Amidst the plethora of junk mail that households receive, I noticed an advert for a portable ladder that could be used for emergencies. The catchy title of "A ladder that could save your life" made me think that Jacob could echo a similar sentiment from his experiences in Genesis 28! However, prior to dipping into some of the specific lessons that we learn from Jacob, there are a number of general truths. For instance, the chapter is rich in detail concerning the character of God, with emphasis placed on His power (Gen 28.3: El Shaddai cp. 17.1) and promise (Gen 28.13: Jehovah, the covenant keeping God). The people of God, described in Genesis 28.3 as a multitude, should be first and foremost a composition of like-minded individuals with a desire to serve God. The angels of God, worthy of a study in themselves, are portrayed in the narrative as heavenly servants who work on behalf of God and His earthly people (Gen 28.12 cp. Heb 1.14). The future ministry of the Son of God is also implied, for how else could Jacob bless the earth (Gen 28.14) other than via the Messiah who would come from his seed (Jn 4.22,42). Our primary focus, however, is on the child of God (Jacob) as the chapter commences his spiritual pilgrimage (Gen 28.4). In this regard, consider:
There is a remarkable contrast between the divided home of Genesis 27 and the same one placed under the microscope in Genesis 28. Harmony at home stems from Isaac and Rebekah working together to advise their son in marital issues (Gen 27.46; 28.1). Perhaps Jacob's parents received the same advice as I did on my wedding day couples who work together stay together! The instruction to Isaac centred on the need to leave and cleave (Gen 28.2). Jacob was to follow in the same footsteps as Isaac and take a wife from his mother's family. There can be little doubt that outside of conversion one of the most important steps for anyone is marriage, and the choice should be made the subject of much prayer.
The goodness of God is also evident as Isaac bestowed the blessing of Abraham upon Jacob (Gen 28.4) and reassured him that he would inherit the land of promise. Present-day believers can also take "pleasure in their treasure", for our inheritance is considerably greater than Jacob's (1 Pet 1.3-4). Finally, we notice the cost of consecration as Jacob the man who loved to dwell at home (Gen 25.27) is now called to leave the place of comfort and step out into the unknown. However, perhaps the recollection of his grandfather's exploits would have helped (Heb 11.8). A good friend of mine often reminds me that the Christian pathway is a battleground rather than a playground and Jacob was soon to learn that for himself.
Prior to Jacob's departure the narrative turns momentarily to Esau (Gen 28.6-9), but even here we can glean some lessons about the character of Jacob. For instance, it is intriguing to learn that Esau was keenly observing Jacob (Gen 28.6) and how his parents were pleased with him. The specific feature that impresses Esau is Jacob's obedience (Gen 28.7) and particularly his preparedness to leave home and marry someone from Rebekah's family. In response, Esau embarks on his own clean-up and marries again (Gen 28.9) but there is only marginal improvement on his earlier actions in Genesis 26.34-35 and there is still a break from God's creatorial purpose of marriage being monogamous. Nonetheless, a key lesson is the impact believers can have in their own home as they quietly witness to other family members about the power of God in their lives (cp. 1 Pet 3.1-6). Christians are open books to be read by all who encounter them.
As Jacob departed from home we can imagine the sense of vulnerability that filled his soul: Haran was seemingly a world away from Beersheba and he had only meagre possessions with him (Gen 32.10). There are times in our Christian pathway when we feel particularly susceptible to attacks from the evil one, but in reality our entire pilgrimage is marked by danger (1 Pet 2.11; 5.8). Remember that whereas Christian in Pilgrim's Progress had the arduous but brief battle with Apollyon, he experienced many other difficulties before he reached the Celestial City. Another feature of Jacob's pathway is the power of divine sovereignty, for although he may have thought that his arrival at Bethel was by chance (Gen 28.11) the narrative reveals that God was overruling. Ruth is another Bible character who can identify with the providential care of God when circumstances were divinely ordained for her good (Ruth 2.3). Emphasis on the place (Gen 28.11,16,17,19) also highlights the importance of the locality to Jacob (35.1; 48.3) and perhaps also to his grandfather (12.8; 13.3-4). One of the blessings of meditating on the Word is that we, like Jacob, can experience a sense of heaven on earth.
Only divine grace could provide such blessings as Jacob experienced in Genesis 28. The fourfold repetition of "behold" (vv.12-13,15) indicates that the revelation of Jehovah was a memorable occasion for Jacob. Though the historical appearance was in the form of a dream (Heb 1.1), God delights today to reveal Himself though His Word. A systematic and daily reading of the Scriptures is imperative to deepen our knowledge of God. The primary explanation of the vision via the ladder and angels is that God makes provision for His own. Man-made efforts to reach heaven are not only futile (Gen 11.4) but also unnecessary, for instead of man going to God He has come to us (Jn 3.13)! Given the nature and timing of this revelation (less than a fifth of the journey had been completed) we can be quite sure that Jacob welcomed the word of consolation (Gen 28.13-15). He was afforded a personal encounter with Jehovah (v.13), assured that he was the channel for divine blessing (v.14), and, irrespective of the pathway, he had the promise of divine protection (v.15). Having previously mentioned how dangerous the believer can find the Christian pathway, it is no less true to testify that we like Jacob have the Lord to fight our battles (cp. 1 Sam 17.47).
The first of Jacob's pillars was erected in Genesis 28 (vv.16-19) and this is good ground for gleaning spiritual fruit. Initially, from Jacob's commentary we observe the nearness of God for He is on earth to bless His people (cp. Acts 17.27). Jacob left home in obedience and learned the lesson that God is near His own; Jonah left in disobedience and learned the same (Jonah 1.4)! The passage also highlights the consciousness of sin as proximity to a holy God always brings a sense of uncleanness (Gen 28.17). The prophet Isaiah would say, "Amen" to this (Is 6.1-5). We all can sing with truth the words of Augustus Toplady:
Naked come to Thee for dress
Helpless look to Thee for grace
Foul I to the fountain fly
Wash me Saviour or I die.
Then as Jacob rises early in the morning to establish his pillar (Gen 28.18) we notice his promptness in service. He is not alone in this for many of God's servants are recorded as utilising the early morning to discharge their service for God. Consider the record of Abraham (Gen 22.3); Moses (Ex 24.4); Joshua (Josh 6.12); David (1 Sam 17.20); and, of course, the Perfect Servant Himself the Lord Jesus (Mk 1.35). Then, according to a past issue of Bibliotheca Sacra, the passage may also teach the truth of devotedness in worship for, as Jacob anointed the top of the pillar (Gen 28.18), the offering was clearly intended for Jehovah who had been at the top of the ladder (28.13). In the local assembly context, it is worthwhile remembering that worship is not an opportunity to impress saints with our Bible knowledge but rather a solemn occasion to draw our attention to the excellencies of Christ.
Finally, and from a typical perspective, there is surely an indication of the preciousness of Christ- Jacob's pillow became his pillar; so Christ, who has given us rest (Mt 11.28), has become the object of our worship.
In concluding our brief meditation of Jacob's experiences in Genesis 28 we observe him make a solemn vow before God (vv.20-22). Though some interpret this section as Jacob attempting to bargain with the Almighty, it seems more reasonable to suggest that he displays an attitude of gratitude. His attitude is one of reflection as he considers the events and promises of the previous evening (vv.20-21) God providing for his material needs and promising to bring him home again. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we are looking to the Lord for our daily provisions and holding dear His promise to bring us home to Himself. Jacob's gratitude is displayed in that he voluntarily promises to give one tenth of his possessions to God.
To be continued.