Jacob's Dream at Bethel
10 Jacob left the town of Beersheba and started out for Haran. 11At sunset he stopped for the night and went to sleep, resting his head on a large rock. 12 In a dream he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and God's angels were going up and down on it.
13 The Lord was standing beside the ladder and said:
I am the Lord God who was worshiped by Abraham and Isaac. I will give to you and your family the land on which you are now sleeping. 14 Your descendants will spread over the earth in all directions and will become as numerous as the specks of dust. Your family will be a blessing to all people. 15Wherever you go, I will watch over you, then later I will bring you back to this land. I won't leave you—I will do all I have promised.
16Jacob woke up suddenly and thought, “The Lord is in this place, and I didn't even know it.” 17Then Jacob became frightened and said, “What a frightening place! It must be the house of God and the gateway to heaven.”
18When Jacob got up early the next morning, he took the rock that he had used for a pillow and stood it up as a place of worship. Then he poured olive oil on the rock to dedicate it to God, 19and he named the place Bethel. Before that it had been named Luz.
20Jacob solemnly promised God, “If you go with me and watch over me as I travel, and if you give me food and clothes 21and bring me safely home again, you will be my God. 22This rock will be your house, and I will give back to you a tenth of everything you give me.”
Jacob leaves on his lengthy journey from Beersheba to Haran—an overland journey from the Negev desert in Israel to a southern province in modern day Turkey. Proceeding northward he comes to the region north of Jerusalem’s current location. There he rests for the evening on a stone pillow. In a divine dream he sees a stairway connecting earth and heaven and angels of God moving up and down. It’s no wonder Jacob views this as “the gate of heaven.”
In the dream the Lord gives a clear reminder of the multi-faceted blessing he has promised Jacob and his descendants through the Abrahamic covenant (vv13-15). It includes:
1. the land
2. innumerable descendants
3. a blessing to other nations
4. God’s presence and protection.
The character of God’s blessing is seen in what he describes to Jacob. Not only will he more than meet their material needs but he will do so in a way that they can bless others. The most critical aspect is the promise of his presence and watchfulness. When God calls people to be part of his redemptive story he typically promises that he will be with them. When Mary is informed that she, as a virgin, has been chosen to bear Jesus the Messiah, she is overwhelmed and wonders how this can be. She is reminded that “The Lord is with you” and that “The Holy Spirit will come down to you” (Luke 1:26-38). The promise of his presence is invaluable when fulfilling God’s purposes. Moses knew this and demanded that God be with him or he wasn’t moving on (Exodus 33:12-17).
Jacob is overwhelmed. He responds to God’s presence and promise by declaring “The Lord is in this place…This is a fearsome place!”. He called the place Bethel (which means “House of God”) and established a memorial there with his “pillow” (28:16-19). In this moment he makes a vow of commitment in response. As God keeps his part in the covenant Jacob will fully belong to him and make this a place of worship (vv 20-22). One thing we can be confident of: God will always fulfill his part of the story!
Ever present God, you come to your people in tangible ways. Help us to be open to your divine in-breakings, so that we are alert to your presence and conscious of your power, for Jesus glory, Amen.