Discover more from Biblit
How to Respond When God Speaks
a commentary on Genesis 28
Have you ever felt alone and afraid, but all you really needed was a good night’s rest? Well, that’s what happens to Jacob this week in Genesis 28 and the story of the famous “Jacob’s Ladder.” Ok, maybe it’s a bit more complicated than just getting a good night’s rest haha! Before we jump into that, though, I definitely want to encourage you to read over or skim the chapter if you are unfamiliar with the story. It’s a good one and should not be overlooked! I will try and recap best I can:
If you recall, the last time we heard from Jacob he had just tricked his father into giving him the blessing by dressing up like Esau. When his brother found out, Esau was set to kill him, and Rebekah told Isaac they needed to send Jacob away for his safety.
Last week we also saw just how twisted Isaac’s own mind was. He was desperate to give his favorite son, Esau, the blessing, but not even a patriarch can thwart God’s plans! Now in chapter 28, Isaac submits to God’s will and gives Jacob more instruction. We see him taking up the role of spiritual leader and instruct Jacob that he must not marry a Canaanite woman (much like Abraham did for Isaac himself).
Next, they send Jacob on his merry way to go find a wife! Well, not so merry, but we’ll get back to Jacob in one second.
First, let’s pick up with Esau again where we see he is still distraught and still not going to God with his issues. He overhears Isaac say that marrying Canaanite women is displeasing. So what does he do? He finds Ishmael’s daughter and marries her! He figures that that would count. We aren’t necessarily sure what his motive is (I personally think he wants to gain favor in Isaac’s eyes again). What we do know is he takes matters into his own hands rather than going to God.
I have some thoughts on Esau and potential motives, but we’ll get to that later. For now, let’s jump back to Jacob.
I want you to take a second and appreciate the insane task ahead of this poor guy. He is a city slicker, tent dweller, homebody, or however you want to put it. The bottom line is he doesn’t like going outside much. Now he is sent on a 600-mile journey outside to find a wife! 600 miles of walking!
I know this is speculation, but I think it’s fair to assume he’s not in the best headspace. He just deceived his own father, burned every bridge imaginable with his twin brother, and he’s not sure he will ever see his mother again! He probably feels the weight of what he did, not to mention the gravity of the task ahead of him. In the story, we see him come to a place when the sun sets to sleep. He lays down to use a rock as a pillow! He went from a bed in a warm tent to dirt and pillow-rock.
Now, the original Hebrew word for “put it under his head” is actually the same term used later in 1 Samuel 26 where we see Saul putting a spear by his head. Now when you put a spear by your head it’s often because you are expecting trouble and want to be prepared for it. It is certainly possible that Jacob too knew there was danger out there and so not only was he using a rock for a pillow, but he fearfully wanted to be prepared for an attack.
Despite the lonely desolate place Jacob was in, he (through God’s grace) was able to fall asleep and had a dream. The famous dream of Jacob’s Ladder. The dream is of a ladder connecting Heaven and earth, angels going up and down on it, and the Lord is at the top blessing Jacob with the same Abrahamic promise he gave to Abraham way back when. One of my favorite lines is when God assures Jacob, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” What a great promise! That alone fills me with hope!
Jacob wakes up and we see his whole countenance change because he feels the presence of the Lord! He worships God, sets up an altar, and praises the Lord! He announces, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I didn’t know it.” Such overwhelming peace laid down on Jacob who just the previous night was alone, afraid, and desperate.
Next, we see some confusing words from Jacob. He says, if God does the things he promised, then I will call him my God.
There is a debate around this passage about whether this is Jacob’s immature faith giving God a condition (something Abraham never did), or if the original Hebrew text actually meant: since. Like, since God is doing this, then I will call him my God. More of a responsive faith than an immature faith.
We can certainly make speculation here all day, but I think the point is Jacob responds with faith and trust in the Lord. Something we have not seen in Jacob until this moment! What a huge turnaround for Jacob! And that is the point I want to jump into next:
There are oodles of things packed into this passage! We could spend a whole post just dissecting Jacob’s dream itself. I want to focus on a couple of things rather than the dream, though. I don’t want to leave you dry and hanging, though, because the dream is super important, and I highly suggest looking into it! One good point to hold onto regarding the dream is this: Jesus is the ladder connecting us to God.
Anyways, I want to create a picture of a crossroads. We see in previous weeks that Jacob, Isaac, Rebekah, and Esau all took matters into their own hands rather than trusting in God. In this passage, we see some of them finally make a different choice. We see a crossroads between the brothers. Esau was given a choice once again to trust God and ask him what to do or to take matters into his own hands.
He didn’t even fully understand what Isaac said or the meaning behind it. He assumed if she wasn’t a Canaanite woman then he was doing right. This shows more of a works-based faith, rather than dealing with his heart issues.
This is also another plug for why it’s so important for us to fully study the word of God before we apply it to our lives. If we don’t understand it then we don’t know why we are doing what we’re doing and we end up just like Esau!
Jacob is a different story. He goes on a journey, alone, afraid, and probably doesn’t know if he will survive the 600 miles! Yet God shows himself to Jacob and Jacob responds with great faith! God gave him grace despite his past sins and brought him back to the faith! Jacob took the road less traveled and as we’ll see in the coming weeks he is blessed for it!
Are the consequences of his sins gone? No! Not in a worldly sense, at least. He still has to suffer the consequences of his past failures. But they are all temporary! His eternal punishment is forgiven through faith! That’s what I want to focus on in our application:
My main takeaway is this question: how am I responding to God? Am I depending on him fully in my journey of life? In my fears, do I rest assured in his promise that he will never leave me nor forsake me? Or am I like Esau who when feeling alone or defeated tries his hardest to fix it himself?
I think if I sit and really reflect, I will see many many moments where I respond like Esau. Where I don’t acknowledge God at the moment. I want to respond to God more like Jacob and I believe and know that through the grace and sanctification of Jesus alone, I will!