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Jacob's Vision at Bethel (Genesis 28:6-22)

In sending Jacob away, Isaac had sternly forbidden him to marry a Canaanite woman. Overhearing this, Esau resolved to find a wife more pleasing to his father—apparently still desiring to somehow get into the good favor of his father that he might thereby receive a better blessing. So Esau took a third wife from the daughters of Ishmael. But, as Esau was to learn, there was no way for Isaac to change his mind about the blessing (Hebrews 12:17)—Isaac knew the events had been allowed by God and he had to live in submission to God's sovereign choice.

Journeying to Haran, Jacob stopped in the place called Luz, later renamed Bethel. There Jacob slept on the ground with a stone at his head (Genesis 28:11). In his sleep he dreamed, and in his dream God assured Jacob that He would be with him and return him to Canaan. The Abrahamic Covenant, moreover, was confirmed to Jacob. When Jacob awoke, he took the stone at which his head rested and anointed it, setting it up for a "pillar" or sacred stone. It appears that Jacob took this stone with him on his journeys, especially since he mentions the stone in the context of returning to Isaac (verses 20-22), apparently set it up and anointed it again in Bethel later (35:14-15), and still later, at the end of his life, he seems to have prophesied that it would be with the descendants of Joseph in the end time (49:24). If Jacob did take the stone with him, as would be likely, there would have been a physical, typical stone going with Jacob, paralleling the spiritual, antitypical Stone (i.e., God) who had promised that He would be with Jacob and not leave him (28:15).

Jacob also promised that if God would return him to his father Isaac, then God would be Jacob's God and Jacob would faithfully tithe. These statements appear perplexing, but a careful attention to the development of Jacob's character would seem to resolve the apparent difficulty. Jacob surely knew of God. Isaac had never worshiped any other but God, and he had learned this from Abraham. But it appears that Jacob, although certainly worshiping God, likely did so mainly because he believed it to be materially advantageous. Jacob , as we've seen, had a grasping personality; he was someone who used others to further his own ends, and perhaps God was no different to him. Jacob, it appears, served God for selfish advantage. The story of Jacob will show that over time Jacob was transformed from being a manipulator into being one who sought righteousness through his actions, and finally into one who became wholly submissive to God and served God out of love and devotion. Jacob's statement that God would be his God is another way of saying that Jacob would rely on Him alone; his promise to tithe is another way of honoring God by recognizing His sovereign lordship. Thus, the promises essentially boil down to exclusive devotion to God.

In many ways, Jacob is every man. Or, to be more precise, every man is like Jacob. We all start out grasping, self-oriented, concerned with our needs. As we grow, we become less self-centered and more motivated by principle. But as we become mature, we learn to love God and act out of devotion to Him. We must learn to live with God, and along the way our character is changed, shaped and molded, going through various phases as we become more and more like God Himself. For this reason, the character development of Jacob is one of the most interesting studies of the book of Genesis.

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