Genesis 28:20 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Gen 28:20-22. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
IT is thought by many, that it is wrong to make any kind of vows. But the propriety of making them depends on the manner in which they are made. If, for instance, we make them in our own strength; or hope that by them we can induce God to do for us what he is otherwise unwilling to perform; or imagine that the services which we stipulate to render unto God will be any compensation to him for the mercies he vouchsafes to us; we are guilty of very great presumption and folly. Vows are not intended to have the force of a bargain or compact, so as to involve the Deity in obligations of any kind; but merely to bind ourselves to the performance of something which was before indifferent, or to impress our minds more strongly with the necessity of executing some acknowledged duty. Of the former kind was Hannah’s vow, that if God would graciously give unto her a man-child, she would dedicate him entirely, and for ever, to his immediate service [Note: 1Sa 1:11.]. Independently of her vow, there was no necessity that she should consecrate him to the service of the tabernacle: but she greatly desired to bear a son; and determined, that if God heard her prayer, she would testify her gratitude to him in that way. Of the latter kind was the vow which Israel made to destroy both the Canaanites and their cities, if God would but deliver them into their hands [Note: Num 21:2.]. God had before enjoined them to do this; and therefore it was their bounden duty to do it: and their vow was only a solemn engagement to execute that command; which however they could not execute, unless he should be pleased to prosper their endeavours. That such vows were not displeasing to God, we are sure; because God himself gave special directions relative to the making of them, and the rites to be observed in carrying them into execution [Note: Num 6:2; Num 6:21.]. Even under the New-Testament dispensation we find Aquila vowing a vow in Cenchrea [Note: Act 18:18.] ; and St. Paul himself uniting with others in the services, which the law prescribed to those who had the vows of Nazariteship upon them [Note: Act 21:23-24.].
The first vow of which we read, is that contained in our text: and extremely instructive it is. It shews us,
Our legitimate desires—
Man, as compounded of soul and body, has wants and necessities that are proper to both: and whatsoever is necessary for them both, he may reasonably and lawfully desire. We may desire,
The presence and protection of God—
[The Israelites in their journeys from Egypt to the promised land passed through a “great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water [Note: Deu 8:15.]:” and such is this world wherein we sojourn. Dangers encompass us all around: and, if left to ourselves, we never can reach in safety the land to which we go. Well therefore may we adopt the language of Moses, when Jehovah threatened to withdraw from Israel his own immediate guardianship, and to commit them to the superintendence of an angel; “If thou go not up with us, carry us not up hence [Note: Exo 33:1-3; Exo 33:12-15.].” “It is not in man that walketh to direct his own steps [Note: Jer 10:23.]:” nor will any created aid suffice for him: “his help is, and must be, in God alone.” If God guide us not, we must err; if He uphold us not, we must fall; if He keep us not, we must perish. We may therefore desire God’s presence with us, and so desire it, as never to rest satisfied one moment without it. “As the hart panteth after the waterbrooks,” says David, “so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God [Note: Psa 42:1-2.].” And, when he had reason to doubt whether God was with him or not, his anguish was extreme: “I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? As with a sword in my bones, mine enemies reproach me, while they daily say unto me, Where is thy God [Note: Psa 42:9-10.] ?” This was the language of the man after God’s own heart; and it should be the language also of our souls.]
A competent measure of earthly comforts—
[These also are necessary in this vale of tears. Food we must have to nourish our bodies, and raiment to cover us from the inclemencies of the weather: these therefore we may ask of God: beyond these we should have no desire: “Having food and raiment we should be therewith content [Note: 1Ti 6:8.].” To wish for more than these is neither wise [Note: Pro 30:8-9.], nor lawfull [Note: Jer 45:5.]. Nor even for these should we be over-anxious. We should rather, like the fowls of the air, subsist on the providence of God, and leave it to Him to supply our wants in the way and measure that he shall see fit [Note: Mat 6:25-26.]. Yet it is proper that we make it a part of our daily supplications; “Give us this day our daily bread.”]
The final possession of the promised land—
[Canaan was desired by Jacob not merely as an earthly inheritance, but chiefly as an earnest of that better land which it shadowed forth. None of the patriarchs regarded it as their home: “they dwelt in it as sojourners, and looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God [Note: Heb 11:9-10; Heb 11:13-16.].” There is for us also “a rest” which that land typified [Note: Heb 4:8-9.], and to which we should look as the end of all our labours [Note: Heb 11:26.], and the consummation of all our hopes [Note: 2Ti 4:8.]. It is “the inheritance to which we are begotten [Note: 1Pe 1:3-4.],” and “the grace which shall surely be brought unto us at the revelation of Jesus Christ [Note: 1Pe 1:13.].” To be waiting for it with an assured confidence, and an eager desire [Note: 1Co 1:8; Php 1:23.], is the attainment to which we should continually aspire; yea, we should be “looking for it and hasting to it” with a kind of holy impatience [Note: 2Pe 3:12.], “groaning within ourselves for it, and travailing as it were in pain,” till the period for our complete possession of it shall arrive [Note: Rom 8:22-23.].]
All these things God had previously promised to Jacob [Note: 5.]: and he could not err, whilst making God’s promises the rule and measure of his desires. The engagement which he entered into, and to which he bound himself in this vow, shews us further,
Our bounden duties—
Though the particular engagement then made by Jacob is not binding upon us, yet the spirit of it is of universal obligation—
We must acknowledge God as our God—
[“Other lords have had dominion over us:” but they are all to be cast down as usurpers; and God alone is to be seated on the throne of our hearts [Note: Isa 26:13.]. No rival is to be suffered to remain within us: idols, of whatever kind they be, are to be “cast to the moles and to the bats.” We must avouch the Lord to be our only, our rightful, Sovereign, whom we are to love and serve with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength. Nor is it sufficient to submit to him merely as a Being whom we are unable to oppose: we must claim him with holy triumph as our God and portion, saying with David, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee [Note: Psa 63:1.].” It is remarkable that this very state of mind, which was yet more conspicuous in Jacob in his dying hour, is represented as characterizing the people of God under the Christian dispensation: “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him; we will rejoice and be glad in his salvation [Note: Isa 25:9 with Gen 49:18.].”]
To glorify him as God—
[The two particulars which Jacob mentions, namely, the building of an altar to the Lord on that very spot where God had visited him, and the consecrating to his especial service a tenth of all that God in his providence should give unto him, were optional, till he by this vow had made them his bounden duty. With those particulars we have nothing to do: but there are duties of a similar nature incumbent on us all. We must maintain in our families, and promote to the utmost in the world, the worship of God; and must regard our property as his, and, after we have “laboured with all our might” to serve him with it, must say, “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given thee [Note: 1Ch 29:2; 1Ch 29:14.].” There must be one question ever uppermost in the mind; What can I do for God; and “what can I render to him for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” Can I call the attention of others to him, so as to make him better known in the world? If I can, it shall be no obstacle to me that I am surrounded with heathens; nor will I be intimidated because I stand almost alone in the world: I will confess him openly before men: I will “follow my Lord and Saviour without the camp, bearing his reproach:” I will “esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt:” whether called to forsake all for him, or to give all to him, I will do it with alacrity, assured, that his presence in time, and his glory in eternity, will be an ample recompence for all that I can ever do or suffer for his sake. He has bought me with the inestimable price of his own blood; and therefore, God helping me, I will henceforth “glorify him with my body and my spirit, which are his [Note: 1Co 6:19-20.].”]
To those who are just entering upon the world—
[Be moderate in your desires after earthly things. You can at present have no conception how little they will contribute to your real happiness. Beyond food and raiment you can have nothing that is worth a thought. Solomon, who possessed more than any other man ever did, has pronounced it all to be vanity; and not vanity only, but vexation of spirit also. And, whilst it is so incapable of adding any thing to your happiness, it subjects you to innumerable temptations [Note: 1Ti 6:9.], impedes in a very great degree your progress heaven-ward [Note: Hab 2:6.], and greatly endangers your everlasting welfare [Note: Mat 19:23-24.]. “Love not the world then, nor any thing that is in it [Note: 1Jn 2:15-16.]:” but “set your affections altogether on things above.” In your attachment to them there can be no excess. In your desire after God you cannot be too ardent: for “in his presence is life, and his loving-kindness is better than life itself.” Set before you the prize of your high calling, and keep it ever in view: and be assured that, when you have attained it, you will never regret any trials you sustained, or any efforts you put forth, in the pursuit of it. One hour spent in “your Father’s house “will richly repay them all.]
To those who have been delivered from trouble—
[It is common with persons in the season of deep affliction to make vows unto the Lord, and especially when drawing nigh to the borders of the grave. Now you perhaps in the hour of worldly trouble or of spiritual distress regretted that you had wasted so many precious hours in the pursuit of earthly cares and pleasures, and determined, if God should accomplish for you the wished-for deliverance, you would devote yourselves henceforth entirely to his service. But, when delivered from your sorrows, you have, like metal taken from the furnace, returned to your wonted hardness, and forgotten all the vows which were upon you. Even “Hezekiah rendered not to God according to the benefits conferred upon him,” and by his ingratitude brought on his whole kingdom the heaviest judgments, which would have fallen upon himself also, had he not deeply “humbled himself for the pride of his heart [Note: 2Ch 32:25.].” Do ye then, Brethren, beware of trifling with Almighty God in matters of such infinite concern: “it were better never to vow, than to vow and not pay [Note: Ecc 5:4-5.].” God forgets not your vows, whether you remember them or not. At the distance of twenty years he reminded Jacob of his vows; and then accepted him in the performance of them [Note: Gen 35:1; Gen 35:3; Gen 35:6-7; Gen 35:9-12.]. O beg of him to bring yours also to your remembrance! and then “defer not to pay them,” in a total surrender of yourselves to him, and a willing consecration of all that you possess to his service [Note: Rom 12:1; 1Co 8:3-5.].]
To those whom God has prospered—
[In how many is that saying verified, “Jeshurun waxed fit and kicked.” But, Beloved, let it not be so with you. It were better far that you were spoiled of every thing that you possess, and driven an exile into a foreign land, than that you should “forget God who has done so great things for you,” and rest in any portion short of that which God has prepared for them that love him. Who can tell? your prosperity may be only fattening you as sheep for the slaughter: and at the very moment you are saying, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry;” God may be saying,” Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” Know that every thing which thou hast is a talent to be improved for thy God. Hast thou wealth, or power, or influence of any kind, employ it for the honour of thy God, and for the enlargement and establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom. Then shalt thou be honoured with the approbation of thy God; even with the sweetest manifestations of his love in this world, and the everlasting enjoyment of his glory in the world to come.]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.