“The Blessing Conveyed to Jacob”
Lesson Text: Genesis 28:1a, 10-22
Background Scripture: Genesis 27, 28; 32:22-30; 35:9-15
Devotional Reading: John 4:1-15
Genesis 28:1a, 10-22 (KJV)
1a And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him.
10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13 And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.
17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
20 And Jacob vowed 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 raiment to put on,
21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God:
22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
To understand how the blessing of God that originated with Abraham was conveyed to Jacob.
To recognize that God’s promises are everlasting, and His Word will be fulfilled.
Don’t let the pain of life lead you to waver your trust in God. Remember this foundational spiritual truth: God is unchanging in His commitment to helping you through the tough times (cf. Heb. 13:5-8).
If? Because? Regardless?
It is interesting to classify levels of faith by the following three words: If, Because, or Regardless. Examples of the three levels abound.
The "if" level. This level is characterized by an attitude of "If (and only if) God will do this, then I will do that." Some people bargain with God to coax Him to do what they want. In other words, their obedience to God is conditional. A statement by Jacob that is part of the current lesson may seem, at first glance, to demonstrate this level. We will evaluate this in our discussion of Genesis 28:20, 21.
The "because" level. We may perceive this level of faith in passages such as Exodus 18:11; Judges 17:13; 1 Kings 17:24; and 2 Kings 5:15. Particularly interesting is Job 1:9-11. There Satan claims that Job fears God because God has blessed him so much; but if God were to remove the blessings, then Job would curse God. Job proved that his faith was not what Satan thought. Instead, Job's faith was at the next level.
The "regardless" level. Job 13:15 speaks to this level of faith. This level also is demonstrated by Daniel's three friends who refused to bow to an idol near Babylon. The three men stated that God was able to deliver them; but even if God chose not to deliver them, they still would not bow to the image (Daniel 3:16-18).
These three levels of faith and the current lesson text invite each of us to consider this question: Which level of faith describes my own?
Time: 1928 B.C.
The final segment of the last week’s lesson (A Blessing for Ishmael and Isaac) saw Isaac becoming ever more prosperous (Genesis 26:13). That prosperity, however, brought negative consequences in the forms of jealousy, sabotage, and expulsion (vv. 14-16). As a result, Isaac ended up moving to the southeast, toward Beersheba (v. 23), a place where his father, Abraham, had lived.
It was at Beersheba that the elderly Isaac decided that it was time for him to give the formal patriarchal blessing to his older son, Esau (Genesis 27:4). This was in spite of the fact that God had told Rebekah that the older would serve the younger (25:23). Isaac may have reasoned that Esau should have the blessing because Esau already had wives (26:34) whereas Jacob was still a bachelor.
Things did not go as Isaac had planned because Rebekah schemed for Jacob to receive the blessing instead (Genesis 27:5-29). This was accomplished, but then Esau threatened to kill his brother (27:41). Rebekah heard about the threat, and she developed a plan to put her favored son (Jacob) 550 miles away: she appealed to Isaac that Jacob should return to her relatives in Haran in order to secure a proper wife (26:34, 35; 27:46). Our lesson describes Jacob’s journey, his encounter with God along the way, and God’s conveying of blessing upon Jacob.
ISAAC’S BLESSING OF JACOB (Genesis 28:1a)
1a. How did Isaac’s blessings for Jacob (the younger son), over Esau come about? (Genesis 27:27-29; 28:1a)
According to ancient custom, the oldest son enjoyed special privileges even while his father was still alive. Then, at the father’s death, the birthright entitled the older son to a double portion of the inheritance as well as superiority over the rest of the family. In Isaac’s clan, the birthright also included the promises of Abraham’s covenant made by God. Genesis 25:29-34 recounts how Esau bartered away his inheritance rights to Jacob. According to 27: 1-40, sometime later, Jacob used blackmail and deceit to take Esau’s blessing from him.
However, that blessing was for prosperity and dominance (Genesis 27:27-29). The blessing we see here (today’s lesson, Gen. 28:1) is for Jacob to find a proper wife. Rebekah has expressed to Isaac, her husband, her displeasure with Esau's wives (known in 26:34, 35). They are "daughters of Heth" (27:46); Heth is the ancestor of the Hittites (10:15; 23:10; 26:34).
Genesis 28:1b-5 (not in today's text) describes Isaac's instructions for Jacob to secure a wife in far away Padanaram. Verses 6-9 reveal Esau's sensitivity about his parents' feelings toward his wives; in an attempt to compensate, he marries a first cousin, a daughter of Ishmael.
1b. What other reason did Jacob leave his home to go to Haran? (Genesis 28:10)
Jacob leaves Beersheba in fear for his life! "Don't get mad, get even" is a popular philosophy, especially among politicians, but Esau practiced both: He carried a hateful grudge against his brother and planned to kill him. After all, if Esau couldn't enjoy the blessing, neither would Jacob. The man who was destined to live by his sword would start by using it first at home (Gen. 27:38-41).
Always close to the family grapevine, Rebekah heard the threat and moved into action. Her plan was to send Jacob to Haran to live with her brother Laban and then send for him when it was safe for him to return home.
JACOB’S DREAM (Genesis 28:11-15)
2. Describe Jacob’s preparation for his overnight stay in Luz? (v. 11)
Travel at night is difficult and unwise in an era before streetlights. Therefore, it is time to stop when the sun sets. The certain place where Jacob stops is named Luz, which Jacob will rename Bethel per verse 19, below. This is almost 60 miles from Jacob's starting point in Beersheba, so this is probably his second or third night on the road, depending on his speed of travel.
Two meals per day are customary, and perhaps Jacob has the second of these before bedding down for the night. His meal may be something his mother prepared for him, which is possible at this stage of the journey. But Jacob will have to live off the land as the journey progresses (v. 20).
Jacob sets up stones to use for pillows and then laid down to sleep for the night. His use of a stone to support his head may seem strange to us, but in ancient times, stones and even pieces of metal were commonly used as headrests. In a short while, what looked like an ordinary object would be transformed into a sanctuary, for Jacob would come to regard it as the residence of God (v. 22).
3. What did Jacob dream about that night? (vs. 12-13a)
Jacob's sleep this night involves dreaming, and this becomes a spiritual highlight. This is the first of several times that the Lord communicates directly with Jacob. As Jacob looks he sees the angels of God ascending and descending on some kind of ladder or stairway to Heaven. Jacob's dream has angels moving in both directions between Heaven and earth. Jesus used phrases from this verse in his discussion with Nathanael (see John 1:51).
Jacob is probably aware of the pagan concepts of ancient ziggurats, which had sets of stairs to connect different levels of the gods to come down from Heaven. If he is, then he realizes that what he sees in his dream is different from paganism in an important way: the Lord is standing above the ladder, and there is no movement on His part to come to earth.
As Jacob slept, he had a dream in which he saw a ladder or stairway with angels going up and down between heaven and earth. Jacob discovered that he wasn't alone but that God was with him! The God of Abraham and Isaac was watching over him and His angels were there to guard and serve him (see Heb. 1:14).
4. How does God identify Himself to Jacob in the dream, and what promise does He make to Jacob? (vs. 13-15)
God identified Himself to Jacob as “the Lord God” of Abraham and Isaac and repeated the covenant He had given to Jacob’s grandfather and father. In particular, Jacob and his descendants would inherit Canaan (Gen. 28:13). Moreover, Jacob’s offspring would become as numerous as the dust of the earth. Indeed, they would cover the promised land from east to west and from north to south.
Furthermore, all the families of the earth would be blessed through Jacob and his descendants (v. 14). The idea is that the patriarch and his offspring would become a channel or source of blessing for others. It’s also possible this verse is declaring that others would regard Jacob as a noteworthy example of divine blessing. In this case, they would use his name and that of his descendants as they pronounced blessings on one another (see Gen. 48:20; Ruth 4:11).
When Jacob first began his trip to Haran, he must have been wondering about many things. What would become of him? Would he ever see his home again? Was he really in line to receive the covenant blessings? In the dream, the Lord addressed Jacob’s concerns. God was not like pagan deities, whom people of the day believed protected them only within specific regions. The Lord promised to be with Jacob and sustain him wherever he traveled. Moreover, God pledged to bring Jacob back to Canaan, the promised land. In fact, the Lord would be with Jacob constantly, ensuring that all the covenant promises were fulfilled (Gen. 28:15).
JACOB REACTS (Genesis 28:16-22)
5. How did Jacob respond when he awoke from the dream? (vs. 16-17)
When Jacob woke up, he realized that the Lord was in the place where he had been resting, and Jacob had not even been aware of it (Gen. 28:16). Given the solemnity of the occasion, Jacob was understandably afraid. The emotion was most likely a mixture of terror, reverence, and adoration. He reasoned that the spot where he lodged for the night was especially holy. The locale was awesome, being none other than the “house of God” (or dwelling place), the gateway of heaven (v. 17).
What Do You Think?
In what places or situations have you sensed God's presence where you otherwise felt isolated? Why was that?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
During a military deployment | During a personal crisis | While convalescing
During a family conflict | Other
6. How did Jacob commemorate the event? (vs. 18-19)
A custom then as now is to erect memorials to commemorate events, battles, etc. Large stone pillars or slabs of stone are used to help both present and future generations remember what happened in a place. What Jacob is doing here fits this pattern (see also Genesis 31:45-53; 35:1-15, 20).
The next act involving Jacob's memorial stone is to dedicate or consecrate it. This is done by pouring oil on the top of the stone. Oil is connected with consecration or anointing in many places in the Old Testament; the one we see here is the first.
Jacob’s act was to worship the God who had appeared to him… He didn't use the stone as an altar or make a sacrifice; he simply set it apart as a memorial.
Next, Jacob called the place “Bethel” (Gen. 28:19), which means “house of God” in Hebrew. Prior to this episode, the town had been called “Luz,” which means “almond tree.” Bethel was located in the hill country of Canaan, about 12 miles north of Jebus (later Jerusalem) and close to Ai.
7. What vow did Jacob make because of the promises given to him? (vs. 20-22)
Jacob's final decision involves something that is not recorded in the Bible until now: the making of a vow to God. While many people today attempt to negotiate terms with God, that does not seem to be the case for Jacob. For Jacob, the context of his situation is one of appreciation, not the "if" level of faith that was cited in the lesson Introduction. The Lord’s promise always to be with Jacob was so meaningful to him that he vowed to make Yahweh his God. Jacob did not ask the Lord for either fame or riches. In a sense, Jacob was establishing a personal relationship with God. Jacob was taking the Lord at His word concerning His promises (Gen. 28:15). The patriarch translated the general promises God had made into specifics relating to his situation. Jacob would trust the Lord to remain with him, protect him on his journey, give him food and clothing, and one day bring him back safely to Canaan (vs. 20-21).
By reiterating the covenantal promises, Jacob claimed them as his own. He then designated the stone column as “God’s house” (v. 22). Expressed differently, the pillar would serve as a memorial and place for worshiping the Lord. Jacob also pledged to give the Lord one-tenth of his possessions. By this act the patriarch expressed his gratitude to God, and declared his willingness to commit everything to the Lord in wholehearted trust.
Jacob’s experience at Bethel had a profound effect on his life. Years after his first visit to this locale, when he fled from Laban, his father-in-law, Jacob received another divine revelation from the God of Bethel (31:13). Jacob eventually returned to Bethel when he came back to the promised land (35:1-14). It was there that God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which permanently linked the city that grew there to him and his future descendants (v. 10).
POINTS TO PONDER
1. God can and will direct us in the midst of our life’s seemingly darkest, fear-inducing moments. (Gen. 28:10-12).
2. We can trust God because His promises are everlasting. (vs. 13-15).
3. God’s interacting moments in our lives certainly demands a decision, our remembrance, reverence, and worship (vs. 16-19). You might not have any stones laying around, but journaling is great way to remember His goodness and kindness!
4. Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in His sight (Gen 28:20-22; c.f. Psalm 19:14).
We would like to know more about Jacob's mind-set as he left Beersheba. His brother intended to kill him, and he had to leave for his own safety. His scheming had not produced what he had wanted, so he ended up on the road, alone.
In some cases, it is a good thing to have everything go wrong and to end up at the bottom. From this position it is easier to look up to God and to trust in Him. Even then, some people seem to experience more than their "share" of poverty and/or persecution. To be a Christian in some cultures is to be oppressed continually.
Regardless of the situations of life, the real question is: What responses to my situation will be pleasing to God? Jacob made good choices at Bethel. Each person has choices to make in "the house of God." What will yours be?
Heavenly Father, I want to honor You in all circumstances. Please grant me the wisdom to make right choices throughout this day, in Jesus' name. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
"The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Psalm 46:7).