The passage picks up after Jacob leaves Beersheba for Haran. Jacob was heading back to the land that Abraham came from in order to find a wife.

 

(A) What Jacob saw: a ladder stretching from heaven to earth (Gen 28:10-13a)

In his sleep, Jacob had a dream, where he saw a ladder, angels ascending and descending and the Lord at the top of that ladder. Each of these sights was introduced with the word "behold" in the narrative, serving to draw our attention to each of them. Notice how one end of the ladder touches the earth, and the other end is into heaven (v.12). Doesn't this sound familiar? The last time this concept of reaching heaven appeared was at the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). In that account, the people gathered to build a way to heaven, in order to make a name for themselves. However, right here in Gen 28, the complete opposite occurs. God initiated the encounter by providing the ladder from heaven to earth. And Jacob? He was fast asleep, completely vulnerable and not doing anything.

 

(B) What Jacob heard: the covenant God promising Himself to the utterly undeserving (Gen 28:13b-15)

God spoke to Jacob (Gen 28:13) and introduced him as "the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac". This is significant in so many ways! Firstly, God disclosed himself to Jacob. He didn't need to, but He did. The way and words He chose in this message of self-disclosure was also significant too! By employing the use of the word "LORD", God referred to himself using the personal, covenantal name. He was personalising the relationship to Jacob. This God that spoke to Jacob, was the same God that made a covenant with Abraham and Isaac. Jacob was now the heir to this promise. God, is no longer just a an abstract notion that he heard his father and grandfather speak about, but was his God. 

God promised Jacob 6 things from verses 13b to 15.

No.

Scripture

Big Idea

Details and Significance

1

Gen 28:13b

Land

A gift from God to Jacob and his family. God was now personalizing what was previously promised, to Jacob and his offspring.

2

Gen 28:14a

Offspring

Numerous offspring, spread in all directions. It was not only the quantity, but also the distribution. 

3

Gen 28:14b

Blessing

Through his family, the world will be blessed. Remember, how in Genesis, the idea of blessing was not tied to material possession. Rather, a bankrupt individual suffering under sin and the curse now receives grace upon grace.

For Christians today, we too are called to be a blessing to the world. It does not mean that we need to be super optimistic and cheery and happy all the time. Rather, it is seeing how in all that we do -- at work, at school, in our homes -- we are instruments that God uses to share and display his grace to the world.

4

Gen 28:15a

Presence of God

"I am with you". Note the use of the present tense.

Are we too used to the idea of God’s presence? It is not so much that “God is with youbut “God is with you”. To Jacob, the promises might not mean that much at the moment. But at this moment, God promises himself to him for Jacob to discover and know.

Do we know and remember that God is with us? What do we know of the God that has promised to be with us? Or are we like Jacob, not seeing these truths?

5

Gen 28:15b

Preservation throughout

"I will keep you". Here, future tense is used. 

This preserving power will be with Jacob wherever he goes, not just in this place, which was what he thought (v.17). It’s the same for us. God’s presence has been promised to us wherever we go, not just in church, or at a bible study, but in the world as we go about life.

6

Gen 28:15c

Perseverance to end

"I will bring you back to this land". The future tense appears again, and this promise was reiterated twice in verse 15.

Has it ever occurred to you that God has a specific purpose for your life, until the end? Not just the end of your life, but at the end of His purpose for your life. If we understand that, we can be confident to go where God sends us, because He will see us through. Our lives will only end when His purpose and will for it is done. This means that we can go out boldly to accomplish His purposes, even to seemingly dangerous or difficult places and for apparently impossible tasks. 

Here, the covenant is reiterated, and made clearer. As we work through Genesis, we see how God appeared to each generation, and more of the covenant is made clearer each time. It is even more amazing for us as Christians today, because we see how everything is fulfilled in Christ! 

There's also something astounding about this passage. These great blessings were showered and given to Jacob, but as we've read in the previous chapters, Jacob was not the best person in the world. He was a trickster and was a man of the tents, unlike the social conventions then. He was not a great, mighty man. Yet, God chose to reach out and initiate a relationship with this person, who clearly did not merit anything. This is a work of grace, and this work of grace defies our conventional wisdom.

 

(C) What Jacob said: a fearful response to God’s transcendence (Gen 28:16-22)

We end off the passage with Jacob's response to the great vision. Jacob acknowledged the presence of the Lord and his ignorance about the Lord's presence in the place (Gen 28:16-17). Jacob sets up a pillar in response (Gen 28:18). What is so significant? A pillar is different from an altar. An altar requires a sacrifice, and is a sign of repentance for sins. The dead, bloodied animal sacrificed on the altar is a symbol of the individuals' sin, and the entire preparation process is meant to help the individual think through, repent and come to God with contrition. This pillar bears none of this meaning. 

Jacob likely responded in fear (Gen 28:17). We read further of how he makes a conditional promise to God (Gen 28:18-22). He had not come to a realization of who God really is. Instead, he promised to worship God only if He provided for him and saw him through his task at hand. 

Isn't that a picture of us? There are so many times in life that we end up doing things to get on God's good side, in fear of crossing him. This passage also helps us see how scary it is that we can encounter the living God, be full of fear, appear to be humble and yet continue to approach him conditionally. 

What, then, would make a person come to God and give everything unreservedly? What would move us that way? In Jn 1:51, we read of things greater than Jacob’s ladder. Do not be impressed by angels, or even a powerful, great God that is kept far, far away. Rather, realize that the God of the Bible, the Christian God, provided a ladder is from heaven to earth. He did not merely send a messenger or angels to do his work here on earth. God himself came down. Jesus brought heaven down to earth, to walk where we walk, and lived right here. Jesus was the ladder, to bring man back. Jesus was the way, to undo the curse of Gen 3, and in Him, all the nations are blessed. 

This is a great God to be feared, but this is also a great God who is to be loved.