Vs 1 – 5: Jacob is blessed & sent to Laban - Isaac instructs Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman and tells him to take a wife from his Uncle’s family. The blessing of Isaac is very similar to the blessing of Abraham (it contains all the components). This is the first time Jacob is designated by Isaac as the heir of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Vs 6 – 9: Esau responds by marrying an Ishmaelite - Esau’s intention of marrying an Ishmaelite woman was probably one way of trying to appease his parents. He thought if he took a wife from his family it would please his parents. Gordon Wenham writes, “Esau decides to marry a daughter of Ishmael. That it was only after he heard Isaac sending Jacob off that he realized his wives were unpopular suggests Esau was rather slow-witted.”
Vs 8: “So when Esau saw that Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father…” Amazingly he was oblivious to his parents loathing of his wives. They either hid it well or he was not a very bright man.
Vs 10 – 15: Jacob leaves home and heads toward Haran and stops for the evening. It is at this point Jacob probably feels lonely, vulnerable and afraid. He was forced to leave his home (for his own safety) and now he was alone in the wilderness with no protection or a place to spend the night. When nighttime comes he takes a stone and uses it for a pillow (not the most comfortable of pillows). As he drifts off into sleep Jacob has a dream. The dream is significant and intended to encourage, assure and bless Jacob in his time of despair. There are three features to this dream that we should focus our attention.
- The Ladder – The ladder symbolizes the connection between heaven and earth. This ladder represents the passage (so to speak) or link between this earth and God’s Kingdom. God and his angels have access to this ladder and they are actively using it in this world.
- The Angels – In the O.T. Angels are typically displayed as messengers, protectors or agents who look after the nations. The angels going up and down the ladder show that even in the midst of despair and depression Jacob is still being watched over and protected. He may feel vulnerable, alone and uncertain but the presence of angels will be with him and he will be protected.
- The LORD – The LORD is depicted as standing above this ladder. This shows the sovereignty of God. He is watching over what is going on in the earth. He is specifically watching over Jacob. We also should note that the angels must report to him and He instructs them in what they are to do. His presence also is a way to show that God will bless him as He passes the promise on to Jacob. God assures him that He is the God of his Father (Isaac) and his grandfather (Abraham). He will bless him by giving him land, descendants and blessing.
God uses this dream to meet and speak with Jacob. What is interesting to note is this is the first encounter he has with God. It is possible that up to this point Jacob may not have been committed wholly to the God of his father. He may not have even been a monotheist. However in this vision God assures Jacob that He will be with him and protect him no matter where he goes. Jacob does not and cannot know what the future holds for him. As far as he knows he is going to be stuck in the wilderness without any land, blessing or inheritance from his earthly father. God lets him know he will be fine. God is sovereign over Jacob’s situation and over the world. Not only will God be with and protect him but he will bring Jacob back to the land of Promise. At this point Jacob is leaving the land but God will bring him back. He is unaware that it will be about two decades until this happens but this promise is something Jacob has to hold on to for the remainder of his life.
Vs 16 – 17: When Jacob awakes from the dream he realizes that he was in the presence of God and he was afraid. He was a sinful man in the presence of a holy God so there should be sense of awe and reverence. His fear led him to the understanding of the awesome presence of the Lord. Here is a man who was in the presence of the Lord and did not know it and once he realizes his encounter with God he is overcome with repentance, awe and worship. He says, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate to heaven!” Jacob is overcome by the presence of God and He responds appropriately as one who has come face to face with God.
Vs 18 – 22: When he wakes in the morning Jacob makes a vow to God and builds a pillar and pours oil over it to commemorate his encounter and to mark this as the gateway to God’s house. His vow includes a promise to serve the Lord His God as long as the LORD will be with him, protect him and provide for him. He essentially gives himself as a living sacrifice to the Lord as an act of worship. It is here that Jacob commits himself to the one and only True God. This once again is a natural response as he makes the vow to serve and he gives a tithe in worship.
This beautiful passage continually reminds me of God’s sovereignty, his protection, and his presence amidst his people. It is a wonderful reminder that God is present and active with us today. The passage has led me to ask many questions and it challenges me to look at how this encounter with God can relate to us today.
- I have is am I aware of the presence of God in my life? Do I truly know when I am in the presence of the Lord? Is my relationship with him the kind of relationship where I know that he is with me (whether I sense him or feel him with me)? But maybe before I answer this question I must first ask do I even want to dwell in his presence? When I think about it God’s presence is a frightful place to be and it is a wonderful place to be. It is fearful because when I am in God’s presence my eyes are opened to my sinful state. My unworthiness and sin is exposed in the light of our Holy God. When my sin is exposed in light of God I know that brokenness and repentance will follow. This can be a painful place (because exposure to sin can cause me to fall into deep depression, regret and self loathing) but I also know the presence of God a freeing place. My sinful exposure leads me to the cross of Jesus Christ where my sins were nailed to the cross of Calvary. Deep repentance leads me to the cross which leads to confession which brings me into the light of His forgiveness. As fearful as the presence of God may be as a sinner it is a more beautiful place as a forgiven son of God. Once I have received the forgiveness of God I am cleansed of unrighteousness, I am made pure by the blood of Jesus Christ and I now stand as forgiven and a beloved child of God. So you must determine in your heart today; do you want to be in this wonderfully fearful place?
- Is the presence of God always accompanied by some fantastic event like a vivid dream, tongues of fire or outrageous manifestations? Or is the presence of God always recognized in a still small voice, a calm and contemplative challenge or gentle rebuke? The best answer is yes. I believe wholeheartedly that God still speaks through visions and dreams. God still manifests himself through signs and wonders. Yet God’s presence can also be sensed in a gentle small voice. His presence may be revealed through the Bible. The one thing I have noticed and believe is God’s presence always brings change or transformation. God’s presence is often evident through brokenness and repentance. God’s presence can be displayed through an emotional experience. God’s presence can be and usually is marked with transformation and a deep desire to pursue Him.
One of the saddest things that I see today is when God does show up and many people don’t even know it. This is a sad because it is a common occurrence. Some people are so tied up in either the world or themselves that sometimes God shows up and they are so focused on other things they miss out on what God is up to. This may be common for someone who has an agenda and he is determined to have his will done regardless of what God is doing. He is so focused on getting what He wants that he cannot hear or sense God and his plan. Some are so consumed in the world and the cares of the world that they could care less if God showed up or not.
It is vitally important to be sensitive to God’s presence. Whether you feel him or not, He is present with you. He is in the midst of his people right now. I want to encourage you today to be sensitive to his presence because He does still speak through visions, dreams and his Word. He is active in this world and in each of your lives. I can’t give you exact details as to how God’s presence is made known to you. Really that is something you must determine through prayer, wise counsel and His Word. I think what is most important for us to take with us today is to know that when God does show up lives are changed and we are transformed into his likeness for his glory.
 Wenham, G. J. (1998). Vol. 2: Genesis 16 - 50. Word Biblical Commentary (214). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.