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What Jacob did not see 7 March 2004PM

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What Jacob did not see

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.”

                                                                        Genesis 28 15-17

What I like about the life of Jacob is that he is a man whose character is not all good or even mostly good.  His character, and his habit of twisting things and getting things twisted seems more “realistic”.

Yet this is a man for whom the Lord had a special place – a man who gave his name historically to the People of God.

His story does not begin in Genesis 28 – he had already done quite a lot which he would regret – but it would seem that his spiritual pilgrimage began there – out in the loneliness near Bethel.   This is the story that many people remember – the story of a memorable dream of a ladder to heaven.

It is notable that Jacob himself reflects on what he had not noticed when he wakes after the dream:

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”


This is the comment of a man who lies down to sleep in a nowhere sort of place called Luz as he journeys in search of a bride, back the way his grandfather Abraham had come.   And this will become a place of great significance – simply because it was there that God spoke to him and renewed the ancient Covenant with him.

That should be enough!  A place worthy of a stone monument – an Ebenezer kind of place, a place to be visited and revisited.  (No wonder so many Welsh – and English – chapels are named after it!)

It is at Bethel that Jacob’s spiritual pilgrimage really begins.  Here he sees in a dream the famous ladder joining earth and heaven. Here he sees the Lord and he awakes with fear and with a desire to commemorate the experience.

Here tonight when we meet around the Lord’s Table it is a good time to reflect on our pivotal experience of God – on the beginning of our own spiritual pilgrimage.

And so I propose this evening to divide up what I have to say about Jacob so that it fits into our service.

As we gather at the Lord’s Table I want us to reflect upon the time and place when God showed Himself to us – a time and a moment we wish to commemorate as we commemorate our Lord’s body and blood.

There is no place so sacred – no moment so worthy of a memorial than here at His table.

So reflect with me about the way Jacob experiences the presence of God.  It will change his life for ever.

Then – a little later we will go on to see how that experience fitted in to the difficult times that Jacob faced:

·       when Laban’s attitude changed                      Genesis 31 v 2


·       when Esau approached                                   Genesis 32 vv 6 & 7


·       when Joseph seemed dead                             Genesis 42 v 36

These too in their way were character shaping experiences – but of a wholly different kind.  In these Jacob sees – but only the outward marks of danger or disaster – what he does not see is the Lord behind the scenes at work on his behalf.

We need to balance these two aspects of our own experience – the thrill of finding God’s promises for us, the wonder of His transforming grace – and the hard facts of the real world around us that often challenges that faith in His promises.


For us this table represents the New Covenant in Christ’s body and blood

It represents in a more glorious way the BETHEL EXPERIENCE of all believers who come to consider the Lord and His communion.

Like Jacob we recognise that

“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.”

It is quite possible to meet at this Table and not recognise what it means.

It is possible for time to pass and still observe this ceremony – until one day when it becomes to us too “the gate of heaven”.

I can think of no better description for the Lord’s Supper than that.

And this will be our Memorial – our Bethel  - to which, like Jacob we will need to return often.

Let us share the meal together.

1 Corinthians 11:23-32 (NIV)

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,

24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

HYMN 230     divide verses 1 & 2 from remainder?

What Jacob did not see 1    -  Laban’s attitude changes

When Jacob paused at Bethel he was on his way to Laban’s home in the hope of finding a wife.

God had made a promise – renewing the covenant with Abraham and Isaac and now with Jacob:

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.”

That reminds me of Paul’s words – The Lord will complete that which He started…

At first it must have seemed to Jacob that everything was going right. Surely the Lord was keeping His promise and He was with him.  He meets the beautiful Rachel and romance blossoms.

But it didn’t stay that way.  It doesn’t always – does it?

Laban  deceived Jacob with his other daughter Leah – but Jacob served out his time for his beloved Rachel.

But then came the problem of Rachel’s barrenness  - and that compounded by Leah’s fruitfulness. Things were beginning to go wrong.  And out of this came compromise and all the problems that go with that.

In the course of that time Jacob became rich in cattle and herds and the time came for him to leave.  But his leaving was misunderstood by Laban.

31 Jacob heard that Laban’s sons were saying, “Jacob has taken everything our father owned and has gained all this wealth from what belonged to our father.” 2 And Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude towards him was not what it had been.

3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”

4 So Jacob sent word to Rachel and Leah to come out to the fields where his flocks were. 5 He said to them, “I see that your father’s attitude towards me is not what it was before, but the God of my father has been with me. 6 You know that I’ve worked for your father with all my strength, 7 yet your father has cheated me by changing my wages ten times. However, God has not allowed him to harm me.

Superficially this was a most dangerous moment.  A crisis point – a time to move out.

And as Jacob looks at the circumstances it does not seem that God is working with him as He had promised?

It was a small consolation that God kept Laban from physically harming Jacob – but I guess most of us would have understood how Laban might feel.

Jacob is escaping with lots of cattle and flocks.

So Laban pursues Jacob:

22 On the third day Laban was told that Jacob had fled. 23 Taking his relatives with him, he pursued Jacob for seven days and caught up with him in the hill country of Gilead. 24 Then God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream at night and said to him, “Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.”

25 Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too. 26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done? You’ve deceived me, and you’ve carried off my daughters like captives in war. 27 Why did you run off secretly and deceive me? Why didn’t you tell me, so that I could send you away with joy and singing to the music of tambourines and harps?

It is interesting to consider how Jacob felt as Laban overtakes him.

Where is God in all of this?

Jacob is not to know – at first – that God has been busy behind the scenes working on his account.

Jacob did not see this – but God was at work


And as we read on the narrative we find that another stone features in the story – another memorial to an awkward situation resolved:


45 So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. 46 He said to his relatives, “Gather some stones.” So they took stones and piled them in a heap, and they ate there by the heap. 47 Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha,a and Jacob called it Galeed.a

48 Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah,a because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. 50 If you ill-treat my daughters or if you take any wives besides my daughters, even though no-one is with us, remember that God is a witness between you and me.”

51 Laban also said to Jacob, “Here is this heap, and here is this pillar I have set up between you and me. 52 This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

So Jacob took an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. 54 He offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal. After they had eaten, they spent the night there.

Yes – it’s all a bit remote to us, isn’t it?

Doesn’t quite fit with our modern age – but in fact the agreement and the stone or heap was of lasting significance – a meeting of cultures – a mark of reconciliation.


What Jacob did not see 2    -  Esau approaches

The story is summarised:


 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men;  …

4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

Notice again the contrast between WHAT JACOB SAW – and WHAT GOD HAD WORKED

But the story begins in the previous chapter.

After another meeting with angels, Jacob has to face up to his worst fears.


 Jacob also went on his way, and the angels of God met him. 2 When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is the camp of God!” So he named that place Mahanaim.

All the deceit of the past – all the haunting memories of his brother Esau have finally

caught up with him.

In a sense that in itself is a lesson.  There are times when – with God’s help – we need to face our own personal “demons”.

With the news of Esau’s approach, Jacob is terrified:

6 When the messengers returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.”

7 In great fear and distress Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups and the flocks and herds and camels as well. 8 He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape.”

I have no doubt at all that this reckoning with times past was for Jacob one of the great crises of his life – but if you read the chapters – and I hope you will – you will see how mixed these events are with PRAYER and with UNIQUE EXPERIENCES of God = the wrestling with God.

The crisis provoked one of the most significant prayers of Jacob’s story – and one of the most unusual meetings of God with Jacob.

Against the background of a fear that had dogged him ever since he persuaded his brother to surrender his birthright – Jacob prayed:

9 Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ 10 I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. 11 Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. 12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’ ”

The mixture of promise claimed and humility before God marks this out as a true spiritual landmark for Jacob.

Against the same dark threatening clouds – God meets Jacob in the person of the Angel of the Lord and wrestles with him.

After that – he meets Esau.

He goes in fear – seeing Esau approach

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men;  …


Jacob did not see this – but God was at work

In the incident with LABAN – Jacob is made to face up to his own nature – reflected in his uncle Laban – who twists and cheats like the worst.

In the incident with ESAU – Jacob is made to face up to all the terrors that most haunted him.

On the surface it looked difficult – indeed positively dangerous


What Jacob did not see 3    -  Joseph

Perhaps the most familiar of all these narratives is the story of Jacob’s favourite son sold into captivity.

But Jacob sees the bloodstained coat – and FEARS THE WORST

I would like to be able to say that in old age Jacob’s faith grew – but in this part of his pilgrimage there is not much evidence of faith.

31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

33 He recognised it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him.

But who will blame him – who sees (though he does not realise he is being tricked yet again) the evidence and jumps to conclusions.


Jacob did not see this – but God was at work

And years later the well known story having progressed  - Jacob is again confronted with what seems to be the evidence of disaster:

Joseph’s brothers return from Egypt:

35 As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened. 36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!”

Oh that so well encapsulates how Jacob felt.

He sees the evidence of yet another disaster


Is it Jacob?

Have you forgotten the promise and covenant of God?

God has not changed – but no one would dispute that externally everything seems to have gone wrong.

Time passes, and finally the brothers are back in Egypt:

45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Make everyone leave my presence!” So there was no-one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be ploughing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 


Jacob did not see this – but God was at work

Not once did God renege on His promise – not once go back on His covenant.

Jacob may fluctuate in his faith and his perception of his circumstances.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 


a The Aramaic Jegar Sahadutha means witness heap.

a The Hebrew Galeed means witness heap.

a Mizpah means watchtower.

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