Worship: Fear and Awe
Samuel Lesson #147
September 18, 2018
“Father, You are the Creator God of the heavens, the earth, the seas, and all that is in them. You have created each of us in Your image and likeness, though it has been terribly corrupted by sin. You have in Your grace provided a solution to sin, and—beginning with our individual regeneration—You are at work in our lives to conform us to the image of Christ. To restore us to that image is a lifelong process that is never complete, until we are glorified and in Your presence.
“And Father, we are impressed as we read the Scripture that we are to put You at the very center of everything we do. All that we are, all that we have, all that we desire to be in this life should be centered upon You and grounded in Your Word. Your Word saturates our lives and fills us with hope—hope that, despite whatever darkness may be in our lives, whatever difficulties or challenges there may be, there is a purpose, there is a plan. You are taking us through these tests, these trials, in order to teach us and mature us. To pass the test, we need to take Your Word and apply it. We need to rest in Your strength, in Your power, in Your knowledge, and to be confident that You will be working in all of these things for good.
“Now Father, as we study again tonight about worship, we pray that You would help us to understand that which we study, to focus our attention upon You, and to understand Your Word. A relationship with You is based on knowledge—knowledge that becomes wisdom, and wisdom that changes us from the inside out and impacts the world around us. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Today is a significant day. Anybody know why it is a significant day?
Ten minutes ago, Yom Kippur began. The Day of Atonement. This brings to a conclusion ten days since Rosh Hashanah, which is literally “the head of the new year.” Rosh is “the beginning” or “the head.” Ha is the definite article; shanah is “the year.” It’s the head, or the beginning, of the year. It’s the new year.
This begins a process in Judaism that is supposed to focus upon, to reflect upon, one’s life and one’s relationship with the Lord. Ideally, this is a good thing. But unfortunately, as in many religious operations, it gets cluttered up with a lot of human works and human good.
Some years ago now, we had Rabbi Haas from the Congregation Emanu El here in town come and speak to the congregation about the High Holy Days and about Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, has changed its focus. We don’t have the temple anymore, so the actual ritual that took place is no longer being enacted.
In present-day Judaism, which has evolved from Phariseeism of the New Testament, what we have is a focus upon placating God in a way that will impress upon Him the need to keep us alive for another year.
That is done through good works. Actually, you have heard other pastors—and you have heard me—talk about religious systems that are based on good works. It’s all about getting “Brownie points” from God.
There was such a shock in this congregation. You would think, if you were as well-trained as you have been, that this would not have been a shock. It’s almost as if you thought maybe all these pastors had made it up.
Rabbi Haas stood right here in this pulpit and said, “What happens on the Day of Atonement is that God weighs our Brownie points—the good things we’ve done against the bad things.”
He used that exact language. People were stunned that that’s actually what [the Jewish people] believe. When that happens, sometimes I think, “You know, maybe I need to go back to square one and start teaching at a much more fundamental level.”
But that’s what happens in religion. And that’s what is happening with observant Jews today. They are evaluating their lives, and they will go through a series of prayers and meditations all day tomorrow. It is very, very intense.
I’ve been to some of the Yom Kippur services at Congregation Beth Yeshurun here in Houston, and it’s fascinating to watch and to listen to the prayers. The prayers are often recited in Hebrew, sometimes in English. They have a prayer book with Hebrew on one side, English on the other. They’re moving pretty fast. I can generally follow along, but I often get lost.
I thought that I would read from one of the prayers. It’s a good prayer. It is a prayer grounded in Old Testament Scripture. Therefore, it is not a prayer that we could not pray.
What I think about when I read this is that this is a well-written meditation on the majesty and power of God. It focuses the attention of the worshipper—or it should focus the attention of the worshipper—upon God. That is what worship does. Worship is not about how we feel. Worship is about who God is.
The Amidah begins, “LORD, open my lips and my mouth will speak Your praises.”
As you think about this, you hear the echo of the Psalms.
Blessed are You, LORD, our God and God of our fathers. God of Abraham. God of Isaac. God of Jacob. The great, the mighty, and the awesome God—the exalted God, who bestows lovingkindness.
Who possesses everything, and recalls the kindness of the patriarchs, and brings the Redeemer to their children’s children for His Name’s sake, with love. King, Helper, Savior, and Shield.
Blessed are You, LORD, Shield of Abraham. You are mighty forever, my LORD. You revive the dead. Greatly capable of saving, You cause the dew to fall. You cause the winds to blow and the rain to fall.
You sustain the living with lovingkindness. You revive the dead with great compassion. You support the fallen and heal the ill. You release those bound, and you fulfill Your faithfulness to those who sleep in the ground.
Who is like You, Master of all powers? King, who causes death and gives life and causes salvation to sprout. You are trustworthy to revive the dead. Blessed are You, LORD, who revives the dead.
We will sanctify You, and revere You like the pleasant conversation of the assembly of the holy Seraphim that recite “Holiness” thrice before You. As it is written by Your prophet, one calls to the other and says, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of Hosts. The entire world is filled with His glory.”
Those facing them give praise and say, “Blessed is the honor of the LORD from His place.” And in Your holy words it is written, stating, “The LORD will reign forever. Your God, O Zion, for every generation. Hallalu-yah. Praise God.”
What did you hear there? With all the study we’ve done in the Psalms, how much of it do you hear there that echoes great statements of the Psalms?
Many of these prayers, such as the Amidah—I don’t know the exact history of it—go very, very far back. They may even precede, in their original form, the destruction of the Second Temple. They may reflect the faith—and I think they do, as they reflect the Psalms—of Old Testament believers.
That last paragraph I read—from where does that derive? That is Isaiah 6. That is where we started with our worship series back in the spring, talking about Isaiah coming into the presence of God.
Last week, I started reading a few things, just to give you some ideas and thoughts. [Today I’ll read] from this book called “The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrews.”
It’s translated, with an introduction and notes, by F. E. Brightman. It includes Lancelot Andrews, which is a short biography written by a well-known poet you probably studied in English Literature.
You studied that which he wrote before he was saved and probably not what he wrote after he was saved: T. S. Eliot. That name might bring back some memories from high school or college.
As I said last week, Lancelot Andrews was head of the translation group of scholars who translated the Authorized Version of King James. He was a man who was gifted magnificently in languages. He knew all of the biblical languages before he was 10 or 12 years of age. He could speak several other languages fluently, and he continued to add to that.
He did not write these [prayers] to be read by anyone else. I’m repeating this, because some of you weren’t here last week, and it is important to remember. He wrote these as acts of personal discipline, to focus his own thinking.
When he came to the throne of grace, he had clearly, thoughtfully, and conscientiously written what he wanted to say to God. Much of it is reading back to God the words of Scripture. In fact, in the edition that I have here, there are in the margin the Scripture references for nearly every line written in these prayers.
I wanted to point out that he begins with some things he wrote down to think about before praying. Have you ever thought about that? I hadn’t thought about that. What Scriptures should I think about before I pray? Andrews wrote:
“Thou art careful … about many things: But one thing is needful ….” (Luke 10:41–42)
“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:4)
“Watch ye, and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape the things that shall come to pass ….”—That’s from the Olivet Discourse. Luke 21:36.
“Love the Lord all thy life and call upon Him for thy salvation.” (Sirach)
“Humble thyself greatly for the vengeance of the ungodly is fire and worms.” (Sirach)
“A man can receive nothing except it be given ….” (John 3:27)
“If He prayed who was without sin, how much more ought a sinner to pray?” Think about that. That is from one of the church fathers, Cyprian. “If He prayed who was without sin, how much more ought a sinner to pray?”
“But God is a hearer, not of the voice, but of the heart.” (Cyprian)
There was another prayer I wanted to refer to. This is a prayer for waking. How many of you have thought about a specific prayer that should cross your lips before you get out of bed?
[It would be a prayer] thanking God that you took breath in the morning, that you are awake for another day, that it is another day to serve Him. [You would be] thanking Him that you have all of the things that you have, and praying that you might be able to face the day with what you know about His Word, using that to face the challenges of the day.
It is a short prayer. A lot of it is from the Psalms.
Thou who sends forth the light, createst the morning, makest the sun to rise on the good and on the evil, enlightens the blindness of our minds with the knowledge of truth, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us that in Thy light, we may see light, and at the last, in the light of grace, the light of glory.
I’m not reading these because I’m equating them with Scripture. But I’m showing you that this was a common pattern among many mature believers in the 1600s—the 17th century. What they were taught to do—and what they did—was keep notebooks. They would journal.
That’s real popular today. It’s never been something that I thought about doing. I found that journaling—as it was usually explained—was too introspective and too much about me. There was just something about that I didn’t think was right. That just feeds narcissism.
But when we are reading Scripture, [it’s good] to have a notebook nearby to jot down thoughts, impressions, questions, and words to look up later. That’s what meditation in the Scriptures is all about.
It is not emptying your mind of all things, which is what Eastern meditation is all about. It is about filling our minds with the thoughts of God, with the revelation of God, so that we can live our lives out in worship.
As we’ll see tonight, as we’re studying worship in Genesis, worship is the response to revelation. Therefore, if we are not being confronted with what God has revealed in His Word, how can we have a life of worship?
We are all very busy. In fact, I think that one of the problems a lot of Christians have today is that, in our culture, there has always got to be stimulation. I think that’s a result of existentialism, but that’s another topic. We always have to be stimulated. There always has to be light, sound, action, noise, something going on.
When you read people like Lancelot Andrews and other Puritans/post-Puritans, [it’s important to remember] they had no television, no movies, no sports—none of these distractions. They would sit, and be quiet, and think about what they had read in Scripture. They would think about God, and write it down.
I’ve got a new book. It’s called The Hymnal. It’s a history about hymnbooks. I didn’t realize that there’s a difference between a hymnbook and a hymnal. The first hymnal that was written, which was like the hymnal you have there, was published in the late 1870s or early 1880s. A hymnal has the music and the words.
Prior to that, going back to the beginnings of the Reformation, people had a small book—about the size of these little pocket Bibles you have. They were about 3 inches by 2-1/2 inches, and would be an inch or so thick. They were called hymnbooks. They had the words for the hymns in them—no music, just the words.
Think about this for a minute. Look through your hymnal sometime, and look at just the words. They are good poetry. You’ve often heard me say, in my evaluation of a lot of—if not all—contemporary music, that the poetry is bad.
How can a song be good music if it’s bad poetry? You look at the words, and they repeat the same thing line after line after line. That’s not good poetry.
One of the things I found out about this was that in many countries where Bibles were banned or burned, hymnbooks were not. Hymnbooks provided people with their theology.
They provided them with a way to think about the great doctrines of Scripture. They helped them in their prayers and in their relationship with the Lord. Hymnbooks would not be confiscated, but Bibles would be.
There is something about the richness and depth of the spiritual experience of these great men and women of God, who from their deep personal walk with the Lord wrote these incredible lyrics.
Not all old hymns are good. It’s not an issue of age; it’s an issue of quality. It’s an issue of doctrinal accuracy. It’s an issue of depth.
You read some of these [old devotionals], and realize we don’t produce people who write things of that quality.
Go to your neighborhood Christian bookstore sometime. Go back to the early 1900s and pick up devotional books. They don’t have that depth. Why don’t they have that depth? It’s because the people who wrote them didn’t have the depth.
They’re often—especially if they’re more recent—nothing more than stories. They don’t have any depth of doctrine, or theology, or relationship with God undergirding them. They’re designed to inspire, to motivate, but not to bring a person into a closer, more significant fellowship with God.
That’s what we’re learning about worship as we go through passages and as we continue our study in Genesis.
We’re going to look at Genesis 28 tonight. We will review a couple things, but [concentrate on] Genesis 28:10–22, which is when Jacob comes to Bethel, and God speaks to him. His response is fear.
I pointed out, some lessons back, how we have these [contemporary] hymns or choruses that talk about “Oh, I just want to see Jesus.” But when we look at the Scriptures, people who saw God didn’t come away with a rosy glow and a warm, sentimental feeling. They were shaken to their very core. Isaiah fell on his face.
When God gives this vision to Jacob, he is filled with fear and awe of God. We think of the Apostle John, who is the one whom the Lord loved the most. When he has a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ appearing to him on the Isle of Patmos, he falls down as if dead.
I don’t think right now that most of us could handle seeing Jesus. If we think we could, it’s because we don’t have the right biblical understanding of what’s going on.
Worship involves an element of fear and awe. That is because of the content of the Word. It is not to be manufactured artificially in church services through gimmicks. That has happened a lot.
Because there is a lack of understanding of who God is, and in-depth teaching about Him from the pulpit, churches rely on creating [fear and awe] artificially by dimming the lights, lighting candles, burning incense, and using fog machines.
All kinds of things are used to artificially generate a worship mentality. But the appropriate mentality is supposed to be driven by content. [The important issue] is what is going on between our ears, as we respond to the revelation of God.
You’re familiar with this chart. I’m remodeling it a little bit to put “Holiness” at the very top, because God is a holy God, and holiness means He is unique. He is unique and distinct in each and every one of these categories.
The word “unique”—you may not have learned if you haven’t ever written [seriously], or if you didn’t do well in English—is never modified with any other word. Nothing can be “very unique.”
“Unique” means one-of-a-kind. You can’t have anything that is “very” unique, or “really” unique, or “greatly” unique. It’s either unique, or don’t talk about it. You don’t modify it.
We hear people—especially in the news media—just destroy the English language, and we all end up saying these things that are grammatically incorrect, and linguistically incorrect, because we listen to people who are not good with the English language.
I have listed here ten attributes. I read last week that in Judaism, they emphasize the ten attributes of God. I haven’t had time to look that up to see if they’re the same ten. But we have ten.
God is sovereign. He rules His Creation.
God is righteous. He is the absolute standard for everything. All ethics—[determining] right and wrong—are measured against His standard.
Justice is the application of His standard to His Creation.
Love is God’s desire for the absolute best for His creatures. Since only God is omniscient and omnipotent, only God can truly love, because only God knows what’s best for His creatures.
He is eternal. He has eternal life. Life, itself, is in God.
YHWH, the sacred tetragrammaton of the Old Testament, means “I am that I am.” I am the self-existent One. I always existed. There never was a time when I didn’t exist. There will never be a time when I don’t exist. I am life itself.
When Jesus comes, in the prologue to the Gospel of John, John says, “… the Word was with God, and the Word was God …. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” He is life itself.
We don’t stop and think about that enough. What does it mean that Jesus is life? Twice He says this.
He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Break it down. “I am the resurrection. I am the life.” Because it’s juxtaposed with resurrection, we think of that as being raised from the dead. But when He says, “I am the life,” He means much more than that.
He is life itself. Apart from Him, there is no life. That’s why when man is separated from God, he is spiritually dead. That’s what happened in the Garden.
And then in John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life….” Break it down. “I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.” Twice He makes this statement that He is life itself. He is eternal.
He is omniscient. That means He knows all the knowable. We’ll get into this more in Ephesians 1, but He knows not only everything that will happen, but everything that might happen.
His knowledge of what will happen—though it makes it certain—does not determine it. There’s a heavy thought. Go home and chew on that. We’ll lay that out a little more as we go forward.
He is omnipresent. He is present everywhere to His Creation.
He is omnipotent. He is all-powerful. There’s nothing God can’t do to accomplish His will. He can’t do squirrelly things like make a square a circle. That’s just insane, and you always find some silly unbeliever trying to say, “Well, can God make a square a circle? Or a circle a triangle?” That defies the definition of the terms, and that’s silliness.
Veracity. He is absolute truth itself. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” And then He said, “Your Word is truth.” He is the Word. He is the truth. Absolute truth.
Immutable. He never changes. He is “… the same yesterday, today, and forever.” I wanted to review that. In the last [Samuel series] lesson on Genesis, we talked about Abraham and his worship of God.
That focused on announcing and proclaiming the essence of God—who God is, and what He did. That’s the essence of what it means to “call on the name of the LORD.”
Over the course of Abraham’s life, we see the sacrifices he makes. We see his trust in God as he goes to rescue the captives from Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain. We see him rescue his nephew, after he had been captured by the confederacy of Amraphel, who was the king of Shinar.
We see how Abram comes back to Jerusalem—at that time known as Salem—and meets this gentile Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness. We see Abram gives a tithe [to Melchizedek], a freewill offering of 10%. There’s no mandate at all. It’s another 600, 700 years before Moses will legislate a tithe.
Abram gives 10%, but not of his possessions. He gives 10% of the plunder that he recovered from the enemy troops. That’s what he gave to Melchizedek in gratitude to God.
The rest of it went back to the people. But 10% went as a gift to God. What we can see there is that he forced all of the citizens of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the cities of the plain to give 10% of what was stolen from them to God in gratitude. He was in charge.
Abram learned some other things about God in those chapters, from Genesis 12–22. He learned that God is alive. He learned that God is the living God. In the Old Testament, that is always contrasted with the idols that are made of wood and stone. They’re not alive.
Every time you think about the fact that God is a living God, it also foreshadows the fact that Jesus is the life, and that Jesus would be raised from the dead, conquering death.
God is a living God, and God speaks. The gods of the pagans—Baal, Osiris, Isis, Zeus—never spoke to people. They never showed up, or talked to them, or sat down and ate with them, as God came and ate with Abraham.
God speaks. In Deuteronomy 5:26, Moses writes, “For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?”
Moses is talking about what happened in Exodus 3, which I was hoping I would get to tonight. We may or may not make it there.
He is the living God. Abram sees that God appears to him. This has not happened with other gods. God appeared to him in Genesis 12:7.
We don’t know how God appeared to him. Later when God appears to Moses, He won’t let Moses actually see Him. Moses just sees a manifestation of His presence.
The same thing happens with the Jews when God is on Mount Sinai. They see what may be the sapphire floor—the pavement of His throne room—but they don’t see God. This isn’t a direct beatific vision, where they see God as Abraham saw God Himself.
It wasn’t a subjective impression [of Abraham’s]. He wasn’t saying, “Well, God appeared to me,” and it was in his mind somewhere. It was an objective appearance.
When God spoke to Abraham, if you’d been there with your little mp3 recorder—your little video camera, your iPhone—you could have recorded it. There was something there. It was objective. It wasn’t subjective. He is a living God who speaks and who appears.
He is a God who makes and keeps promises.
That’s the major lesson in the life of Abraham. God makes a promise to Abraham that through his seed the whole world will be blessed. But Abraham is getting to where he is too old to have children, and Sarah can’t have children. She is barren.
Still, God has promised that this seed is going to come through their loins. It’s going to come from them. And God keeps that promise.
That shows that God is the Creator of all life. He is the Creator of human beings, and He can override the natural processes of decay and death. God is a God who makes promises.
Abram is struggling to believe that promise in Genesis 12, 13, and 14, when God tells him to take Isaac [and “offer him there for a burnt-offering”]. Jewish tradition says Isaac was 37. I don’t know if he was 37. I think he was probably much older. Most people portray him as a young lad, or 20-something.
Remember, Abraham lived to be about 175, so 37 is just a young kid compared to 175. But Isaac knew exactly what was going on. Abraham explained all this to him. So, it’s not only an act of faith on the part of Abraham. It’s also an act of faith on the part of Isaac. He’s trusting God as well.
God promised to multiply Abram’s descendants like the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore through Isaac. The writer of Hebrews tells us Abram thoroughly understood God could raise Isaac from the dead.
By that time, Abram finally understood that when God makes a promise, He keeps it. That’s a good thing for us to learn as well.
Abram learned that God is a sovereign Ruler over all Creation in Genesis 14. God gave him the victory over the armies of the Amraphel coalition.
Abraham learns that God is a just ruler in Genesis 18, and that He is also righteous. That’s the whole episode where God reveals to him that He is getting ready to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham appeals to His justice.
It’s a great picture of intercessory prayer. He is praying for the deliverance of Lot, his wife, and their daughters. He presents a case to God, [arguing] that—if God took their lives—He would not be a righteous judge, because Lot and his family were righteous.
Abraham refers to their possession of imputed righteousness. They were believers. They weren’t living a righteous life, but they were declared righteous by faith.
Abraham learned that God owns the real estate that He promises. God promises to give him this land, and God is the One who ultimately owns all real estate. He is the One who can make the decision about who lives where, and He is the One who sets the boundaries.
So, Abraham learned a lot about God during those years from the time he was 50 until he was probably 120, 125, or something like that, when Genesis 22 takes place.
What we learned from all of this is that worship is always God-centered. It is always theocentric. It’s not about me.
This is one of the things you’ll note if you read the historic, classic hymns. They are all about who God is and what He did for us. It’s not about me. It’s not about talking about me.
In fact, if you read the Psalms, you’ll notice that very little is said about the psalmist, his feelings, or his circumstances. When they’re given, they’re given in a very abbreviated form.
Yet if you were to ask people in the congregation to stand up and give a descriptive praise of God, they would stand up and talk on and on about all of their horrible problems, but very little about how God delivered them. That is because we are so self-absorbed. That is the nature of our sin nature.
So, Abram learns all these things about God.
When I closed last time, I talked about how worship involves burial by faith. What I wanted to point out there is that, typically in the ancient world, the body went back to its homeland. You would be taken back to where you were from.
Abraham was from Haran in the north, but instead of taking Sarah back to the family homeland, he said, “This is our home.” It was an act of faith. [In essence, Abraham was saying], “God has given us this land, and I’m going to purchase part of it and bury us here, because this is the land God has promised us.”
It is a statement of faith. It changes how we view the future. [It indicates] an understanding of our hope. That is the focal point. It is a message of hope that “We’re going to be here. Our descendants for generations untold will be here. This is our homeland.” That is a statement of faith and confidence in the plan of God.
We see that Abraham is making a decision about burial that is contrary to culture. That’s what happens with everybody who becomes saturated with the Word of God. You’re going to find that more and more your views, your beliefs, your opinions, and your decisions run counter to what’s popular.
They run counter to the culture, because the culture is operating on human viewpoint and a myriad of false religions and philosophies—not on the eternal truth of God’s Word.
So, [Sarah’s] burial teaches that belief in the future promise of God—the hope that He gives us—changes where and how we will be buried. The Egyptians did something similar, but they perverted it.
In Genesis 23:4, Abraham is making a statement that this is now their home, based on the promise of God.
Let’s take a look at the map. It’s big picture, so you can’t read all the little names on here, but I circled the [pertinent ones].
On the lower right is Ur of the Chaldees, where Abram was from. God called him from there to go to a land that He would show him. Abram left Ur and went to where his family was originally from—Haran, which is in northwest Syria. After his father died, they left Haran, and God leads them down to the land that He has promised them.
The place I’ve circled here in the far north is Dan, and in the far south is Beersheba. You will read through Scripture, and find it talks about the land of Israel [extending] “from Dan to Beersheba.”
Then in the middle, I have the area around Shechem, which is about 35 miles north of Jerusalem.
Here’s a larger map that gives you a little better idea. Down here you have Jerusalem or Salem. Here are Bethel and Ai, about 10 miles north. It’s probably another 25–28 miles to get to Shechem. So, this is the area we’re talking about.
After Abraham has grown old, Isaac is his progeny, and Isaac marries Rebecca. [Their twin sons, Jacob and Esau, are in competition even in the womb.]
[As an adult], Jacob tricks his father Isaac. That’s the problem with Jacob. His name “Jacob” means “heel-grabber.” This is an idiom for someone who is a deceiver, someone who’s always trying to gain the upper hand.
Again, Jacob and Esau are twins. As they are born, Esau comes out first. But it’s as if Jacob is grabbing Esau’s heel, wanting to pull him back so that he can get ahead. This becomes a picture of Jacob’s character.
He is a conniver, a schemer, a con man. He’s always trying to get the upper hand. Jacob would know from the prophecy that was given at his birth that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob).
Jacob, therefore, was given—through this oracle at the time of his birth—a promise from God that he is the one through whom the seed promise would go. Yet he’s always trying to manipulate things to get the blessings.
When Esau goes out to hunt, Jacob dresses up in the wool and leather of animals that had been slain. He rubs their skin all over him, so that he smells like he’s been out in the woods.
His mother, Rebecca, is conniving with him. She makes a meal that would be the meal that a hunter would make. She brought in some venison, or wild boar, or whatever. And this was Isaac’s favorite meal. In this way, Jacob tricks his father into giving him the blessing [rather than Esau].
This blessing is more than just “Bless you, my son.” This is a divine oracle. It is irreversible. It is made by the patriarch of the clan. And there is the recognition that, even though the blessing was given under false pretenses, it was God’s plan. The blessing, which was announced at their birth, would go to Jacob and not to Esau.
But Jacob gets it on his own in the power of the flesh. This is what we see all through a study of Jacob’s life: he is trying to get the blessing apart from God. He is doing it by his own efforts and in his own strength.
When Jacob tricks his father Isaac into giving him the blessing, it really upsets Esau. Esau is fuming. He has steam coming out of his ears, his face is red, and he is breathing threats against Jacob. He is going to kill him.
We’re about to see a repetition of Cain killing Abel, but Rebecca intervenes. Jacob gets out of town as fast as he can.
They are living at that time down here at Beersheba in the far south, on the north end of the Negev. So, Jacob heads up this trail that you can follow today.
You can go over to Israel and rent a dirt bike, or a four-wheeled vehicle, and you can go along the trail of the patriarchs. It is still visible in many places. They have it marked, and have uncovered different sites.
Jacob heads north and comes to this place where he is going to camp. He is going to have a face-to-face encounter with God at this location.
Jacob is like many of us. He just sort of fumbles and bumbles along. He tries to outwit God and outwit other people to get what’s his, rather than trusting God.
Yet because God has made this promise, God is going to bring it to pass. Jacob is pretty much, at this stage, spiritually oblivious. Through most of his life, I think he was spiritually oblivious. He had a few high points. This is one of those high points.
Genesis 28:16 reads, “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ ” It’s like, “Wow! What was that all about?”
The LORD was there. This is a significant event in the biblical flow of events. It is a time of worship, and we will see a reaffirmation of the point I’ve been making: worship is a response to revelation.
How do we get revelation today? God’s not going to appear to us in a dream or a vision.
He speaks to us through His Word. That’s why I keep saying, “We need to read the Word. We need to think about the Word. We need to meditate on the Word.” That is how God speaks to us today. Worship, then, is a response to God speaking to us.
Jacob has fled, he’s headed north, and he comes to this location we know later is Bethel.
That is this location right here. In Genesis 12, when Abram first built an altar and called on the name of the LORD in Shechem, he headed south one day’s journey and camped between Bethel and Ai—right in the middle.
A highway runs about 200 yards just east of that location now. You can stop there, and you just get goosebumps.
Jacob is at this exact same location [where Abram had been]. But all we’re told about it is he came to “a certain place.” We’re not told, because it’s not important here initially, what that place is.
Slide 9 (skipped)
Genesis 28:11, “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 ….”
He didn’t put it under his head. It’s not a stone pillow. He stands this up at his head, so there is something going on there that would have resonated in that culture. I’ll talk about standing stones in a minute, but for some reason he stands this stone up.
Standing stones were often used to mark boundaries. They were also used to mark burial places. Or something significant in an altar to represent the deity.
So, Jacob stands up one of these stones at his head, and he lies down in that place to sleep. Then he has a dream. God speaks through dreams. This is not a normal dream. He dreams of a ladder that’s set up on the earth.
There’s an interesting play on words going on here, because the word used for “ladder” can also mean “staircase.” And Jacob is going to name this place Bethel, which means “the house of God.”
He sees this “going up the ladder” as [climbing] to the gate of God or the entrance to God. So, this is Genesis 28.
If you were Jewish and carefully reading through Genesis in the Hebrew, you would get the pun. Back in Genesis 11, there’s a group of people who come under the influence of Nimrod, and they’re building a great city, [including] a ziggurat, which is like a pyramid.
On top of the pyramid, they place a temple. The staircase of that temple is referred to by this same word in Acadian.
When they are done, they’re all proud of themselves and what they’re going to accomplish— united against God—and they name the place “Bab-el.” Now Babel in Acadian means “the gate of God.” So, they’re thinking they’ve got entry to God.
But God is going to come down and confuse the languages, so that in Hebrew the word “Babel” means “a confusion of languages.” The word has the same sounds, the same spelling, but it has a different meaning in Hebrew. So, there is humor here.
The Holy Spirit uses these kinds of things to point out how God sort of sticks His finger in the eye of the pagans and says, “Na-Na-Na-Na-Na.” God has no respect for pagan religion.
So, there’s this play with the words going on here.
Jacob sees this staircase to Heaven in his dream, where angels of God are ascending and descending on it. “And behold, the LORD stood above it .…” He stands literally at the top of it, and that’s interesting because that word “top” shows up later when it’s referring to the top of the standing stone.
“And behold the LORD stood above it and said, ‘I am Yahweh Elohim, God of Abraham your father and God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.’ ”
Probably up to this point, Jacob wasn’t sure. He knew that God was the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, but he didn’t know if he was the one who was going to get the blessing for sure. And this is it. This is the reiteration and confirmation that God is giving the covenant to Jacob, and that Jacob is going to be the one who receives it.
So, he is told, “… the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.”
What happens after this is that Jacob is going to respond in worship, by setting up this standing stone as an altar.
Worship is a response to revelation.
In Genesis 28:14, God continues the promise that all “… 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.”
[God is essentially telling Jacob]: “You’re going to have the same promise. I will confirm the promise to you, and I will make it happen, just as I promised to Abraham and Isaac.”
God says in Genesis 28:15, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go ….” Now this is the promise specifically to Jacob. God says something distinctive here. He says, “I am with you.”
I want you to notice this, because the phrase “I am with you” shows up again and again and again throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament. It enters into the liturgy of the church.
In the early church and even today—especially in eastern denominations—Christians greet one another by saying, “The Lord be with you.” It comes from this promise God makes Jacob that He will always be with him.
God goes on to say, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” That clarifies the second part of the first line—“I am with you and will keep you [emphasis added].” That’s the word shamar that we saw back in Genesis 2. It has the idea of guarding and protecting. I will guard and protect you.
When God put Adam into the Garden, He said, “I want you to tend and keep the Garden.” Most people think that means Adam was supposed to be a farmer. But the words there relate to the service of a priest.
When they’re used in Leviticus, they always refer to the service of a priest. The idea of “keeping” is the idea of protecting and guarding. That’s what God is saying here.
I wonder what Adam was supposed to be protecting and guarding the Garden from. It could be Lucifer, the serpent.
We have this other promise that runs through the Old and New Testament, where God says in Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God.”
“I am your God” is parallel to “I am with you.” It is that special promise of God to those who believe in Him in the Old Testament.
Isaiah 43:5, “Fear not for I am with you. I will bring your descendants from the east and gather you from the west.” It’s a promise that eventually there will be a restoration of Israel to the land.
In Jeremiah 1:8, “Do not be afraid of their faces [that is, the enemy], for I am with you to deliver you.”
Jeremiah 1:19, “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you. For I am with you ….”
Again and again and again. How many times can we make this principle part of our prayers? This isn’t just God saying, “I’m with you. I’m omnipresent.” This is God saying, “In all of the promises and blessings I have given you, as a believer—Old Testament would be different; New Testament is distinctive, as members of the Church Age—I am with you always,” Jesus says.
In Jeremiah 15:20, Jeremiah 30:11, and Jeremiah 46:28, we have the same phrase: “I am with you to save you.”
It’s not just an omnipresent presence. It is that He is there to be involved in our lives, to accomplish that which He has promised, and to preserve and protect us.
It’s not just an empty saying. Unfortunately, when we use phrases from Scripture like “God bless you,” or “the Lord be with you,” pretty soon they lose their meaning and content and become empty words. But this is a promise that God is going to be with Jacob and provide everything He had promised to him—all of the Abrahamic promises.
This continues to all of Israel.
Haggai 1:13, “[Then Haggai]… spoke the LORD’s message to the people, saying, ‘I am with you,’ says the LORD.”
I am going to bring about that which I have promised you, and I will accomplish it.
Haggai 2:4, “Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel … and be strong, Joshua.” They were the ones who brought the first Jews back from Babylon.
As they’re rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple, [the prophet Haggai said,] “… I am with you, says the LORD of hosts.” God is with us to protect us, to provide for us, and to fulfill the promises that He has made to us.
Then we go into the New Testament. When Jesus is talking to the disciples, and He gives the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20, He says, “… I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
I wonder what they thought. These are Jews who were fully cognizant of all these phrases in the Old Testament. This is something only God says: “I am with you always.”
This is another evidence that Jesus is God: “I am with you always.” To do what? To accomplish what I have determined to accomplish, and to provide for you to accomplish, [that you might fulfill] the purposes that I have set forth for you—“For I am with you.”
In Acts 18:10, Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, and Saul is repeating what happened on the road to Damascus and he says this is what Jesus said to me, “… For I am with you.” Jesus repeats this apostolic promise specifically to Paul.
In Genesis 28:16–17, Jacob wakes up, recognizes the LORD is there, and says, “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.” The next verse reads, “And he was afraid.” You get face-to-face with God, and the response is fear. It’s not warm fuzzies, emotion, sentimentality, and “Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus.”
That’s a great hymn and—understood a certain way—it is true for the Church-Age believer. But that’s not what is going on here. God has made a promise to Jacob, Jacob has seen God face-to-face, and it is a fearful and awesome thing.
Then he says, “This is none other than the house of God …”
What makes it the house of God isn’t that there is an edifice there. It’s that God’s presence has been there, and God’s presence has set that area apart.
“This is none other than the house of God …”
That’s what Bethel means: the house of God. Bet is the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet. [It goes] Aleph, Bet.
Bethlehem, for example, means “the house of bread.” Bethel means “the house of God.” It would also be the gate of Heaven. Ooooh! Not Babel, but Bethel is the gate of Heaven.
Jesus plays on this in John 1. He meets Nathanael—remember in John 1:49–51?
Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon … ”—… a staircase to Heaven.
Is that what He said? No, He replaces the staircase with Himself, because He’s the fulfillment of the staircase. He’s the One who opens the door—opens the gate to Heaven—because of His work on the Cross.
Slides 19 and 20 (skipped)
Genesis 28:18, “Then Jacob rose early in the morning …”
I hate to say this to you people who aren’t morning people, but God often seems to be a morning Person.
“… and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.”
He didn’t have any animals with him. Remember, he’s running for his life. He thinks Esau is going to catch up with him and kill him.
He’s going north to find a wife, so he doesn’t have a whole lot with him. What he does have is oil.
Oil is important. You anoint yourself with oil. It’s necessary for keeping your skin moist and lots of other cosmetic purposes. You use it to cook with. You use it to make bread. You use it to fry. Oil is expensive and very important.
So, he is going to take the most expensive, valuable thing he has with him, and in a freewill offering, he pours oil on top of the stone. Nobody legislated this. It is his act of worship in response to God. He calls the place Bethel.
Here’s a picture of a standing stone. Actually, that is a standing stone from Arad. I think it is in the Israel Museum. That was its original location.
Jacob set up his stone to represent the staircase. That’s indicated by the use of certain common Hebrew vocabulary from the beginning of the story to this part of it.
He calls the place Bethel, but the name of that city, previously, had been Luz. Later on, it’s just going to be called Luz.
This is one of those situations early in the Bible where you have an earlier Canaanite name that is later replaced with the Hebrew name. Sometimes it goes back and forth in the Bible, and people will come along and say, “See, the Bible contradicts itself.”
If you had been writing a book about Cortez invading Mexico, and you wrote that he captured the city known as Tenochtitlan, many would say, “I’ve never heard of it.” Well, that’s because it is known now as Mexico City. Most people would say, “Cortez conquered Mexico City.” But it wasn’t called Mexico City back then. It had a different name.
So, the Bible uses both the antique and modern names. [There is no] contradiction at all.
This reminds us of what happened back in Genesis 22:14 when Abraham was [asked to] sacrifice Isaac, and afterwards he called the place YHWH-Yireh. That’s how it reads in the King James. If you read the English in the King James, it reads “Jehovah-jireh.”
It means “The LORD will provide, and in the mount of the LORD it will be provided—or it will be seen.” There’s an ambiguity in the word that is used there.
Later on, we’re going to see that Mount Moriah becomes the central focal point of worship. That’s the modern Temple Mount today. But for many years—after the conquest—it was at Bethel, until it got paganized. They then moved the tabernacle to Shiloh.
Genesis 28:20–21, “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.”
In your English Bible, it has another “and,” but that is not a good translation. The conjunction there that’s used for “and” can also mean “then.” What he is saying is “If God’s going to do this—and I know He will—then this stone that is set up as a pillar of God’s house, I will surely come back to, and I’m going to worship here.”
That’s what he is saying here. But he doesn’t remember it long. He fails the prosperity test.
Literally, the next verse reads, “So Jacob went …” But it doesn’t say, “So Jacob went.” It says, “Jacob picked up his feet.”
He’s dancing for joy. He is skipping along. God has made him this great promise, and God is going to bless him. He just takes off on his journey north and quickly forgets about God, as we read on to the rest of the story.
What we see here is an important principle: worship is different from anything else that goes on in our lives. This will be reiterated in Scripture.
Unfortunately, in many churches, the principle they’re following is to make the church comfortable for unbelievers, so that it’s just like everything else in their lives.
Worship is distinct. It is unique. It is holy. That’s why the word “holy” is used. Worship is the response to God.
The depth of our understanding of God, and our interaction with His revelation, is a direct corollary to the depth of our worship.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study Your Word, and to think through the examples of worship that You have given us. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:6, this is for our benefit, as an example to us.
“Help us to think about You, to carve out that time in our lives when we can stop and reflect—that we can set aside the distractions—and spend time focusing on You. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”