It Never Pays to Bargain With God

Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 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. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 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.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” Genesis 28:6-22 ESV

After Jacob had left to seek a wife from among his mother’s family in Mesopotamia, his brother Esau decided to try and win back his parent’s favor by marrying a woman from among his own clan. Esau already had two Hittite wives, but he knew that these marriages had been a huge disappointment to his mother and father. So, when he had heard Isaac warn Jacob not to take a wife from among the Canaanites, Esau determined to make amends with his parents by marrying one of his cousins. Her name was Mahalath and she was the daughter of Ishmael, the elder son of Abraham. While Esau had been angered by his parent’s complicity in Jacob’s stealing of his blessing, he also desired their favor. Having lost his birthright and his blessing, he was desperate to win them over. But he failed to consider the fact that God had divinely ordained the separation of Ishmael’s clan from that of Isaac’s. The Ishmaelites were not destined to share in the covenant promise made to Abraham. So, Esau’s marriage to Mahalath would do little to improve his relationship with his parents or to enhance his future prospects. Yet, during his brother’s 20-year absence, Esau would build a life for himself in Canaan, raising a family and attempting to maintain a civil relationship with his mother and father.

Meanwhile, Jacob continued his long and arduous journey to Haran. But some 58 miles into his trip, he was forced to stop for the night, and it would prove to be anything but a restful evening. As he drifted off to sleep, he had a vivid and somewhat disturbing dream. He envisioned a giant flight of steps reaching from heaven to earth, and on that massive stairway, there was a host of angels ascending and descending. But Jacob’s eye was drawn to the top of the stairway, where he caught a glimpse of Yahweh, the Lord. And, considering all that Jacob had just done to deceive his father and defraud his brother, this vision of the Almighty must have struck fear into his heart. Was God going to repay him for having stolen his brother’s blessing? Was this going to be some kind of well-deserved payback for his treachery and deceit? But before Jacob could formulate any words to speak to God, he was presented with an unexpected announcement.

“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. – Genesis 28:13-14 NLT

The symbolism contained in this dream is powerful and significant. As Jacob lay in the darkness, separated from his family and facing an uncertain future, a host of angelic beings were moving back and forth between heaven and earth. These messengers of God represent His divine oversight and influence over all that happens on earth. Their movement between the two realms was meant to symbolize His sovereign control over the affairs of this world. They were His celestial agents, carrying out His wishes and accomplishing His divine will among men.

While Jacob and his mother had been busily conspiring to deceive Isaac and defraud Esau, God’s will had been carried out. There was a constant movement taking place between heaven and earth, as God’s messengers carried out His orders and implemented His sovereign plans among men. But Jacob and Rebekah had been oblivious to this invisible activity taking place in the unseen realms. They had mistakenly thought that they were in control of their futures and fate. But now, Jacob was receiving a divine wake-up call, informing him that all his trickery and deceit had been unnecessary. There had been no need for Jacob to barter for the birthright or to steal the blessing of the firstborn. God had always intended for the covenant promise to be his. It had not been his cleverly conceived plan to fool Isaac that had earned him the right to his father’s inheritance. It had been the sovereign will of God.

From among all the men who lived on the earth, God had chosen Abraham. And He had given this undeserving Chaldean a promise to bless him beyond his wildest dream.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you,
and I will make your name great,
so that you will exemplify divine blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
but the one who treats you lightly I must curse,
so that all the families of the earth may receive blessing through you.” – Genesis 12:2-3 NLT

And then, God had chosen Abraham’s son, Isaac, to be the conduit through whom this blessing would flow. God had sovereignly passed by Ishmael, the firstborn. And now, God was announcing that it had always been His plan to choose Jacob over Esau. The covenant promise would flow to him and through him. God was going to use this flawed vessel as the conduit through which He would accomplish His redemptive plan for mankind. And, not only that, God informed Jacob that he would enjoy divine protection all during his extended journey.

“What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:15 NLT

What Jacob didn’t know was that his trip was going to take much longer than he anticipated. Two decades would pass before he was able to return to Beersheba and, during that time, Jacob would experience both the blessings and the discipline of God. He would eventually find the wife for which he was searching. But, more importantly, he would discover the power and sovereignty of God. The next 20 years of his life would be filled with joy and sorrow, success and failure, hope and heartache. But his roller-coaster existence would also be marked by the constant assurance that God was with him, operating behind the scenes and orchestrating every aspect of his life. God had promised Jacob that he would remain with him to the end.

The impact this dream had on Jacob can be seen in his response when he awoke.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” – Genesis 28:16 NLT

Jacob could have spoken those words back in Beersheba as well because God had always been with him. He just hadn’t realized it. This divine encounter left Jacob shaken and sobered.

“What an awesome place this is! It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to heaven!” – Genesis 28:17 NLT

Out of reverence for God, Jacob took the stone upon which his head had rested while he dreamed and he turned it into a sacred pillar. He named the place Bethel which means “house of God.” What’s fascinating is that this is the very same spot where, years earlier, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had erected an altar to God.

Then he moved from there to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and worshiped the Lord. – Genesis 12:8 NLT

Like his grandfather before him, Jacob worshiped Yahweh. But, in keeping with his bargaining nature, Jacob attempted to strike a deal with God.

“If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.” – Genesis 28:20-22 NLT

Rather than rejoice in the fact that God had just promised to bless and not punish him, Jacob arrogantly attempted to bargain with the Almighty. He placed conditions on his continued worship of God. Despite the fact that God had promised to fulfill every aspect of the promise He had made, Jacob wanted guarantees. This undeserving grandson of Abraham tried to arm wrestle Yahweh by threatening to hold his worship if his conditions were not met. Suffice it to say, Jacob had a lot to learn about God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

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