about one hundred pounds a year for the farm, and able in a few years to purchase it?” “The reason is plain,” answered the farmer; “it lies in the difference between ‘go’ and ‘come.’” “I do not understand you,” said the gentleman. “I mean,” said the farmer, “that you sat still and said, ‘Go’; I get up and say ‘Come.’ You lie in bed, and enjoy your ease; I rise early in the morning, and attend to my business.” In other words, this was an industrious man; there was no love of idleness about him, and this led to his success in life.

III. The third mark of a Ben-oni is PRIDE. Some children are proud of their clothes. This is very silly indeed; for the butterflies have much more beautiful clothes than we, and yet they are never proud of their dress. Some children are proud of their families. This also is very silly, for we have all sprung at first from one father. Some children are proud about their houses. This, too, is very silly, for, by-and-by, they will all crumble into the dust, from which they have been taken, while the grave is the one house to which we must all come at last. Proud children feel and think themselves better than others, and are often unwilling to engage in honest and honourable employments. Listen to what I am going to tell you. Chief-Justice Marshall was a great man; but great men are never proud. He was not too proud to wait upon himself. He was in the habit of going to market himself, and carrying home his purchases. Often he would be seen returning at sunrise with poultry in one hand and vegetables in the other. On one of these occasions a fashionable young man from the North, who had removed to Richmond, was swearing violently because he could find no one to carry home his turkey. Judge Marshall stepped up and asked him where he lived. When he heard, he said, “That is in my way, and I will take your turkey home for you.” When they came to the house the young man inquired, “What shall I pay you?” “Oh, nothing,” said the Judge; “you are welcome; it was all in the way, and it was no trouble to me.” “Who is that polite old gentleman who brought home my turkey for me? “ asked the young man of a by-stander. “Oh,” said he, “that was Judge Marshall, Chief-Justice of the United States.” “Why did he bring home my turkey?” “He did it,” said the by-stander, “to give you a rebuke, and teach you to attend to your own business.” True greatness never feels above doing anything that is useful; but especially the truly great man will never feel above helping himself; his own independence of character depends upon his being able to help himself. The great Dr. Franklin, when he first established himself in business in Philadelphia, wheeled home the paper which he purchased for his printing-office upon a wheelbarrow with his own hands.

IV. The fourth and only other mark that we shall speak of is DISOBEDIENCE. There is nothing on which the comfort and happiness of parents and families depend more than on the obedience of children. My dear children, if you want to plant thorns on the pillows of you parents, and plunge daggers into their bosoms, be disobedient. If you want to make them as uncomfortable as they possibly can be in this world, then be disobedient. This is the chief mark of a Ben-oni. I remember reading not long ago of a gentleman in England who had two sons. He was a kind, excellent, pious man, and did everything for the comfort of his children that he thought it right to do. But sometimes the boys were anxious to do things which their parents were not willing that they should do. One Sunday, the eldest boy went to his father and asked permission to take the carriage and go riding in the afternoon, instead of going to church. His father told him he could not, because it would be breaking the Sabbath. The boy was very much displeased because his father would not let him go riding, as some of the boys in the neighbourhood had been allowed by their parents to do. He was so wicked about this that he determined no longer to stay at home, because his father would not let him do just what he wanted. So the next day he persuaded his brother to go with him, and they went down to Portsmouth, a town by the seaside, intending to go to sea. Before going, however, they called on the Rev. Mr. Griffin, to assist them to get a situation on board a man-of-war. This good man, perceiving that they were not accustomed to the mode of life in which they were about to enter, inquired of them their object in going to sea. The eldest boy frankly told him they were going in order to spite their parents! Then he told him the story of what had taken place at home--of his father’s unwillingness to allow him to ride on Sunday--and said he was going to sea in order to make his father feel sorry for refusing to gratify him. The good clergyman tried to show them the guilt and folly of the course they were about to pursue, and to set before them the unavoidable consequences that would result from it. The younger son was impressed by the counsels and advice of the clergyman, and went home; but the elder son resolved to go on in his evil course. Some twelve or fifteen years after this had taken place, this same clergyman was called to the prison in the town of Portsmouth to see a sailor who was condemned to be executed, and who was going to be hung in a few days. When he entered the cell of the prison he saw a wretched, miserable, squalid-looking creature sitting by a table in the cell, who looked up to him as he entered, and said, “Do you not remember me, sir?” “No,” said the clergyman; “I do not recollect that I ever saw you before.” Then the poor man recalled to him the story of the boy who went from home in order to spite his parents. “And are you the miserable man,” said the clergyman, “who did this?” “Yes,” said the poor culprit; “I followed out my own plan; I went on the course which I had chosen, contrary to your advice and to my own convictions; I plunged into all sorts of wickedness and sin, and finally became involved in a robbery and murder, for which I am now about to suffer the penalty. And all this in consequence of my disobedience to my parents!” The clergyman wrote to the father of this unhappy man, who came to visit his son in his last hours, and who had the unspeakable anguish of standing by and seeing him suffer the penalty of the law, and reap the bitter fruits of his disobedience. What a Ben-oni that son was to his father! Let us look, now, at one or two examples of an opposite character. William Hale was an obedient son. He was spending some time with his mother at the Saratoga Springs, and had become acquainted with a number of boys of his own age there. One day some half-dozen of the children were playing on the piazza, and one of them was heard exclaiming--“Oh, yes, that’s capital! So we will; come on, now! Where’s William Hale? Come on, Will! We are going to have a ride on the circular railroad. Come with us.” “Yes, if my mother is willing,” said William. “I will run and ask her.” “Ah, ah! so you must run and ask your ma!--great baby-boy!--run along to your ma! Ain’t you ashamed?” “I don’t ask my mother,” said one. “Neither do I,” said another. “Neither do I,” said a third. “Be a man, Will, and come along,” said the first boy, “if you don’t wish to be called a coward as long as you live; don’t you see we are all waiting?” William was standing with one foot advanced, and his hand firmly clenched, in the midst of the group. His brow was flushed, his eye was flashing, his lip was compressed, his cheek was changing--all showing how the epithet “coward” rankled in his bosom. It was doubtful for a moment whether he would have the true bravery to be called a coward rather than to do wrong; but, with a voice trembling with emotion, he replied:--“I will not go without I ask my mother; and I am no coward, either. I promised her I would not go from the house without her permission; and I should be a base coward if I were to tell my mother a lie.” When Wiliam returned to his mother to ask her permission to go, and told her of what had taken place, she threw her arms around his neck, and exclaimed: “God bless you, my dear child, and give you grace always to act in this way.” Ah, my dear children, he was a Benjamin--a child of comfort--to his dear mother; and doubtless he grew up to be her support and comfort all her days. After the surrender of Cornwallis, and the victory achieved by the American arms, George Washington, when the war was over, returned in triumph to his mother’s home. Everybody was homouring him and praising him as the saviour of his country and the greatest man of the age. When he reached the place of his mother’s abode a large concourse of the people had met to greet him and welcome him to his home. In the centre of the assembled crowd stood his mother, and, pushing his way through the crowd around him, he hastened to pay her his respects; and, as she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, she said to some who were congratulating her upon having so noble a son: “George always was an obedient child.” He was indeed a Benjamin--a son of comfort--to his mother, and a blessing to the country and to the world; and the spirit of obedience early learned and early practised was that which went to make him what he was. And now, in conclusion, my dear children, let me ask you, Which of these two do you desire to be? Will you be Ben-onies--children of sorrow and grief--to your parents? or will you be Benjamins--children of joy and comfort and blessing--to them? If you would be the latter--Benjamins indeed--then you must watch and strive and pray against all the evils of which we have been speaking. Watch against these four marks of a Ben-oni; watch against ill-temper, watch against idleness, watch against pride, watch against disobedience; and pray God to enable you each to overcome all these evils--to erase these marks of a Ben-oni as they are beginning to fasten themselves on your character, and to earn for yourself the character of a Benjamin indeed. (H. Newton, D. D.)


Verses 22-26

Genesis 35:22-26

The sons of Jacob

I.
SIGNIFICANCE OF NAMES. Proper names had among them (the Hebrews) a deeper meaning, and were more closely connected in men’s thoughts with character and condition, than among any other ancient nation with the history and character of which we are acquainted. This is apparent from the care taken in the sacred writings to record the origin of so many names of individuals and of places, from the frequent allusions to them as significant, and the remarks made upon their meaning, and from the peculiar employment of them on important and solemn occasions, when given or changed, to mark some great transaction or event, to form titles of honour; or to record a promise, or threat, or prophecy.

II. DIVERSITY OF CHARACTER. Among these twelve sons of one man no two precisely alike. Dark and bright traits of character strangely intermingle in this household. Joseph seems to have served the Lord from his youth, and Simeon appears to have been the darkest character of the twelve. As children often differ in complexion and stature, &c., so do they also in taste, moral character, &c. Often less like their immediate progenitors than their remoter ancestors; pointing far back to past times in their moral and physical portrait. How far back we point to the source of the evil there is in us. Diversity of bodily, mental, and moral qualities a blessing, when under the influence of Divine grace; otherwise a source of mischief and sorrow, engendering rivalry and strife.

III. WAYS OF PROVIDENCE. How marvellous the history wrought out in the world by means of these twelve men and their descendants! How wonderously Providence blended these unlike characters for working out His purposes! He maketh the wrath of men to praise Him. While imagining they were working their own will, their acts were subordinate, by the power of God, to high and gracious purposes. Yet the good, in the end, attain to the most honourable places, and the widest influence. The youngest, and most despised, and helpless, are in the end advanced. We often spoil the best instruments, and turn but sorry work out of most refined materials. God brings good out of evil. A world of beauty out of chaos: a great people out of these twelve shepherds. Think of another twelve whose work it was to lay the foundation of a still greater and more enduring kingdom. They also were shepherds in another sense. Learn:

I. Among all names there is only one whereby we can be saved. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people,” &c.

II. Natural differences of character may be purified by Divine grace. The worst may be saved by Christ, the best need His salvation.

III. Cast yourself upon the bountiful care and inexhaustible wisdom of Providence. He who of such material laid the foundations of a great nation, can make all things work together for our good. (J. C. Gray.)

Jacob’s grief at Reuben’s sin

Moses expresseth not how Jacob grieved when he heard this, but only saith, “It came to Israel’s ears” that it was done. Surely the reason was this, that we might thereby conceive that the grief was greater than could be expressed, to have his bed defiled by his own son. So read we, the painter that portrayed the intended sacrifice of Iphigenia, painted her father Agamemnon’s face covered, because it was not possible to express well the countenance of a man so plunged in woe. Think we then earnestly of Jacob’s sorrow, but know that we cannot think how it was. And what crossing griefs the Lord sends us, let us strive to patience by these examples. Yea, let us grow by these examples to a Christian strength against worldly scandals and offences, not moved by them to waver up and down as some do, condemning truth, and judging persons by faults and offences that do happen. As if one should say, See the religion of these men; can it be true, can it be good, when the professors of it have such spots? Simeon and Levi cruel bloodshedders, Dinah wanton and wantonly defiled, and now Reuben an incestuous person, defiling his own father’s bed. How should the religion of these men be good? Surely the idolatrous ignorance, and ignorant idolatry of the Gentiles, of the Canaanites, Perizzites, Jebusites, or such like, was the good religion, and not the way that Jacob served God by. But let us be wise, and learn by this to take a surer course to judge both of men and of religion. Jacob and his family had the true religion, though their sinful flesh offended sometimes. All were not evil in such degrees, though some offended too much. Bewail the falls we may of those that profess the truth, nay, bewail them we ought with a sighing heart; but forsake truth for them, or condemn truth to be no truth, we may not, we dare not, we ought not. Let God be true, and all men liars. Let truth be truth, and all men sinful; yea, such great patriarchs as these were not ever free. (Bp. Babington.)

Lessons

1. God carrieth His Jacobs sometimes from Ephrath to Edar, from one affliction to a worse.

2. The Church’s journeys and stages are appointed and ordered by God.

3. Israel is willing to pitch his tents where God allots him.

4. The Church and its pastor sit down by the tower of the flock; shepherds and sheep have their tower (Genesis 35:21).

5. The Church’s habitation is not free from affection and affliction in the land of its sojournings.

6. Providence ordereth the permission of the foulest crimes sometimes in His own Church.

7. The chiefest in outward privilege in the Church may fall into greatest sin. God’s wisdom orders it.

8. God will not suffer the blots in His Church to be wholly covered or silenced. Others may learn by them.

9. Great is the fascination of lust which makes a son and wife conspire to pollute the father’s bed.

10. Deep impressions the tidings of such wickedness in the Church makes upon gracious men, to consternation.

11. Providence distinctly notes the genealogy and number of the Church’s beginnings, to observe God’s making good His promises. Now Jacob was come to twelve (Genesis 35:22).

12. God doth not always cast out of His visible Church for greatest wickedness. Reuben is numbered.

13. The twelve first patriarchs were ordained of God’s grace, not for their worth.

14. Scripture useth figurative speeches, warily to be opened by God’s ministers (Genesis 35:23-26). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Verse 28-29

Genesis 35:28-29

And the days of Isaac were a hundred and fourscore years.
And Isaac gave up the ghost

The character of Isaac

The lives of Abraham and Jacob are as attractive as the life of Isaac is apparently unattractive. Isaac’s character had few salient features. It had no great faults, no striking virtues; it is the quietest, smoothest, most silent character in the Old Testament. It is owing to this that there are so few remarkable events in the life of Isaac, for the remarkableness of events is created by the character that meets them. It seems to be a law that all national, social, and personal life should advance by alternate contractions and expansions. There are few instances where a great father has had a son who equalled him in greatness. The old power more often reappears in Jacob than in Isaac. The spirit of Abraham’s energy passed over his son to his son’s son. The circumstances that moulded the character of Isaac were these.

1. He was an only son.

2. His parents were both very old. At atmosphere of antique quiet hung about his life.

3. These two old hearts lived for him alone.

I. Take the EXCELLENCES of his character first. His submissive self-surrender on Mount Gerizim, which shadowed forth the perfect sacrifice of Christ.

2. His tender constancy, seen in his mourning for his mother, and in the fact that he alone of the patriarchs represented to the Jewish nation the ideal of true marriage.

3. His piety. It was as natural to him as to a woman to trust and love: not strongly, hut constantly, sincerely. His trust became the habit of his soul. His days were knit each to each by natural piety.

II. Look next at the FAULTS of Isaac’s character.

1. He was slow, indifferent, inactive. We find this exemplified in the story of the wells (verse 26:18-22).

2. The same weakness, ending in selfishness, appears in the history of Isaac’s lie to Abimelech.

3. He showed his weakness in the division between Jacob and Esau. He took no pains to harmonize them. The curse of favouritism prevailed in his tent.

4. He dropped into a querulous old age, and became a lover of savoury meat. But our last glimpse of him is happy. He saw the sons of Jacob at Hebron, and felt that God’s promise was fulfilled. (S. A. Brooke, M. A.)

The death and burial of Isaac

I. IT WAS THE OCCASION OF FAMILY REUNION.

II. IT WAS A TIME FOR REVIVAL OF MEMORIES OF THE PAST,

III. IT WAS THE BEGINNING OF ANOTHER AND A HIGHER LIFE. (T. H. Leale.)

The death of Isaac

I. THAT HIS DEATH WAS PEACEFUL.

1. Because his spirit was given up to the rightful owner.

2. Because the soul’s earthly activities had come to an end.

3. Because his soul’s temporal purposes had been gained.

II. THAT HIS LIFE WAS WELL SPENT.

1. His soul’s interests had not been neglected.

2. Society had been benefited.

3. God had been served.

III. HE WAS BELOVED AND HONOURED BY HIS FAMILY. This is intimated to us--

1. By his being buried with his people.

2. By his sons attending his funeral. (Homilist.)

Lessons

1. God brings at last His Jacob and Church to their desired place in their pilgrimage.

2. God makes good His word in making Jacob successor to Abraham and Isaac in their sojourning (Genesis 35:27).

3. The blessing of long life God grants to His servants, when and where it may be beneficial to His Church (Genesis 35:28).

4. Expiration and dissolution are the appointed conditions of saints in order unto glory.

5. Saints in dissolution go out of the world unto their own people.

6. Old age or fulness of days is given here sometimes to God’s saints, i.e., days full of work, as well as many.

7. Nature and grace agree to evince and perform the duty of burial.

8. It is piety to parents deceased so to order their burial and interment that it may be comely and honourable.

9. The death as well as the life of saints God recordeth for His Church’s instruction, and to point out distinct periods (Genesis 35:29). (G. Hughes, B. D.)

Esau and Jacob at Isaac’s deathbed

The tenderness of these two brothers towards one another and towards their father was probably quickened by remorse when they met at his deathbed. They could not, perhaps, think that they had hastened his end by causing him anxieties which age has not strength to throw off; but they could not miss the reflection that the life now closed and finally sealed up might have been a much brighter life had they acted the part of dutiful, loving sons. Scarcely can one of our number pass from among us without leaving in our minds some self-reproach that we were not more kindly towards him, and that now he was beyond our kindness; that our opportunity for being brotherly towards him is for ever gone. And when we have very manifestly erred in this respect: perhaps there are among all the stings of a guilty conscience few more bitterly piercing than this. Many a son who has stood unmoved by the tears of a living mother--his mother by whom he lives, who has cherished him as her own soul, who has forgiven and forgiven and forgiven him, who has toiled and prayed, and watched for him--though he has hardened himself against her looks of imploring love and turned carelessly from her entreaties and burst through all the fond cords and snares by which she has sought to keep him, has yet broken down before the calm, unsolicitous, resting face of the dead. Hitherto he has not listened to her pleadings, and now she pleads no more. Hitherto she has heard no word of pure love from him, and now she hears no more. Hitherto he has done nothing for her of all that a son may do, and now there is nothing he can do. All the goodness of her life gathers up and stands out at once, and the time for gratitude is past. He sees suddenly, as by the withdrawal of a veil, all that that worn body has passed through for him, and all the goodness these features have expressed, and now they can never light up with joyful acceptance of his love and duty. Such grief as this finds its one alleviation in the knowledge that we may follow those who have gone before us; that we may yet make reparation. (M. Dods, D. D.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 35:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/genesis-35.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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