(Calvin, Genesis 2. part 14)

  1 "And God said unto Jacob." Moses relates that when Jacob had been 
reduced to the last extremity, God came to his help in the right time, 
and as at the critical juncture. And thus he shows, in the person of one 
man, that God never deserts his Church which he has once embraced, but 
will procure its salvation. We must, however, observe the order of his 
procedure; for God did not immediately appear to his servant, but 
suffered him first to be tormented by grief and excessive cares, that he 
might learn patience, deferring his consolation to the time of extreme 
necessity. Certainly the condition of Jacob was then most miserable. For 
all, on every side, might be so incensed against him that he would be 
surrounded with as many deaths as there were neighboring nations: and he 
was not so stupid as to be insensible of his danger. God suffered the 
holy man to be thus tossed with cares and tormented with troubles, 
until, by a kind of resurrection, he restored him, as one half-dead. 
Whenever we read this and similar passages, let us reflect that the 
providence of God watches for our salvation, even when it most seems to 
sleep. Moses does not say how long Jacob was kept in anxiety, but we may 
infer from the context, that he had been very greatly perplexed, when 
the Lord thus revived him. Moreover, we must observe that the principal 
medicine by which he was restored, was contained in the expression, "The 
Lord spoke." Why did not God by a miracle translate him to some other 
place, and thus immediately remove him from all danger? Why did he not 
even, without a word, stretch out the hand over him, and repress the 
ferocity of all, so that no one should attempt to hurt him? But Moses 
does not insist upon this point in vain. For hereby we are taught whence 
our greatest consolation in our afflictions is to be sought; and also, 
that it is the principal business of our life, to depend upon the word 
of God, as those who are certainly persuaded that, when he has promised 
salvation, he will deal well with us, so that we need not hesitate to 
walk through the midst of deaths. Another reason for the vision was, 
that Jacob might not only truly perceive that God was his deliverer; 
but, being forewarned by his word, might learn to ascribe to God 
whatever afterwards followed. For seeing that we are slow and dull, bare 
experience by no means suffices to attest the favour of God towards us, 
unless faith arising from the word be added. 
  "Go up to Bethel." Though it is God's design to raise his servant from 
death to life, he may yet have appeared to hold him up to derision; for 
the objection was ready, "Thou indeed, O Lord, commandest me to go up, 
but all the ways are closed; for my sons have raised such a flame 
against me, that I cannot remain safe in any hiding-place. I dare 
scarcely move a finger: what therefore will become of me, if with a 
great multitude, I now begin to move my camp? shall I not provoke new 
enmities against me by my movements?" But by this mode the faith of 
Jacob was most fully proved; because, knowing God to be the leader and 
guardian of his journey, he girded himself to it, relying on the divine 
favour. Moreover, the Lord does not simply command what it is his will 
to have done, but he encourages his servant, by adding the promise. For, 
in reminding him that he is the same God who had before appeared unto 
him as he was fleeing in alarm from his brother, a promise is included 
in these words. The altar also refers to the same point; for since it is 
the divinely appointed token of thanksgiving, it follows that Jacob 
would come thither in safety, in order that he might duly celebrate the 
grace of God. God chooses and assigns Bethel, rather than any other 
place, for his sanctuary; because the very sight of it would greatly 
avail to take away terror, when he should remember that there the glory 
of the Lord had been seen by him. Further, since God exhorts his servant 
to gratitude, he shows that he is kind to the faithful, in order that 
they, in return, may own themselves to be indebted for everything to his 
grace, and may exercise themselves in the celebration of it. 
  2. "Then Jacob said unto his household." The prompt obedience of Jacob 
is here described. For when he heard the voice of God, he neither 
doubted nor disputed with himself respecting what was necessary to be 
done: but, as he was commanded, he quickly prepared himself for his 
journey. But to show that he obeyed God, he not only collected his 
goods, but also purified his house from idols. For if we desire that God 
should be propitious to us, all hindrances are to be removed, which in 
any way separate him from us. Hence also we perceive to what point the 
theft of Rachel tended. For, (as we have said,) she neither wished to 
draw her father away from superstition, but rather followed him in his 
fault; nor did she keep this poison to herself, but spread it through 
the whole family. Thus was that sacred house infected with the worst 
contagion. Whence also it appears, how great is the propensity of 
mankind to impious and vicious worship; since the domestics of Jacob, to 
whom the pure religion had been handed down, thus eagerly laid hold on 
the idols offered to them. And Jacob was not entirely ignorant of the 
evil: but it is probable that he was so far under the influence of his 
wife, that, by connivance, he silently cherished this plague of his 
family. And truly, in one word, he convicts and condemns both himself 
and the rest, by calling idols "strange gods." For whence arose the 
distinction here made, unless from his knowing that he ought to be 
devoted to one God only? For there is a tacit comparison between the God 
of Abraham and all other gods which the world had wickedly invented for 
itself: not because it was in the power of Abraham to determine who 
should be the true God: but because God had manifested himself to 
Abraham, he also wished to assume His name. Jacob therefore confesses 
his own negligence, in having admitted to his house idols, against which 
the door had been closed by God. For wherever the knowledge of the true 
God shines, it is necessary to drive far away whatever men fabricate to 
themselves which is contrary to the true knowledge of him. But whereas 
Jacob had been lulled to sleep either by the blandishments of his wife, 
or had neglected to do his duty, through the carelessness of the flesh, 
he is now aroused by the fear of danger, to become more earnest in the 
pure worship of God. If this happened to the holy patriarch, how much 
more ought carnal security to be dreaded by us, in the season of 
prosperity? If, however, at any time such torpor and neglect shall have 
stolen upon us, may the paternal chastisement of God excite and 
stimulate us diligently to purge ourselves from whatever faults we, by 
our negligence, may have contracted. The infinite goodness of God is 
here conspicuous; seeing that he still deigned to regard the house of 
Jacob, though polluted with idols, as his sanctuary. For although Jacob 
mingled with idolaters, and even his wife,--a patroness of idolatry,-- 
slept in his bosom, his sacrifices were always acceptable to God. Yet 
this great benignity of God in granting pardon, neither lessens the 
fault of the holy man, nor ought to be used by us as an occasion for 
negligence. For though Jacob did not approve of these superstitions, yet 
it was not owing to him that the pure worship of God was not gradually 
subverted. For the corruption which originated with Rachel was now 
beginning to spread more widely. And the example of all ages teaches the 
same thing. For scarcely ever does the truth of God so prevail among 
men, however strenuously pious teachers may labor in maintaining it, but 
that some superstitions will remain among the common people. If 
dissimulation be added to them, the mischief soon creeps onward, until 
it takes possession of the whole body. By being thus cherished, the mass 
of superstitions which at this day pervades the Papacy, has gained its 
influence. Wherefore we must boldly resist those beginnings of evil, 
lest the true religion should be injured by the sloth and silence of the 
  "And be clean, and change your garments." This is an exhortation to 
the external profession of penitence. For Jacob wishes that his 
domestics, who before had polluted themselves, should testify their 
renewed purification by a change of garments. With the same design and 
end, the people, after they had made the golden calves, were commanded 
by Moses to put off their ornaments. Only in that instance a different 
method was observed; namely, that the people having laid aside their 
ornaments, simply confessed their guilt by mournful and mean apparel: 
but in the house of Jacob the garments were changed, in order that they 
who had been defiled might come forth as new men: yet the end (as I have 
said) was the same, that by this external rite, idolaters might learn 
how great was the atrocity of their wickedness. For although, repentance 
is an inward virtue, and has its seat in the heart, yet this ceremony 
was by no means superfluous; for we know how little disposed men are to 
be displeased with themselves on account of their sins, unless they are 
pierced with many goads. Again, the glory of God is also concerned in 
this, that men should not only inwardly reflect upon their guilt, but at 
the same time openly declare it. This then is the sum; although God had 
given no express command concerning the purifying of his house, yet 
because he had commanded an altar to be raised, Jacob, in order that he 
might yield pure obedience to God, took care that all impediments should 
be removed; and he did this when necessity compelled him to seek help 
from God. 
  4. "And they gave unto Jacob." Though the holy man had his house in 
suitable subordination; yet as all yielded such prompt obedience to his 
command by casting away their idols, I doubt not that they were 
influenced by the fear of danger. Whence also we infer how important it 
is for us to be aroused from slumber by suffering. For we know how 
pertinacious and rebellious is superstition. If, in a peaceful and 
joyous state of affairs, Jacob had given any such command, the greater 
part of his family would have fraudulently concealed their idols: some, 
perhaps, would have obstinately refused to surrender them; but now the 
hand of God urges them, and with ready minds they quickly repent. It is 
also probable, that, according to the circumstances of the time, Jacob 
preached to them concerning the righteous judgment of God, to inspire 
them with fear. When he commands them to cleanse themselves, it is as if 
he had said, Hitherto ye have been defiled before the Lord; now, seeing 
that he has regarded us so mercifully, wash out this filth, lest he 
should again avert his face from us. It seems, however, absurd, that 
Jacob should have buried the idols under an oak, and not rather have 
broken them in pieces and consumed them in the fire, as we read that 
Moses did with the golden calves, (Exod. 32: 20,) and Hezekiah with the 
brazen serpent, (2 Kings 18: 4.) The fact is not thus related without 
reason: but the infirmity of Jacob is touched upon, because he had not 
been sufficiently provident against the future. And perhaps the Lord 
punished his previous excessive connivance and want of firmness, by 
depriving him of prudence or courage. Yet God accepted his obedience, 
although it had some remainder of defect, knowing that it was the design 
of the holy man to remove idols from his family, and, in token of his 
detestation, to bury them in the earth. The ear-rings were doubtless 
badges of superstition; as at this day innumerable trifles are seen in 
the Papacy, by which impiety displays itself. 
  5. "And the terror of God was upon the cities." It now manifestly 
appears that deliverance was not in vain promised to the holy man by 
God; since, amidst so many hostile swords, he goes forth not only in 
safety but undisturbed. By the destruction of the Shechemites all the 
neighboring people were inflamed with enmity against a single family; 
yet no one moves to take vengeance. The reason is explained by Moses, 
that the terror of God had fallen upon them, which repressed their 
violent assaults. Hence we may learn that the hearts of men are in the 
hands of God; that he can inspire those with fortitude who in themselves 
are weak; and, on the other hand, soften their iron-hardness whenever he 
pleases. Sometimes, indeed, he suffers many to cast up the foam of their 
pride, against whom he afterwards opposes his power: but he often 
weakens those with fear who were naturally bold as lions: thus we find 
these giants, who were able to devour Jacob a hundred times, so struck 
with terror that they faint away. Wherefore, whenever we see the wicked 
furiously bent on our destruction, lest our hearts should fail with fear 
and be broken by desperation, let us call to mind this terror of God, by 
which the rage, however furious, of the whole world may be easily 
  7. "And he built there an altar." It has been already stated why it 
behaved the holy fathers, wherever they came, to have an altar of their 
own, distinct from those of other nations; namely, to make it manifest 
that they did not worship gods of various kinds, a practice to which the 
world was then everywhere addicted, but that they had a God peculiar to 
themselves. For although God is worshipped with the mind, yet an 
external confession is the inseparable companion of faith. Besides, all 
acknowledge how very useful it is to us to be stirred up by outward 
helps to the worship of God. If any one object that these altars 
differed nothing from other altars in appearance; I answer, that whereas 
others rashly, and with inconsiderate zeal, built altars to unknown 
gods, Jacob always adhered to the word of God. And there is no lawful 
altar but that which is consecrated by the word; nor indeed did the 
worship of Jacob excel by any other mark than this, that he attempted 
nothing beyond the command of God. In calling the name of the place "The 
God of Beth-el," he is thought to be too familiar; and yet this very 
title commends the faith of the holy man, and that rightly, since he 
confines himself within the divinely prescribed bounds. The Papists act 
foolishly in affecting the praise of humility by a modesty which is most 
degrading. But the humility of faith is praiseworthy, seeing it does not 
desire to know more than God permits. And as when God descends to us, 
he, in a certain sense, abases himself, and stammers with us, so he 
allows us to stammer with him. And this is to be truly wise, when we 
embrace God in the manner in which he accommodates himself to our 
capacity. For in this way, Jacob does not keenly dispute concerning the 
essence of God, but renders God familiar to himself by the oracle which 
he has received. And because he applies his senses to the revelation, 
this stammering and simplicity (as I have said) is acceptable to God. 
Now, though at this day, the knowledge of God has shined more clearly, 
yet since God, in the gospel, takes upon him the character of a nursing 
father, let us learn to subject our minds to him; only let us remember 
that he descends to us in order to raise us up to himself. For he does 
not speak to us in this earthly manner, to keep us at a distance from 
heaven, but rather by this vehicle, to draw us up thither. Meanwhile 
this rule must be observed, that since the name of the altar was given 
by a celestial oracle, the building of it was a proof of faith. For 
where the living voice of God does not sound, whatever pomps may be 
introduced will be like shadowy spectres; as in the Papacy nothing can 
be seen except bladders filled with wind. It may be added that Jacob 
shows the constant tenor of his faith, from the time that God began to 
manifest himself to him; because he keeps in view the fact, that the 
angels had appeared unto him. For since the word is in the plural 
number, I willingly interpret it of angels; and this is not contrary to 
the former doctrine; for although the majesty of God was then 
conspicuous, so far as he could comprehend it, yet Moses does not 
without reason mention the angels whom Jacob saw ascending and 
descending on the steps of the ladder. For he then beheld the glory of 
God in the angels, as we see the splendor of the sun flowing to us 
through his rays. 
  8. "But Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, died." Here is inserted a short 
narration of the death of Deborah, whom we may conclude to have been a 
holy matron, and whom the family of Jacob venerated as a mother; for the 
name given in perpetuity to the place, testifies that she was buried 
with peculiar honor, and with no common mourning. Shortly afterwards the 
death and burial of Rachel are to be recorded: yet Moses does not say 
that any sign of mourning for Deborah was transmitted to posterity; 
therefore it is probable that she was held by all in the place of a 
grandmother: But it may be asked, how she then happened to be in Jacob's 
company, seeing that he had not yet come to his father; and the age of a 
decrepit old woman rendered her unfit for so long a journey. Some 
interpreters imagine that she had been sent by Rebecca to meet her son 
Jacob; but I do not see what probability there is in the conjecture; nor 
yet have I anything certain to affirm, except that, perhaps, she had 
loved Jacob from a boy, because she had nursed him; and when she knew 
the cause of his exile, she followed him from her regard for religion. 
Certainly Moses does not in vain celebrate her death with an eulogy so 
  9. "And God, appeared unto Jacob." Moses, having introduced a few 
words on the death of Deborah, recites a second vision, by which Jacob 
was confirmed, after his return to Bethel. Once, in this place, God had 
appeared unto him, when he was on his way into Mesopotamia. In the 
meantime God had testified in various methods, as need required, that he 
would be present with him everywhere through his whole journey; but now 
he is brought back again to that very place where a more illustrious and 
memorable oracle had been given him, in order that he may receive again 
a new confirmation of his faith. The blessing of God here means nothing 
else than his promise; for though men pray for blessings on each other; 
God declares himself to be the sole Dispenser of perfect happiness. Now 
Jacob heard at this time nothing new; but the same promise is repeated 
to him, that he, as one who had returned from captivity to his own 
country, and had gathered new strength to his faith, might accomplish 
with greater courage the remaining course of his life. 
  10. "Thy name shall not be called any more Jacob." We have before 
given the meaning of these words. The former name is not abolished, but 
the dignity of the other, which was afterwards put upon him, is 
preferred: for he was called Jacob from the womb, because he had 
strongly wrestled with his brother; but he was afterwards called Israel, 
because he entered into contest with God, and obtained the victory; not 
that he had prevailed by his own power, (for he had borrowed courage and 
strength and arms from God alone,) but because it was the Lord's will 
freely to confer upon him this honor. He therefore speaks comparatively, 
showing that the name Jacob is obscure and ignoble when compared with 
the name Israel. Some understand it thus, "Not only shalt thou be called 
Jacob, but the surname of Israel shall be added;" yet the former 
exposition seems to me the more simple; namely, that the old name, 
having in it less of splendor, should give place to the second. What 
Augustine adduces is specious rather than solid; namely, that he was 
called Jacob in reference to his present life, but Israel in reference 
to his future life. Let this, however, be regarded as settled, that a 
double name was given to the holy man, of which one was by far the most 
excellent; for we see that the prophets often combine them both, thus 
marking the constancy of God's grace from the beginning to the end. 
  11. "I am God Almighty." God here, as elsewhere, proclaims his own 
might, in order that Jacob may the more certainly rely on his 
faithfulness. He then promises that he will cause Jacob to increase and 
multiply, not only into one nation, but into a multitude of nations. 
When he speaks of "a nation," he no doubt means that the offspring of 
Jacob should become sufficiently numerous to acquire the body and the 
name of one great people. But that follows concerning "nations" may 
appear absurd; for if we wish it to refer to the nations which, by 
gratuitous adoption, are inserted into the race of Abraham, the form of 
expression is improper: but if it be understood of sons by naturals 
descent, then it would be a curse rather shall a blessing, that the 
Church, the safety of which depends on its unity, should be divided into 
many distinct nations. But to me it appears that the Lord, in these 
words, comprehended both these benefits; for when, under Joshua, the 
people was apportioned into tribes, as if the seed of Abraham was 
propagated into so many distinct nations; yet the body was not thereby 
divided; it is called an assembly of nations, for this reason, because 
in connection with that distinction a sacred unity yet flourished. The 
language also is not improperly extended to the Gentiles, who, having 
been before dispersed, are collected into one congregation by the bond 
of faith; and although they were not born of Jacob according to the 
flesh; yet, because faith was to them the commencement of a new birth, 
and the covenant of salvation, which is the seed of spiritual birth, 
flowed from Jacob, all believers are rightly reckoned among his sons, 
according to the declaration, "I have constituted thee a father of many 
  "And kings shall come out of thy loins." This, in my judgment, ought 
properly to be referred to David and his posterity; for God did not 
approve of the kingdom of Saul, and therefore it was not established; 
and the kingdom of Israel was but a corruption of the legitimate 
kingdom. I acknowledge truly that, sometimes, those things which have 
sprung from evil sources are numbered among God's benefits; but because 
here the simple and pure benediction of God is spoken of, I willingly 
understand it of David's successors only. Finally; Jacob is constituted 
the lord of the land, as the sole heir of his grandfather Abraham, and 
of his father Isaac; for the Lord manifestly excludes Esau from the holy 
family, when he transfers the dominion of the land, by hereditary right, 
to the posterity of Jacob alone. 
  13.  And God went up from him." This ascent of God is analogous to his 
descent; for God, who fills heaven and earth, is yet said to descend to 
us, though he changes not his place, whenever he gives us any token of 
his presence; a mode of expression adopted in accommodation to our 
littleness. He went up, therefore, from Jacob, when he disappeared from 
his sight, or when the vision ended. By the use of such language, God 
shows us the value of his word, because, indeed, he is near to us in the 
testimony of his grace; for, seeing that there is a great distance 
between us and his heavenly glory, he descends to us by his word. This, 
at length, was fully accomplished in the person of Christ; who while, by 
his own ascension to heaven, he raised our faith thither; nevertheless 
dwells always with us by the power of his Spirit. 
  14. "And Jacob set up a pillar." Though it is possible that he may 
again have erected a sacred monument, in memory of the second vision; 
yet I readily subscribe to the opinion of those who think that reference 
is made to what had been done before; as if Moses should say, that was 
the ancient temple of God, in which Jacob had poured forth his libation: 
for he had not been commanded to come thither for the sake of dwelling 
there; but in order that a fresh view of the place might renew his faith 
in the ancient oracle, and more fully confirm it. We read elsewhere that 
altars were built by the holy fathers, where they intended to remain 
longer; but their reason for doing so was different: for whereas Jacob 
had made a solemn vow in Bethel, on condition that he should be brought 
back by the Lord in safety; thanksgiving is now required of him, after 
he has become bound by his vow, that, being strengthened, he may pass 
onward on his journey. 
  16. "And they journeyed from Bethel." We have seen how severe a wound 
the defilement of his daughter inflicted on holy Jacob, and with what 
terror the cruel deed of his two sons had inspired him. Various trials 
are now blended together, by which he is heavily afflicted throughout 
his old age; until, on his departure into Egypt, he receives new joy at 
the sight of his son Joseph. But even this was a most grievous 
temptation, to be exiled from the promised land even to his death. The 
death of his beloved wife is next related; and soon after follows the 
incestuous intercourse of his firstborn with his wife Bilhah. A little 
later, Isaac his father dies; then his son Joseph is snatched away, whom 
he supposes to have been torn in pieces by wild beasts. While he is 
almost consumed with perpetual mourning, a famine arises, so that he is 
compelled to seek food from Egypt. There another of his sons is kept in 
chains; and, at length, he is deprived of his own most beloved Benjamin, 
whom he sends away as if his own bowels were torn from him. We see, 
therefore, by what a severe conflict, and by what a continued succession 
of evils, he was trained to the hope of a better life. And whereas 
Rachel died in childbirth, through the fatigue of the journey, before 
they reached a resting-place; this would prove no small accession to his 
grief. But, as to his being bereaved of his most beloved wife, this was 
probably the cause, that the Lord intended to correct the exorbitance of 
his affection for her. The Holy Spirit fixes no mark of infamy upon 
Leah, seeing that she was a holy woman, and endowed with greater virtue; 
but Jacob more highly appreciated Rachel's beauty. This fault in the 
holy man was cured by a bitter medicine, when his wife was taken array 
from him: and the Lord often deprives the faithful of his own gifts, to 
correct their perverse abuse of them. The wicked, indeed, more 
audaciously profane the gifts of God; but if God connives longer at 
their misconduct, a more severe condemnation remains to them on account 
of his forbearance. But in taking away from his own people the occasion 
of sinning, he promotes their salvation. Whoever, therefore, desires the 
continued use of God's gifts, let him learn not to abuse them, but to 
enjoy them with purity and sobriety. 
  17. "The midwife said unto her." We know that the ancients were very 
desirous of offspring, especially of male offspring. Since Rachel 
therefore does not accept this kind of consolation when offered, we 
infer that she was completely oppressed with pain. She therefore died in 
agonies, thinking of nothing but her sad childbirth and her own sorrows: 
from the feeling of which she gave a name to her son; but Jacob 
afterwards corrected the error. For the chance of the name sufficiently 
shows, that, in his judgment, the excess of sorrow in his wife was 
wrong; seeing that she had branded his son with a sinister and 
opprobrious name; for that sadness is not free from ingratitude, which 
so occupies our minds in adversity that the kindness of God does not 
exhilarate them; or, at least, does not infuse some portion of sweetness 
to mitigate our grief. Then her burial is mentioned; to which the holy 
fathers could not have attended with such religious care, except on 
account of their hope of the future resurrection. Whenever, therefore, 
we read concerning their burying the dead, as if they were anxious about 
the performance of some extraordinary duty, let us think of that end of 
which I have spoken; for it was no foolish ceremony, but a lively symbol 
of the future resurrection. I acknowledge, indeed, that profane and 
degenerate men at that time, in various places, vainly incurred much 
expense and toil in burying their dead, only as an empty solace of their 
grief. But although they had declined from the original institution into 
gross errors, yet the Lord caused that this rite should remain entire 
among his own people. Moreover, he designed that a testimony should 
exist among unbelievers, by which they might be rendered inexcusable. 
For since, independently of instruction, this sentiment was innate in 
all men, that to bury the dead was one of the offices of piety, nature 
has clearly dictated to them that the human body is formed for 
immortality; and, therefore, that, by sinking into death, it does not 
utterly perish. The statue or monument, erected by him, signifies the 
same thing. He reared no citadel which might stand as a token of his 
glory among his posterity: but he took care to raise the memorial of a 
sepulchre, which might be a witness to all ages that he was more devoted 
to the life to come; and, by the providence of God, this memorial 
remained standing, till the people returned out of Egypt. 
  22. "Reuben went and lay with Bilhah." A sad and even tragic history 
is now related concerning the incestuous intercourse of Reuben with his 
mother-in-law. Moses, indeed, calls Bilhah Jacob's concubine: but though 
she had not come into the hands of her husband, as the mistress of the 
family and a partaker of his goods; yet, as it respected the bed, she 
was his lawful wife, as we have before seen. If even a stranger had 
defiled the wife of the holy man, it would have been a great disgrace; 
it was, however, far more atrocious that he should suffer such an 
indignity from his own son. But how great and how detestable was the 
dishonor, that the mother of two tribes should not only contaminate 
herself with adultery, but even with incest; which crime is so abhorrent 
to nature, that, not even among the Gentiles, has it ever been held 
tolerable? And truly, by the wonderful artifice of Satan, this great 
obscenity penetrated into the holy house, in order that the election of 
God might seem to be of no effect. Satan endeavors, by whatever means he 
can, to pervert the grace of God in the elect; and since he cannot 
effect that, he either covers it with infamy, or at least obscures it. 
Hence it happens that disgraceful examples often steal into the Church. 
And the Lord, in this manner, suffers his own people to be humbled, that 
they may be more attentively careful of themselves, that they may more 
earnestly watch unto prayer, and may learn entirely to depend on his 
mercy. Moses only relates that Jacob was informed of this crime; but he 
conceals his grief, not because he was unfeeling, (for he was not so 
stupid as to be insensible to sorrow,) but because his grief was too 
great to be expressed. For here Moses seems to have acted as the painter 
did who, in representing the sacrifice of Iphigenia, put a veil over her 
father's face, because he could not sufficiently express the grief of 
his countenance. In addition to this eternal disgrace of the family, 
there were other causes of anxiety which transfixed the breast of the 
holy man. The sum of his happiness was in his offspring, from which the 
salvation of the whole world was to proceed. Whereas, already, two of 
his sons had been perfidious and sanguinary robbers; the first-born, 
now, exceeds them both in wickedness. But here the gratuitous election 
of God has appeared the more illustrious, because it was not on account 
of their worthiness that he preferred the sons of Jacob to all the 
world; and also because, when they had fallen so basely, this election 
nevertheless remained firm and efficacious. Warned by such examples, let 
us learn to fortify ourselves against those dreadful scandals by which 
Satan strives to disturb us. Let every one also privately apply this to 
the strengthening of his own faith. For sometimes even good men slide, 
as if they had fallen from grace. Desperation would necessarily be the 
consequence of such ruin, unless the Lord, on the other hand, held out 
the hope of pardon. A remarkable instance of this is set before us in 
Reuben; who, after this extreme act of iniquity, yet retained his rank 
of a patriarch in the Church. We must, however, remain under the custody 
of fear and watchfulness, lest temptation should seize upon us unawares, 
and thus the snares of Satan should envelop us. For the holy Spirit did 
not design to set before us an example of vile lust, in order that every 
one might rush into incestuous connections; but would rather expose to 
infamy the baseness of this crime, in an honorable person, that all, on 
that account, might more vehemently abhor it. This passage also refutes 
the error of Novatus. Reuben had been properly instructed; he bore in 
his flesh, from early infancy, the symbol of the divine covenant; he was 
even born again by the Spirit of God; we see, therefore, what was the 
deep abyss from which he was raised by the incredible mercy of God. The 
Novatians, therefore, and similar fanatics, have no right to cut off the 
hope of pardon from the lapsed: for it is no slight injury to Christ, if 
we suppose the grace of God to be more restricted by his advent. 
  "Now the sons of Jacob were twelve." Moses again recounts the sons of 
Jacob in a regular series. Reuben is put the first among them, not for 
the sake of honor, but that he may be loaded with the greater 
opprobrium: for the greater the honor which any one receives from the 
Lord, the more severely is he to be blamed, if he afterwards makes 
himself the slave of Satan, and deserts his post. Moses seems to insert 
this catalogue before the account of the death of Isaac, for the purpose 
of discriminating between the progeny of Jacob and the Idumeans, of whom 
he is about to make mention in the following chapter. For on the death 
of Isaac the fountain of the holy race became divided, as into two 
streams; but since the adoption of God restrained itself to one branch 
only, it was necessary to distinguish it from the other. 
  28. "And the days of Isaac." The death of Isaac is not related in its 
proper order, as will soon appear from the connection of the history: 
but, as we have elsewhere seen, the figure hysteron proteron was 
familiar to Moses. When it is said, that he died old, and full of days, 
the meaning is, that, having fulfilled the course of his life, he 
departed by a mature death; this, therefore, is ascribed to the blessing 
of God. Nevertheless, I refer these words not merely to the duration of 
his life, but also to the state of his feelings; implying that Isaac, 
being satisfied with life, willingly and placidly departed out of the 
world. For we may see certain decrepit old men, who are not less 
desirous of life then they were in the flower of their age; and with one 
foot in the grave, they still have a horror of death. Therefore, though 
long life is reckoned among the blessings of God; yet it is not enough 
for men to be able to count up a great number of years; unless they feel 
that they have lived long, and, being satisfied with the favour of God 
and with their own age, prepare themselves for their departure. Now, in 
order that old men may leave their minds formed to this kind of 
moderation, it behaves them to have a good conscience, to the end, that 
they may not flee from the presence of God; for an evil conscience 
pursues and agitates the wicked with terror. Moses adds, that Isaac was 
buried by his two sons. For since, at that time, the resurrection was 
not clearly revealed, and its first fruits had not yet appeared, it 
behaved the holy fathers to be so much the more diligently trained in 
significant ceremonies, in order that they might correct the impression 
produced by the semblance of destruction which is presented in death. By 
the fact that Esau is put first, we are taught again, that the fruit of 
the paternal benediction was not received by Jacob in this life; for he 
who was the first-born by right, is still subjected to the other, after 
his father's death. 
Chapter XXXVI. 
1 Now these [are] the generations of Esau, who [is] Edom. 
2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of 
Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of 
Zibeon the Hivite; 
3 And Bashemath Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth. 
4 And Adah bare to Esau Eliphaz; and Bashemath bare Reuel; 
5 And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these [are] the sons 
of Esau, which were born unto him in the land of Canaan. 
6 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the 
persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his 
substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the 
country from the face of his brother Jacob. 
7 For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and 
the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of 

(continued in part 15...)

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