Summary: Jacob begins a relationship with God after the Lord strips away everything he has. It is a process God brings each of us through.
Verses 1 - 5
So you’re Jacob. You’ve just wrangled the biggest deal of your life - by cheating your brother first of the birthright then of the patriarchal blessing. But far from celebrating, Jacob now has a death threat against his life and is going to be sent away on a journey hundreds of miles away (550) - not even sure if he will make it alive.
Not exactly what he bargained for, I guess. Maybe Jacob assumed that he’d immediately take over the family fortunes. As we’ll see, God will do His will - and Jacob and all of us through him, will be blessed - but what a difficult time he will have to go through to get there.
Verses 6 - 9
The attitude of Essau expressed in chapters 25 through 27 continues. He married Canaanite women against the wishes of his parents - showing a rebellious attitude towards the covenant. Now when he learns that Jacob has gone the same way as Isaac to find a wife what does he do? He thumbs his nose at the covenant again by purposefully going out and finding a wife from Ishmael’s sons - knowing full well that God’s promise was to go with Isaac, not with Ishmael.
It’s an outward action that shows an inward attitude. Even though we model and teach our kids the way of the Lord, once they reach a certain age they will go their own way - and if that is rejecting the faith then that is their choice.
And it doesn’t stop with the attitude towards mom and dad - but towards Jacob as well. At least for a while.
Verses 10 - 17
The text almost seems to indicate that Jacob was alone - a far different picture than when Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac.
At the end of the day Jacob collapses - and uses a rock as a pillow. The place will be called Bethel.
So then he dreams - and this is the first time we see God directly talking to Jacob about his future. He promised to bless Abraham, then Isaac, now Jacob.
The ladder - it could represent the continuing relationship between God in heaven and man on earth. The angels bring man’s needs up to God then bring God’s assistance back down to earth (Keil & Delitzsch). In a way, God is showing Jacob a portal between dimensions. Whether it’s a ladder or a portal isn’t important, but what it means - that God is in the affairs of men - standing above the ladder, making and carrying out promises.
Also God promises to be with Jacob until "I have done what I promised you." It’ll take years for Jacob to return - years that’ll be real tough - but an important breaking of Jacob’s pride and reliance on himself.
In a way, Jacob’s journey is the same journey God takes us on. God promises never to leave or forsake us in Jesus - but there is much work to do on our character and God allows many trials and tribulations into our lives to first show us our real fleshly character, then break that flesh - changing us into His image. The tendency is for us to lose heart and feel totally alone and abandoned - but as with Jacob, God will not leave us until He is finished working His life into our lives.
Verses 16 - 19
"God was here and I didn’t know it" Jacob says. Not only that but it is a "a gate of heaven." It’s a place to get to God.
I like the parallel to our lives: We are going along, feeling low and alone and deserted - but we discover that the very place where we fall down exhausted and at our wits end is a place where God already was - preparing the way for us, reaching down from heaven to help us.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths , you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
God is already in your darkest place - bringing His light and his right hand to hold on to you. You just didn’t know it. So - look for His presence at Bethel.