The Book of Genesis - "Searchlights from the Word" by G. Campbell Morgan.
The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
That is the key-note of the music of the Biblical Literature. It is preceded by two brief but pregnant declarations. They are concerned with creation and catastrophe. In a simple and majestic sentence, all the order in the midst of which man lives is declared to be Divine origin. Nothing is said as to how God wrought, or how many ages were employed in the process. The one fact is stated that the beginning of the heaven and earth was by His creation. In an equally simple, but most graphic declaration a picture is presented of confusion. Nothing is said of how it was brought about. The picture is such that we know at once that the condition described resulted from some great upheaval. Thus we have suggested immediately, two opposing ideas, those of godliness and order, and lawlessness and disorder. The prevailing condition is that of disorder. The riddle of the universe as to its being, is solved. It is a creation of God. The problem of evil as to its being, is not solved, but it is recognized. Then follows the statement that the condition of disorder is not final. The earth is waste and void, but it is not abandoned. The Spirit of God brooded - for such is the force of the word - upon the face of the waters. Thus the original creation is conserved; and thus evil is limited. Over the waste and void earth, thus conserved, the Word of God sounds forth, uttering His will. That Word is never void of power, and therefore there is reconstruction, accompanied by new acts of creation. That is the whole theme of the Bible.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a
That statement contains an account of the nature of man, from which no Biblical teaching ever departs. In the previous chapter we were told the fact of his creation, and that he was created in the image of God, and placed in dominion over the restored order. Here we are distinctly told how God did the work. Glance for a moment at the last sentence: "Man became a living soul." The Hebrew verb rendered "became" (HAYAH) is always emphatic, and means came to be, or came into existence. The statement is not that man, already existing, was by some act of God, changed into a living soul. The words "a living soul" describe man as God created him. The sentence would perhaps be clearer if written thus: Man became - a living soul. In his creation God employed dust, and the Breath of lives. Thus man is composed of the material and spiritual. The physical is not all of him; neither is he complete as a disembodied spirit. His body is of the dust. His spirit is of the Breath of God. Nothing is told us here as to the condition of the dust when God breathed into it. What processes were included in the forming, are not declared. It is a simple statement as to this original material of the physical. Let it be remembered that dust is also a Divine creation, and no particle of it is ever lost, though it may pass through many changes, as did the body of our Lord in resurrection.
The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden.
Genesis 3: 8
That is the first revelation of the sense of the soul towards God, resulting from distrust and rebellion. It is the sense of sin. They hid because they were afraid. Their fear was not the outcome of any change in God. The change was in themselves. They had yet to learn that there can be no hiding from God. And, moreover, they had yet to learn that their only chance of restoration lay in that fact that there could be no hiding from Him. They had cut themselves off from the possibility of communion with Him, but they had not escaped either from His law or His love. These are the supreme revelations of this story. How true all human experience is to this first picture! The fear of God which prompts men to desire to escape Him, and to hide from Him, is as potent today as ever. The hiding may take the form of denial of His existence, of rebellion against His law, of indifference to His claim. It is always the same, a dislike of God, born of fear; and it is always caused, not by what God is, but because of what man is. The fear of God is ever a witness to the holiness of God, even though it be a proof of ignorance of His love. In so far, therefore, it is a principle of real value. In that sense the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But it is only the beginning. If when, in spite of our hiding, He find us and make known to us His love, we yet persist in fleeing His presence, and refusing His claims, then we commit the sin that has no pardon nor can have. That is what Jesus described as eternal sin. The only safe hiding-place from the holy wrath of God, is in the wounded heart of God. There is a Tree which will hide us, but that is the Tree where we find God in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself.
God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel; for Cain slew him.
What tragedy and triumph merge in these words! It was the cry of a mother's heart. This is the chapter telling the story of the first children born to man. The names tell the story of hopes and fears. Cain, meaning Acquired, revealed her hope that in him the Divine promise of a seed to triumph over evil was fulfilled. Abel, meaning Vanity, revealed her disappointment, not first in him, but in her firstborn; and so perhaps in him also. Then came the tragedy. The boy she named Vanity grew up to know God, and lived according to His will. Then Cain, the Acquired, slew him. Then the mother heart had learned some deeper lesson, for the third boy was named Seth, which meant Substitution. That was a note of hope. If the Divine promise tarried, it was not broken. It could not be fulfilled in Cain. It might have been, to her thinking, in the boy who bore the name revealing her disappointment, but he was dead. The story is not over. Another boy is given by God, and so she learns the great word. What simple things, and what sublime, are suggested by all this! It has something to say to us about our children. We do not know all about them. Each one of them must work out its own destiny apart from our hopes and fears. It has much to say to us about the ways of God. In His dealing with all the problem of human sin, there can be no hurrying.
This is the book of the generations of Adam.
Only twice in the Bible do we find this exact formula; here, and in the first verse of the New Testament; in the one case the reference is to the first man, the first Adam; in the other it is to the second Man, the last Adam. This in itself is a suggestive fact. Here in Genesis the words constitute the title of the scroll which immediately follows, on which the posterity of Adam, through Seth, is given, up to Noah and his three sons. It covers the history of the first period, or age of human history after the Fall; that is the period from the Fall to the Deluge. In the previous chapter the history of the posterity of Adam through Cain is given, up to Lamech, who was contemporary with Enoch. The period covered lasted for fifteen hundred years, and this chapter is of importance because it is the only Biblical history of those centuries. That history is arresting in its brevity and baldness. In the main it is the story of the continuity of the race under the penalty of death resulting from the Fall. Man had distrusted God, and rebelled against His government, because he had believed the word of the enemy, who had said, "Ye shall not surely die." Through these centuries the tolling of the bell of death is persistent; we read it again and again, eight times: "and he died." Thus history was proving the word of the enemy to be a lie, and that of God to be the truth. This is what history always does. Yet the principle of triumph over sin and death is illustrated in the story. Once the death-knell is not heard. Of one man's passing from the earth, the description is different. Of Enoch it is written: "He was not, for God took him." And the explanation is found in the fact that in life he found his way into fellowship with God.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. - Gen 6:5
These words give the reason for the Deluge. We come at this point in the record of human history, to the first activity of the punitive judgment of God. A crisis was reached, which made it necessary, in order to the carrying on of the Divine purpose for humanity, that there should be such action; and in these words the nature of the crisis is revealed. They are very emphatic, and show the utter moral depravity which prevailed. To read them carefully is to discover that fact. When evil choices and courses have thus wrought themselves out, God ever acts in judgment in this way. Over and over again has He done so. We have lived through a period of such Divine activity. And so it will continue until the final victory is gained, and evil is completely banished from the earth. Two matters are revealed which are of the greatest importance. First, God never acts in such judgment until it is necessary in order to the fulfilling of His highest purposes for humanity. Second, God always does so act, when it is necessary. They are the facts of His patience and His persistence. Evil never escapes Him. He presses upon it, and compels it to go on to the uttermost expression; and that, in order that He may destroy it. The flood, the blood and fire and vapour of smoke, all are the instruments of His judgment, and are employed in order to the realization of His high ideals for humanity.
And the Lord shut him in.
In wrath, God ever remembers mercy; He always keeps alive His work; in the midst of the years He ever makes it known. In this history we are looking out upon an awful desolation resulting from the act of God made necessary by the sin of man. Everywhere the destroying and cleansing waters prevail, but riding upon them, in absolute security, is the ark. Within it are eight souls. They constitute the link between the first Divine purpose, and the ultimate realization thereof. They are safe, for God has shut them in. They are there because they have listened to Him, have believed in Him, have obeyed His word. Therefore are they safe; and much more, the purpose of God is safe, for through them He will move on toward the final triumph. Again we see the first illustration of a principle and method which have obtained in all human history. God's judgments are always discriminative in their exercise, and beneficent in their issue. 'the darkness has never completely mastered or extinguished the light. He has always found a remnant of faithful souls, through whom He has been able to move onward to the goal; and they have ever been safe in His keeping. Surely this old story should speak with searching and comforting power to our hearts. It searches us as it compels us to define our own relation to Him. Are we such men and women as He can shut in the ark of His preserving Grace, and through whom therefore He can work for the fulfilling of His purposes?
While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. – Gen. 8:22
These words are part of the new covenant which God made with man after the Flood. In that judgment of a corrupt race the order of Nature had been set aside. One whole lunar year had been a year of judgment (compare Gen. 7:11 with Gen. 8:13, 14), and during that time there had been neither seedtime nor harvest, nor cold nor heat, nor summer nor winter, nor day nor night, so far as the experience of man and the condition of the earth were concerned. The purpose of that particular judgment being accomplished, God reinstated man in his relationship to the earth, putting him under a new order of life, that of the government of man by man (see 9:1-6). In doing so He restored, and abidingly confirmed, the natural order. The next judgment of the earth will be its final fire-cleansing (see 2 Peter 3:7 and 12). Until then this order abides. It is well that we remember that this covenant has never failed, and that the continuity and regularity of the seasons is due to the faithfulness of God. Through the ages man has lived by seedtime and harvest, by cold and heat, by summer and winter, by day and night; and this because God has been faithful and patient. The sorrows of humanity are all due to man's misuse of these things. If they were properly used under the Divine government, there would be neither pain nor poverty, but perfect human conditions. All earthly blessings flow from these Divine arrangements. All earthly curses result from human misuse of them.
I do set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth. – Gen. 9:13
Thus God selected one of the already existing and most beautiful of natural phenomena, and made it the abiding sign of the covenant He had made with man. Apart from clouds and rain there can be no bow. But the bow is never seen on the clouds, except when the sun is shining. In view of the instrument of the judgment through which the earth had just passed, that of the rain and the flood, this was an exquisitely fitting symbol of that covenant made with man by the God of mercy and of grace. The context shows us the use to be made of it. Necessarily when seen in the cloud it would speak to man of this covenant, and without any doubt that was within the mind of God. But that is not the purpose for its adoption as a sign which is stated in the story. It is rather that God said: "The bow shall be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant" (verses 14, 15); and that is still further emphasized by the words, "The bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember" (verse 16). The full value of the bow in the cloud, then, was not so much that when man looked at it he remembered the covenant; but rather that he remembered that God was looking and remembering. That touches a deeper note, and creates a profounder sense of peace. When next we see the rainbow, let us remind ourselves that we are looking at something at which God is looking, and that as He looks He remembers.
These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generation, in their nations; and of these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood. – Gen. 10:32
The reader will observe that in this tenth chapter we have an account of how the nations were "divided in the earth." It precedes the story of the occasion of this division, which is found in the next chapter. It is here that the national idea emerges in the Bible story. Up to now there had been one race. There would still be one race, but henceforth in its growth and development, it would consist of different branches, families, nations, each having peculiar characteristics, which in the Divine economy are intended to be held in trust for the commonwealth, that so the race, being communal, might be the richer. Babel was an attempt to evade this wider purpose of God. Thus the writer describes the division, which followed Babel first, because it was the first Divine purpose. All this should be very carefully pondered. The national idea is Divine, but its principle is co-operation, and its purpose communion. Man has made its principle competition, and its experience has become conflict. When the nations are last seen in the Biblical Revelation, they are walking in the light of the City of God (Rev. 21:24); and then the commonwealth of man will be realized in the Kingdom of God, and all conflict will have ended forever. The last glory of the race will not be monotony, but harmony, the cultivation by every nation of its own peculiar powers and resources, in the interest of all the other nations. That is the far-off Divine event, to which the whole creation moves; and that the glory of the vision which inspires to all sacrifice and service till it be realized.
Therefore was the name of it called Babel.
So a name is given to the Mystery of Lawlessness as it operates in human society. From here, the evil thing is seen running on through all succeeding ages of the history of man, until it comes to final expression, and is destroyed (Rev. 18:21). This story of Babel is that of man's attempt to realize a social order in defiance of a Divine purpose. The purpose of God was the full realization of the race, and that necessitated the replenishing of the whole earth by the scattering of men over all its face. Man took counsel against this scattering, and attempted to realize a State at Shinar, "lest we be scattered abroad." In order to the fulfilment of the larger purpose, God confused their language and drove the nations into separation. The purpose of the scattering was that of the larger gathering which should fulfil His purpose. He confused their schemes that His plan might be realized. This is not only an ancient story, it is the story of a perpetual process. Over and over again men have sought to establish themselves either in rebellion against, or without reference to, the Divine plans. The result has always been confusion. God has never permitted humanity to realize a social order from which He is excluded, nor will He do so to the end. Such an order would mean the limiting and ultimate destruction of humanity. Therefore He confuses all such attempts, and, compelling men to work out their own false conceptions to their logical issue, destroys them.
I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.
In this chapter we have the beginning of the history of the people through whom God has acted in human history, in order to the redemption of the race and the restoration of the Divine order. From this point the Biblical literature is concerned with that people, until of its stock the Deliverer appeared. Then it is concerned with Him and the elect race resulting from His work. While this is so, we must never imagine that the nations or the world are excluded from the Divine thought and purpose. The nation now to be called into being; the One Who, after the flesh, would be of that nation; and the new race created by His work - all, in the purpose of God, are called into co-operation with Him on behalf of the world and of all the nations. The recognition of this fact is fundamental to any correct interpretation of the Biblical Revelation. This is the vital matter in these words spoken to Abram. The last words, "Be thou a blessing," give the reason of the former, "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great." In calling Abram, God did not reject other men; in making his name great, He did not degrade other names; in blessing him, He did not hand others over to a curse. When at last this nation was for a season cast out from privilege and responsibility it was because it had become self-centred, and forgotten its high responsibility for the nations of the world. When that nation is restored to its true place, it will be to fulfil that office. The truth abides. The Church exists in order to be a blessing. For that, she is blessed of God. To forget this, is to fail utterly, and to be cast away.
Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art.
These words were spoken to Abram when he was in a place of peculiar difficulty. He was now in the land to which he had been sent by God. Moreover he was there after a deflection from the pathway of faith, in which deflection he had gone down into Egypt. An hour had come when domestic difficulties had arisen between him and his kinsman, Lot. It had become necessary for them to separate from each other. With the magnanimity of a great soul, Abram had given to Lot the right to choose the place where he would dwell in the land, and Lot had chosen. The result was that Abram, on that level of human arrangement, was excluded from the best of the country. It was at this juncture that God communed with him, and gave him this command. The words are seen in their true suggestiveness when they are put into contrast with those found in the tenth verse, "Lot lifted up his eyes." In doing so, Lot had chosen upon the ground of personal advantage. When he had gone, God said to the man who had chosen not to choose, "Lift up now thine eyes," and directed him to look "northward and southward and eastward and westward"; that was to every point of the compass and consequently over all the land, including that which Lot had chosen for himself. All he thus looked upon was then secured to him by the covenant of God. The teaching of the story is patent. Man has no final rights in any possessions other than those which are his by the gift of God. The man who, by faith, leaves the choices of his life to God, is the man who finds his way into possessions of which he cannot be robbed.
I will not take a thread nor a shoelatchet nor aught that is thine, lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich.
These words show how high an order of faith was that of this man Abram. He had rendered a great service to the King of Sodom, in the victory he had gained over the five kings, even though he had entered into the conflict, not on his behalf, but for the sake of Lot. To a man of less keen perception it would have seemed perfectly natural, and quite harmless, to receive from this king a gift of the material substance which he had rescued. But true faith always sees beyond the immediate, and refuses to compromise its future by any action in the present. Abram saw at once, and saw clearly, what might eventuate; and he refused to put himself in any way under obligation to one who might at some later period take advantage of his action in such a way as to bring discredit upon his God. How wide in its application is the principle here revealed; and how much stronger men of faith in all ages would have been had they acted upon it! How often has the Church, or a church, found its spiritual influence limited, and in many cases destroyed, because she has received gifts from those who in all the facts of their lives were in rebellion against God. Moreover, Abram had no need of such gifts, nor was be impoverished by refusing them. The next chapter begins with the words: "After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward." Such a man needed no reward which the King of Sodom had to offer him.
He believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.
That this is a statement of central Importance is self-evident, and this is corroborated by the fact that Paul and James both quote it, in letters which some have thought to be contradictory, but which are equally complementary; Paul in his letters to the Romans (4:3), and the Galatians (3:6), and James in the one which he wrote (2:23). Reference to these passages will be found helpful. Let us consider the statement as it stands. What belief on the part of Abram is referred to? That in which he believed that God would actually do for him that which, on the level of the human, seemed impossible. This he believed, and thus he believed God. That belief God counted to him for righteousness. It is of the utmost importance that we make no mistake as to the simple meaning of that statement. Let us therefore at once say that it does not mean that God put something down to his account which he did not possess. His belief was right, therefore it was righteousness. His belief was the reason of all the activities of his life subsequent to his exercise of it. Therefore it was the inspiration of righteous activity. Thus we see how Paul and James agree. Paul argued that only faith can make righteous. James claimed that the only proof of faith is righteousness. Jesus said, "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent" (John 6:29); and the same great truth is confirmed by that saying. The first act of righteousness is belief. The man who believes God has righteousness counted to him, because by so doing he does the right, and makes possible the realization of righteousness in his character and conduct.
This was the name given to the well by the side of which Hagar, the bondwoman in Abram's household, and the mother of Ishmael, had been visited and comforted by the Angel of Jehovah. It is significant as revealing her experience. It has been variously translated: "Well of a living, my seer"; "The well of living after seeing"; "Tice well of him that liveth and seeth me." These renderings are all of the nature of interpretation. The actual translation must recognise the combination of three words: Beer - a well; lahai - life; roi - a seer or a vision. To understand the suggestiveness we need the context. The previous verse shows that she had seen God as the One Who saw her. He therefore was the living One, Who cared for her life and comforted her. These, then, were surely the ideas giving rise to the name. God was discovered as the living One Who sees. That vision brought life to Hagar. This whole incident is most illuminative, showing us that God is not unmindful of those who are outside the covenants made with the people called to carry out His purposes. He is always the God Who sees; and He is ever the living God, Who acts according to what He sees. In many ways, which are beyond those of His special covenants with His chosen, He is giving life to those who see Him, however dimly. This name of a well, then, seems to stand out upon the page of the ancient story, like a shaft of light in darkness, suggesting great thoughts about God, and Has ways with men, and filling the heart with confidence in His justice and goodness.
I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou perfect.
In this word Jehovah revealed Himself in a new way to Abram, and called him to a yet completer devotion. The name or title, El-Shaddai, is peculiarly suggestive, meaning quite literally, the mighty One of Resource or Sufficiency. We miss much of its beauty by our rendering God Almighty. The idea of Almightiness is present, but it is fully expressed by the word El. The word Shaddai goes further, and suggests perfect supply, and perfect comfort. We should reach the idea better by rendering God All-bountiful, or even better still, God All-sufficient. This was the new revelation, and it was in connection with its making that Abram was called to walk before this God, and to be perfect. This is ever God's way with His own. He reveals the perfection of their resources in Himself, and then calls them to a walk which is made possible by these very resources. Who can walk before God and be perfect in his own wisdom or strength? Surely none! But, on the other hand, who need fail to do so, if depending upon Him for all He, in tender and mighty strength, is able and willing to supply. To gather sustenance and consolation from the bosom of God, is to be made strong for all the pilgrimage, however long the march, or difficult the route. For us, the revelation of this truth about God is perfected in our Lord, for "The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him." And more: "Of His fullness we all received, and grace for grace."
I will speak yet but this once; peradventure ten shall be found there.
This is one of the greatest chapters in all the Bible in its revelation of the possibilities open to the man of faith in communion with God. Abraham is seen as concerned for the honour of his God. To him it seemed that if in the judgment of the wicked, the righteous should be involved, justice would be violated; and in that view he was right. His conviction was the direct result of his knowledge of God. Under stress of this concern he talked to his God, and was answered. Accepting his suggestion as to a number, God declared that if fifty were found in Sodom He would spare the city. Encouraged by this assurance, Abraham applied his principle to forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty, and in every case the Divine response ratified his conviction. Then once more he ventured, suggested ten, and being again answered, stopped there. The statement is illuminated by the sequel. Abraham stopped at ten, but God carried out the principle in that He delivered the one, as He compelled Lot to leave before the judgment fell upon the city. The lesson for us is patent. God is not only, as we sometimes say, better than our fears; He is better than our hopes. If we are concerned for His honour, He is ever willing to commune with us, and to lead us as far as our faith will travel, ever giving us assurance of His faithfulness to the highest things we think of Him. Then we may know, that when we dare go no further in suggestion, He will go beyond our daring.
I cannot do anything till thou become thither.
In these words we find the carrying out to the uttermost of the principle for which Abraham had contended in his communing with God. They reveal to us the fact that it is impossible for God to be untrue to His own character of righteousness. His judgments can never be inconsistent with His justice. All this is emphasized when, reading this whole story, we see the reluctance of Lot. He was a righteous man, vexed with the lawless deeds of the men of Sodom (2 Peter 2:7,8); but his associations with the city, and doubtless his possessions therein, were such that he lingered, and could hardly be persuaded to leave. While he was there God could not do anything, because to do so would have been to destroy that man, righteous, though reluctant to leave; and that would have been to deny Himself, and to undermine the very foundations upon which His throne is built. That is the truth which gives us confidence at all times. However terrible the judgments of God are, they are always discriminative ; and even when to our limited vision it may appear that the righteous are involved with the wicked, we know it is not so. Amos had that conviction when he said: "I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth" (Amos 9:9). This does not mean that the righteous never suffer as the result of the sin of others. They may suffer, and even die; it does mean that such suffering and death have another meaning.
What sawest thou, that thou hast done this thing?
These were the words of Abimelech to Abraham; of the King of Gerar to the father of the chosen people. In the chapter we have the account of a deflection from the pathway of faith on the part of the man of faith. In such departure he was reduced to the expedient of making arrangements for his own safety by deceitful practices, in that he hid the truth that Sarai was his wife, and told the half-truth that she was his sister, she being his half - sister, the daughter of his father, Terah, by another wife. The astounding thing is that he had done this before in the case of his visit to Egypt. This question of Abimelech was an inquiry as to what motive had prompted Abraham, and it brought this answer: "Because I thought, Surely the fear of God is not in this place." What a revelation we have here of blundering! Abraham thought that among a people who lacked the fear of God, he must act for himself, and without God. God taught him by this experience, first, that His fear existed where he did not think it did; and therefore that it was not only unnecessary, but also wholly wrong, for him to act as he had done. By such action he had placed the whole purpose of God in jeopardy, and but for the intervention of God it would have been made impossible of realization through Abraham. What unutterable folly it is ever to limit God in our thinking, and so to have to fall back upon our own policies! To do so is always to turn aside from the high ways of His purpose, and to imperil the possibility of working together with Him.
God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
This was the word of the Angel of God about Ishmael, and it is one which we do well to ponder. Ishmael was the son of the bond-woman, the offspring of a failure of faith. When Isaac, the child of faith, was born, the bond-woman mocked. That is a suggestive statement. It was necessary that Hagar and Ishmael should be sent forth. They could have no part in the purposes of God, which were being wrought out through the chosen people. But when thus sent out, they had not passed out of the sight of God, nor beyond His care and government. God provided for him what he needed at the moment to preserve his life; God was with the lad, and he grew; God made of him a great nation. This story, rightly apprehended, will help us to that view of all history which is necessary to intelligent understanding thereof. God's elections never mean His abandonment of those not elected. There is no nation which lie has not made. There is no people which He has excluded from the purposes of His goodness. Those elected are elected to serve the others. When at last His city is built, all the nations shall walk in the light thereof. When the seed, called in Isaac, has won the final triumph, Ishmael will share in the glorious results. A remembrance of that fact will purge our hearts from the possibility of all contempt for any "less-favoured" peoples. We shall see in them those whom God sees, for whom God cares, and for whose ultimate recovery and blessedness God is ever working.
Because thou hast done this thing.
These six words have no meaning thus removed from their context, but in relation thereto are full of value, as they fasten attention upon an act of Abraham, and upon what that act made possible in the activity of God. In this act, the faith of Abraham rose to its highest level, and its most wonderful expression. In obedience to a Divine call, Abraham took an action which by all human calculation would prevent the fulfilment of a Divine Promise, knowing that the Word of God could not be broken. Because he did so, God was able to make him the instrument through whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed. That is the whole of this story, the details of which are so graphically given in this wonderful chapter. The one word which clings to the mind is that word, "Because." God is able to do things when we dare to trust Him. How much is involved in any hour when our faith is put to the test! Not our own character alone; nor merely the question of our personal relationship with Him; but issues and results much larger than, at the moment, we can see. It is perfectly true and clearly revealed by this story, that God does prove us by calling us to great ventures of faith, ventures which often run counter to our intellectual ability and emotional life, ventures which call us to poignant suffering. But He never does so, save to prepare us for co-operation with Himself in some great purpose of His wisdom and His love.
And the field, and the cave that is therein, were made sure unto Abraham, for a possession of a burying-place by the children of Heth.
This field and its cave as a burying-place constituted the only holding which this man Abraham ever had, in the land which was given to him as a possession by a covenant with God. How insecure this making sure to him by the children of Heth was, is revealed by the fact that eighty years later his grandson Jacob regained possession of it by re-purchase (see Gen. 33. 19 and Acts 7. 16). How constantly faith possesses in a covenant with God what cannot be secured by a covenant with man. Never, even yet, has the seed of Abraham finally and perfectly possessed that land; but it is equally true that no other race has possessed it. It is reserved in the purpose and power of God for His ancient people, and they will possess it. Faith knows this, and thus persistently possesses what it does not seem to hold. This is the perpetual victory of the man of faith. He receives the promises as promises, and dies, not having received the promises as realizations. He dies triumphantly, knowing that the promise will be fulfilled. Thus, all the realizations of the high things of human life are held in the consciousness of faith; and are made sure, by its activity in fellowship with God. Faith is the power to do without what God has promised, until the time comes when He in His infinite wisdom provides the thing promised. Yet all the while faith possesses, and enters into all the joys of the gift. God's gaining earth and our gaining heaven are assured by Divine covenant.
Thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.
On the part of Abraham this sending of his servant to seek a wife for Isaac was an act of obedient and intelligent faith. He was now about a hundred and forty years old, and Isaac was forty. The record declares that "Jehovah had blessed Abraham in all things" (verse 1); and the chief blessing granted was this son. Through him the promises made to Abraham were to be fulfilled; the promised Seed was to come. The certainty of this promise made it incumbent upon Abraham to co-operate with God intelligently. Therefore he took this method of securing the seed of his son from contamination with the people of the land. It was an activity of faith. This is seen in the answer Abraham gave to his servant when he suggested that the woman he might find might not be willing to follow him. He declared that Jehovah would send His angel before him. The sequel shows how wonderfully this man was guided through the ordinary circumstances of everyday life. The principle suggested and illustrated by this whole story is that faith is to act reasonably. To believe in the promises of God is to act in accordance with them, in the sense of intelligent co-operation. Faith does slot sit down and say: God has promised, therefore I have nothing to do. It rather says: God has promised, therefore I must do everything in the line of His promise; and so far as in me lies, see to it that nothing interferes with His purpose.
Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full.
That is a great word, especially if we leave it as it is in the Hebrew Bible, without the addition of the words, "of years." Abraham died full, not of years only, or principally, but of life, of experience, of all the great things. By faith he had abandoned much, but he had gained far more. He had come to know God; to walk with Him, to talk with Him; to enter into a true fellowship with Him in all the great processes of His heart. "He was called the friend of God" (Jas. 2.23). Such life is full whatever it seems to lack. The man whose vision is bounded by the things of time and sense might well say that Abraham died singularly empty. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, he "died in faith, not having received the promises." For a hundred years he had sojourned in a land given to him in a covenant, but he had not possessed it according to the standards of human possession. Surely he had little of earthly gain in which to boast, and he had given up very much when he left Ur of the Chaldees. Nevertheless, he died full, for in his fellowship with God he h9d learned to measure time by eternity, to value the things of sense by those of spirit. To such a man death is but passing on to wait the accomplishment of the Divine purposes, and the fulfilment of the promises of God on the other side. So the fullness of Abraham was that of a wealth which death could not touch. The fullness which men gain who live by sight and not by faith, is a fullness of which they are emptied in death. They leave their possessions behind them. The men of faith carry their fullness with them. It is a great thing thus to die - full.
And he removed from thence, and digged another well.
In these words we have a revelation of the character of Isaac, and an indication of the nature of his faith. He was a quiet, placid man, not given to making any great ventures, not given to restlessness. His was the pastoral habit, that loved to dwell peaceably, digging wells and so providing for the needs of those of his people and his cattle who were dependent upon him as the head of his tribe. But he was a man of persistence. He would not engage in strife with those who stole his wells, but he would quietly go on digging until they were tired of stealing. When his persistence found its reward in a well which his enemies did not appropriate; he called it Rehoboth, and attributed his victory to Jehovah, saying: "Jehovah bath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land." All this is very valuable, as it helps us to see that faith expresses itself in different ways, according to differing temperaments. The faith of Abraham was ever of the high, adventurous order, and was the means by which God could lead him to great experiences. The faith of Jacob was always that of restlessness, but it was faith, and so was the vantage ground which God found for the perfecting of the man, and for using him. That of Isaac was restful, persistent devotion to immediate duty, and it was the principle which made it possible for God to give room in the land to the people He had chosen. God needs, and will honour and use, the adventurous faith of Abraham, the restless faith of Jacob, and the patient, persistent faith of Isaac.
Tarry with him a few days.
This was Rebekah's conception of the measure of the wrong she had done to Esau by her duplicity, and it was the proof of her misunderstanding of her own children. She had acted in harmony with her conviction that the purpose of God was to carry out His purposes through Jacob rather than Esau, but her action was none the less wrong. She did not know the strength of Esau's hatred and anger. She thought it would expend itself in "a few days." Those few days multiplied into twenty years; and while we have no account of Rebekah's death, it is at least more than probable that she never saw Jacob again. The whole story shows how God overrules the blunders of men; but it none the less illustrates the folly of wrongdoing, and teaches us how human cleverness, acting apart from Divine guidance, falls into the most complete miscalculations. How constantly, when we turn aside from the pathway of a simple obedience, we count up the cost, and how again and again we have to learn that we were wrong in our estimates! The few days become twenty long years; the comparatively trivial disadvantage is found to be a lifelong disability: the negligible quantity becomes the permanent pain. It is well for us if we learn that our cleverness is always at fault when it attempts to arrive at the Divine goal in any other way than by travelling along the Divinely marked pathway. What constant pain should we be spared if we really believed that God ever works for them that wait for Him! That is true faith.
Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.
These were the words of Jacob when he awoke from his sleep, and they record the result of the revelation which had been granted to him through the dream of the ladder and the ascending and descending angels. Their deepest significance is discovered when we notice particularly the tenses of the verbs he employed: "Jehovah is in this place ... I knew it not." The first tense is present; the second is past. Through the experience of the night he had come to the consciousness of an abiding fact - "Jehovah is in this place," of which he had been ignorant when he had gone to sleep - "I knew it not." The fact was that of the abiding presence, the constant nearness of God. He did not say, "Jehovah was hi this place," as though he had received a visit from God. The revelation which had come to him was far more wonderful and better than that. Those ascending and descending angels had shown him the perpetual nearness of Heaven to earth, and the voice of God which he had heard was the voice of One ever nigh at hand. He had travelled away from home, and from the place of the altar, but he had not travelled away from God, notwithstanding the fact that his journey had been made necessary by his own wrongdoing. Seeking a stone for a pillow, in utter loneliness, he had lain him down to rest, not knowing that the God of his fathers was with him yet. He woke to the realization of the fact, and that very place became to him Bethel, the house of God.
Tell me, what shall thy wages be. - Gen. 29:15
That was Laban's question, and in the light of the whole story it is a revealing question. The name of Jacob has become almost the synonym for crafty cleverness, and there may be, and doubtless is, a great deal of justification for that fact. Nevertheless, it is impossible for anyone who loves straight dealing between man and man to study this whole narrative without prejudice, and not to feel satisfaction in the fact that Jacob was one too many for this man Laban. Jacob was clever, but he was honourable in his dealings; he broke no contract, he fulfilled his obligations. This cannot be said for Laban at any point. He deceived Jacob, and that most cruelly; and every time he offered him some apparent benefit it was with an ulterior motive which was wholly selfish. Laban was the type of man who without scruple makes use of his fellows, squeezing every advantage out of them, and then throwing them aside without compunction. It is a mean and dastardly type. This is a story to which one's mind constantly recurs when one hears people speaking contemptuously of the Hebrew people. Let it be granted that they have outwitted, and still do succeed in outwitting, many of those who would oppress them; it is nevertheless true that for every Jacob among them a Laban is found whose methods are those of rank injustice. Indeed, it is not very far from the final truth to say that it is Laban's unscrupulous methods which have developed Jacob's craftiness. At least, it is proven beyond fear of Contradiction that those who have treated the Jew with justice and consideration have found in him a response of fidelity and faithfulness which has been irreproachable.
The man increased exceedingly, and had large flocks, and maidservants and menservants, and camels and asses.
And that in spite of Laban, or perhaps rather as the result of the unjust pressure which Laban had brought to bear upon him through the years. There was nothing unjust or dishonourable in the methods of Jacob. They were clever, astute, perhaps not those which the Christian ethic would warrant. But this man did not know that ethic, nor could he. He had desired at this time to depart from Laban. Laban, however, on his own confession had profited by the service which Jacob had rendered him, and so had a strong desire to retain him. Therefore he consented to an arrangement which Jacob proposed (verses 31, 32). This compact he immediately broke (verses 35, 36). It was then, when deceived again by Laban, that Jacob commenced the method which resulted in his enrichment. Here it should be said that most expositors refer the statements in verses 35 and 36 to Jacob, supposing that it was he who separated the ring-straked and spotted to himself. But such a view can only be maintained by the strangest forcing of the story, which goes on distinctly to declare that Jacob fed the rest of Laban's flocks. Here then we have another instance of the unscrupulous methods of Laban, and of how Jacob played his part against them successfully. All this is interesting, but there are deeper things than those appearing yet upon the surface.
The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.
In this chapter we part company with Laban, and that not with any regret. These particular words are selected today because of the incidental light they throw upon superficial and false methods of using the Bible. They constitute a revelation of the reason why the heap of stones erected by Jacob when he left Laban was called Mizpah, that is, a watch-tower. It was Laban who uttered them, and they were the words of suspicion rather than of confidence. As these men parted, they were conscious of mutual distrust. The heap of stones was a boundary of separation. It was a witness that neither was to pass it in order to harm the other, and God was called upon as the Watcher Who should see to it that the compact was observed. That helps us to see how false is the use made of the word oftentimes. Not many years ago, it was the fashion to give and wear rings engraved with the word Mizpah, which were supposed to indicate a friendship cemented in the watchfulness of God. Perhaps it was all very harmless, but it was certainly very ignorant. To set this simple thing to the test of the Scriptures themselves is at least to be warned as to the danger of slipshod reading and careless interpretation, the results of which are not always harmless, but may lead to entirely false ideas and actions, not only out of harmony with truth, but destructive thereof. God is the Watcher Who never loses sight of the ancient landmarks, and woe be to the man who removes them, or wrongs his neighbour. But where justice is guarded by mutual love, no Mizpah is required, a watch-tower reminding us of the vigilance of God in this way.
Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel.
The centrality of this chapter to the story of Jacob is recognized. In these words we have a revelation of the real meaning and issue of the night of struggle through which he had passed. Everything depends upon a right understanding of the contrast between these names. Jacob literally meant heel-catcher, and so supplanter. Israel is a compound of two words, Isra, which means ruled, and El, the name of God, and so means Ruled-by-God. This was the discovery made to him that night, and that discovery constituted God's victory. Jacob had contended with men and had prevailed. That had been the story all through, and the effect of his successes upon his character had been that of making him self-reliant, and in that measure forgetful that these very successes had resulted from the fact that all his life was arranged and ruled by God. That was the lesson he had to learn in order that he might be delivered from a self-sufficiency which must inevitably have ruined him. That explains all the story of that night. God crippled him to crown him, revealed his weakness to teach him the secret of strength, defeated him that he might find victory. His cry, "I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me," was not the strident cry of a man compelling a reluctant God to yield to him; it was the sobbing wail of a man casting himself at last at the feet of a God seeking to heal him (see Hosea 12:4). From that day he halted in his walk, and that halt was the patent of his nobility. Whatever others thought of it, he knew it was the abiding sign of God's victory, and that he was a man ruled by God. How often apparent disabilities are the signs of royalty, and so of ability!
The naming of this altar was certainly significant: It will be observed that the name God occurs thrice therein. "ElElohe-Israel." It means God - the God of Israel, or if we further translate God - the God of the one ruled by God. Dr. Scofield has an illuminative note on this name. He says that this naming of this altar was "Jacob's act of faith appropriating his new name, but also claiming Elohim in this new sense as the God through Whom alone he could walk according to his new name." Whether Jacob at this time had understood this may be doubted, but that it is a vital truth there is no question. The fundamental lesson of all true life is that we must be ruled by God; but the further lesson needs to be learned, namely, that it is only possible for us to walk, according to the Divine rule, in the Divine strength. Yielding to God is far more than an act; it is an attitude. As the act of yielding is ever that of response to the Divine call, and often the Divine pressure, so also the attitude of yielding is only maintained in the measure in which we depend constantly and entirely upon God. Happy indeed is the soul who is completely at the end of self-confidence. Then, and only then, is man safe, when he can and does truthfully pray:-
- Grant me now my soul's petition,
None of self and all of Thee.
It is never quite safe to sing that last line without the preceding one. It is when dedication is expressed as a prayer rather than as an act of will, that it becomes complete.
Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city unawares, and slew all the males.
This is a dark page in the history. The story of the wrong done to and by Dinah is a tragedy, and there is a sense in which we cannot wonder at the anger of her brothers. Nevertheless the words we have chosen for emphasis reveal a greater wrong. These men had discussed the situation and had entered into a compact with Hamor and Shechem. They in their turn kept the pact. Then, in spite of that arrangement, the sons of Jacob slew the men of the city. The wrong of it weighed heavily on the soul of their father, and in his final charge to them ere he died, he reverted to the matter, and severely reprobated their action. (See Gen. 49. 5, 6.) In this story is seen something which is constantly emphasized in the Bible, and it is a matter that we do well to ponder. The principle involved may thus be broadly stated. Man has no right to act unrighteously in a righteous cause. God never does so, and He is eternally opposed to such action. Moses was finally excluded from the Promised Land because his spirit was unrighteously moved in a righteous cause, and he spake unadvisedly with his lips. We must not do evil that good may come, neither must we employ evil methods for the punishment of evil. It is a hard lesson, and one which the heart of man is slow to learn. It does seem to be such an excellent thing to visit the wrong-doers with vengeance; but it is wholly reprehensible to do so, when the act involves infidelity to a covenant made. God never needs that wrong shall be done in order to the vindication of right.
She called his name Benoni, but his father called him Benjamin.
The human elements in these words are very suggestive and full of pathos. Rachel was Jacob's one love. For her, during the years of his exile, he had served fourteen years, seven while waiting for her, and seven in comradeship with her. Now they were back in his own country, and in giving birth to her second boy she died. Ere she passed, she expressed her soul as she named him Benoni, son of sorrow. What did she mean? The question is an open one, and there may be different answers. Among the rest, one that is at least as probable as any other, and perfectly suits the story of the love which existed between her and Jacob, is that she was thinking, not of herself, but of him. He would have the son, but at the cost of the mother, and so he would be to him the son of sorrow. Jacob changed the name to Benjamin, son of my right hand; and here there seems to be his agreement with Rachel rather than disagreement, only he emphasized the other side of the truth. If he was to be bereft of his loved one, Rachel, yet the son born to her would be his comfort and consolation. Thus read, the verse is an idyll. The story is that of sorrow, but it is sorrow transfigured by love. Two who have journeyed together in the joy of true love are about to be separated; but amid the deep shadows of death, there is the light of this new life. Rachel expresses her understanding of what the boy will ever be to his father, the son of sorrow; Jacob, understanding also, and desiring to give her comfort as she passed on, reminded her that the boy would be to him a strength in his sorrow - the son of his right hand. Doubtless the story may have deeper values, but this human touch, of its first natural meaning, is full of beauty.
Esau (the same is Edom).
This is the special chapter about Esau's descendants. He is now to pass out of the story. We shall read no more about him. But his descendants will remain, the people of Edom, persistently in opposition to the descendants of Jacob. They appear again and again, especially in the prophetic writings. One brief but revealing book deals with Edom. It is the prophecy of Obadiah. In it, the judgment of God upon Edom is declared, and the peculiar nature of its sin is described. It is chiefly remarkable, however, for its closing movement, which foretells a day of ultimate redemption even for the mount of Esau, a day when saviours shall come up on Mount Zion to judge it, a day when the kingdom shall be Jehovah's (Obadiah 21). It is good thus in our reading sometimes to glance ahead, for by so doing we may be guided and helped in our attitudes toward much that may be happening around us. Esau was a profane person, who sold his birthright; from his loins there sprang a profane nation, which filled the cup of iniquity to the brim. Therefore their judgment was inevitable. That is not the last word, however. The last word is one of saviours and salvation, within the one and only kingdom of Jehovah. Those who watch with God, see this always. Sin must work itself out. Punishment is inherent in sin. But God is greater than sin, and His eyes are ever fixed upon the issue, and toward that He is ever working. Those who watch with Him, therefore, work with Him; and they wait with Him, enduring the travail, but assured of the triumph.
I will go down to the grave to my son mourning.
Thus Jacob spoke when his son Joseph was lost to him. It was the language of a perfectly honest man. He saw nothing before him for the rest of his days other than sorrow, seeing that the eldest boy of his beloved Rachel had been slain by a wild beast, as he believed. Moreover, there was the willfulness of a strong man in the declaration. His sons and his daughters rose up to comfort him, and he refused to be comforted. He chose to abide in sorrow. He would not accept comfort. Such was the desolation created by the loss of Joseph, that he had no desire to escape the sense of it. He was in that mood which the human heart often experiences, when it would seem a wicked thing to be comforted. Yet he was wrong. His outlook was wrong, and his willfulness was wrong. He did not go down to the grave sorrowing. That son he mourned was alive, and brought joy to his father, illuminating for him the way to the grave. We may say he was not to be blamed, because he did not, nor could he, foresee this fact. But that is exactly where faith comes in. Faith, moreover, is not foresight. It is confidence in God, which means certainty that, however dark the way, it is leading us to sunlit places. Sorrow is not wrong; but waywardness in it, and refusal to be comforted, is always wrong. The man of faith can never consent to judge any circumstances as constituting the whole of things. He must reckon with God, and venture upon Him. To do so, is never to be overcome by sorrow.
She is more righteous than I.
Like chapter 34, this is a dark page in the history. It constitutes a digression from the main story, but it is necessary in order to an understanding of the frailties of these men, and because of its bearing upon subsequent history (compare Matt. r. 3 and Luke 3. 33). It is, first, the story of the sin of Judah, which was not only carnal, but spiritual, in that the wrong was wrought with the daughter of a Canaanite, the race with which the chosen people were strictly forbidden to intermarry. Then it becomes the story of a breach of contract. Judah had covenanted with Tamar that she should have Shelah as her husband. Necessarily we must understand such a covenant in the place it occupied at that time and among those people. This promise he broke, and Tamar took drastic and evil means to avenge herself. This brought home his guilt to him, and called forth these words: "She is more righteous than I." There is no doubt that he was right. The method which Tamar adopted may have been, even in the light of those times, entirely evil, but the motive was that of a passion for the right, which Judah lacked. The story inserted here has this value - that it once more, as in chapter 34, reveals the Biblical conception of the heinousness of the sin of breaking a contract.
And Joseph was brought down to Egypt … And the Lord was with Joseph.
The nearness of these two statements to each other in the story is full of suggestiveness. They bring before us the two matters which affect us all, those, namely, of circumstances and God, and they set the first in the light of the second. For Joseph, circumstances were certainly adverse. He had had his dreams, but the experiences through which he had passed were of such a nature that there seemed to be no possibility of their realization. Here he was, exiled from his own land, in a strange country, cut off from the father who loved him so fondly, in the midst of utter strangers; and having lost his freedom, he was a slave. For the moment everything looked dark indeed. The other fact was that Jehovah was with him. We, writing the story, might have introduced the statements with the word "but" - expressing it thus - "BUT Jehovah was with Joseph." It is at least significant that the writer did not do so. He said: "And Jehovah was with Joseph." This very method was in itself a recognition of a sequence, and so of a relationship. His being brought to Egypt was no accident. Joseph himself came to recognize that clearly, as we shall see presently (Gen. 45:5). Indeed, his whole bearing during these trying days would lead us to believe that he knew all through that Jehovah was with him. The lesson for us surely is that circumstances always demand God, if they are to be explained. If we live wholly occupied by the things seen, we shall know perpetual unrest. If we ever see Him who is invisible, we shall surely endure.
Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.
It is now fully fifty years ago since I heard that quaint and forceful preacher, Thomas Champness, read this chapter as a Lesson. Through the reading he made no comment, but as he finished this verse he closed his Bible, and said: "And his name isn't always Butler!" It was an unconventional, humorous, almost startling remark, but it left an impression upon me which has never departed. It has helped me often to remember. This forgetfulness on the part of this man cost Joseph two more years of prison. It is perfectly true that he was safe in the will of God, and quietly preserved for the hour when he would be needed to be the deliverer; but that does not excuse the butler. How true are the words which we have often quoted:
- "Evil is wrought by want of thought
As well as want of heart!"
We bear no malice; we really desire to help; but we forget. Our own good fortune drives out of mind the evil fortunes of those whom we would serve, and sometimes those to whom we have pledged our word. It is wholly wrong. To forget may be as evil in its effects upon others as the doing of some positive harm to them. Good intentions and sincere promises are of no value until they are carried out, fulfilled. There are many things we have done today. Have we forgotten something?
Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is?
This was the impression which Joseph made upon Pharaoh. It goes without saying that we must not read it in the full light of the age of the Holy Spirit in which we live. That fact, however, does not make it less remarkable, but more so. We need not be concerned with the exact conception of God which was in the mind of Pharaoh. Whatever that conception was, he felt that this man was the instrument of God to him, that through him the wisdom of God was made known. That is the fact which is arresting in the story. Joseph had passed through much trial, but through it all it is evident that he had maintained his loyalty to the God of his fathers. Through all the varied and trying experiences, Jehovah had been with him. Now in the hour of opportunity He was still with him; and this, Joseph recognized and confessed. When he appeared before Pharaoh he at once declared, as to the interpretation of dreams; "It is not in me; God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." In his interpretation he attributed the dreams of the king to God, and gave him their meaning. The notable fact is that in the heart of this king there was that which recognized the truth of these claims, and in these words he confessed that recognition. This is a persistent fact which we do well to ponder. There is that in human nature which recognizes and responds to true godliness. Whether men obey or not, they know what is of God, and what is not.
We thy servants are twelve brethren, ... and one is not.
How constantly wickedness and deceit break down within their own borders. Just at the moment when evil should be most careful, it breaks down by its own methods, and puts itself in danger of discovery and defeat. To say that "murder will out," is really to say that truth will be made known, however desirable it may seem, in the interest of unrighteousness, that it should be hidden. In that sense also it is seen that truth is mighty and will prevail. In some unguarded moment something is said which gives up a secret which there is no wish to reveal. In this story, of course, Joseph was the one who "was not" of that family circle, and sooner or later these men would be confronted again with their sin. But from the standpoint of their desire to hide the past - seeing that, so far as they knew, this high official with whom they were dealing could have no knowledge of them - why did they not say: We thy servants are eleven brethren? There is no answer save that suggested. Evil is ultimately foolishness, and is overcome by the truth. The whole fact was now given away; and by their own confession as to the twelve, they must sooner or later account for the one. Thus has God created man. He cannot wholly escape from the truth. However he try to conceal it, he himself will sooner or later utter it to his own condemnation. "The lip of truth shall be established for ever; But a lying tongue is but for a moment." To do the right thing is to be able to speak the true word; and that is to live the life free from fear. The way of truth is the way of simplicity and liberty.
And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother.
This is a very human touch, and is another revelation of how wondrously this man Joseph had been preserved by his loyalty to God through the years of his varied experiences. When at last his own brother Benjamin was before him, the son of his own mother Rachel, all the memories of the past crowded upon him, and his strong nature was moved to its very depths. It may be said that this was very natural; but the fact remains that natural affection is often destroyed by adversity, and by prosperity. This man had passed through experiences of suffering which might have hardened and embittered him. Moreover, he had risen to such a position of eminence and authority as often renders a man callous and makes him forget old ties and associations, however sacred. Human history is full of instances in which this has happened. It was not so with Joseph. He had passed through the long years of suffering; he had attained the place of highest authority in all the land of Egypt. Yet his heart was true to his kindred, and at the sight of Benjamin he could with difficulty restrain himself from manifestations of emotion, even in the presence of the men from whom for the moment it was necessary to conceal them. Thus it ever is to those who live in fellowship with God. To such, adversity brings no destructive bitterness; and prosperity no proud or arrogant forgetfulness. The Divine comradeship ever keeps the heart young and tender, and all the finest things of the soul in being, and in health. Joseph's love for Benjamin was natural, but it had been maintained by his loyalty to his God.
Let thy servant, I pray thee, abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord – Gen 44:33
Here Judah said the finest thing of his life. It would seem as though this strain of a true nobility was always present in this man in spite of his failures. When in the days of long ago, these men were stirred against Joseph, it was Judah who saved his life. The story of chapter 36 reveals him as acting with his brethren and possibly feeling resentment against Joseph, but even there the better side of him manifested itself. While to these hard and cruel men he appealed on the ground of profit, suggesting that they would make nothing out of the business if they slew their brother, the real motive of his interference was manifested in his words, "for he is our brother, our flesh." Now he saw the life of the other son of Rachel - Benjamin - in jeopardy, and he was concerned for his father, whose grief for the loss of Joseph he had known. His appeal was full of real and genuine eloquence and anxiety, and here it reached its highest note as he declared his readiness to enter into slavery if his brother might be set free. The next chapter shows that it was that appeal which made it impossible for Joseph any longer to refrain himself, or conceal his identity from these men. In the light of this incident it is interesting to remember that the tribe of Judah, together with that of Benjamin, remained longer loyal to Jehovah than any of the others.
God did send me before you to preserve life.
Thus, in the hour when Joseph made himself known to his brethren, did he account for all the events of the years. It was not merely a magnanimous way of forgiving them, and attempting to put them at their ease. It was his reading of his life's story, and it was the true reading. He was quite emphatic about the matter, for he repeated it again (verse 7), and yet again (verse 8). This did not exonerate them for their past action, but it did show that God had overruled their evil deeds, not for their sakes personally, but in the interest of His purposes through them as His chosen instruments. For this reason, Joseph could afford to forgive them, and he did so magnificently. This outlook on life is that which ever comes to a man sooner or later who maintains his loyalty to God amid circumstances of trial and of testing. Faith looks up, and believes in God, however dark the day; it looks on, and is assured that the Divine purposes will be realized, however adverse the circumstances. Then the day comes when it can look back, and understand the reason of all the strange experience through which it has passed. We all believe that the hour will come when we shall look over all life's troubled and devious ways and say: "Right was the pathway leading to this!" It is good to antedate that hour of realization by faith, and so to sing upon the way: "Right is the pathway leading to that!" As we shall know one day by clear sight that God has ordered our goings, let us live as those who know it now by faith.
I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again.
It is not difficult to imagine the strangeness of the emotional experiences of Jacob at this time. He had long mourned Joseph as dead, and now the astonishing news was brought to him that he was not only alive, but that he was "ruler over all the land of Egypt." How natural the story that "his heart fainted, for he believed them not"! When the evidences were forthcoming in the laden wagons, he started on his journey to see him, halting on the way to offer sacrifices at Beersheba. Then in the visions of the night God communed with him, and spake these words of strength and of comfort. It is a beautiful illustration of the ways of God. He is infinite in His patience with His own; and in hours of special need, ever makes Himself known anew to them in order to their strengthening, for whatever may be in His will for them. The measure in which Jacob at this juncture was conscious of the purposes of God, as they had been made known to his fathers and to himself, was the measure in which it must have appeared as though departure with all his seed from the land appointed of God was fatal to the fulfilment of the Divine purpose. To go into Egypt was to leave the region of appointment. Then came the word that assured him of two things: first, that God would be with them in Egypt; and secondly, that there should be a return to that land. In the strength of that assurance he went on his way: He knew nothing of the details, nor was it necessary that he should. It is enough for the men of faith at any time to know that their God is with them, and that He will fulfil all His covenant with them. The details are always unimportant.
Bury me not, I pray thee, in Egypt.
"Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years" - long enough to see his seed greatly prospering in all material things; and not long enough to see any of the trials and tribulations through which they would have to pass ere they would be returned to the Land of Promise. So prosperous were they, that there appeared no reason at the moment why they should not permanently settle in that land of Goshen. Moreover, they were not in danger of any contamination by inter-mixture of seed with the Egyptians. They were separated more effectually than they would have been in the land of Canaan. In spite of all this, Jacob knew that in the purpose of God this was not to be their final resting-place; and so, as he came to the end of the pilgrimage, his heart was still in the land of the Divine Covenant. Hence his request to Joseph that he should not be buried in the strange land. While it is true that natural sentiment may have had its part in the request, it is certain that it would not wholly account for it. The tombs of Abraham and Isaac, of Rebekah and Rachel were in Canaan, but all his children were with him in Goshen, and everything pointed to their remaining there. Why should he not be buried there? Simply because, whatever the appearances of the hour were, he had the Word of God to rely on, and, believing God, he saw them all return. The faith of Jacob was always more or less restless, but it was real faith; and never was it more quietly and definitely manifested than when he made Joseph both promise and swear, that he should be laid to rest in the Land of Promise.
Behold, I die; but God shall be with you.
Here again the faith of Jacob is manifest. These were the words of calm and satisfied assurance, the words of a man who, through the patience and persistence of God, had learned the lesson of life. The quiet declaration, "Behold, I die," is remarkable in the light of all his history. He had been a singularly self-reliant man. Indeed, his self-reliance had been the one element of real danger in his character. It had never destroyed his faith in God, but it had often made it difficult for God to deal with him. He had secured the birthright from Esau; obtained the blessing of Isaac; outwitted the unscrupulous Laban - and all by his own cleverness. Then had come the night of wrestling and the great discovery of the might of God. From that time his own schemes had never been so successful. With real understanding, he had known the pre-eminence of Joseph among all his sons, but his methods with him had resulted in apparently disastrous failure. Yet he had now lived long enough to know that God was overruling everything, and moving on toward the accomplishment of His own purposes. Today he was weak and blind, and of no practical use. There was only one act remaining to him, and that one from which he could not escape. He named it - "Behold, I die!" The statement was not one of despair. It really did not matter. The only thing that mattered was that God would not die. And so he added: "But God will be with you." It is a great thing to come to the end of life strong in the conviction that we are not indispensable. There is so much we have not done. It is of no importance. We die; but God remaineth. Then may we pass in peace.
Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the latter days.
These final words of Jacob about his sons are very full of beauty. They may be read from the purely human standpoint, as revealing what be felt concerning these sons of his. In such a reading we discover the notes which show how their actions had impressed him; how he had not forgotten their deeds of heroism, or those of their shame. He had observed them carefully, and knew both the elements of strength and of weakness which were resident within them. On this level we are impressed with his evident sense of helplessness. He knew his children but he could do nothing for them. He clearly saw them as having to work out their own lives, without any aid from him, save that which they might receive as the result of these descriptions of them. But that is not the profoundest note, nor the chief value of these words of Jacob. That is to be discovered, in his realization, that these human lives were within the government of God Most notably that is seen in all he had to say about Judah and Joseph. The things he said concerning them were not descriptions of natural developments of what they were in themselves. They were the things of the Divine counsel concerning them. Thus at the last there was granted to this man to have a wonderful vision of the plan and power of God. It was the crowning reward of his faith.
God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.
This was the last charge of Joseph to his brethren. It was characterized by the same faith which in the case of his father Jacob had requested that he should not be buried in Egypt. There are some senses in which perhaps it was even more remarkable. When Jacob had passed on, there were no evidences of any trouble threatening his seed. It is almost certain that Joseph, thoroughly acquainted as he was with all the State affairs of Egypt, would be conscious of the possibility of danger to his people when both he and the Pharaoh who had known him should have passed on. That consciousness is at least suggested by his declaration that God would visit them and bring them into the land which He had promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. As he looked on, he had no doubt as to the issue. Whatever the difficulties ahead, there could be but one final result, and that the accomplishment of the Divine purpose, the fulfilment of the Divine promise. His request that, when that day of visitation should come, his bones should be carried up from Egypt, reveals his choice to be identified with his own people in their Divine destiny. He had served Egypt well, and Egypt had treated him well, but he belonged to God and to his people. Thus, in a word of true faith, ended the life of one of the very greatest of the men presented to us in the pages of the whole of the Old Testament. He is the one man on whose escutcheon no stain rests; and in very many respects he is the most wonderful type of the coming Son and Servant of God to be found in the history of Israel.