Perhaps there has been a time in your life when God took everything away from you. But as you struggled through the pain of that trial you realized that Christ was really all you needed. That's what Jacob will finally learn as God takes him into the wilderness.
In our last session we studied a tale of two sons; and, if you missed, that I would encourage you to request the tape, lest you think this morning I’m being too hard on poor Jacob. We discovered as we introduced the life of Jacob that he had inherited his mother’s ability to scheme. We saw him manipulate the birthright away from his brother, his twin brother Esau. We saw him in one final sordid display of deceit trick his elderly, blind father out of the blessing. No sooner had he stolen out of the tent than Esau returned from the field expecting to receive the blessing himself. And what would happen next was nothing short or less than an explosion in that family. And I imagine the accusations flew about like poisoned arrows. Finally Esau thought to himself that “My little brother has tricked me for the very last time,” and so he intended to kill him. But Rebekah discovered his intentions and so came to Jacob and said, “Jacob you need to leave, because your brother’s intending to kill you, perhaps in the night; but we’ll tell everybody that you’re going to the old country to find a wife.” If you think television has great plots, you haven’t been in Genesis; because it begins to really thicken in chapter 28. In fact, let’s take it up there in our story of Jacob.
Genesis, chapter 28, we’ll begin reading with verse 5. Chapter 28, verse5--“Then Isaac sent Jacob away; and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau. Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him saying, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,’ and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram. So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac, and Esau went to Ishmael and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.” Now let me stop here just long enough to tell you how tragic this must of been. Here is Esau, who has discovered now that he is without the blessing. He who has been the favorite son of his father has now been, in a sense, replaced by Jacob, the supplanter, that is Jacob who has taken the place of another. And Esau, not really having a heart of spiritual things, discovered in his brother that obedience to the patriarch father. That he would indeed take a wife from among the relatives, that of the tribe the family of Abraham. And so Esau says, “Maybe if I go and get a wife, perhaps then I’ll regain the favor from my father.” And how sad that was. Isaac and Rebekah, we discovered last session, were very partial parents. One loved the other one and the other the second. And here is Esau vainly trying to win the approval of his father. We don’t know that he ever did that, and it’s sad. But let’s leave Esau. We won’t hear from him again for nearly 20 years.
Verse 10—“And Jacob departed from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place, and he spent the night there, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head and laid down in that place.” Now even though Jacob is deserving of every bit of trouble that he’s about to receive, let’s for a moment try to be a little sympathetic and climb into his sandals and look out through his eyes. Jacob is anything but an outdoorsman. He’s probably never toughed it out, under the stars, one night of his life. In fact, chapter 27 tells us that Jacob was a peaceful man dwelling in the tents. He was a sensitive man who had learned to cook. His mother’s favorite, he had grown up tied to the apron strings of that possessive mother. He was pampered by all of the servants. His father was the wealthy patriarch. And here he is now, totally alone, desolate, without anything, spending the night out in the open. He’s just embarked on a trip that will take him many days. It’s a 500 mile journey. And the text indicates that when he gets to the place of sleep, he didn’t choose this place as a campsite. It indicates that he spent the night there because the sun had set. Here’s the man who probably never camped in his life. He’d never hiked. And here he is trekking along 500 miles and finally, not wanting to stop; but he has to, it’s dark. We find no record of a campsite. We find no record of a campfire or a meal. All we see is Jacob coming to a point in the barren region outside of Luz filled with rocks, thinking, “Oh, I can’t go any further, I guess I better spend the night here.” He probably takes his cloak off, wads it up, finds a little rock, puts it on the rock, puts his head down and hopes the night will pass quickly. I imagine as he laid there, thoughts were racing through his mind, “Will I ever see my father and mother again? Will I ever return to my homeland? Will my brother, Esau, catch up with me and kill me? Was it really worth stealing the birthright and deceiving my way into the blessing?” You see, men and women, God was bringing Jacob to a point of teachability. To do that, God had to bring Jacob to a very lonely, desolate place where all of the props had been knocked out that had once muffled the voice of God. Now it was Jacob out all alone. And there in the lonely place, there in the barren, rocky region of loneliness, God would speak. Have you ever been there? Have you ever pillowed your head on some tragedy, a trial, difficulty, financial loss, pain? Perhaps some place in your life where all of the props have been smashed and you’ve discovered that they have been muffling God’s voice. There in that barren region, God speaks to Jacob and he will speak to you.
He approaches Jacob by way of a dream. I want you to notice that with me. Verse12--“And Jacob had a dream and behold a ladder was set on the earth, with it’s top reaching to heaven.” There are three elements in this dream. I’ve just read the first, and that is a ladder. This could be translated “ramp” or “stairway”. This was literally a smooth, as it were ramp, a shalom that reached from the gate of heaven right down to where Jacob was sleeping or dreaming. The second element is given in the next verse or the last part of verse 12—“and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” The second element would be the angels who are symbolizing the servants doing the bidding of God. The third element is the very presence of God, verse 13—“And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give it to you and to your descendants; your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all of the families of the earth be blessed.”
It’s interesting to understand that Jacob had deceived his father into giving him that covenant blessing. And there was a good chance, out there in the loneliness, that Jacob would think, “Am I really God’s choice?” So what God is doing is really letting Jacob in on the fact that, if he had just waited, God would have given him the blessing anyhow; because he had been God’s elect. He had been the selected one to carry on the messianic line. And here out in the wilderness, God does nothing more than confirm, “Yes, you are the one. You are the next patriarch in line. You are the chosen one.”
And in this blessing, there are four elements. If you have notes, I want to give you those four. First of all, in a compassionate way, God promises companionship. He says, “And behold, or look, I am with you, you are not alone.” That’s the first part of verse 15—“And behold, I am with you.” I would imagine that Jacob, never being out on his own, being alone, was probably scared to death. There in that howling wasteland. A place of snakes. A place of perhaps wild animals. And all we really know is that Jacob just took what he had on his back and he takes off for Haran. And God comes along and he says, “Jacob, you couldn’t see me but I want you to know that I’m with you.” The second element is in the next part of the verse—“and will keep you wherever you go”. The word keep could be translated “guard.” Here is a promise again of his protection. The first his presence, the second protection or guardianship. The third is a promise of guidance –“I will bring you back to this land.” Jacob was perhaps wondering, “Will I ever return? Will I come back home?.” And God says, “You will.” The last part of that verse gives us the fourth promise of assurance. He says, “I will accomplish what I’ve promised you.” That is, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
Now the response of Jacob is twofold. I want you to notice his first or initial response. Verse 16—“And Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.’” His first response is one of insight or discernment. He said in effect, “I would have never believed that God was here, but in fact, He is.” You see, Jacob had localized God at Isaac’s altar. Before we’re too hard on him, we do the very same thing. We localize God in church. He’s with me when I’m in church. He’s with me when I’m praying. He’s with me when I open and read the Bible. That’s where God is. But is God with me at 6:30 in the morning on Monday going to work? Is God with me in the shop, in the kitchen? Is God with me in the emergency room in the hospital, at the funeral home? YES, God is there. Although we tend to localize Him in what we call spiritual things, God is everywhere. Because we are believers, God is in effect in us. Verse 17 is a great response, Jacob was filled with trusting fear—“he said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” Out here, can you believe that? Here among the rocks and the loneliness, THIS is the place of God! This is in fact the gate of heaven.
This is a wonderful place to stop because Jacob has been so discerning, and it’s as if he worships God. But he goes back to sleep, evidently, and we have to continue, although I’d rather not. Verse 18 gives us a totally different response, “So Jacob rose early in the morning”. It’s as if he went back to sleep, but then he gets up very early in the morning, “and he took the stone that he had put under his head and he set it up as a pillar and poured oil on it’s top. And he called the name of the place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz.” That is Luz meaning “the place of light”, perhaps translated “separation”. Here Bethel meaning “the house of God”. He is in effect saying that this is the place of God.
And now he will do something foolish. He will make a vow. This is the first vow of the Old Testament. And I want to give you three things that were wrong with this vow. First of all, it was totally self-serving or self-centered. Get your pencil ready and I want you to underline every time he says “I,” “me,” and “my.” You’ll find it nine times. “Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God be with me, and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garment to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God.” That’s terrific. He says in effect, “God, if you really come through with what you’ve just promised me in this vision, then he’ll do several things.” You’ll note in this vow that he is totally self-serving. Secondly, this vow implied doubt in God. Verse 21 says, “and I return to my father’s house in safety.” That is, if you can really do what you’ve said you’ll do, and I’m not really sure if you can, but there’s nothing else for me to do except trust you, so I guess I will. But at the end of the journey, if I am safe back there in the tents of my mother and father, then I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.
The third element of this vow that I think is wrong, is that it attempts to bargain with God. There are three things in this bargain. I want you to note them carefully. First of all, the last part of verse 21, “then the Lord will be my God.” Jacob promises to let God be his God. He promises to acknowledge God as his God. Now, before we are too hard on him, again I think we often do this because we say, “Lord, if you do so and so, I’ll REALLY serve you. If you help me out here, will I ever be loyal to you, I’ll even acknowledge you at the job; I might even witness for you. If you make my life fall right into place, you smooth out that path, you make every need that I have filled, if you take care of all of my problems, THEN, God, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you exist, and you will be my God.” That’s real faith? He had to learn, and God would put him in school to learn over the next 20 years, that faith is living without scheming. Christianity is living without scheming, without manipulating, without controlling. And he seeks to control God. He offers secondly to make a memorial to God. Verse 22—“and this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, this will be God’s house.” As if God’s going to be impressed. Can you see God in heaven calling the angels over, “Look Jacob’s made a memorial!” “Oh, really? Out of gold?” “No, it’s a pile of rocks.” That’s really impressive. Why, when God would set down the details to build his house, you know the temple of Solomon in it’s beauty, bedecked with jewelry and gold and silver. And here’s Jacob with a little pile of rocks saying, “God, this will be my memorial to you, if you pull this all off.” I imagine God was thrilled. The third thing is that he offers a tenth of his substance. He says, verse 22—“and this stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house; and of all that thou dost give me I will surely give a tenth to you.” There is classic Twentieth Century Christianity. God, you bless me with wealth and I’ll give some of it back to you. You give me all of this and; guess what, Lord, the more you give me, the more I’ll give you back, as if you need it. I think this is the attitude that most of us have when it comes to giving. Lord, now wait a second, my giving is dependent upon you giving to me. You give me a lot and I’ll give you a little more. The sad thing is that Jacob thought he could bribe God with a dime.
By now, I’m looking for a flash of lightning and just a simmering little pile of ashes where Jacob once stood bargaining with an almighty God. But God responds two ways. These are implied. The first way he responds is by silence. Silence. Now that’s good because there’s no flash of lightning. There’s no powder puff there on the ground where he once stood. That’s good. But it’s bad, because Jacob will go for 20 years never hearing the voice of God. He will go without direction. But the second response is, I think, even more beautiful; and it is a response of patience. God says, in effect, He chuckles under his breath, and He says, “Oh, you little bargainer, you little barterer. I’m going to send you to school and your teacher’s going to be Laban. And he’s a master at bargaining. He’ll change your wages ten times. He’ll trick you into marrying his older daughter when you thought you were getting the younger daughter. He’s going to take care of you; and there you will learn that faith in me comes without the scheme, without the manipulating, without the bargaining. It is simple trust in my sovereignty.” And, boy, would he ever learn that God wanted to be part of his every day life. God wants priority. God will not settle for anything less than commitment to him apart from bargaining.
You say, “Well ah, it’d be wonderful if God had given me a ladder. If God would have given me something like that, I would have never responded like Jacob. If I had seen God and the angels descending and ascending on that ladder, that ramp, SHALOM, I’d never be the same.” I want to show you a beautiful picture in John, chapter 1. Would you turn there quickly, John, chapter 1. Because he’s given you a ladder. John, chapter 1, Nathanael is contemplating about the Messiah under the fig tree. Verse 48, Nathanael is brought to him and he says, “How do you know me? And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you, that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.’” And now he will quote from Genesis, chapter 28. “and he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on (what?) the Son of Man.’” Jesus Christ, in effect, said, “I AM THE LADDER. I am the revelation between God and man. I am the one that is giving you access to the very throne of God.” And you and I, living in the twentieth century, after the cross, have so much more than Jacob ever had. He had a passing dream. We have an indwelling Christ. We have the ladder living with us day to day. And yet we still bargain, we still scheme, we still barter, we still bribe, we still say, “God, my relationship with you is dependent upon what you do for me.” And God wants us to live the kind of life that treats Christ as if He is living himself every day of the week.
Several ministers were visiting a collective farm in Siberia. The local commissar said that they were very proud of their church and he wanted to take these Americans to see the church. And these ministers, he didn’t know they were ministers, they followed him down this particular path through the village way. And then they noticed, to their surprise, a beautiful white building with it’s onion shaped turrets. And as they got closer, they noticed that on the wall of the church was painted communistic slogans. This was a collective farm in Siberia. And as they got closer, they noticed that the yard was fairly well kept. It seemed to be a place of worship. Perhaps people even went here, who knew? As they walked in through the front doors, they were surprised to find the vestibule much like an ordinary church. But when they stepped through the doors leading into the auditorium their mouths dropped open, because it no longer had any semblance of a church sanctuary. It was covered from floor to ceiling with chicken coops filled with cackling hens. The commissar gestured proudly, he said, “Our church is a chicken hatchery. It’s the finest one in Siberia.” And then he announced to these men, “Chickens are real, God isn’t.” I fear that we live with that attitude. We say this pain, this sickness, this difficulty, this problem, this financial loss, these things are real. God where are you? There in the rocky region of Luz, God came to Jacob and said, “I am here. I designed the pillow that you laid your head upon. I planned for your path, though trembling and frightening as it was, to come by this way;and, when you came, you discovered that I was here waiting for you.” Jesus Christ is there for you too. He said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Whether it is in the sanctuary of a church or the barren region of loneliness and isolation, God is there as well.