Departure from family, homeland, traditions, land of slavery are everywhere in Scripture as precursors to revelation, fruitfulness and every kind of blessing. Whether you leave in response to God’s call or are driven out by forces that oppress (Hagar, the children of Israel), an exodus is key to faith.
Jacob leaves Beer-Sheva (“well of the vows,” place of accommodation?) in Genesis 28:10, on his way to Haran (“cross-roads, paths” — the place of Abram’s original call and departure). Jacob flees the righteous wrath of his older brother Esau, who he just robbed of his father’s blessing through premeditated fraud, lies, and trickery. Far from every security, a rock under his head as a pillow, fugitive deceiver Jacob dreams of a ladder ascending to heaven. Angels are ascending and descending. God appears beside him and says:
“The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and they 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 all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that 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.” Jacob names the place Bethel—God’s House.
Men in the jail are always surprised that God doesn’t arrest Jacob and take him back to face justice. People expecting compliance with laws or other prerequisites in exchange for divine favor are intrigued that Jacob is running away and then just sleeping when God gives blessings and promises. Such grace and extreme promises of blessing to the bad guy are unheard of, especially among criminals.
I have felt compelled to share these reflections in France, Korea and here at home over the past few months. Is this good news too good to be true? How can we stay in this place of grace where help comes under an open heaven and God promises permanent presence and fruitfulness in every direction?
Jacob isn’t won over immediately. Right after waking up he even says: “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, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God” (Gen 28:21).
It takes Jacob 21 years of working an “infinite” amount of time (7 is symbolic for a totality of years for each of his two wives and herds) to make him finally flee Laban’s oppression. A wrestling match with God who blesses him yet again, and his enemy brother’s surprising forgiveness finally win him over. Now he is ready for God’s call to live in a place of perpetual grace:
“Arise, go up to Bethel and live there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (Gen 35:1).
Limping Jacob’s hardships and experience of divine grace have made him truly understand what is required. He tells his family to put away their foreign gods, purify themselves and change their clothes– and they do it.
Jacob and his people strip themselves of every competing security as they head towards Bethel (the House of God). A terror from God falls on the cities around Jacob that keeps anyone from pursuing his clan (Gen 35:5). What would this look like for us today? What are foreign gods we lean on that need to be put away so we can live under an open heaven? What adversaries do we need to see flee from before us?
In a church in France I visited, culture and the generous social system stood out as potential idols. In Korea they were parental approval, upward mobility, and honor. In our Burlington church we thought of money, materialism, sports, self and nation.
I find myself continuing to ask the Spirit to show me what I am leaning on that is keeping me from Jesus’ life of freedom and fruitfulness. Like Jacob and Nathanael, I want to experience the blessings of living in God’s continual presence without any other props. I want to witness and experience for myself Jesus’ word to Nathanael. “You will see the heavens opened and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51)—each and every one of us. I want to see God’s love and grace poured out through me and others in every direction—north, south, east and west. I long to live in God’s house 24/7—here and now, before and after I die.
Let’s head towards Bethel now, laying aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, fixing our eyes on Jesus—our only security.