Sermon on Genesis 28:10-22
Text: Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 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. 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. 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. 14 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. 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.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
God granted several people in the Bible the opportunity to see him in a vision. Isaiah saw God seated in heaven, with seraphim flying around him, singing out their praises to him. They sang, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) Isaiah received this vision as his call into the ministry. The apostle John also saw God seated in heaven in the book of Revelation. This time, not only angels were singing his praises, but also all those believers who were in heaven. John received this vision of God in order to assure the people of his day that, even though they were undergoing trials and tribulations in this lifetime, there was a better place waiting for them. That vision God gave to John was for the encouragement of his people. This morning we also have a vision of God. This vision was given to the Old Testament patriarch, Jacob. As we study this vision, we are also encouraged to SEE THE VISION. 1. See God’s Grace To You. 2. See Your Response To God’s Grace.
What a beautiful vision Jacob was granted that night near the city of Luz, later to be known as Bethel. Listen to the details of it once more, “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.” (Verse 12) In a very graphic way, God showed Jacob the constant communication and fellowship that exists between man and himself. God is never out of touch. He takes a personal interest in his people. This is shown by the picture of the angels ascending and descending on the stairway. The angels were carrying the needs of Jacob to God and were returning with God’s help and protection.
The climax of the dream came when God himself stood at the head of the stairway and repeated the promises that he had made to his grandfather and his father. God 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.” (Verses 13-14) God promised to give to Jacob the land of Canaan. He promised that he would have descendants “like the dust of the earth.” Most important of all, he repeated the promise, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.” God was referring to the promised Messiah, the Savior, who would come from the line of Jacob.
How beautiful those words must have sounded in Jacob’s ears! How comforting this vision was for Jacob, especially in light of Jacob’s present situation. The journey certainly had his parent’s blessing. Isaac had told him to go to Haran and find a wife. But, there was more to it than that. Jacob was on the run from his brother, Esau. Jacob had lied and tricked his brother out of his birthright and the blessing from his father, Isaac. You recall the story of how Isaac sent Esau out to hunt for game. When he returned, Isaac was going to bless Esau. However, Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, overheard the conversation. She wanted Jacob to receive the blessing. So they tricked Isaac, whose eyesight was becoming poor, into thinking that Jacob was Esau. Jacob put on Esau’s clothes; put goatskins on his arms, so that he felt like Esau; and brought in the food that Rebekah had prepared. Jacob was deceived and blessed Jacob. When Esau got back home and found out what had happened, he became angry and threatened to kill Jacob. When Rebekah heard about this, she sent Jacob to her brother’s home in Haran, some 500 miles away.
Jacob was on the run for two or three days when he came to this place. No doubt, the thoughts of what he had done filled his mind. He was facing the consequences for his actions. Questions probably were racing through his head. Would he ever see his parents again? Would Esau track him down and kill him? Would he ever return? Perhaps, he even felt that God had left him. You can see how wonderful this vision of God would have been for Jacob. The words that God spoke to him told Jacob where he stood with God. God still considered him his child. Yes, Jacob was weak. Yes, Jacob had sinned. But God had forgiven him. God did not hold his sins against him. Jacob would suffer earthly consequences for his actions, but God would spare him from eternal consequences. In this vision, God was telling this sin-sick person, who was on the run, that he had forgiven him. Could any more beautiful words have been said to Jacob?
How about you? What sins have brought you to this Bethel, this house of God? Each of us has our own list of sins that plague our consciences. Maybe it was that angry word that came out of our mouths, that we wish we could take back. Maybe it was that lustful thought that, instead of dismissing it, we sat and dwelt on it for a time. Maybe it was greed that filled my heart and motivated me to keep that which I could have given to God. Each of our lists would be varied and long. Whatever the sin we have committed, we know that we have deserved from our God nothing less than his eternal punishment. What can calm this troubled conscience? Where can I find peace for my soul?
The same God that came to Jacob in his distress also comes to us. As we gather again in this house of God, he tells us the same message that he told Jacob. Yes, you have sinned. Yes, you do deserve my wrath for all eternity. But I love you. I loved you so much that I sent my Son into the world to rescue you from the situation that you put yourself in. Jesus came to the earth to do my will. He perfectly did so for you, as your Substitute. So that your debt might be paid in full to me, he sacrificed his perfect life on the cross. You have been forgiven. You were made my child through the washing of Baptism. You are my child. Yes, you were weak. Yes, you sinned. But, because of the work of my Son, I have forgiven you. What beautiful words God tells us every time we gather together in this house of God. Though we often have sinned, God forgives us. The message that Jacob heard in his vision of God is repeated for us time after time. When you see this vison of God, see the grace of God for you.
When people saw these visions of God, their lives were changed. They responded to the vision of God that they had been given. For example , Isaiah, after he saw the vision of God that we mentioned earlier, heard the voice of God say, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”. Isaiah immediately responded with the well-known words, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8) After John saw the beauty of heaven, with the Lamb of God on the throne, was moved to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) These visions of God changed their lives.
The same was true for Jacob. He responded to the vision of God that he had been given. First of all, we read in verses 16 &17, “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’” Jacob was filled with fear, for he had seen the almighty God. Yet, he was also filled with awe. The perfect God had told Jacob that he was still with him. In spite of what he had done, God had forgiven him. What amazing grace.
Jacob also responded in a physical, or concrete way. “Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.” (Verse 18). Jacob had next to nothing, but what he had he was going to use to show his love for God. Jacob explained the reason for the setting up of this stone pillar in verses 20-22: “Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house’” Note that when Jacob said this he wasn’t making a bargain with God, as if to say, ‘God, if you do this for me, I will do this for you.’ Many people will teach that you can bargain with God. If you promise to do something for God or give to God, he will give you far more in return. We know that all we have comes from the hand of our gracious God. You don’t bargain with God to get things. Nor was this a question of doubt in Jacob’s mind. Jacob didn’t say this because he wasn’t certain whether or not God would do it. No, the exact opposite is true. Basically, what Jacob was saying was, ‘If God will do this (and I’m sure he will), then I will do this in response.’
Jacob vowed, “This stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house.” (Verse 22) He would erect a place of worship to God when he returned home again. These were not just the empty words of a person under pressure. Jacob fulfilled this part of his vow later. In Genesis 35:7, we read, “There [Jacob] built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.” God was gracious to him. God had been with him and had blessed him greatly. In response, Jacob set up a place to worship God.
Jacob also responded to this vision in another way. In his vow he said, “Of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Verse 22) Jacob was so sure that God would bless him, that he vowed to give a tenth back to God. While we have no specific reference to Jacob doing so, when we look at the rest of Jacob’s life, we can see him being generous in his giving to the Lord. Note that this giving of a tithe was not an obligation, as it would later be for God’s Old Testament people. This giving was in response to the grace and comfort he had received in the vision that God gave to him.
We, too, have heard a message of grace and comfort from our God. That message is seen on the blood stained cross and in the empty tomb. We have been called from the darkness of unbelief into God’s glorious light. This message cannot help but have an impact on our lives, as well. This message fills us with awe and wonder that God should choose us, in spite of who and what we are by nature. We are God’s dearly loved children. He promises to provide for us. He promises to hear our prayers. He promises that he will, one day, take us to be in heaven with him for all eternity. What a beautiful message that these ears have heard.
For that reason, we will respond to the grace given to us. We set up places of worship, like Jacob did. Ours are more elaborate than that which was set up by Jacob, but they are no more dear to us than his was to him. We have set up our Bethel’s, our houses of God, because God has spoken to us through his Word with the message of salvation. These houses of God are the places where we gather to praise our God for all that he has done for us and given to us. Here, also, God continues to speak to us, condemning sin where necessary, but, also telling us that he has forgiven us for the sake of his Son. The fact that we have these houses of God is a natural response to the beautiful message that God has given to us.
We, also, have the privilege to give to our God from the blessings that he has given to us. There is no set amount that we are to give. Yes, in the Old Testament, God demanded 10% off the top. For some that might be a goal that they hope to achieve. For some that might not be possible. Various situations might make that goal impossible. For others, 10% might not be as high a goal as they wish to set for themselves. No one can tell another person what percentage they are to give. That is something each person has to decide for themselves. Whatever the percentage that we decide to give to our God, we want to personally make sure that it is in fitting response to the grace that has been shown to us. Jacob didn’t set a specific amount that he was going to give. Rather, it would be in proportion to what God had given him.
There may be those who are thinking, ‘Look at the financial situation. The stock market is all over the place. Grain and livestock prices aren’t what they once were. This is the worst possible time to be talking about money.’ I will agree with you that the financial picture isn’t always as rosy as it is been at other times. Things seem to cost more every time you turn around. However, texts like this one give each of us an opportunity to examine ourselves to see if we are doing what we could be doing. Am I giving the best that I have to offer or am I giving from what I think I can spare? Am I giving because there are bills that need to be paid or am I giving in response to the love that God has shown to me in Jesus Christ? These are questions that each of us can only answer for ourselves. No one can answer for me, nor can I answer for any of you.
However, there is one thing to keep in mind, and that is the reason we give our offerings to the Lord. We don’t give to look good to others. We don’t give to keep the lights on or the furnace going. We give because we want to. We give in response to the love that God has shown to us in Jesus Christ. We give our offerings in worship to God, as a way of saying thank you. Is this the only way that we can say thank you? Absolutely not. Actually, it is a very small way that we say thank you to God. In reality, we want our entire lives to say thank you to God. St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The motivation is always Christ’s love shown to us. That’s why we live as we do. That’s why we speak the way we speak. That’s why we give offerings to the Lord. Again Paul says, “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14&15)
When we put our offerings into the plate, we are worshiping our God. When we gather in this house of prayer, we are worshiping God. When we live as Christians in this world, we are worshiping God. Why do we worship God? Not simply because he is the almighty God, the Creator of the universe, though this is true. But, as redeemed children of God, who have experienced firsthand the love of God, we want to express our love for him. This is our natural response to the love that has been shown to us. Indeed, as St John writes in his first epistle, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
God came to several people in the Bible right when they need his assurance and comfort. Moses needed strengthening, when he was leading God’s people through the wilderness. God came to him and proclaimed his name to him. Peter and the other disciples were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee in a boat that was threatened to be swamped because of the storm. Jesus came to them, walking on the water and telling them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27) God also comes to us when we feel overwhelmed by our sins or the circumstances of life. He does not come in visions, but he does come to us in his comforting Word. Hear his voice. See the love that he has for you and, with his help, respond to that love. Indeed in view of all that God has done for us, we cannot help but join the hymn writer in saying, “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days; Let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at they feet its treasure store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee.”
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