Dr. James T. Naismith of Scarborough, Ontario. a physician and Bible teacher, continues his series on Personalities In Genesis.
Copyright by Everyday Publications Inc.; used by permission.
Bethel, The House of God and Jacob’s Conversion
1. The Background
The early history of Jacob is that of a “supplanter,” scheming to obtain his own ends at the expense of others, and deceiving both his father and brother in the process. Fleeing from Esau, he is now beginning to experience God’s disciplinary dealings with him. He is alone, in strange surroundings, away from home. Though unknown to him at the time, he was never to be home for 20 years, and never to see his mother again — reaping the harvest of what he had sown in those years at home. With the sky above and stones for his pillow, v. 11, he lay down to sleep that first night, perhaps with a remorse of conscience as he contemplated the past, and with fear and forboding as he anticipated the future.
2. The Vision, vv. 12, 13
But God was keeping pace with him. He was fleeing from Esau, but he could not flee from God, Ps. 139:7. God was with him and graciously gave His erring creature a vision of His grace and glory. In his vision, there were three particular objects:
1. A Ladder — from earth to heaven. There was now no communication with home and family, but communication with heaven and God was not cut off, in spite of his waywardness.
2. Angels — although he was alone, without earthly companions, here were heavenly messengers: ascending — taking his needs to God; descending — bringing God’s blessing to him.
3. Behold the Lord stood above it. Jehovah, in all His constancy and faithfulness, stood — as He was standing to welcome Stephen, Acts 7:55; and as He stood with Paul in the hour of his need, 2 Tim. 4:17.
3.The Blessing, vv. 13-15
What a message for a wayward Jacob! What comfort and assurance these words of the Lord who “stood above” must have been then and in the years ahead. Note the sevenfold assurance of His:
1. Person, v. 13. “I am Jehovah God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac.” Unchanging, ever-faithful, the God of whom he had heard.
2. Provision, 13, 14. “I will give …” Renewal of promises made to Abraham and Isaac.
3. Presence, v. 15. “I am with thee.”
4. Protection, v. 15. “I … will keep thee.”
5. Preservation, v. 15. “I will bring thee again into this land.”
6. Promise, v. 15. “I will not leave thee.”
7. Purposes, v. 15. “until I have done that which I have spoken.”
4. The Vow, vv. 20-22
Jacob could not but be conscious of the sacredness and awesomeness of that place where God had revealed Himself and made His presence felt. Note how he describes it: “the House of God,” v. 17 — God’s dwelling place; “the Gate of Heaven” — the entranceway to heaven itself. Having made a memorial with the stone that formed his pillow, v. 18, he made a vow —the first vow recorded in Scripture. This was a commitment of himself, and a tenth of his possessions, to God and corresponds with our commitment at conversion. While we may criticize Jacob for attaching conditions to his vow, it may be that the “if” really means “since” and is indicative of Jacob’s trust and dependence upon God. In any case we must remember he was immature spiritually — this may have been his first real experience of God.
Peniel, the Face of God, and Jacob’s Consecration
Circumstances, vv. 1-8
1. Behind Jacob: 20 years of labour, deception, disappointments — but of divine blessings, which Jacob himself acknowledged, v. 10.
2. Ahead of Jacob: Esau, advancing with 400 men. Twenty years had not seemed to cool Esau’s anger and his desire for vengeance.
3. Meeting Jacob: God’s hosts of angels, vv. 1, 2. Sent as a timely assurance by God to Jacob in the moment of fear and crisis. Jacob recognized them as “God’s host” and called the place “Mahanaim” — two hosts — God’s and his. He should have recognized that If God be for us, who can be against us? Rom. 8:31. Perhaps his vision of angels at Bethel, Gen. 28:12, made him realize that this was God’s host.
4. Within Jacob — fear and distress, v. 7 — in spite of God’s revelation of His protection by sending angels, and in spite of Jacob’s acknowledgment of them as “God’s host.” How little faith he really had!
Confession, vv. 9-12
At length Jacob turned to God in prayer — the first actual prayer of Jacob recorded in the Bible. Note that he:
1. Addressed a personal God — “of my father, Abraham and of Isaac” —yet not so personal as to say “my God” — evidence of his partial faith.
2. Admitted personal failure. “I am not worthy.”
3. Acknowledged divine blessing— v. 10.
4. Asked divine deliverance, v. 11. “Deliver me, I pray Thee.”
5. Apprehended divine promises, vv. 9, 12.
Yet, in spite of his prayer, the subsequent verse show his lack of faith in God as he planned and schemed to appease Esau’s anger, and wondered if Esau would accept him, v. 20.
Conflict, vv. 24-32
1. Time. Night — “until the break of day.” It was at night that the Lord had appeared to Jacob at Bethel. This experience, too, was at night: all was dark around; all was dark behind — the dark schemes of deceptions all was dark ahead —the fear of meeting Esau.
2. Circumstances. As at Bethel, Jacob was “left alone” — with God.
3. Opponent. “There wrestled a man with him.” The “man” was evidently none other than God —a Theophany. Jacob summed up the experience in the words: “I have seen God face to face,” v. 30. Note that the Lord took the initiative — it was not Jacob that wrestled with Him but vice versa.
4. Objective. God’s object in the conflict with Jacob was to expose his weakness, break down his opposition and bring him to utter dependence on God. This was a physical struggle, resulting in a physical weakness; but it had a spiritual objective. So God today sometimes uses physical trials to accomplish spiritual purposes.
5. Blessing. Jacob made two requests. One was not granted —”What is thy name?” The divine name was not revealed — it is beyond man’s comprehension. The other request was granted: “I will not let thee go except thou bless me,” v. 26. God’s blessing was expressed in the change of Jacob’s name to Israel, “God’s Prince” or “God’s Perseverer,” and what was implied in that change, a new power with God and with men. Jacob’s persistence in clinging to God and prevailing was going to be remembered ever after in the new name by which he and his successors would be named — Israel.
6. Result. “The sun rose upon him,” v. 31. A new day dawned in Jacob’s life and he would never be the same again. By seeing the face of God, he was a changed man.