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Sunday, February 9,2020

posted Feb 9, 2020, 6:38 PM by Site Administrator

THE GOD OF BETHEL

 

Genesis 27:1-28:22

Key Verses 28:20,21

 

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God

 

First, "Jacob gets Isaac's blessing" (27:1-40). When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he thought that he could die anytime soon. So, he decided to give his blessing to his firstborn son Esau before he died. He called Esau to go hunting, and prepare tasty food for him so that after eating, he might bless him. Rebekah overheard this conversation. Then, while Esau was outside hunting the game, she told Jacob to bring her two goats so that she could prepare some tasty food for her husband. They devised a plan to take advantage of Isaac’s blindness, and get his blessing for Jacob deceitfully. At first, Jacob was afraid that he would be cursed instead of getting a blessing, because this scheme could be busted very easily, since he and Esau were too different from each other, in voice, in skin, and in smell. But Rebekah said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” Then, Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau, her older son, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. Then, she handed Jacob the tasty food. 

 

When people come to this passage, they are shocked and scream: “She deceived her husband. And she encouraged her son to trick his father!” But the Bible never blames her; God never mentions about this event either. This means that there was something more important than human ethics in Rebekah's action. A long time ago, while she was pregnant, God had shown her that He had a special plan for Jacob, the younger; God's will was that Jacob must be blessed, instead of Esau. Now in order to secure this will of God, Rebekah was doing all her best, even going beyond human ethics and manners. God's will must not be altered by anything, even by human ethics. We must not judge Rebekah, a great woman of God only with human standards, but must see her from God's point of view - she served God's will wholeheartedly. Also, we see that she really honored her husband as a servant of God, firmly believing that whatever he said would be fulfilled and whomever he blessed would be blessed - there was no revoke or a second chance in getting his blessing. 

 

Verses 18 through 29 describes how Jacob acted very well, deceived his father successfully, and secured his blessing. How hard he struggled to change his voice so that it might sound like the voice of Esau! How scary he was when his father, out of suspicion, asked him to come near and touched his neck! He carefully made sure that his father would touch the covered part with the goatskins. How anxious he must have been sitting while his father was eating! Maybe, his palms were wet with sweat. He had to finish this job before his brother Esau came back. 

 

When we see this scene with a humanistic point of view, what Jacob did is not acceptable – he cheated his father, and snatched away the blessing that would have been given to Esau his brother, otherwise. He was like a younger son who snatched away his older brother’s share of inheritance by changing the will of his father deceitfully. But again, the Bible never blames Jacob. Instead, we can see Jacob’s desperate desire and struggle to secure his father’s blessing. It was just the words of mouth his father would utter – it would not change anything right then. But Jacob valued his father's blessing so highly. To him, his father’s words of blessing were exceedingly important and valuable that he did not mind to tell lies to his father if he could secure them for himself. It was because his father was no ordinary man, but a servant of God - God would really bless the one his father blessed; indeed, securing his father's blessing was securing God's blessing, and for this blessing, Jacob would do anything and everything whether good or bad - it was more important than human ethics or manner. Surely, he sought it as the matter of life and death, as a result, he came to secure it and enjoy God’s blessing. 

 

Today, people value money and pleasures highly. They are willing to do anything for money and pleasures – they are willing to cheat others for them, even willing to dump God’s calling or even their faith for the sake of securing a promising job offer. For some good amount of quick and easy money, some people risk their life and become bank-robbers. It is very easy to find this kind of people around us, but it is very hard to find anyone who is so completely determined to pursue God’s blessing as a matter of life and death like Jacob did. Surely, when God finds that kind of people, he is overjoyed, and pours out his blessing on them. God says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13) When God found Tamar who was willing to even go beyond human ethics and morals if she could be included into God’s covenant family, God was happy with her desire and blessed her greatly. Jesus says in Matthew 11:12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Those who value God’s blessing highly pursue it and they are the ones who enjoy God’s blessing. These forceful men for God’s blessing serve God’s will in their generation. 

 

After Isaac finished blessing Jacob, Esau came in and said to his father, “My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn Esau.” What was Isaac’s response at this? Look at verse 33. Let’s read this verse together: 

 

Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him and indeed he will be blessed!” 

 

When Isaac found that he had ended up blessing Jacob not Esau, he trembled violently. Modern day, people easily say, “God bless you.” But they do not care whether what they said will truly work or not. It is like saying, “Good morning!” Also, people would easily say, “Oh, that’s my mistake. I am sorry. Let me do it again.” But Isaac was different. When he blessed, he meant it, and he truly knew and believed that his blessing would come true. He said, “I blessed him and indeed he will be blessed!” At this, Esau let out a loud bitter cry, “Bless me –me too father!” He said of Jacob, "Isn't he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright and now he's taken my blessing!" He begged his father, "Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!" Then Esau wept aloud. At this, Isaac answered him, "Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of the heaven above. 40You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck." It was not a blessing, but just a description of what kind of life he would live - not good at all. Esau was stolen of his father’s blessing. After losing his blessing, Esau wept bitterly, begged his father for another blessing, but there was no blessing left for him. Thus, he was rejected from God’s redemptive history. 

 

In regard to God's blessings, we must not take it for granted; even if we are the firstborns, even if we are Christians, we must not simply say, "I will be raptured and reign with Jesus forever." Instead, we must value God's blessing highly, seek it with all our heart and by any means, secure it. In this matter, the apostle Paul shares his struggle in Philippians 3, "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:13,14) Paul's understanding was that, when Christ had called him and assigned him to his mission, God had a prize for him, which would be given to him when he completed his mission; Paul's goal was to secure that prize by completing his mission. So, he focused on serving God's mission all the way to its completion. Only those who have this kind of attitude toward God's blessing come to secure it and enjoy it. What about those who take it for granted? They do not make any effort to secure it; instead, when they see any other thing that looks great such as a promising job, or a romantic relationship, they go for it, thinking that, later, anytime they can come back and take God's blessing. Later, in the resurrection, when Jesus comes again, we will see many people gnashing their teeth and weeping in darkness - they will be full of regret and anger toward themselves, but it will be too late. 

 

Second, "The God of Bethel" (28:1-22). After losing his father's blessing, Esau was angry at Jacob and harbored in his heart the intention to kill him. So his parents, Isaac and Rebekah, decided to send Jacob to Haran. Isaac commanded Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman, but go to Paddan Aram and take a wife for himself there from among the daughters of Laban, his mother's brother. Then, Isaac blessed him with God's covenant blessing, saying, "3May 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." Now he was really confirmed of God's will upon Jacob, so he blessed him with God's covenant blessing freely. Originally, Isaac intended to bless his firstborn Esau out of his own preferences - he loved Esau and the food he made from the wild game. Isaac was a great man of God, but he could have made a huge mistake in handing down God's covenant blessing to his next generation. What would have happened, had Isaac given thcovenant blessing to Esau? We don't want to even think about it. But only thanks to his wife, Rebekah's help and support, Isaac could hand it down to Jacob according to God's will and purpose successfully. Indeed, Rebekah was a helper suitable for Isaac. Probably, for this, Isaac would be thankful to his wife eternally. 

 

So Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. He got his father’s blessing even though it meant deceiving his father, but he had to pay the price of his lies and deception. He had to leave his father and mother, and go to a foreign land, running away from Esau. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. His pillow was a stone - this illustrates Jacob's difficult condition very well. Jacob was scared for his unknown future in a foreign land; he was sorrowful that he had to leave his parents' tent. It was the most sorrowful and lonely time in Jacob’s life. But to God, it was the best chance to step into Jacob’s life. Look at verses 12 through 15. As he fell asleep, Jacob had a dream. In his dream, 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. There above it stood the Lord. 

 

God visited Jacob in the wilderness. When Jacob thought he was all alone and no one was there with him, God showed Himself to him and revealed that He was with him. Actually, Jacob might have expected a terrible nightmare such as his brother popping up in his dream with an angry and monstrous face, chasing after him and shooting arrows endlessly. But Jacob’s dream was fantastic. He saw a huge and glorious stairway extending from the heaven to the earth, and many beautiful angels of God ascending and descending on it. Jacob must have said in his dream, “Wow! Cool!” This scene was displayed in the wilderness. But it was far better and glorious than any IMAX movie displayed in the world’s largest IMAX theater. Through this glorious dream, Jacob’s spirit was revived with excitement. When Jacob was in the most difficult situation in his life; when he was in deep anguish and fear, and when sorrow and loneliness were scratching his heart, God visited him and restored his spirit with such a powerful and glorious dream. 

The God of Bethel is the God who is with us and comforts us with His presence when we are in deep anguish and distress. Actually, many of us have experienced the God of Bethel who visited us and comforted us in our lowliest condition. He restored our hearts and spirits so that we could get up from our defeat and failures and go on continually. 

In the dream God introduced himself, saying, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac."The God who appeared to him in his most difficult situation was not a stranger to him, but the very One he had heard about from his grandfather and from his father. He was his family God. What a comforting moment it was for Jacob! And God gave him two sets of promises. One was his covenant blessings - God would give him and his descendants the land on which he was lying, his descendants would be like the dust of the earth, and all peoples on earth would be blessed through him and his offspring. The other set of God's promises was that God would be with him, watch over him wherever he went, and bring him back to the promised land. What was Jacob's response? Look at verse 16 and 17. Let's read these verses together:

 

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." 17 He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."

 

Through this experience with God in his dream, Jacob came to have a great revelation. He said, "Surely, the LORD is in this place and I was not aware of it." Thus far, he had grown up in a believing environment; his father was Isaac, and his grandfather was Abraham. He had attended worship service with them so many times; he had learned about God from them; he prayed and studied the Bible; sometimes, he was excited at their story of God; sometimes, he sensed God's presence in his house - it was really great to learn of God and believe in God. But he had not known God personally yet. He had not been in the real relationship with God either. He was just a good believing person who had the knowledge of God, who had good intention toward God, and who liked God, but without any real fellowship with God - just like so many church going people who have been in the church environment. But now in the wilderness, in his most difficult situation, he met God personally, and through this personal encounter with God, he came to grasp one spiritual secret, that was, God was in that very place. "Surely, the LORD is in this place!" Then, that place was no ordinary place, but the house of God where God dwelt. He had complete confidence about it. This confidence was so great that he was even afraid, because he was at the house of God, at the gate of heaven, standing before HimHe shouted, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." Through this encounter with God, through this great revelation, God was no longer the God whom his grandfather and his father had talked about, but the One whom he met personally, the One who dwelt in that place. That was now one thing he knew about God really. That was the beginning of his real relationship with God. 

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” This testimony of Jacob reminds us of how God intervened into our lives and revealed himself to us. Some of us were believers, doing Christian things, while some of us were unbelievers. Then, one day, God revealed Himself to us, maybe, at the Bible conference, maybe, through one to one Bible studies. On that day, our eyes were really opened, some of us, to God's love, some of us to our lost condition, some of us to God's truth. Then, we suddenly began to see everything differently.God was real; the Bible was really the word of God. Indeed, heaven was opened on that day for us. On that day, we were changed completely. That's how we could start this real Christian life, really living before Him alone. "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." When people have an encounter with God this way, they start their real life together with God. At that time, their life of faith has a clear direction, meaning and purpose. No longer their worship of God is vague and conceptual. Instead, they begin to really live for God. We praise and thank God who revealed Himself to us and gave us this new life in Jesus.

Look at verses 18 and 19. Early the next morning, he took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on it. He called the place "Bethel" which means "house of God." Then, he made a vow to God. Let’s read verses 20 through 22 together. 

20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God 22and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."

God's covenant is a deal God offers humans. But vow is a deal humans offer God. God does not need to accept the deal humans offer; He has no reason to accept the terms and conditions humans made. But when anyone offers his or her vow to God sincerely, God accepts it and binds Himself to the terms and conditions of the deal; this is his grace. So, when God showed his grace to you by accepting the deal you offered him,keep your vow to Him absolutely. 

In his vow, Jacob asked God for several things - if God will be with me (companionship), if God will watch over me on this journey (protection - Jacob was afraid), if God will give me food to eat and clothes to wear (basic security - he was not sure if he would be able to survive in a foreign land or not; he was asking God to help him with at least a minimum wage job in a foreign land so that he would be able to survive - he was not asking for great success, but basic survival - that was the most urgent issue to him), and "so that I return safely to my father's house." God already promised Jacob that he would be with him and watch over him and bring him back to the promised land; so Jacob did not need to ask God for these things. But he did so, because he wanted to make sure of God's companionship, protection, and provision so that he would return to his father's house safely. Nothing was certain in his life, and the only security, protection, and provision he could rely on was God. 

Jacob, then, promised, saying, "Then, the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth." If God accepted his vow and took care of him in this journey and brought him back to his father's house, Jacob would do three things. The first one was: The LORD will be my God. In those days, people worshiped so many kinds of gods. There were so many attractive looking idols. But Jacob's decision was that, to him, only the LORD, Jehovah would be his God. No matter what others worshiped, Jacob made a firm decision that he would worship and serve the LORD alone as his God. When we think about his decision, "The LORD will be my God," we see that he was a man with a strong backbone. He would not be bothered by others' opinion; he would not be influenced by peer pressure either. No matter what, he would worship God and serve Him only.

“The LORD will be my God!” This should be our personal confession of love to God as well. Nowadays especially in America, due to the development of science and natural discovery, people do not worship cast idols or starry hosts any more, but so many do worship idols in their lives. Money seems to be the most powerful and attractive idol. Simply, everyone is pursuing and worshiping Money. Also, many regard enjoying pleasure as the highest goal of their lives. They say, “Let’s eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” During Friday night, it seems that school campus becomes like Sodom and Gomorrah. In this wicked and adulterous generation, sometimes we are confused and tempted. But no matter what others do, our declaration toward the world is this: “The LORD will be my God." Even though the whole world may worship those idols, we are determined to worship the Lord, and pursue and serve Him only.Let's pray that many young people may rise for God with such a heart's determination, with such strong backbone.

He also promised, saying, "this stone that I have set as a pillar will be God’s house.” A house of God is a place where God dwells, and where people come to meet Him and worship Him. What Jacob meant was that he would come back to that place, and worship God in that place. To Jacob, God would be the God of Bethel. So, in Jacob's life of faith, there was a clear direction. He did not say that, since God is everywhere, he would worship God wherever he liked; no, there was a clear direction and place where he could really meet God and worship Him - Bethel. Bethel was the place Jacob experienced God’s grace personally, and it was the place he must be rooted, grow, and eventually serve God’s will. To him, Bethel was the house of God.

Jacob also promised one tenth offering, saying, “of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” In Genesis 14, we saw Abraham bringing one tenth offering to Melchizedek, the priest of God. And now, we see here Jacob mentioning about it. Many hundred years later, through the laws, God would ask the Israelites to bring Him one tenth offering. When we think about this, we can see that one tenth offering is something fundamental we humans must do. Bringing a tenth is all believers' responsibility and at the same time, privilege. Jacob shows us the meaning of one tenth offering, saying, “of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” It is the expression of our acknowledgement that everything we have acquired has come from God and it is the expression of our thanks to God. God gave us life. God has given us his grace. God gives us jobs so that we can pay the bills and support ourselves. God gives us all we need. Those who acknowledge this are thankful, and they bring one tenth to God.  

Now, through making his vow to God, Jacob entered a binding relationship with God. This vow would become a handle by which God would lead him according to his plan. Later, after fulfilling his end of the deal, God would ask Jacob to keep his vow by coming back to Bethel. Through meeting the God of Bethel, Jacob was strengthened, and his spirit was revived that he could continue his journey to Paddan Aram.

One Word: The LORD Will Be My God

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