When Jacob woke up, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was unaware of it."
Isaiah 43:2; Matthew 28:20) and recorded for our learning.
I. GOD DOES ALWAYS WATCH OVER AND GUIDE. The ladder was not a new thing; it had existed always. The vision showed what exists everywhere (2 Kings 6:17). The ladder shows the truth which should stamp our lives. God is love, and love means care. This is for all. Not our love that causes it. Our love, trust, life spring from that truth. The living God is close to us. His hand touches our life at every point. How is it that we are unconscious of this?
II. GOD'S WORKING IS HIDDEN AND SILENT. Jacob was startled to find him near. Because year by year the world goes on as before, unbelievers deny God's active presence, worldly men think not of it, and even godly men sometimes forget, for we cannot see the top of the ladder. But God, there, directs all.
III. HIS PURPOSES ARE ACCOMPLISHED BY MANY AGENTS. Many angels, messengers (Psalm 104:4; Hebrews 1:14); natural agents, the elements, &c.; human agents, men good and bad alike carrying out his will; spiritual beings (Psalm 91:11). How often those who pray for spiritual blessings forget that common things also are ruled by God. Thus a great door of communion is closed.
IV. BUT THERE IS SO MUCH CONFUSION IN THE WORLD. We often cannot trace God's hand. How often is trust confounded, wise schemes frustrated, earnest self-denial in vain; prayers, real and intense, without apparent answer. Nay, these are but seeming confusions, to teach the lesson of faith. Through all these, by all these, God's purposes are surely carried out. One great truth is the key of all - the love of God revealed in Christ. This is the ladder from which he proclaims, "Lo, I am with thee" (cf. Romans 8:32). He who wrought out redemption, can he fail?
V. GOD'S GOVERNANCE IS FOR OUR SALVATION, in the fullest sense of the word, giving us the victory over evil. God was with Jacob. He had been from the first, though not recognized. He was so to the end. Not giving uninterrupted prosperity. Many a fault and many a painful page in his history; but through all these he was led on. The word to each who will receive it - "Behold, I am with thee." Not because of thy faith, still less of thy goodness. Oh that every Christian would practice trust (Psalm 5:3); hearing our Father's voice, "Commit thy way unto the Lord," and gladly believing "the Lord is my Shepherd." - M.
I. The first circumstance we must notice, is THE TIME WHEN THIS DISCOVERY OF GOD TO JACOB WAS MADE.
Surely the Lord is In this place, and I knew it not.I. This living sense of God's presence with us is a leading feature of the character of all His saints under every dispensation. This is the purpose of all God's dealings with every child of Adam — to reveal Himself to them and in them. He kindles desires after Himself; He helps and strengthens the wayward will; He broods with a loving energy over the soul; He will save us if we will be saved. All God's saints learn how near He is to them, and they rejoice to learn it. They learn to delight themselves in the Lord — He gives them their hearts' desire.
II. Notice, secondly, how this blessing is bestowed on us. For around us, as around David, only far more abundantly, are appointed outward means, whereby God intends to reveal Himself to the soul. This is the true character of every ordinance of the Church: all are living means of His appointment, whereby He reveals Himself to those who thirst after Him. We use these means aright when through them we seek after God. Their abuse consists either in carelessly neglecting these outward things or ill prizing them for themselves and so resting in them, by which abuse they are turned into especial curses.
(Bp. S. Wilberforce.)
I. Let us look, for a moment, through the familiar incidents of the Scriptural story, for the sake of some quiet illustrations they furnish The only way to look upon Scripture characters is to contemplate them on the heaven side, to just look up straight at them. In our conceit, we are sometimes wont to estimate these worthies of the Old and New Testaments as being altogether such as ourselves, wilfulest and most blind, moving self-impelled in orbits of earthly history. Just as a child contemplates the stars it sees far down in a placid lake, over the surface of which it sails. They do seem mere points of fire under the water, and an infant mind may well wonder what is their errand there. It ought, however, to need no more than a mature instructor's voice to remind the mistaken boy that these are but images; the true stars are circling overhead, where the creating Hand first placed them in a system. So these orbs of human existence, distinct, rounded, inclusive, must be judged, not as they appear down here in the confused depths of a merely human career, but aloft, where they belong, orbited in their settled and honourable place in the counsels of God; —
"For ever singing, as they shine,
The hand that made us is Divine."
II. Nor is the case otherwise, when we enter the field of secular history for a new series of illustrations. The Almighty, in building up His architectures of purpose, seems to have been pleased to use light and easy strokes, slender instruments, and dedicate took He uses the hands less, the horns coming out of His hands more, for "there is the hiding of His power." He has employed the least things to further the execution of His widest plans, sometimes bringing them into startling prominence, and investing them with critical, and to all appearance incommensurate, importance. What we call accidents are parts of His ordinary, and even profound, counsels, lie chooses the weakest things of this world to confound the mighty. Two college students by a haystack began the Foreign Mission work. An old marine on ship-board commenced the Association for Sailors. The tears of a desolate Welsh girl, crying for a Testament, led to the first society for distributing Bibles. Were these events accidents? No; nor these lives either. God reached the events through the lives. "The Lord" was "in that place." He established those lives, nameless or named, like sentinels at posts. They did their office when the time came. They may not have understood it, but the Lord did. And even they understood it afterwards.
III. We might arrest the argument here. I choose to push it on one step further, and enter the field of individual biography. In our every-day existence we sometimes run along the verge of the strangest possibilities, any one of which would make or mar the history. And nobody ever seems to know it but God. I feel quite sure most of us could mention the day and the hour when a certain momentous question was decided for us, the effect of which was to fix our entire future. Our profession, our home, our relationships all grew out of it. No man can ever be satisfied that his life has been mere commonplace. Events seem striking, when we contemplate the influence they have had on ourselves. A journey, a fit of sickness, a windfall of fortune, the defection of a friend — any such incident is most remarkable when all after-life feels it. We never appreciate these things at the time. Yet at this moment you can point your finger to a page in the unchangeable Book, and say honestly: "The Lord was in that place, and I knew it not." We are ready, now, I should suppose, to search out the use to which this principle may be applied in ordering our lives.
1. In the beginning, we learn here at once, who are the heroes and heroines of the world's history. They are the people who have most of the moulding care, and gracious presence of God. It may be quite true they know it not. But they will know it in the end.
2. Our next lesson has to do with what may be considered the sleeps and stirs of experience. The soul is beginning to battle with its human belongings, and to struggle after peace under the pressure of high purposes, the sway of which it neither wills to receive, nor dares to resist. The Lord is in that place, and the man knows it not. Now what needs to be done, when Christian charity deals with him? You see he is asleep; yet the ladder of Divine grace out in the air over him makes him stir. He dreams. He is sure to see the passing and repassing angels soon, if you treat him rightly. He must be carefully taught and tenderly admonished.
3. We may learn likewise a third lesson; the text teaches something as to blights in life. The world is full of cowed individuals; of men and women broken in spirit, yet still trying to hold on. Some catastrophe took them down. They cannot right up again. Many a man knows that a single event, lasting hardly a day or a night, has changed his entire career. He questions now, in all candour, whether he might not as well slip quietly out under the eaves, and take his abrupt chances of a better hereafter. If a blight results from one's own will and intelligent sin, he deserves a scar and a limp. Pray God to forgive the past, and try to work the robustness of what remains into new results. But if we were only sinned against, or were unfortunate, that goes for nothing. If we only suffered, and no sinew is wrung, we may well have done with thinking discontentedly of it. While the world stands, all Adam's sons must work, and all Eve's daughters must wail. No life is now, or is going to be, blighted, that can still take a new start. Begin again. These periods of reversal will all sweep by and by into the system of purposes. We shall sing songs of praise about them in heaven.
4. Hence our best lesson is the last; it tells us how to estimate final results. The true valuation of any human life can be made only when the entire account shall come in. Oh, how fine it is for any one to be told, as Jacob was: "I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee oil" How it magnifies and glorifies a human life to understand that God himself is urging it on to its ultimate reckoning!
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
1. It was in a season of distress.
2. It was just after he had fallen into a grievous sin.
II. CONSIDER THE ENDS TO BE ANSWERED BY IT.
1. One design, then, of this vision certainly was to give Jacob at this time a lively impression of the presence and providence of God, His universal presence and ever active providence.
2. But God had another design in this vision. It was intended to renew and confirm to Jacob the promises He had given him.
III. But let us go on to notice THE EFFECTS PRODUCED ON JACOB BY THIS HEAVENLY VISION.
1. The first of these was just what we might have expected — a sense of God's presence; a new, startling sense of it.
2. This vision produced fear also in Jacob. "He was afraid," we read. "How dreadful," he said, "is this place!" And yet why should Jacob fear? No spectacle of terror has been presented to him. No words of wrath have been addressed to him. There has appeared no visionary mount Sinai flaming and shaking before him. All he has seen and heard has spoken to him of peace. We might have expected him as he waked to have sung with joy. What a change since he laid himself down on these stones to sleep! The evils he most dreaded, all averted; the mercies he mourned over as lost, all restored. Happy must his sleep have been, and happy now his waking! But not one word do we read here of happiness. The Holy Spirit tells us only of Jacob's fear. And why? To impress this truth on our minds, that the man who sees God never trifles with Him; that the soul He visits and gladdens with His mercy, He always fills with an awe of His majesty.
3. Notice yet one effect more of this scene — a desire in Jacob to render something to the God who had so visited him. And this seems to have risen up in his mind as soon as he awoke, and to have been an exceedingly strong desire. There is nothing he can do now for God, but he sets up a memorial of God's loving kindness to him, and binds himself by a solemn purpose and vow to show in the days that are to come his thankfulness for it. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
(C. Bradley, M. A.)
2. Let us enter now the kingdom of Providence, again to rejoice that God is there. My brethren, let us walk the centuries, and at one stride of thought let us traverse the earliest times when man first came out of Eden, driven from it by the fall. Then this earth had no human population, and the wild tribes of animals roamed at their will. We know not what this island was then, save that we may suspect it to have been covered with dense forests, and perhaps inhabited by ferocious beasts; but God was here, as much here as He is to-day; as truly was He here then, when no ear heard His foot fall as He walked in the cool of the day in this great garden — as truly here as when to-day the songs of ten thousand rise up to heaven, blessing and magnifying His name. And then when our history began — turn over its pages and you will read of cruel invasions and wars which stained the soil with blood, and crimsoned it a foot deep with clotted gore; you will read of civil wars and intestine strifes between brother and brother, and you will say — "How is this? How was this permitted?" But if you read on and see how by tumult and bloody strife Liberty was served, and the best interests of man, you will say, "Verily, God was here. History will conduct you to awful battle-fields; she will bid you behold the garment rolled in blood; she will cover you with the thick darkness of her fire and vapour of smoke; and as you hear the clash of arms, and see the bodies of your fellow-men, you say, "The devil is here"; but truth will say, "No, though evil be here, yet surely God was in this place though we knew it not; all this was needful after all — these calamities are but revolutions of the mighty wheels of Providence, which are too high to be understood, but are as sure in their action as though we could predict their results." Turn if you will to what is perhaps a worse feature in history still, and more dreary far — I mean the story of persecutions. Read how the men of God were stoned and were sawn asunder; let your imaginations revive the burnings of Smithfield, and the old dungeons of the Lollards' Tower; think how with fire and sword, and instruments of torture, the fiends of hell seemed determined to extirpate the chosen seed. But remember as you read the bloodiest tragedy; as your very soul grows sick at some awful picture of poor tortured human flesh, that verily God was in that place, scattering with rough hands, it may be, the eternal seed, bidding persecution be as the blast which carries seed away from some fruit-bearing tree that it may take root in distant islets which it had never reached unless it had been carried on the wings of the storm. Thou art, O God, even where man is most in his sin and blasphemy; Thou art reigning over rebels themselves, and over those who seem to defy and to overturn Thy will. Remember, always, that in history, however dreadful may seem the circumstance of the narrative, surely God is in that place.
3. But we now come to the third great kingdom of which the truth holds good in a yet more evident manner — the kingdom of grace. In yonder province of conviction, where hard-hearted ones are weeping penitential tears, where proud ones who said they would never haw this Man to reign over them are bowing their knees to kiss the Son lest He be angry; where rocky, adamantine consciences have at last begun to feel; where obdurate, determined, incorrigible sinners have at last turned from the error of their ways-God is there, for were He not there, none of these holy feelings would ever have arisen, and the cry would never have been heard — "I will arise and go unto my Father." And in yonder providence which shines under a brighter sun, where penitents with joy look to a bleeding Saviour, where sinners leap to lose their chains, sad oppressed ones sing because their burdens have rolled away; where they who were just now sitting in darkness and in the valley of the shadow of death have seen the great light — God is in that place, or faith had never come and hope had never arisen. And there in yonder province, brighter still, where Christians lay their bodies upon the altar as living sacrifices, where men with self-denying zeal think themselves to be nothing and Christ to be all in all; where the missionary leaves his kindred that he may die among the swarthy heathen; where the young man renounces brilliant prospects that he may be the humble servant of Jesus; where yonder work-girl toils night and day to earn her bread rather than sell her soul; where yonder toiling labourer stands up for the rights of conscience against the demands of the mighty; where yonder struggling believer still holds to God in all his troubles, saying — "Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him." God is in that place, and he that has eyes to see will soon perceive His presence there. Where the sigh is heaving, where the tear is falling, where the song is rising, where the desire is mounting, where love is burning, hope anticipating, faith abiding, joy o'erflowing, patience suffering, and zeal abounding, God is surely present.
II. BUT HOW ARE WE TO RECOGNIZE THIS PRESENCE OF GOD? What is the spirit which shall enable us constantly to feel it?
1. If you would feel God's presence, you must have an affinity to His nature. Your soul must have the spirit of adoption, and it will soon find out its Father. Your spirit must have a desire after holiness, and it will soon discover the presence of Him who is holiness itself. Your mind must be heavenly, and you will soon detect that the God of Heaven is here. The more nearly we become like God, the more Sure shall we be that God is where we are.
2. Next, there must be a calmness of spirit. God was in the place when Jacob came there that night, but he did not know it, for he was alarmed about his brother Esau; he was troubled, and vexed, and disturbed. He fell asleep, and his dream calmed him; he awoke refreshed; the noise of his troubled thoughts was gone and he heard the voice of God. More quiet we want, more quiet, more calm retirement, before we shall well be able, even with spiritual minds, to discover the sensible presence of God.
3. But then, next, Jacob had in addition to this calm of mind, a revelation of Christ. That ladder, as I have said in the exposition, was a picture of Christ, the way of access between man and God. You will never perceive God in nature, until you have learned to see God in grace.
4. More than this, no man will perceive God, wherever he may be, unless he knows that God has made a promise to be with him and is able by faith to look to the fulfilment of it. In Jacob's case God said, "I will be with thee whithersoever thou goest, and I will not leave thee." Christian, have you heard the same?
III. THE PRACTICAL RESULTS OF A FULL RECOGNITION IN THE SOUL OF THIS DOCTRINE OF GOD'S OMNIPRESENCE. One of the first things would be to check our inordinate levity. Cheerfulness is a virtue: levity a vice. How much foolish talking, how much jesting which is not convenient, would at once end if we said, "Surely God is in this place." And you, if you are called to enter a den such as Bunyan called his dungeon, can say, "Surely God is in this place," and you make it a palace at once. Some of you, too, are in very deep affliction. You are driven to such straits that you do not know where things will end, and you are in great despondency to-day. Surely God is in that place. As certain as there was one like unto the Son of God in the midst of the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so surely on the glowing coals of your affliction the heavenly footprints may be seen, for surely God is in this place. You are called to-day to some extraordinary duty, and you do not feel strong enough for it. Go to it, for "Surely God is in this place." You have to address an assembly this afternoon for the first time. Surely God is in that place. He will help you. The arm will not be far off on which you have to lean, the Divine strength will not be remote to which you have to look. "Surely God is in this place." And, lastly, if we always remembered that God was where we are, what reverence would it inspire when we are in His house, in the place particularly and specially set apart for His service! Oh, may we remember " Surely God is in this place," and it will give us awe when we come into His immediate presence!
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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