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Lecture Thirty-second

Yesterday we explained how it seemed proper to call him who appeared to holy Jacob in Bethel both God and an angel; for the name, Jehovah by which is expressed the eternal power, essence, and majesty of God, could not be transferred to a mere angel. It is hence certain that he was the only true God. But it could not be, that he was simply and without any distinction called an angel; but as Christ even then sustained the character of a Mediator, he was not inconsistently called an angel; and yet we know that he is the eternal God. So this passage is worthy of being remembered, as it bears testimony to the divinity of Christ; for the Prophet clearly affirms that he is Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, and that he is so by his own power; and that he does not subsist in another, as all creatures do. Since then he is so, his sovereignty is proved, so that he is not inferior to the Father.

But he says, that this is his memorial, or remembrance. This expression has reference to men; the Prophet then means, that this wonderful and magnificent name would be well known in the world, when Christ should be revealed. The people, indeed, even then acknowledged that the true God appeared to their father Jacob; but the knowledge of a Mediator was hitherto obscure. The Prophet then seems to have respect here to the coming of Christ; as though he said, that the name, Jehovah, would be widely known to all, when the Mediator would be more clearly exhibited. But I will come now to the other parts of the passage.

The Prophet says that he was a prince, or had power, by his strength with God. What this saying imports, I shall shortly explain. The name, Israel, was given to Jacob, because of the victory he obtained in that noble wrestling, of which mention is made in Genesis 32: 8686     Genesis 32:24-30. — fj. for the holy man had not a contest with a mortal being, but with God himself; and he overcame in that combat, and is hence called the conqueror of God. As this mode of speaking is harsh, some have endeavoured by a comment to turn it to something more moderate, that is, that Jacob was a prince with God, meaning, that God approved of his unwonted courage. But God meant to express something more, when he gave this name to his servant; for he confessed that he gave way, being, as it were, overcome, and yielded the palm of victory to holy Jacob. And this ought not to appear strange to us; for we know that whenever God proves our faith, and tries us by temptations, these are so many combats by which he contends with us; for he seeks to find out what is the strength of our faith. Now? when we are said to wrestle with God, and the issue of the contest be such, that God leaves the victory to us, we are not then improperly called conquerors, yea, even of God himself. But how? Because God works wonderfully in his saints, so that by his own power he casts down himself; and while he wrestles with us, he supplies us with strength, by which we are enabled to bear the weight and pressure of the contest. Were God to assail us, what would he find but weakness? But when he calls us to the struggle, he at the same time supplies us with the necessary arms.

And it is a wonderful marshalling of the contest, when God on one side makes himself an antagonist, and, on the other, fights in us against his own temptations, or against all those wrestlings by which he tries our faith. Hence God is said to be overcome by us, when, by the power and aid of his own Spirit, he strengthens and renders us unconquerable; yea, when he makes us to triumph over temptations, and when we consider everything, such is the state of the case, that God will have the greater portion of strength to be on our side, and that he only takes the weaker portion to tempt and try us. There is not indeed, in this case, to be imagined by us, any such separation, as if God was divided against himself; but we know, that when he tries our faith, he comes forth as if he were a contender, or as if he challenged us to the contest. This is indeed certain. For what are temptations, or what is their object, but to afford us an occasion to exhibit, as on a field of battle, an example and proof of our strength and firmness? But this could not be done without an adversary; for what advantage would it be to fight with a shadow? or when no one engages with us? Hence God is like an adversary whenever he tries our faith; and, as it has been said before, we have this contest not with men, but with God himself. We have indeed to contend with the devil; for Paul says, that we have to fight not (only) with flesh and blood, but with mighty powers, (Ephesians 6:12.) This is doubtless true; but the Lord, at the same time, holds the first place, as that remarkable passage in Job testified, ‘The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away,’ (Job 1:21.) So, then, we must engage with God himself. How so? Because he tries and proves us. But he does not tempt us, as James says, (James 1:13,14;) for a person is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust. He does not tempt us to evil; he does not instil into us corrupt desires, which grow up spontaneously, and which are innate in our nature: but he tempts, that is, proves us, as he is said to have tempted Abraham, (Genesis 22:1.)

Since it is so, we must now wrestle with God; but for what end? That we may conquer: for God intends not to overwhelm us, while he is making known our faith and constancy of obedience; but, on the contrary, he builds a theatre, on which to show his gifts. We therefore come to the struggle with the hope of overcoming. That we may overcome, he, as I have said, not only exhorts us to be strong, but supplies us also with arms, endues us with strength, and also fights himself, in a manner, with us, and is powerful in us, and enables us to overcome our temptations. For this reason, Jacob is said to have power with God, or to have been God’s conqueror.

But what the Prophet adds may seem strange, that this was done by his strength. He had power with God, he says, by his own strength. But if Israel had fought by his own valour, he could not have borne even the shadow of God, for he must have fallen. He must have been brought to nothing, had he not power greater than that of man. What, then, does this mean, that he was a conqueror by his own strength? We grant, that this strength, of which the Prophet speaks, may be ascribed to holy Jacob when he gained dominion. There is no better title, as they commonly say, than that of donation; and God is wont to transfer to us whatever he bestows, as if it were our own. It is then necessary to distinguish wisely here between the strength which man has in himself, and that which God confers on him. The Papists, as soon as any mention is made of the strength or power of man, instantly lay hold on it, and say, “If there is no freewill in man, there is no strength, or there is no power to resist.” But they betray their own stupidity and thoughtlessness, inasmuch as they cannot distinguish between the intrinsic strength which is in man himself by nature, and the adventitious strength with which God endues men, and which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Prophet, when he here commends the strength of holy Jacob, does not extol his free-will, as though he derived strength from himself, by which he overcame God; but he means that he was divinely endued with unconquerable power, so that he came forth a conqueror in the contest. We now then apprehend the meaning of the Prophet.

And since this was especially worthy of being remembered, he repeats, that he had power with the angel, and prevailed. But we have already said how Jacob prevailed not indeed of himself, but because God had so distributed his power, that the greater part was in Jacob himself. I am therefore wont, when I speak of the wrestling and of the daily contests with which God exercises the godly, to adduce this similitude, — That God fights with us with his left hand, and defends us with his right hand, that is, he assails us in a weak manner, (so to speak,) and at the same time stretches forth his right hand to defend us: he displays, in the latter instance, his greater power, that we may become victorious in the struggle. And this mode of speaking, though at the first view it seems harsh, does yet wonderfully set forth the grace and goodness of God, inasmuch as he deigns to humble himself for our sake, so as to choose to concede to us the praise of victory; not indeed that we may become proud of ourselves, but that he may be thus more glorified, when he prefers exercising his power in defending us rather than in overwhelming us, which he could do with one breath of his mouth. For he has no need of making any effort to reduce us to nothing: if he only chooses to blow on the whole human race, the whole world would in a moment be extinguished. But the Lord fights with us, and at the same time suffers us not to be crushed; nay, he raises us up on high, and, as I have already said, concedes to us the victory. Let us now go on.

The Prophet adds, that he wept and entreated: He wept, he says, and made supplication unto him Some explain this clause of the angel; but I know not whether weeping was suitable to him. The saying may be indeed defended that the angel was as it were a suppliant, when he yielded up the conquest to the holy man; for it was the same as though he who owns himself unequal in a contest were to throw himself on the ground. Then they explain weeping thus, “The angel entreated the patriarch when he said, ‘Let me go;’ and this was a confession of victory.” The sense would then be, that the patriarch Jacob did not gain any ordinary thing when he came forth a conqueror in the struggle; for God was in a manner the suppliant, for he conceded to him the name and praise of a conqueror. But I prefer explaining this of the patriarch, and to do so is, in my judgement, more suitable. It is not indeed said that Jacob wept; that is, it is not, I own, stated distinctly and expressly by Moses; but weeping may be taken for that humility which the faithful ever bring to the presence of God: and then weeping was meet for the patriarch; for he so gained the victory in the combat, that he did not depart without grief and loss, inasmuch as we know that his leg was put out of joint, and that his thigh was dislocated so that he was lame all his life. Jacob then obtained the victory, and there triumphed with God’s approbation: but yet he departed not whole, for God had left him lame. He felt then no small grief, since this weakness in his body continued through life. Hence weeping did not ill become the holy man, who was humbled in the struggle, though he carried away the palm of victory.

And this ought to be carefully noticed; for here the Prophet meets all calumnies, when he so moderates the sentence, that he takes away nothing from God and his glory, though he thus splendidly adorns the victory of the patriarch. He was then a prince with God; he prevailed also, he became a conqueror, — but how? He yet wept and entreated him; which means, that there was no cause for pride that he carried away the palm of victory from the contest, but that God led him to humility even by the dislocation of his thigh or leg: and so he entreated him. The praying of Jacob is related by Moses, which he made, when he asked to be blessed. But the less, as the Apostle says, is blessed by the greater, (Hebrews 7:7.) Then Jacob did not exalt himself, as blind men do, who claim merit to themselves; but he prayed to God, and asked to be blessed by Him, who owned himself to be overcome. And this ought to be carefully observed, especially the additional circumstance; for we hence learn that there is no cause why they who are proved by temptations should flee away from God, though our flesh indeed seeks ease, and desires to be spared.

But when a temptation is at hand, we withdraw ourselves, and there is no one who would not gladly make a truce, and also hide himself at a distance from the presence of God. Inasmuch then as we desire God to be far from us, when he comes forth as an antagonist to try our faith, this praying of Jacob ought to be remembered; for though he had his leg disjointed, though he was worn out with weariness, he did not yet withdraw himself, he did not wish the departure of the angel, but retained him as it were by force: “Thou shalt bless me; I would rather contend with thee, and be wholly consumed, than to let thee go before thou blesses me.” We hence see that we ought to seek the presence of God; though he may severely try us, though we may suffer much, though our strength fail, though we may be made lame through life, we ought not yet to shun the presence of God, but rather embrace him with both arms, and retain him as it were by force; for it is much better to groan under our burden, and to feel his power who is above us, than to continue free from toil, and to rot in our pleasures, as they do whom God forsakes. And we see how much such an indulgence ought to be dreaded by us; for unless we are daily sharpened by various temptations, we immediately gather rust and other evils. It is therefore necessary, in order that we may continue in a sound state, that our contests should be daily renewed: and hence I have said, that we ought to seek the presence of God, however severe the wresting may be.

It follows, He found him in Bethel To remove every ambiguity, I would render it, “In Bethel he had found him.” It is indeed a verb in the future tense; but it is certain that the Prophet speaks of the past. But when we take the past tense, ambiguity in the language still remains; for some thus understand the place, that God had afterwards found Jacob in Bethel, or, that Jacob had found God; that is, when the name of Israel was confirmed to him, after the destruction of the town of Sichem; for, to console his grief, God appeared to him there again. They then explain this of a second vision in that place. But it seems to me that the Prophet had another thing in view, even this, that God had already found Jacob in Bethel, that he had met him when he fled to Syria, and went away through the fear of his brother. It was then for the first time that God appeared to his servant, and exhorted him to faithfulness: he promised to him a safe return to his own country. The Prophet then means, that Jacob gained the victory, because God had long before began to embrace him in his love, and also testified his love when he had manifested himself to him in Bethel. Hence he found him in Bethel. This might indeed be referred to Jacob, “He found him in Bethel;” that is, he found God. But as it is immediately added, There he spake with us, and as this cannot be applied to any other than to God himself, I am inclined to add also, that God had found Jacob in Bethel. And the Prophet commends to us again the gratuitous goodness of God towards Jacob, because he deigned to meet him on his way, and to show that he was the leader of Jacob on his journey: for he did not think previously that God was nigh him, as he says himself,

‘This is the house of God, and the gate of heaven,
and I knew it not,’ (Genesis 28:16,17.)

When therefore the holy man thought himself to be as it were cast away by God, and destitute of all aid, when he was alone and without any hope, God is said to have found him; for of his own good will he presented himself to him, when the holy man hoped no such thing, nor conceived such a thing in his mind. Hence God had already found his servant in Bethel; and there he spake, or (that the same strain may be continued) had spoken to him.

There he had spoken with us. Some take עמנו, omnu, for עמו, omu 8787     This is an instance in which critics, from not understanding the drift of a passage, have suggested emendations, which seem plausible, and yet take away an important meaning, as we shall see in the present case, from Calvin’s explanation. Horsley takes the same view with Calvin, though Newcome does not. — Ed. , he had spoken with him; and they do this, being forced by necessity; for they find no sense in the words that God spake with us in Bethel. But there is no need to change the words contrary to rules of grammar. Others who dare not to depart from the words of the Prophet, imagine a sense wholly different. Some say, “He spake with us there;” that is, “The Lord speaks by me, Hosea, and by Amos, who is my colleague and friend: for we denounce on you, by his authority, utter ruin and destruction; and God has made known to us at Bethel whatever we bring to you.” But how strained is this, all must see: this is to wrest Scripture, and not to explain it. Others also speak still more frigidly: “There he spake with us,” as though the angel had said, “Wait, the Lord will speak with us; I have called thee Israel, but the Lord will at length come, who will ratify what I now say to thee:” as if he was not indeed the eternal God; but this he immediately expresses when he says Jehovah is his memorial, Jehovah of hosts But thus the Jews trifle, who are like irrational beings whenever there is a reference made to Christ.

There does not seem, however, to be any great reason why we should toil much about the Prophet’s words: and some even of the Rabbis (not to deprive them of their just praise) have observed this to be the meaning, That the Lord had so spoken with Jacob, that what he said belonged to the whole people. For doubtless whatever God then promised to his servant appertained to the whole body of the people, and all his posterity. Why then do interpreters so greatly torment themselves, when it is evident that God spake through the person of one man with all the posterity of Abraham? And this agrees best with the context; for the Prophet now applies, so to speak, to the whole people what he had hitherto recorded of the patriarch Jacob. That they might not then think that the history of one man was related, he says that it belongs to all. How so? Because the Lord had so spoken with holy Jacob, that his voice ought to resound in the ears of all. For what was said to the holy man? Did God only reveal himself to him? Did he promise to be a Father only to him? Nay, he adopted his whole seed, and extended his favour to all his posterity. Since then he had so spoken to all the Israelites, they ought now to be more ashamed of their defection, inasmuch as they had so much degenerated from their father, with whom they were yet connected. For there was a sacred bond of unity between Jacob and his children, since God embraced them all in his love, and favoured them all with his adoption. We now perceive the mind of the Prophet. Let us proceed —

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