It does not take us long in our reading to discover that our spiritual ancestors, namely the patriarchs and their families, are not squeaky-clean saints. These men and women believed God, but often lapsed into deceit, manipulation, anger, and fearfulness. Jacob is running for his life after he and his mother deceive Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob. This blessing established his place of leadership in the family, rights of land and property, and most of all, to be the next man to carry the promises that God made to Abraham (Gen. 12, 15, etc.)
In fairness to Rebekah, it should be noted that God had specifically said that the younger son (Jacob) was supposed to inherit the blessing (chapter 25). Isaac apparently forgot this because he favored his son Esau the outdoors-man, who was a skilled hunter and barbecue wiz. Yet Esau was not suitable morally or spiritually to lead the family in covenant with God (28:8-9; Heb. 12:16). Be that as it may, Rebekah and Jacob descended to outright deception in getting things corrected. Apparently, Isaac recognized that, despite their trickery, they were in the right and Isaac would indeed inherit the blessing. God rules, and over-rules, in human affairs, even through the sinful actions of people. God’s choice stood.
But still Jacob was in danger of losing his life to his angry brother. As he fled northward, Jacob must have felt very alone, and estranged from his family. He, a cheat — guilty as charged! Had God now abandoned him? Were the promises once made to Abraham and afterwards to Isaac now null and void for him?
One evening after a long day of travel, he lies down for sleep and has a dream from God. He sees a ladder (or stairway) extending to heaven, with angels ascending and descending upon it. Then in a remarkable display of grace God confirms his blessing upon Jacob and gives him the promises of his covenant. Jacob, no longer alone, now says, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28:16)
He names the place “Bethel” (“house of God”), calls upon the Lord, and commits to walk with him. We will find later, however, that he still has a lot to learn about honesty and fair dealing. God in his mercy will make Jacob, a cheat, into the man of faith God is calling him to be.
Jesus looked back in history on this event, as recorded in John 1:51…”Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” The Lord Jesus, descendant of Jacob, is the Promised One, the one through whom “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (28:14)
So we are like Jacob, fleeing and afraid, unaware of the presence and promises of God. Then when we hear the gospel, we too see heaven opened in a sense. We realize that Jesus is the door to eternal life (John 10:7). We could not climb to him, but he came down to us. And by his Spirit, he opens our eyes to see who he is, and to know the blessings and promises that he makes to us in the gospel.
And so like Jacob, we need see God’s undeserved grace to us in Jesus. And we need to understand that Jesus himself is the true Bethel, “the house of God,” the way into the Father’s presence. He himself is our home.