This is a sermon preview for the fourth sermon in the “Promise & Threat” sermon series. To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” v. 25
Read full passage: Genesis 28:10-19.
I heard something once: "Americans are foolish enough to think 100 years is a long time, and Europeans foolish enough to think 100 miles is a long distance." We live in a large nation. I flew to Las Vegas last weekend, and that is an incredible distance! But many of our currently existing cities have not existed very long in their current form, even if Native Americans have lived in the United States for thousands of years. This can make us forget how deep roots can go in a particular place.
When in South Korea, I once asked one of my co-teachers, Mr. Lee, why he left Seoul. After all, Seoul was a booming metropolis of 26 million people in its metro area. He had worked in finance. Now, he was back in Uiseong, a town so rural it was considered too small to support a movie theater.
"I had to return to my family house." He said, simply.
"Oh really? Did your parents build it?" I asked.
"It has been our family home for 500 years." He said.
That was unfathomable to me. I could not name a single building which was 500 years old in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. The Lee family had deep, deep roots in Uiseong in Gyeonsangbuk-do.
In our story, there are multiple threats to the promise.
Slippery, tricky Jacob himself seems unreliable.
He makes a deal, a vow, with God, and we might wonder (given his deception of Esau and his father) how sincere he is.
As Biblical scholar John Walton put it, "Jacob is still more scoundrel than saint" at this point.
Jacob is also leaving the land of the promise. He is traveling far away.
And yet God appears to him in this famous vision of a dream: Jacob's ladder. A portal between our world and the Heavens is opened up, with God's angelic messengers ascending and descending.
In that vision, God says:
"I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Jacob has a lot to learn about trusting God, rather than conniving and manipulating his way to the promise.
And maybe it is the same for us.
The 20th-century American-British poet, T.S. Eliot, ended his poem "Little Gidding" with the lines:
“We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time."
Perhaps Jacob will not understand the depth and significance of God's promise until God draws him back to the promised land he left, and he "know[s] the place for the first time."
Or, as Kierkegaard said, "Life must be lived forward, but it can only be understood backward."
Join us this Sunday as we reflect on God's enduring promise even when we find ourselves not-yet-where-we-hope-to-be, and how coming home to the familiar promises of God can be something new even as it is something old.
1. Jacob's motives seem mixed. It's unclear how much he is "striking a deal" with his vow to God, or how much he is sincerely devoted. And yet God is gracious and keeps his promises. How has God been faithful to you, even when your motives for seeking God were "mixed" between the noble and selfish?
2. The Promised land is the big promise in this passage. But there's also a promise of future generations, which will be a blessing. God says to Jacob in verse 14: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring." How have you been blessed by other's blessings? How have you blessed others with the goodwill and favor God has toward you?
3. Jacob's response is to make a promise to God and to set up an altar. Do you have a location that reminds you of God's goodness? Or do you have a place in your home set aside to God for the purpose of prayer? If so, where?