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20Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear,

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20. And Jacob vowed a vow. The design of this vow was, that Jacob would manifest his gratitude, if God should prove favorable unto him. Thus they offered peace-offerings under the law, to testify their gratitude; and since thanksgiving is a sacrifice of a sweet odour, the Lord declares vows of this nature to be acceptable to him; and therefore we must also have respect to this point, when we are asked what and how it is lawful to vow to God; for some are too fastidious, who would utterly condemn all vows rather than open the door to superstitions. But if the rashness of those persons is perverse, who indiscriminately pour forth their vows, we must also beware lest we become like those on the opposite side, who disallow all vows without exception. Now, in order that a vow may be lawful and pleasing to God, it is first necessary that it should tend to a right end; and next, that men should devote nothing by a vow but what is in itself approved by God, and what he has placed within their own power. When the separate parts of this vow are examined, we shall see holy Jacob so regulating his conduct as to omit none of these things which I have mentioned. In the first place, he has nothing else in his mind than to testify his gratitude. Secondly, he confines whatever he is about to do, to the lawful worship of God. Inthe third place, he does not proudly promise what he had not the power to perform, but devotes the tithe of his goods as a sacred oblation. Wherefore, the folly of the Papists is easily refuted; who, in order to justify their own confused farrago of vows, catch at one or another vow, soberly conceived, as a precedent, when in the meantime their own license exceeds all bounds. Whatever comes uppermost they are not ashamed to obtrude upon God. One man makes his worship to consist in abstinence from flesh, another in pilgrimages, a third in sanctifyingcertain days by the use of sackcloth, or by other things of the same kind; and not to God only do they make their vows, but also admit any dead person they please into a participation of this honor. They arrogate to themselves the choice of perpetual celibacy. What do they find in the example of Jacob which has any similitude or affinity to such rashness, that they should hence catch at such a covering for themselves? But, for the purpose of bringing all these things clearly to light, we must first enter upon an explanation of the words. It may seem absurd that Jacob here makes a covenant with God, to be his worshipper, if he will give him what he desires; as if truly he did not intend to worship God for nothing. I answer, that, by interposing this condition, Jacob did not by any means act from distrust, as if he doubted of God’s continual protection; but that in this manner made provision against his own infirmity, in preparing himself to celebrate the divine goodness by a vow previously made.6161     See desposant a celebrer la bonnet de Dieu, en se vouant expressement a luy. Preparing himself to celebrate the goodness of God, in devoting himself expressly to him. — Fr. Tr. The superstitious deal with God just as they do with mortal man; they try to soothe him with their allurements. The design of Jacob was far different; namely, that he might the more effectually stimulate himself to the duties of religion. He had often heard from the mouth of God, I will be always with thee; and he annexes his vow as an appendage to that promise. He seems indeed, at first sight, like a mercenary, acting in a servile manner; but since he depends entirely upon the promises given unto him, and forms both his language and his affections in accordance with them, he aims at nothing but the confirmation of his faith, and gathers together those aids which he knows to be suitable to his infirmity. When, therefore, he speaks of food and clothing, we must not, on that account, accuse him of solicitude respecting this earthly life alone; whereas he rather contends, like a valiant champion, against violent temptations. He found himself in want of all things; hunger and nakedness were continually threatening him with death, not to mention his other innumerable dangers: therefore he arms himself with confidence, that he might proceed through all difficulties and obstacles, being fully assured that every kind of assistance was laid up for him in the grace of God: for he confesses himself to be in extreme destitution, when he says, If the Lord will supply me with food and raiment. It may nevertheless be asked, since his grandfather Abraham had sent his servant with a splendid retinue, with camels and precious ornaments; why does Isaac now send away his son without a single companion, and almost without provisions? It is possible that he was thus dismissed, that the mind of cruel Esau might be moved to tenderness by a spectacle so miserable. Yet, in my judgment, another reason was of greater weight; for Abraham, fearing lest his son Isaac should remain with his relatives, took an oath from his servant that he would not suffer his son to go into Mesopotamia. But now, since necessity compels holy Isaac to determine differently for his son Jacob; he, at least, takes care not to do anything which might retard his return. He therefore supplies him with no wealth, and with no delicacies which might ensnare his mind, but purposely sends him away poor and empty, that he might be the more ready to return. Thus we see that Jacob preferred his father’s house to all kingdoms, and had no desire of settled repose elsewhere.




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