Having deceived both his father and his older brother, and in fear of the consequences, another young man was running away from home with a guilty conscience and a troubled mind.
His name, Jacob, meant in Hebrew ‘the supplanter’, and living up to the meaning of his name he had stolen his brother’s birthright. He had deceived his father Isaac into blessing him rather than his eldest son Esau.
The young man Jacob is settling down for the night in a strange land far from his unhappy home with only the open desert earth for his bed and a stone for a pillow. It was a decidedly uncomfortable situation, yet it proved to be the best night’s sleep of his life! Like Francis Thompson, Divine Love came to Jacob in his hour of need.
In his dream, Jacob saw a stairway reaching up to heaven. The angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Clearly, something tremendous was happening which would prove to be Jacob’s ‘Damascus Road’ experience. Jacob has come to his first face-to-face encounter with the Living God and it is going to transform his life. Awestruck by the amazing event and waking from sleep he cries:
“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.” (Genesis 28 : 16-17)
We become over familiar with the Lord God at our peril! Meeting with him face-to-face like this is an awe inspiring experience.
Jacob’s experience, like that of Francis Thompson, was totally unexpected and unsought. Neither of them was looking for God and yet the Lord was looking for them; in fact he had been pursuing them like the ‘Hound of Heaven’.
In his Tyndale Commentary on Genesis, Derek Kidner comments:
“This is a supreme display of divine grace, unsought and unstinting. Unsought, for Jacob was no pilgrim, or returning prodigal, yet God came out to meet him, angelic retinue and all, taking him wholly by surprise. Unstinted, for there was no word of reproach or demand, only a stream of assurances.”
This is how Genesis 28 : 13-15 describes the Lord’s staggeringly comprehensive promises to Jacob:
“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and God of Isaac.
I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying….
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go……
I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
What wonderful words, covering past, present and future; meeting all Jacob’s own needs and reaching out to all mankind. No wonder his response was to build an altar, using the very stone that had served as his pillow during the night, and naming the place ‘Bethel’, which means ‘House of God’.
Years later Jacob was able to say :
“Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I built an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Genesis 35 : 3)
What a wonderful testimony from an ageing saint looking back on a life of rather shaky pilgrimage yet in the company of his faithful God. I am encouraged by Jacob’s story and I, for one, want to know more of Jacob’s loving God.