There Jacob built an altar, and he called that place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed Himself to him as he fled from his brother.
When thou vowest a vow, defer not to pay it," says Ecclesiastes (Genesis 5:4); but Jacob had deferred. He made a vow at Bethel, and he seems afterwards to have ignored it. If he thought of it, a number of things had been ever ready to present themselves as excuses for delay. His faithful services given constantly to Laban, his efforts to make good his position in the land, and then to avert the anger of Esau, had apparently absorbed so much of his attention that he had forgotten his vows. These solemn promises had been made at a very critical period of his life, and God had not forgotten them. He reminds Jacob of them in a very emphatic manner. Jacob had failed to see in the circumstances in which he was placed with respect to the people among whom he dwelt that there was a hint of neglected duty. God permitted Jacob to be made uncomfortable that he might be made considerate. The way in which his sons had treated the Shechemites had brought him into great danger. He and all his were likely to be cut off by these enraged inhabitants of the land. He is reminded of the danger in which he was once placed from the vengeance of Esau. The similarity of the circumstances forcibly and very naturally turn his thoughts to the One who alone can be his defense. Thus circumstances and Divine communications impel to the performance of duty. How merciful is God in his treatment of souls! How he leads the wanderer back to duty! Jacob, when about to strike his tents and remove to Bethel, wishes that his sons and servants should go up with him, and that they should go up in the right spirit. He therefore says to them, "Put away the strange gods," &c.
I. NEGLECTED DUTY IS A HINDRANCE TO APPROPRIATE AND ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP. That Jacob should have been obliged to give such an injunction to his household shows that he had not sufficiently kept before his sons and servants the duty they owed to God. He had allowed himself to strive for worldly success until they might have even imagined that he was no better than the rest of them or their neighbors; but deep down in the heart of this man was a reverence for God and a desire to do his will. His neglect to carefully instruct his sons had borne bitter fruit. Had he instilled into his sons ideas more in accordance with the character of the God he served, they would not have taken such mean methods as are mentioned of revenging themselves on those they had come to dislike. His neglect necessitates the sudden and difficult effort now put forth to induce his sons to seek with him to serve God. He feels that he cannot rightly worship God unless his children and household are with him in spirit. He wishes to foster in them a belief in his own sincerity. To have one in a family looking on indifferently or sneeringly is death to successful worship. Jacob's neglect had led to carelessness by his sons of the Divine service. He could not himself enter heartily on the service until he had discharged, in a measure, his duty as guide and instructor to his family.
II. ANOTHER HINDRANCE IS THE ATTACHMENT TO OBJECTS WRONGLY HELD IN REVERENCE. The sons of Jacob had admitted false gods into their affections. Idolatry was rife among them. Even his wife Rachel had so much faith in her father's idols that she stole them when she left home. The sons caught the spirit of the mother, and indulged in the worship of strange gods. Perhaps they worshipped secretly the gods which Rachel cherished, or they may have given adoration to the idols they found among the spoils of the Shechemites. They may have had little images which they carried about with them, as many superstitious Christians carry the crucifix. Amulets and charms they seem to have worn on their hands and in their ears, all indicating superstition, false worship, and wrong ideas. God is spoken of in the Bible as "jealous." This is with respect to worship given to representations of gods having no existence. The jealousy is right, because it would be an evil thing for man himself to think there were many gods, or to select his own god. When, in after ages, the descendants of these sons of Jacob yielded to the sin of worshipping other gods, ten of the tribes were swept away, and have never been rediscovered. Indeed the stream was tainted in source, and "grew no purer as it rolled along." When Achan brought the Babylonish garment into the camp of Israel, the chosen of God could not stand before their enemies, but when it was removed they were again victorious. So strange gods must be removed from our homes and from our hearts, or we can never be successful in the conflict against sin, or in the acceptability of the worship we offer. It is for each Christian to search his soul, and to see whether there is any desire, habit, or practice which in the least militates against the worship of God. Many who were incorporated with Jacob's household were Syrians, who brought their evil practices with them. When any enter God's Church they must leave behind them the practices of the world; nor possessions nor potation must be the gods then worshipped, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
III. THE HARBOURING OF ANY SPECIAL SIN WILL BE A SURE HINDRANCE. The sons of Jacob had not only outward false objects of reverence, but inward evil propensities. They were treacherous, cruel, lustful, envious, murderous. See how they treated the Shechemites, and in after years their own brother Joseph. What scandalizing, jealousy, and even opposition, are found in some homes! How hard it is to alienate sinful habits from the heart and the home I how hard to get the right tone for devout service in the home I Certain habits of temper, ridicule, sarcasm will chill and check all worship. Jacob urged his sons to be "clean," - pure, - "to change their garments." They had need to do the latter, for they had been spotted with the blood of the men they had murdered. Jacob meant that they were to put on the garments kept for the worship of God. Rebekah had garments by her in which Esau as eldest son worshipped God, and which she put on Jacob. It is probable that it was the practice under the patriarchal dispensation to perform certain ceremonial ablutions prior to entering on the solemn worship. "Cleaniness is next to godliness." It leads to it. The need of purity in the worship or God is thus indicated by ablutions and change of garments. But how easily we may have the outward without the inward. We need cleansing in the holy fountain opened by Christ, and to be clothed by his righteousness.
IV. A great hindrance to successful worship is HAVING LOW IDEAS OF THE DIGNITY OF THE ACT, AND THE MAJESTY AND HOLINESS OF HIM WHOM WE WORSHIP. God must be made to appear great to us. He is "high and lifted up." He made not only these frames of ours, but this vast universe. He is worshipped by worlds of intelligent spirits, and has been worshipped from the depths of eternity. He is holy and full of majesty. Shall we be indifferent as to the duty or the mode of worship? What a marvel that we should be permitted to have fellowship with our Creator I If we have it, it must be in the way and place he appoints. For Jacob it was at Bethel, for the Jews at Jerusalem, for Christians at the cross. To Jacob and the Jews it was by annual sacrifices, to us it is by the offering of Christ "once for all." - H.
1. God securing His by His terrors upon enemies, they come in safety where God calleth them.
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.
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.)
Homilist.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.
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 (ver. 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 (ver. 7).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
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