"Grants of mercy call for returns of duty; and the sweet communion we have with God ought ever to be remembered."--Matthew Henry.

"Therefore fear not, O my servant Jacob, says the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel--for I am with you, says the Lord, to save you."--Jeremiah 30:10, 11.

God said to Jacob, "Now move on to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to worship me—the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau." Genesis 35:1

We revisit with emotion localities which have been consecrated to us in early years; all the more so, after a long period of absence. Whether it be the lowly cottage of the hamlet, or the residence in the busy city, or the more splendid ancestral dwelling. Some one special scene or haunt, also, may have its more hallowed memories; the tree whose shade vividly recalls childhood's playful hours; the murmuring stream and pendent willow where youth's first aspirations were formed; "the upland lawn" or "accustomed hill" where in the company of some cherished friendship "the early dews were brushed away;" the Church whose walls listened to the silent vows of a new spiritual life--the room where those now numbered with the dead spoke tenderly and lovingly of filial duty, and who have left behind them imperishable examples of holy living and happy dying.

The human heart is the same in every age--and akin, therefore, to the emotions just described, must have been the feelings with which Jacob once more stood among the stones of his former couch at Bethel.

For the previous nine years, he had encamped at Succoth and Shechem. At the latter place he set up an altar "in the grove of Moreh." In connection with it, however, he had no divine personal remembrances. It was sacred to him only as associated with his grandfather's primitive altar, erected 160 years previously, on the occasion of first receiving the Covenant promise. It was different altogether with the spot which had awakened within his own breast his deepest religious fervor, and witnessed his own earliest vows of heart-consecration. What a change had passed over his history during the three decades! To how many vicissitudes had he been subjected since that never-to-be-forgotten morning, when, with elastic tread, he went forth fresh from the voices and visions of heaven on his unknown pilgrimage!

Then he was all alone--no companion but a bag and a pilgrim staff--now, he returns, the head and center of an imposing Eastern caravan. Whatever these varied experiences had been, one thing he could gratefully testify, that the Great Being who had spoken to him had been true to His promises. He had not failed him. He had 'kept him in all places where he had gone,' and had 'brought him again into that land.' It was a retrospect of covenant faithfulness. What Moses, in an after age, said in his dying admonitions to Israel, might have been appropriately addressed now to their illustrious progenitor--"You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God led you--in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments, or not" (Deut. 8:2).

In accordance with the divine direction, the Patriarch now willingly returned to the old votive ground, anew to pledge his faithfulness to the God who had 'answered him in the day of his distress.' Nine and a half years previous to this, the recollection of the ladder-dream had been vividly brought before him. On the other side of the Jordan, just as he was approaching the borders of Canaan, the Angels of that heavenly Stair had again appeared. We may perhaps infer, that not during the twenty years of his exile, had they been visible to the outward eye of the Pilgrim Shepherd; but in that night of awe and trembling at Jabbok, an angelic revelation was again given. The exile "went on his way" from Mesopotamia, and (on reaching Canaan) the "angels of God met him" (Gen. 32:1).

Standing now upon the spot where formerly these radiant Beings had revealed themselves in a dream above his pillow of stone, he would gratefully recall, in addition to the bestowment of positive mercies, the evasion of many and great perils. There would be his escape across the Euphrates from the morose and exacting Laban. There would be the averting of the anger of his once vengeful and vindictive, but, as he had proved, high-minded and generous brother. There would be the deliverance from more recent reprisals at the hands of the Canaanites, in consequence of his son's breach of faith in the exterminating massacre of the citizens of Shechem (a treacherous and perverse deed in which he himself had no complicity). Above all, there was Jehovah's own gracious meeting with him at the frontier river; a meeting which might truly be called the second birthday of his soul. He had been spiritually born at Bethel, but he might be said to have been born again at Jabbok. A soldier before, he was there panoplied with new armor. From that memorable crisis-hour, indeed, we note that he becomes truer, more real, more unselfish, more affectionate, more God-fearing. Ewald graphically remarks, "Then was accomplished the true spiritual triumph of the great hero, made a new man through such superhuman conflicts; though as the chronicle finally concludes, he receives a lameness, a memento of the mortal combat he has passed through, and a reminder of bygone weakness; as if the moral deformity of 'The Crafty' had passed into the body, and were henceforth to attach to that only."

A new altar we are told was erected on the dreamland, apparently by his own hands, and the name bestowed on the place twenty years before received a fresh and solemn confirmation. "He called the place El-Bethel" (Gen. 35:7). Jehovah once more appeared to His servant. In all probability that appearance on the present occasion was in visible form. The same voice, however, which of old spoke from the stair-summit, again addresses him. First renewing the covenant blessing; and then farther signalizing both the place and the occasion by the reiteration of the new name bestowed at Jabbok. Jacob "the Supplanter" is changed into "Israel"--"the Prince of God." "And God said unto him, Your name is Jacob--your name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be your name; and he called his name Israel" (Gen. 35:10).

As a fresh motto and watchword for the pilgrimage, the honored Patriarch listens to the additional announcement from the lips of his gracious Protector, "I am God Almighty!" (Ver. 11.) After certifying to him that the promise previously made on the same ground is to be made good, "to you and to your seed after you will I give the land"--farther, that he was to be the father of a company of nations and of a line of kings; (ver. 12); we read "God went up from him in the place where he talked with him" (13). Another, probably more carefully built pillar was then erected to commemorate this new revelation of the Divine Being--"a pillar of stone," on which the customary libation was poured, consisting of a "drink-offering and oil" (35:14).

This scene and occasion has perhaps been truly called, "the time of Jacob's greatest happiness." His cup certainly was full as it had never been before. It was the pride of the wealthy sheep owner with his vast flocks and herds--of the chief surrounded with his clansmen--the Sheikh by his servants--the joy of the exile returning to his native hills; of the father in the midst of his numerous family and dependants. There was the lively recollection of the divine condescension and kindness in the past; and the renewal of the divine promises for the future. We may even picture his household, who had lately renounced their idols (Gen. 35:4), assembling around the votive pillar, and uniting in the simple rites of worship.

No anticipation of coming trial broke the trance of present bliss--Bethel, during these memorable days, must have appeared, even in an earthly sense, as the Gate of Heaven. The "Goodness and Mercy" of the future Psalm (as if two of the radiant Angels of the ladder) would seem about to follow him all the days of his life.

Alas! for the instability and insecurity of earth's best blessings! Jacob knew not (as we know not) what a day may bring forth. This solitary Shepherd of Palestine, like the laurel-crowned victors of a later age, must listen in the hour of blessing and prosperity to the needful monitory word reminding of vicissitude and mortality. In his present moments of elation, little did he forecast coming events. Little dreamt he, that only a few days later, after striking his tents, the impending cloud of bereavement which darkened his whole future was to burst upon him; that he would reach his father's encampment, now pitched at Mamre, a broken-hearted widower! His beloved Rachel he laid in her early grave at Bethlehem. Even the aged nurse, who formed the tenderest link which bound him to his mother's name and memory, was left with tears at Bethel under the "oak of weeping"--a name which surely carries with it a touching testimony alike to the fidelity of the servant and the irrepressible grief of the master.

Meanwhile, however, in calm confidence, though all ignorant of that unknown morrow, he erects his altar and vows his vow. What was said of a great descendant may with equal truth have been said of him--
"Bold to bear God's heaviest load,
Dimly guessing at the road--
Rocky road and hard ascended
Though his foot was angel-tended.

"Soon came heartache, care, distress,
Blighted hope and loneliness--
Sad success, parental tears,
And a dreary gift of years."

Here by rights this volume should end. And yet, may we not well include in our pages still another and more solemn 'Eventide at Bethel'? Are we not warranted to believe that there was yet one other occasion when the Dreamland came conspicuously before the eye of the Patriarch? He was indeed, at the time we speak of, at a long distance from Canaan. Very different scenes had for seventeen years risen before his eyes. He was no longer among the sunny hills and pastoral valleys and lowly altars of Palestine, but far away amid the stretches of glowing sand and the colossal Temples and Pyramids of Egypt. We are summoned in thought to his death-chamber in that strange kingdom. The season has now arrived, the solemn hour in his, and in every history, when life is lived over again, and its most momentous incidents are recalled to impressive remembrance. As the princely Joseph and his sons stand by his bedside to take their last farewell, lo! it is the memories of the stony pillow which are first upon the lips of the dying Patriarch.--When Jacob heard that Joseph had arrived, he gathered his strength and sat up in bed to greet him. Jacob said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Luz (Bethel) in the land of Canaan and blessed me. He said to me, 'I will make you a multitude of nations, and I will give this land of Canaan to you and your descendants as an everlasting possession.'" Genesis 48:2-4

Then, after recounting some touching reminiscences of his pilgrimage, he farther proceeds to pronounce a special blessing on his favorite son, and his two grandchildren. But even in doing so, the vision of Bethel seems anew to rise up vividly before him. He sets his dying seal to the veracity and fidelity of the divine promise which, it will be remembered, gave birth to his own responsive vow--"The God which fed me all my life-long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil" (Gen. 48:15-16).

May we not, moreover, well suppose, that the ladder-dream had its own due share in impelling the urgent and reiterated request regarding his own burial plans? He wishes no stately Pyramid or Sarcophagus reared over his ashes in the land of the Pharaohs. "Bury me not, I beg you, in Egypt, but I will lie with my fathers--in the land of Canaan." We are thankful for the record of this quiet eventide, after a stormy and troubled day--the peaceful migration of this great Shepherd-Patriarch to 'the Better country.' We hear of triumphant deathbeds. This surely is one of them. Like a glorious sun bursting from a bank of clouds in an evening sky, he seems to illuminate all around. Not Joseph and his sons only, but all his family are gathered round his couch to receive his benediction.

And such a benediction! It has been well called a "grand lyric." The religious fervor which dictated the morning vow and prayer and which reared the altar on the upland at Bethel, seems to return in these waning hours. Not in the prosaic imagery we generally associate with age and weakness, but in strains of loftiest poetry the spirit of the old man passes away. "Who," says Toplady, "that reads this chapter, would imagine, that elevated strains like these--strains that would have done honor to the genius of Homer, warbled from the lips of a dying man--of a man, also, laboring under the utmost decays of age, and over whose head no fewer than one hundred and forty-seven years had passed!

All the dross, from that complex soul of his, had now been burnt out and removed in the smelting furnace. He comes forth from his life of great mercies yet of great tribulation, refined as the gold. He seems transfigured before he is glorified. What could not have been said for many a long year of trial and discipline can be averred with confidence now, "Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no guile."

We hear no more of murmuring at calamities--no more mourning over failures--no more rash impugnings, as once there were, of divine wisdom and faithfulness. The "all things" he once thought "against him" are now owned to have been for him. He seems wrapped up and absorbed in the contemplation of the goodness of that Redeeming Angel-God. God's hand alone he traces in the varied events of his pilgrimage. His bounty had fed him, His Providence had shielded him, His presence had cheered him and He who had given him sustaining grace for a living-day, now gave him dying grace for a dying-day.

And if we might, for yet a few moments, linger at that death-scene, it would be to note one other minute particular in the narrative (trivial in itself), but not without its interest as the last link with the Dream-land. We have noted in its place, in a preceding chapter, that the solitary possession of the shepherd-pilgrim specially mentioned in connection with that lone eventide at Bethel, was his pilgrim staff. Nor indeed need we speak of this reference to the staff of the patriarch as 'trivial;' when it is not deemed to be so by an inspired penman of a long future age. It is surely remarkable, that the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in his roll-call of worthies, should, in illustrating Jacob's faith, specially single out for mention the circumstance that in blessing the two sons of Joseph in the hour of his departure, "he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff."

As we associate Moses with his rod, and Elijah with his mantle, so do we associate Jacob with this pastoral crook. The same staff, perhaps, had been familiar to him in life's bright morning among the flocks at Beersheba--the same had been at the side of the Bethel-dreamer when he became spectator of angelic footsteps and auditor of the heavenly voice--it was probably the first thing his hand grasped in early dawn, when he raised himself from his stony pillow. It had been the companion of his pilgrimage ever since; the silent witness of his covenant-vows; the memento and souvenir of many loving-kindnesses and interpositions of the God he had served--with him in his joys, with him in his sorrows; on which he had leaned when bowed with grief at his subsequent trials, when "Joseph was not and Simeon was not," and they threatened to "take Benjamin also."

The blind old man, as he strengthens himself on his bed, leans reverently on the same cherished support, absorbed in thought. He can no longer see it. His eyes are dimmed with the haze of years and of death--but his aged hands can grasp it. That death-grasp would seem to help him to gather up the tangled threads of memory and to retrace all the varied steps in the ladder-dream of existence. No more; the humble prop which had guided him through the fords of Jordan (Gen. 32:10) would seem to suggest a nobler Shepherd's crook, leaning on which, he would pass safely at life's eventide through the deep gorges and rushing waters of a deeper and darker valley. He could anticipate gracious words which have cheered countless millions in the same hour, "Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil--for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me" (Ps. 23:4).

We almost forget the once trembling fugitive and scared dreamer on the uplands of Benjamin. We can hardly recognize the timid traveler at Jabbok. The mists and clouds that obscured his early morning have passed away forever. The rustic wanderer has risen to the dignity of Prophet. Before these eyes, dimmed to earth, but already kindling with the light of an opening heaven, there rises, in the far-reaching vista of a grander future, the vision of a Great coming Conqueror--the Messiah of his race. He even hails Him by names, in what Luther well calls "a golden text," as the SHILOH. He sees nations and peoples gathering around His standard; kings and princes casting their crowns and scepters at His feet, and welcoming Him to the throne of universal Empire.

Then, as if rejoicing in his own assured personal interest in these transcendent predictions, he puts his dying seal to the faithfulness, in a dying hour, of "the Angel who redeemed him." As if at last fully realizing the glories of the Bethel vision--"I have waited," said he, in a rapture of gospel triumph--"I have waited for Your salvation, O God!" With that Dreamland before his closing eyes, and the angels of the heavenly stair tracking his footsteps, he boldly crosses the border-river, and the noblest part of the Bethel promise is fulfilled, "he is brought to his Father's house in peace." "When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people" (Gen. 49:33).

May such a tranquil Eventide be ours--the vision, the promise, the staff, the Angel-convoy, the memories of divine goodness, the song of salvation, the abundant entrance! May we be among the privileged number, who, having gazed with the eye of faith on the Dreamland ladder, are able at a dying hour to grasp its sublime spiritual and everlasting verities, and who shall at last "sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and JACOB in the Kingdom of our Father!"

"Complain not that the way is long--
What road is weary that leads there?
But let the Angel take your hand,
And lead you up the misty stair--
And then with beating heart await
The opening of the Golden Gate."

"Beyond the stars that shine in golden glory,
Beyond the calm sweet moon,
Up the bright ladder saints have trod before you;
Soul! you shall venture soon.

"All finished! all the conflict and the sorrow,
Sin felt and feared no more;
There dawns the radiance of a dreamless morrow
On the Eternal Shore!"


"Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee;
Even though it be a cross
That raises me;
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

"Though like the wanderer,
The sun gone down,
Darkness be over me,
My rest a stone;
Yet in my dreams I'd be
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

"There let the way appear
Steps unto Heaven;
All that Thou sendest me
In mercy given;
Angels to beckon me
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

"Then with my waking thoughts
Bright with Thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs
Bethel I'll raise;
So by my woes to be
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee.

"And when on joyful wing,
Cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot,
Upward I fly;
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to Thee,
Nearer to Thee."

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