How Amazing is This Place!

Near the end of his life, Charles Templeton would share three of the most unexpected words: I…miss…him.

Billy Graham was Charles Templeton’s friend. These two friends had labored together, traveled the world together, preached to thousands together. So, what would be the best word to describe the moment when Billy Graham listened to his friend share his doubts and questions about the truthfulness of God’s Word? By the way, Charles was considered the better preacher, the more effective preacher of the two friends.

Fifty years after that moment, Charles would pen his memoir Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. Soon thereafter he would give what would be one of his last interviews, if not his last interview, in which he was asked, “And how do you assess this Jesus?” Listen carefully. At this question, he softened. It was as if he suddenly felt relaxed and comfortable in talking about an old and dear friend. His guard seemingly down, he spoke in an unhurried pace, almost nostalgically, carefully choosing his words as he talked about Jesus. “He was, the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my readings. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world. What could one say about him except that this was a form of greatness? I know it may sound strange, but I have to say…I adore him! Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. Yes…yes. And tough! Just look at Jesus. He castigated people. He was angry. People don’t think of him that way, but they don’t read the Bible. He had a righteous anger. He cared for the oppressed and exploited. There’s no question that he had the highest moral standard, the least duplicity, the greatest compassion, of any human being in history. There have been many other wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus… In my view, he declared, he is the most important human being who has ever existed.”

And then came the simply unexpected. “And if I may put it this way,” he said as his voice began to crack, “I…miss…him!” With that tears flooded his eyes. He turned his head and looked downward, raising his left hand to shield his face. His shoulders bobbed as he wept.[1]

How Did Jacob Sleep?

Genesis 28:10-22 demands a big question. What happens here is something that Jacob will remember when he is a dad (Genesis 35:1-15). And what happens here is something that Jacob will remember when he is a granddad (Genesis 48:1-7). And the big demanding question is, how did Jacob sleep?

Notice the first two verses, Genesis 28:10-11. “Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.”

Right away we are told where Jacob came from, where he is going and where he stopped – Beersheba, Haran and a certain place. Just notice that Moses calls where Jacob stopped a “certain place.” And notice that in verse eleven alone, Moses draws our attention back to this place two more times. “Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.” But there are questions to ask like, why did Jacob leave Beersheba? Why is Jacob going to Haran? Those two questions will seem to answer each other. And why did Jacob stop in this certain place?

First, why did Jacob leave Beersheba? Beersheba was home. Jacob left home and he left home for two reasons. His mom urged him to leave home, immediately, for his own safety. His brother Esau had planned to kill him and was comforted by the fact with each passing day that he was going to kill him. His mom found out about it and did all she could to get Jacob out of there. But Jacob also left home because his dad urged him to leave home, immediately, because he was single. Jacob was single and should have been ready to mingle. He was at least forty years old. His twin brother Esau was already married, twice and at the same time. Isaac, his dad, did not want Jacob just to marry any woman. He did not want him to marry a Canaanite woman, where they were currently living. So, he sends him away, far away, miles and miles and months away to Haran for a wife. Which also answers why Jacob is heading toward Haran.

And so, why did Jacob stop in this certain place? It is rather simple. Listen to the start of verse eleven. “And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set.” He stopped not because he wanted to, he stopped because he had to. It was nighttime which means bedtime! And this is all meant to help answer, how did Jacob sleep? Now keep in mind that Jacob is at least forty years old and as far as we know this is the farthest he has ever been away from home, maybe about fifty miles at this certain place. And as far as we know, he has never left home and most likely because he liked staying home. But what is on his mind? Look ahead to something Jacob says in Genesis 28:21. “So that I come again to my father’s house in peace.” Jacob is looking forward to going back home.

But there is more. How does Jacob sleep? Listen to the rest of verse eleven. “Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.” This stone becomes rather important but notice its first importance. It is as a pillow! And what does this first tell us? Jacob left home without his pillow! So, how did he sleep? Anxious. Unprepared. Looking forward to going home. And alone. Jacob was all alone. And although he forgot his pillow, he will not forget that stone.

And He Dreamed

Jacob fell asleep and Jacob had a dream. And there are four things to not miss about this dream. This is all in Genesis 28:12-15. First, behold, there was a ladder. And this is just interesting, but the Hebrew word for ladder is only ever used here in the Old Testament. Some translations instead of the word ladder have the word stairway, which may be the better picture. So, behold there was a ladder and the ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.

I did wonder if there was a contrast to be made here. Do you remember Genesis 11? Genesis 11 is about the Tower of Babel. The Tower of Babel was man’s attempt to “build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (11:4). The tower was man’s attempt to reach the heavens and to do so there would have been ramps and steps going up this tower to reach the heavens, to reach where God resided. So, there might be a contrast to be had here. But, behold there was a ladder.

And behold, the angels of God.  Now notice the angels of God. The angels of God were ascending and descending on it, on the ladder! Do not miss what the angels were doing. How were the angels getting from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven? The ladder! So, behold the angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder.

And behold, the Lord. Now this word, this name, is in all capital letters. It is the name signifying the most precious name for God – YHWH. This is Yahweh. There are two different ways to translate this part, neither affect the meaning of the text. The Lord was either standing above it, the ladder, or standing beside him, Jacob. But, behold the Lord.

Finally, and this is verses thirteen through fifteen, behold, the Lord spoke. “Behold, I am with you…” (28:15). I read an important observation about this dream. “Mute visions are cold. It is the word of the Lord that is the soul that quickens them.” This dream is cold if not for God speaking. But what does the dream mean?

I am the Lord

When God speaks, he introduces himself to Jacob as “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” It is an introduction of a title, a title that from this point on will read, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (cf. Exodus 3:6). It is a title of God throughout the Old Testament, a title that Jesus said meant “He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27).

But what does the dream mean? God then establishes the promise he made with Abraham and with Isaac now to Jacob (cf. 13:14-16; 26:24). But the most important part, and this is just in answering the question, comes with verse fifteen. “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 promised you.” What does the dream mean? It has everything to do with God’s promised divine companionship with Jacob. It has everything to do with God’s promised presence.

How Awesome is this Place

But does Jacob get it? Does he understand the dream? Does he understand what God said? If all we had was Genesis 28:20-22, we might say no. There he seems to be bargaining with God. “If God will be with me; if God will keep me in this way that I go; if God will give me bread to eat; if God will clothe me, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then he will be my God and I will give him a tenth of all that he gives me.” This may explain why Jacob will be gone from home for twenty-years. He has much to learn.

But does Jacob get it? Yes. He gets it, just listen to Genesis 28:16-17. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” And so, Jacob calls the place Bethel which means “house of God” and he takes his pillow, pours oil all over it and sets it up as a marker. Why? So that he will not miss this place.

It is the house of God. It is the gate of heaven. And it is called Bethel. And it is awesome. This dream is mentioned one other time in the Bible. It is John 1:51. There Jesus is calling his disciples and one disciple in particular. His name was Nathanael. Jesus knew that he was sitting under a tree. And when he saw Nathanael coming his way he said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” What does Jacob’s name mean? Deceiver. Interesting. Nathanael is amazed at all this and that Jesus knew where he was under the fig tree. Jesus then says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

This is the same wording as Genesis 28:10-22, except for the ladder. What is Jesus saying? He is the ladder! He is the stairway! Better yet, he is Bethel! He is the house of God! He is the gate of heaven. He has come and been set up on the earth. And he has been lifted up at the cross that he might draw all men and women unto himself. And it is because he is the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father except through him. And to know him is to know eternal life. And to know him is to know God. And to know him is to know divine companionship. And to know him is to know the presence of God.

The point of it all is, “dear friends, don’t ever miss the presence of God.”[2]

[1] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/charles-templeton-missing-jesus/

[2] Taken from R. C. Sproul’s sermon on Genesis 28:10-22.

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