Our rule is to call upon God in the time of trouble; we have here an example to this rule, and the success encourages us to follow this example. It was now a time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it; and here we have him praying for that salvation, Jer. 30:7. In his distress he sought the Lord, and he heard him. Note, Times of fear should be times of prayer; whatever frightens us should drive us to our knees, to our God. Jacob had lately seen his guard of angels, but, in this distress, he applied to God, not to them; he knew they were his fellow-servants, Rev. 22:9. Nor did he consult Laban’s teraphim; it was enough for him that he had a God to go to. To him he addresses himself with all possible solemnity, so running for safety into the name of the Lord, as a strong tower, Prov. 18:10. This prayer is the more remarkable because it won him the honour of being an Israel, a prince with God, and the father of the praying remnant, who are hence called the seed of Jacob, to whom he never said, Seek you me in vain. Now it is worth while to enquire what there was extraordinary in this prayer, that it should gain the petitioner all this honour.
I. The request itself is one, and very express: Deliver me from the hand of my brother, Gen. 32:11. Though there was no human probability on his side, yet he believed the power of God could rescue him as a lamb out of the bloody jaws of the loin. Note, 1. We have leave to be particular in our addresses to God, to mention the particular straits and difficulties we are in; for the God with whom we have to do is one we may be free with: we have liberty of speech (parresia) at the throne of grace. 2. When our brethren aim to be our destroyers, it is our comfort that we have a Father to whom we may apply as our deliverer.
II. The pleas are many, and very powerful; never was cause better ordered, Job 23:4. He offers up his request with great faith, fervency, and humility. How earnestly does he beg! Deliver me, I pray thee, Gen. 32:11. His fear made him importunate. With what holy logic does he argue! With what divine eloquence does he plead! Here is a noble copy to write after.
1. He addresses himself to God as the God of his fathers, Gen. 32:9. Such was the humble self-denying sense he had of his own unworthiness that he did not call God his own God, but a God in covenant with his ancestors: O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac; and this he could the better plead because the covenant, by divine designation, was entailed upon him. Note, God’s covenant with our fathers may be a comfort to us when were are in distress. It has often been so to the Lord’s people, Ps. 22:4, 5. Being born in God’s house, we are taken under his special protection.
2. He produces his warrant: Thou saidst unto me, Return unto thy country. He did not rashly leave his place with Laban, nor undertake this journey out of a fickle humour, or a foolish fondness for his native country, but in obedience to God’s command. Note, (1.) We may be in the way of our duty, and yet may meet with trouble and distress in that way. As prosperity will not prove us in the right, so cross events will not prove us in the wrong; we may be going whither God calls us, and yet may think our way hedged up with thorns. (2.) We may comfortably trust God with our safety, while we carefully keep to our duty. If God be our guide, he will be our guard.
3. He humbly acknowledges his own unworthiness to receive any favour from God (Gen. 32:10): I am not worthy; it is an unusual plea. Some would think he should have pleaded that what was now in danger was his own, against all the world, and that he had earned it dear enough; no, he pleads, Lord, I am not worthy of it. Note, Self-denial and self-abasement well become us in all our addresses to the throne of grace. Christ never commended any of his petitioners so much as him who said, Lord, I am not worthy (Matt. 8:8), and her who said, Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table, Matt. 15:27. Now observe here, (1.) How magnificently and honourably he speaks of the mercies of God to him. We have here, mercies, in the plural number, and inexhaustible spring, and innumerable streams; mercies and truth, that is, past mercies given according to the promise, and further mercies secured by the promise. Note, What is laid up in God’s truth, as well as what is laid out in God’s mercies, is the matter both of the comforts and the praises of active believers. Nay, observe, it is all the mercies, and all the truth; the manner of expression is copious, and intimates that his heart was full of God’s goodness. (2.) How meanly and humbly he speaks of himself, disclaiming all thought of his own merit: “I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies, much less am I worthy of so great a favour as this I am now suing for.” Jacob was a considerable man, and, upon many accounts, very deserving, and, in treating with Laban, had justly insisted on his merits, but not before God. I am less than all thy mercies; so the word is. Note, The best and greatest of men are utterly unworthy of the least favour from God, and just be ready to own it upon all occasions. It was the excellent Mr. Herbert’s motto, Less than the least of all God’s mercies. Those are best prepared for the greatest mercies that see themselves unworthy of the least.
4. He thankfully owns God’s goodness to him in his banishment, and how much it had outdone his expectations: “With my staff I passed over this Jordan, poor and desolate, like a forlorn and despised pilgrim;” he had no guides, no companions, no attendants, no conveniences for travel, but his staff only, nothing else to stay himself upon; “and now I have become two bands, now I am surrounded with a numerous and comfortable retinue of children and servants:” though it was his distress that had now obliged him to divide his family into two bands, yet he makes use of that for the magnifying of the mercy of his increase. Note, (1.) The increase of our families is then comfortable indeed to us when we see God’s mercies, and his truth, in it. (2.) Those whose latter end greatly increases ought, with humility and thankfulness, to remember how small their beginning was. Jacob pleads, “Lord, thou didst keep me when I went out with only my staff, and had but one life to lose; wilt thou not keep me now that so many are embarked with me?”
5. He urges the extremity of the peril he was in: Lord, deliver me from Esau, for I fear him, Gen. 32:11. The people of God have not been shy of telling God their fears; for they know he takes cognizance of them, and considers them. The fear that quickens prayer is itself pleadable. It was not a robber, but a murderer, that he was afraid of; nor was it his own life only that lay at stake, but the mothers’ and the children’s, that had left their native soil to go along with him. Note, Natural affection may furnish us with allowable acceptable pleas in prayer.
6. He insists especially upon the promise God had made him (Gen. 32:9): Thou saidst, I will deal well with thee, and again, in the close (Gen. 32:12): Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good. Note, (1.) The best we can say to God in prayer is what he has said to us. God’s promises, as they are the surest guide of our desires in prayer, and furnish us with the best petitions, so they are the firmest ground of our hopes, and furnish us with the best pleas. “Lord, thou saidst thus and thus; and wilt thou not be as good as thy word, the word upon which thou had caused me to hope?” Ps. 119:49. (2.) The most general promises are applicable to particular cases. “Thou saidst, I will do thee good; Lord, do me good in this matter.” He pleads also a particular promise, that of the multiplying of his seed. “Lord, what will become of that promise, if they be all cut off?” Note, [1.] There are promises to the families of good people, which are improvable in prayer for family-mercies, ordinary and extraordinary, Gen. 17:17; Ps. 112:2; Ps. 102:28. [2.] The world’s threatenings should drive us to God’s promises.