In spite of all his defects Jacob's action in going forth to Haran was consistent with the purpose of God, and hence by a dream encouragement was ministered to him. At the time of Babel men sought to elevate themselves to heaven by a tower of their own construction, and it ended in scattering and confusion. But God has established a link between heaven and earth, indicated by the ladder of his dream, and this link in those days was made good by angelic administration. Jehovah Himself was at the top of the ladder and poor Jacob, the fugitive, at the bottom, needing a blessing and getting it.
Three things stand out clearly in this divine communication. First, though Jacob was running away from the land of promise, it was confirmed to him and to his seed, which was to be greatly multiplied and spread out in all directions. Second there was the promise of blessing for all the families of the earth in him and in his seed. Third, the promise of the Divine presence and preservation in all his wanderings, and his ultimate restoration to the land which was his according to purpose. He may have some bitter experiences under Divine government but God's purpose will stand.
It may be that when the Lord uttered the words recorded in John 1: 51, He alluded to this incident. If so, we have to notice an important difference. In the coming age the Son of Man will not be a mere "ladder," but rather the administrative Centre of all things. Being Lord of all, angels will ascend and descend as He directs. The heavens and the earth will be brought into harmony and unity under His sway.
Verses 16-22 show us how Jacob responded to the dream. In the first place, it awoke him to the realization of the presence of God. That we may be in the presence of God, and yet quite unaware of it, is a solemn thought. To Jacob it was not merely solemn; it was dreadful. Butthat was because he had no assured standing before God on the ground of redemption Only when the death and resurrection of Christ were accomplished facts could believers say "We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ," having received the reconciliation. For us the presence of God is not dreadful but delightful.
Then again, Jacob recognized that where Jehovah manifests His presence, there is the house of God. Right through the Scriptures runs the thought of the house of God in its various forms and aspects, but here is the first mention of it. It is remarkable moreover that Jacob connected "the gate of heaven" with "the house of God." The first mention of a gate is in Genesis 19: 1, where Lot sat in the gate of Sodom, and this shows that the word is used not only to designate the place of entrance and exit but also the place where men of age and wisdom sat to execute judgment. In other words, gate has a figurative as well as a literal meaning, and where God dwells in His house, there is the place of Heaven's administration and judgment.
And further, Jacob's action in taking one of the stones that had served him for-a pillow, and anointing it as a pillar, and identifying it thus with God's house, is remarkable and significant in the light of 1 Timothy 3: 15. In ancient times pillars were used for support, as we see in Solomon's Temple. But they were also set up as witnesses to certain facts. Three times do we read of Jacob rearing pillars; here and in Genesis 31 and Genesis 35, each time as a witness.
It is in this sense, we believe, that the word is used in 1 Timothy 3: 15. The Church of the living God is the house of God and the pillar and ground, or basis, of the truth. The "church of the living God" is being built by "the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16: 16-18), and it is at the present time the standing witness to the truth in the power of the Spirit of God. It is worthy of note that in our chapter Jacob poured oil upon the pillar, which we may take as a figure of the anointing of the Spirit of God. His action originated the name, Bethel, which means, house of God.
But, though Jacob did all this, the ground that he took in his vow was about as selfish as ever to be found in a true saint of God. It came to this:â€”If God will be with me, and look after me, and do for me what I desire, then He shall be my God, and I will yield to Him a tenth of all that He gives me. A bargain such as this is barely above the level of a decent man of the world. Yet God bore with him and evidently accepted his feeble vow, and did for him all that he wished, and more also.
In Genesis 29, we find Jacob resuming his journey, and the merciful hand of God, directing him and opening up his way, is at once manifested. His steps are guided to the very well where the sheep of Laban, his uncle, were watered and where he met his cousin Rachel. Into the house of Laban he was received with an effusive welcome, but only to find himself there in the hands of a man who was his equal in duplicity.
After Jacob had sojourned there a month, serving Laban, the question as to his wages was raised and, loving Rachel, he agreed to serve seven years for her. The story of how Laban deceived him at the end of the seven years is given to us in verses 23-30, and Laban had a plausible excuse for acting as he did. We cannot fail to see in this the working of the government of God and an illustration of our Lord's words, "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." It was Jacob's turn now to complain of being beguiled.
Moreover, there was discipline from the hand of God. Jacob's love was centred on Rachel and in comparison with her Leah was hated, so it was ordered of God that, while Leah bore children, Rachel was barren. The closing verses of the chapter give us the birth of four sons and their names. It is worthy of note that in each case the name was given by the mother, and was related to her own circumstances and feelings. Jacob does not appear as having any say in the matter. During this period of his chequered career there is no record of his having an altar of sacrifice and communion. Being out of touch, he had no guidance as to the names of his children, and we shall see that this was the case with all his children except the last. Then, though Rachel named him, his father also named him, and Jacob's name prevailed.
The rather sordid story of Jacob's children, and of the devices of both Rachel and Leah, as they endeavoured to gain sons and thus establish themselves in his favour, is related in Genesis 30: 1-21. Here we have the origins of the tribes in these sons, who were named by Leah and Rachel. The handmaids did not name their own sons, and the four tribes descended from these do not appear to have made any particular mark in the subsequent history of the nation.
When we reach verse 22, we find God begins to act, and we leave behind us the scheming of the two wives, though still it is Rachel who bestows the name of Joseph. Yet clearly here is a son who was born as the fruit of God acting in response to Rachel's prayers, and the story is lifted to a higher level. The son appears, who is to play a great part in the history of the nation, and who is to become a striking type of Christ, perhaps the most striking that the Old Testament affords.
In verse 25, we find that the birth of Joseph helped to lift Jacob himself to a higher level and, as a consequence, his mind turned to the land that was his according to God's purpose, and he desired to return thither. We may take it as axiomatic, and true in every dispensation, that when the saint enters into communion with God, the Divine purpose becomes to him all-important. Jacob freshly realized that there was a country that he could call, "mine own place."
Laban, however, intruded into the question and ultimately his thoughts prevailed, and he delayed Jacob, as it turned out, for six years. Laban was a shrewd man and recognized that Jacob's presence with him had brought blessing. He wished to retain that blessing, and was prepared to allow Jacob to settle his own wages. As a result there ensued a further battle of wits, and this time Jacob and not Laban gained the advantage.
Jacob bargained that all the spotted and speckled cattle should be separated and put under his sons, while he tended the others. Then, if these others produced young of the spotted and speckled sort, they were to be his and added to his flocks. The closing verses of this chapter reveal the device that he employed to increase his flocks at the expense of Laban's. We observe how true he still is to his nameâ€”meaning Supplanter.
In reference to this matter, Jacob had said to Laban, "So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to come," which would seem to indicate that he had rather a low idea of what is right in the sight of God. It was quite clear that in time past Laban had taken advantage of him, but to employ counter-devices, in order to reverse the situation, while quite according to the way of the world, is not according to God. It is true of course that Jacob did not walk in the light of God fully revealed as we do.
The effect of all this is seen in Genesis 31: 1-2. The sons of Laban saw that Jacob had largely despoiled their father of his flocks, and Laban himself began to regard him with disfavour. The situation became critical, and the Lord Himself intervened to end it. Back to his own land and kindred he was to go. In breaking the news of their impending departure to his wives he related how Laban had dealt crookedly with him, and how God had acted in his favour. We are now permitted to see how God had intervened and caused the agreement as to the spotted and speckled cattle to work in his favour. In the light of this our reflection would be that if he had rested with confidence in God, and not used the devices related in the last chapter, the end God purposed would have been reached, and his "righteousness" would have answered for him in a much more convincing way.
From all this we may draw a practical conclusion. We have no need nor right to resort to plans of our own, as though we could help God to achieve His purpose. If, on the other hand, God instructs us by His word to act, it is our duty and our wisdom to do as He says. Jacob asserted that Laban had changed his wages ten times. This, if a fact, was great provocation, but to have relied upon God would have saved him from actions also open to question.
In calling him back to the land of promise, God revealed Himself to him as "the God of Bethel," reminding him of the pillar he anointed and the vow that he made. Thus he was called back to the beginning of his direct dealings with God. Such is ever God's way with His people. We may wander away but back to the original spot, whence we departed, we have to come. The point of departure proves to be the place of recovery.
Rachel and Leah altogether supported Jacob in his determination to return. Their attitude shows that they were convinced of their father's dishonourable and callous conduct, and furnishes us with further evidence of how Jacob had suffered at his hands. Their advice in the emergency could not be betteredâ€”"Now then, whatsoever God hath said unto thee, do." Complete trust and obedience to God is the only right thing. It reminds us of the words of Mary, the mother of our Lord, recorded in John 2: 5. God alone has the right to demand such unquestioning obedience.
But in the manner of his departure we again see the character of Jacob revealed. Instead of dealing openly with Laban, meeting him face to face, and then departing with due notice, he stole away unawares while Laban was absent, shearing his sheep. In so doing he presented Laban with fresh ground of complaint, for he had submitted himself to being in the place of a servant, working for wages, though son-in-law to his master. Under those circumstances the parting ought to have been arranged by mutual consent.
A critical situation had been created, so critical that God intervened, speaking this time to Laban, who had no direct knowledge of Him, for he speaks of Him to Jacob as "the God of your father." In a dream Laban was warned not to overtake Jacob with violence of speech or action and, having regard to this, he adopted an attitude only of remonstrance, with a note of reproach in it as to the stealing of his gods. Verse 19 had told us that Rachel had stolen the "images," or "seraphim" of her father. Laban regarded them as his "gods."
Teraphim were small images, used for purposes of divination. The incident furnishes us with a sidelight as to the way in which spiritist practices had spread. These little "household divinities" were reverenced and valued, and oftentimes especially so by the women, hence Rachel's anxiety to have them in her possession as they travelled away from her old home. Heathen practices are very infectious. Of Rachel's action Jacob evidently knew nothing, so the accusation, correct though it was, stirred his anger and led to a statement of his case.
His words to Laban at last were very vigorous, and he told him to his face of the hard conditions of service that he had imposed. He attributed God's warning to Laban as not merely a considerate intervention in regard to himself but as a rebuke to Laban, and so indeed it was without a doubt.
Verses 43 and 44, would indicate that Laban himself was conscious that this was the case, and so, while asserting his fatherly rights, he adopted a different tone altogether, and suggested that a covenant should be agreed and established between them. This was accordingly done.
Again we find Jacob raising up a pillar of witness and also a heap of stones, according to the custom of those primitive days. Jacob undertook to deal rightly by Laban's daughters, and both agreed not to pass beyond the stones of witness to harm each other. We do not read on this occasion of the anointing of the pillar, but we do find that Jacob solemnized the occasion not only by an oath but also by sacrifice. The name of God was invoked, as we see in verse 53, and that as the God of Abraham and of Nahor, since both those patriarchs would have been venerated by Laban as well as by Jacob. In addition Jacob sware by the fear of Isaac his father. Such was the esteem accorded to parents and ancestors in those far-off daysâ€”very good in many ways. But there was the danger of the fear of Isaac, whom he could see, supplanting the fear of the God, whom he could not see. Hence the reminder of the unseen world that he got, as we find in the opening verse of Genesis 32.