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Bethel

Date: Sep. 2, 2018

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 28:10-22

Key Verse: Genesis 28:15

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

How many people know what a theophany is? A theophany is an appearance or manifestation of God. This kind of thing didn’t happen very often, that’s why they give it a fancy name. Today’s passage is an example of this and it’s very special because it tells how Jacob’s camp site at Bethel became the most celebrated place of worship in those ancient days. Jacob’s life became permanently marked by this event, so much so that it eventually superseded his infamous reputation for deceit (Hos 12:4). One writer noted the importance of this passage, showing “how an ordinary place became a shrine, an ordinary stone became an altar, and an ordinary man became a nation simply because God, in his grace, revealed himself in that place. As many of you know, human nature is difficult to change. People are stubborn. But through this passage, we're going to see how Jacob begins a journey where God will eventually change him.

For those of you that may be new here or haven’t been here in the recent weeks, let me get you up to speed. We have been going through the book of Genesis and we just finished up the life of Isaac and have started getting into the life of Jacob. In the previous chapters, Jacob, with the help of his mother, had deceived his father and took his brother’s birthright and blessing. Now his brother is out for blood and so Jacob has to run for his life. And that’s where our passage starts today. Let’s take a look at verses 10-11. “10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.” As soon as Jacob got the news from his mother that his brother was going to kill him, he packed up what belongings he could carry and started his 500-mile trip from Beersheba to Harran. He got about forty-eight miles away from Beersheba before the sun went down and he had to spend the night in the open field.

Often it takes some sort of crisis for most people to sincerely come to God. Sooner or later, God will bring self-sufficient people to the place where they have no resource but Him. Such was the case with Jacob. Jacob was probably at one of the lowest points of his life. He had to leave his father’s house in shame and disgrace. He was being hunted by his brother, which probably meant that he couldn’t take the main road out of fear that he would be spotted. So, he probably took lonely back roads which increased the length and dangers of his trip. He was alone, discouraged, with no money or friends to go with him. He left with a few items from home and now he finds himself bedding down for the night in a pitch-black deserted area with a stone for his pillow, the ground for his bed, and stars for his roof.

I imagine that Jacob is similar to a lot of Christians. Up to this point, Jacob has heard about God from his father and mother, but he doesn’t have a personal relationship with God. All his life, he's depended upon support from his parents. He really hasn’t had a reason to go to God yet. Until now. Often it takes some sort of crisis for most people to come to God. Likewise, it was here at Jacob’s lowest point, God appeared to him in a dream. This is when and where God became real and personal to Jacob. Take a look at verses 12-15. “12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”” I wonder what it was like as Jacob was lying there trying to get comfortable on his pillow rock. Did he feel insecure and exposed all alone out there in the open? What if a wild animal came upon him while he was sleeping, or worse yet his brother? Jacob wasn’t like his brother, he would prefer staying around home while Esau liked hanging out in the wilderness. This was not his element and I imagine he was quite uncomfortable. But after walking about forty-eight miles he was tired enough to where his worries could wait until tomorrow.

However, something unexpected happens to him during the night. God comes to Jacob in a dream. So far, Jacob hasn’t sought out God so it’s amazing to see how God makes the first move and visits Jacob. This is completely God’s grace. But this is so like God because it’s his character, he usually makes the first move. The Bible tells us why, it says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19) Our God is the God of those who are oppressed, weary and downtrodden. Thankfully, God hears our prayers when we cry out to him. Did Jacob deserve a visit from the Almighty God? Not at all. Jacob didn’t seek God, he didn’t ask for help, all he did was sleep and yet the Creator of all things went to him. It amazes me to see how humble and gracious God is. That gives me hope and encouragement, knowing that I serve a god that cares for his people like that.

Another thing I see from this is that when God comes, the ordinary and common-place is transformed by his Spirit.  Heaven opens up and we can experience God with visiting Angels. As God reveals himself to Jacob here, we learn something about his character. He doesn’t just shut himself up in heaven. God is not impotent, powerless, deaf, unfeeling, unconcerned, or dead.

Instead, he is accessible and has opened a traffic route from heaven to earth. The stairway is meant to be traveled. (there isn’t any obstacles like traffic or road construction on LSD)

Another thing I see in these verses, is how God identifies himself in relation to Abraham and Isaac. There is a relationship between them. This makes it easier for Jacob to trust in God because he’s connected to his father and grandfather. Who would you trust more, a random stranger that you met on the street, or one of your father’s and grandfather’s friend? Of course, the one you have a connection with. The next thing we see is the promise that God makes to Jacob. God affirms the covenant that has passed down from Abraham to Isaac is now being passed down to him as well. Within that promise, God tells Jacob that he will own the very land he is sleeping on. The place where he feels weak and vulnerable will become his home and he will be the landlord. It will become his land. And even though he feels alone now, God promises that his descendants will become so numerous that they will be like dust and spread out all over the region. Not only that, God said that all people will be blessed through him, this refers to the Messiah, to Jesus. Also, that God will be with him, he’ll never alone again and that God will protect him and bring him back to his home. Then God confirms his message by saying, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” What an amazing, incredible promise to Jacob. Imagine the relief and joy Jacob must have experienced when God said, “Don’t worry, I got your back.” Especially since his brother is coming after him and he’s going to a place that he’s never been before to be with people he’s never met.

When Jacob wakes up, he realizes that he’s had a profound dream. One that is life changing. Verses 16-17 tell us, “16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”” Suddenly Jacob is aware that God is there. Maybe the hair on the back of his neck and arms started stick up.

One time I had a dream that a black shadowy figure was hovering around our bedroom window. It was so startling that it woke me up and I had goose bumps. Really freaked me out. I prayed to God immediately. It says that Jacob was afraid, I think this is what we call the fear of God, which not simply terror, but more like awesome respect for God and that place. As if you were suddenly in the presence of the person you respect the most in your life. One person described it when a private meets a five-star general. Then in that moment of respect and awe, Jacob says, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Little did Jacob know that this is the very same place that Abraham built his first alter to God where he called on the name of the Lord. This place would go on to become a very special place that is mentioned throughout the Bible.

Jacob takes the stone he used as a pillow last night and sets it up as a pillar and anoints it with oil and gives it the name “Bethel.” ”19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”” Jacob is so awe struck that right then and there he is compelled to make a vow to God. This was completely voluntary on his part, God didn’t push him to do it. He was so moved by what he experienced. Jacob makes this vow because for the first time he meets God personally. God has become real to him and this is his expression of that. Everyone must have a Bethel moment in their lives. It’s the moment you realize that God is real and that you believe in him. Lee Strobel was a big-time investigative reporter who didn’t believe in God. Both he and his wife were atheists. Then one day his wife started to believe in Jesus. So, he did the only thing he knew how, he began to investigate Jesus like a reporter so that he could convince his wife not to believe. So, he did this big investigation, interviewing all kinds of people, collecting all the evidence over a long period of time. And then one day he was like, “Oh no, I think I believe in Jesus.” His mind was blown. He went on and wrote the book, “The case for Christ.” That was his “Bethel” moment. What is yours? Our “Bethel” should not be a single place and time in our past, but rather it should be a continuous experience as we grow to know Jesus more and more.

As we get to know Jacob more, we learn that he has a knack for negotiating deals and here he proposes a vow with God. This is the only occasion where a patriarch made a vow to God. Jacob leaves his land empty-handed, but he will return with unimaginable wealth, well empowered to fulfil his vow of a tenth part. It kind of seems a bit demanding on Jacob’s part to ask of God but if we change the word “if” to “since”, it makes it sound less like a demand and more like an expression of faith. Listen how it sounds with the change, “Since God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”(v20-22) Doesn’t that bring it into a different light? Since we can’t just changes words in the Bible to fit what we want, we should understand what is written, I think when Jacob says “if,” it has the context of, “if God is really going to do this,” then he will be my God. To me that makes it more understandable. Then many years later, even in a land far away, God reminded Jacob of their meeting at Bethel and of his vow to God. Thus, revealing that God takes notice of our vows; and he shows himself to be faithful and keeps his vows. Have you ever made a vow to God? Do you remember it? We can be sure that God hasn’t forgotten them, even if we have.

As we wrap things up we might be tempted to say, this happened a long time ago God doesn’t work like this anymore. Even though this happened a long time ago, God hasn't changed. This passage has a special place in my heart because when I was an undergrad student here at IIT back in the early 90’s.  I started to study the Bible with a missionary I met on campus. I was a lot like Jacob in the fact that I had heard about God most of my life. My family went to church of an on my whole life so I knew a lot about God but I didn’t really know God personally. I started Genesis Bible study with M. Paul and I came to this section during a low point in my life. I was 19 years old and lived off campus with my friend. Our apartment became known as “party central” and things got real crazy. Eventually my school work suffered to the point that I was kicked out of IIT two times. Because of that, I lost the two jobs I worked on campus and was kicked out of my apartment as the cause of all the partying. It was one of the lowest points of my life, what was I going to do? My future was so uncertain, so when I came to this chapter I made a vow to God. I said, “Lord, if you will help me get back in school, graduate, get a job, get married and have a family, then you will be my God.” At that time, my future was very uncertain and I wasn’t sure what was to come. Did my life change and suddenly all my problems instantly solved? No. But after begging IIT to let me back in a third time, they agreed and I resumed my classes. This time I was more serious and I was more devoted to God as my walk with God started. But soon I forget about the vow I made as I went on with my life. But even though I had forgotten my vow to God, God didn’t forget it. In fact, he was faithful to each of my demanding points. I didn’t understand Jacob’s vow as I now do, so I made demands of God. But he was humble to be faithful to me in spite of that. God indeed helped me to graduate, although my GPA was not very good. He graciously provided a job for me that I started the week after I graduated, even though unemployment was high and better students didn’t have jobs yet. God provided a wonderful wife for me and sent four amazing kids to us. Then one day I remembered the vow I made and I was amazed how God has been faithful to me even when I wasn’t paying such close attention to him. God has been so gracious to me, and all I can do is thank and praise him.

Are you at a low point in your life? God wants to assure you that he is here. Are you longing to go back to your Bethel experience? How many of you are not sure you've ever had an experience with the living God, but you want to? God wants to reveal himself to you. Acts 17:24-28 tells us, ““The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” God sent his son Jesus to be with us. Jesus is Immanuel which means God with us. Jesus came to us and promised to be with us to the very end of the age. Jesus came to fulfill God's promise to Jacob and to us. Just as Jacob didn’t deserve God’s visit, neither did we deserve Jesus’ visit. All of this was purely God’s grace to us. Jesus himself connected his coming to Jacob’s dream, Jesus said, “…“Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (Jn 1:51) Thank God there's a pathway between heaven and earth, we have Jesus who is our mediator.

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Genesis 15:1-21

Key Verse: 15:5

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