Jacob's Ladder and God's Grace
“…he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.” (Genesis 28.11b)
In no time ever is a stone considered to be a desirable pillow. Even in old western movies the cowboys had their saddles or packs on which to lay their head. Jesus said of himself that he had nowhere to lay his head (Matt. 8.20), and the same could be said for Jacob in Genesis 28. For one to use a stone for their pillow must at least suggest that no other suitable alternative is available, such as an extra cloak. Jacob finds himself in the elements, sleeping on the ground, fleeing from the wrath of his older brother Esau, with only his staff in hand (Gen. 32.10).
Until this point, one reading the account of Jacob’s life feels little pity for him. After all, he is the swindler of Genesis 25 that demands the birthright from his starving older brother in exchange for lentil soup, and the deceiver of Genesis 27 who (according to Rebekah’s instructions) lies to and deceives his blind father in order to receive his blessing. Sleeping on a rock in the wilderness seems a small price to pay for his actions. The LORD had stated before Jacob’s birth that Esau’s nation would serve Jacob’s (Gen. 25.23), but Jacob has fallen so incredibly short of the examples of Abraham and Isaac that it is hard to imagine God’s promise being fulfilled through him.
This is EXACTLY why the following scene is so incredible.
Jacob experiences one of the most famous visions recorded in scripture in Genesis 28.12-13, what we commonly refer to as “Jacob’s ladder”. But something even more incredible follows:
“And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." (Genesis 28.13-15)
God is with Jacob? God promises His blessings on Jacob?? God will not leave Jacob???
You and I would have left Jacob then and there, and yet God reveals to Jacob (and to us) a glimpse of His incomprehensible mercy and grace. The man whose only mention of God to this point is part of an outright lie to his father (Gen. 27.20) is given an opportunity to turn and trust that same God. Note also that God does not make any specific requests of Jacob at this point, only His promises and His will for Jacob. Few passages in the scripture paint as beautiful a picture of God’s mercy.
So, what would Jacob’s reaction be to this incredible demonstration of God’s power and love?
Jacob’s initial reaction is to be afraid. When one interacts with God in the scripture, fear is the universal emotion. We do not experience visions today, nor do we hear the word of God initially from prophets who spoke on God’s behalf like Isaiah or Samuel. However, through the word of God similarly incredible promises have been made today to similarly wicked people. You and I cannot look down on Jacob from our moral high ground, and yet God has shown His grace to every one of us. Will we tremble at God’s divine power and mercy?
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.” (Titus 2.11-14)
Second, Jacob sets up a memorial. This moment marks a turning point in his life, and he dedicates the rock upon which he slept in memory of this event. There is no small amount of irony here: the stone of Jacob’s hardship is consecrated and renamed in honor of the God that takes his hardship and turns it into blessing. This was not the first time that worship to God was offered in this place (Gen. 12.8, 13.3) but it is Jacob that declares the site “Beth-el”, which translates to “house of God”. Jacob would never cease to worship God from that point onward, even bowing in worship at the head of his bed in Genesis 47.31. If Jacob’s next action before the LORD was to devote the site to Him, what should be our reaction to God’s mercy and grace? We must do as David wrote in Psalm 29.2: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name; Worship the LORD in holy array.” Our worship and our memorial are the same: the sacrifice of ourselves in worship to the Father. Will we consecrate ourselves as living stones within the temple of God?
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Romans 12.1)
Lastly, Jacob makes a vow to the LORD. Notice that God makes no demand of Jacob, and yet Jacob clearly understands that his unwavering commitment is necessary. Jacob’s vow does not question God’s ability nor willingness to keep/feed/clothe/deliver Jacob: the only IF in this vow is Jacob’s commitment to God. Jacob’s actions in no way earned God’s favor, but God’s favor absolutely required Jacob to act accordingly. We must see this today: God has shown us immeasurable favor through Jesus Christ, but will we act accordingly? Wouldn’t following His commands given in scripture be the very least we could do? And yet this still does not make us worthy: “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17.10) Christ paid for your sins with His own blood: what vow will you make in response? Will you keep your commitment to Him?
“The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5.30-32)
At some point we realize our sins have given us pillows of stone. My prayer is that we will see the great mercy the LORD has shown us and vow to make the LORD our God. -Kyle Sanders