“…house of God”
In this chapter we witness when Jacob had a true encounter with God. Until this time he lived mainly on the faithfulness of his father and grandfather, being kept safe because of their personal obedience to God. Now, Jacob was to meet with God himself, and it had a profound effect on his heart, mind and life. Anyone who has met God personally in this way will never forget it!
Like many Christians, he tended to ‘paddle on the rim of the shore’. Now, the reality of God suddenly shone into his life and he was transformed. He must now jump into the sea and swim in its depths, letting God take control. From this time onward, he determined to do whatever God wanted him to do. It is at such times that we become strong, for God is our protector... when we just paddle we look out at the ocean and feel secure because land is right behind us. But, when we jump into the ocean itself, far from land, we can have no other security than the promises of God. THAT is when we literally ‘sink or swim’.
In many lives there are times of intense stress and fear. Even so, God is within and is our safety. Even when under great stress we must remember it and wait for His act of protection, whatever form it takes. Within this act of resting is the seed of spiritual boldness, for if God is for us who can be against us? ‘Resting’ then, is more dynamic than sitting down and enjoying the scenery... it is vibrant life!
Like Jacob, let us understand the greatness of God and realise that He is within. Then, we can move forward in life, with unshakeable faith and great strength, knowing that the Creator of the whole universe is in our meagre, weak bodies, in our everyday living, ready to protect and guide.
“And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.
Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother.
And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people;
And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.
And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother.”
Isaac commanded his son to take a bride from amongst his own kinsmen. Previously, we saw that these kinsmen were godly people. We also saw that it was not Jacob who chose a wife, but God. Today, Christians are so used to making their own choices, they often forget to allow God to take the reigns of their lives.
When it comes to marriage, how many of us truly asked God to make the choice? Indeed, how many did not even think of marriage until God Himself prompted us to follow the path of marriage? Most decide on a partner and then ask God to agree to it. Really, we should let God guide us toward a particular person in the first place. This is what we see in the life of Jacob.
“When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;
And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-aram;
And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;
Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.”
In these texts we can see that Esau deliberately set out to make his own choices, in an attempt to appease his father; he married Mahalath (‘stringed instrument’), a daughter of Ishmael and sister of Nebajoth (‘heights’). As Ishmael was not of God’s chosen blood-line, this would seem to have been a mistake, for Christ did not come through the line of the Arab peoples, who were destined to forever fight against Israel.
These are background details that ‘set the scene’ of the line of Christ going through particular people chosen by God. Whilst it is true that the characters involved committed sins and they failed on occasions, still God carried out His plan, through the very people who sinned and failed. This testifies to the elective power of God, and the truth of predestination. Our sins never deter God’s plans.
“And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran.
And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”
Jacob started out on his journey to Padanaram. At the end of the first day, when it became dark, he stopped to sleep, and found a suitable smooth stone to serve as his pillow. Then he lay down to sleep.
As he slept he had a dream, in which a ladder stretched from earth up into space (Heaven). Angels were going up and down the ladder, suggesting that they were frequent visitors to earth and its peoples. Their obedience to God is illustrated by this coming from, and going back to, heaven. This compares with the evil angels, whose abode is presently this earth, and whose master is Satan, who is not in Heaven.
At the top of the ladder stood the LORD, Jehovah, Who repeated His promises to Jacob, reminding him that He was the God of his father and his grandfather. He was the same God, Who spanned time, non-time (eternity), and space. He told Jacob that the land on which he slept was to be his – not necessarily personally, but his future generations, who would be too numerous to count. And, again, He spoke of the whole world being blessed by someone of his seed (this would be Jesus).
Furthermore, said God, “I am with thee” and would keep Jacob through all circumstances, for His purposes must come about. This is a message for all believers in every age. When we do His bidding, even if we do it badly, He will prevail and work through our failures and mistakes. In so doing, He will also keep us safe.
“And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
And Jacob vowed 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 raiment to put on,
So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:
And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
When Jacob awoke, the dream was still vivid in his mind. Usually we do not remember our dreams, partly because they are mixed-up ideas and images. But, this was God talking, and the dream had a purpose, so Jacob remembered every part of it. Realising that God visited Him in the night, he said that God was in that place, though he did not realise it when he lay down to rest. When we do His will, God is with us wherever we are, even when we suffer troubles and woes.
Suddenly, Jacob experienced fear, yare: awe and dread, because he was standing where God had been. He said “How dreadful is this place!” The word for ‘dreadful’ is the same as for ‘fear’, also yare, and it signifies Jacob’s total reverence for the place and God. (I can relate to Jacob’s awe and fear. For example, on one occasion, after praying on three separate occasions for a particular favour, and having received the first two favours promptly, one day after the other, I was struck silent and was filled with trepidation when I had another swift answer on the third day! Far from feeling elated, I felt fear of the Lord, though I thanked Him profusely for showing me His power and authority).
His words tell us what is true – that wherever God is (and He is with all who obey), is the ‘house of God’, the bayith: a word that can mean a place, a person, or his inner being. In scripture we are told that God, the Holy Spirit, resides within all who are saved. Though few of us are very good at it, as Christians we should never fear the outcome of circumstances. It is true that the sudden shock of a new threat or problem can set us back awhile, but after that shock, we must stand firm and let God take the burden from us. Indeed, we should scan the horizon with excited anticipation!
Jacob took hold of the eben or stone he had used as a pillow, and set in into the ground as a pillar or matstsebah, which can mean a monument or an altar. Then, he poured ‘oil’ upon it, shemen. We cannot be absolutely sure what this was, whether fat or olive oil, but it was likely to be olive oil, as this could have been used as a spread on bread and it was also used for religious purposes other than burning of meat.
He was standing in the middle of nowhere, but he gave a name to the place, Bethel, or Beyth’El, meaning ‘house of God’. This is a name often given to small churches everywhere, but the truest fact is that God inhabits all who are saved. Bethel became an ancient seat of worship in Ephraim, but even before this it was near a city called Luz or Luwz (‘almond tree’), and was known by that name.
Until this meeting with God in a dream, it seems that Jacob was ambivalent about his relationship with God, which might explain things he had done in the past. Now, with a personal word from God, his life changed, and he promised that if God kept him on his journey and got him safely back to his home, then he would follow God as his Lord; the stone he had just set up as a monument would remain ‘God’s house’ for all generations, and Jacob would give a tenth to God of everything he had, saying that he recognised that it was God Who gave it in the first place.
Jacob said that he would give a tenth or ‘tithe’ of everything he had, asar. This became normal in the life of later Hebrews and Jews, and even amongst Christians. But note that it began as a personal tribute based on an individual encounter with God. Today, Christians are not bound by the formal tithes of tradition, because when tithes are made a duty they cease to be an offering from the heart. God loves a cheerful giver, but cannot tolerate those who give grudgingly or as a duty, because they feel they have to. Those who know the joy of the Lord are cheerful givers, so their tithes are acceptable.
As Believers we must not just give of our goods, but we must give of our very selves. This means that every Christian must be ready and willing to give everything, including his life, to God, for Him to do whatever He wishes with us and our goods. This is our spiritual tithe which, given in the right spirit, can often greatly surmount any formal tithe.
© October 2005 (Revised May 2014)