God With Us in Crisis and Process
A sermon on Genesis 28:10-29:20 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 8/22/04
Would you like to have God speak to you?
Have you thought, “God, if I could just hear your voice, if you would just speak to me verbally and directly, it would be so much easier to follow you!”
Have you argued with Him, saying, “God, my life is unfair. Tell me what’s going on! Tell me how all things are working together for good.”
Do you need a special word from God in order to enable you to live the Christian life?
Today’s passage tells us of a Bible character who meets God in a dream. God speaks to him, making great promises to him. And he responds by making a vow.
Question: What impact does this encounter have on the man’s life? God does for him what many of us seem to want: Does it fundamentally change him?
In general: How important are the crises in our lives in comparison to the process of daily living?
We’ll look at these questions under four headings taken from Genesis 28 and 29:
Remember what has led to today’s text. Jacob and Esau are twins, heirs of the promise to Abraham that all the families of the nations will be blessed thruugh his offspring. Their mother Rebekah is told by God that the older, Esau, will serve the younger, Jacob. Nevertheless, Esau as the older son owns the birthright – he is the one who will receive his father’s property and blessing; he is the one that would be expected to inherit the promise to Abraham – indeed, even the promise to Eve. His offspring, his see, would be expected to crush the head of the serpent.
Jacob takes advantage of Esau’s character flaws to get him to trade that birthright for a bowl of soup. Then, when Isaac is old and almost blind and wants to give his final blessing to his favorite son Esau, Rebekah and Jacob conspire to deceive him. Jacob dresses up in Esau’s clothes and tries to mimic Esau’s voice. The ruse succeeds, and Isaac gives Jacob the blessing he intended to give Esau.
Jacob thus gets all he thinks he wants by trickery and deceit. He thinks he’s pretty smart.
But then Esau says, “As soon as father dies, I’ll kill him!” Rebekah hears of this threat and sends Jacob away to her relatives, after getting another blessing from Isaac. This time Isaac knows he is speaking to Jacob, though Rebekah and Jacob tell Isaac that Jacob is going to her relatives to seek a wife, not to flee from Esau.
But note what Isaac does NOT give Jacob. He does indeed call on God to bless him – but he gives him nothing else!
· No gifts for a bride price
· No servants
· No camels
· No rings or bracelets
Remember, Abraham gave all of ALL of these to his servant when he sent him to find a wife for Isaac.
Why? Isaac is very rich. He could have given him much. But he doesn’t. Why not?
The Bible doesn’t tell us. But I think Isaac, having truly repented (as we saw last week), has enough discernment to see what Jacob needs most. Jacob will be heir to the promise – Isaac acknowledges this and knows that God will bring it about. But he also sees in his younger son a desire for wealth, for ease, for status. And he DOESN’T see in his son any evidence of faith in God. He knows that Abraham lived by faith, and learned to trust God from times of difficulty. He knows that he himself lived by faith – and when he did not, when he erred and caused problems for himself and his family, he learned to trust God. So Isaac sends Jacob on a 500 mile journey on foot to get a bride with NOTHING to offer for her. All he gives Jacob is the promise of God. That will be enough. But Jacob will have to learn to trust God.
Sometimes love requires that we withhold what we could give. Isaac withholds money. And in the end, Jacob benefits because of that.
That brings us to today’s passage. By Genesis 28:11, Jacob has only traveled about 50 miles from home. He has a long ways to go. Consider his situation:
· He is alone.
· It is dark.
· He doesn’t know if Esau is following him – he might show up at any time and kill him.
· He has no map.
· There are no gas stations and there is no mapquest.com to use to get directions.
· He has no pillow – only a hard rock on which to “rest”.
But somehow he falls asleep. And while he sleeps, he dreams. And sees – what? Stretched between earth and heaven, he sees something strange. The Hebrew word is unusual; this is its only use in the Old Testament. It is often translated “staircase” or “ladder”. But if it’s a ladder, it’s a very wide one! For angels are both ascending and descending simultaneously.
Why does God present this picture to Jacob?
Jacob has acted as if God is not involved intimately in this world. He seems to have a passive view of God. God’s blessing resides with Isaac, who will give it to Esau. So Jacob needs to finagle it away – by deceiving Isaac, not by asking God. It’s almost as if God gave the blessing, but them has nothing more to do with the world; He no longer is involved in superintending matters.
But in Jacob’s vision, he sees God at the top of the staircase/ladder, sending his messengers back and forth. Lesson: God is actively involved in world, bringing about His purposes. He doesn’t just set matters up and then leave it to people to fight over His blessing and to produce the final outcome. Rather, “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth” (Psalm 135:6). Even in this nameless place where Jacob sleeps on a rock, God is present.
And God speaks. We can divide what God says into six parts:
First, He identifies Himself: Verse 13: "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.”
God says, “Jacob, you’ve been seeking my blessing, but you haven’t sought ME. Now, here I am.”
Second, He reiterates the promise of the land: Verse 13b: “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.”
He says, “Even this place where you fear for your life, even this place where you have laid your head on a stone, I will give to you and your descendants.”
Third, He reiterates the promise of offspring: Verse 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.”
He says, “You are going under the ruse that you are seeking a wife. But you will indeed find a wife, and you will produce countless children who will inherit this land.”
Fourth, He reiterates the promise that Jacob’s offspring will bless all humanity: Verse 14b: “And in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
He says, “This will fulfill my promise to Eve in the garden. The Redeemer will come from you.”
Fifth, He promises that He Himself will be Jacob’s God: Verse 15a “Behold, I am with you.”
He says, “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac – and I am the God of Jacob. I am with you and will remain with you.”
Finally, God promises that He Himself will ensure that all the promises are fulfilled to Jacob. Verse 15b: “And [I] 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 says, “Trust me, Jacob. I am in control. I am not remote. I am involved in this world. There are thousands of angels at my disposal. I will watch over you and protect you and see that my purposes in you are fulfilled. You will come back to this land. You will find a wife. You will raise a family. You will bless the nations. So believe me! Have faith!”
God is telling Jacob to have faith in His future grace. Life may look tough – for a pampered son of a rich man, it surely looked tough at this minute – but God promises His loving watchcare.
Jacob then awakes. How does he respond?
He says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!”
Is that true? Yes, God was in that place. But where else is God? Where else has God promised to be?
God has just promised to be EVERYWHERE Jacob goes. He’s NOT only the God of this place or the God of Beersheba or the God of Jerusalem. He is the God of CREATION. So Jacob immediately misses a key part of God’s revelation to him.
Look at verse 17. Jacob continues, “How awesome is THIS PLACE.”
No. It’s not the PLACE that is awesome, Jacob. God is awesome. Not the place.
He continues, “This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.” Sure. But as God says in Isaiah 66:1 "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” There is nothing unique about the place.
Jacob then sets up an altar and calls the place Bethel, the House of God.
The later history of Israel emphasizes that there was nothing special about this place.
Although during the time of Samuel worship was sometimes conducted there, after the death of Solomon, King Jeroboam sets up an idol in this place. Later prophets denounce it, most notably Hosea, who refers to Bethel as Bethaven - not “house of God” but “house of wickedness”.
So Jacob misses the point. God is special. Not the place.
Jacob then makes a vow to God (verses 20-22). Note that Jacob makes four conditions, followed by three promises:
1) God will be with me
2) He will keep watch over me/guard me
3) He will supply my needs
4) He will bring me back to Isaac’s house in peace (thus protecting him from Esau)
1) He will be my God
2) This stone will be God’s house
3) I’ll give him a tenth of all I receive.
Is this an appropriate response by Jacob? What do you think?
Jacob is right that some response should be made. He is right to think that he needs to make some pledge to God.
But his conditions show what he heard God say – and what he failed to hear God say. He’s focusing on his PRESENT needs and his MAIN FUTURE DESIRE – protection, food, clothing, returning home. The marriage issue, remember, was just a tool to get Isaac to send him away in peace. Rebekah was primarily sending him away to keep him away from Esau. So he doesn’t even make reference to the promise of descendants or the promise to bless all nations through him – even though these are the greatest promises of all.
And what does Jacob promise God if God will do what He has already promised?
· “This stone will be God’s house” – Jacob can’t ensure that. Jacob can worship here again, and he will do that. But God shows how empty this promise is by allowing this very place to become the center of idol worship in the Kingdom of Israel.
· “I’ll give you a tenth” – So the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills gets a tenth of Jacob’s puny fortune. That’s really a great deal for God, isn’t it.
Imagine a son meeting together with his father. The father says, “I will always love you. I will provide you with all you need to become a young man who will be a credit to this society. I will give you this house where you grew up. And I promise to give you $40,000 a year from the time you are 20 to use for the good of others.”
Now, would it be appropriate for that son to say,
“OK Dad, if you will provide me with food, clothes, this house, and that $40,000, I’ll acknowledge you as my father, this house will be known as your house, and I’ll give $4,000 a year back to you.”
Would that be an appropriate response?
But before we’re too hard on Jacob, ask yourself: Have you said something similar to God?
Consider: What should Jacob have said?
In the Old Testament, vows are sometimes presented in a good light, and at other times in a bad light. One of the good cases is highly instructive:
I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. 10 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. 11 I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. 12 "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. 13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? 14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, 15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me." Psalm 50:9-15
In the first part of the Psalm we see that God is upset with their sacrifices. They are going through the external form of worship, but are not worshiping him from their hearts. God says he takes no delight in their sacrifices per se. What he wants from them, according to verse 14, is a “sacrifice of thanksgiving”. He wants them to “call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
In the middle of these statements, God says, “perform your vows to the Most High.” In this context, what are these vows?
The vow is a VOW TO THANK GOD. The vow is a VOW TO CALL UPON GOD.
THAT’s the vow God wants us to make to Him. – a vow of faith in his future grace.
And that’s what Jacob should have vowed to God. His response should have been something like this:
“I promise, LORD God, that I will call upon you every step of my journey. I promise that I will be continually thankful for your watchcare. And I promise that for every need, I will look to you for provision. And thus I will glorify you.”
Have you made such a vow?
So ends Jacob’s crisis. He leaves with his spirits lifted, but without any fundamental change in his life. God will use the next twenty years of trial to bring about that change.
You see, Jacob saw God. God spoke to Him. He responded to God. But we shall see that his troubles continued.
God’s miraculous vision in his life did NOT solve his main problem.
That will take a long, daily process.
Jacob completes his journey, but he doesn’t know it. Just like Abraham’s servant, he comes to the well used by his relatives, but has no way of recognizing it.
Just like in the case of Abraham’s servant, a daughter of the family comes to the well. But there are striking differences with that earlier account. Let me tell you the story, and then draw out some lessons:
Jacob arrives at the well and sees three flocks of sheep beside it. The well is covered by a huge stone, and the shepherds are waiting to open the well until all the other flocks come by, so that they can work together to move the massive stone. Jacob finds out that they know Laban – and furthermore that Laban’s daughter Rachel is on her way to the well!
Jacob seems to want them to hurry and water their sheep so he’ll be able to meet Rachel alone, but they refuse to do so.
As soon as Rachel arrives, Jacob single-handedly moves the stone, and – reversing what his mother did for the camels of Abraham’s servant - waters Rachel’s sheep. Weeping, he tells Rachel who he is, and she (like her mother) runs to tell her father, Laban, who takes Jacob into his home, to join himself, Rachel, and her older sister Leah.
Laban – seeing that this son of his rich sister for some reason has no money – is not content to play host forever. So after a month he changes the relationship from visiting relative to employer/employee. But he asks Jacob to name his wages. Jacob says, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel”.
Jacob has no bride price, and he doesn’t even seem to consider returning home to ask for money. Perhaps Rachel is so young that he would need to wait that long for her to be of marriageable age anyway (remember that Jacob is 77). But, despite the vast difference in their ages, he loves her, and the seven years fly by.
Yet even at the end of seven years, Jacob has to ask for Rachel – Laban doesn’t volunteer her. Nevertheless, the wedding is arranged, everyone feasts, and Jacob is presented with a veiled woman dressed in Rachel’s finest clothes.
He takes her into his dark tent and has sexual relations with her – but in the morning light he discovers that this woman was not Rachel at all, but Leah! Jacob responds to Laban,
"What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?" 26 Laban said, "It is not so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years." 28 Jacob did so, and completed her week. Then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Genesis 29:25b-28
Do you see what has happened to Jacob? He has received exactly what he gave out.
1) He deceived his father and now is deceived by his father-in-law;
2) To accomplish his deception, he, the younger son, pretended to be his older brother and dressed in Esau’s clothes; to accomplish Laban’s deception, Leah, the older sister, pretended to be the younger sister and dressed in Rachel’s clothes
In the end, he has to work for Laban for 14 years for his two wives – one of whom he never wanted to marry.
Think about this part of the story. Jacob has encountered God. God has spoken to him. This encourages him at the time – but what evidence is there in this account that that crisis had any impact on Jacob? Does Jacob’s life change at all because of what happened at Bethel?
Consider now the differences between this account and the account of Abraham’s servant coming to this same well almost 100 years previously (chapter 24). Abraham’s servant:
One example: After Rebekah waters his camels and tells him she is Abraham’s relative, the servant exclaims,
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master's kinsmen." Genesis 24:27
The contrast with Jacob is striking.
The crisis at Bethel does not translate into change in the process of Jacob’s daily living. God spoke to Jacob – but Jacob did not change. It was just an experience.
Is there evidence that Jacob should have prayed? Did Jacob make a wrong choice?
Though both Rachel and Leah’s children (along with the children of the maids) become patriarchs of the tribes of Israel, it is one of Leah’s sons – Judah – who becomes the ancestor of Jesus Christ. Do you see? Jacob HAD to marry Leah – she is the ancestor of Jesus Christ. But Jacob never asked God who he should marry.
So what about you?
Have you called to God in a time of crisis, saying, much like Jacob, “Lord, please, get me out of this. Speak to me, guide me! If you do, I’ll live for you.”
But once the crisis is over, once the process and routine of daily living returns, have you, like Jacob, put that promise behind you – until the next crisis?
Loved ones – those of you presently in a crisis and those whose lives right now are going perfectly smoothly: Do you really wish God would speak to you?
My friends, God HAS spoken to you. And He HAS told you:
How will you respond? How HAVE you responded?
Praise God for crises!
Praise God that He uses crises to bring us to the end of our own resources!
Praise God that He has used crises in many of our lives – including mine – to draw us to Himself.
Praise God that He sometimes even chooses to speak to us directly in the midst of crises.
But you know what? We don’t live via crises. We don’t grow in the Christian life by jolting from one crisis to the next.
In the end, we live out the Christian life, we grow as Christians, through the daily process of our usual, normal activities.
Jacob needed to live by faith in God’s future grace each hour of each day. He didn’t do that – What about you?
God promises to be with all His children, with all those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – every minute of every day. He promises to be with us in the daily process of living out our lives.
Will you trust Him to do that?
Will you make a vow –
If you do that - you will fulfill the purpose of your creation: to glorify God.
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 8/22/04. Commentaries by Bruce Waltke (Genesis: A Commentary, Zondervan, 2001), and James Montgomery Boice (Genesis: An Expositional Commentary: Volume 2, Genesis 12-36, Baker, 1985, 1998) were especially helpful in the preparation of this sermon. The title was suggested to me by Gary Delashmutt’s article, Crisis and Process: Balance in Spiritual Experience.
Copyright © 2004, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.
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