Jacob’s Dream (Genesis 28)

Jacob’s Dream (Genesis 28)

Genesis 28Do you remember where we left off last week? Rebekah and Jacob deceived Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob. Isaac accidentally gave the blessing to Jacob, even though he thought he was blessing Esau. And we ended with the description that Esau was weeping.

In the passage that follows, we see Esau growing in bitterness toward his brother and parents (Gen. 27:41). His hatred takes on murderous intentions. When Rebekah discovers Esau’s intentions, she sends Jacob to her family in Haran to search for a wife there. We will see in chapter 28 that Isaac is in agreement with this decision. He would escape his brother’s wrath and return with the a wife. Rebekah probably thought that she would only be apart from her son for a short time, but Jacob will not return for twenty years, and when he returns Rebekah has already died.

The text never explicitly tells us that this is the result of her sin, but it would appear that her deception has caught up with her. The Lord’s will was still accomplished, but the consequences of her sin were devastating. Here greatest fear of losing Jacob is realized in this passage.

Once again we come to a critical passage in Genesis. Jacob has deceitfully gained Esau’s birthright and blessing. How long will God continue to bless Jacob when he seemingly shows no genuine signs of growth? In some respects, we have seen more signs of repentance from Esau. At least he was found weeping in the previous chapter, even if it was only for the fact that he had lost out on the blessing. On the other hand, Jacob—up to this point—has acted in an almost callous manner. He doesn’t appear to show any remorse for his deceitfulness.

But everything changes when we get to this chapter.

But before we read this passage let us look to the Lord in prayer for his help in understanding it.

Genesis 28:1-22

1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” 5 Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.

6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. 8 So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, 9 Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was 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! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 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.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

This is the Word of the LORD.

This passage is easy to break down into three sections based upon who is doing the action. First, we will look at Isaac’s Restoration (1-5). Second, we’ll see Esau’s Rejection (6-9). And third, we will note Jacob’s Regeneration (10-22).

Isaac’s Restoration (1-5)

In this first section we see Isaac has snapped out of his waywardness. We mentioned that he was apparently humbled last week by the way God sovereignly orchestrated the blessing to be given to Jacob. He trembled at the realization of what happened and knew that the blessing could not be revoked. Now we are confirmed by his actions that he has indeed been humbled and brought back to obedience to the will of God.

Isaac is now in agreement with Rebekah in sending Jacob to Paddan-aram to find a wife. In his blessing, which is recorded in verses 3-4, he uses the same language of the covenant promises that had been given to him (Gen. 26:3-5). There can be no doubt about Isaac’s agreement with the will of God at this point. His humility has led to his reconciliation with his wife as well as his Lord.

God proves that he will restore the humbled. Could you imagine if God held grudges? There would be absolutely no hope for any of us! Rather, God is the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. He loves to receive his children back. In the parable, the father sees him a long way off, is filled with compassion, and runs to his son. Before his son can give him his planned apology, the father is calling for a celebration. “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:22-24).

“The best robe in the house would have been the father’s own robe, the unmistakable sign of restored standing in the family.” writes Tim Keller in Prodigal God. “The father is saying, ‘I’m not going to wait until you’ve paid off your debt; I’m not going to wait until you’ve duly groveled. You are not going to earn your way back into the family, I am going to simply take you back. I will cover your nakedness, poverty, and rags with the robes of my office and honor.’”

And this is the image Jesus wants us to have in our minds regarding the way God restores the humble. Do you realize that you are never too far gone? You may feel—at this very moment—that you are further away from God than you have ever been. You sit here in church thinking, “Who am I kidding? I don’t belong here.” If that is what you’re thinking, you are actually well on your way to finding the humble position required before you will embrace Christ.

The paradox of Christianity is that the way up is down. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God the Father because he was first humbled to the point of death upon a cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

If I had to make an educated guess, I bet Jacob noticed his father’s attitude adjustment. That is potentially the very thing God used to soften Jacob’s own heart toward the things of God. Take note of this parents! Just as the sins of the father are passed on from one generation to the next, so too will your model of faith and repentance. Patterns of obedience can be passed on just like patterns of sin.

Even as we see Isaac’s restoration complete, we see the reverse occurring with…

Esau’s Rejection (6-9)

It actually seems like Esau is trying to do the right thing here. He overhears Isaac telling Jacob “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women.” And desiring to honor his father, he marries the daughter of Ishmael. Because he doesn’t know the nature of God, his actions only serve to compound the problem. He reveals his ignorance regarding the covenant.

In addition, Esau’s attempt to gain the blessing is half-hearted at best. “Whereas Esau ought thoroughly to have repented,” writes John Calvin, “he only tried to correct the single fault of his marriage; and this too in a most absurd manner… Let us know that we do nothing effectually, until we tear up our sins by the roots, and thoroughly devote ourselves to God.”

Rather than being humbled by his sin, Esau is trying to win back part of the blessing by marrying someone he apparently cared little for. Rather than bring him favor with his father, his actions serve to bring further curse. His life is one that is characterized by a decreasing sensitivity toward sin. Rather than sin humbling him, it serves to numb him more and more. Instead of feeling despair for his actions, he commits himself to further isolation from God and his people by trying to accomplish things in his own way.

God hates sin! I believe the worst position you can be in is one of indifference toward sin. When you are capable of sinning without any sense of regret or remorse you are in a desperate position. When you knowingly engage in sin and are not humbled to repentance, you have essentially lost sight of God. One of the most fearful acts of God’s wrath is to hand you over to your sin. Romans 1:28 says, “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”

A Christian cannot grow in Christ while at the same time becoming desensitized to sin. Rather, the closer we get to Christ, the more sensitive we become toward sin. Think of it like this. Imagine you’re in a big room that is pitch black. Somewhere far across the room you see a flashlight turn on. That light will be plain to see, but you still might not be able to make out the hand in front of your face. However, as you begin to walk toward the light, you can see more and more. The closer you get the more you see the filth that still covers your clothing.

You cannot grow lackadaisical towards your sin. Sin is a downward spiral. You have to diligently fight against it. Sin abounds where there is availability without accountability. This is why being in a Discipleship Group is so important. It is within those groups that community develops and begins to hold you accountable in your Christian life.

John Owen has written some of the best literature on overcoming sin and temptation. He said we must “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you!” Pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin! Cut off your hand if it causes you to sin (Matt. 5:29-30)! That’s the mentality we should have. The moment you become complacent, the spiral begins and the centrifugal force pushes you further and further away from God. Esau was caught in that spiral and he will never ultimately recover from it.

Esau serves as a kind of foil for Isaac and Jacob in this passage. Isaac has been restored, Esau has been rejected, and Jacob appears to be regenerated.

Jacob’s Regeneration (10-22)

Up to this point in the life of Jacob we have seen very little that is commendable. But now he has been blessed and sent off by his mother and father to flee his brother and find a bride. What is going through Jacob’s mind? Surely, he is a bit fearful of the future. Isolated. Hunted. Abandoned. Discouraged. No land. No wife. No children. His brother already has three wives. Once again we see the promises of God in jeopardy.

Approximately 10% into his journey he comes to the city of Luz. This is the only stop where the events are recorded. There is something important about what took place here. This is a turning point for Jacob. He will not be the same person after this.

Let me say up front, I don’t know precisely where Jacob is in his salvation. I don’t know if he is experiencing a living faith for the first time. I don’t know if he is strengthening a faith that was already living. But there are signs in this passage that seem to indicate—at the very least—that his regeneration has occurred.

In verse 12 Jacob receives divine confirmation similar to when  the covenant promises were reiterated to Abraham (Gen. 15:12). This is the second time we see a stairway. The first one appears in the episode of the Tower of Babel. In fact, the stairway in Jacob’s dream probably resembled the Babylonian ziggurat which served as a conduit for the gods to ascend and descend from heaven.

God’s Promise to Jacob (vv.13-15)

In this section we see that God reveals himself as sufficient to provide for all of Jacob’s needs. He is the Lord who will provide land to the wandering Jacob. He will provide offspring to the son who has no family. Instead of being hunted as an enemy Jacob’s household would be sought as one dispensing blessings to the families of the earth. And possibly the most immediate concern in Jacob’s life is the fact that he is isolated from everyone. He was utterly alone. But God promises his perpetual presence.

What we see from this is how God who took the initiative in bringing Jacob to himself. Jacob was not prepared for this encounter. He wasn’t at all expecting it.

“What had Jacob done to deserve this high honor?” Asks A. W. Pink, “What was there in him to merit this wondrous privilege? Nothing; absolutely nothing. It was God in grace which now met him for the first time and here gave to him and his seed the land whereon he lay. Such is ever His way. He pleases to choose the foolish and vile things of this world: He selects those who have nothing and gives them everything: He singles out those who deserve naught but judgment, and bestows on them nothing but blessing.”

Jacob’s Response to God (vv.16-22)

Amazement (16-17)

Contrary to the LEGO Movie, everything is NOT awesome. But God is! To see God is to be awestruck! When we realize we have been in the presence of God we should be on our faces before him. We should be covering our mouths declaring with Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).

Quote for Crazy Love by Francis Chan. You get a glimpse of the awesomeness of God in the beginning of the book. The first line of the book is jarring: “What if I said, ‘Stop praying’? What if I told you to stop talking at God for a while, but instead to take a long, hard look at Him before you speak another word?… The wise man comes to God without saying a word and stands in awe of Him.”

Do you pause before you pray? Do you pause, even briefly, just to acknowledge what you are about to do? R. C. Sproul in The Holiness of God writes, “Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God.” Let yourself be surprised by God all over again (or for the first time)! Learn to be amazed!

If I could summarize this entire chapter in one sentence I would put it like this: A growing Christian is one that is increasingly sensitive toward sin and constantly amazed by God. The fact that Jacob was in awe of God instigated the rest of his response.

Do you realize you are on holy ground in this place? Do you realize you are on holy ground every time you open God’s Word in your home with your family? Do not take the privilege of communing with God lightly. Have you lost your first love? Has the gospel lost it’s allure for you?

Acknowledgment (18-19)

This is Jacob’s worship. Worship is responding in faith to the the revelation of God. Ed Clowney comments, “The ascent of man’s worship follows the descent of God’s grace.”

Commitment (20-22)

Some commentators give Jacob a hard time because of the way he appears to be doubting the promises of God. But what is this judgment based upon? It arises from Jacob’s conditional answer, “If God will be with me…” and then he appears to rattle off personal petitions.

But I don’t see it that way at all. I don’t get the impression that Jacob is full of doubt here. His amazement turns into acknowledgment and finally an appropriate level of commitment. I don’t believe Jacob is bargaining with God, “If you give me Boardwalk and Park Place, I’ll give you Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues…” I just don’t get that tone from Jacob’s comments as some have understood them.

In fact, all Jacob is doing is repeating the very promises of God (vv.13-15) back to Him! “If you do all that you say you will, then I’m secure.” Not only that, he concludes with a commitment to tithe. He recognizes that any resources he receives in the future will be because of God’s mercy.

Malachi 3:6-12 considers anything less than the tithe to be robbing God! However, the apostles do not refer to the tithe at all. They are more concerned with Christians having a commitment to being generous. Christians should be cheerful givers. Under the new covenant the commandment to tithe is not reiterated. But it would seem that the effects of grace would prove to make us more generous with the resources God has given us, not less. I like what Waltke says, “All too often, Christians tithe in order not to give too much and pastors teach tithing to assure that people give enough!”

The Westminster Confession of Faith provides this passage as a proof text for the taking “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows” (Ch.22.6) – “[A vow] is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone: and that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith, and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want, whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties: or, to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto.”

This is quite out of accord with so many evangelical church which, if anything, under-emphasize commitment. Many pastors are fighting a battle against legalism—which is a real problem!—but they are ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the church has simply given up on the pursuit of holiness! “The hole in our holiness is that we don’t really care much about it.” writes Kevin DeYoung, “Passionate exhortation to pursue gospel-driven holiness is barely heard in most of our churches.”

We have seen God restore Isaac. We have seen God reject Esau. And now we have seen God regenerate Jacob.


In John 1:50-51 Jesus tells Nathanael, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “I am the stairway that connects God to humanity.” Will you look to him? This very place can become your Bethel!