Summary: God will still fulfill his promises, even in the middle of difficulty

How many of you have ever eaten at a Hard Rock Cafe? They can be found all over the world - in 59 countries, actually -- and it used to be popular to collect t-shirts from as many locations as possible. At one point I had a shirt from Beijing, China; Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; Rome, Italy; Gatlinburg, Tennessee; and Orlando, Florida thanks to trips that either myself or a member of my family had taken. The Hard Rock Cafe doesn’t just specialize in countries that are hot tourist destinations, either -- they have restaurants in Kazakhstan, Malta, Vietnam, Kuwait, Egypt, and other less travelled world destinations.

What makes the Hard Rock Cafe special isn’t the food, though it is good, but the atmosphere and the decor. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, the current owners of the Hard Rock Cafe, have over 77,000 pieces of rock and roll memorabilia, and are the owners of the largest private collection in the world. They have guitars from great names like Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Jon Bon Jovi; stage costumes worn by the Beatles, and even original recordings of entire albums hanging on the walls of each and every restaurant. This collection is what makes eating a hamburger at the Hard Rock Cafe different than eating a hamburger at any other restaurant.

Some cities also have a Hard Rock Hotel, which expands the idea of the original restaurant and adds a several-hundred-room hotel to the property as an added form of income for the company. The Hard Rock Hotel is much smaller than the restaurant, though, with only a handful of hotels in less than 20 countries.

Tonight I want to talk about a different hard rock hotel -- perhaps the very first one ever. Turn to Genesis chapter 28. Chapter 28 starts with Jacob standing in front of his father, Isaac, preparing to go find a wife. But a lot has happened before they got to this point. Remember, Jacob and Esau were twins. Esau, the oldest, was Isaac’s favorite; but Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. Jacob has already bought his brother’s birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, then lied to his father Isaac about it. After this point Esau held a grudge against Jacob, even though he’s the one who sold his birthright in the first place! Esau became a bit of a rebel in the family after this, and even married a woman from Canaan -- something that his father was specifically against. At the very last verse in chapter 27 we see Rebekah playing her sons against each other even more. “Then Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I’m disgusted with living because of these Hittite women. If Jacob takes a wife from among the women of this land, from Hittite women like these, my life will not be worth living.’”

This is a classic example of manipulation, right? “If this happens, then my life won’t be worth living!” Rebekah was a classic drama queen who was very good at convincing her husband to do what she wanted. And, of course, he goes right along with it, doesn’t he? Chapter 28, verses 1-9:

“1So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 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 reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.

6Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.”

So while Jacob is preparing to leave and find a wife, his poor brother Esau is still trying to undo his mistake from earlier and gain his father’s favor once more by marrying a woman from their own family -- in this case, his half-uncle’s daughter. Of course, this is the same half-uncle who, we learned last week, was conceived from Abraham doubting God, and was then sent into exile. Esau just can’t catch a break!

So anyway, Jacob is on his way to find a wife. Let’s pick the story back up with verse 10:

“10Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11When 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.”

Put yourself in Jacob’s position for a moment. He was all but forced to leave his home because he cheated his brother out of his inheritance. His father orders him to go find a wife in another city, like it’s as easy as running to the corner store and grabbing a loaf of bread. Not only that, but Jacob knows that if he doesn’t leave, he would likely be killed by Esau. He’s not welcome at home, he’s a stranger in this other town, and now he’s forced to spend the night sleeping on a rock in the middle of nowhere. It would have been easy for him to just have a little pity party right there on his rock and refuse to go on because he felt so sorry for himself. Thankfully, he didn’t do that -- he just went to sleep. Verse 12:

“12He 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.””

Jacob had a vision from God -- while sleeping on a hard rock! He had confirmation of God’s plan for his life in a very obvious and literal way. Remember how he must have felt before he went to sleep? Lost, unwanted, unsure of the future? Now imagine how you would feel if you had a dream like Jacob had! What would your reaction be? What was Jacob’s reaction?

“16When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” 18Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. 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 household, 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.””

Jacob immediately recognized that something special happened, and went through great effort to show his appreciation. He eventually goes to Haran and marries Leah and Rachel. He has twelve sons -- Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. These men become the twelve tribes (plus the tribe of priests) of the nation of Israel.

But wait a minute. Why isn’t it the nation of Jacob? After all, it was common for a nation or tribe to be named after their patriarch. Why isn’t it the nation of Abraham, for that matter? We find out in Genesis 32:24-28:

“24So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ 27The man asked him, ‘What is your name?’ ‘Jacob’, he answered. 28Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.’”

This clinches it, right here. Clearly, Jacob knew that this man was an angel, because he demanded a blessing! But he still struggled and wrestled with him all night long. Why? Why would he wrestle against God for so long?

Because God doesn’t want us to be passive. Instead, He wants us all to be in active pursuit of His blessings! By wrestling with Jacob for so long -- and letting him win -- God tested Jacob. Look back at verse 26. God’s representative, referred to as “the man”, wants to stop fighting because they’ve been going at it all night! If it were me, I probably would have been like, “Yeah, OK, we’re done.” But Jacob was different -- he had his eyes on the prize of God’s blessing, and refused to give in until it was received.

It’s interesting too, as a side note, that Jacob’s hip was injured during this little episode. It’s almost like God was reminding Jacob that he must no longer walk in his own strength, but must rely entirely on God to direct his steps.

So anyway, back to the blessing: this man renames Jacob. Remember two weeks ago, when God renamed Abram to Abraham in order to literally change his identity to match God’s promise? God is doing the exact same thing here. The name Jacob means “deceiver”. That is not a very appropriate name for the father of God’s people, right? But Israel means “Struggles with God”. Note, it doesn’t say “Struggles against God”. We are all warriors, fighting alongside God. There is no better name for the leader of God’s people.

So what can we learn from Jacob/Israel’s life? We know he’s the beginning of a nation -- his sons literally started the nation of Israel. We know that he lied on multiple occasions for personal gain, and was all but forced out of his own home just to save his life. But there’s much more to his story here.

When Jacob had major trouble in his life, and he didn’t know what to do, he just stopped and rested on a rock. When he did that, he saw that God’s plan for his life was very good. Jacob was refreshed and was able to fulfill that plan. He got married and had sons that started the nation of Israel, God’s own chosen people.

There is a lesson in there for us as well. When we have troubles in life, we also need to stop and rest; but instead of getting a boulder from the backyard to use as a pillow, we need to rest on The Rock. By resting in Jesus, we can be refreshed when things get difficult. When we rest in Jesus, we will be reminded of what God’s plan for our lives really is. When we rest in Jesus, we will get the strength to continue on and actually fulfill that plan.

Next week we will finish our series on Fantastic Four Beginnings with Joseph: the Beginning of Hardship.