By Sam E. Stone
Last week’s lesson concluded with Isaac becoming extremely prosperous (Genesis 26:13). He and his family moved south toward Beersheba, where his father Abraham had lived. Genesis 27 describes how Jacob tricked his father into giving him the special blessing that normally would have gone to his elder brother, Esau (27:1-40).
When Esau learned of Jacob’s deception he cried, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” (v. 36). Esau planned to kill him after his father died. When his mother, Rebekah, learned of this, she urged Jacob to go to her brother Laban in Haran and live there until Esau’s anger subsided. She urged Isaac to send Jacob on this trip since he needed to find a wife who believed in the one God—not one of the pagan Canaanite women nearby.
Isaac blessed Jacob and commanded him to go to his mother’s homeland seeking a wife. “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful,” he declared.
Jacob left Beersheba, at the southern edge of Canaan, and started for Haran, more than 400 miles northeast. Rebekah had grown up there, and Abraham migrated from the same region years before. That night when he stopped to rest, Jacob took a stone, put it under his head, and lay down to sleep. No soft pillow available, only a smooth rock.
Jacob had a strange dream that night. He saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Sometimes God has used dreams to communicate his message to people (for example, Joseph and Daniel in the Old Testament; the wise men and Joseph in the New).
Stairway is better than ladder (King James Version) to help us picture what Jacob saw. Bible students have found much symbolism in the dream, noting that angels carry men’s prayers up to God and also bring his assistance and deliverance down to them. Jesus is the only real stairway to Heaven (see John 1:51; 14:6). Above the stairway stood the Lord. He identified himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac.
John Walton observes, “The main thrust of the message is that Yahweh will bring Jacob back to the land. Note too that Jacob is virtually the same age as Abraham was when God asked him to leave his home and travel to a new land (Genesis 12:1-4).”
God renewed the promise that he had made earlier both to Jacob’s grandfather and his father. The Lord’s covenant promise would be fulfilled through Jacob’s descendants. God promised that his offspring would be like the dust of the earth (indicating a great many descendants). Other similar expressions are “as numerous as the stars in the sky” or “the sand on the seashore” (see 22:17). The ultimate fulfillment of this blessing would come in the Messiah, God’s Son.
Then the Lord assured Jacob, “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 a comfort these words must have been to Jacob as he was fleeing from his angry brother. He could count on this wonderful promise of God’s faithfulness. Christians enjoy a similar confidence (Hebrews 13:5, 6).
When Jacob awakened, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” God had communicated with him directly through the dream, leaving no doubt as to his future. Before this, Jacob’s guilty conscience must have plagued him. God’s assurance now let him go forward in confidence.
Jacob then took the stone he had used for a pillow and set it up on a pillar, pouring oil on top of it. James E. Smith points out, “The text gives no hint that the stone was meant to be an object of worship . . . . The stone was but a memorial.” Jacob consecrated this place and renamed it Bethel, meaning “house of God.” He vowed, “The Lord will be my God and this stone. . . will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” Jacob acknowledged the God of Abraham and Isaac as his own. This marked a change in his life. Offering the tithe was a further demonstration of his sincere trust and gratitude (see Genesis 14:20).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.