A Study of Genesis 28:16
“And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.” (Genesis 28:16)
Jacob was fleeing from the presence of Esau, his twin brother. He had gotten both the birthright and their father’s blessing in what had to be at least suspicious means. No matter, however, his, Esau’s, or his parent’s direct involvement in the matter; God had from eternity purposed the events to fall out exactly as they did. Otherwise they would not have taken place. Poor Jacob had nothing on his troubled mind at that time, though, but putting distance between himself and his alienated brother. What God had planned, or not planned, was apparently of little consequence. So, at his mother’s direction, and with father Isaac’s blessing and charge, Jacob hurriedly sets out from Beer-sheba towards Haran and journeys until the sun went down. (Genesis 28:10) A journey his mother had suggested would be but a few days (Genesis 27:44), proved to be twenty years long.
“And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep” (Genesis 28:11). In view of what follows, it is plain that the steps of this man were ordered of the LORD (Psalm 119:133; Job 14:16; Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 16:9; Jeremiah 10:23). Surely Jacob arrived at the right place, at the right time; neither early nor late. He neither overshot the location where the LORD would come to him, nor fell short; he was exactly where he belonged to be. The sun receded, and the darkness of night engulfed Jacob at this certain place; the God of his fathers had willed it to be so.
Alone, and with the dread of his brother’s wrath still hot in his mind, Jacob lay down in this waste howling wilderness to sleep. But God found him in this desert land (Deuteronomy 32:10) and instructed him with a dream while he slept. This was no dream such as might be fostered by the flesh in slumber. This was a revelation of the Son of God! The contents of the dream leave no doubt for those that compare scripture with scripture that the Second Person of the Trinity was manifested to Jacob in the form of a ladder set upon the earth and reaching to heaven! Above the ladder stood the Father to receive all that came that way (Genesis 28:12-13). Read carefully the words of verse twelve: “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12). Now, with equal care read John 1:51: “And he sayeth unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” The language is so similar that we cannot see how anyone with spiritual discernment could fail to see the connection. Surely what Jesus told Nathanael that day was the same as what God had before revealed to Jacob as he dreamed on his pillows of stone. “Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knoweth thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee” (John 1:48). Just so did God know Jacob previous to any revelation.
Paramount to this correlation of scripture is the dear fact that God reveals His Son to those He knows aforetime. Jacob certainly was not given a bare skeleton idea of God as his Sovereign; the first thing he was given in his dream was a dear revelation of the medium between earth and heaven. “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5). Those individuals in the Old Testament that we consider to be saints all had a direct revelation from God regarding His Son Jesus at some time or another in their earthly journey. These? were not simply religious opinions handed down from one generation to another, and we may be sure there was no missionary society available to tutor prospective converts to the cause. Consider several accounts from Hebrews 11 in this connection.
Abel obtained witness that he was righteous (the imputed righteousness of Christ being the only kind of righteousness that God accepts) by his more excellent sacrifice to God. Hebrews 11:4.
Enoch had a testimony that he pleased God. This was by faith, for without faith it is impossible to please him. Hebrews 11:5-6.
Noah moved with fear, being warned of God. Hebrews 11:7. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Christ is the wisdom of the elect.
Abraham testified to Isaac that God would provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering, and subsequently God showed him a ram caught in a thicket which he offered in the place of his son (Genesis 22:8; Genesis 22:13). We are not informed when Abraham learned this blessed truth, but it is dearly certain he knew it when he drew the knife above his dear son Isaac.
Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. Hebrews 11:26. This great man spent 40 years in the courts of Pharaoh, 40 years in the wilderness in exile, and 40 years leading the tribes of Israel to the land of promise. The time of his momentous estimation of Christ was prior to leaving Egypt with the people of God according to the chronology of events in Hebrews 11. Much about this sacred view Moses held we cannot know with certainty, but we can be sure he had a sufficiently positive knowledge of Christ to prefer His reproach to the wealth in Egypt. His preference of reproach indicates he had much more than a hazy notion of Jesus. He knew His mission and its results! We can only conclude that God revealed this to Moses at the appointed time. Where else could he possibly have learned these distinguishing themes of salvation by grace?
We have given these examples of the revelation of Christ to Old Testament saints to reinforce our view that Jacob had the same experience. From the statements Jacob made upon awakening it appears that he did lack a clear understanding of the relationship he had with God, but that he was aware of things previously unknown cannot be denied. The night before, Jacob lay down to sleep as if oblivious to the Omnipresence of God. Based on the account of his earlier life it is probable that Jacob was in darkness regarding Jehovah. On awakening he was compelled to say “Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.” Several items arrest our attention here. Surely! Jacob was sure of what he was saying. This piece of intelligence might dim in days to come, but for the moment he was sure. The LORD is in this place. Not, was in this place, but is in this place. Wherever else the LORD may have been at that time, to Jacob he “is in this place.” “And I knew it not.” Knew is in the past tense. He now knows what he did not previously know. Much like the man born blind, as recorded in John 9, Jacob could say that whereas he could not see these things before, he now sees!
We are satisfied that like Jacob, and all the others whose pilgrimage is recorded in the scriptures, all the elect children of God will, at some point in their journey, have a sure revelation of Christ to them. Assistance from other sinners is not necessary to accomplish this, however. Study, learning, desire, or station in life will not bring what God Himself teaches His children either. “And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Hebrews 8:11).
After setting up a pillar of the stones he slept on, Jacob called the place Bethel, meaning, the house of God. God had revealed Himself to this pilgrim, and he would never be the same. Twenty years later God would again come to him saying, “Return unto the land of thy fathers (Genesis 31:3). Jacob mused on this until Jehovah came again to him in a dream saying, “I am the God of Bethel” (verse 13) as if to remind him of his first relations with his LORD. Thus Jacob returned home.
J.F. Poole – 1993