The divine precept is, In all thy ways acknowledge God; and the promise annexed to it is, He shall direct thy paths. Jacob has here a very great concern before him, not only a journey, but a removal, to settle in another country, a change which was very surprising to him (for he never had any other thoughts than to live and die in Canaan), and which would be of great consequence to his family for a long time to come. Now here we are told,
I. How he acknowledged God in this way. He came to Beersheba, from Hebron, where he now dwelt; and there he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac, Gen. 46:1. He chose that place, in remembrance of the communion which his father and grandfather had with God in that place. Abraham called on God there (Gen. 21:33), so did Isaac (Gen. 26:25), and therefore Jacob made it the place of his devotion, the rather because it lay in his way. In his devotion, 1. He had an eye to God as the God of his father Isaac, that is, a God in covenant with him; for by Isaac the covenant was entailed upon him. God had forbidden Isaac to go down to Egypt when there was a famine in Canaan (Gen. 26:2), which perhaps Jacob calls to mind when he consults God as the God of his father Isaac, with this thought, “Lord, though I am very desirous to see Joseph, yet if thou forbid me to go down to Egypt, as thou didst my father Isaac, I will submit, and very contentedly stay where I am.” 2. He offered sacrifices, extraordinary sacrifices, besides those at his stated times; these sacrifices were offered, (1.) By way of thanksgiving for the late blessed change of the face of his family, for the good news he had received concerning Joseph, and for the hopes he had of seeing him. Note, We should give God thanks for the beginnings of mercy, though they are not yet perfected; and this is a decent way of begging further mercy. (2.) By way of petition for the presence of God with him in his intended journey; he desired by these sacrifices to make his peace with God, to obtain the forgiveness of sin, that he might take no guilt along with him in this journey, for that is a bad companion. By Christ, the great sacrifice, we must reconcile ourselves to God, and offer up our requests to him. (3.) By way of consultation. The heathen consulted their oracles by sacrifice. Jacob would not go till he had asked God’s leave: “Shall I go down to Egypt, or back to Hebron?” Such must be our enquiries in doubtful cases; and, though we cannot expect immediate answers from heaven, yet, if we diligently attend to the directions of the word, conscience, and providence, we shall find it is not in vain to ask counsel of God.
II. How God directed his paths: In the visions of the night (probably the very next night after he had offered his sacrifices, as 2 Chron. 1:7) God spoke unto him, Gen. 46:2. Note, Those who desire to keep up communion with God shall find that it never fails on his side. If we speak to him as we ought, he will not fail to speak to us. God called him by name, by his old name, Jacob, Jacob, to remind him of his low estate; his present fears did scarcely become an Israel. Jacob, like one well acquainted with the visions of the Almighty, and ready to obey them, answers, “Here I am, ready to receive orders:” and what has God to say to him?
1. He renews the covenant with him: I am God, the God of thy father (Gen. 46:3); that is, “I am what thou ownest me to be: thou shalt find me a God, a divine wisdom and power engaged for thee; and thou shalt find me the God of thy father, true to the covenant made with him.”
2. He encourages him to make this removal of his family: Fear not to go down into Egypt. It seems, though Jacob, upon the first intelligence of Joseph’s life and glory in Egypt, resolved, without any hesitation, I will go and see him; yet, upon second thoughts, he saw some difficulties in it, which he knew not well how to get over. Note, Even those changes that seem to have in them the greatest joys and hopes, yet have an alloy of cares and fears, Nulla est sincera voluptas—There is no unmingled pleasure. We must always rejoice with trembling. Jacob had many careful thoughts about this journey, which God took notice of. (1.) He was old, 130 years old; and it is mentioned as one of the infirmities of old people that they are afraid of that which is high, and fears are in the way, Eccl. 12:5. It was a long journey, and Jacob was unfit for travel, and perhaps remembered that his beloved Rachel died in a journey. (2.) He feared lest his sons should be tainted with the idolatry of Egypt, and forget the God of their fathers, or enamoured with the pleasures of Egypt, and forget the land of promise. (3.) Probably he thought of what God had said to Abraham concerning the bondage and affliction of his seed (Gen. 15:13), and was apprehensive that his removal to Egypt would issue in that. Present satisfactions should not take us off from the consideration and prospect of future inconveniences, which possibly may arise from what now appears most promising. (4.) He could not think of laying his bones in Egypt. But, whatever his discouragements were, this was enough to answer them all, Fear not to go down into Egypt.
3. He promises him comfort in the removal. (1.) That he should multiply in Egypt: “I will there, where thou fearest that thy family will sink and be lost, make it a great nation. That is the place Infinite Wisdom has chosen for the accomplishment of that promise.” (2.) That he should have God’s presence with him: I will go down with thee into Egypt. Note, Those that go whither God sends them shall certainly have God with them, and that is enough to secure them wherever they are and to silence their fears; we may safely venture even into Egypt if God go down with us. (3.) That neither he nor his should be lost in Egypt: I will surely bring thee up again. Though Jacob died in Egypt, yet this promise was fulfilled, [1.] In the bringing up of his body, to be buried in Canaan, about which, it appears, he was very solicitous, Gen. 49:29, 32. [2.] In the bringing up of his seed to be settled in Canaan. Whatever low or darksome valley we are called into at any time, we may be confident, if God go down with us into it, that he will surely bring us up again. If he go with us down to death, he will surely bring us up again to glory. (4.) That living and dying, his beloved Joseph should be a comfort to him: Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes. This is a promise that Joseph should live as long as he lived, that he should be with him at his death, and close his eyes with all possible tenderness and respect, as the dearest relations used to do. Probably Jacob, in the multitude of his thoughts within him, had been wishing that Joseph might do this last office of love for him: Ille meos oculos comprimat—Let him close my eyes; and God thus answered him in the letter of his desire. Thus God sometimes gratifies the innocent wishes of his people, and makes not only their death happy, but the very circumstances of it agreeable.