Intro: We have been studying from the book of Genesis on Sunday mornings. The events of the book of Genesis are challenging and intriguing. At times they contain characters and plots that rival a modern soap opera. Certainly the story of Jacob & Esau fits this description. It is a story of deceit, lying, hatred, betrayal, and even reconciliation. Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. Later, Jacob, with the help of his mother, Rebekah, tricked Isaac into blessing him, instead of his brother Esau. Esau was furious and revenge was imminent. Rebekah knew that as soon as Isaac died, Esau would kill Jacob for his treachery. She sends her son away to her brother, Laban in Haran, not knowing when he will be able to return. The young man, Jacob, leaves his family as the one with both the birthright and the blessing. But it would seem from his actions that he did not fully recognize the spiritual implications of what God was going to do through him. Rather than leading his family, he was leaving them; rather than inheriting the land, he was being exiled from it. It may have been a difficult time for him to see God’s hand in his life. He may not have been thinking of God at all. But the night he spent on the road in the Bethel was life-changing.
- Jacob was seemingly a rascal from birth. Born as a twin, he came into the world grabbing the heel of his brother, Esau, and thus was named Jacob, literally meaning “one who grasps the heel, or metaphorically, “a supplanter or deceiver”.
- (story of Brady and Brice wanting to get ice cream at two different places; Brice – “I think we should reason on this from the Bible… Jacob and Esau – the older would serve the younger and Jacob got the blessing.” I said, “but he cheated him out of it – in fact his name meant deceiver” – Brice said, But it was what God really wanted – So God wanted me to let him choose about the ice cream“) I am not sure that is a proper application of this Bible story, but there are some lessons here.
- In today’s language we might describe Jacob as a take charge kind of man. When he wanted something he did what he needed to do to get it. He learned to manipulate others to his advantage. He relied upon his own cunning ability. He needed to learn to trust in the God of his father, Isaac, and his grandfather, Abraham.
Read Gen. 28:10-22
I. Jacob Dreams: After Jacob left for his uncle Laban’s house, he stopped for the night at Bethel. There he had the dream. He saw a ladder. The language is careful here.
- This is not man’s ladder, it is set up on earth (comes from somewhere else, placed on the earth)
- and the angels are not descending and ascending, but ascending and descending. The angels are traveling from earth to heaven.
- “the Lord stood above it – God is at the top looking down. It would seem obvious that He is overseeing the angels as they make the journey back and forth. This is His ladder (stairway)
A. This image, leads naturally to verbal promise of God to Jacob: Gen 28:13-15 – “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. 14 Also 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. 15 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.” There are several applications that flow from this dream, but consider just a few that are suggested:
1. Presence of God: Some suggest that God wanted Jacob to know that he could not escape the presence of God. Although he was leaving home and fleeing the wrath of his brother, he could not travel beyond the presence of God.
2. Protection of God: The ladder and the angels depict God’s connection to the earth (His people) and He provides for them. Even though Jacob was being separated from his family and land, God would provide for him. The image of the dream pointed to the continuous care and concern of the God of heaven toward the activity of earth. His angels, though hidden from normal view, were constantly ministering on the earth. He, not Jacob, is the true architect of what has happened and will happen yet. This seems to be a significant element of the dream’s intent to Jacob personally.
3. The future spiritual blessing of God. But God’s spiritual promise to Abraham to bless all nations was still in view. The ladder is an early picture of Jesus: In John 1 when Nathaniel made his bold confession that Jesus was truly the Son of God and King of Israel, Jesus said “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)
a. Burton Coffman wrote: “The ladder is therefore a perfect representation of Christ in that in him God came down to men, and in him men themselves may go up to God and be in heaven with him forever. Christ is the only avenue of communication between God and men (1 Tim 2:5), just as this ladder in the dream was the only way to God’s presence. To miss this significance of the ladder is to lose the most important thing in the chapter.”
II. Jacob Wakes Up: Jacob was awakened from the dream, but he was also awakened to an awareness of the presence of God. His response to the revelation of his dream reflects his new awareness.
A. vs. 16 – “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Jacob had a real awareness of the presence of God. What emotion flows from such an awareness? Notice vs. 17 – “He was afraid”. This is scene is repeated often I scripture. The one who is given the opportunity to view or even sense the presence of God Almighty is brought to their knees in fear. It is not a casual thing to be aware of God and His power.
• The people of Israel at Sinai – Ex 20:19 – but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”
• Isaiah in chapter 6:5 – Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts.”
• Peter at the witness of Jesus miracle in Luke 5:8 – Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
• John at the vision of the Lord in Rev. 1:17 – “when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead”
1. Many need to awaken to the presence of God today, and be afraid. Not mystically, but practically. First, recognize that there is no excuse for people to not know that God is alive and active. God’s presence and activity can be clearly seen in the material universe around us. Can we fail to marvel at the complexity of life itself? Doesn’t such design demand the presence and upkeep of a designer? Rom 1:19-22 “because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools,” (NKJ)
2. How did Jacob come to know that God was in that place? It wasn’t because it looked like a religious place. There were no religious looking people around, no shrines, or altars. There wasn’t even a soft place to lay his head. He might have thought that he had left God behind.
a. Jacob knew that God was there because He had spoken. His word was evidence of His presence. Vs. 13 – “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac.” God reaffirmed His love & care for Jacob, and promised to be with him wherever he went. Do you think that this information changed his perspective on what was ahead, and what his life was all about? When he woke up he was still in the same physical place, but it had a whole new meaning. Because he had heard God speak in this place it was the “house of God” and the “gate of heaven”.
b. You can determine the presence of God by the presence of His word. Is God with this church? Are these people His people? Look at God’s words. If God’s word is here then He is here. But if this church does not teach God’s word, then there is nothing spiritual here. Our time here is just a cold night on a rock hard pillow. But if God’s word is here and His promises are proclaimed through this church then that changes everything. It changed Jacob’s rock pillow into Jacob’s altar of worship. It changed Luz (meaning “perverse”) to Bethel (the house of God).
III. Jacob Worships – (v.18-19) The place where Jacob spent the night becomes a place consecrated to God in the morning. He takes the stone on which he had laid his head and pours oil on it in an act of consecration. He renames the place Bethel – the house of God. (Previously Luz – perverse) God’s words of promise and assurance move Jacob to worship God. Worship is the natural response of a thankful and faithful heart.
IV. Jacob Vows – (v. 20-22) Jacob’s dream and the words of God also move Jacob to make a personal commitment to God and His purposes. If God was willing to commit to Jacob, even in this difficult time, then Jacob would commit himself to God.
A. vs 20 – “if God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going” – Although the English translation may suggest that Jacob was exhibiting a doubtful attitude and a conditional approach to serving God in the future, the word “if” is probably best understood as “since”. Jacob’s vow was based on his confidence that God would fulfill His promises.
B. vs. 21 – “Then the Lord shall be my God.” – Jacob was willing to accept all the implications of that fact. The dream changed everything.
C. The setting up the stone as a pillar was also in anticipation that he would return there again and worship God with sacrifices. After leaving this place, Jacob lived in Haran for the next twenty years. God blessed Jacob, just as he promised. He prospered in family and wealth. God protected him from Laban and his Esau. By the time we get to Genesis 35, Jacob 30 years had passed. Jacob had been home for 10 full years. He had settled near the city of Shechem, but had not bothered to return to Bethel, where God has appeared to him. It would seem he had forgotten. So God commands him to return.
• Gen 35:1-7 – Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.” 2 And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem. 5 And they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother.
Conclusion: God’s word has that awakening power. Have you ever been awakened and changed by hearing and understanding God’s word? Suddenly you realize this is what it is all about – there is something spiritual here. Consider the spiritual awakening of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Luke 24:27-34 – And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
- What does God need to do to awaken you to His presence? To His concern & love? Would the vision of a ladder and angels do it? Jesus is the ladder between heaven and earth. God is in this place through the work of Jesus. He is the connection between heaven & earth. Do you do see Jesus in the Word of God? Just like the ladder of Jacob’s dream, Jesus changes everything. His act of atonement opened up a connection between heaven and earth. It was God’s greatest act of mercy and love. Are you moved to worship Him? Will you vow to serve Him today?