GENESIS-SERIES : NR 27
Genesis 28: Jacob’s ladder
The Lord God has a way of shaping and moulding the lives of His people even before they truly get to know Him. For example, one can see no sign of repentance in Jacob before chapter 28. In Gen 27:20 he still talks about “your God”. But in Gen 28:21 He makes the confession: “The Lord will be MY God”.
Jacob on the way to Haran appears to be just the same as Saul on the road to Damascus – very religious, but without personal faith-trust and repentance. Both Jacob and Saul were arrested from heaven by a God given vision which would completely change their lives. And yet, the Lord had been moulding and shaping them long before. Because both had already been chosen by God for salvation before creation. Although they did not know Him, He knew them even before their birth (c.f. Gal 1:15).
1JACOB SAYS FAREWELL AND ESAU IS FRUSTRATED
Jacob and His mother Rebekah, could not have foreseen what the results would be should their plan to deceive Isaac succeed (previous chapter). Esau held a grudge and planned to take revenge by killing Jacob. The separation between Rebekah and Isaac and Esau is greater than ever. Jacob had to flee, but they would never have thought that he would never see his mother again. He would return only after 20 years had passed, and according to all indications she had already died by then.
At the end of chapter 27, Rebekah used guile to manipulate Isaac to get him to send Jacob to Haran, to her brother Laban – to take a wife from there, because she could not – according to her – endure living with Esau’s Hittite wives. If Jacob also should come home with a Canaanite woman, her life would not be worth living – she tells Isaac. In this way she manipulates Isaac so that he could not but send Jacob away. While she knew full well the real reason for Jacob’s departure. Then Isaac sends Jacob away with the instruction to go and take himself a wife from the daughters of his uncle Laban.
Esau hears about this and for the first time in 37 years he realizes that his foreign wives displeased his parents. So he goes to Ishmael, his father’s half-brother and take a wife for himself there. Only in an effort to remain in his father’s favour, because he was very unsure of himself and unsure of his father’s love. But by doing that he intermarries with the Ishmaelites and the Ishmael-Esau-line merges – in what we know today – as the Arabian nations.
Esau and Jacob was therefore never taught by their parents that to take a wife from the pagan Canaanite nation was in opposition to the Lord’s will for His people. This instruction of Isaac’s to Jacob was hopelessly too late and ill-timed. Jacob was now already 77 years old. And Esau had at that time already been married to His pagan Hittite wives for 37 years.
We can therefore, suppose that Isaac’s spiritual training of his sons in the ways of the Lord were very deficient.
From the blessing Isaac spoke over Jacob, we can defer that he made peace with the fact that the covenant-promises of God to Abraham would pass through Jacob, and not Esau. It was the blessing of the Abrahamic-covenant that Isaac spoke over Jacob.
We must keep in mind that Jacob was not blessed because he was the hero, and Esau was not rejected because he was the villain. Romans 9 makes it clear that God chose Jacob and rejected Esau without any observance of their works (9:11-12).
Esau was in the same position as any other unbelieving person belonging outwardly to the covenant whose heart was not made alive by the Spirit. He was not MORE lost and MORE depraved than any other sinner. Rom 3:10 says that there is NO ONE righteous and NO ONE who seeks God. NO natural human can grasp spiritual realities, and understand God’s love. Neither could Esau. He constantly looked for his father‘s approval and favour. That is why he married the Ishmaelite women. He wanted to gain his father’s favour, but acted contrary to the will of God, because Ishmael was (in God’s perspective) symbolic of the specific thing that God hates namely the self-do action of man to find favour with God (the works of the flesh). Ishmael was born out of the self-do plan of Abraham and Sarah. It is clear that Esau did not understand these spiritual principles. And the reason why he did not understand it, was that God chose to pass him by and leave him in the dark – where he was just like any other person who was ever born. That is what Romans 9 clearly teaches.
Jacob was in the very same darkness, but God chose to bring him to life – spiritually. It is God’s free right, because He does not owe anything to anyone. He is the Potter, not man. Man is the clay. That is why Jacob could come to faith-trust. Because God had chosen him. Not because he had better qualities than Esau. God Himself must receive the honour at ALL times. He must receive honour and glory for the fact that He passed by some in His eternal decree. Glory to God! Praise Him for His holy, righteous judgments! He must also receive honour and praise for the fact that He pardoned some in His eternal decree. Honour to God! Praise Him for His undeserved love and favour!
2JACOB LEAVES HOME AND RECEIVES A VISION
Jacob was quite alone on his way to Haran. It is clear that he had come to the end of his tether. His self-confidence had received a blow. Now he was fragile before the Lord and broken in his pride and self-righteousness. All of that was the work of the Spirit and grace. The Lord was busy bringing him to the point where he would know that self-endeavour does not bring one to the true God. We have to be found by Him, and then rest in His words of promise. Then the true blessing of God enters our lives. Before chapter 28, Jacob was the kind of person who tried to gain God’s favour by self-endeavour and self-effort. But in Genesis 28, the seeker is found! He is found while he is sleeping – and therefore impassive and unable to perform or do anything! It is in repentance and REST where there is salvation, and quietness and trust is our strength, says Isaiah 30:15.
And then Jacob received a dream from the Lord, of a stairway that reached from the earth right up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it, and God standing above it.
And the Lord spoke to Jacob and gave him renewed assurance of His covenant-promises to Abraham and Isaac. It confirmed therefore that the coming of the Messiah would be realized through Jacob.
Those words of God in verses 13-15 are so moving. In those three verses He seven times told Jacob what HE would do. It is in other words, a covenant-promise of the LORD who is at work, and Jacob who is to trust and receive. These promises were not contingent upon Jacob’s achievements. They were promises of free gracious favour. And it mostly concerned the LAND which would be given to the descendants of Jacob. The issue of land was important because it would eventually be the place where the Messiah would be born and crucified. Yes the promises may have sounded very earthly, but in fact it was all about the Messiah who was to come.
When Jacob woke up, he suddenly realized that the place where he was sleeping was holy ground and he called it Bethel, which means “house of God”.
Jacob reacted by doing three things (verses 18-22):
1> He set the stone that he had placed under his head to sleep, as a memorial. The PLACE was important. There was a place where the Lord promised to bless. And today this principle is still important – not to be in the wrong place. These days people say it is not important to be in the worship service, because the Lord can just as well be worshiped at the golf course. The place is not important. Yet that is not what Heb 10:25 is saying. In that verse the Holy Spirit is saying that the believer must NOT side-step the meetings of worship of the congregation. There is a certain PLACE where God promised to speak and to bless.
2> Jacob made a vow, saying: “IF God will do all those things He promised, He will be MY God”. The IF sounds as if Jacob was twisting God’s unconditional promises around making it conditional… IF God this and that, then I will so and so… But the IF should rather be translated into SINCE. “Since the Lord promised this and that, I will so and so….”
Although Jacob had to learn – just as we have to learn today – that the sincere expression of faith does not imply a road strewn with roses! For the next 20 years Jacob walked a tough road, and His uncle Laban gave him a good dose of his own medicine. To become a Christian-believer does not mean a guarantee for good times. Yes, you and I receive the assurance of forgiveness and of God’s faithfulness. And with THAT we have to walk the tough road. That is TRUE Biblical Christianity!
3> Jacob made a promise: “ I will return, and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and I will give you a tenth of all I have”. The reason He was so resolute to return was because the Lord sealed and confirmed His covenant-promises with the vision of the ladder going up into heaven. With that the Lord gave Jacob the assurance that the ground where he found himself, was the place where heaven and earth met. It was the ground/place where God would one day become human in Christ, and where man would once more receive free access to God. That ground was the entrance way to heaven. Of course, Jacob did not understand it 100% the way we understand it today – as we have the testimony of the NT. But Jacob understood enough to realize that he would return to that promised land, because it was there where God’s eternal promises would be fulfilled. This was the land where God’s blessing would be poured out over His chosen nation and where the Lord Jesus would eventually come.
We must not pass this section without pausing at John 1:51 with the Lord’s words to Nathanael. Because there Jesus is referring to this dream Jacob received, but He gives it new meaning for us to realize that there was more to that dream than Jacob realized.
Nathanael thought to himself how it could be possible that the Messiah could have come from a little town like Nazareth. And indeed, the Messiah did come from Nazareth. Quite correct, Nathanael. But Nathanael, you focus too much on the place, the ground, the land. Jesus said to Nathanael: “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”!
Jesus says to Nathanael: “You are almost like Jacob who saw the vision of the ladder, but then became obsessed with the GROUND, the land upon which the ladder stood. Nathanael, you must realize that I AM the ladder!”
Suddenly it was not the ground/land that was the most important, but the ladder – which is a Person – Jesus himself! HE is the fulfillment of the vision Jacob saw. Not a ladder, but the Son of God Himself bridging the distance between heaven and earth. It is through Him that remorseful sinners are reconciled with God (heaven). God therefore came down to man in the Person of Christ.
All non-Christian religions teach that man should try to climb up to heaven according to directions they prescribe. But the message of the Bible is exactly the opposite (and therefore the unique truth!): By grace God left heaven and came down to earth! And Jacob already grasped something about this. But Jesus fully revealed it to us. The Scriptures are truly wonderful beyond expression!
Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh