And God said to Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar to God…
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 (ver. 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.
(1) The first is that since he was last at Bethel he had increased in the knowledge of God. He knew Him then only as God, now he knows Him as the God Almighty (ver. 11). This is but a type of our own life; our knowledge of God must always be progressive.
(2) Another thing we perceive, that in these twenty years there had been a growth in his personal religion. Once it had been but a selfish religion — he adopted a system of barter with God; if God will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, then shall God be my God (chap. Genesis 29.). Now there is a higher step, it is gratitude; God has done it, and now God shall be his God (ver. Genesis 35:3) — a higher motive, but not the highest; he has yet to learn to serve Him, not in happiness, but in misery; to serve Him in trial, because He is God, and to learn to say simply and believingly, "Thy will be done."
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 (ver. 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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And God said unto Jacob, Arise, 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.