In this week’s portion, the story continues. Jacob tricked his father and had stolen the blessing from his brother. His brother was furious and ready to kill him as soon as their father passed away.
Jacob leaves Beersheba and sets out to Harran. He gets tired and uses a stone for a pillow. Not my first choice, but I guess when you are traveling in the dessert you make due. While he is asleep, he has an amazing vision and God gives him the same promise he gave to his father and grandfather before him. He will inherit the land. His descendants will be like a great people spread out all over the world and be a blessing to all.
“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.” (Genesis 28:15)
The story of Jacob’s dream is a famous one. While many of the stories in the Torah are not suited for little children, this is one that is told to kids in churches & synagogues all over the world. Angels of God going up and down a staircase. The Lord at the top of the staircase. Jacob sleeping. The vision that was described is one we can easily picture. In fact, many artists have done just that. One of my favorite statues in Jerusalem is the one of Jacob’s ladder. Of course, there is my mother-in-law’s painting that decorated the staircase in their house for many years. As a child, I remember coloring pictures of Jacob’s ladder, and now as a parent my kids come home with their version.
After his dream Jacob wakes up and he is afraid, because he realized that the Lord was in this very place. Jacob takes the stone he had used as a pillow and puts it upright. He pours oil over it and calls the place Bethel, which means house of God. And he makes a vow;
“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.”(Genesis 28:20-21)
I always thought that if God spoke to me as clearly as He did to our forefathers, I wouldn’t have an ounce of doubt. But as I am growing older (and hopefully wiser), I realize how human these reactions are. Jacob knew the family history. He grew up hearing the stories of his grandfather and father, of how the Lord met them and promised them the land and that they would be a great people. But he had also heard the stories of how long Abraham & Sarah had to wait for their son and how the Lord then asked Abraham to sacrifice him. It took his own parents a long time to conceive, and while there was the promise of a great people and a land, many years had gone by.
So, when the Lord appears to Jacob, he doesn’t just take the Lord at His word. In a way, he says, “Show me.” From a human point of view, it is very easy to understand Jacob’s reaction. He wants to see some proof. He doesn’t just pack up and follow an unseen God. He tells the Lord how he feels. And God seems to realize that Jacob needs to see some actual proof that the Lord is real and keeps his promises.
Jacob asks to be kept safe and for food & clothing. He also asks that the Lord returns him safely to his father’s household. Considering that his brother wants to kill him, asking the Lord for protection is very needed.
Jacob safely finds his relatives. He marries two sisters, one because he was in love with her, the other because his father-in-law, who is also his uncle, tricked him. His marriages are fruitful. His father and grandfather had to wait a long time for children. Jacob, however, gets son after son. By the end of our portion he has eleven sons and one daughter. Believing that the Lord will make him a great nation must have been a lot easier for Jacob then it was for his father Isaac & grandfather Abraham.
The Lord provides for Jacob, not just with food and clothing. In fact, it is written that Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous.
Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude towards him had changed. He does not waste any time, gathers his wives and heads out towards home without telling anyone. Laban is not pleased with what Jacob has done, to say it mildly. But in the end, he agrees that it is time for Jacob to go his separate way.
A second stone gets erected as a pillar. Jacob calls the place Galeed, also known as Mizpah. Laban and Jacob make a covenant and the pillar & a heap of stones will serve as witness. Jacob takes an oath in the name of the Fear of his father Isaac. The next day Laban returns home after blessing his daughters & grandchildren. Jacob continues on his journey home, safely.
Twenty years have passed, the Lord has kept his promises and it looks like Jacob has made the Lord his God. (Spoiler alert: Jacob makes it back home, his brother doesn’t kill him, he even got a chance to see his father again. But we will get to that story next week.)
I feel encouraged by this story of Jacob. The God we serve will meet us where we are, sometimes quite literally. When our faith is lacking, He helps us. When we ask Him for a little, He blesses us abundantly. God is the same today as He was in the time of Jacob. What are some of the things you have asked Him for in which He has provided above and beyond? Have you ever been afraid and did God keep you safe? How has God shown you that He is real and can be trusted?