Read vs. 10-11. Beersheba was Jacob’s hometown, but Haran was a foreign land. What do you think it might have been like for Jacob to spend the night away like this?
Read v. 12 and describe the scene. Why do you think the Lord God showed this vision to Jacob at this particular moment (cf. Gen 31:10-13)? What spiritual application(s) is(are) there for us?
Read v. 13a. The previous passages indicate that Jacob heard about the God of his forefathers a number of times in the past. Yet why did the Lord God introduce Himself at this time in Jacob’s life?
Read v. 13b. Bible scholars say that this place (the land on which Jacob was lying) was Mount Moriah, the site where Abraham bound Isaac on the altar and where the Temple would later stand (Gen 22:2; 2Ch 3:1).What does this observation indicate about God’s purpose in promising the land to Jacob and his descendants? (1Jn 5:1-11; Jn 14:20)
Read v. 14. What does ‘blessed’ mean? Bible scholars observe that ultimately ‘offspring’ (or seed) refers to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world (Gen 3:15) who indeed came to this world from the line of the faith of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob. Why then do you think the Lord God revealed this to Jacob at this time in his life? What spiritual lesson(s) is(are) there for us to learn?
Memorize v. 15.How many times is the word ‘I’ or ‘you’ repeated?Compare “wherever you go” with “I will bring you back to this land.” What is the significance of the Lord’s promise to bring Jacob back to the [promised] land? What does this show us about the Lord as a shepherd for Jacob? (Gen 48:15; Psalm 23:1-6)
Read vs. 16-20. How did Jacob respond to the revelation? What can we learn from Jacob?
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.
In this passage we want to learn the Lord's wisdom in helping an earthbound man, Jacob, until he grew up to be a spiritual man of God, living as a source of blessing after the good examples of his ancestors of faith like Abraham and Isaac.
First, the Lord visited him in one of the loneliest moments of his life (10-11).
As we know, Jacob is a very active person. In the Bible, like the four gospels, we see two different kinds of people: one is a paralytic kind of person and another a tax collector type of person. The former performs nothing but complaining. But the latter is very active and cannot sit quiet doing nothing. Like a bumble bee they always make themselves busy. Even when it looks as if they sit quiet doing nothing still something busy is going on in their brain. Jacob is the latter type.
To shepherd over a man like Jacob is not easy. In the first place it is difficult to make an appointment to study the Bible with a man as busy as Jacob. Do you remember a man named Levi, the tax collector? When virtually the whole town went out to attend a Bible conference led by Jesus, Levi was busy at his tax collector's booth. There he was seated in his business suit, making money. Jacob was more or less the same as Levi.
Indeed it sounds impossible for a shepherd to catch a busy-minded man like Jacob for a Bible study. But nothing is impossible with the Lord. The Lord who knows Jacob inside out waited for a right moment to come.
Look at vs. 10-11. "Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 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." Jacob had thus far lived under the wings of his parents. But now there came a moment when he had to stand on his own faith. He might have felt extremely lonely and afraid for his present safety and future security. In those days there were no motels. There were no freeways or highways. No roads were paved. There were no street lights either. As the night set in on the road, very quickly he could see nothing. As the night deepened, even the stars in the sky seemed to have gone to bed, and now only dreadful darkness covered the area. To make the matter worse, maybe he could hear wolves making eerie sound like "Ooowoo oooiiiik oooh". To Jacob it was the loneliest moment of his life. At that particular moment Jacob might have thought that no one was around. At first, while lying there, the beautiful face of his mother, Rebekah, might have come up in his mind's eyes. Then tears might have flowed down his face. But what could he do? He did not have a cell phone. Had he had a cell phone he could have called his mommy or his daddy. But he did not have any means to talk to anyone. Soon, however, as he took one of the stones there and put it under his head and lay down, out of fatigue, even without himself knowing it, he fell asleep. And the Lord waited for this moment to come. When no one was around, the Lord visited him and was with him, in his dream.
The fact that the Lord appeared to Jacob at one of the loneliest moments of his life gives us a lot of comfort. One person I know has no reason to feel lonely. He has a beautiful wife who is always around him. He also has four children. He has lots of coworkers in the Lord. And he has friends inside of a church and outside of a church. Yet, the other day I saw him feeling extremely lonely. The man said to me, "I feel utterly lonely." I asked him, "Why?" He said, "I don't know. I feel just lonely." At first I kind of sympathized with him, so I wanted to invite him to do some fun thing like taking him to a movie theater or to a sushi restaurant or even to take him hiking. But, I kind of decided not to do that. Why? Because I did not want to get in between himself and the Lord, for I knew that the Lord is even waiting for this moment to come so that the Lord would talk to him and be his own personal shepherd.
Here is a point for all of us to consider: do you feel lonely for one reason or another…or for no reason whatsoever? Then wait on the Lord to talk to you, for the Lord is even waiting for this moment to come!
Second, the Lord gave him the direction to seek what is above, rather than what is below (12).
Some people feel lonely because they think they do not have any friends to talk to. Some people feel insecure for they think they do not have any secure job. Some feel utterly abandoned because they think they lost companionship with their loved ones. On many occasions we feel lonely and insecure even for no obvious reasons.
When this happens, we try to grab something or hold onto someone, expecting that someone or something would fill the void inside. It was the same with Jacob.
His father Isaac was rich. But for reasons which are not known to us, Jacob left his father's house empty-handed (Gen 32:10). Of course he was still a bachelor. And all he had was a staff, and may be a little change in his pocket. He knew where he was heading—that is, Haran. But he had never been there. All he knew about Haran was that there his mother's relatives were living. Would they greet him? Would there be any shelter for him? Would there be any job opportunities? If there were, how would he find it?All these worrisome thoughts might have been on his mind.
This uncertain future indicates that there is a strong possibility for Jacob to be driven by anxiety attacks, and then excessively indulge himself in materialistic ways of life, all in the hope of building securities here on earth. I see this being the case with many immigrants who come to this land. At first they come for some noble purposes. But sooner of later they are driven by anxieties of life. And day and night they work to build their life-security here on earth. Then they fall victim to materialism.
But the Bible says that spirit gives life to man, but flesh counts for nothing. After all, man does not consist in material alone. Man is more than a chunk of meat. Man is more than a mere animal. Unlike any animals, man is endowed with the image of God. Man seeks what is eternal. Man seeks meaning and purpose of life. Although man is designed to seek what is eternal and meaningful, and therefore man is happy when man seeks what is above, rather than what is blow, still it is possible that man can excessively seek after things of this world and get stuck in a materialistic way of life. And didn't the Bible say that, like sheep, we all are good in going astray? The Lord saw Jacob being apt to go astray. As able and active and even greedy and, oh yes, as sneaky, smart, manipulative, and deceptive as he is, the Lord saw that Jacob is bound to go astray. And the Lord saw the possibility that, sooner or later, poor Jacob might be stuck in a thorny spot, unable to pull himself out of the pit.
But, lucky for Jacob, he had the Lord as his personal shepherd. In his foreknowledge, what did the Lord do for Jacob? Look at v. 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." This dream is kind of strange and unusual. Keeping in mind the mysterious scene described in v. 12, let us also read v. 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." Wow! There above it stood the LORD! What an awesome sight might it have been?
But let us stop for a moment and think about why the Lord appeared to him like this. Why did he appear to him like this? There is one place where we can find a clue to this question, that is, in Genesis 31:10-13. Let us open the Bible and read this passage. Jacob lived to be 147 years old. During his life time he had two dreams from the Lord. The first one is what we read in Genesis 28, and the other is what we just read in Genesis 31. The first dream came to him on his way to Paddan Aram. The second came to him when Jacob was in Paddan Aram. Many Bible scholars commonly suggest that Paddan Aram in Haran is a symbol of this world, which is an antithesis of the kingdom of heaven. When we compare the two dreams, we see stark differences. Particularly two differences stand out: the former was spiritually oriented, the latter carnally oriented. The former is directed upward, the latter downward. Indeed, as Jacob lived in Paddan Aram for about 20 years, he indulged in seeking what is humanistic and materialistic; he indulged in getting his marriage partner and securing material possessions. In short, while in Paddan Aram he sought what is not divine. After indulging in what is below for more than two decades, Jacob degenerated to the bottom of the earth, lusting after things or people of this world. Then before going down further, the Lord God commanded him to "leave the land." Look at Genesis 31:13 again. "Now leave this land at once, and go back to your native land." Here native land refers to the spiritual land where he first met the Lord, just as we saw in Genesis 28:12. The command for Jacob to go back then is the command to change the direction from seeking what is mundane to what is divine. It is the direction for him to stop living as an animal man and to start living as a child of God. This is the direction to seek what is above rather than what is below. This is to help Jacob to leave the life that seeks what is perishable and therefore totally meaningless to the life that seeks what is eternal and praiseworthy. It is to turn from an empty way of life to a fulfilling way of life.
The amazing thing is that the Lord saw what was going to happen to Jacob down the road at the end of his life's journey into a foreign land.As a preventive measure, the Lord God showed him this vision so that, with this vision ingrained in his mind, even as Jacob might be going down to a pit, he would not be totally lost, but at a critical moment of his life, he would remember this dream and get a spiritual orientation.Then, by referring to this dream, Jacob should be able to come back to the right path of life.
Again let us read v. 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." This passage teaches us that no matter at what point of life's journey one might be in, each of us must remember the spiritual direction the Lord has for his children, that is, we are to head not down to the depths of the earthly things, but towards the kingdom of heaven where we can have eternal fellowship with our Heavenly Father! Hymn 467 Higher Ground in Sing to the Lord expresses the blessedness of this upward direction of our spiritual pilgrimage here on earth succinctly. So let us open the hymnal and sing vs. 1,2.
Third, the Lord helped him to develop a personal faith in the Lord (13a).
Although many might disagree, still the U.S. is known as a Christian country. Indeed on college campuses, if you ask students whether or not they want to study the Bible, you will be surprised to see that a majority of them say, "Oh, I am already going to a church. But thank you for the invitation." But to go to a church is not equal to being a man of true faith. And certainly there is a difference between a religious man and a man of true faith in the Lord.
Such was the case with Jacob. Some Rabbis speculate that by the time Jacob was departing from his hometown to Haran, he was already in his sixties. If this is true, by that time Jacob might have heard about God a number of times. This does not mean however he knows God in person. In fact it turned out that although he heard “about” God many times, he did not yet know who God really is, for he never met God in person.
This is a problem.I mean a serious problem.For those who think that they know God when they do not know God have greater difficulty to know God in person. But the Lord God knew how to help a man like this. How did the Lord help him out? Look at v. 13 again. "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." Here as we read the way the Lord God introduced himself to Jacob in a dream, one question arises in our mind. While living in his parents' house, Jacob might have heard about God of their parents a number of times. Yet why did the Lord God bother to introduce himself again? Why did he say to Jacob, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac"? Considering the timing at which the Lord appeared to Jacob, we can easily find an answer to this question. That is, the Lord waited for this moment to come—the moment when Jacob began to stand on his own feet spiritually—so that, at this moment, it was necessary for Jacob to develop a personal relationship with the Lord and get into an intimate relationship with Him. Thus far, human shepherds like his parents, Isaac and Rebekah, helped him to know God. But it was the time for Jacob to come out from under their supervision. It was the time for Jacob to develop a personal faith in the Lord, living not based on the faith of others, but on the basis of his own personal faith.
And it is truly good for one to develop a deep personal faith in the Lord, for developing one's own faith in the Lord is like a man establishing his own credit line with a lender who is willing to let him withdraw from his own account and use as much money as he desires, all with a 0% interest rate!
Fourth, the Lord helped him to live as a source of blessing for all peoples on earth (13-14).
Look at vs. 13-14. "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. 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." This may sound farfetched, but when you think about why the Lord continues to talk about giving "the land" (not any land but "the" land on which you are lying) to the community of believers, and consider the observation that by the land (or the place as in Genesis 28:10), according to the Jewish tradition the Lord meant Mt. Moriah the site where Abraham bound Isaac on the altar and where the Temple would later stand (Genesis 22:2; 2Ch 3:1), it is not difficult to see where the Lord is coming from. Even at this particular moment, many centuries before, the Lord God was looking forward to the time when Jesus, the Savior of the world, would come, and offer himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. Indeed, it is an established opinion among many Bible scholars that Isaac in Genesis 22 is a symbol of Jesus Christ, and Abraham a type of Jesus' Heavenly Father, who chose to sacrifice his son, Jesus, to set us free from bondage to the power of sin and Satan. This is a profound thought.
Let us then stretch our mind and think about why the Lord God promised to give Jacob and his descendants this land where later the Messiah would come and offer himself as a sacrifice. What is the purpose? We find an answer to this question from what Jesus said to us in 1Jo 1:1-11 an John 14:20. The Lord wants all peoples on earth to repent of their wayward ways of life, have their sins forgiven, and come to the intimate fellowship with Him! How deep is the love of the Lord for all?!
From this we learn that we must be mindful of the Lord's will to bless all peoples on earth through each of us. We are no longer to live as our own man. Rather, we must be mindful of the Lord' will to bless all peoples on earth even through our own faith and obedience, and live as a source of blessing for all peoples on earth.
Fifth, the Lord promised to bring him back home safe and sound (15).
Look at v. 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." Genesis tells us that, throughout Jacob's life's journey to and from Paddan Aram, which took about 20 years, the Lord indeed kept his promise to be with him and to bring him back home safe and sound. This gives us great comfort. For twenty years, Jacob was not always at peace with himself and with others. He suffered from anxieties of life. On many occasions he went nerve wreck worrying about his life security. He was always high strung in apprehension of possible attacks from his enemies in this dog-eat-dog world. Figuratively speaking, he is like a man who owns billions of dollars but still is always worried about losing all of them. But what did the Lord do for him? All the while the Lord was with him. The Lord protected him from harms and dangers. The Lord then brought him back home safe and sound. This is true with all who are in the Lord. Doesn't this then give us the reason not to worry about the security of our life here on earth at all, and instead seek first his kingdom and his righteousness?! Surely it does.
Sixth, the Lord helped Jacob to live as a pioneer of the worship of the Lord in the land of idol worship (16-20).
How then did Jacob respond to the dream? Look at vs. 16-20. Here Jacob did three things: first he changed the name of the place from Luz to Bethel meaning the house of the Lord. Second, he built a small Bible Center out of one stone. Third, he began tithing.
In this way, for the first time in his life, Jacob had a worship service in sincere faith. Then, most of his days in Paddan Aram, he forgot about the vow he made. But the Lord God remembered this vow and reminded Jacob of the vow, until Jacob finally came back to the worship of the Lord fully.