What is love? Is it a noun, verb or adjective? Is it a feeling, thoughts or a person?
My definition of Love, being it’s Valentine’s day and all, is a simple one. God. I’ll mention it again in case you missed that, God. The Bible says, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). So any definition that leaves Him and HIStory out misses the mark.
We saw this once again last week as Robert and Marlene Baerg shared with us how a point of decision in their lives about 14 years ago stretched them in their whole understanding of God’s love and faithfulness.
What they said to us at Grace is on our YouTube page and is worth watching. God had called them to Mongolia and, then after several years of work among the people there, God further clarified their calling.
How He did that is not unlike today’s portion of HIStory. Robert had an encounter with the Living god, through a dream that lead them to a promised land that was flowing with milk and honey. Sounds very Old Testament doesn’t it?
For those who missed the Baerg’s story I recommend you click on the link marked: Matthew 14:22-33 Get into the Boat! … and hear how the God of the Old Testament still speaks to His Children today.
Reading and understand HIStory helps us to exercise faith when things happen in our story and can often lead us to experience HIM in a whole new way. That said let’s read our portion for today and see what it is that we can learn from one night’s dream.
Turn in your Bibles with me to Genesis 28:12-22.
Talk about a tough pillow eh? Jacob grabs a rock and it’s off to dream land. But other than weird sleeping habits, what else do we know about this man named Jacob?
It’s found back a few pages in your Bible in Chapter 25 (Gen. 25). He was the second born of twins. His brother Esau was born first.
God said to his mother 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” Genesis 25:23 (NIV). Did this word of the Lord come true? You’ll need to read on in HIStory to find that out.
Anybody know or remember what Jacob’s name means? His name literally means “heel catcher” according to Strong’s Concordance. The other more common words that are often associated with him are “deceiver” or “supplanter”.
But was it an apt description of Jacob and his life up to the point we find him in our Scripture portion for this morning? Without a doubt!
For the sake of those who haven’t read all about this deceiver let’s dig just a bit more into HIStory. One of the first things we find there is that Esau, his twin brother, wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box but he was as His name indicates, a strong and ruddy or hairy man. He was a man’s man! Out there hunting and foraging and working hard with his hands.
One day after a long and tiring and I assume unproductive hunt Esau came home to find Jacob making porridge. He asks for a bowl but Jacob, true to his name, instead of just giving the great hunter some food, scammed his birthright in trade for it. Esau actually traded his inheritance for a bowl of porridge. Can you believe that? What was he thinking?
Later on when the time had come for their father, Isaac, to pass on his inheritance he asked Esau to go out and catch some of his favorite food and cook it. Seems like Isaac was quite adamant about Esau, his first born, receiving the rights of the first born.
We in N. America don’t understand that tradition much at all. But it made a huge difference to the culture that Esau and Jacob grew up in. The first born carried on with father’s estate and would exercise control not only over it but the affairs of the family. It was the prized position. Kind of like the first born of the Queen of England, who is in line for taking over the throne, with all the rights and privileges and responsibilities that come with that.
Now apparently Rebekah had been listening in on the conversation when Isaac told Esau it was time for him to pass on his blessing. And she didn’t feel is necessary to remind Isaac of the Word from the Lord that came to her back when the boys were wrestling in her womb.
It was a Word that clearly said the older would serve the younger. Instead Rebekah took it upon herself to make sure that Jacob would receive Esau’s blessing rather than trusting that God knew what He was talking about.
Jacob was a bit of momma’s boy! So mom, knowing how blind dad was dressed Jacob up in a hairy goat skin, (which apparently made him smell and feel like Esau)? Uggg!
Rebekah cooked the meal and sent Jacob in to deceive dad. Thus, as his name means, he tripped up Esau, literally stealing his blessing this time as well as birthright from him through deception.
“Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” (Genesis 27:36 (NIV)
The plan worked, Jacob got the blessing and Esau? Well he got real mad and planned to kill Jacob as soon as the days of mourning had passed for dear ol’ dad. Unfortunately for his plan, or fortunately for Jacob, depending on which way you look at it, Esau used his outside voice as he fumed about what had transpired. And Rebekah caught wind of the plan so she persuaded Jacob to go find a wife back in Paddan Aram, a long ways from Esau.
And so Jacob was on the run, so to speak, as we get to this morning’s passage. He may have thought that he would be right back with wife in tow as he kissed mom good-bye. But God had other plans for this deceiver. First was to keep him alive and also to give Esau time to cool off before he did something rash.
Well, no sooner had Jacob set off on this latest twist in HIStory, when God rends the Heavens to give him hope for the future.
It would seem that Jacob hadn’t brought his pillow along in all the rush to go find a wife. And as daylight gave way to darkness it was lala time so Jacob found himself a nice rock to lay his head on and drifted off to dreamland. And what a dream it was!
Suddenly his spiritual eyes were opened to a new reality.
“He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Genesis 28:12 (NIV) This wasn’t Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven either! These angels were real even if they were appearing in a dream.
The Bible speaks of angels in so many places. In fact more than 200 times. Angels were a part of reality for not only Jacob and the patriarchs but common folk too. We as the readers of this story may not understand it the way Jacob did though.
In fact, though most people these days would claim to believe, at least somewhat, in the existence of angels, their beliefs are often of the ones that hang on the tree at Christmas, or sit on the windowsill twinkling in the light rather than the Biblically described ones.
I cannot possibly speak in detail about angels in the time allowed this morning. That would have to be a topic for a series someday. But suffice it to say angels are real and as the writer of Hebrews put it, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14 (NIV). They have a God ordained purpose to watch over those who will inherit salvation.
And Jacob saw these ministering spirits ascending and descending this ladder. Which by the way is to be seen as symbolic and not literally at the place where Jacob slept. As far as I know you cannot go to a place in the Holy Land, lay your hear down on a rock and see the latter and the angels.
The point of the passage is, “There above the ladder stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying… All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Genesis 28:13-14 (NIV).
Hmmm sounds just like Abram’s encounter as he left for and got to the Promised Land doesn’t it? God promised Abram that his offspring would occupy that piece of real-estate and now Jacob, a true descendant of Abraham, would also receive the same covenant promise from God.
More than that though, God was basically assuring Jacob that He would not be alone on this journey. And that this part of the journey was still in fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham.
The LORD said to Jacob, “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.” (Genesis 28:15 (NIV). What a marvelous promise!
The writer to Hebrews said, “God will never leave us nor forsake us” (cf Hebrews 13:5). His Word is ever true!
Even as King David once put it, “The LORD watches over you– the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm– he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (Ps 121:5-8 )
Our Lord Jesus said in Mt 18:20 — “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” And in Mt 28:20 Jesus reminded his disciples “… surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” With such great assurance we can step out in faith knowing He has our back! Even as the Apostle Paul wrote in Ro 8:31 “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
But remember this is HIStory that you and I play cameos in. We are not the main characters any more than Jacob was or even Abraham for that matter. They too had a role to play in HIStory. Now some might argue that they played a significant role but really they only had to do what comes naturally to mankind, and were chosen specifically to do so with the women of God’s own choosing.
Well Jacob wakes up the next morning and realizes that He has been in God’s presence. It is a holy moment for him. He realizes that “…surely the LORD is in this place, and he was not aware of it.”(cf 16) Jacob didn’t go looking for God, God came looking for him. But when Jacob realized that he had been in God’s presence what was his immediate response? Was it to pat himself on the back for being such a righteous dude as to have an audience with the Creator? Did he jump up and down screaming as though he had just won the loto, or got away with stealing Esau’s birthright and blessing?
No, quite the opposite really. Verse 17 says, “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.” His reaction was similar to Isaiah when he realized the LORD was a real person and a real GOD. And he , Isaiah, was really not too godly!
“Woe to me!” Isaiah cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).
It is that sudden realization that your sins and failures are laid bare and there is nothing you can do about it but be honest and fall upon God’s mercy. There is both remorse and the realization that your darkness of soul doesn’t belong in the light of His presence.
But here in our passage there was also the realization of God’s awesome promises that shines through in this moment of fear and awe for Jacob.
And so Jacob did what we all should do when such holy moments come in our life. Jacob worshiped God! Right there on that very spot and he used whatever was at hand. Or in this case under head.
“… Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel…” Genesis 28:18-19 (NIV).
Suddenly for him this was the house of God. Perhaps not the same spot as Abram’s encounter for it too was named Bethel but the sentiment was surely the same. The sudden realization that God is present and you are standing on Holy Ground caused each of them to reach out in worship to God.
That song from the 80’s quickly came to mind as I wrote those words. “This is holy ground, were standing on holy ground! For the Lord is here and where He is, is holy!” We are standing on Holy Ground! And I know that there are angels all around! Let us praise Jesus now! We are standing in His presence on Holy ground” ( Geron Davis © 1983 Meadowgreen Music Company (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) Songchannel Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) (CCLI 204908))
I remember the first time that I heard that song and realized that it wasn’t just words on a page or another song to be sung. Donna Thiessen was teaching it to us as a worship team in Fort St. John. And as we began to sing it I looked over at her and I could see that she was overcome by His presence. It was then that I got it. God inhabits the praises of His peoples. His presence is more active in some places than others. Especially those places where His people truly enter into worship. But since we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, that Holy Ground is where-ever you, Christian, are standing!
What Jacob realized at Bethel, as he set up a reminder of the precious moment spent in God’s presence, and as he poured the oil on the stone to forever mark it, was that God was watching over him and that what God promised would come to pass. The stone wasn’t for others to keep him accountable but was an aid to burn into his memory the promises were exchanged that day.
When you have a holy moment with God you need to do something to set the day apart if only in your mind. The act of setting Jacob’s pillow on edge, of anointing it with oil, of speaking out both what God said and what Jacob promised to do was the beginning of the journey for Jacob. A journey that took him from being “deceiver” to a new name written down in glory, a name that stands to this day, the name “Israel”.
It was the beginning of a journey that was to take more than twenty years before he returned back that way again.
Was the stone important? For Jacob, yes, for you and me? Questionable. Should we go set up stones every time we feel His presence? Likely not…otherwise this building would be full of rubble. And who knows, maybe Jacobs stone saw some animal come and kick it over and the dust of the ground buried it in time.
I doubt you can go to that Bethel and find it. (Though I’m sure someone over there would try to sell you a piece if you asked.)
But like walking forward at a Billy Graham crusade, that moment of decision to follow the LORD needs to be accompanied by an action which in turn makes it a much greater reminder of receiving God’s grace.
Yet Jacob didn’t stop there. He gave himself another reminder of God’s sovereignty in his life. He chose of all things to tithe. Like where did that come from? The Law of Moses hadn’t happened yet. And yet clearly from this passage Jacob’s worship included giving a tenth of all that he would receive from God’s hand.
Like Abraham, with Melchizedek, this was yet another time that we see the tithe predating the Law of Moses and it is seen as an act of worship rather than an obligation or burden towards God.
So does this passage show us that God actually condones the sneaking and conniving behavior it depicts among brothers? Does God condone the stealing of birthrights and blessings? Come on Wednesday and let’s talk.
Read Genesis 28:12-22
- What kind of pillow makes for good dreams?
- Have you ever had a dream that you were both frightened by and totally blessed through? Share that with us.
- What does HIStory tell us about Jacob before this passage? (see Genesis 25:1 – 27:46).
- Why is it important to know the history of Jacob?
- Does this passage show us that God actually condones the sneaking and conniving behavior it depicts among brothers?
- Does God condone the stealing of birthrights and blessings?
- Describe in your own words what happens in Jacob’s dream.
- Do you believe in angels? Why or why not? (Gen. 28:12, Heb. 1:14)
- Does God still use angels today?
- What are the promises or covenants given in this passage? (Gen. 28:13-15; Gen 12:1-4).
- What has God promised you as a Christian? (Mat. 13:49; Mat. 18:20; Mat. 24:3, Mat. 28:20, John 7:39; John 14:16-17, John 16:7, Acts 1:5, Heb. 13:5; Rev. 21:3)
- Is there such a thing as Holy Ground? (Genesis 28:17) What makes it Holy Ground?
- Where is this Holy Ground today? (1 Cor. 3:16; 1 Cor. 6:19-20)
- What did Jacob do when he realized he was in God’s presence? (Gen. 28:18)
- What vows did Jacob make? (Genesis 28:20-22)
- Should Christians make a vow? (Mat. 5:34; James 5:12)
- Should wealthy Christians tithe or give offerings to the LORD? (Gen. 28:22; Mat. 5:23-24, Mat 23:23;2 Cor. 9:7).
- What about poor Christians, should they tithe or give offering to Jesus? (see Q17 verses and Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4)
- What is one thing that you’ve learned from Jacob’s dream?
- What is one thing that you can do this week with what you have learned?