Wednesday, October 20, 2010

THE LIFE OF JACOB #1

TEXT:  Genesis 28: 10-22
TITLE : Jacob meets His God
DATE PREACHED:  The Lord's Day , 10/10 /2010

At this  time  I have chosen to preach  a few sermons  on the life of Jacob (Hebr. “deceiver”)   who became   known  as “Israel “  ( Hebr.   “He strives with God “ or “God strives” ) . Jacob eventually  became  the father of the 12  tribes  who  then  became known as “the tribes of Israel”.   I want to focus on him  in particular  in his  encounter with God in Ch 28  (today) and  in terms of his wrestling  with God in Chapter 32  later  in the series . I believe that  there are many valuable spiritual lessons contained  in this   portion of Scripture . May the Holy Spirit  be pleased  to speak  our hearts  from His sacred text!

We  need to start with the vision of God.  At times like these,  when many  are threatened by   despair , hopelessness and fatigue  a vision of the greatness of God  is a great ( and often  unknown)  cure .

1. Jacob’s History:
As we find  him  in Chapter 28  he is living in  fear of his brother Esau.  You will remember that he has  twice deceived   and taken away  significant privileges from his bother Esau .  First , he   took away  his  birthright (Gen 25:29-34)  - if you like  the  rights of the firstborn (by  which he would inherit his father’s land  and  the family line would be perpetuated through him) ,  and secondly  he  took away   Esau’s  fatherly   covenant blessing  (Gen 27) , which was  ordinarily  reserved for  the oldest son .
Yet , remember also  that even though Jacob deceived his brother in these  things , Esau  himself  was at  fault, for he sat loosely  on these privileges .   If there is any lesson  to be  learned  from Esau’s   life it is this :  Beware of  sitting lightly on spiritual privileges
Esau’s  demise began  because he was more a man of passion than of principle ! It  all began  when he  came home hungry from the fields . He saw  that his brother had made  a  good pot of stew , and in order to gain that, he   sold his  birthright for a  pot of lentil stew.  His god was his belly – and in that process  he lost  his spiritual inheritance .
This of course does not excuse Jacob’s actions . We note that because of this,  Esau’s heart grew bitter and that  he  therefore intended to kill Jacob after  their father Isaac had died (Gen 27:41).
Please take careful note of the exhortation  in Hebrews 12 :15-17  :  “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”

Now remember that over and above all this  intrigue  there is the fact  that God had decreed  that  the promised seed ( the Messianic line ) should   come  via  Jacob the younger brother. (Malachi 1:2,3 à Rom 9:12,13) . The fact that this plan came about in such a crooked manner  has given Bible expositors  frequently headaches  and has caused much ink to be spilled on this subject . 
The matter  may  however be fairly easily resolved if we remember  that  God is the sovereign Creator and Lord , who  may do  as He pleases.   He is , after all God and we are not ! And because of this we can never  override  God’s  ultimate  purposes , for   as Isaiah says:  “Remember this  and stand firm , recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old ; for I am God and there is no other  ; I am God and there  is none like me , declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done , saying , My counsel shall stand  , and  I  will accomplish all my purpose”   (Isa 46:8-10) .
From before the foundation of the earth  Jacob was God’s chosen vessel . No matter how little you may like this quote from Malachi  1:1,2  :  “… I have loved  Jacob , but Esau  I have  hated…”  , it is a prerogative that belongs to the sovereign Lord .

But what does  the sovereign Lord  expect from his chosen servants ?   He calls us  to   trust Him and  to obey Him .  As Creator He  demands from  obedience to  His Word. He  commands us to wait patiently for the  unfolding of His plan . We must wait patiently  for Him  to open  the  doors.
Unfortunately ,   like Jacob and Rebekah   we  so easily  plot and plan our own course  and seek  to  speed up  God’s agenda, as it were .  We  tend to  think that  we can  speed up God’s plans by lending Him a hand  here and there through devising our own  plans . In this process  we will  not even shy away from deception .

We have  just  mentioned Rebekah . Through motherly ambition she  sought to push her  son on to the “fast track“ .  Now , did not the  Lord  tell her  already at the birth of her sons  that “ the older shall serve the younger “ ( Gen 25:23) ?  All she needed to do was to wait for God to act . Instead  she  pushes her son  Jacob to   act deceitfully so that he  might  inherit the covenant blessings  by force.     He needed not  to do this  for he was already  destined for this position by God .   

Could he not have waited for God’s timing  ? 
Deceit  always has horrible consequences!
I  remind  you that as a result of this  deceit  Esau  hated Jacob so much , that he had  begun to devise murderous  plans  in his heart against his brother  ( a repeat of Cain  and Abel in   Genesis 4 ) . Deceit   destroys   family relationships.  
The result of this  is  that  Jacob had to flee  and spend  20 years (!)  away from  his  promised land   and with his deceitful uncle Laban  in Paddan Aram .  hence we observe  that there is   also  the  loss of  the place  of God’s blessing and  of  wasted  time .
   
What do we learn from this  ? 
  1. We can never improve on God’s timing !
  2.  If we try , we may actually take longer to get there . There are  no  shortcuts  to Christian success .  You must  keep in step with the Spirit ( Gal  5:25 NIV) . 

This  then,  very briefly   is  the background  which brings us to  Chapter  28.  

Jacob is now on his way with his father’s blessing -  the blessing of Abraham ,  but he  is fleeing from his brother .   Though he has the  blessing , he is  running away because of  sin  and  the fear of man. He is running  away from the place where he should be .  Remember   however  that  despite  all this he still  is  the chosen man of God.  God is not finished with him yet, and will  yet  bring him  into the place of obedience .  Thankfully God’s plan  will never be frustrated by the disobedience of man .
Thankfully God loves   His people  still, even when   their  steps are momentarily away from Him.   Moses  , Elijah and Jonah all ran  in opposite directions  to God’s decreed will for a while . The God who had called them , and  who had decreed  their  work for them  brought them back to His purposes – even in a roundabout way !
The whole prophecy of Hosea is  a statement of God’s faithful commitment   to His people ,despite the fact that  they are at times  as unfaithful as prostitutes .  I thank God  that He holds on to me more than I hold unto Him !
In conclusion of   Hosea’s   prophecy  God says   concerning His wayward  chosen people :  ”I will heal  their apostasy; I will love them freely , for my anger has turned from them. I will be like the dew to Israel ; he shall blossom like the lily  … they shall return and dwell beneath my shadow…. It is I who answer and  look after you…” (Hosea 14:4-8)

And so  it happens  that Jacob  flees from Esau and to the house of Laban his uncle . It is a journey  of approximately 70 km’s   from home when  night comes . He  is tired  and sleeps . It is at this point  that God  appears to him in a  remarkable dream .  

2. Jacob’s Dream  : (  28: 12-15)
In his dream he saw “…a ladder  set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold (!)  the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold (!)  the LORD stood above it  and said…” .

Just a short word  and application about dreams  :  At this stage  there had been no written revelation  such as we have  in our hands today .   Even the law of Moses was  still in the future .  Hebr 1:1 says  that  “  Long ago , at many times and in many ways God spoke to our fathers….”  God spoke very directly  to people then , but since  Jesus  , the last prophet has come and spoken the last word , we now have the Bible as our ladder to heaven .

In his dream there  was  a ladder between earth and heaven.The ladder showed Jacob that there was a  way made by God  from earth to heaven . The angels that were ascending and descending  the ladder were God’s ministering spirits (Hebr 1:14) ,  but what is most amazing about this picture is the way in which the Lord Jesus uses this account  in John  1:51 , in His talk with Nathanael  : “And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,  you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
Jesus Himself  has shown us that  He is that ladder to heaven! He is the new and living way to God ! What a  picture !  This whole OT story is an illustration of the saving  work  of God.  Jesus  leads  us to God .

We note  that at the top of this ladder  (behold!)  there stood the LORD ( Yahweh) .
This was the first time that  Jacob would actually meet  the God of Abraham and Isaac,  his father personally . This experience becomes  the  pivotal  life- changing event  of his life .  Nobody meets God and is not changed  . This is the  experience  that changes him!
Here the Lord  confirms once again to Jacob  what He had  already promised to his mother Rebekah – and  even more significantly  what He promised to Abraham  ( Gen 15)  :  The land on which you lie I will to give to you and your offspring (v.13) .
This land was not better or more  fertile or more beautiful than other parts of the world .  The Lord chose this land  because He needed a spot  where a cross could be planted, on which His Son would bear the sins  of the world …  “ in you  and your offspring  shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (v.14)

V15 – “I am with you … and will keep you… I will not leave you”.  This is what makes it possible  to  be a follower of   God . Those were also  the words that the Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples. “ I  am with you  always , to the end of the age.”   (Matt 28:20)
This dream – this meeting with God  came just at the right time  Up to this point  Jacob had been a man  on his own mission . His main concern was not  to run into the arms of God , but to run away from  the brother who wanted to kill him.  And behold(!)  now God  came to  give him direction.

3. Jacob’s  awakening  ( 16-22)
 Jacob woke up -  and  it is the  awakening that tells us whether the dream  had  been real or not .  For many of my dreams I am thankful that they were only dreams . But in this case  Jacob realized that  had been  more than a dream , although the ladder and the angels were no longer there  now . Neither was the voice of God audible to him any longer .
But the awe of God remained in his  heart ! “ Surely the Lord is in this place”, he said .  ( v.16)  . This place was heavy  with the sense of God’s glory . The Hebrew word for ‘glory’ indicates ‘ weight’ .  God was  ‘ weighty ‘ in this place , and so  Jacob calls this place  Bethel  ( Hebr. “ House of God” ) . There is no temple building   - but it does not matter .  The presence of the Lord, the dwelling  of God  is here.  
This place , this encounter,   transformed Jacob  from a worldly man into a worshipper . Before this  he is  on the run because of his sins and because of  his fear. Before this he is a man without real peace .
It is the intrusion of God into his life that  transforms him . When the voice of God speaks  it is not a voice that  instills fear and  despair , but  renewal and promise . And now he is able to go forward confidently . Until now Jacob had only known about God . From this moment he knows God  in an intimate , personal  way .
Before  this  he had only known him as the God of Abraham and Isaac. Now  He is the God of Abraham , Isaac  and Jacob !
He knows  that he is now  in  God’s  hand  and trusts Him for future  bread and clothing  (v.20)  . He trusts God for  a return to the father’s  ( Isaac’s) house – where he ought to be  , and he commits  himself  to  build    God’s house  (  which he does in Ch 35) ,  and significantly  also , his pocket is liberated to give a tenth of all he has to God .  ( v.22)

This  episode  in Jacob’s life is  of great   instruction and example  for us .  Here we see   a truly liberated man , because he has  encountered the Living God .  He is now  free to love God ,  to serve   God , to worship  God  and to  give  a tenth of all his possessions   to God  .   This  is what Jesus has come for  us – to set us free indeed !
When you are a liberated man or  woman , then your God is  at the top of the ladder, and you climb  that ladder  through your  faith in Jesus ( who is your ladder )  who leads  you into the true Father’s House at our heavenly Bethel .  Amen .

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