Verses 1-9: Jacob’s departure
Isaac blesses Jacob and tells him to go to Padan Aram and take a wife from his uncle’s sons. This was after the events of chapter 28 where Jacob tricked Isaac into receiving Esau’s blessing. Rebekah was fearful that Esau would kill Jacob, so she suggested to Isaac that Jacob go to her brother Laban so that Jacob would not have a wife from Canaan. Esau had taken Canaanite wives and they grieved Isaac and Rebekah. Before he goes, Isaac blesses Jacob with Abraham’s blessing, solidifying the notion that Jacob would be the one (although not firstborn) through which the Abrahamic covenant would pass.
In verses 6-9, there is a too-little-too-late attempt by Easu to please his parents by taking one of Ishmael’s daughters as a bride. This new bride would have been his third, as he retained the other two Canaanite brides that he had already wed. Her name was Mahalath.
Verses 10-22: A living promise
On his journey to Haran, Jacob stops one night and has a peculiar dream during his sleep. He laid a stone at his head, presumably as a pillow. In Jacob’s dream, he sees a ladder that begins on the earth and reaches all the way to heaven. There were angels of God going up and down on the ladder. God is at the top of the ladder and He reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob in the dream, saying:
“I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 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 spoken to you.”
Jacob, astonished and amazed, names the place “Bethel” when he awakes, which means “House of God.” Jacob then, in a display of what seems to be an immature faith, creates a condition within which He will know that God will be his God. He says to himself that if God provides for him throughout his journey so that he can return to Isaac in peace, then he will recognize God and give Him a tenth of whatever he receives.
It seems obvious that God loves Jacob and has forgiven him of his poor decisions. Why else would God reaffirm the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob? Jacob, for his part, is being forced to run away from the consequences of his actions. One would think that having a dream such as he had would convince Jacob that God intended to bless him and keep him. Why was Jacob suspicious? Why did God choose to bless Jacob and ultimately recognize him as the receiver of the covenant despite Jacob’s trickery and dishonor? I do not know the answers to these questions. The best we can do with for now is to say that 1) hindsight allows for easy judgment and 2) we cannot know the innerworkings of God’s mind or the delicate nuances (seen and unseen) of His plan. The best we can do is to learn from Jacob and use our faith presently to believe that all things do indeed “…work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
Is your faith greater than Jacob’s tonight?
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As an aside, I was thinking about something today and wanted to leave my thoughts with you…
Have you ever prayed to God about something very, very important to you? Maybe it is about a sickness, a child, a parent or a friend that is worrying you. You are praying and praying to God hoping that He makes real the outcome that you desire. But as you pray, you are anxious because you do not know whether God will answer your prayer in the way you want. You are uptight about both the prayer and your relationship with God because you are unsure about what the outcome will be.
I do not believe that God intends for us to retain anxiety in our supplication to Him. It is rather better for us to be like Elijah in I Kings 18 and to have the utmost strongest confidence that God will prevail. As long as our desires align with goodness, righteousness and His holy Word, we can be confident that God will create the favorable outcome….but not always. For the faith that God asks of us is deeper than that. We must be confident that God can and that God will, but we must also have a deeper sense that God has the right and the ability (for He is God!) to create circumstances in our lives and in the world that seem contrary to what that good, right and favorable outcome might be. God’s true intent and purpose may not be evident until long after we are gone, and the benefactor of God’s will may be someone entirely unknown to us and the manner of blessing altogether inexplicable. To understand this and to live as if we understand it, is to live with the type of active and all-encompassing faith that God asks of us. Jesus Christ has made this type of faith and deep belief possible.
“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16
Knowing this, it seems best and right to strengthen our faith in God so that we always expect that He will answer our prayers.