Today is Graduation Sunday and we find ourselves celebrating the high school and college graduates of 2022. Many of our graduates will be leaving home for the first time or otherwise marking a change in their lives. Some will go on to further educational pursuits, some will begin training for a career, and others will enter directly into the work force. Any way you look at it, graduation signals the end of one period of life and the beginning of another.
Jacob was the second of two twins born to Isaac and Rebecca. He was prophesied to be the child who would receive God’s promise – even though he was not the first born. In spite of this, Jacob was a scrapper; he felt he had to fight for everything he got which led him to extort Esau out of his birthright and trick Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for Esau. His name was appropriate – “Heel Grabber,” “Usurper!”
As you can imagine, none of this set too well with his older sibling and stealing the blessing was the last straw. Esau began plotting to kill Jacob, so he had to leave home. Genesis 28 records the first part of his journey.
Genesis 28:10-22 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 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.” 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
On this journey, God appeared to him to reassure him during his transition. He promises to be with him, watch over him, bring him home safely, and fulfill all promises regarding him. Jacob is surprised by this encounter. Notice his words, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it” (Genesis 28:16).
A word of explanation is needed. You and I have the whole of Scripture to understand the nature of God, but such knowledge was revealed gradually in a piece meal fashion to the early patriarchs. Jacob believed in God, but he thought he left him back home with Mom and Dad. He didn’t understand that God was everywhere. That’s the reason this realization came as a surprise.
Our theology might be more advanced, but sometimes we fail to realize this emotionally. Wherever we go, God is already there. We may have had the bulk of our religious experience under our parent’s guidance, but once we set out on our own, God is still with us.
There are at least two applications that we can draw from this as we look at Jacob’s response. The first is to recognize God’s presence in our lives as our guide and the source of all our blessings. Jacob set up a pillar there as an altar of worship to God and declares that The LORD (Yahweh) would be his God. The second is gratitude; Jacob promises to recognize his future blessings through returning a tithe back to him.
It is my prayer as you set out into the world for whatever comes next that you will “take God with you.” Not that he is not there already, but that you will acknowledge his presence; make him YOUR God, not just the God of your parents. Let this recognition lead you to worship (public and private), service, and dedication. May God be with you in all you do and may you find him even though you may be far from home!