And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
Luz transformed into Bethel! A grove of almonds into the house of God! The Bible is full of transformations. There is a law of gravitation spiritual as well as physical. The downward plunge, the leap earthward is natural because in accordance with this law. But what natural law can turn the current upward, heavenward? A burning brand and natural law can accomplish a transformation of ruin; but it needs Divine intervention, a law of supernatural potency, to repair the ruin, erect the pillars of redemption, and upon them to sweep the arch of perfected restoration. In other words, between Luz and Bethel — the grove of almonds and the house of God — I recognize the necessity of a Divine heart and a Divine hand.
I. Let us view LUZ BEFORE THE TRANSFORMATION. In the midst of a wild and rugged region, broken here and there by hills, from the top of one of which Lot surveyed the well-watered valley of Jordan, and Abraham scanned his promised inheritance, a few stunted almond trees, drawing precarious nourishment from the scanty soil, afford grateful shade to the traveller. Gray, bare rocks everywhere shoot their sharp peaks through the parched earth, and not a vestige of verdure relieves the eye save the little clump of trees which gives Luz its name. Significant symbol — the almond tree! Precious, princely, yet, if embittered, deadly poison. Does the patriarch in famine-stricken Canaan design to send presents to Egypt to propitiate "the man, the lord of the country," then he chooses the fruit of the almond tree to make his offering acceptable. Precious fruit! There is uniting in the wilderness among the princes of the host of Israel against the supremacy of Aaron, and a rod of the almond tree is chosen to represent the head of each tribe in the tabernacle of witness. Princely fruit! Precious, princely man! The almond tree of this bleak and rugged world. Let us reverence humanity. Not the rank or station, the varied and varying adventitious enwrapments of his lot, but the man himself! But alas! the almond may become embittered and tranformed into deadly poison. Strangely, the bitter fruit does not differ in chemical composition from the other, yet by a mysterious change of nature, it becomes a deadly thing. Sad, yet striking symbol of man! A virulent poison has entered his life-blood and venomed the whole. Men are apt to regard sin as the commission of a few evil acts, and they are disposed to balance their so-called good acts, against the evil, with a secret complacency that the account must balance in their favour. But sin is a permeating poison, engendering the habitual disposition of rebellion against and distrust toward God, circulating its venom through every artery of the soul and tainting all the issues of life and thought.
II. But notice THE TRANSFORMATION. Luz is changed to Bethel; the grove of almonds into the house of God. One evening a solitary traveller, with weary step, approaches the little clump of almond trees, and, noticing the grateful shade, casts his way-worn form upon the scant but welcome grass. His countenance betokens youth, but there are lines of deep sorrow and premature care upon his brow. The story of the prodigal son is being rehearsed in the desert of Haran. It is Jacob, the dishonest supplanter, leaving his father's house. The curtains of darkness fall upon the scene and we see the pilgrim no longer with his awful burden of woe. Does he pray? Does he weep? Jacob sleeps as soundly and sweetly that night with the bare ground for a bed, and a rock for a pillow, as he ever did when a child, upon his mother's breast. In other words, Luz is transformed into Bethel, the grove of almonds into the house of God. But wherein does this transformation consist?
1. Jehovah unbars the casement of heaven and reveals Himself to Jacob. Now it is not Jacob who discovers God; it is God who reveals Himself to the poor wanderer. Wondrous revelation! Luz is transformed into Bethel, the place is sacred ground, for where the Supreme reveals Himself, there is the house of God. This is the age of exploration and discovery. Hidden continents, unscaled summits, untraversed deeps, secret forces have been tracked and discovered. But why is it that the explorer, the man of science, the astute discoverer has brought no tidings of God? The knowledge of the Divine Being is not a discovery by man, but a revelation from God! It is He and He alone who can unfilm the eye and unstop the ear and reveal Himself. And this He does to the "babes," to those who, like Jacob, get to the end of their resources, and in their extremity and self-destitution cry out to Him. And where He reveals Himself there is Bethel, the house of God.
2. But there is more here than a dim and distant revelation; broad as is the gulf between earth and heaven, that gulf is bridged by a ladder, the foot of which rests upon earth while the top reaches heaven. The revelation of God as He is, without such a connecting bridge, would be no boon to the sinful soul. On the 10th of May, 1869, at a place called Promontory Point, the junction was made completing the railway communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the United States of America. A silver spike was brought by the Governor of Arizona, another was contributed by the citizens of Nevada. They were driven home into a sleeper of Californian laurel with a silver mallet. As the last blow was struck the hammer was brought into contact with a telegraph wire, and the news was flashed and simultaneously saluted on the shores of two great oceans, and through the expanse of a vast continent, by the roar of cannon and the chiming of bells. When the awful abyss between God and man had to be bridged, the junction over the deepest chasm was made by the outstretched arms of the Son of God; and as the spikes crashed through His open palms He cried: "It is finished"; and swifter than electric current or lightning's flash, the tidings were winged to the farthest bounds of three worlds. The stairway connecting earth with heaven is completed; the awful chasm is bridged; Luz is transformed into Bethel. Christ by dying has opened up the way to God.
3. But Jacob not only saw the ladder erected; there was actual communication between earth and heaven; he beheld the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. Much interest concentres in the first or trial trip upon a new road, or over a wide and difficult bridge. And many a fair structure has succumbed to the actual strain of traffic. There are two angels at least with whom each of us may and ought to be acquainted; their names are Faith and Love. Let faith bear up your cry to the throne of God, and love will bring the answer down. Swifter than the eagle's wing, the message of grace will be borne to your needy heart, "if faith but bear the plea." And your weariness will be transformed into joy, your night of sorrow into a mid-day of gladness: in other words, Luz will be transformed into Bethel, the grove of almonds into the house of God.
Parallel VersesKJV: And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.