Genesis 28:10-32 12/11/00 10.45 a.m.
Last week we began our sermon series by looking at Esau and Jacob. Esau was an Arnold Schwartzeneger figure; a big, burly, hairy, hunter figure, but perhaps not too clever. A man's man, his father's favourite. Jacob was more like Danny DeVito, without the strength and hair of his brother, staying at home, a schemer. His mother liked him better than Esau.
Jacob got Esau, who was his slightly older twin, to sell his birthright for a pot of stew. Isaac thought he was on his deathbed, and he wanted to give all of his blessing to Esau. Jacob and Rebekah conspired to deceive Isaac when Jacob pretended to be Esau and received all of the blessing, which left nothing to give to Esau. Esau was angry and, Isaac and Rebekah sent Jacob to Rebekah's family until Esau's wrath had subsided. Jacob was on this journey when we come to today's passage.
This passage is about the grace of God, who does not give what we might think the scheming Jacob deserved. God reveals himself to Jacob, even though Jacob was not seeking God. God makes unconditional promises to Jacob, even though Jacob's response was less wholehearted.
We will examine two things centred on God. God's presence, and God's promises.
God is with us and around us all of the time. There are times when we may be especially aware of his presence, perhaps during a church service, reading a passage of scripture or on an isolated spot looking at a beautiful view.
One of the ways that God communicates with people is in dreams. We read of this several times in the Bible. Jacob's son Joseph had his famous dreams. Jesus' father Joseph had dreams including one warning him to escape to Egypt.
Jacob had just laid his head down on a rock pillow, something we may find difficult to understand. In ancient times headrests (e.g., in Egypt) were often quite hard, sometimes being made of metal. People were used to sleeping on the ground.
Jacob preferred to stay near to home, unlike his brother. So he would have felt insecure being away from home, on his own, in a strange land.
12 stairway. Not a ladder with rungs, it was more likely a stairway such as mounted the sloping side of a ziggurat. This was a temple-tower, square at the base with sloping, stepped sides that led upward to a small shrine at the top
angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Angels are messengers from God. A sign that the Lord offered to be Jacob's God.
13 above it stood the LORD. Mesopotamian ziggurats were topped with a small shrine where worshipers prayed to their gods. Yet the one, true God does not require people to climb up to him, but he reveals himself to undeserving, sinful people, coming down to their level. We see this in his words to Jacob. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Unlike the gods of pagan religions, in which the gods were merely local deities who gave protection only within their own territories, the one true God assured Jacob that he would always be with him wherever he went.
God promised Jacob that he would watch over him, lead him, protect him. On this Remembrance Sunday we give thanks to God for delivering this, and other countries, in two World Wars. We also remember those who gave their lives, their relatives, and those who continue to suffer as a consequence of these wars. Something that we were reminded of in the news this week as compensation is, at last, promised to those who were imprisoned by the Japanese.
We can know the presence of God through Jesus. Jesus told a disciple that he would "see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (Jn 1:51). Jesus himself is the bridge between heaven and earth (see Jn 14:6), the only "mediator between God and men" (1Ti 2:5).
Jesus said in John 6: 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.
Once we have accepted Jesus as our personal saviour we can have confidence in his presence with us in this life, and in the life to come. That confidence is not in our own strength, but in his faithfulness and his promises.
We also know the presence of God by His Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. The Holy Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. He empowers us and equips us to serve and follow God and makes us more like Jesus.
God's Presence and...
God had known what was going to happen to Esau and Jacob. We see this when he speaks to Rebekah about the babies who were jostling within her.
25:23 The LORD said to Rebekah, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."
In the dream, God promises three things :
v.13b I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.
Jacob was homeless and in a foreign land. God would provide a home for Jacob and his descendants. The centre of this land would be the very place where Jacob had had this dream.
A Place and ...
14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.
This recalls the promise made by God to Jacob's grandfather, Abraham. In Genesis 15: 5 God took Abraham outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars - if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
Jacob had yet to know God as his God, yet God is revealing to Jacob that he is part of what was promised to Abraham. When God revealed this to Abraham he was childless and very old. When God reveals this to Jacob he was on his own and isn't married, yet.
A Place, A People and...
Verse 14, All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
A priest is someone who is an intermediary between people and God. The wonderful blessing of God was not just so that Israel would feel and be superior to other nations. When God gives blessings, he also gives responsibilities. For Israel the responsibility was to share God's blessings with other nations.
That was a responsibility that they failed to discharge. But God knew this would happen because in Genesis 12 we read of an earlier promise that God made to Abraham. 1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
Who do we think "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" refers to ?
Jesus. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and of Jacob.
God already knew what would happen. That his people would turn away from him again and again. That no amount of religious ritual would result in a lasting purity and devotion to Him. God knew then that people needed a Saviour and that they needed his law written on their hearts, not tablets of stone.
We have been blessed through that promise made to Abraham thousands of years ago. Just as God knew what would happen over a thousand years before the birth of Christ, he also knew who he would be calling to serve him today, some 2000 years after the birth of Christ.
Just as God called his people in the Old Testament to bear witness to his saving grace. So, he calls his people of the New Testament, which includes you and me, to share the good news of Jesus.
What was Jacob's response to God ?
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." 17 He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."
Jacob's response has been condemned as mere bargaining, but it was good a response as he was able to make at the time.
Jacob was fearful, filled with awe. He looked first of all to the one whom he had encountered, not to the things that he had promised. We need to ensure that we do not concentrate on what God gives us, or become so familiar with God that we lose that sense of fear, awe, respect, that is due to Him.
28:18 pillar. A memorial of worship or of communion between man and God, common in ancient times. poured oil on top of it. To consecrate it, set it apart as special.
28:21 Jacob proclaims that the LORD will be my God. For the first time Jacob considered this, even though it was conditional: "If . . .". He acknowledged the God of Abraham and Isaac , his father and grandfather, as his own. His full acknowledgment came later.
28:22 this stone . . . will be God's house. In the sense that it would memorialize Jacob's meeting with God at Bethel (see NIV text note on v. 19).
of all that you give me I will give you a tenth. A way of acknowledging the Lord as his God and King, because King's were normally given a tenth. This also acknowledges that God gives everything. He is not unconcerned about us but provides us with every good gift that we need.
God's grace: this is what Jacob found while travelling alone in the desert. Through his own greedy scheming he had won the family birthright and then, ironically, had had to run away from the family. Yet God came to him full of promises, not the reproaches he deserved. Jacob had not looked for God, but God looked for him. Jacob's vision of a stairway to heaven looked forward to Jesus, who himself is the bridge between heaven and earth (John 1:51).
A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates. St. Peter says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."
"Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."
"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"
"Three points?" he says.
"Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."
"Terrific!" says St. Peter, "that's certainly worth a point."
"One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."
"Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.
"TWO POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!"
"That's right ! Come on in!"