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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 27:42–29:19]

ESAU was very angry, because he had lost the blessing. He resolved to kill Jacob. Rebecca knew the evil intentions of Esau, and saw that the life of Jacob was in danger. She therefore called Jacob and said to him: “My son, flee to Laban, my brother, and dwell with him, till the wrath of thy brother hath passed away.” Jacob at once set out. As he went on, it happened that night overtook him in an open plain. Being tired from the journey, he lay down on the ground and slept, having a stone for a pillow. In his sleep he saw a ladder standing upon the earth, the top touching heaven; and by it the angels of God ascended and descended. The Lord was leaning upon the ladder and said to him: “I am the Lord God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac. The land wherein thou sleepest I will give to thee and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and in thee and thy seed all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed.”

 

Fig. 9. Bethel. (Phot. Bonfils.)

And when Jacob awoke from sleep, he said: “Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not. How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God and the gate of heaven.” As soon as morning dawned, he took the stone upon which his head had lain during the vision, and set it up as a monument; he also poured oil upon it, in honour of God, and changed the name of the place from Luza to Bethel, that is to say, the house of God. He also made a vow, saying: “If God shall be with me, and I shall return prosperously to my father’s house, the Lord shall be my God; and of all things that Thou shalt give me I will offer tithes to Thee.”

This being done, he continued his journey, and having come to a well near which three flocks of sheep were lying, he addressed the shepherds who were tending their flocks, saying: “Brethren, whence are you?” They answered: “Of Haran.” He then asked them if they knew Laban, the son of Nachor. They replied: “We know him: and behold! Rachel, his daughter cometh with his flock.” When Rachel drew near, Jacob met her in a friendly manner, and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well so that her flock might drink. He informed Rachel that he was the son of Rebecca, her father’s sister. She joyfully ran home and announced the glad tidings to her father who, coming out, embraced Jacob and then conducted him to his house. Jacob remained twenty years with Laban, tending his flocks with great care and fidelity. But Laban tried, by various unjust means, to withhold from Jacob a part of the hire to which he was justly entitled. Nevertheless, God blessed Jacob, and he became rich in flocks, and herds, and servants.

All good things come from God. When Jacob made his vow, he did not say: “Of all things that I shall gain I will offer tithes to Thee”, but: “of all things that Thou shalt give me”. By these words the holy servant of God expressed his conviction that any riches or possessions which he might acquire, would all be a gift from God. Every true believer in God ought to say thus: “From Thee, O God, comes every gift. I thank Thee for what I am, and what I have.”

The fourth promise of the Messias. The promise of the Redeemer was made to Jacob in these words: “In thy seed shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed”, i. e. by one of your descendants shall grace and blessings be brought to all mankind. This Descendant of Jacob is Jesus Christ.

Our holy Guardian Angels. What does the heavenly ladder signify? Do the holy angels require a ladder, by which to ascend into heaven and descend to the earth? No! for they can pass to and from heaven with the swiftness of thought. God made this heavenly ladder to appear to Jacob so that he might understand that he was not forsaken; and that the holy angels had him in sight, took his prayers and good works to the throne of God, and returned to earth in order to stand by him and protect him. The angels help us in the same way, being, as St Paul tells us, “ministering spirits, sent to minister to them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation” (Hebr. 1:14). “That which Almighty God showed visibly to Jacob for his comfort, takes place continually, in an invisible manner, with those whom God loves. Day and night, even when they are asleep, God looks down on them, well pleased, and has given His angels to them to be their guardians. These holy angels ascend and descend the heavenly ladder. They ascend to carry the sighs and prayers of the just, to offer them as fragrant incense before the throne of God; they descend to bring back to them help, strength and consolation from above” (Overberg). See Old Test. LXIX, where the Archangel Raphael says to Tobias: “When thou didst pray with tears, and didst bury the dead, I offered thy prayer to the Lord.” The holy angels are, therefore, ever working for our good.

Every Catholic church is a house of God and a gate of heaven. The words of Jacob: “How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven!” apply to every Catholic church still more than they applied to Bethel. For every Catholic church is, in very deed, a house of God, because every day, in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, our Divine Saviour descends on the altar, is there present under the form of bread and wine, and remains there with us, day and night, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Every Catholic church is, also, a gate of heaven, because in it the one true faith is taught, and the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance and the Holy Eucharist are continually administered, through which we receive the remission of our sins, and obtain grace and life everlasting. Those words of the God-fearing Jacob might well be written over the entrance of every one of our churches. And, as for us, we ought to be very devout and recollected in the house of God.

Vows. Jacob vowed to God that, if he returned safe to Chanaan, he would build an altar at Bethel and offer sacrifices to God; and you will see that, later on, Jacob faithfully kept his vow. We learn by this vow of Jacob that, even in quite ancient days, God-fearing men used to make vows to God, and that He was well pleased with such holy vows; for He gave Jacob everything for which he prayed, when he made that vow.

Diligence. Jacob served his uncle diligently and faithfully. All who love and fear God try to fulfil faithfully the duties of their state of life. Diligence is a virtue, if we are working, each one in his state, for the glory of God. Sloth is a sin, and one of the seven capital sins.

The efficacy of penance. Jacob’s separation from his parents, and his long and hard servitude were a penance for his sin; and as he practised these penances willingly, they were pleasing to God, who forgave him his sin, and bestowed many blessings on him. Jacob left home quite poor, and returned a rich man. His confidence in God was richly rewarded. Nothing avails without the blessing of God.

The ladder of Jacob’s vision, a type of the Redemption. This ladder stood on the earth, and its top reached to heaven, even to the throne of God; and thus it joined earth to heaven. By sin, this earth (or the men living on earth) had separated itself from heaven (from God). Men had become the enemies of God, and had lost all means of attaining to heaven. It is impossible to reach heaven by any human strength or effort, as the men who built Babel tried to do: heaven must first come down to earth, and draw men back to God. Therefore the Son of God came down from heaven, and, by so doing, put an end to the enmity between heaven and earth. He made satisfaction for us, and regained for us the grace and inheritance of heaven which we had lost. Jesus Christ is the true heavenly ladder. By His teaching He has shown us the way to heaven, and by His death He has won for us grace, in the strength of which we may climb up. Almighty God showed Jacob, by this vision, that some day the Redeemer would come and restore the union between heaven and earth, and would open to all men the way to heaven.

Oil is the type of grace. Even as oil illuminates, softens, strengthens, and heals, so does the grace of the Holy Ghost illuminate, comfort, strengthen, and heal the human soul. Thus, under the Old Law, men (priests and kings), as well as things, which were dedicated to the service of God, were anointed with oil. Under the New Law, Jesus Christ has made oil to be a great means of grace in the holy Sacraments of Confirmation, Extreme Unction and Holy Orders. The holy oils are blessed on Maundy Thursday.

APPLICATION. Jacob had a great reverence for the place where God had appeared to him. Our churches are still holier places, and yet you often behave irreverently in church; your thoughts wander, you look about you, and you even laugh and talk! Examine your conscience on this point, and make resolutions of amendment. “The Lord is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him!” (Hab. 2:20.) Each time you enter a church, say to yourself: “This is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Are you as diligent as Jacob was? Do you learn your lessons, and especially your catechism, diligently? Are you willing to help your parents, or your brothers and sisters, in their work? Resolve to overcome slothfulness, and to fulfil your duties faithfully for the love of God.








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