And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran
Interesting. I just realized that Haran (Charan ) was where Terah died; for whatever reason that name as mentioned in Rebekah’s story. But, it certainly makes sense that this was where Terah’s other descendants would be found.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
I always found Jacob’s ladder (cullam) a bit strange. Then it occurred to me that instantaneous remote communication (e.g., radio) is a relatively recent concept. Before that, the only way to communicate was via some form of messenger (angel, mal’ak). So, in that context it makes sense that God would manifest His relations with the world in this sort of way.
Regardless, the most interesting part is what God says:
And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I [am] the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
But, more than that, Jacob get a promise beyond even what Abraham received (as far as I can tell):
And, behold, I [am] with thee, and will keep thee in all [places] whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done [that] which I have spoken to thee of.
Jacob is appropriately impressed:
And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful [is] this place! this [is] none other but the house of God, and this [is] the gate of heaven.
At first, I was afraid that Jacob was so overwhelmed he was going to idolize the place:
And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put [for] his pillows, and set it up [for] a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
which he calls Bethel (Beyth’El, house of God):
And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city [was called] Luz at the first.
However, he does seem to get the promise (neder), and responds with one of his own:
And Jacob vowed 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 raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:
Perhaps not surprisingly, his chief concern at this point is returning safely home (bayith) — in peace (shalowm), unlike the way he left it! What’s interesting is that the implication is that he won’t entirely trust Yahweh (Y@hovah) until that happens. That is:
a) He hadn’t already trusted Yahweh as his god while living with Isaac
b) He still appears to be suspending judgment on God’s worthiness to be worshipped
That might be a little unfair — I suppose Jacob may be speaking semi-rhetoricaly — but it seems to fit with what we know of his character (or lack thereof) It also highlights the difference between merely believing God exists and actually having faith in Him.
Still, on the plus side he takes the situation quite seriously. He not only marks the spot where the promise occurred, he promises to (i) build a temple (bayith), and (ii) pay a tithe (‘asar ):
And this stone, which I have set [for] a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
Those are not bad things — certainly better than not doing them — but yet I find the response somewhat disappointing. For example, one could imagine someone like David responding to this same dream by saying:
Blessed be the Lord, who has shown mercy by revealing Himself to His servant. Though I had heard of you, now my eyes have seen you, and I repent of myself. Because of your great promises to me, I declare here and now that you are my God, and I am your servant. As long as you keep faith with me, I will keep faith with you, and honor you all of my days.
Conditional faith is better than no faith at all, since it gives God at least a chance to prove Himself. But, how much more secure it is to trust God based on what He has already done, rather than having to worry about whether He’ll fulfill a future promise. It is the difference between being married vs. merely engaged.
One can perhaps excuse Jacob’s skepticism since he had very little track record of God’s faithfulness to look back upon, especially compared to ours. But then, what excuse have we?
And excuse or not, failing to trust God (and thus trusting ourselves) always carries a price, as we’ll no doubt soon see.
God, thank you for the manifold ways you have revealed yourself to me. Forgive me for the many times I have lacked the courage to trust in your goodness, and have held faith hostage to future events. Help me to commit to you as my God in the here and now, and not hold back out of fear or self-reliance. Plant my head at the foot of Jacob’s ladder, that I may be a conduit for blessing the nations. Free me to be a blessing, that I am may enjoy the full fruit of your promises. In Jesus name, Amen.