God's presence transforms our life's journey.
Genesis(93) (Part of the Origins(91) series)
by Stuart Johns(204) on August 7, 2022 (Sunday Morning(291))
Giving(4), Omnipresent(2), Promises(11), Salvation(68)
“As [one researcher has] described it, our brain blinds our mind to the unusual. For instance, in one study, researchers put a clown on a unicycle in the path of pedestrians. The researchers asked people who walked passed the clown if they had noticed anything unusual. Everybody saw him unless they had been on their cell phone. Three out of every four people who had been using their phone did not see the clown. They looked back in astonishment, unable to believe they had missed him. They had looked straight at him but had not registered his presence. The unicycling clown crossed their paths but not their minds.”
Source: Kevin Ashton, How to Fly a Horse (Doubleday, 2015), page 97.
Walking our dog
I had a similar situation recently when walking our dog, Red
We were at the top of the orchard by the cornfield and I was looking at my cell phone, when I heard loud hoof steps
I looked up just in time to see the tail end of a deer
I couldn’t tell how big it was and I never saw the head to know whether it was buck or a doe
When Red and I made it back down to the garden, Judy told me that a large, trophy buck had come running down out of the orchard, crossed the bridge, saw her in the garden, turned right and ran along the creek, crossed Peach Glen/Idaville Road, and went into the woods
I’m fairly certain that was the deer that Red and I saw the tail end of
Had I not been looking at my cell phone, I may have seen that buck for myself
Other times I’ve missed seeing things
That is not the first time I have missed seeing something because of looking at my cell phone
Judy points stuff out to me from time-to-time, but I’ve missed it because of looking at something on my cell phone
Cell phones – how many of us have missed seeing certain things because of looking at our cell phones?
Other distractions – cell phones are the only thing that distracts us from seeing things (it can happen when we are driving, it can happen while reading the newspaper or a magazine, it can happen while focusing on a conversation with another person, or having our back turned when something happens)
We can be distracted in our spiritual journey by the busyness of life (health issues, family dynamics, financial concerns, school, fears, anxiety, depression, addictions, etc.) and miss that God is present with us in all of those situations
Jacob is on the run from his brother and on a mission to find a wife when God transforms his trek. The Lord appears to him in a dream and promises him several things. Jacob then worships the Lord and makes a vow to the Lord. The author of Genesis wants us to understand today that . . .
BIG IDEA – God’s presence transforms our life’s journey.
GOD (Genesis 28:10-22)
Introduction (v. 10)
There is no need to restate who Jacob is supposed to go to in Paddan Aram/Haran, since Isaac had just mentioned it at the beginning of this chapter
The original hearer would have listened to the entire book of Genesis at one setting and not broken into multiple messages like we are doing, so just mentioning that Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran, is enough
It tells us what we need to know – Jacob was obedient to the command that Isaac had given him
This section of Scripture gives us more detail about Jacob’s journey
It expands what the author says in Genesis 28:5, Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau
This verse makes it sound like Jacob left and arrived, with no details about the journey in between
Interesting enough, the only narrative about his journey is this section about the dream he has in a certain place (he names it Bethel)
Dream (vv. 11-15)
Jacob had traveled a couple of days from Beersheba (about 60 miles) when he came to a certain place
At this point, Jacob is not aware of the significance of the place where he stops for the night
It is just a random place that he chose because the sun was going down
It was not a random place for the sovereign Lord
Jacob will understand that after his dream
The sun was setting, so he decided to stop for the night and sleep there
He took a stone and used it as a pillow
The literal translation is that Jacob “put it at his head-place”
Most translations say that he put it under his head
Other translations say that he put it near his head
“Our text’s description, however, may indicate simply that ‘the stones of the place’ were positioned nearby the head (cf. 1 Sam 19:13, 16; 26:7, 11, 16; 1 Kgs 19:6). This appears to be the interpretation of the LXX (pros kephalās autou, ‘on the side of’ or ‘at his head’), which renders the Hebrew consistently at each Old Testament passage, including 28:11, 18. If this is the proper interpretation, the stones provided a makeshift enclosure for his head.” [Mathews, The New American Commentary, Volume 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 449]
If the stones were “at his head” he could use them for protection in the middle of the night or to keep critters from crawling around his head while he slept
Whether the stone(s) were used for a pillow or protection is not what is most important
Scholars are torn about what Jacob saw in his dream
Some say it was a ladder and others say it was a stairway like one would find on the side of a ziggurat
Because the Hebrew word is so unique, it is hard to translate with certainty
In our finite human minds, we more readily choose the image of a stairway, because we cannot fathom angels ascending and descending on a ladder at the same time
We can wrap our minds around a stairway that would be wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic
The stairway was resting on the earth
The literal translation of the Hebrew is, “placed toward the earth” [Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary, 390]
The literal translation helps us to understand that the stairway originated in heaven and not on earth
“[T]he impression is made that the narrator wishes to express that the communication between heaven and earth is established by an initiative from on high, on [the] part of God. The contact between heaven and earth exists by the grace of God.” [Houtman cited by Waltke, 390]
“Jesus is now the nexus between God and humankind.” [Hamilton, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 250]
Jesus referenced this dream sequence in when talking to Nathanael in John, chapter 1
Read John 1:47-51
Jesus is now the “ladder” between heaven and earth
1 Timothy 2:5, For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
Ephesians 2:18, For through him [Jesus] we both have access to the Father by one Spirit
Romans 3:23; 6:23
Read John 3:16-18
#1 – My Next Step Today Is To: Believe in Jesus and receive God’s eternal life.
This is great news for us today
During Jacob’s dream the stairway was in use by the angels of God
We know that angels are God’s messengers
Those descending were probably taking messages from God to his created beings
The angels ascending were reporting back to God
“The angels upon it carry up the wants of men to God, and bring down the assistance and protection of God to men.” [Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 1, The Pentateuch, 180]
The Lord is a part of this dream also
The Lord’s position
There is discussion amongst scholars as to where the Lord is standing
Some believe that He is standing at the top of the stairway, which is conceivable, as He would be directing the angels who are coming and going
Others believe that He is beside Jacob at the bottom of the stairway, and they reference the fact that the author uses the word “said” instead of “called” and that Jacob then mentions that the Lord is in this place
Once again the location of the Lord is secondary to the message/promise from the Lord
“The same God who had cared for his father and grandfather pledged to care for him and to give him the very land on which he was lying.” [Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Pentateuch, 124]
Property (v. 13b)
The Lord promised to give Jacob and his descendants the land that he was lying on
This is the Promised Land
Progeny (v. 14)
Jacob’s descendants will be like the dust of the earth
This is just another way of restating the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 22:17 (stars in the sky, sand on the seashore)
He was going to have many descendants
They were going to spread out in all directions throughout the Promised Land
Everyone on earth will be blessed through Jacob and his offspring
“This is the same promise given to Abraham. When Abraham received the promise, he was married but childless; Jacob has not yet even found a bride.” [Waltke, 391]
Presence (v. 15a, d)
The Lord says He is with Jacob
This would have been encouraging for Jacob, especially since he had been deceptive with his father and brother
Perhaps Jacob wondered if God was with him, because of his sin
We may be wondering the same thing today, “Is God with us, because of our sin?”
PRINCIPLE #1 – God is always with His people.
The problem is that our unconfessed sin separates us from the Lord
Isaiah 59:2, But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Hebrews 13:5b-6, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Whatever you are going through today – financial, physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual – the Lord is with you!
#2 – My Next Step Today Is To: Claim the promise that God is always with me and will never turn His back on me.
The Lord promises not to leave Jacob until He has done what He has promised
Jacob could have confidence that the Lord would provide property, progeny, protection and preservation, because the Lord always keeps His promises
We can have the same confidence, today, that Jacob had
PRINCIPLE #2 – God always keeps His promises.
2 Peter 3:8-9, But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
The Lord provides promises to His people throughout Scripture
We can have confidence that He will keep those promises to us
#3 – My Next Step Today Is To: Trust that the Lord will keep His promises to me.
The Lord not only promised His presence with Jacob, but also His protection
Protection (v. 15b)
The Lord’s protection would be with Jacob wherever he went
This promise did not have geographical boundaries
The Lord was not going to protection Jacob only in the Promised Land
His protection would extend to Haran (Mesopotamia)
The Lord’s protection does not have geographical boundaries for us either – He is with us wherever we go
Joshua 1:9, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Matthew 28:20, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
We can claim the promise of God’s protection, because He is with us wherever we go
Preservation (v. 15c)
God promised to bring Jacob back to the Promised Land
Since He had promised to give Jacob the land where he was lying down, it only makes sense that the Lord would bring him back to the land
Jacob had to go away to mature and develop in his faith
Once that process was complete, the Lord would bring him back to the Promised Land
“Lest Jacob harbor any remaining doubt about his father’s words issued earlier in this chapter, he now had direct confirmation from on high.” [Gangel & Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary, Genesis, 235]
All of this took place while Jacob was dreaming, but he is about to wake up
Devotion (vv. 16-19)
Jacob’s first thought after waking up was that the Lord was in this place, but he was not aware of it
“Not that the omnipresence of God was unknown to him; but that Jehovah in His condescending mercy should be near to him even here, far away from his father’s house and from the places consecrated to His worship, – it was this which he did not know or imagine.” [Keil & Delitzsch, 181]
“An atheist and a Christian were engaged in an intense public debate. On the blackboard behind the podium, the atheist printed in large capital letters, ‘GOD IS NO WHERE.’ When the Christian rose to offer his rebuttal, he rubbed out the W at the beginning of where and added that letter to the preceding word no. Then the statement read, ‘GOD IS NOW HERE.’”
Vernon Grounds, Radical Commitment. Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 7.
Jacob realized that the Lord was present everywhere
PRINCIPLE #3 – God is omnipresent!
This is one of God’s many attributes
This attribute is still true of Him today
He is present with us, no matter where we are
He is with us at home, at work, at school, on vacation, on a mission trip, on a business trip, at the grocery store, at the gas station, at a restaurant, etc.
This is a truth that should bring us great peace
The Lord’s presence brought fear to Jacob
Jacob was afraid
Perhaps Jacob was afraid, because he realized the sin of deception was known by the Lord
The presence of the holy Lord made Jacob acutely aware of his sinfulness
Jacob recognized that he was in God’s house, the gate of heaven – it was an awesome place!
Have you ever experienced the presence of God in His creation and thought to yourself, “This is such an awesome place!”
When you are struggling with something, you may return to that place to find solace, peace, and comfort
It is a place where you can slow down and focus on the Lord and His presence with you
It’s a place where God’s presence transforms your life’s journey
The only appropriate response for Jacob, when he realizes God’s presence, is worship
We are not told if Jacob went back to sleep after waking up from the dream, but we know that early the next morning he made a memorial to commemorate what he had experienced
He took the pillow and made it into a pillar
He consecrated it by pouring oil on it
Then he named the place Bethel, which means “house of God”
PRINCIPLE #4 – God is pleased when we create ways to remember His presence with us and His promises to us.
What “pillars” have you set up to remember to worship the Lord for His presence with you and/or promises to you?
These are not idols to worship, but rather things that remind us of what God has done for us, so we can worship Him
Perhaps a decoration that you purchase reminds you of what the Lord has done for you (picture, sculpture, another object, etc.)
I want to encourage you to consider ways in which you can be reminded of God’s goodness to you and His presence with you
Those items can help to focus you when times get difficult, because they are reminders of a faithful God who is always with you and promises to provide and protect you
Jacob worshiped the Lord, but he also made a declaration to the Lord in the form of a vow
Declaration (vv. 20-22)
The vow that Jacob makes is not a bargain with God
“Jacob was asking no more than the fulfillment of God’s self-imposed obligations delivered in the dream sequence (v. 15).” [Mathews, 454]
“Jacob is throwing himself on God’s mercy, not calculating whether to accept God.” [Hamilton, 248]
The “if . . . then” statement can also be translated, “since”
When translated as “since,” the statement moves from sounding like a bargain with God to an affirmation of faith in God [Wiersbe, 124]
Jacob is affirming that God will:
Be with him
Provide for him
Preserve him (bring him back to the Promised Land)
Jacob knows that the Lord is able to do all of things
[Read vv. 20-21 with “since” replacing “if” and removing “then”]
Jacob’s promises to God
The Lord will be his God
He will build a shrine of worship
The stone pillar is where Jacob will establish a place of worship to the Lord, when he returns
We know that Bethel was established as a place of worship
He will tithe a tenth of his holdings
Jacob’s wealth would eventually be in flocks and herds, which he will offer as sacrifices to the Lord at Bethel
This is a voluntary tithe to the Lord and not something that was forced upon him
A tenth of our income as a tithe to the Lord is a great principle and starting point, but it is not taught in the New Testament
“The principle now is: ‘Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2 Cor. 9:6; cf. Gal. 6:9). Christians are to do so eagerly, generously, and cheerfully, the amount depending on one’s level of prosperity . . . Our practice should reflect the abundant generosity called for in the New Testament. But all too often, Christians tithe in order not to give too much and pastors teach tithing to assure that people give enough!” [Waltke, 397-98]
Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
PRINCIPLE #5 – God’s desire is that we honor Him through our giving.
Jacob was willing to voluntarily commit a tenth of his holdings as a tithe, because He knew that the Lord would keep His promises to him
His tithe was a recognition of his gratitude to the Lord for the promise of property, progeny, presence, protection, and preservation
I have one simple question for every one today – does your giving to the Lord show your gratitude to Him for his promise of property, progeny, presence, protection, and preservation?
Each individual has to answer that question for themselves
#4 – My Next Step Today Is To: Give to the Lord in such a way that it shows my gratitude for all that He has done for me.
God’s presence with Jacob transformed his life’s journey
God’s presence transforms our life’s journey.
Are you ready to believe in Jesus and receive God’s eternal life?
Do you need to claim the promise of God’s presence with you today?
Do you need to trust that the Lord will keep His promises to you?
Does your giving reflect a heart of gratitude for all that the Lord has done for you?
We can claim the promise of God’s presence with us as a body of believers
We need to trust that God will keep His promises to us
Our giving as a church should reflect our gratitude to the Lord for all He has done for us
“Spiritual experiences are not a matter of finding God, nor are they a matter of waiting till God fairly screams, ‘Look, here I am!’ Spiritual experiences surround us. We fall over them dozens of times a day. We can't avoid them if we try. A spiritual experience is simply a matter of recognizing and acknowledging our relationship to God in whatever is going on in our lives at the moment. God is involved in all we do and does not pop in and out of our lives. We live surrounded by God. We live and breathe God just as we live and breathe air. To know that either air or God is present, we need only to pause and reflect for an instant to see that we are immersed in them.”
Source: Fr. Gerald Weber in U.S. Catholic (March 1992). Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 8.