chapter is based on Genesis 34; 35; 37.]
the Jordan, "Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem, which is in
the land of Canaan." Genesis 33:18, R.V. Thus the patriarch's prayer
at Bethel, that God would bring him again in peace to his own land, had
been granted. For a time he dwelt in the vale of Shechem. It was here that
Abraham, more than a hundred years before, had made his first encampment
and erected his first altar in the Land of Promise. Here Jacob
"bought the parcel of ground where he had spread his tent, at the
hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for a hundred pieces of
money. And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel"
(verses 19, 20)--God, the God of Israel." Like Abraham, Jacob set up
beside his tent an altar unto the Lord, calling the members of his
household to the morning and the evening sacrifice. It was here also that
he dug the well to which, seventeen centuries later, came Jacob's Son and
Saviour, and beside which, resting during the noontide heat, He told His
wondering hearers of that "well of water springing up into
everlasting life." John 4:14.
The tarry of
Jacob and his sons at Shechem ended in violence and bloodshed. The one
daughter of the household had been brought to shame and sorrow, two
brothers were involved in the guilt of murder, a whole city had been given
to ruin and slaughter, in retaliation for the lawless deed of one rash
youth. The beginning that led to results so terrible was the act of
Jacob's daughter, who "went out to see the daughters of the
land," thus venturing into association with the ungodly. He who seeks
pleasure among those that fear not God is placing himself on Satan's
ground and inviting his temptations.
treacherous cruelty of Simeon and Levi was not unprovoked; yet in their
course toward the Shechemites they committed a grievous sin. They had
carefully concealed from Jacob their
intentions, and the tidings of their
revenge filled him with horror. Heartsick at the deceit and violence of
his sons, he only said, "Ye have troubled me to make me to stink
among the inhabitants of the land: . . . and I being few in number, they
shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be
destroyed, I and my house." But the grief and abhorrence with which
he regarded their bloody deed is shown by the words in which, nearly fifty
years later, he referred to it, as he lay upon his deathbed in Egypt:
Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their
habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their
assembly, mine honor, be not thou united. . . . Cursed be their anger, for
it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel." Genesis 49:5-7.
that there was cause for deep humiliation. Cruelty and falsehood were
manifest in the character of his sons. There were false gods in the camp,
and idolatry had to some extent gained a foothold even in his household.
Should the Lord deal with them according to their deserts, would He not
leave them to the vengeance of the surrounding nations?
was thus bowed down with trouble, the Lord directed him to journey
southward to Bethel. The thought of this place reminded the patriarch not
only of his vision of the angels and of God's promises of mercy, but also
of the vow which he had made there, that the Lord should be his God. He
determined that before going to this sacred spot his household should be
freed from the defilement of idolatry. He therefore gave direction to all
in the encampment, "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and
be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bethel;
and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my
distress, and was with me in the way which I went."
emotion Jacob repeated the story of his first visit to Bethel, when he
left his father's tent a lonely wanderer, fleeing for his life, and how
the Lord had appeared to him in the night vision. As he reviewed the
wonderful dealings of God with him, his own heart was softened, his
children also were touched by a subduing power; he had taken the most
effectual way to prepare them to join in the worship of God when they
should arrive at Bethel. "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange
were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their
ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem."
God caused a
fear to rest upon the inhabitants of the land, so that they made no
attempt to avenge the slaughter at Shechem. The travelers reached Bethel
unmolested. Here the Lord again appeared to Jacob and renewed to him the
covenant promise. "And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He
talked with him, even a pillar of stone."
Jacob was called to mourn the loss of one who had long been an honored
member of his father's family--Rebekah's nurse, Deborah, who had
accompanied her mistress from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. The
presence of this aged woman had been to Jacob a precious tie that bound
him to his early life, and especially to the mother whose love for him had
been so strong and tender. Deborah was buried with expressions of so great
sorrow that the oak under which her grave was made, was called "the
oak of weeping." It should not be passed unnoticed that the memory of
her life of faithful service and of the mourning over this household
friend has been accounted worthy to be preserved in the word of God.
it was only a two days' journey to Hebron, but it brought to Jacob a heavy
grief in the death of Rachel. Twice seven years' service he had rendered
for her sake, and his love had made the toil but light. How deep and
abiding that love had been, was shown when long afterward, as Jacob in
Egypt lay near his death, Joseph came to visit his father, and the aged
patriarch, glancing back upon his own life, said, "As for me, when I
came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when
yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath: and I buried her
there in the way of Ephrath." Genesis 48:7. In the family history of
his long and troubled life the loss of Rachel was alone recalled.
death Rachel gave birth to a second son. With her parting breath she named
the child Benoni, "son of my sorrow." But his father called him
Benjamin, "son of my right hand," or "my strength."
Rachel was buried where she died, and a pillar was raised upon the spot to
perpetuate her memory.
On the way to
Ephrath another dark crime stained the family of Jacob, causing Reuben,
the first-born son, to be denied the privileges and honors of the
At last Jacob
came to his journey's end, "unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, . . .
which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned." Here he remained
during the closing years of his father's life. To Isaac, infirm and blind,
the kind attentions of this long-absent son were a comfort during years of
loneliness and bereavement.
Esau met at the deathbed of their father. Once the elder brother had
looked forward to this event as an opportunity for revenge, but his
feelings had since greatly changed. And Jacob, well content with the
spiritual blessings of the birthright, resigned to the elder brother the
inheritance of their father's wealth--the only inheritance that Esau
sought or valued. They were no longer estranged by jealousy or hatred, yet
they parted, Esau removing to Mount Seir. God, who is rich in blessing,
had granted to Jacob worldly wealth, in addition to the higher good that
he had sought. The possessions of the two brothers "were more than
that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers
could not bear them because of their cattle." This separation was in
accordance with the divine purpose concerning Jacob. Since the brothers
differed so greatly in regard to religious faith, it was better for them
to dwell apart.
Jacob had alike been instructed in the knowledge of God, and both were
free to walk in His commandments and to receive His favor; but they had
not both chosen to do this. The two brothers had walked in different ways,
and their paths would continue to diverge more and more widely.
There was no
arbitrary choice on the part of God by which Esau was shut out from the
blessings of salvation. The gifts of His grace through Christ are free to
all. There is no election but one's own by which any may perish. God has
set forth in His word the conditions upon which every soul will be elected
to eternal life--obedience to His commandments, through faith in Christ.
God has elected a character in harmony with His law, and anyone who shall
reach the standard of His requirement will have an entrance into the
kingdom of glory. Christ Himself said, "He that believeth on the Son
hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see
life." John 3:36. "Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord,
shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My
Father which is in heaven." Matthew 7:21. And in the Revelation He
"Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may
have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into
the city." Revelation 22:14. As regards man's final salvation, this
is the only election brought to view in the word of God.
Every soul is
elected who will work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. He is
elected who will put on the armor and fight the good fight of faith. He is
elected who will watch unto prayer, who will search the Scriptures, and
flee from temptation He is elected who will have faith continually, and
who will be obedient to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of
God. The provisions of redemption are free to all; the results of
redemption will be enjoyed by those who have complied with the conditions.
despised the blessings of the covenant. He had valued temporal above
spiritual good, and he had received that which he desired. It was by his
own deliberate choice that he was separated from the people of God. Jacob
had chosen the inheritance of faith. He had endeavored to obtain it by
craft, treachery, and falsehood; but God had permitted his sin to work out
its correction. Yet through all the bitter experience of his later years,
Jacob had never swerved from his purpose or renounced his choice. He had
learned that in resorting to human skill and craft to secure the blessing,
he had been warring against God. From that night of wrestling beside the
Jabbok, Jacob had come forth a different man. Self-confidence had been
uprooted. Henceforth the early cunning was no longer seen. In place of
craft and deception, his life was marked by simplicity and truth. He had
learned the lesson of simple reliance upon the Almighty Arm, and amid
trial and affliction he bowed in humble submission to the will of God. The
baser elements of character were consumed in the furnace fire, the true
gold was refined, until the faith of Abraham and Isaac appeared undimmed
The sin of
Jacob, and the train of events to which it led, had not failed to exert an
influence for evil--an influence that revealed its bitter fruit in the
character and life of his sons. As these sons arrived at manhood they
developed serious faults. The results of polygamy were manifest in the
household. This terrible evil tends to dry up the very springs of love,
and its influence weakens the most sacred ties. The jealousy of the
several mothers had
embittered the family relation, the children had grown
up contentious and impatient of control, and the father's life was
darkened with anxiety and grief.
one, however, of a widely different character--the elder son of Rachel,
Joseph, whose rare personal beauty seemed but to reflect an inward beauty
of mind and heart. Pure, active, and joyous, the lad gave evidence also of
moral earnestness and firmness. He listened to his father's instructions,
and loved to obey God. The qualities that afterward distinguished him in
Egypt--gentleness, fidelity, and truthfulness--were already manifest in
his daily life. His mother being dead, his affections clung the more
closely to the father, and Jacob's heart was bound up in this child of his
old age. He "loved Joseph more than all his children."
But even this
affection was to become a cause of trouble and sorrow. Jacob unwisely
manifested his preference for Joseph, and this excited the jealousy of his
other sons. As Joseph witnessed the evil conduct of his brothers, he was
greatly troubled; he ventured gently to remonstrate with them, but only
aroused still further their hatred and resentment. He could not endure to
see them sinning against God, and he laid the matter before his father,
hoping that his authority might lead them to reform.
carefully avoided exciting their anger by harshness or severity. With deep
emotion he expressed his solicitude for his children, and implored them to
have respect for his gray hairs, and not to bring reproach upon his name,
and above all not to dishonor God by such disregard of His precepts.
Ashamed that their wickedness was known, the young men seemed to be
repentant, but they only concealed their real feelings, which were
rendered more bitter by this exposure.
injudicious gift to Joseph of a costly coat, or tunic, such as was usually
worn by persons of distinction, seemed to them another evidence of his
partiality, and excited a suspicion that he intended to pass by his elder
children, to bestow the birthright upon the son of Rachel. Their malice
was still further increased as the boy one day told them of a dream that
he had had. "Behold," he said, "we were binding sheaves in
the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold,
your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf."
thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over
us?" exclaimed his brothers in envious anger.
Soon he had
another dream, of similar import, which he also related: "Behold, the
sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me." This
dream was interpreted as readily as the first. The father, who was
present, spoke reprovingly--"What is this dream that thou hast
dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down
ourselves to thee to the earth?" Notwithstanding the apparent
severity of his words, Jacob believed that the Lord was revealing the
future to Joseph.
As the lad
stood before his brothers, his beautiful countenance lighted up with the
Spirit of inspiration, they could not withhold their admiration; but they
did not choose to renounce their evil ways, and they hated the purity that
reproved their sins. The same spirit that actuated Cain was kindling in
were obliged to move from place to place to secure pasturage for their
flocks, and frequently they were absent from home for months together.
After the circumstances just related, they went to the place which their
father had bought at Shechem. Some time passed, bringing no tidings from
them, and the father began to fear for their safety, on account of their
former cruelty toward the Shechemites. He therefore sent Joseph to find
them, and bring him words as to their welfare. Had Jacob known the real
feeling of his sons toward Joseph, he would not have trusted him alone
with them; but this they had carefully concealed.
With a joyful
heart, Joseph parted from his father, neither the aged man nor the youth
dreaming of what would happen before they should meet again. When, after
his long and solitary journey, Joseph arrived at Shechem, his brothers and
their flocks were not to be found. Upon inquiring for them, he was
directed to Dothan. He had already traveled more than fifty miles, and now
an additional distance of fifteen lay before him, but he hastened on,
forgetting his weariness in the thought of relieving the anxiety of his
father, and meeting the brothers, whom, despite their unkindness, he still
saw him approaching; but no thought of the long journey he had made to
meet them, of his weariness and hunger, of his claims upon their
hospitality and brotherly love,
softened the bitterness of their hatred.
The sight of the coat, the token of their father's love, filled them with
frenzy. "Behold, this dreamer cometh," they cried in mockery.
Envy and revenge, long secretly cherished, now controlled them. "Let
us slay him," they said, "and cast him into some pit, and we
will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him; and we shall see what will
become of his dreams."
have executed their purpose but for Reuben. He shrank from participating
in the murder of his brother, and proposed that Joseph be cast alive into
a pit, and left there to perish; secretly intending, however, to rescue
him and return him to his father. Having persuaded all to consent to this
plan, Reuben left the company, fearing that he might fail to control his
feelings, and that his real intentions would be discovered.
on, unsuspicious of danger, and glad that the object of his long search
was accomplished; but instead of the expected greeting, he was terrified
by the angry and revengeful glances which he met. He was seized and his
coat stripped from him. Taunts and threats revealed a deadly purpose. His
entreaties were unheeded. He was wholly in the power of those maddened
men. Rudely dragging him to a deep pit, they thrust him in, and having
made sure that there was no possibility of his escape, they left him there
to perish from hunger, while they "sat down to eat bread."
But some of
them were ill at ease; they did not feel the satisfaction they had
anticipated from their revenge. Soon a company of travelers was seen
approaching. It was a caravan of Ishmaelites from beyond Jordan, on their
way to Egypt with spices and other merchandise. Judah now proposed to sell
their brother to these heathen traders instead of leaving him to die.
While he would be effectually put out of their way, they would remain
clear of his blood; "for," he urged, "he is our brother and
our flesh." To this proposition all agreed, and Joseph was quickly
drawn out of the pit.
As he saw the
merchants the dreadful truth flashed upon him. To become a slave was a
fate more to be feared than death. In an agony of terror he appealed to
one and another of his brothers, but in vain. Some were moved with pity,
but fear of derision kept them silent; all felt that they had now gone too
far to retreat. If Joseph were spared, he would doubtless report them to
who would not overlook their cruelty toward his favorite son.
Steeling their hearts against his entreaties, they delivered him into the
hands of the heathen traders. The caravan moved on, and was soon lost to
returned to the pit, but Joseph was not there. In alarm and self-reproach
he rent his garments, and sought his brothers, exclaiming, "The child
is not; and I, whither shall I go?" Upon learning the fate of Joseph,
and that it would now be impossible to recover him, Reuben was induced to
unite with the rest in the attempt to conceal their guilt. Having killed a
kid, they dipped Joseph's coat in its blood, and took it to their father,
telling him that they had found it in the fields, and that they feared it
was their brother's. "Know now," they said, "whether it be
thy son's coat or no." They had looked forward to this scene with
dread, but they were not prepared for the heart-rending anguish, the utter
abandonment of grief, which they were compelled to witness. "It is my
son's coat," said Jacob; "an evil beast hath devoured him.
Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces." Vainly his sons and
daughters attempted to comfort him. He "rent his clothes, and put
sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days." Time
seemed to bring no alleviation of his grief. "I will go down into the
grave unto my son mourning," was his despairing cry. The young men,
terrified at what they had done, yet dreading their father's reproaches,
still hid in their own hearts the knowledge of their guilt, which even to
themselves seemed very great.