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Sep 26 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 22, 2013 – Genesis Chapter 28

Waking Up To God

So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; ad from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.” Genesis 28:1-2

INTRO: The first nine verses of this chapter are continuation and conclusion of last week’s story

Rebekah cooked up a plan to get Jacob out of harm’s way
– I wonder why she couldn’t be straight with her husband Isaac
– I notice this with some people
• they don’t tell you exactly what they’re after, but try to draw you out
○ if you ask them a question, you never get a straight answer
• I’ve also noticed, these people tend to be devious themselves
○ perhaps their own devious thinking causes them to suspect others
– anyway, this sort of behavior prevents the formation of healthy relationships
• it sabotages any hope of intimacy, which requires openness, honesty, and trust

As a result of Rebekah’s ploy, Jacob was sent on a quest
– Isaac sent him off with a twofold blessing:
• God would bless Jacob with prosperity of his own
• God’s promise to Abraham would pass on to him
– through Isaac’s interaction with Jacob, Esau realized two things:
• Isaac didn’t want Jacob to marry a local girl
• the local girls displeased his parents
○ so Esau attempted to win his parents’ favor by marrying a third wife

Jacob’s journey would be long, difficult, and dangerous
– was he lonely? Excited? Afraid? Did he have regrets about what he had done?
– the storyteller doesn’t show any concern for Jacob’s emotional state
• he is more interested in getting to the main event

Vv. 10-11, Jacob has two border-crossing experiences

Leaving home and returning (Gen. 32:24-30) – passing from one zone to another
Everett Fox, observed that Jacob “always encounters God at crucial life junctures.”
– this is a classic motif in heroic legends, myths and fairy tales
• the hero’s quest (or life) is threatened
• the hero encounters a quasi-supernatural border guardian – a contest or conflict follows
– crossing a “threshold” – from what is known and familiar to what is unknown and foreign
Robert Alter, “Jacob in general is represented as . . . a man of liminal experiences . . .”
• the border is a space that is neither one zone or the other, yet both at same time
○ in cultures that observe rites-of-passage, a change occurs when crossing the threshold
○ one enters as a boy and emerges a man
• God meets Jacob in these border crossings to prepare him for what is ahead
– it might be good for us to pause in these thresholds as we come to them
• for example, today is the first day of fall – we can meet God in the transition
○ this week, notice the changes fall brings; within us as well as around us

This story has a strong before and after structure
– “a certain place” — “place” occurs three times before his dream and three times after
• it was an anonymous place when he arrived, but was the “house of God” before he left
– also, the stone he used for a “pillow” becomes something different after the dream

Notice how “place” is emphasized – it is at first indefinite; an everywhere and nowhere

Vv. 12-15, The visual nature of Jacob’s dream is highlighted

The word “behold” occurs three times in verses 12-13″
– what are we beholding?

  1. The ladder (or ramp, like one that would wrap around a tower) with the “top reaching to heaven”
    – obvious echo of Babel (11:4), only this time it is the real deal
  2. Angels traveling between heaven and earth
  3. God, standing “above it”

When God speaks, he

  • first, identifies himself
  • second, extends to Jacob the promise of Abraham
    – this had to be personalized in every generation!
    – it was not like the laws of nature, not automatic
  • third, guarantees his presence — notice, “wherever you go”

In this story where place is the underlying theme
– Jacob came to recognize “this place” as an “awesome” sacred site
• but God was not localized here – he was not tied to that spot
○ this is not the “one place” he touched earth or was active

Martin Buber pointed out that in the stories of Abraham and Jacob, God is not content with pulling them away from their families, country, and culture “and sending them on new paths, but wanders with them himself and guides them along these new paths; meanwhile, however, remaining invisible in so far as he does not ‘make himself seen’ by them. . . . The prerequisite assumption for both is that ths god is not bound to any place, and that the seats of his manifestations do not restrict him; above them open the gates of heaven, through which he descends and returns to his inaccessible realm.”

Friday I met with friends, a husband and wife, to get caught up on their journey
– I was pleased to learn that something I said several months ago had gripped her imagination
• raised in a religiously rigid home, she could not get it out of her mind
• I had said, “God is not bound by our interpretation of scripture”
– Jesus told the Sadducees, “You’re mistaken because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God”
• how could they not know scripture? They spent their lives studying and quoting it
○ but, in truth, they only knew their interpretation of it
• we think we have ultimate, accurate interpretation
○ but God is greater than our interpretations and ideas
○ and he is not limited by or to our interpretations and ideas

Vv. 16-17, Jacob woke up, obviously shaken by his dream

To appreciate the weight of his statement, notice the tenses
– “Yahweh is in this place” – not was, but he still “is” here
• “I did not know” – he doesn’t say, “I do not know” — he has been enlightened
– he arrived in that place, not knowing God was there
• but then God revealed himself to him and now he is aware of his presence
○ he woke up twice that morning
– again, we see the “before and after”
• the “after” is his discovery and new reality
• because the fact that God is there changes everything

“This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”
– “gate”: another threshold
– Jacob found himself in a double threshold – one superimposed on other
• in the thresholds, he discovered a connection with heaven
• a link between the divine and human realms

Vv. 18-22, How Jacob responded to his dream

With a ritual – he turned his stone pillow into a stone pillar
– it was symbolic of the ladder – and so he poured oil “on its top”

With a vow – frequently, vows were conditional — if/then
– he proposes a deal with God – a negotiation
• God had made a deal with Abraham and offered that same deal to Jacob
• but Jacob wanted more
○ not a promise that applied only to descendants and a distant future
○ but a guarantee of something for himself and now
– he doesn’t seem drawn to God for God himself, like Abraham
• Jacob is pragmatic, maybe even mercenary
• he’s willing to accept God, who appeared to him, so long as God makes it worth his while

And how did God respond?
– he went with Jacob, with or without the vow and its implications

CONC: It is a function of the human nervous system to see what we expect to see

To find what we hope to find
– this fact has skewed many scientific experiments

We go on each day in a fairly predictable world, missing a lot
– and this will continue unless something big enough happens to shock us into our senses
• if rattled enough, we may find that we have been awakened to the reality and presence of God

A tragic life is one in which the unfortunate person never becomes aware of God
– it is tragic and pathetic to be in a place where God is and not know it
• or to go through a crisis, tragedy, or heartache not knowing God goes through it with us

We frequently return to contemplative prayer, because it is a threshold
– we pause here in the stillness to let the awareness of God sink in
– because anywhere and everywhere, if we wake up, we discover God is in this place

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