Connections 07.23.2017: This Place

Genesis 28:10-19a

I saw the sign in a restaurant in a small Kentucky town: “There’s no place near this place like this place, so this must be the place.” If you wanted a decent meal in that area, it was indeed the place.

Most of the time when I was in that town (and in that restaurant), I really didn’t want to be there. I usually wanted to be somewhere else. Looking back from three and a half decades later, I realize that my distracted inattentiveness cost me a lot. I could have experienced, learned, gained, and given so much more had I realized the value of being in that place at that time rather than looking toward being in another place at another time.

I also would have realized that God was present there in ways I didn’t even suspect.

When Jacob awoke from his dream in which he saw angels going up and down a celestial/terrestrial escalator, he exclaimed, “Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!” (v. 16). That’s a good thing to wake up and realize. Jacob was fortunate that the dream alerted him to God’s presence.

I wonder how often we fail to realize that the Lord is in “this place”—that is, in whatever place we happen to be at the time.

One of Israel’s confessions of faith begins, “A wandering Aramean was my father” (Deut 26:5); Jacob is the wanderer to whom it refers. He had his dream at a place where he stopped to spend one night. Bethel wasn’t his destination; it was just a stopping place on the way to where he was going. His final destination wasn’t really final. He was on his way to Haran, and as things turned out he would remain there for two decades. He would eventually return to Canaan and then move to Egypt, where he would die.

But he was also on his way to places in his relationship with God that went beyond geography and into identity. He was on his way to finding out what it meant to be God’s child, to learning how God works in strange and shocking ways, and to undeservedly experiencing God’s great grace (which is, after all, the only way one can experience it).

Jacob didn’t know God was in “this place.” But he found out. I wonder if after his experience at Bethel he was more aware of God’s presence in every place. Surely he was.

Sometimes we miss God’s presence in this place because we’re looking for another place. Sometimes we miss it because we’re just not paying attention.

How much richer would our lives be if we learned always to be sensitive to the Lord’s presence in this place, wherever we happen to be? What practices can we adopt to increase our sensitivity?

Let’s be proactive. It’s a better approach than waiting on a dream.

Discussion

1. What all do you think was on Jacob’s mind when he lay down to sleep? What role might his recent experiences have played in his experience at Bethel?
2. Why do you think the dream report specifies that the angels were both “ascending and descending” (v. 12) the ladder?
3. What does the Lord promise Jacob? Why does he need such assurance?
4. Why did Jacob set up a monument at Bethel? How do we memorialize significant spiritual events? Should we do a better job of it?
5. God spoke to Jacob in a dream. How does God speak to you?

Reference Shelf

Bethel is also one of the places where Abraham built an altar to Yahweh on his initial exploration of the land of promise (see 12:8).

The Hebrew word for ladder also means “stairway” or “ramp” (v. 12, NRSV mg.) Rather than a runged ladder, therefore, what Jacob sees in his dream may indeed be steps leading up a steep incline like that leading up the side of a ziggurat or temple tower… Consistent with the foregoing observation, the angels in Jacob’s dream would not be winged celestial beings (who would not need a ladder or stairway), but quite possibly would be priests in temple service.

The heart of this narrative appears to be the reaffirming to Jacob of promises made to Abraham (vv. 13-16). The renewal establishes Jacob, later named “Israel,” as heir to the promises to Abraham and Isaac.

The Hebrew name for God at this point is elohim—not el, as in the name Bethel (v. 19). It would appear that the E writer is concerned not to imply that Jacob worshiped the Canaanite god El. It is the J writer who associates Bethel explicitly with God in Jacob’s dream.

Bruce T. Dahlberg, “Genesis,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995), 113.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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