Jacob’s Dream

Genesis 28:10-22 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth 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 promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And 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.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

INTRODUCTION

In case you’re just joining us, or in case you forgot where we are in Genesis, we’ve made it all the way to the second half of Genesis 28 (we’re more than half done with the whole book!). After God’s Creation of the heavens and earth, after Adam and Eve’s rebellion and fall, after the great Flood of judgment, and after the confusion of languages and dispersion of mankind at Babel, God chose to reconcile a people to Himself through one particular man and his offspring. Thus, apart from any particular merit in Abraham, God chose him and made a covenant with him. God’s covenant with Abraham included the promise of land and descendants beyond number. But more importantly, it included the promise to be Abraham’s God and the God of Abraham’s offspring; to redeem them and have fellowship with them, to lead and guide them, to protect and provide for them. For his part, Abraham was simply to trust in God, and he did.

And then Abraham, according to God’s promise, had a son. His name was Isaac. And then, according to God’s promise, Isaac had two sons, one who would receive the promise (Jacob) and one who would not (Esau). As they grew older, through some serious shenanigans, Jacob drew his older brother, Esau’s, hatred and was therefore forced to flee to a new land.

That’s where we pick up this morning; with Jacob fleeing to his mother’s homeland, Heran. While there, God came to him in a dream and in it reiterated the covenant promises He’d made with Jacob’s grandfather. In response, Jacob worshiped God and committed to honor God as his God. Those, then, are the two main parts to this story: 1) God’s gracious and glorious visit, and 2) Jacob’s faithful and worshipful response.

In this short story we see a few things. We see that God was indeed a glorious God, that God was still committed to the gracious covenant He’d made with Abraham, that Jacob was still the beneficiary of the covenant promises of grace, and that Jacob acknowledged God as the gracious and glorious God. And in these things, we find a big, bright, flashing arrow pointing directly at Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s promises He brings to all who hope in Him. Let’s pray that God would make this text come alive for us, and that insodoing we’d be able to see in new ways His glorious grace and respond in faithful worship.

GOD’S GRACIOUS AND GLORIOUS VISIT (10-15)

Having been forced to flee from Beersheba to avoid the murderous intentions of his brother, and charged by his father not to take a wife from the Canaanites (the women of the land in which they were living and promised), Jacob began the apx. 500 mile journey toward his mother’s homeland, Haran, alone. Look at v.10.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.

At first everything seemed normal. Jacob walked for a while (probably a few days) before finding a place to sleep as night fell. It’s likely that the stone he placed by his head wasn’t for a pillow but for protection if man or beast came near. Either way, he fell asleep and a dream came quickly. What a dream it was!

12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…

The dream builds three times to its climax. The first step is the simple fact that there was a ladder reaching from earth to sky. That’s pretty remarkable, isn’t it? But it builds from there. This was no ordinary, extraordinary ladder. That is, it wasn’t a heavenly ladder for humans to climb. This was a ladder reserved for spiritual beings. The very angels of God were “ascending and descending on it”. They were going from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven. Again, pretty remarkable, right? But it builds again. The climax, the high point, is found in the One standing at the top watching everything unfold. Indeed, it was the LORD himself, the God of Jacob’s father and grandfather. This part of the story is about the LORD, not the angels or Jacob. Our focus must be on God and what He is about to do. As we’ll see soon, this was no mere dream. God truly visited Jacob, His chosen son of the promise.

And yet, as remarkable as this scene is, it points to an even greater one. This dream and revelation of God was certainly meant to be a blessing to Jacob, but it had an even greater purpose. It is ultimately meant to point to the true Chosen Son of the promise, Jesus. Jesus himself referenced this story in John 1:51. In describing His true nature and mission to a man named Nathanael, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus is this stairway to heaven! Acknowledge your need for him today, Grace. Look to Him alone as the only way to be reconciled to God. When you do He will forgive you and free you of your sins. God has come down the ladder to us, to bring us up to Him!

In the larger story of the Bible, this is the main point—Jesus is the way to God; the only way. But again, the main points in the immediate context are that God is a gracious and glorious God. Both of these things are clearly seen in His words to Jacob.

13 …The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

Ultimately, this is a reiteration of the covenant promises God made with Abraham. It is another confirmation that Jacob was indeed the chosen son. Within it, though, are several familiar promised blessings mixed a few new ones particular to Jacob.

God repromised the land of Canaan to Abraham’s offspring (13). God repromised countless descendants to the descendant of Abraham (14). God repromised that Jacob’s countless children wouldn’t be contained by Canaan, but spread throughout the earth (14). And God repromised Jacob that while his blessing would begin with his family, it too (just like his family) would spill out onto the whole world (14). Jacob would be blessed to bless. Again, all of those things were part of the covenant promises of God from the beginning.

We’ve marveled at these before, let us marvel at them again. What a God our God is! He protects and provides and multiplies. All of this is amplified even more when we remember that Genesis was first given to the millions of Jacob’s descendants as they sat on the edge of this very land about to take it as their own. Awesome!

But there’s more. Not only did God repromise these things, He also made a few Jacob-specific promises.

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 promised you.”

God promised to be with Jacob “wherever” he went, to never leave him until all His promises were fulfilled. God promised to “keep” (that is, to protect) Jacob. And God promised to bring Jacob back to the land that he was forced to leave for a time (15).

What sweet words these must have been. Having been driven from his home, alone in the wilderness, and with huge promises but nothing yet to show for it, these promises came directly to Jacob from God. How refreshing and comforting and reassuring that must have been in this time of great loneliness, lowness, and need.

Don’t you wish you could hear these words from the LORD? Aren’t there times when it would be so sweet to have God promise to be with you and never leave you until you enter the promised land of heaven? Oh, do I have good news for you, Grace. These words, once again, point us straight to Jesus. Our Lord, Jesus Christ promised His followers, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). He will never leave us nor forsake us. In fact, the Holy Spirit of God lives in all who call on the name of Jesus to comfort and bless and strengthen and remind. Truly He is with us to keep us and bless us until the very end of the age! Awesome!

JACOB’S FAITHFUL AND WORSHIPFUL RESPONSE (16-22)

The question before us now is that in light of this awesome revelation of God, how would Jacob respond. As we consider Jacob’s response, we must first remember his recent antics. This is the same man who was passive, weak, manipulated, and manipulating. He is in this place because he was forced to flee from his brother for cheating him out of his birthright and blessing. In most ways, to this point, in spite of the fact that he was the chosen one of God, Jacob was best described as anything but a man after God’s own heart. With that in the way of background, consider Jacob’s response.

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And 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.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

I want to close the sermon this morning with ten very brief observations about the ten keys to understanding and applying this part of the passage. How should we respond when we encounter the glory of God?! I urge you to take them all in and then really lock in on one or two to continue pondering, praying about, and putting into practice throughout this week.

The first thing to see is that although in the form of a dream, Jacob knew that this had been a genuine encounter with God. “Surely the LORD is in this place.” “This is none other than the house of God.” This was no mere dream. Grace, God moves in mysterious ways. Do not think that you can put God in a box. He will accomplish His purposes, always consistently with His nature, but rarely consistent with your expectations.

Second, Jacob’s view of the nature of God was too small. “God was in this place, and I did not know it.” Jacob seems to have thought of God as some sort of regional, domesticated God. He, the child of the promise, shouldn’t have been surprised to encounter God in the center of the greatest city or in the midst of the remotest wilderness. His God, our God, is everywhere, always. Grace, for those who will not submit to God, this is bad news. It means that there is no where you can go to escape God’s watchful eye. Your sins will find you. Let this passage keep you from being surprised when they do. But for those who love God, this is great news indeed. He is never far away. He is always near. He always hears us and is always with us. Let this passage remind you not to be surprised by His nearness.

Third, after the initial shock of realizing that he had been visited by the LORD, Jacob’s heart turned to fear and awe. “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God’”. Grace, there is a really important lesson for us here. As counterintuitive as it may be, all true worship begins with the fear of the LORD. Lots of pleasant feelings toward the idea of some god can begin in other places, but all true worship of the One True God begins with the fear of the LORD. To know God is to know Him in His holiness and to know Him in His holiness is to know yourself in your sin and rebellion and tremble. Our ability to approach God is not in our worthiness or in His grandfatherliness. It is in the holiness of Jesus. This is what makes the gospel such good news.

Forth, this was such a significant encounter for Jacob that he sought to commemorate it. He took the stone (of defense or a pillow) and used it as a marker. He set it up and poured oil on it to set apart and establish this as a place in which God met with him and confirmed the covenant with him. I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but it is good for God’s people to commemorate His marvelous works in our lives and churches.

The fifth thing to see is the author’s use of the word “place” to describe the land. Interestingly, it is used six times. We find out in v.19 that the “place” had a name, Luz. Why, then, did the author continually refer to it as a “place” rather than “the city of Luz”? The answer is clear and instructive. The “place” was insignificant, inconsequential in itself. It’s identity (“the house of God,” “Bethel”) came from God’s presence. Oh, Grace, that we might learn from this subtle, but profound truth. What makes things valuable? That they are of the LORD. What ought we to desire and seek in this life, then? Nothing but that which is from God and for God and to God. As we say all the time here, to have everything without God is nothing, but to have nothing but God is to have everything! This literary device (the repeated use of “place” rather than “Luz”), then, explains “how a place became a shrine, a stone became an altar, and a fugitive became a pilgrim—God in His grace revealed Himself to Jacob in that “place” (Ross, CB, 486). And so it is for you and me. Jesus is over everything!

Sixth, consider the transforming power of this gracious and glorious revelation of God. The manipulator became a worshiper. Isn’t this just what conversion is? Whether we are 5 or 55, isn’t conversion about coming to experience the glory and grace of God? Isn’t encountering God’s awesomeness in some new way what brings about true heart transformation? Isn’t being in God’s mighty presence that which spurs us to worship?

Seventh, notice that this transformation in Jacob was the product of God’s initiative. Again, it seems clear that Jacob did not expect to meet with God at all that night. Without being sought, God chose to reveal Himself in His awesome splendor. Imitating God by taking the initiative to bring grace to others is the privilege and responsibility of every Christian (especially Christian men). May we all reject passivity. May we all seek out others to share the good news of Jesus with. May none of us sit back waiting for others to take the initiative to bring grace.

Eighth, although God promised great things to Jacob and his offspring, Jacob’s main response centered around the awesomeness of God! May we love God more than His gifts—another topic we’ve covered recently.

The ninth thing to see is Jacob’s “bargain”. It seems in v.20-22 as if Jacob is giving God an ultimatum: if you will do something for me, I will allow you to be my God.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God…

Again, at first glance it appears that Jacob is trying to set the terms of his relationship with God. In reality, however (which is clearer in the original), he is simply affirming the words of God’s promises in reverse. It’d be like someone saying to you, “I will give you ice cream if you will read a book,” and you replying, “I will read a book if you will give me ice cream.” In this instance you are simply accepting the terms of the other person. The points for us, of course, are that we must never attempt to force the hand of God and that God’s ways are always best.

Finally, the tenth thing to see is that Jacob saw his tithe (“full tenth”) as a matter of a privilege of his stewardship rather than as a transaction where he provided capital. That is, Jacob understood that anything he would give to God was something that came first from the hand of God and belonged ultimately to God. I’ve made reference to this before but a quote from C.S. Lewis is apt.

“Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense his own already … It is like a small child going to its father and saying, ‘Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.’ It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction” (Mere Christianity).

O may we know the wonderful freedom of humility. We have nothing. God is everything. In His kindness, God entrusts certain things to His people to care for and bless others with and to praise God with. May you never think of your money or your house or your possessions or your family or your gifts or your relationships as yours. They all belong to God. This way of viewing the world is a critical piece of the Christian life.

Again, I urge you to really hang onto and press into one or two of these ten answers to the question of what we ought to do when we encounter the grace and glory of God. Seek God in His glory and grace, then, Grace. And do not fail to respond in faithful worship.

CONCLUSION

God was indeed a glorious God, God was still committed to the gracious covenant He’d made with Abraham, Jacob was still the beneficiary of the covenant promises of grace, and Jacob acknowledged God as the gracious and glorious God. And in these things, we find a big, bright, flashing arrow pointing directly at Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s promises He brings to all who hope in Him. Look to Him today, therefore, and find fullness of life.