Elon, North Carolina
Today, we want to do two things. We want to finish Genesis 27 and go into Genesis 28. That is the goal for today. Last week, we looked at Genesis 27. It tells a famous biblical story about Jacob and Esau. It is the story of how Rebekeh conspired with her favorite son to cheat his twin brother out of his father’s blessing by deceiving him. The plan worked. Isaac did bless Jacob by mistake and the blessing was irreversible. He could not take it back but Esau was so mad that he planned to kill Jacob.
It reads like a modern-day soap opera. It is a great story but what does that have to do to us? What does this story say to us today? There is no command in this chapter for us to obey. What lessons can we learn from it? Here are nine that stand out to me.
Lessons from the Stolen Blessing
1) No family is perfect.
Even Christian families have problems and sometimes they are big problems. Pastor’s kids are not perfect. The family of Isaac and Rebekah was dysfunctional and that was the chosen family.
2) Spouses need to communicate with each other.
That did not happen in this chapter. Isaac and Rebekah had no communication in this chapter. Marriage counseling experts (which I make no claim to be) say that this is the number one problem in marriage. It involves listening as well as talking. It is not just involve getting your point across but listening to the other side. Couples often do not do this very well.
3) Parents need to treat kids fairly.
Isaac and Rebekah both showed favoritism to their kids. One loved Jacob. One loved Esau. As parents, we can bond more with one child than with another but we should not treat one differently than another or love one any less than the other. Parental favoritism leads to all kinds of problems in children (jealousy, anger, depression, rivalry).
4) If your life is in danger, go to a safe place.
That is what Jacob did when his brother was trying to kill him. He fled. He did not stick around for target practice. He goes five hundred miles away. In this case, it was a danger that he really created but the point still remains.
5) Do not listen to those who tell you to sin.
Rebekah commanded her son to sin. She told him to lie, not once but twice. In Genesis 27:8, Rebekah told Jacob, “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice as I COMMAND you” (ESV). She said it again in Genesis 27:13. She said, “Let your curse be on me, my son; only OBEY my voice, and go, bring them to me.” Never listen to anyone who tells you to sin, no matter who they are.
6) God’s will prevails over our will.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” It is futile to fight against God. God said that the older son would serve the younger son. Isaac wanted to reverse that. He had a plan and his plan tries to thwart God’s prophecy. It didn’t work. Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD” (NIV).
7) Sin has consequences.
Jacob got the blessing but there were some consequences to his actions. His brother wanted to kill him. He has to flee for his life. He never sees his mother again. He never even got to attend her funeral. Jacob got the blessing but he lost his family.
8) Just because we get away with something, does not mean that God approves of our actions.
Just because a plan works does not mean that it is right. Rebekah and Sarah both had a plan and it worked. Abraham got a baby and Jacob got the blessing. In both cases, the plan was flawed because it involved sin. One plan involved deception and one plan involved adultery.
9) There is a right and a wrong way to do things.
There is a right and a wrong way to do things. They did the right thing the wrong way. God does not just look at what we do. He looks at how we do it. Sarah and Rebekah did the right thing the wrong way. We do not need to lie to get ahead. That is the lie that many believe. We do not have to sin to get ahead.
Rebekah and Sarah tried that. In both cases, it was completely unnecessary. Sarah and Abraham gave birth to a baby without the help of a concubine and the Messiah would come through the line of Jacob anyway. Even if Isaac cursed Jacob, God can turn curses into blessings. We see that in Deuteronomy 23:5 and Nehemiah 13:2.
So how does this chapter end? Jacob steals the blessing and Esau plans to kill him (27:41). That was a problem, because Esau was a hunter. He was an archer. He was good with a bow and arrow. He was used to killing things. Now Jacob is marked for death. He has a death sentence over him, so Rebekah once again comes up with another plan. She was good at taking over when there was a problem.
Her plan was to send him away for a while until Esau got over his anger (27:43-45). This time she has to talk to Isaac. The whole chapter she did not say a word to her husband. Now she has to talk to him but notice what she says. “I loathe my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women like these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?” (27:46)
Notice that she does not say anything about Esau. She did not say anything negative about Isaac’s favorite son. She did not say, “Isaac needs to get out of town because your favorite son wants to kill him”. Isaac might have turned that around and said, “He only wants to kill him because of what YOU did. It’s your own fault.”
She was very tactful. She was very diplomatic. She had him leave town for a different reason. It was a reason that Isaac could relate to. A servant went out of the country to find Isaac a wife and Isaac did not want him to marry a Canaanite woman.
This was brilliant. Rebekah was smart. She knew how to get her husband to do whatever she wanted him to do. She just had to word things right and in this case she was not lying, because it was time for Jacob to get married and she did not want him to marry a Hittite woman. Isaac agrees. They send him off but first, he blesses him.
“Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother” (28:1-5 NIV)
Now Isaac already blessed Jacob. Why is he doing it again? The last time he did it, he was tricked into doing it. He did it unwillingly and unconsciously. This time he CHOOSES to bless Jacob. He gives Jacob two instructions. One is positive and one is negative.
He tells him not to marry a Canaanite woman like Esau did) and he tells Jacob to go back to the old country. He tells him to go to his grandfather Bethuel’s house and marry one of Laban’s daughters. He actually ends up marrying both of them, as we will see next week.
Esau sees Jacob getting the blessing and marrying inside the family, so he tries that as well to please his parents (28:7-9). Jacob looked for a wife on his mom’s side. Esau added another wife on his dad’s side of the family. She married the daughter of Ishmael (his dad’s half-brother). It was little improvement. Both Esau’s descendant and Ishmael’s descendants were at odds with the Jews.
Jacob leaves home. There is Jewish tradition that is not in the Bible but is probably historical, so I want to share it with you. It is found in the Book of Jubilees. The Book of Jubilees is a Jewish book that is not inspired but is very old. It goes back to the second century B.C. The Book of Jubilees says that after Jacob left home, Rebekah grieved and wept. Isaac comforted her and said that God would be with him, protect him and make him prosper wherever he goes (27:13-18).
Jacob takes a five hundred mile trip from Beersheba to Haran. He does not get there in this chapter. He travels for a little while, camps out, falls asleep and has a dream. It is an incredible dream. Before we look at it, we have to imagine what was probably going through Jacob’s mind at this time.
In the last chapter, Jacob was on top. He outsmarted everyone. He hit the jackpot. He got the birthright. He got the blessing. Then the whole plan turned sour and he is forced to leave home probably for the first time in his life. Jacob has to say goodbye to his mother and father. That would not have been easy. Jacob was a mamma’s boy. He was domestic. He now has to leave his family and be on his own.
Not only does he go out of town, he goes out of the country for his own safety. He left quickly do he does not take a lot with him. He leaves his family. He leaves his wealth. He leaves the comforts of home and he goes out on his own alone. He is running for his life.
He is used to living indoors but now he is living outside with the wild animals. He fears for his life. He never knows when Esau might pop out behind a bush and try to take him out and get revenge for what he did to him. He probably feels bad about himself. He may have blamed himself for being stupid enough to carry out this plan.
He disgraced himself by what he did. He does not have the reputation now as a man of integrity but as a cheater, a swindler, a crook. He was the one who got himself into this mess. He won the battle but seems to have lost the war. Now he is exiled from home. He is leaving the land and his inheritance. Esau is the only one living at home.
Jacob reaches rock bottom in this chapter. It is probably the lowest point of his life. God must have seemed far away from him at this time. He had a lot of problems. His brother wants to kill him. He is on the run, leaving not only his family but his country. He’s a fugitive. He is alone. He is vulnerable. He is helpless and homeless. He has regrets about his past. He feeels guilt for some of the things he had done. He is fearful of the present and he is uncertain about the future.
He did not know what was going to happen? Would he make it safely to Uncle Laban’s house? Would he find a wife there? Would he ever return to the Promised Land? If he did return to the Priomise Land, would his brother still be angry with him and want to kill him? Would he see his parents again?
As you can imagine, Jacob is very anxious. He is afraid. He is hungry. He is tired. He has nowhere to stay. It is dark. He has no place to spend the night. There was no Comfort Inn or Days Inn. He has to sleep outdoors. He did not even have a pillow to sleep on. He had to use a stone as a pillow. He must have had a hard time falling asleep.
That is when God appears to him. He has an encounter with God. He experiences a theophany and his life is completely changed. He becomes a new man after this encounter. This is when Jacob gets saved. He woke up afraid. He began with a fear of his brother and ended with a fear of God. He consecrates the place and pours oil on the stone. He makes a vow to God. He is completely changed.
Notice when this came. It came at his lowest point. That is usually when God speaks to us. He reaches out to us when we are completely broken. Jacob found God when he least expected it. He also found God when he least deserved it. He was not out seeking God. He did not meet God in church. He was not praying and worshipping. He was running from home. He was not running to God. He was not seeking God. God sought him. Jacob left home looking for a wife. Before he found one, he finds God Himself. This is pure grace.
Why is this important? Just because Jacob was in a family that had some contact with God does not mean that he knew God. He needed to have his own relationship with God. Many know about God second-hand. Many that they know have a relationship with God but they do not.
Just because you come from a Christian family or are a preacher’s kid doesn’t mean you are saved. None of us are Christians because our parents are Christian. Jacob’s dad and grandfather knew God. They had a relationship with him. He had spoken to them but not to Jacob until now.
This is the first of seven or eight appearances that God made to Jacob. The first time he appeared was when he left home and was fleeing the Promised Land. God also appears to him when he is in Haran. He appears to him on his way back to the Promised Land twenty years later. That was when he had that famous wresting match which we will look at eventually. Let’s look at the first time that God made contact with Jacob. It was in a dream. It is ther first mention of a dream in the Bible.
Jacob’s Heavenly Dream
“As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway. At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac.
The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” (28:12-15 NLT). God does two things in this dream.
1. He spoke to Jacob.
God reveals himself to Jacob. God said to Jacob, “Your dad knew me. Your grandfather knew me but you don’t know me. “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac” (28:13). Has God ever spoken to you in a dream?
God speaks to me in dreams all of the time. I wake up with ideas for my lesson that I did not have to me before I fell asleep. They came to me in the middle of the night. The first thing I try to do when I wake up is write them down, so I don’t forget them. God has spoken to me when I am sleeping many times but I have never had a vision of heaven while I was asleep. Jacob did.
God not only revealed himself to Jacob, he told him some things. He gave him some promises. This was grace. He could have rebuked Jacob for his deception. Instead, He gave him some incredible promises. He promised to be with Jacob and will bring him back into the Promised Land (28:15). He promised that his descendants would be like the dust of the earth (28:14). Right now, he did not have any descendants. He was not even married. He had no children. He also promised to give him and his descendants the Promised Land (28:23).
2. He gave Jacob an incredible vision.
What does he see? He sees three things. First, he sees a ladder. It must have been a very long ladder, because it reached from heaven to earth. We call it Jacob’s ladder (following the KJV) but it probably was not a ladder. It was probably a staircase and this stairway stretched from heaven to earth.
Second, he saw angels on the stairway. He saw lots of them going up and down this heavenly staircase. As he looks all the way to the top of the ladder, he sees God. That is the third things that he saw in his dream.
Lessons from Jacob’s Dream
What do we learn from this dream? What does it tell us? This is very interesting. We learn several things.
1. God is personally involved in this world.
He is at work, even when we do not think he is. He was present in the place where Jacob was, even though he did not know it or feel it.
2. God works through angels to accomplish his purposes on earth.
Apparently, they are quite busy, going back and forth from heaven to earth. They guide and protect believers. Jacob is traveling alone. That was dangerous in that day. Usually, you traveled in caravans. He is seeking a wife. Remember angels were involved behind the scenes in Isaac finding a wife (24:7). Hebrews says that they minister to those who are heirs of salvation and report back to Heaven where they have full access.
Notice what Genesis 28:12 says. The angels are NOT descending and ascending but “ascending and descending”. They are already one earth, helping believers and they report back to heaven. Apparently, they are invisible. Jacob would not have know about them had not God let him see what was going on.
Jesus, Nathaniel and Jacob’s Ladder
Genesis 28 is alluded to in the NT by Jesus Himself. It is a fascinating verse. Jesus finds Philip and says “Follow Me” (John 1:43). Philip finds Nathaniel and tells him that we have found the Messiah. Nathaniel is not too sure, so Philip says, “come and see” (John 1:46). Check him out for yourself.
When Nathaniel meets Jesus, he says to him “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47). Jesus says that you are not like Jacob at all. There is no deceit in you. NLT reads, “You are a man of complete integrity.” Would Jesus say the same thing about us? Nathaniel says, “How do you know me?” (1:48). In other words, “I have never met you before.”
Jesus said, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you” (1:48). Nathaniel did not see anyone watching him. Jesus was miles away but he saw Nathaniel reading his Bible. He was probably reading Genesis 28 because he quotes Genesis 28 to him but he changes one detail in the text.
“And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51 ESV). That sounds a lot like Genesis 28 but, instead of angels ascending and descending on a ladder, they are ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
Jesus IS the ladder. Jacob’s ladder is a type of Christ. Jacob had a literal dream but that dream was also a picture of Jesus. How is this ladder a picture of Jesus?
Jesus is the only way to heaven. He said, “”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the only way to get to God. He is the only mediator between God and Man (cf. I Timothy 2:5). He is the only one who connects heaven and earth. He connects God and sinful man. Many think that there are many stairways to heaven. Jesus is the only one. He is our only access to God.
Thank you for such in-depth commentary of these chapters of Genesis! I had read my Liturgy of the Hour, Morning Prayer and was uncomfortable not knowing “well” the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I knew the basic surface story but i wanted to know the deeper reason why they played such a big role in our spiritual story…enough to be repeated and repeated morning and evening. it was like going down a rabbit hole! I read three of your commentaries in one sitting!
Some of the lessons are better than others. I am glad you got something out of them. The newer ones are better. Genesis is a great book. May God bless you richly.