Jacob had been sent away by his father, Isaac. It was, on the surface, an effort to find a wife from among Rebekah’s family. The send off also served to separate Jacob and Esau, lest Esau’s wrath toward his brother give way to murder. The impression one gets from the text (vv. 10-22) is that Jacob, once a homebody and mama’s boy, is now a lone pilgrim wandering through the land looking for refuge. Will he find welcome and true hospitality from anyone?
Revelation at the House of God. Jacob’s wandering appears almost aimless as the text tells us that he came to a certain place and decided to lie there for the night because the sun was setting. No other apparent thought went into his choice of a camp. He, for some reason, decided not to seek lodging in the nearby town of Luz. Unbeknownst to Jacob, he was staying the night in God’s “house”. That night Jacob was given a dream in which he saw a ladder, or a stairway, connecting the earth with highest heaven, by which the angels of the Lord were ascending and descending. God is transcendent. He is above all Creation, yet He is involved in providentially caring for that which He made, seeing that His sovereign will is accomplished. Though we cannot see it, the Lord is always at work, His angels constantly coming and going to see His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Jacob was given a glimpse of that coming and going.
Jacob was blessed to see this heavenly stairway, but the vision itself was of secondary importance. The primary revelation was the word he received from the Lord. God did not leave the vision unaccompanied, but rather He joined it with His word of unconditional promise to Jacob. As He had done with Abraham and Isaac before, God promised to give the land of Canaan to Jacob’s offspring, to give Jacob offspring as numerous as the dust of the earth, and to make him and his people to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. God also promised Jacob that He would go with him wherever he went and would bring him back to the land of promise.
These promises would be fulfilled initially in Jacob’s own lifetime as he would return from Haran after a twenty year absence, accompanied by his twelve sons. They would also be fulfilled for his offspring who would journey to Egypt in a time of famine to find refuge under the care of his son, Joseph. His people would not return to the land until the time of Moses and Joshua, but God would prove faithful nonetheless in leading His people, who had become numerous, out of Egypt and to the promised land.
The ultimate fulfillment of all of these promises came in and through the person of Jesus. It is Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who is the once and for all stairway between heaven and earth (John 1:51). It is in Christ that we become the sons and daughters of God. It is in Christ that we pilgrimage in the world, though our citizenship is of His heavenly kingdom. It is Christ who has given us His Spirit so that He is with us always to the end of the age, assuring us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. Though we ourselves have not seen Jacob’s ladder firsthand, nor have we seen Christ with our own eyes in all of His transfigured or resurrected glory, we have the Word of God, which is not the lesser of God’s means of revelation. That Word is “like a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns” fully at Christ’s return. We do well to pay attention to that Word by which He has made Christ known to us, in Whom is fulfilled all of the promises of God (2 Peter 1:16-21).
Jacob’s Response to God’s Revelation. We should note that God’s revelation of His grace through the renewal of His covenant leaves Jacob in awe and wonder. Is awe and wonder your response to the grace of God revealed in your own life? Have there been occasions when He made Himself known to you in a place or a time that you thought He was far off? Were you amazed and awestruck? Are you still?
The apostle James wrote that faith without works is dead. Jacob’s vow is an example of this. God had renewed His covenant with Jacob by grace, not through any merit of Jacob. That being said, Jacob responded, not just with awe but with an active faith. First, he worshiped God. His act of worship was to set up a memorial pillar, which he consecrated with oil. This stone would be a mark and reminder of God’s glory and grace as revealed that night. Second, he vowed to be God’s man, promising to give the Lord a tenth of all that he received from God. In one sense Jacob had nothing – no possessions, no wife, no children, and no land. Yet, Jacob had the promises of God, indeed He had the promise of union with God Himself, so in fact he had everything. As such a tithe was a simple vow for Jacob to make. This was Jacob the deceiver dealing honestly and faithfully with God by committing and submitting himself fully to the Lord.
Discuss & Pray
1. Tell of a time in recent days when you have marveled, or been in wonder and awe, at the grace and glory of God through Christ.
2. Jacob was a pilgrim, sent off from his family and all that was familiar to him. God met him in his wandering and promised to be with him always. What comfort and hope do the promises of God through Christ (see above for some of these promises) give to you in times of wandering, isolation, and uncertainty?
3. Jacob vowed to give God a tenth of all that the Lord would give to him. Have you made a similar commitment to the Lord? Of what value does such an act of faith have in your relationship with Christ? What are some other commitments you have made in response to the grace of Christ that help you to love Him with all that you are?