CHARACTER OF JACOB.
- And Jacob vowed a vow saying. If God will be with me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat. and raiment to put on. rn that I come again to my father's house is peace, then shalll the Lord be my God." Genesis U8; 20, 21.
We have for our subject to-day, Jacob. There was a time when I used to be troubled a good deal about these Bible characters. I used to think that, because they were saints, everything they did was right; anil I could not understand just how it was that God would permit them to do such things and not be punished. Jacob was one of those characters I used to stumble over. But since I have got a little better acquainted with my Bible, I find that these characters are given to us as examples to warn us. If they were all like Joseph and Joshua, and Daniel, and Jeremiah, and John the Baptist, and a few of those characters that never tripped and fell, that never deviated a hair's breadth, I think it would discourage a good many of us. But when we come to a character like Jacob, and we find that God had grace enough to save him, I think there is hope enough for almost any of us; for, by nature, he was as bad a character as you will find. By nature, he was very treacherous and deceitful. Jacob means a planner, and a deceiver. He started wrong; altogether different from the way Daniel did. He started with a lie in his mouth. I do not know that the ladies like to have me say it, but I think his mother was as much to blame as he was; for she told him to tell a lie to his father. And the object of taking up a character like this is not to look at the failings of Jacob, while we forget our own. Though he was a grandson of Abraham, he is twin brother to most of us. Wherever you go, you find this man's character brought out in a great many men. He could trust God just about as far as he could see him, and no farther. He was one of those men that are willing to trust God, if they know how it is coming out.
Let us draw a contrast between Jacob and Joseph. Joseph could trust God in the dark; he was willing to walk with God anywhere, and believe that God was going to bring everything out right. But Jacob wanted to see how it was coming out. Rebekah laid the plan to keep Jacob at home. It is the old story over again. Esau waa Isaac's favorite, and Jacob Rebekah's; ana when there is favoritism in the old home, there is always trouble. When Rebekah began to plan to keep her son at home, she just defeated the object she wanted to bring about; for Jacob left home, and she never set eyes on him again. Esau drove him off. Let us just see him as he starts away from home. In that 27th chapter of Genesis, 46th verse, we find what it says about Rebekah: "And Rebekah said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth: if Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?"
Life began to be a burden to her; and now she wanted Isaac to bless Jacob and send him off, in order to save his life, because it had come to her that Esau was planning to kill his brother. So Jacob started away, without asking his father to forgive him for his lie to him. Yet God met him, for it says in Genesis, 28th chapter: "And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place and put them for his pillow, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac; the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." Just straight from the throne God says, "I will give it to thee." See how plain that is. There are a great many of God's promises that are conditional, but others are without any condition. Here is God shouting down from the top of that ladder what he will do for him. There is no condition about it; God says I will do this. "And Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. Undoubtedly he had been told a good deal about the God of Abraham. His grandfather, probably, bad him on his knee a good many times, and told him of God, so
that God was really no stranger to him. He had heard about him; and now he says: the Lord is in this place. "And he was afraid and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the housa of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning and took the stone that he had put for his pillow, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying if God will be with me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God."
There is a bargain. You see Jacob is always trying to make a bargain. After God had shouted down what he would do for him, he said: "If the Lord will give me enough to eat and drink and bring me back to the father's nouse, he will be my God." Instead of praising God for what he had offered him, he gets up with that low idea of God. Then he went to Haran; and we find him in Haran driving sharp bargains with his Uncle Laban, and Laban is beating him every time. When a man has met the God of Grace, he has no chance to cope with the world in worldly things. After Jacob has met God, what does he want in the world driving sharp bargains? I think more of his unole than I do of him. His uncle was a good deal more honorable than Jacob. He went to that old, blind father and lied to him; and after he goes to Haran, he is paid back in his own coin. He has to work seven years more to get Rachel, and his wages were changed ten times. We do not hear anything about the vow he made; but there he is,driving sharp'bargains and trying to get rich.
But God is going to fulfill his promise. And now we find here in the 31st chapter and 13th verse that God came, and he says: "I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me; now arise, get thee out from this land and return unto the land of thy kindred." Now instead of Jacob going out like a man, he just watched his chance and stole away like a thief. We find that his father-in-law came after him; and if God had not appeared to him, I don't know but he would have taken the life of Jacob. He might have said that God had called him, and have gone like a man; but instead, he stole away. He was always planning; he could not let God plan for him. But now he hears that Esau is coming out against him, and he is troubled. He could not trust God; he could not believe in his Lord. He wanted to see how it was coming out; and then he began to plan again. He divided his herd, and sent some ahead, so that he could keep in the rear. How mean, how cowardly. Then he is left alone with God, and there he wrestles with God. It says in the 32d chapter of Genesis, 24th verse: "And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a
man with him until the breaking of the day." We hear that quoted a good deal. We hear a good deal about the wrestling Jacob; and we forget that there was a man wrestling with him. We cannot force God to give us his blessings. God wants us to receive, and we are not willing to receive at his hands. The trouble was with Jacob, not with God; for God had come for the purpose of blessing him. "And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, ha touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh; and he said, I will not let thee go except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? and he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
"And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name; and he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel; for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved."
Now people say that he did prevail when he wrestled. I do not think that a man can wrestle much with his thigh out of joint. His power was gone, and when he was weak, he prevailed with God. He got to the end of his own strength, and all he could do was to plead for a blessing; and then he got it. When we are weak we are strong with God. It is when we get to the end of the flesh, and are weak and hold on to God, then it is that we have power with him. The Lord blessed him there; and he prevailed when he was weak, and when his strength was gone
But now we turn over into the 33d chapter, and we find him again. Instead of going to Bethel, we find him down at Shechem, and he built there an altar and put his own name on it; but I don't think God ever met him there. In the 20th verse, it says: "And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel." A high-sounding name, wasn't it? The name that God had given to him. There is a good deal of attaching our name to the Lord's work—" my church," "my prayer meeting," "my Sunday-school," and my this and my that, instead of keeping ourselves out of sight and giving God all the glory. But the Lord never met him there at Shechem; and he fell into sin iind his family into disgrace; and at last the God of Bethel came again. "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. Then Jacob »aid unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments." You see that he had got an altar down there, and he had got strange gods. There are a great many men in Boston who ride two horses; they pretend to worship the God of heaven, but they worship the god of this world. Yo« cannot -worship God and mammon. When God came to Shechem. what did he find? He found Jacob had these strange gods; and he told him to arise and go to Bethel, and he would bless him. God was not going to bless him down there, with all his strange gods; and when we get away from our idols and they are buried out of sight, then we have power with God. Jacob said: "And let ua arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in tb<* way which I went." Now, let your minds go back, friends, you that have wandered from God and have got down at Shechem. The reason the church has got no more power is, because it has gone away down to Sheohem. Many of us have wandered and gone astray. Let us arise and go up to Bethel, and get back to the house of God, so that he can bless us. "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands, and all their ear-rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which has of Shechem."
He ought to have burned them, or smashed them to pieces; but be hid them under an oak. It is a good thing when we get the idols buried. I wish we could dig a grave in Boston deep enough to bury all the idols in this city. We would then see how soon God would bless us. We make an idol of money, of reputation, of pleasure, of friends. We have a great many idols that have come into our hearts; and the God of heaven is not there, and cannot bless us on account of these idols. See what happened when they buried these idols: "And they journeyed; and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them; and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob." So that the terror of the Lord fell upon the nations round about them. Jacob had power then, because he was right with God and had put away his idols; and the terror of God fell upon the nations round about 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
§lace El-beth-el; because there God appeared unto him when he ed from the face of his brother."
In the 13th verse we find that " God went up from him in the place where he talked with him;" and in the 16th verse, that Jacob journeyed from Bethel, left it, would not stay there. In the opening of that chapter, "God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make there an altar unto God." Affliction came upon him, because he would not obey God and dwell at Bethel; and the next thing we hear that Rachel died. He then sends Joseph down to Shechem to see the boys that are looking after the sheep. I don't know but they had gone there to dig up those idoli that were buried under the oak. Jacob has got his trouble again; hut boys came back with a lie upon their Hp3. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked." You lie to your parents and your children will lie to you. The reaping time will come. Twenty Of thirty years bad rolled away; and now his own boys come back and say that his favorite son, the idol of his heart, the one he loved—he had fallen into the same sin that Rebekah and Isaac committed; he loved Joseph and Benjamin more than the rest of his sons, and that brought jealousy into that home and family, and now the fires of jealousy are kindled in the hearts of these brothers; and they begin to plan how they can put that favorite son out of the way. They wanted to murder him; they had murder in their hearts; and they would have killed him, if God hadn't overruled them. They cast him into the pit, and it was ordered by God that he should be brought up out of the pit and sold into slavery in Egypt; and the old man mourned for that boy for twenty long years. It was a good deal more than he sowed; the reaping time had come; and you will find, when they told him that Joseph was dead, they could not comfort him. His •ons and daughters gathered round him; but he would not be comforted. He says, "I will go down to my grave mourning for that boy. You can see the old man, as he lay upon his bed at night; he dreams of that boy being torn into pieces by wild beasts; you can hear his voice haunting him, and for twenty long years he mourned over him as dead.
When they came back from Egypt, and reported that the governor of Egypt had treated them roughly, and said that they could not get any more corn until they brought down Benjamin, and he had already taken Simeon and thrown him into prison, the old man cried: "Joseph is not; Simeon is not; and now you take Benjamin from me. All these things are against me." He had a stormy voice, hadn't he? The man that cannot walk by faith always has trouble. The man that is all the time planning, and will not let God plan for him, always has a stormy journey, and never knows what true peace and comfort is.
And in the 47th chapter, when he gets down into Egypt himself, what a testimony that was to take down to the king of Egypt; it would not get many converts for his God. The Egyptians would say: "If that is your testimony about your religion, we don't want it; we would rather have the god of the Egyptians, than to have such a God as you have." We find it says in the 47th chapter and the 9th verse: "And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years; few and evil have the days of the years of my life been, and have not attained onto the days of the years of the life of my fathers, in the days of their pilgrimage." Queer testimony to take down to the heathen king! He would not win a great many souls to Christ with it. And these Christians who are always walking by sight never lead any to the cross of Christ; they are a great hindrance to the church to-day. If wi- take Christ with us, and believe in his word, our testimony will be worth something. When we do, the Son of God has been with us all the time; he has blessed us, and the light has been shining brighter and brighter along the pathway to heaven.
Let us keep this in mind, that although Jacob had all these failings, God was with him and blessed him, and condescended to call himself the God of Jacob, the God of Israel; and this all magnifies grace. There may be a man here to-day who has got a mean, treacherous disposition. Bring it to God; he has got grace enough to give you victory; he gave Jacob victory. We find the old man passing away in peace, although in exile in Egypt; and he might have died in his own land with his family around him; and his end might have been glorious like that of Joshua in Timnath-serah, if he had only been willing to walk by faith. But, no, he took himself out of God's sight and planned all the time; and if he had a castle, you might have written over every door, "Doubting Castle." There was the trouble with Esau, the trouble with his father-in-law, and from his natural life up, because he would not take God by faith and trust him.
Oh, may God help us to learn a lesson from Jacob; and may we know what it is to put ourselves wholly in God's hands, and let God plan for us. A sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his knowing it. The very hairs of our heads are numbered, for our heavenly Father knows we have need of these things. God will take care of us if we will put our trust in him. Let us put our trust in God, and not keep planning all the time to see how it is going to come out.