(Jacob Forms a Relationship with God)
Bible Background: Genesis 28:10-22
Devotional Reading: Psalm42:1-5
Keep in Mind:
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” (Genesis 28:15).
SYMPATHIZE with Jacob’s feeling weak and vulnerable;
AFFIRM that God’s strength meets us in our human weakness; and
RESOLVE to make time for God to refresh us when we feel weak.
Jacob had stolen the blessing and birthright of his brother Esau by tricking him and his father Isaac. Isaac was nearing death in his old age and was concerned about his descendants inheriting the promise of God. Jacob’s mother Rebekah knew that Esau would try to kill Jacob to get revenge once Isaac had died, so she decided to send him to live with his uncle Laban in Haran until Esau calmed sown. Rebekah also knew that Jacob could find a wife from her own family in her hometown instead of marrying a local girl where they lived in Canaan. Neither Isaac nor Rebekah wanted their children to marry Canaanite women who worshiped different gods and would have allowed unrelated descendants to inherit the promise.
Resting in Promise (Genesis 28:10-12)
10Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.
11So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.
12Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
Jacob is traveling from the house of his father Isaac in Beersheba in Canaan to the house of his uncle Laban in Haran. During his journey, he stops at sunset near the city of Luz. Jacob embodies obedience to his parents in making the journey to find a wife from his own family line. This is a welcome change from the Jacob who had been a selfish trickster concerning his brother Esau’s blessing and birthright. As a result, Isaac kept his word of blessing, but sent Jacob to travel alone in the wilderness with no servants, resources, or protection. His sin against his brother did not negate the promise of God, but it did have the consequences of losing his father Isaac’s provision and protection on his journey. Jacob now walks through the wilderness alone because he tricked his brother. His deceit leaves him confused about his purpose, in danger at home, and weary on his trip.
Too tired to continue alone in the night, Jacob sets up camp and decides to rest his head on a rock as he sleeps. When he falls asleep, he dreams about a stairway reaching from earth up to heaven and angels going up and down it. Jacob discovers a he dreams that there is a connection between earth and heaven in that place. Jacob has the revelation that God was present while he slept undistracted by his journey and danger at home. God was present for Jacob even while he was alone in the wilderness.
Renewing the Promise (Genesis 28:13-17)
13And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.
14Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
15Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
16Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
17And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
God identifies Himself as “the LORD God of Abraham thy father and the God of Isaac” (Genesis 28:13). There is to be no mistake. Jacob is in the presence of the God honored and received by his father and his grandfather.
At this point God confirms His covenant blessings that He had promised to both Abraham and Isaac of land, numerous descendants, protection, and God’s presence. Jacob had not experienced the blessings of God until his arrival in the place that God had promised to bless.
When Jacob awakens from his ream, he is astonished. He has encountered God for himself. Jacob does not have to rely on the testimony of his father or grandfather; he now knows without a doubt, “Surely the LORD is in this place” (Genesis 28:16). Now he recognizes that God is right there on the spot he is standing on! Not only is God present but God has promised him the very blessings he had unsuccessfully tried to steal. No longer is Jacob alone or running from his past. He now has God’s promise: “I will never leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (verse 15). Rather that escape his past, Jacob now has the hope of a future that is rightfully his.
Jacob goes from alone with nothing on his journey to renewed in purpose and in the presence of the Lord who will provide everything he needs. Knowing that Jacob now has divine assurance that God will never leave him, we can now understand Jacob’s description of this place as “dreadful.” The use of the word “dreadful” implies a reverential awe at what Jacob had experienced. Jacob understood, perhaps for the first time in his life, how awesome and powerful God was and how weak and ineffective he was.
Remembering the Promise (Genesis 28:18-22)
18Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.
19And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.
20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on,
21so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.
22And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
Here in the desert, outside of this Canaanite city, God had chosen to reveal His presence. It is no wonder that Jacob wants to preserve the memory of this awesome experience and erect a memorial. How does not have the necessary materials to build a proper alter, so he uses the materials at hand: stones. This act is reminiscent of Jacob’s grandfather Abraham, who similarly constructed an alter in the place God had appeared to him (Genesis 13:18).
What a wonderful reminder to Christian parents, grandparents, and caregivers. Our children are always watching us. We must model godly behavior and provide them with models of godly worship and thanksgiving. Our praise, worship, and acts of thanksgiving are not private matters but ought to be demonstrated daily. God’s presence in our lives has to be shown to them. If they see us build altars to God, they will know to build altars. If they see us recognize and worship God—even after mistakes, setbacks, and wilderness experiences—they will know God can meet them in their wilderness as well. In memorializing the spot where he had discovered God, Jacob also swore to adopt his grandfather’s practice in dedicating to God a tenth of all he received (Genesis 14:20).
Thoughts to Ponder:
1. When Jacob found himself tired from running, God made him rest and spoke to him. Are there times where God has made you rest or slow you down to speak to you? Explain.
2. Jacob received a great blessing from God at a time when his actions made him the least deserving. Discuss a time when you were certain that God had confirmed His promises to you when you felt underserving or weak.
3. God informed Jacob that He would always be with him. In what ways has God shown He is with us? How can we invite God into all areas of our lives?
4. What are the details to God's promise to Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15)?
5. How did Jacob respond to the dream and God's promise (Genesis 28:16–22)?
Lesson to Live by:
It can be very difficult for people to find resources, opportunities, and renewed purpose in society after wandering in the wilderness because of their own sinful choices. Whether it be recovering addicts, newly released prison inmate, or political refugees from violent wars, many people find themselves feeling isolated with limited resources on their way to renewed promise. How can we show mercy and build places of rest and renewal in our congregations for those who are trying to change and find purpose after bad choices or circumstances leave them in the wilderness? How can we create an environment where people can encounter God’s presence and promise when they are trying to rejoin communities?
Daily Bible Readings
Samuel Hears the Voice of God
– 1 Samuel 3:1-9
Achtemeier, Paul J. Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.
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Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, F. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament Vol. 1: Pentateuch, Genesis. Electronic Edition STEP Files, Parsons Technology, Inc., Hiawatha, Iowa 2000.
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Morris, William, ed., Dictionary of the English Language, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.
Redford, Doug. The Pentateuch, Vol. 1, Genesis through Deuteronomy. Cincinnati, Ohio: standard publishing, 2008.
Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.): The Pulpit Commentary: Genesis. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2004
Strong, James, Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, Electronic Edition STEP Files, QuickVerse, a division of Findex.com, Inc., Omaha, Nebraska. 2003.
Vine, W.E. Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Edited by Merrill F. Unger and William White Jr., Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.
Wenham, G.J. Word Biblical Commentary: Genesis 16-50, Vol. 2, Waco, Tx.: Word Book, 1994.