Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
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June 12, 2005

Jacob’s Dream: God in His place
Genesis 28:6-22

Jacob’s big adventure now lies before him, and he has much to learn as he begins his pilgrimage. First things first for him and us is where to find God. These verses indicate there’s a sense in which God is:

  1. No place (Genesis 28:6-9)
  2. This special place (Genesis 28:10-22)
  3. Every place (Genesis 28:15)

Our neighbors are making a trip to eastern Montana and western North Dakota to visit graves of parents, grandparents, relatives long gone. It’s a special place for them..

Today Roger and Maureen are flying to Viet Nam where Roger needs to go. That’s where he is from. That’s his place. He was airlifted on the last jet out when Saigon was falling back in 1975. He needs to put some things together from his childhood. He is going back to try to piece some things together in a special place.

On the wall of our dining room there is a picture that probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to anyone but us. It’s a watercolor of an old gray house in Fort Benton, the house we used to live in. The lady who bought the house from us painted the picture and gave it to us as a gift because it represents to us a special place when the boys were little and everything was fun. It was a wonderful, wonderful time in our lives and we have this picture reminding us of a special place.

What we discover as we ponder our Christian lives is that to each of us there is at least one special place where God has done something in our lives, where God has met us, where God has challenged us, perhaps where God has changed us. Our friend Jacob, in the book of Genesis, is going to make a discovery that he has never made before.

We have been with this family, Isaac and Rebekah and their two very well grown sons, now for a number of weeks and realize in this home all is not well. Despite Rebekah’s best efforts, she is losing her family. Esau is picking up another wife. Jacob is heading hundreds of miles away to a whole new life. She is left with a husband who doesn’t trust her, probably hasn’t for years.

What impresses me about the Isaac and Rebekah household is how worldly it is. By worldly, not that they sat around and smoked cigars and played poker. Their world was all about themselves and this life. That came through so clearly as the blessing from an ancient Isaac who thought he was dying yet still had 43 years to live. Everybody seems to converge on this man in order to get what they could get. Rebekah, Jacob, Esau – “Bless me!” All with, of course, a worldly blessing.

1. No place (Genesis 28:6-9)

This is the context from which Jacob leaves. He has nothing to fall back on. He is heading out. Before we pick him up, a little bit by way of a prologue. Esau’s entire world was this world and he really had no place for God. Isaac sent Jacob away to find a Semetic wife. That was important as far as the covenant was concerned.

As Jacob toddled on across the landscape, Esau picked up on it. Esau already had two wives and obviously that did not contribute to the domestic tranquility of their home. He is making an attempt here in verse 6 to better himself in the eyes of his father. He goes, not to the Hamites, but to Ishmael, a son of Abraham, thinking that if he got a wife from there maybe he had another run at a blessing. Maybe he would enjoy a little more of the folks’ favor.

Genesis 28
6Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,"
 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram.
 8So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac;
 9and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth.

Remember, Esau’s reference is all this world. He is not concerned about the will of God. He is concerned about himself and about what he can gain. There are verses in Hebrews 12 that I think mark this out very clearly. The author of Hebrews obviously understood that there is a lot more than this world. There is a heavenly world with which we will have to do for all eternity and this world plays into that. That is the ultimate one; that is the real one. That is the one where we want to go.

Hebrews 12
14Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.
15See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;

Bitterness troubles this world. It’s characteristic of this world of self-centeredness.

16that there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal.
17For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

“No place for repentance.” God gives repentance. Esau had no place for repentance. Esau had no place for God. That was his life – lived in this world, by this world’s standards, according to this world’s priorities. His repentance was only sorrow for his own personal loss, not sorrow for the fact that he had missed God. No place for repentance means no place for God.

There is a situation described in Scripture where that leads ultimately. No place for God – it’s called outer darkness, away from the presence of God where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is a grim and dismal picture and that is the road Esau was on. He was entirely wrapped up in this world. We will not meet him again for several chapters.

Jacob, though, is on the road. This is his first time out. Remember, Jacob is facing a very serious personal challenge. He is Mama’s homeboy. He is her favorite. He likes to hang around the house. The Scripture has already said that earlier. Esau is the one who likes to go rambling and roaming and hunting, not Jacob. Yet because of the crisis brought on by his mother, it is now time for him to leave. He is headed on a 400 mile trek to place he has never been, to people he has never met. God is going to meet him in a profound way the first night out.

This is amazing. He faces distance, danger, the unknown, and the unfamiliar. He is away from home, out of his comfort zone, way out of his comfort zone, away from everything familiar. I am convinced that faith either arrives or is enhanced outside the comfort zone where we are free from normal distractions, where we don’t have the resources in ourselves that we always trust in and we are in a position where we have to trust in God.

This is the mentality, the philosophy behind much of what we do at Bible camp. This is what Bible camp is for. When we say get your kids to camp, what we mean is, let’s get them away from the distractions that they normally face, away from the routine that is common and let’s put them in an environment where they are safe, where things are different, and where they may just listen because now they are not in their comfort zone. This is sort of like “Jacob goes to camp” – for 20 years. He is out and he will have ears to hear that he has not used before.

I remember the first time I took a group to the prison at Deerlodge. They were visitors to do ministry. By the grace of God we were able to, in a sanctified sort of way, twist arms of several people who had never dreamed of doing such a thing. You go into the prison, through the search procedure, hear the doors clang behind you, see lots of razor wire. We had a piano player, all she had ever done in all her many years was play the piano and organ in a safe place, in her home church. Does she know God? Yes. Does she love God? Yes. Does she trust God? When it comes to the piano, she doesn’t particularly have to but when she got into the prison and her fingers didn’t want to work like they normally did because her nerves were acting, then  – “Dear God. I need you now.” Did God come through? Indeed He did. Was her faith built? Indeed it was.

2. This special place (Genesis 28:10-22)

We come to a point of spiritual vulnerability in a good way when we are out. And now Jacob is out and he is dog tired. He has walked and walked and walked, perhaps a 40-mile day. In verse 11 Jacob comes to a special place. Notice how this verse reads:

11He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.

Do you catch a certain point of emphasis? God has for Jacob a special place and He is going to meet him there. Jacob is going to have an unprecedented dream. He is going to wake up and say, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.” Most amazing experience where God meets him. Notice – God meets him. God comes to him. God takes the initiative through the dream to come to him. For the first time Jacob is looking up. His whole life he has been looking around. He has been looking at his Mom and his Dad and his brother. He has been looking at the things of this world and the priorities of his family and as we have learned in the past several Sundays they weren’t that good. They were worldly.

Now for the first time he is on his back under the stars. It is dark. He is not an outdoorsman. He falls to sleep. Finally, Jacob is looking upward, and what does he see?

12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

He is asleep. The dream speaks for itself. What it is that Jacob now comes into graphic awareness, but that there really are not one, but two worlds? He looks at the ladder and the angels and he looks to the top and there he catches a vision of God for the first time. Two worlds. He picks up on the fact that we have an exalted God. There is a healthy distance between God the creator and people the creature. He is exalted. He is high and lifted up. Jacob is privileged to see Him in a vision. He is a personal God because He is going to communicate to Jacob. He is distant but personal.

We see in this vision that we have a God with an agenda. He knows He is doing. We don’t have a God who is unconcerned, a God who just walks away and hopes it all turns out ok. We don’t see a God of why bad things happen to good people, who is pacing the halls of heaven, wringing his hands saying, “I wish I could fix it; I sure hope they will forgive me.” Nothing of the sort.

A God who is in control; a God who communicates, and a God who is gracious. He is doing to deal with Jacob in grace. This is all so new for him, not just the vision, not just the dream. He has had dreams before, but not like this one. His theology is getting adjusted radically and he realizes he is are dealing with a God of grace. There is no grace in his home. There is bitterness and bickering and fighting and getting even and getting caught up and eavesdropping and all kinds of nonsense like that. He is not used to grace. It’s all new to him. He sees it and he knows that it is a good thing. God speaks to Jacob special words. They are loaded words, words we could camp on for a long time. Look what he tells him in verse 13. He makes him clearly aware of these two worlds and of their respective places in them.

13And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.
14"Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

This is missions! This is right out of Genesis 12:3, repeated in Matthew 28 in the Great Commission. All the families of the earth will be blessed in you. You are key to My restoration project and that blessing is eternal. You are in it, Jacob.

Now it gets personal. God turns his focused favor on this man. He is not a deserving man. He is not even an undeserving man. He is an ill-deserving man, just like you and me.

15"Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

This exalted, almighty God of Abraham, the God of the Covenant, the God of the promise, the God who is going redeem and restore is going to use Jacob and he is not going to leave him.” I will be with you in all my exaltedness and all my holiness and all my righteousness. I will not leave you:. This is amazing – a  personal promise.

16Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it."

This could be one of the classic understatements of the Bible. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I didn’t know it.” Jacob didn’t know it because he didn’t know much about God anyway because it wasn’t in his home. No one seemed to talk about it.

17He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

He is impressed with God’s special place for him! He is impressed in a remarkable way. Look how honest he gets now. This is Jacob the supplanter, Jacob the deceiver, Jacob – he who trips up. We see coming from his mouth now words of truth because God has dealt with him. Surely the Lord is in this place.

We see humility we have not seen before. “How awesome is this place!” Filled with awe and wonder. Jacob is filled with what later scholars would call mysterium tremendum, that feeling you get when God is so huge and you are so small and you know it and you say “this is awesome” in the fullest sense of the word. He is in league now with Isaiah who in chapter 6 saw the vision of the Lord and said “Woe is me. I am undone.” He is with Peter in Luke 5 when Jesus overloads them with fish. Peter falls on his face and says “Depart from me. I don’t deserve to be in your presence.” He is with the apostle John on the Island of Patmos in Revelation 1 when he sees a personification of the risen and exalted Christ and he falls on his face as a dead man. He has been impacted by a personal visit from God and his life will never be the same.

He said ,“I didn’t know God was around. I didn’t know anything about these angels.” He is like Gehazi with Elisha when the forces of Syria surrounded him at Dotan. And Gehazi said we’ll never get out of this. Elisha prayed, “God, just open his eyes.” God opens his eyes and Gehazi sees this angelic host that had been there all the time. He just didn’t know it. He had eyes that could see because God had given him grace and God had given Jacob grace.

18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top.

This leads to a couple decisions Jacob makes. He recognizes the place. For one he takes the stone that had been under his head or perhaps he kept it near him as a stone of security. He is not used to sleeping outside. What had been his, this stone, that had been near his head, he now pours oil on, dedicates it, and makes it God’s. He makes a clear and sure connection now between where he is and the God of heaven.

19He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz.

Bethel – Bet El – house of God. El – Eloheim. This must be where God hangs out. This must be the gate of heaven. He recognizes the place. Special places with God are very, very important.

A friend of mine, many years ago when he was only 18 years old, tragically drowned while swimming at the lake one summer. He came from a large family with godly parents. The dad went deeply into grief and mourning. He was found sitting in a church pew in this old cinderblock conservative Baptist church where he had reared his kids, sitting there mourning and grieving. A friend approached him and put his arm around him in those days between the death and the funeral when it is so numb and so dark.

Ike said, “They say God doesn’t live in a house, but right now I am not so sure.” He went to a special place to meet God and to receive something from God that he had to have at that time. There are special places. I would love to return to that little dumpy basement studio apartment in Bremerton, Washington where I got down beside my hide-a-bed on the 13th of January 1975 and asked Jesus to run my live. There was nothing sacred about it from the outside but it was pretty special to me.

How many people, now old, can trace their spiritual beginnings or spiritual turning point to a quiet place around a campfire after having been in the Bible, or to a secluded spot where someone shared about Jesus. That becomes a special place.

Where do you meet God? Don’t you have a chair at home or a closet or a place in a corner, or a quiet spot where every day you and God sit down and open His Word. You commune with Him; He communes with you. That is a special, sacred place. Consider it such. Regard it that way.

A lot of times we smile at church time because people always tend to sit in the same place. I can remember our church in Fort Benton where these old timers used to always sit in the same place. One day there were visitors who didn’t know any better. They sat in their spot and there was some consternation, a little spiritual warfare going on out there for a while. My point here is don’t apologize for sitting in the same place in church. Sit wherever you want. If it is the same place for thirty years that’s fine – as long as it is regarded as a special place. “This is where I meet with God in the fellowship of His people.” Sit there! Just make it special because that is where God meets us.

Jacob recognizes the place and then he makes a commitment of himself. This is huge coming from a guy like Jacob.

20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear,

If other words, if God comes through in terms I can understand and I return to my father’s house in safety, then Yahweh will be my God and this stone which I set up as a pillar will be God’s house. I’ll even give a tenth. He is saying this God who meets me here in this special place is going to be my day-to-day God too. Garments, clothing, travel, going, returning, even my money. “I’ll give a tenth.” Just like Abraham his grandfather gave to Melchizedek, he is going to give it also. I’ll see that Yahweh gets it.

3. Every place (Genesis 28:15)

He is transferring the notion of this amazing God who meets him in a special place, saying He is going to be with me not only in this place, but every place. Look at verse 15. This takes us into some pretty fascinating theology.

15"Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

God is going to be with him wherever he goes. Theologians talk about the omni-presence of God; that is that God is everywhere present all at the same time. Does that strain your brain? It should because it is conceptual to us. We have finite brains. They can only grasp so much. Here is the theory: The Bible says God is Spirit, which means He is not limited by distance. He is eternal, which means He is not limited by time. So He is not limited.

This gives Jacob tremendous confidence. “I will be with you wherever you go because that is the property of being God. My commitment to you, Jacob, is personal. Wherever you go I will go.” He has confidence now and he has hope. He is saying let’s go! If this the amazing God and these are His angels and this is all true, come with me. Come with me and I will watch for signs of your presence as I work my way through this earthly pilgrimage. He will really need this as he heads off into his future, which is going to be amazing.

Jonah the prophet learned a tremendous lesson about the presence of God. Jonah learned that God is in Gath-hepher, his hometown in Galilee in the area of Zebulon. God is there, God is in Joppa, God is in Tarshish, God is in Nineveh, God is on the boat, God is under the water, God is in the fish! Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there. If I descend to the depths of Sheol, behold thou are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea even there thy hand shall lead me and thy right hand shall take hold of me. Isn’t that amazing! We have a God who has a healthy distance in his holiness but a God who is personal to be with us.

This is something that Jacob is going to rely heavily upon. God is wherever we go not only because he is not limited, but God is everywhere we go if we are a Christian because He is in us. Wherever I go, I take Him along. That is comforting, most of the time, unless I am where I don’t belong. Then it is a corrective measure. To God’s people? Surely. To Jacob and to you and me.

Here is the question. Do you know Him? Here is the God who is fantastic beyond description and Jacob gets a glimpse. He is going to come to know Him. This is a crisis point. Do you know Him? He makes himself available to be known, to be enjoyed. He is willing to accompany. Do you have Him?

Jesus, on the night he said farewell to his disciples, said don’t be too shook up about this. You need to trust me. In my father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you and I will come back to get you and take you there.

There is a place God has prepared and reserved for his people. Do you know Him? Is your name on the map or on the door? Have you put all your trust only in Jesus for this life and the next?

Jacob’s lessons will be a trust just like ours.

"Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLEŽ,
Copyright Š 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995
by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Jim Carlson 2005, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA