"Jacob sleeps in the open field, exposed to the attacks
of wild beasts and marauders, protected only by the Guardian of Israel."--Kalisch.
"God found him in Bethel, even the Lord God of Hosts; the
Lord is his memorial."--Hosea 12:4, 5.
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.
An behold, 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. Genesis 28:11-13
There was something grander, more glorious still,
awaiting the Patriarch than a heavenly staircase, and the footsteps of
celestial messengers. "Behold a ladder!" "Behold the angels!" But, yet
another "Behold" is added, to reach the climax.
The Lord of angels, in some majestic, mysterious form,
was seen by the desert-dreamer at the summit--"And, behold, the Lord
stood above it." At another eventful occasion of his history,
delegates from the spirit-land met him. But in the present instance, in the
remarkable words of the prophet Hosea, quoted among our motto-verses, "GOD
found him at Bethel!"
Delightful and comforting, indeed, must have been the
first part of the dream to the weary, downcast fugitive--the luminous
ascending way thronged not with avenging angels, but with radiant forms
keeping loving watch over his pillow. Now, however, he receives proof that
he is the object of a love and regard mightier far than that which
ministering seraphim could render. The guardianship of the heavenly host is
eclipsed by "a brightness which excels,"--the vigils of the great Jehovah
Himself--"The Lord is your keeper." It is not the white-robed Levites of the
upper sanctuary on whom he now gazes. The true Holy of Holies is unveiled to
his enraptured gaze. He sees what Onkelos renders in his paraphrase, "The
glory of the Lord." If we have spoken of the angels' visit on the plains of
Mamre as one of the stories to which childhood listened in the tent at
Kirjath-Arba--another, more memorable still, rehearsed by the same revered
lips, would now rise before his mental vision--that of the averted sacrifice
on Mount Moriah; when no mere created angel's voice was heard arresting the
sacrificial knife, but the magnificent accents of Jehovah Himself--"Abraham,
Abraham!"--when, in token of heart gratitude for his loved one's
deliverance, the aged man called the place Jehovah-Jireh; as it is
written, 'in the Mount of the Lord it shall be seen.' (Or, as that is
rendered in the Septuagint, On the mountain Jehovah appeared.")
Jacob could now say the same. These heights of Bethel
were, in his heart's holiest sanctuary of thought, consecrated for evermore;
for he had for the first time "seen God face to face, and his life was
preserved." "He heard the words of God and saw the vision of the Almighty"
(Num. 24:16). Often before, in gazing on this beautiful world both by day
and night, he had assuredly thought of it, in some magnificent way, as
roofed in and canopied by the Divine Presence and protection. But that
Presence had not as yet been fully realized by him as that of a personal
God. Had it been so, he would doubtless have lived and acted very
differently. The base-born plots and deeds of earlier and recent years would
have been more scrupulously shunned. The concept of the heart-searching and
thought-trying Jehovah, ever near, and very near, gazing down upon him,
"spying out all his ways," would have rendered former sophistries and
sinister dealings well-near impossible.
From this hour onwards, however, there is a new page in
his spiritual history. Not that the evil tendencies and passions of his
nature were eradicated and destroyed. Far from it. Those who choose to trace
his after life will find the old giant forces ever and anon
reappearing--manifesting their latent and perilous sway--the subtlety and
finessing; the keen, shrewd eye for outwitting, and "making the best of both
worlds." But new counteracting principles now asserted their influence. The
sight of the Invisible formed henceforth a deterrent power in many a season
of strong temptation. In his times of weakness and lowliness and recurrent
worldliness, the stony stair of the desert would rise to view, alike as a
rebuke of his lapses, and an incentive to nobler and heavenlier ways. He
would doubtless say of Bethel and its vision, what the Psalmist, in an hour
of spiritual depression, said of localities specially associated with
experiences of the Divine favor, "O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
therefore will I remember You from the land of Jordan, and of the Hermonites,
from the hill Mizar." "Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you
disturbed within me? hope you in God; for I shall yet praise Him, who is the
health of my countenance, and my God" (Ps. 42:6, 11).
Solemn, in the case of each one of us, as with the
Patriarch, is our first meeting with the Almighty. We do not refer to
the revelation (always to be reverted to with reverence) made of Him in the
nursery, or on the mother's knee--but we speak of subsequent
seasons--crisis-hours in life, for which these earlier teachings may have
paved the way; when summoned, it may be by startling providential
dispensations, into "the secret of His tabernacle," and led to cry out with
another old-world Pilgrim of the desert, whose name has more than once been
already mentioned--"I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now
my eye sees You" (Job 42:5).
Hitherto (as probably with Jacob), God has been no more
than a distant abstraction--an incomprehensible Being, invested with certain
august attributes which only seemed to render Him more dreadful and
inapproachable. We have had our dream of Him; but not the dream of the
Psalmist David, or of the Evangelist John, as with eagle wings they seem to
soar into divine fellowship. We thought of Him, it may be, as childhood is
at times unhappily taught to picture Him, with His dwelling above the stars,
the thunder His voice, the clouds the dust of His feet, walking on the wings
of the wind, shrouded in the dread mystery of Eternity. But now we have had
disclosed to us the present God, actually in view; standing above the ladder
in His glorious personality--the living One, the controlling
One, yes, the loving and sympathizing One--"the Shepherd of
the Stone of Israel."
"Clouds were Your chariots, and I knew them not,
They came in solemn thunders to my ear;
I thought that far away You had forgot,
But You were by my side, and heaven was near."
"Most men," as it has been expressed by Robertson in
"Sermons," in words of great force and pathos, "know nothing beyond what
they see. Their lovely world is all in all to them; its outer beauty, not
its hidden loveliness. Prosperity, struggle, sadness, it is all the same. In
all this strange, deep world they never meet, or but for a moment, the
Spirit of it all, who stands at their very side. And it is exactly the
opposite of this that makes a Christian. Move where he will, there is a
Thought and Presence which he cannot put aside. He is haunted forever by the
Eternal Mind. God looks out upon him from the clear sky, and through the
thick darkness--is present in the raindrop that trickles down the branches,
and in the tempest that crushes down the forest. A living Redeemer stands
beside him, goes with him, talks with him, as a man with his friend. The
emphatic description of a life of spirituality is, 'Enoch walked with God;'
and it seems to be one reason why a manifestation of God was given us in the
flesh, that this Livingness of God might be more distinctly felt by us." We
may be content, while the world is bright, and plans are prospering, and the
pulse beats strong, with the mere superficial creed--acknowledgment of the
existence of the God with whom we have to do. But each one of us must be
brought at some time into close contact--face to face with Him. Whatever dim
and uncertain meaning the patriarch of Uz attached to his own words, we
assuredly may say--shall it be with joy or with trembling?--"Yet in
my flesh shall I see God."
Other hours of personal dealing with the Almighty One we
may evade. There is one we cannot. It is that most solemn--that most lonely
of times and seasons, the dreadful meeting-place between the irreparable
past and the eternal future; when we come to be wrenched from all created
objects of interest; when earthly voices grow fainter, and earthly presences
dimmer; when, the feverish distractions of the world over, we stand waiting
to have the gates of death unbarred, and to pass into the Infinite vision!
What will avail us, if we have never, until then, reverently listened to the
voice of Him, who, through long misspent years and forfeited opportunities,
has been addressing us from the heights of glory?
On the other hand, how happy are they who, through all
the events and vicissitudes of chequered life, have been able to keep the
eye of faith firmly fixed on this God above the ladder--God at the summit of
His own creation, directing and controlling all that befalls both His Church
collectively, and believers individually.
You that are just commencing the all-momentous
life-journey, seek especially to carry that lofty elevating truth with you
from the very outset of the pilgrimage, that high above the stony stair is
the searching eye of the All-Seeing One. The angels of the Patriarch's
dream, (if we make them, as they are sometimes considered, the types and
symbols of Providence,) are in His hand, under His control, doing His
bidding, "hearkening to the voice of His word." It recalls a kindred vision,
given at a later time of Hebrew history, to the prophet Zechariah--"I saw by
night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the
myrtle-trees that were in the bottom (of the valley); and behind him were
there red horses, speckled, and white" (Zech 1:8). What is this motley
retinue, but providences--the varied dealings of God with His chosen; varied
in their hues, "red, speckled, and white"? White--those whose meaning is
clear. Speckled--those whose design is not so patent or easily discerned.
Red--those which seem to suggest deep gashes, bleeding wounds--dealings
which are mysterious and incomprehensible. But mark, they are all "behind"
the divine Horseman of the vision. HE marshals, arranges, controls these
subordinate retainers. They can lop no branch of the myrtle-trees. They can
discharge no dart of affliction, until He gives the commission. He
comes between the myrtle trees (His own people) and these "ministers who do
His pleasure." He is, to all that myrtle-grove in the earthly valley, "a
shelter from the storm and a covert from the tempest."
Oh, joyous assurance! God foremost among the horsemen;
God high above the ladder! No, represented in Jacob's symbolic vision as not
'seated' but 'standing!' He whose dwelling and watch-tower is in the
everlasting hills, tracking our Pilgrim way in the upward toilsome climbing;
warding off the demon foe who would seek to find us off our guard, and hurl
us down; cheering us with the assurance, "I will not fail you nor forsake
you." In dark and mysterious dispensations, He reveals Himself as holding
the balances in His hands; proclaiming that He has not surrendered the rule
of His world to chance or fate, the accidents of nature or the caprice of
fortune; but that He has a wisely-ordered plan in all He does, however
unexplainable and inscrutable to us. No more, that He personally loves us;
and that when He chastises He chastises because He loves; making the true
philosophy of Christian resignation that which was breathed of old from the
depths of a crushed and broken heart--"I was dumb, I opened not my mouth,
because YOU did it!" (Ps. 39:9.)
"Know well, my soul, God's hand controls
Whatever you fear;
Round Him in calmest music rolls
Whatever you hear.
"And that cloud itself, which now before you
Lies dark in view,
Shall, with beams of light from the inner glory,
Be stricken through."
"Let us seek to grasp," says a master in Israel, "the
true notion of Providence, for in it there is peace and deep repose of soul.
Life has often been compared to a drama. Now in a good drama there is one
plot, variously evolved by incidents of different kinds, which, until the
last act, show only entanglement and confusion. Vice has its temporary
triumphs, virtue its temporary depressions. What of that? You know it will
come right in the end--Life is God's great drama--It is on a gigantic
scale--There seems to be entanglements, perplexities, interruptions,
confusions, contradictions without end; but you may be sure there is one
ruling thought, one master-design to which all these are subordinate--You
know that the mind which organized this drama is Wisdom. You know more, you
know that it is Love. Then of its ending grandly, wisely, nobly, lovingly,
infinitely well for them who love God, there can be no doubt."
Let every climber of the ladder, (all the more so if
youth be still nerving the arm, and years have ploughed no furrow on the
brow) take home these thoughts of surpassing comfort. Believe it--even what
may at first sight be regarded as hindrances and impediments in the upward
ascent, may only, after all, be part of the plan and purpose of which I have
spoken, of that "Shepherd of the stony pillow." Trust Him. The very voices
of the night, sounding like the moan of the tempest, may turn out to be the
disguised yet tender "voices of God," calling away from all earthly props,
to mount with greater singleness of eye and ardor of aim the alone ladder of
safety and peace--upwards, onwards, heavenwards, homewards!
"Not yet, you know how I bid
Each passing hour entwine
Its grief or joy, its hope or fear,
In one great love-design.
Nor how I lead you through the night
By many a various way,
Still upward to unclouded light,
And onward to the day."