This is intended as a companion volume to "Noontide at Sychar." 'The story of Jacob's Ladder' and 'The story of Jacob's Well,' may appropriately be conjoined in sacred interest. The one, forming as remarkable an Old Testament, as the other does a striking New Testament, 'Chapter on Providence and Grace.'

"Why select an incident in the life of a base circumventing Jew?" was the observation of a friend, on mentioning that I was engaged in writing what follows.

The speaker, I felt assured, was too just and discriminating seriously to maintain so disparaging an estimate of the illustrious Patriarch. But while accepting his remark with the qualifications I well knew were implied, I answered, it was just because of the faults and failings of a very composite nature, that whether in the separate scenes of his history or as a great whole, I thought the character of Jacob formed a valuable and interesting study.

In the case of such "Great Hearts of the olden time" as Abraham and Moses, we have lofty ideals of "patriarchal saintliness,"--lives which contain passages of rare and exceptional excellence. If I may be allowed the simile, they resemble Alpine peaks with their virgin snow, towering far above their compeers, inaccessible and discouraging from their very loftiness. In JACOB, on the other hand, we have an average type of frail, fallen humanity or, to follow out the figure, we have one of the lowlier eminences of a commonplace world--one, also, with its scars and blemishes only too faithfully revealed to the eye of the spectator. We trace in his half-dramatic, half-tragic history, God's dealings with one of Nature's least lovable products; a man who originally had comparatively few elements of worth to recommend or redeem him; who, had he been left to himself, uncontrolled by any higher impulses, might have become a confirmed liar, if not a wrecked and abandoned castaway.

Did we seek indeed from Old Testament history, in the era in which he lived, a more winning portraiture, we do not require to travel beyond the tent-home of Isaac. In the person of Esau, even if we take him as he is often regarded, the representative man of the world, we have more engaging native excellencies. Our sympathies are all with the bold, brave hunter--his noble demeanor and manly ways and filial devotion, rather than with the deceitful equivocating brother, who has tricked him out of his patrimonial rights, and drawn down thereby a very righteous vengeance.

Add to this, there is nothing either brilliant or heroic about Jacob. Absent are those mental gifts and those courageous exploits which throw a halo of interest over the lives of some even subordinate characters in Bible story. Though we may admire a tenacity of purpose and unflinching determination, which go far to redeem baser and less amiable qualities--a certain worldly adroitness, energy of will, fertility of resource, and perhaps, more than all, patient endurance--yet he is neither philosopher, nor minstrel, nor warrior. His name is the key-note to his inner nature, "the crafty"--having a shrewd eye to business, and to self. His prosaic calling and ways are brought out in the sacred narrative, when he is briefly described as "a plain man dwelling in tents" (Gen. 25:27).

Yet there are lessons, more ample and more varied far--lessons alike encouraging and humbling, to be gathered from the less attractive and more commonplace personage, which the chivalrous yet reckless companion of his youth fails to furnish. Not to speak of the higher spiritual beauties to be found in the story of the heir of the Covenant, is there no special heart-cheer, for what, after all, must ever form the great majority--baffled, tempted, struggling humanity?

Is there no "courage to take heart again," when we see this "forlorn and shipwrecked brother," sentineled by angels, followed, tended, loved, restored, by a better than earthly Father, until his name "the Supplanter" was changed into "the Hero of God," and he passed away at last triumphantly to the better Canaan? Is there no word of comfort and strength to those conscious of strong, inborn, demon-passions, which may have even developed themselves into baser deeds, in the Divine whisper--"Jacob have I loved"? (Rom. 9:13)--the Being who had fed him all his life long, purging out of his soul the alloy; making him a monument of His grace; that grace triumphing over whatever was unlovely and unloving, until, after a series of strange vicissitudes, it brought him at the last to rejoice in the God of his salvation (Gen. 49:18)?

We restrict ourselves in what follows, to one solitary scene in the varied drama of the Patriarch's life; so far as we are aware (and we marvel at it), the only monograph on this sublime episode, which for sacred interest and Gospel lessons has no parallel in Old Testament Story.

The writer cannot fail to remember the words of a long deceased and aged relative, from whose exalted piety and consistent walk, more than one have derived their earliest impulses for good--that 'of all passages in the Bible he most loved that night-dream at Bethel.' I can now vividly recall, how, with gleaming eye, he contrasted the monarchs of earth sleeping on their couches of down in royal chambers, with the far truer nobility and glory, which, all unconscious to them, gathered round that lonely wanderer and his pillow of stones. The great German scholar (Ewald) speaks of it as "that passage of rare grandeur placed at the beginning of Jacob's history."

Be it ours, with profound reverence, to approach this Holy Ground whose very name has become hallowed. "The God of Bethel" is a title no less loved on Christian than on Jewish lips. The incidents of the Sleeper, the Angel-ladder, and the Heavenly Voice, have, with endless diversity, been cast and re-cast in sacred poetry and song. In Scottish Churches, as we can testify, the well-known lines of Doddridge inserted at the close of this preface, have led and stimulated, with their simple strains, the devotions of worshipers--more than perhaps any other scriptural 'Paraphrase.' How often have they stirred the pulse of congregations on the Sabbath eve of a Communion, or in the waning light of the closing Sunday of the year! Nor can the writer forget the last memorable occasion on which they were heard by him. It was when they rang their plaintive cadences through the aisles of Westminster Abbey over the grave of David Livingstone. Words, familiar to the illustrious traveler from earliest boyhood, and which had doubtless often cheered him amid the scorching suns and sands of Africa, were appropriately selected for the concluding solemn rite--when the 'desert dust' of the "weary Pilgrim," "all his wanderings ceased," was laid in the great church of Britain's consecrated dead--

"O God of Bethel! by whose hand
Your people still are fed;
Who through this weary pilgrimage
Have all our fathers led.

"Our vows, our prayers, we now present
Before Your throne of grace;
God of our fathers! be the God
Of their succeeding race.

"Through each perplexing path of life
Our wandering footsteps guide;
Give us each day our daily bread,
And clothing fit provide.

"O spread Your covering wings around,
Until all our wanderings cease,
And at our Father's loved abode
Our souls arrive in peace.

"Such blessings from Your gracious hand
Our humble prayers implore;
And You shall be our chosen God,
And portion evermore."


Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone for a pillow and lay down to sleep. As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from earth to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down on it.

At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, "I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I will give it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will cover the land from east to west and from north to south. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What's more, I will be with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. I will someday bring you safely back to this land. I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised."

Then Jacob woke up and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn't even aware of it." He was afraid and said, "What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God—the gateway to heaven!" The next morning he got up very early. He took the stone he had used as a pillow and set it upright as a memorial pillar. Then he poured olive oil over it. He named the place Bethel—"house of God"—though the name of the nearby village was Luz.

Then Jacob made this vow--"If God will be with me and protect me on this journey and give me food and clothing, and if he will bring me back safely to my father, then I will make the Lord my God. This memorial pillar will become a place for worshiping God, and I will give God a tenth of everything he gives me." Genesis 28:10-22

Home       QUOTES       SERMONS       BOOKS