Jacob’s dream at Bethel
A couple of years ago, I was attending a lecture series, and just before one of the sessions started I received a message that contained a string of photos of my dad’s bakkie, it was completely written off. I was distraught, completely caught off guard.
In the message, my mum told me that my sister just came from a funeral, and on her way back home she went off the side of the road and when she jerked the steering wheel to go back onto the road, she flipped the bakkie. My whole emotional state changed completely when I received that message. My whole evening changed as a result of that message. My sister was ok, only a couple of bumps and bruises.
But for my sister, her whole life changed with that experience. Even now two years later, she does not drive without her seatbelt fastened, and she’s an extremely cautious driver. My sister will never be the same driver after that experience.
Every now and then in our lives we encounter experiences that are life changing. That change the way you look at life. They can be good experiences like the day you get married, or the birth of a child and they can be bad, like the death of a loved one. But we all have had experiences that shaped our lives. And will encounter more in the future.
Now today we are going to look at an experience of Jacob that redirected his life. Jacob fell asleep a fugitive on a pillow of stone, and the next morning he woke up as a pilgrim setting up a memorial of stone.
And now we will look at what changed Jacob so drastically between the pillow of stone and memorial of stone.
Jacob: The Fugitive (Literary Background)
Jacob up until this passage is not really a likeable character. He is a deceiver! In 2012 my family and I went on holiday to Thailand, and this one day we were walking on the beach side these guys approached us and they gave us these scratch cards, and like a good tourist I scratched my card, I was so surprised at the result, it said I won an iPhone, I was quite excited.
And when I went to the place where I had to pick up my prize, I had to listen to a 45 minute presentation on buying time share, and there was no iPhone for me at the end if I did not invest in time share. I was very annoyed because I was deceived. This is the kind of guy Jacob is but even worse, he deceived his brother for his birth right, and then he deceived his father in order to steal his brother’s first born blessing.
He angered his brother so much that he had to flee for his life. His own brother wanted to kill him. Jacob was a pretty terrible guy! He split up his whole family because of his selfishness.
And so with the advice of his mother he fled for his life, and he became a fugitive on the run. This leads us to our passage.
The Fugitive’s Pillow to the Pilgrims Monument
It is here where Jacob will have an experience which will change the trajectory of his life. Jacob was on the run and when the sun went down he decided to get some rest, and he constructed for himself a very uncomfortable pillow, a pillow of stone, very fitting for a fugitive on the run. Jacob fell asleep and a stairway reaching the heavens appeared. In the ancient near east, this was a common image portraying a type of portal in order for deities to connect with the created order. And this is how God chose to reveal himself to Jacob.
look at vv. 12 and 13:
The ESV captures the repetition in Jacob’s response well, which allows us to witness the scene through Jacob’s eyes. Listen to the use of the word behold in these verses:
12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!
13 And behold, the Lord stood above it…”
J.P. Fokkelman points out from the Hebrew grammar that we the readers are invited by the narrator in this passage to stand with Jacob in awe and wonder with a lifted arm and an open mouth saying: “[Look] there, a ladder! Oh, look angels! and look, the Lord himself”
In this way the narrator grabs his reader and tells him, wake up something significant is about to happen.
And in the same way I want to grab your attention and tell you to wake up and listen up.
Because here God speaks:
In v.13 God introduces himself as the God of Abraham, and the God of his father Isaac. But the question here is; will God be the God of Jacob the deceiver too?
In short, yes.
Starting at the end of v. 13 throughout v. 14, Yahweh makes a covenant with Jacob, with absolutely no conditions attached. He promises land, worldwide descendants, and blessings. He extends the covenant promises that He made with Abraham and Isaac to Jacob now.
And in v.15 God seals of his promise if you like, that he will take care of Jacob, 6 times God is the subject with Jacob being the object.
Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”
>> Irresistible grace
There is a mystery in how God changes the hearts of his people from enemies to friends. And the doctrine of irresistible grace is beautifully illustrated in God’s meeting with Jacob in this dream.
John Piper writes: The point of irresistible grace is not that we can’t resist. We can and we do. The point is that when God chooses, he overcomes our resistance and restores a submissive spirit. He creates. He says, “Let there be light!” He heals. He leads. He restores. He comforts.”
This is exactly what God did in the life of Jacob, he met a fugitive who had nothing to offer, and turned him into a pilgrim, into a man of God.
And Jacob responds in the only way he sees fit, he worships God and turns his pillow of stone into a monument of stone.
Jesus the Perfect Pilgrim Sent to be a Stairway for Fugitives
You might be kicking back at me and say, rarely do we hear of such dramatic experiences. And many others might expect these kinds of experiences to be the norm.
But the writer of Hebrews tells us in that
1In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
God is now revealed to us through his Son and his great act of redemption. In we read how Jesus fits in with this passage, it reads:
“Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
D.A. Carson says that:
“Every Jew honoured Jacob…, the father of the twelve tribes; now everyone must recognise that this same God has appointed Jesus as his Messiah. If there is a hint of the ‘new Israel’ theme, it is here … Jesus is the new Israel. Even the old Bethel, the old ‘house of God’, has been superseded. It is no longer there at Bethel that God reveals himself, but in Jesus…”
And it is by his death and resurrection that God gives hope and life to fugitives like us. Jesus hung on that cross taking the punishment that fugitives like us deserve, and in that act God made it possible for us to know him and to be united to him.
For all who believes in Jesus, we can find comfort in knowing that just like God met with Jacob where he was, he met us where we were, in the brokenness of this world and brokenness of our lives. And he gave us hearts to adore him, to become his people.
And as Christians we can find comfort in knowing that our status as God’s people does not depend on our conduct, God is faithful to his promises which are without conditions. It is because of God’s faithfulness that we in turn should be faithful to him.
And if God is not in your life, go humbly to your knees and admit your inadequacy to be your own lord, and submit your will to his.
Jacob was a changed man, he had little to nothing going for him and God changed him. He literally had to run for his life, because of his deceiving, but God met with him and changed his life.
As a result Jacob can take his fugitive’s pillow and turn it into a pillar that serves as a symbol of his meeting with God.
Now, Jacob wasn’t perfect after this event, and if you continue reading this book you’ll soon see that Jacob soon returns to his deceiving ways.
And that is somewhat the experience of all God’s people, God saves them them, and they respond like Jacob does in this passage in awe and wonder, and before you know it they return to their sinful ways. The gospel that Jacob received is a message of hope, and is without conditions. God remains faithful regardless of Jacob’s bad choices.
When you are a part of God’s people it does not mean you are flawless, it is because God is flawless that we aim to be flawless. It is because of his unconditional love for us that we in turn love.
When you have an encounter with God, it changes your life. When Jacob went to sleep, he was a fugitive. When he woke up he was a pilgrim. What happened in between? He encountered God. Meeting God is the biggest and best life changing experience anyone can ever hope for.