Explore the Bible
with Wayne VanHorn
Sunday, December 9
Have you ever departed on a long journey by yourself? The sense of loneliness can seem overwhelming. Today’s session focuses on an episode in Jacob’s life when he found himself alone, on the run, and in a strange place. God chose those circumstances to reveal His purpose to Jacob.
Purpose Revealed (28:10-15)
Jacob left his home in Beersheba to go to Haran, a region at the apex of the Fertile Crescent. Jacob had to make the journey for two reasons. First, the lives of Isaac and Rebekah were embittered by Esau’s pagan wives (Gen. 26:34-35), so they encouraged Jacob to return to the land of their fathers to find a wife (Gen. 27:46–28:9). Second, Esau, angered by Jacob’s cunning in taking his birthright and his deception while stealing the blessing, wanted to kill his brother (Gen. 27:35-45). Jacob was fleeing for his life on a journey to find a wife.
We learn from Gen. 28:11,19 that Jacob traveled until sundown, stopping at a place called Luz (pronounced Lootz). The stone he used for a pillow might indicate how wearied he was from his flight from Esau. According to Gen. 28:12-15, the LORD appeared to Jacob in a dream. The LORD confirmed His identity as the God of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob’s grandfather and father respectively. He affirmed the promise of the land to Jacob and his descendants. He also affirmed that Jacob’s descendants would be like the dust of the earth for multitude, spreading out to all points of the compass. Of paramount importance, is the extension of God’s blessings to the “families of the earth” through Jacob and his descendants (Gen. 28:14b; NASB). Finally, God also promised His presence with Jacob as He guided Isaac’s younger son to the completion of His promises.
The Bible affirms in both Old and New Testaments that God made Himself known through dreams. Today, believers have two things Jacob did not have: the indwelling Holy Spirit and the inspired Word of God. Anything God reveals in dreams today will be consistent with His written Word and the internal promptings of the Holy Spirit. Thus, believers can be confident in knowing that God is with them and guides them to fulfill His purposes for them.
Presence Realized (28:16-19)
When Jacob awoke from his dream, he uttered words that would be echoed down through the centuries as generations of believers discovered after-the-fact that God had been with them all along. He proclaimed, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16). Jacob was struck with a sense of reverential fear for the place, calling it the “house of God” and the “gate of heaven” (28:17). He set up the stone, which had been his pillow the previous night, as a sacred pillar, anointing it with oil. This action marked in a tangible way the spot as a special place. Jacob then gave this place of the LORD’s special revelation a new name, Bethel, meaning “the house of God” (28:18-19).
Believers can joyfully and gratefully commemorate God’s working in their lives. My personal Bethel is a creek bank behind my parent’s home in Virginia where God began to draw me as a teenager to Himself. No experience in life can match those moments when we realize that we are in the presence of our Creator and Redeemer.
Commitment Made (28:20-22)
Having anointed the pillar or standing stone, Jacob made a vow of commitment to God. In essence, Jacob vowed to acknowledge the LORD as his God. This vow was a strong affirmation of faith. However, Jacob began the vow by saying “if,” making the vow conditional. If God be will be with me, if God will keep me on this journey, if God will give me food and garments, if God will allow me to return to my father’s house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. What God had affirmed in the dream, Jacob conditionalized in his vow. In fairness to Jacob, his words could indicate a positive affirmation of God’s promise or a resignation to the fact that only when Jacob returned to his father’s house would God’s promises be confirmed.
God reveals His plans to Christ-followers today through His written Word and through the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. When He does, believers are to take steps of faith in response to God’s speaking to them. Firm commitments based on God’s Word guide us.
VanHorn is Dean of the Mississippi College School of Christian Studies and the Arts.