Expository Sermon on Genesis 28 and 35
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/29/2021
©2021 by Maylan Schurch
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Please open your Bibles to Genesis 28.
Sometime this afternoon, or maybe tomorrow afternoon, my sister will drive out to the prairie cemetery where my parents are buried and put a vase of flowers there.
The cemetery is located about a mile northwest of Rockham, South Dakota. Several of my dad’s relatives are buried there, and some of the inscriptions on the gravestones are in German.
I pulled up the town of Rockham yesterday morning on Google Earth, which as you probably know is composed of satellite photos of just about every location on earth.
When I found Rockham, I carefully scrolled my way northwest to the cemetery. Evidently, Google Earth doesn’t waste a lot of high-resolution satellite photography on Great Planes prairie grass, but I was able to see the little dark shadows the gravestones made in the sunlight.
And I think I could make out my parents’ headstone, because I know where it is in the cemetery. Every time Shelley and I have gone back to my hometown of Redfield we have always driven out and spent a bit of time in that cemetery. Each of those gravestones is a memorial, a marker, reminding loved ones of their ancestors.
If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, you know that God loves memorials. He of course has His own “Memorial Day” – the Sabbath, which He set up because He wanted us to remember that He is the Creator. God personally created a portable stone memorial called the 10 Commandments, and on them He personally engraved the words Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
God set up other memorials in time – like the Passover service, and the feasts that commemorated various events in Israel’s history. Jesus created the Lord’s Supper service, and told His disciples, “Do this in remembrance” of Me.”
God set up other kinds of memorials too, such as in Joshua 4 when He parted the Jordan River so that His people could walk through. He had Joshua choose a man from each of the 12 tribes, and those 12 men were told to each grab a large rock from the middle of the riverbed and stack it on the shore. In Joshua 4:7, God said, “ . . . And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”God loves memorials.
To a survival-of-the-fittest evolutionist, it would seem like memorials would be a waste of time. “That was then, this is now. Forget the past. We have survived up to now, and our main concern should be how to survive ‘now’ and struggle our way toward the next now.”
But the Creator gave us the ability to remember. If I were to walk over the piano and play a children’s Sabbath school song you learned when you were a kid, or a popular song you liked when you were 14, you would remember that song. You might not recall all the words, and you might not have thought of that song for years or decades, but somehow it’s there in your memory. And there’s probably emotion attached to it.
If you’re on our email list you got the email about Trevor Natiuk, Bob Sharer’s grandson, who performed his junior piano recital this past Sunday at Walla Walla University. That young man played 39 minutes of a variety of classical pieces, all from memory! (Here’s the link to watch it: https://youtu.be/drg1w2uIdRE )
God made us able to remember, and He uses memorials as ways to remind us how encouraging His presence is as we peer anxiously into the future.
This morning I’d like to look at just one Bible memorial, which Jacob set up. Years later, he would return to that memorial—a more thoughtful and mature man than before—and he would renew that memorial.
As we watch what he does, let’s ask ourselves: “What might God want us to take away—to remember—about Jacob’s story?”
Before we start with the first verse of Genesis 28, here’s the backstory. Jacob and Esau are twin brothers, but Esau was born first. Jacob has convinced his Esau to sell him the family birthright for a bowl of lentil stew. Esau evidently thought it was a joke, and agreed. But Jacob then tricked their father into giving him the official birthright blessing.
Esau is enraged, and vows to murder his brother once their elderly father has died. Their mother, Rebecca, tells Jacob to get out of town and go visit family relatives a long way off until Esau cools down.
This is where we pick up the story. Just before Jacob leaves, father Isaac has his own serious talk with his son, and gives his own reason for Jacob leaving town.
Genesis 28:1 – 5 [NKJV]: Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him: “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. “May God Almighty bless you, And make you fruitful and multiply you, That you may be an assembly of peoples; And give you the blessing of Abraham, To you and your descendants with you, That you may inherit the land In which you are a stranger, Which God gave to Abraham.” So Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Padan Aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Notice very carefully what Isaac has done here. Jacob is the son who has tricked his brother out of the birthright. Isaac was actually more fond of Esau than he was of Jacob, because Esau was a hunter, and brought and prepared him all the food he liked.
Isaac could simply have said to Jacob, “Well, I hope you learned your lesson, son. Get out of my sight.” But that’s not what dad says. Instead, he reminds Jacob of who he (Jacob) is. Jacob is the inheritor of some very powerful promises.
And God was definitely looking down on this parting scene. What you think He might be hoping that Jacob remembers right about now? And what do you think He would like you and me to remember?
Here comes Sermon Point One, if you’re taking notes. Here’s what I think God urges us to remember:
God says, “Remember My stories and My promises.”
Okay, but is God really saying this to you and me? I mean, this is Jacob we’re talking about here. God definitely did make powerful promises to Abraham, which got passed down to Isaac, and which Isaac passed on to Jacob. These are promises of the ownership of a lot of land, and of a lot of people being blessed through these chosen people. Where do you and I fit into this?
Paul has a breathtaking answer. Put some kind of temporary marker here in Genesis 28, and turn to Galatians chapter 3. In Galatians, Paul is writing to Christians who are being tempted to let themselves be strapped back under the burden of laws and regulations in order to stay saved.
But in Galatians 3, starting with verse 28, Paul puts it this way:
Galatians 3:26 – 29: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Last week we watched as Courtney Van Hise was baptized. And now, since she had been baptized, she is a daughter of Abraham, and she is an heiress according to the promise. That’s what Paul says.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that Courtney will inherit a few acres of land in literal Palestine. But it does mean that the same “chosenness” that Abraham had, and Isaac, and now Jacob – that same “chosenness” belongs to Courtney.
And what Courtney needs to do, and what you and I and anyone else who wants to follow Jesus utterly and completely (which is what baptism signifies) – what we need to do is to make sure that we remember the Bible’s stories and promises to us. Because the same divine love that generated those stories and promises has given them to us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
When I was a kid, I had a very active imagination. I had heard about ghosts – and had read some ghost stories if I could get my hands on them. So I went through a phase when I was really scared of ghosts. I had never seen one, and hoped I never would, and still never have, but I was still afraid.
I shared my worries with mom. “Mom, what if some night up in my room I wake up and see a ghost?”
Mom immediately told me, “Now, don’t you worry. The Lord’s not going to let anything get you.”
And not only did she say this with great firmness–and I was accustomed to believing things my mom said with great firmness–not only that, but I was beginning to learn the Bible stories, and the Bible promises. I had heard that Jesus told His disciples to “Fear not.” I had heard David in Psalm 23 tell me, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”
I’d heard that in the last verse of the book of Matthew, Jesus had told His disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” I knew that the end of the world hadn’t come yet, so therefore Jesus was with me. And therefore, my worries about ghosts began to evaporate. (And I began to be more careful about the kind of stories I read.)
So what should you and I do, now that God wants us to remember His stories and His promises? It’s a no-brainer. We need to review them, re-read them. One read-through of the Bible when you are 12 years old doesn’t cut it. The more mature we become, the more meaning we discover in the Bible stories and promises. So we have to keep going back again and again.
And we need to make sure we’re getting our Bible information from the Bible itself. A couple years ago somebody was telling me how he remembered a certain event in the life of Moses. But I didn’t remember that event. I asked him about it, he said, “Oh, it’s true,” and he described it in more detail.
And as we were talking, I discovered that he had actually gotten that information from the old 1950s movie The Ten Commandments. He was rocked back on his heels a bit by learning this, and resolved to check out the Bible stories he thought he knew from the Bible itself!
The next fact I believe God would want us to remember – because He talks about it often in other parts of the Bible – shows up as we continue reading back in Genesis 28. Let’s pick up the story in verse 10.
Genesis 28:10 – 15: Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall 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 spoken to you.”
Here comes Sermon Point Two. Here’s what God taught Jacob and what He wanted him to remember – and wants us to remember too:
God says, “Remember My stories and My promises.” And He says, “Remember—whatever you’re running from, I am near.”
No doubt about it – Jacob was on the run. Evidently, his father’s talking-to hadn’t comforted him much, because Jacob just kept on jogging until the sun went down and he couldn’t go farther in the dark.
And what an encouraging dream it was. When you think of it, God could have simply appeared high in the sky above Jacob, and called majestically down to him from up there. But instead, here’s this ladder (some Bible versions say that the Hebrew word could also mean a stairway or flight of steps.)
And even here, God could have made this dream different. He could’ve called to Jacob and said, “Do you see this ladder, Jacob? Come on over and step on that first rung, and start climbing toward Me. Work your way up toward Me, rung by rung. Don’t miss a step or make a mistake, and you’ll eventually get close to Me.”
Instead, the ones going up and down on that ladder were angels. And maybe that encouraged Jacob as much as knowing that God was near. If God was near, and was willing to send teams of guardian angels back and forth to earth, then maybe Jacob didn’t have anything to worry about at all!
Do you know anybody who is running from something? Maybe you’re the one that’s running – from shame, from failure, from foolish things you did or said. Maybe your running has exhausted you, and you’re collapsing in exhaustion, imagining that the sun is setting on your hopes and dreams.
Maybe you need to discover that whatever you’re running from, God is near. It’s impossible to run from God. The prophet Jonah tried it, but God was right there, churning up the weather into an intimidating storm, and then providing a large fish-shaped “time-out room” where Jonah could sort things out.
Elijah ran from God, or tried to, after the emotionally draining experience on top of Mount Carmel, but God was with him all the way. Peter ran from Jesus’ presence, sobbing out his grief at denying his friend. But Jesus waited for him on a beach early one morning, ready to serve him an already-cooked breakfast, and talk things over.
So if you’re running from the Lord in any way, remember that He stays close, and He is always within calling distance. Every once in a while in a large grocery store or other kind of shop, I’ll see a little boy or girl, maybe two or three years old, staring around with a look of panic in their eyes. And soon they start to cry out for mom, or just start to cry. Mom shows up, scoops up the kid, and everything’s all right.
Verses 16 – 22: Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 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!” Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
I don’t know whether the Lord actually rolls His eyes, but if He does, He probably rolled them a little right here as He listened to what Jacob had to say.
God probably whispered to a couple of the angels who were about to head down that ladder, “What is this guy talking about? What’s he doing? Bargaining with me? Is he trying to say that if I do these things for him, he will eventually give Me permission to be his God? I already am his God!”
Well, God has had to listen to a lot of crazy things people have said to Him, and about Him. But He knows that if His human children give Him a chance, he can mature them away from their silliness.
This actually happened with Jacob. Now we’re going to fast-forward several years later to Genesis 35. Once again, we find Jacob on the run. This time, he’s not running by himself, but he is running with his whole household, his wives and his sons.
The reason they’re on the run is that God told them to run. The chapter just before this, chapter 34, tells a very ugly story. Jacob’s daughter Dinah has been seriously mistreated by the son of a local prince. Dinah’s brothers – Jacob’s sons – take bloody revenge.
Jacob tells his sons, “We’re in big trouble now. You’ve made everybody in the land mad at us.” And they say right back, “Yeah, but look what they did to our sister!”
And God, up there at the top of the ladder shaking His head in sorrow, steps in again. That’s where we pick up the story.
Genesis 35:1: Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.”
Let me lay down another sermon point here. What else does it seem God is asking us to remember from the story of Jacob?
God says, “Remember My stories and My promises.” He says, “Remember—whatever you’re running from, I am near.” And God says, “Remember to return to Bethel.”
Jacob’s first visit to Bethel seems accidental. It wasn’t even called Bethel at that point. It was simply a place where Jacob got too tired, and it got too dark, for him to keep running.
But when God showed up there, Jacob named that place “Beth-el,” which means “the house of God.” And he set up a memorial stone there.
Now, when God wanted Jacob to return to Him, God could have chosen any other location to tell Jacob to run to. But He calls him back to Bethel.
And watch how grown-up Jacob has become over the years. He senses that God wants to get in touch in a deeply spiritual way. So watch what Jacob does.
Verses 2 – 4: And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.
Maybe God is calling you to your Bethel for the first time this morning. Maybe you are like a young Jacob, running desperately from something. Maybe you need to know – maybe for the first time – that God really is interested in you, and loves you, and keeps track of you, and is near you even as you run.
Or maybe you’ve already been to your Bethel, but need to return, a second time – or a fourth, or a fifth, or a tenth. Maybe, this time you are running from something that is not even your fault, but still you’re running. Maybe you need the reassurance of a Bethel again.
And maybe this time, like Jacob, you sense that you should take steps to position yourself and your family for a true heart-cleansing. With Jacob, it was to urge those in his family and anyone connected him to re-consecrate themselves as well.
And I don’t know what this would look like for you. But I do know that the Bible says a lot about re-consecrating ourselves to God. Jesus told some of the people He healed, “Go, and sin no more.” Pretty much every one of those seven Revelation churches had something they needed to repent of, and Jesus told them what it was, and urge them to repent.
Let’s watch what happens as Jacob’s re-consecration continues. Notice how God takes care of him.
Verses 5 – 15: And they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother. Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the terebinth tree. So the name of it was called Allon Bachuth. Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” So He called his name Israel. Also God said to him: “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land.” Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him. So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel.
This isn’t, of course, a happily-ever-after story, at least not yet. Jacob still has challenges and troubles and griefs ahead of him. Two chapters later his next-to-youngest son Joseph will be sold into slavery by his older brothers, and they will tell Jacob that Joseph was killed by an animal.
But eventually, God will work things out. God will show, once again, how He can take what is despicable and grossly unfair, and make all things work together for good.
And He can take people like Jacob, who have been despicable and grossly unfair, and change them into citizens of God’s kingdom. And Jacob did become one of that kingdom’s citizens. In Matthew chapter 8, Jesus is stunned by the faith of a Roman centurion. Here’s what the Savior said once he saw this man’s faith.
Matthew 8:10 – 11: When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
Notice – not just “Abraham.” Not just “Abraham and Isaac.” But many will come from east and west and sit down with “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — Jacob, the man who was surprised by God at Bethel, and was later called by God to dwell in Bethel.
And when God spoke to Jacob, He spoke of Jacob’s father Isaac, and Isaac’s father Abraham. Because God is the God of our fathers and mothers. God is a God who loves memorials, because they are reminders that it is indeed His almighty hand that leads forth in beauty all the starry band of shining worlds in splendor through the skies.
And it is this God who can also refresh His people on their toilsome way, and lead us from night to never-ending day.
Let’s stand to our feet and sing to the God of our Fathers as we close.