Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Stairway to Heaven

Reading: Genesis 28
The story of Jacob—grandson of Abraham, brother to Esau, father of the twelve tribes, whose name became Israel—is often perplexing. He may well have had one of the most dysfunctional families in the Bible. Why does God's promise carry on through Jacob? Does his deceit put the promise of God at risk? When we arrive at Genesis 28, these, and more, are the kinds of questions that would be in one's mind because of the events of Genesis 27.
Does Sin Put the Promise at Risk?
In Genesis 27, at the prompting of his mother, Jacob tricks his father Isaac into giving him the blessing intended for Esau. Once given, Isaac could not rescind it; Esau is left angry and ready to murder his brother Jacob. One might recall the account of Cain and Abel from the beginning of this book. Is Esau going to kill Jacob? Then, Rebekah sends Jacob away to find a wife from her brother's family. So Jacob is going to be leaving the land of promise. Is his departure from the land going to remove him from the place of blessing? And he is going to Laban, who appeared in Genesis 24:55, attempting to waylay the plan of God for Isaac's wife, Jacob's mother. Would Laban's bait-and-switch chicanery prevent Jacob from receiving God's blessing?
The Promise is by Grace
Isaac and Rebekah are sending Jacob off to obtain a wife because they don't want to have any more daughter-in-law problems than they already have (Genesis 27:46; 28:1-2). Isaac blesses Jacob again, reiterating the previous blessing, but also making even more clear that this blessing is the promise given to Abraham. Note the language:
May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham.” (Genesis 28:3-4)
This promise is a promise of grace. Unlike Adam's blessing, be fruitful and increase in number...” which Adam, and subsequently Noah, failed to live up to, Jacob is given the promise that God Himself would bless him, make him fruitful, and increase his numbers. So Jacob departs for Haran.
Is There a Place of Promise?
On the way, he stops and sets up camp, using a stone for a pillow. It's no wonder he had such vivid dreams, he must have rocked and rolled all night. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.) It is then that he had this dream of a stairway to heaven.
He had a dream in which 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. 13There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:12-15)
Where did God promise to put His blessing? He says, with you...over you wherever you go...bring you back…will not leave you...promised you”. The promised blessing is on the person, not the place, not the land he is leaving. God made His promises to people, His chosen people. Laban couldn't get in the way; location (being out of the land of Canaan) couldn't get in the way; not even Jacob's trickery could ultimately get in the way.
However, Jacob woke up and seemed to miss the point. His response is, Surely the Lord is in this place.... How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17) God's emphasis was on the person, and whereever he went; Jacob's emphasis was on the place and location. This transfer from God's gracious promise for his people to God's blessing on a place seemed to trip the Jews of the New Testament times up as well. They had come to believe the blessing was on the temple, the city, the land; they failed to see that the covenant was about God's mercy for the very people the leaders themselves were discarding.
Jesus reminds us, however, that God's promise given to Abraham is going to be on a person, on the seed of Abraham. Speaking to Nathaniel, Jesus captures a line from the beginning of Jacob's dream and in so doing tells us where the blessing of Abraham is, and how to obtain it. Nathaniel had just declared, Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49) Jesus said, I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." (John 1:51)
Jacob had awoken and declared, “This is the place of God,” thinking it was Bethel, which means house of God. Jesus is telling us there is a new Bethel, a new house of God, a new temple—and it is Him! The angels of God are not ascending and descending on a rock, or a place. They are ascending and descending on Jesus Christ. He is the place of God's blessing. He is the place of God's promise. All who are in Jesus through faith are heirs of the promise. He will be with, watch over, bring back to be with Him, all who trust in Him. If you trust in Jesus, you have the promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you until He has fulfilled all His promises to you. (See also Galatians 3:16, 29; John 14:2-3; Hebrews 13:5-6; Matthew 28:20.)
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,