One of my favorite stories in Genesis is Jacob’s dream at Bethel in chapter 28. Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, is running away from his brother Esau. Twice he had tricked his elder twin. First Jacob had taken Esau’s birthright for a hot lunch. Then with the help of his mother, Rebekah, he stole his father’s blessing from Esau. Esau had reason to threaten Jacob’s life and so Jacob fled.
When he stopped for the night, Jacob dreamed of a ladder reaching up to the heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. The Lord God stood at the top and speaks to Jacob. One might expect God to chastise Jacob, to demand his repentance. After all, Jacob has tricked not only his brother, but his father, Isaac, as well. Surely God would demand justice.
Instead, God speaks only of the promise and blessing. God promises Jacob shall return to the promise land and will become the father of a great nation, a blessing to all nations.
Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land (Genesis 28:15).
Some Christians think that the God of the Old Testament is a wrathful, angry God and that grace and love only appears in the New. Yet the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is filled with moments of grace and blessing. God has always been a God of grace and love who will always keep His promises. Jacob had to taste some of his own medicine when he reached his Uncle Laban’s home in Haran, but eventually he returned. God kept the covenant.
The other strong image from the dream is that God’s angelic hosts go up and down the ladder. God comes to humanity, not humanity climbing up to God. God initiates the dream and the covenant. Jacob can only respond in faith.
After Jacob awoke from the dream, he recognized that he was on sacred ground. He named it “Bethel” or House (Beth) of God (El). Later in Israel’s history Bethel would become one of the holy places for worship. (Judges 20).
Lord Jesus, make me ever mindful of your promise and grace.