1. When the Sun Sets: Jacob Meets God (Gen. 27:41-28:22)Related Media
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying that, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer. It’s the feeling of being uncared for, unwanted, of being deserted and alone.” (Leadership Magazine, vol. 1, no. 4). A 1990 U.S. census reported that 23 million American adults lived alone and that since 1970 this figure had increased by 91% for women and 156% for men.
At some time in your life you’ve probably felt lonely, forsaken, deserted, abandoned, let down, betrayed. I remember when, as a university student, I went to Germany to work for the summer, and how homesick I felt during that time.
Perhaps your experience has been more than homesickness or loneliness. Perhaps you have experienced alienation from family members, fellow students, work colleagues, or perhaps even the church. Perhaps you’ve known the pain of an unfaithful spouse. Perhaps you’ve suffered parental rejection by rebellious teenagers. Or, perhaps you’ve been deeply hurt when you’ve been let go from a company that you served faithfully for many years. Undoubtedly, many of you know the pain that loneliness, isolation, and rejection can inflict.
It’s one thing to be lonely (that’s bad enough) but it’s another thing to be rejected. Jacob experienced rejection during a dark period in his life. What we are going to see here is that when we come to a dark, forsaken place in our lives, that’s where God draws near and the dark, forsaken place becomes the house of God. Sometimes…
1. When We Are Forsaken, We Flee Into The Darkness Of Rejection (Gen. 27:41-28:9).
Rejection may all start with something as common as a family problem (27:41-28:5). Jacob faced severe dysfunctional family problems. It all started with favoritism – Isaac loved Esau but Rebekah loved Jacob (25:28). And from there, things went steadily down hill in the family relationships. First, Jacob faces his brother’s savagery (27:41). Esau hated Jacob for defrauding him of his father’s blessing. His plot to kill Jacob is a crime similar to Cain’s, except that Cain’s crime was born of uncontrollable passion and rage whereas Esau’s was premeditated revenge.
In addition to his brother’s anger, Jacob is manipulated by his mother’s scheming (27:42-46). Rebekah always seems to find out what’s going on. She found out about her husband’s intention to bless Esau (27:1-5). Now she finds out about Esau’s intention to kill Jacob (27:41). Jacob’s mother is a master-schemer. First, she devised a scheme for Jacob to get Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. Now, she devises a scheme to protect Jacob from Esau’s wrath - she will send Jacob to her brother Laban’s house in Padan-Aram for a while, too far away for Esau to hunt Jacob down.
She assures Jacob that his brother’s fury will subside in “a while” (27:44). “He’ll soon forget what you have done to him. Just give him time to cool off, for his temper to subside. It should only be a few days. Then, when it’s all clear, I’ll send for you and bring you back again.” In fact, “a little while” turned into 20 long years and she never did send for Jacob to come back. As with most schemers, Rebekah rationalizes her action: “Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?” (27:45b). “If you stick around, Jacob, you’ll be killed. Then Esau will be executed for murdering you. You wouldn’t want your dear old mom to suffer the loss of both her sons in one day, would you?”
Then, Rebekah convinces her husband of her scheme. First, she took advantage of Isaac’s poor eyesight (27:1f.) Now she takes advantage of his disapproval of Esau’s wives - “the Hittite women” (27:46; cf. 26:34). She says to her husband: “I am weary of living, Isaac, now that I have two Hittite daughters-in-law married to Esau. And if Jacob marries one as well, then what would I do. Poor me, my life wouldn’t be worth living.”
Jacob’s problems started with his brother’s anger, then his mother’s scheming, and finally Jacob is failed by his father’s subservience (28:1-5). Isaac is completely dominated by Rebekah’s manipulative arguments and he fails miserably in his responsibility as the leader in his home. With no mention of God or prayer (a) Isaac forbids Jacob to marry a Canaanite (28:1); (b) he orders Jacob to go to Padan-Aram to find a wife among his cousins, Uncle Laban’s daughters (28:2) – it was common then to marry a cousin – (c) Isaac blesses Jacob with the same blessing Abraham received from God (28:3-4); and finally (d) he sends Jacob away (28:5). We never hear that Jacob ever sees or speaks to his mother again.
Rejection may all start with something as common as a family problem, and rejection may all end up with something as unusual as a forsaken place (28:10-11). This is where the text of our story begins. “10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep” (28:10-11). It’s bad enough to be rejected by your family but it’s worse when you have nowhere to go but a forsaken place. Years ago, one of our daughter’s school friends was put out from her family due to some disagreement. We took her in and she lived with us until things got straightened around. Jacob has no one to take him in and, to add to his rejection and desertion, he doesn’t appear to have any true relationship with God either.
Jacob is about 40 years old now. He was born and raised in a religious family. He knows about God but there’s no evidence that he knows God personally. He had head knowledge about the God of his grandfather and father but little or no personal relationship. There is no record of any encounter with God yet in his life - no revelation from God, no word from him - and spiritual issues and disciplines weren’t evident in his life. In fact, there’s no mention of any relationship with God at all.
But all that is about to change, not because Jacob is seeking God but because God is seeking Jacob. Before Jacob finds a wife God finds him. Jacob’s purpose in this trip gives way to a higher purpose - the establishment of a relationship with God based on faith. What is of most importance is not whom he will meet at Haran but whom he will meet on the way to Haran. He certainly didn’t expect to meet God on the highway to Haran anymore than Saul expected to meet God on the highway to Damascus. Jacob wasn’t thinking about calling on the Lord, he was thinking about calling it a day because “the sun had set” (28:11). It had set in more ways than one, both literally and metaphorically, for Jacob is about to enter the nighttime of his life.
So, he comes to “a certain place” (28:11). It’s a “certain” place because it was a place prepared by God, a forsaken, deserted, dark, remote place where he would meet no one but God. There are no motels here, no restaurants, no comforts of home – just the stars above and the ground beneath. This wasn’t a town, it was just a place, obscure, desolate; a place that is unnamed and unknown to men but special to God. That’s where Jacob lay down for the night with a stone for a pillow. If ever Jacob felt alone, deserted, miserable, rejected, and forsaken it must have been now. The stone pillow must have made him long for the comforts of home; maybe he even felt a tinge of homesickness. But this is where he would have the greatest experience of his life; this is where he would encounter God.
Sometimes, when we are forsaken, we flee into the darkness of rejection. But often…
2. In The Darkness Of Rejection, We See The Light Of God’s Revelation (28:12-15).
The whole tone of the story changes here. What had formerly been narrated in the past tense (28:10-11) now shifts to the present (28:12-13), and what the narrator has seen Jacob doing (28:10-11) now suddenly shifts to what Jacob himself saw.
In the darkness of our lives God often reveals to us his presence (28:12). No sooner did Jacob fall asleep than he dreamed “…and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (28:12). During my teenage years I lived in the City of Bath in England. Every day that I went to school I had to climb up “Jacob’s Ladder,” steps up the side of a steep hill that led to my school. If you have ever been to Bath you will probably have seen Bath Abbey. Carved into the stone on the front of Bath Abbey is a depiction of Jacob’s Ladder with angels ascending and descending.
Jacob’s dream isn’t about steps up the side of a hill or a staircase carved into the stone of a church. It’s about a ladder that joins heaven and earth. Its bottom rests on earth (where Jacob was) and its top reaches to heaven (where God was). The Tower of Babel also extended to the heavens (Gen. 11:4). It was the product of human invention, of delusions of grandeur, of human ambition and pride, the attempt by man to reach up to God. Jacob’s ladder also extends to the heavens, but it was made by God (not men) and angels were climbing it (not men). It is God’s means of reaching down to men (not men’s attempt to reach up to God). This is a ladder that makes God’s presence known. The inhabitants of heaven who dwell in God’s presence are going up and down it; heaven itself is accessible and open.
Have you ever experienced anything like this? Have you been so drawn into the presence of God that you have felt as though heaven has opened up to you? Do you know that God is accessible, that he wants to make himself known to you, to communicate a message to you?
In the darkness of our lives, God often reveals to us his presence. And in the darkness of our lives God often reveals to us his person (28:13a). God initiates contact with Jacob so that he might know him. “And behold, the Lord stood above it (the ladder) and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac’” (28:13a). He is the God of the first and second generations of Jacob’s family. The question that is inferred is: “Will he be the God of the third (Jacob’s) generation as well?” He is the “God of Isaac,” Jacob’s father, the one Jacob deceived and took advantage of. The question that is inferred is: “Will Jacob try to deceive and take advantage of God as well?”
Perhaps you’re the third generation in your family. Your grandparents were Christians and so were your parents. The question is: “Is the God of your grandparents and parents your God too?” Are the spiritual values of your parents and grandparents your values too? Are you walking in their footsteps of faith? So often, the second and third generations throw spiritual things on the scrap heap of life as outdated, worthless traditions of the past, irrelevant. That’s how spiritual darkness creeps into families and churches and societies. Perhaps you need to examine your own life to see whether you are following in the footsteps of faith, those who have gone before, or whether you have lost your zeal for God.
In the darkness of our lives, God often reveals to us his presence and his person. And, in the darkness of our lives God often reveals to us his promise (28:13b-14). “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (28:13b-14).
God faithfully repeats his threefold promise, the same promise he gave to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3). First, the promise concerning the land (13b) - the inheritance that God had promised to Abraham is still secure. Second, the promise concerning the nation (14a) - the descendants God promised to Abraham will still be numerous. Third, the promise concerning all mankind (14b) - the influence God had promised Abraham will still prevail and spread to all the families of the earth through Jacob and his descendants.
Despite his bad behavior, notice that Jacob is included in the chain of blessing. This is the fifth reference to a patriarch as the source of worldwide blessing (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Previously Jacob had been occupied with obtaining the blessing for himself, but here he is the source and means of blessing to be bestowed on others. When Abraham received the promise of this blessing he was married but childless. Here, Jacob is both unmarried and childless!
Often in the dark times of our lives we think that God has abandoned us; we think God’s promises have failed; we think God’s word is unreliable. But that’s just the lie of Satan, who wants to disrupt our relationship with God and our trust in him. The truth is that when we encounter God in those dark and lonely times of life, we find that his word never fails and that he never changes. His promises and plans may not occur when we expect or how we expect but they are still the same. Our lives may take twists and turns that we find dark and depressing at times but he remains faithful - He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).
In the darkness of our lives, God often reveals to us his presence, his person, his promise, and God often reveals to us his provision (28:15). “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” God will unilaterally and unconditionally provide for Jacob. God will provide for Jacob’s need for companionship: “I am with you” - even though your family isn’t. God will provide for Jacob’s need for protection: “I will keep you wherever you go” - even though no on else cares about you. God will provide for Jacob’s guidance: “I will bring you back to this land” - even though you’ve just been sent away from it. God will provide for Jacob’s comfort: “I will not leave you - even though your family has let you down - until I have done what I promised you.”
In Jacob’s darkness these were sweet words. Though he felt totally abandoned and alone, God brought him comfort. Though his mother and father were not with him, God was with him. Nothing can happen to Jacob until God has fulfilled his promise through his divine provision.
When we are forsaken, we often flee into the darkness of rejection. In the darkness of rejection, we see the light of God’s revelation. And…
3. The Light Of God’s Revelation Brings Us To The Ultimate Realization (28:16-22).
“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (28:16). First, we realize we are in the presence of God. This was a great discovery: God was present here! He wasn’t just present in the dream but he was present in “this place.” Jacob had just met God! He thought he was alone in a forsaken, deserted, desolate place but he was wrong. He discovered that God was here. He is shocked to discover God’s presence when he thought he was alone, just as Isaac was shocked to discover Jacob’s presence when he thought he was alone with Esau (27:33).
We often discover God in the places we least expect. It has been my experience that we learn more about God in those unexpected circumstances, those forsaken places, than anywhere else because those are the times when we must “be still and know that (he) is God” (Ps. 46:10). What Jacob had not known before is now a reality. He seems ashamed that he wasn’t aware of God’s presence before: “I did not know it.” He says to himself, “How could I have missed it. How could I have been so dumb. The God of my grandfather and father is real, alive, near, in this very place.”
This is a personal encounter with God. It’s one thing to dream, but it’s another to know the reality. It’s one thing to envision God, but it’s quite another to hear God speak and to know his presence. This isn’t a nightmare that makes Jacob’s heart pound, but which has no lasting significance. No! God has met him and God has spoken. God has revealed to him his eternal plan! His plan to bless all the nations of the earth. His plan of redemption for the human race!
No wonder Jacob is filled with fear! “And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’”(28:17). That’s what happens when you encounter God face to face. God’s presence instils fear into the human heart - fear of his awe-inspiring presence, fear of his perfect holiness and our sinfulness, fear of failing him and being disobedient to him. That’s why Peter feared the Lord, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8). Job feared the Lord: “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Isaiah feared the Lord: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”(Isa. 6:5).
If you haven’t trusted Christ for salvation, you too should be filled with fear - a fear that drives you to repentance, to confession of sin, to God for forgiveness through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. This wasn’t just an “awesome place” it was “none other than the house of God.” This wasn’t just a lodging place for Jacob for the night. This was God’s house and God’s house must surely mean that “this is the gate of heaven,” the place where God dwells!
In the light of God’s revelation, we realize that we are in the presence of God, and we realize we need to worship God. “So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it” (28:18). Jacob builds a monument. A stone becomes a statue. A pillow becomes a pillar for God. Faith is always expressed in action. This monument would be a permanent reminder of this discovery both for him and for all those who came behind him.
“He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first” (28:19) – Bethel (the house of God), the very same place where Abraham had stopped years before when he himself was on a journey from Ur to Canaan, where he had called on the name of the Lord (Gen. 12:8b). This isn’t a forsaken, desert place of darkness anymore. This isn’t a place where Jacob stopped because “the sun had set” (28:11). This isn’t a foreign place anymore where he had lodged while fleeing from a family problem. This is now “the house of God!” His whole perception of the place has changed since he met God. What was formerly known as Luz (a place of refuge) becomes for Jacob a place of spiritual refuge – Bethel, the house of God. That’s how it is when we encounter the living God. Our whole perspective on life and circumstances changes. When we enter into a faith relationship with God and grasp the reality of God’s presence, person, promises, and provision in our lives everything changes.
In the light of God’s revelation, we realize that we are in the presence of God, that we need to worship God, and we realize we need to dedicate our lives to God. Jacob sealed his devotion with a vow of dedication. “20 Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you’” (28:20-22).
This is not a conditional commitment: “if God… then I.” No! This is not an “if” of doubt but an “if” of reason. Jacob is making a vow of dedication in which he repeats what God has just said. He is saying: “I cannot do this alone. God must help me. And if the Lord God is with me and keeps me in this way in which I am going and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear so that I return in peace to the house of my father and the Lord becomes my God, then by God’s grace the stone which I set up as a pillar will be the house of God and out of gratitude for all that God gives me I will give him back one-tenth.”
This vow includes two expressions of his newfound faith. First, worship - he would always worship God at Bethel. He will never fail to remember what happened there and to worship God wherever he is. Second, service - before it ever became the Law, he commits to serve God by giving to God some of God’s rich provision for him. Here Jacob dedicates his life to God. He recognizes that he is totally dependent on God. The one who had used his own resources to the full to manipulate his father and his brother now is completely out of resources and at God’s mercy. Just as Esau was once dependent on Jacob in his desperate hunger, now Jacob is utterly dependent on God. That’s why he repeats God’s promise (cf. v. 15). If God will accompany me (and he has promised that he will); if God will protect me (and he has promised that he will); if God will sustain me (and he has promised that he will); if God will guide me (and he has promised that he will); if the Lord will be my God (and he has promised that he will); then, since all of that is true, “of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” This is Jacob’s vow of dedication.
What a marvellous thing to discover who God is, even when that happens in the dark experiences of our lives. Many of you have probably had that experience. Perhaps you are going through it right now and you’re finding that it isn’t pleasant. But it’s necessary as it stretches you and makes you dependent and challenges the reality of your faith and relationship with God.
For 18 years I suffered from undiagnosed Lyme disease, whose lingering effects continue to this day. It was so bad sometimes that I could barely lift my arm off the arm of my chair. Eventually I had to quit my work. That was a particularly dark period in my life. But it was in that dark place that I learned more about God than I had ever learned in the light.
We discover God in Bethel experiences. We discover God when we’re completely alone, totally beyond ourselves, with no one and nothing to count on but God. Remember our thesis for this sermon: When we come to a dark, forsaken place in our lives, that’s where God draws near and the dark, forsaken place becomes the house of God.
We all need a Bethel experience where God reveals himself to us in powerful ways, when we realize that God is a holy, awesome God, when his presence and person fill us with holy “fear”, when we realize our insignificance and his greatness.
Bethel experiences are not comfortable. It’s not just a matter of making a decision or walking to the front or raising a hand, but it’s a matter of knowing God in the remoteness of our experience, when the sun has set on our lives and darkness envelopes us. It’s a matter of knowing his presence, his person, his promises, his provision in a powerful and life-changing way.
If you’re not a Christian, you need to meet God personally. Salvation is personal - no one else can do it for you. You need to personally experience God’s saving grace expressed most fully through Christ on the cross in order to enter “the gate of heaven.” God’s grace through Christ is available to all (2 Pet. 3:9) but it is only effective in those who believe (Jn. 1:11-12).
If you’re a Christian, how well do you know God? You met God when you got saved, but what about since then? Have you learned about the ways and character of God in the dark experiences of your Christian life? Have you grown in your faith during those times? Has God become particularly precious to you through your heartaches and trials?
A Bethel experience changes your life forever because that’s when you respond to God’s revelation. That’s when you experience God intimately. That’s when you enter the “house of God.” That’s when you express your devotion to God, make a lifelong commitment to God. That’s when you worship the Lord. And it manifests itself in a practical expression of thanks for God’s grace and the dedication of our lives to God.
Have you been radically changed by a Bethel event so that your life is devoted to following Christ, so that you follow him in practical ways by using your gifts for him, by being baptized, by worshipping God from your heart, by standing in awe of his holiness, by giving your time, talent, and treasure to God out of the abundance he has given you and out of thanksgiving for his free gift of salvation?
May this be true of each of us today! May each one of us be able to say of our dark experiences of life: “How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”