The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.The Dream of Jacob
Although Isaac lived sixty-three years after his deception, the remainder of the book of Genesis is occupied mainly with the history of Jacob and members of his family. It is wonderful to mark how suddenly, and sometimes almost contemptuously, men are displaced in history, and especially how some lives that opened in marvellousness pass away in commonplace or obscurity. So we cannot calculate the end from the beginning; we cannot say, Given such a dawn and we shall have such a sunset, in human life. God seems to govern to a considerable degree by the element of surprise. Some suns we never see but in their setting; others are never seen after a dazzling dawn, and others seem to shine all the day in cloudless lustre. The disposal of human life is with the Lord. Whether we rise or fall, whether we stand in the sun, like images to be gazed upon by a universe, or perish in the dust under our feet, the whole disposal of our life's lot and destiny is with the Lord. If we could believe that, we should never be in dejected spirits, we should never lose our strength through our want of faith. Isaac was a passive, rather than an energetic character. He was a despondent person. We thought he would have done otherwise; but that misjudgment upon our part is no discredit to Isaac. We have forgotten that the Lord reigneth. Sometimes we have wondered how the Lord would remove certain characters from the panorama of history. Has he not performed many a miracle herein? We have taxed our poor ingenuity to find methods by which certain men might disappear consistently with the harmony and music of things; and when we have failed, God has wrought out some miracle in providence which has astounded and yet completely satisfied us. We have seen the end and have been contented with it, as the soul is contented with a Divine revelation.
Now we begin with Jacob in earnest. He has, so far, escaped his brother's anger, which we thought to be just. Life is spared; but is the punishment evaded? The supplanter has apparently succeeded, whereas he has but begun the discipline of purification and refinement; he has gone at his mother's bidding; but, instead of having escaped God, he has run more consciously and completely into his hands. Herein also is a mystery, black as a night cloud, and yet not without some wealth of stars in all its appalling gloom. Jacob had undertaken this journey on his mother's advice, with the narrow policy of allowing Esau's anger to subside. She was minimising Providence into a local incident; she had undertaken too much. We cannot put our arms around the horizon; we are under seven feet at the most. Rebekah little knew how large a door she was opening, when she bade her son good-bye. She opened the universe! The supplanter has gone to meet Laban—he will meet the Lord before he meets Laban. God is waiting at the sleeping-place, and the revelation is already prepared. We require the darkness for the revelation of some things; we do not see the stars whilst the sun is blinding us; we speak flippantly of the day; we forget the night.
How goes the great tale of inward experience and consciousness? How beats the storm-music?—or is it almost silence? What is it? Notice how large conceptions come in upon the man's mind. Here is, first of all, larger space. Jacob saw heaven. Enlargement of space has a wonderful influence upon mind and spirit of every degree and quality. Go abroad; climb the hill, and leave your sorrow there. Take in the great revelation of space, and know that God's government is no local incident, or trifle which the human hand can take up and manage and dispose of. We perish in many an intellectual difficulty for want of room. Things are only big because they are near; in themselves they are little if set up with the firmament domed above them, and numbered along with other things, which give proportion to all the elements which make up the circle of their influence. Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things. You must bring your little flesh-wound against the mortal bruise of the universe; you must set up your little, little cross against the infinite Cross of Christ. It is possible for a man to live so long in his own house, as to live downwards towards the point of extinction; it is possible for a man to be so consumed with his own little business—for the greatest business of earth is but a noise and a spasm; there is nothing in the most stupendous business that is worthy of more than one moment's consideration, though we are agitated lest we miss the final post—it is possible for a man so to live within his own business as to go down into narrowness of thought, despair of soul, utter littleness and vapidity and nothingness. Go into the field, pass over the ways of the seas, pray when the stars are all ablaze like altars that cannot be counted, and at which an infinite universe is offering its evening oblation; take in more space, and many a difficulty which hampers and frets the mind will be thrown off, and manhood will take a bound forwards and upwards. Space is not emptiness; space is a possible Church.
Enlarging space never goes alone; it brings with it enlarging life. Jacob not only beheld heaven: he saw the angels coming down, going up—stirred by an urgent business. It is one thing to talk about the angels: it is another to see them. Blind bats! we seldom see any angel; mockers! we are fond of laughing at others who think they do. Herein we need not be too literal. The music is possible of realisation without any debasement of the reason. The great, stimulating, solemn thought is this: that there is more than is visible to the naked and most wakeful eye. There ought to be: we have all friends lost enough to make a heaven. You can treat them in either of two ways: like dead dogs that leave no mark in the universe, no name in all creation's ample bound: or you can think of them as released persons, emancipated slaves singing songs, saints clothed in white raiment walking on hills of light, or flying or running on errands of mercy and love. Had there been no heaven of any kind without us, I repeat, we have lost enough of old companions to make a good strong heaven of. Let us not flippantly bid them good-bye, and think they have left nothing but a grave; amongst them are "The dead but sceptred monarchs who still rule our spirits from their urns." We must bear the reproach of believing in a heaven: we cannot consent to wither under the desolating negativism which deprives us of immortality.
Enlarging space brings enlarging life; enlarging life brings an enlarging altar. Jacob said, "Surely the Lord is in this place." We cannot enter into Jacob's meaning of that exclamation. He had been reared in the faith that God was to be worshipped in definite and specified localities. There were places at which Jacob would have been surprised if he had not seen manifestations of God. The point is, at the place where he did not expect anything he saw heaven; he saw some form or revelation of God. See how the greater truth dawns upon his opening mind, "Surely the Lord is in this place," and that is the very end of our spiritual education; to find God everywhere; never to open a rose-bud without finding God; never to see the days whitening the eastern sky without seeing the coming of the King's brightness; to feel that every place is praying ground; to renounce the idea of partial and official consecration, and stand in a universe every particle of which is blessed and consecrated by the presence of the infinite Creator. We have not yet attained this summit of education. We still draw a line between the Sabbath Day and the day that went before it; we have still a church and a market-place; still we vulgarly distribute the sum-total of things into Church and State. When God has wrought in us all the mystery of his grace, and reared us to the last fruition of wisdom possible below the skies, we shall know that there is no market-place, no State, no business, but one great Church; every speech holy and pure as prayer, every transaction a revelation of justice.
Immediately following these larger conceptions of things, we find a marvellous and instructive instance of the absorbing power of the religious idea. In Jacob's dream there was but one thought When we see God all other sights are extinguished. This is the beginning of conversion; this is essential to the reality of a new life. For a time the eye must be filled with a heavenly image; for a time the ear must be filled with a celestial message; a complete forgetfulness of everything past, and a new seizure and apprehension of the whole solemn future.
This is the very mystery and the very grace of regeneration. The mind is filled with God; all speech is resolved into one word—God, God, GOD. There will be reaction; there is menial work to be done, there are educative processes to be gone through and completed, and therefore the mind will throw off some measure of that complete absorption; but the influence of it will remain for ever. No man can go back from conversion; if he has gone back, he was never converted. When we forget some things, we forget or surrender the reason which makes us men. It we have been regarding regeneration as a mere emotion, a happy frame of mind, a time of gracious weeping, on account of vividly-remembered sin, I wonder not that we have gone back and walked no more with the sons of light. We mistook the occasion; we committed an error of judgment rather than a crime of will. When a man has once had his soul filled with God, he can never be a bad man again—slip he may a thousand times a day, but the seed of God abideth in him. From this sight Jacob begins a new life; he will often cheat and supplant, and scheme—that is in the man's queer blood—but he will die upwards, heavenwards. We must wait to see how he dies.
Wonderful is the effect of Divine communion. Take it in the case of Jacob. Jacob said he was afraid. We do not know the whole meaning of that word in such circumstances. Jacob said, "How dreadful is this place!" Circumstances are sometimes necessary to the definition of terms. What earthquakes shattered old policies and deceits we cannot tell; what idols of the heart were killed in that mighty awe we know not; what creeping things that defiled the soul were slain by the cold of that stony fear we cannot tell. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"—not the intellectual veneration which is sometimes mistaken for fear, but the moral obeisance of the whole man, feeling its littleness and seeing the infinite quality of God.
Jacob was also humbled. His expression is: "I knew it not—I never suspected it; this is an enlargement of my imagination; this is a surprise of every faculty." We must be made to feel our ignorance before we can begin our knowledge. Jacob felt his smallness; Jacob cringed under the sharp bite of self-contempt. This is a necessary process in religious education. So long as there is one pulse of pride left, there is no conversion; so long as the right hand supposes it can do one good thing of itself apart from God, prayer is an impossibility; so long as the soul can say of the Ten Commandments "All these have I kept from my youth," it cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. It must have received a commandment that slays it with an utter and unsparing blow. The mighty must be brought down, the proud must be humbled, the supposedly wise must be uncrowned. "Ye must be born again."
What a beautiful moral sequence brings to a close the whole incident. "Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.... And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will... I will." The amended translation of Jacob's vow reads thus: "If Elohim will be with me, and will protect me on this journey that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I come again in peace to my father's house, and Jehovah will be my Elohim, then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall be Beth-Elohim; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely pay thee tithes." We have all said so, and some of us have never fulfilled the vow. We rose up from the bed of sickness, and said, "Hence on, every pulse is God's, every breath a prayer." We have been delivered from danger, from poverty, from despair, and we have written our great vow, and have blasphemously forgotten every word of the covenant.
What has taken place in regard to the transaction with Esau? Everything; we are on the right course. First, be right with God. The time comes when there can be no amendment, no compromise, no arrangement with creditors, no compounding; no givings, takings, strange concessions, but when life becomes a religious agony and interview with God. Hence the two commands—which are one—"Thou shalt [first] love the Lord thy God; thou shalt [second] love thy neighbour as thyself." The second is impossible without the first. If you are at enmity with your fellow-creatures, you cannot settle it between you: both of you must first see God. Jacob saw him; Esau beheld him; and, when the men wept upon one another's neck, they realised, and manifested, and incarnated the love of God.