Community Group Study “Genesis: Grace in the Desert”
Read Genesis 28:1-22
The opening verses of this text have a different feel than what we saw in Genesis 27. Previously, Jacob dressed up like his brother, claimed the name of Esau and stole the blessing that was meant for his older brother from his father Isaac. Isaac’s blindness and emotional and spiritual distance from his kids was used by Jacob to deceive his dad. This left Jacob with the blessing, but on the run from his life and having lost his family. Jacob was sent to his uncle Laban to hide until Esau calmed down from his rage and desire to kill him. Genesis 28 opens up with a slightly different tone. It appears that Isaac makes the most of the situation and commits to bless Jacob once again and sends him off to Laban’s family to find a wife. We know previously that Isaac and Rebekah did not approve of Esau and his marriage with the Hittites, one of the people groups that God plans on removing from the promised land. God uses this situation to move forward his plan to establish Jacob and his family line, even in the midst of tragedy and hardship.
Once again, Jacob is on the run and he is without his family and place-less until he arrives to the home of his uncle some 500 miles away from the promised land. Genesis 28:11 tells us in verse that is called a “certain place”… a place of no name highlighting that he is on his own in a desert place. These locations throughout the scripture represent times of suffering and trial and this part of Jacob’s journey is no different. It appears that Jacob is thoroughly exhausted because he falls asleep on a rock. And what we notice about this passage are three life changing things for Jacob and the people of God.
First, so far we’ve seen that Jacob is a schemer and a deceiver working for his identity, place and blessing. He went to great lengths to scheme his brother out of his birthright and to steal the blessing from his father. So, how does God meet him in the desert? Through a dream. This worker, achiever, deceiver, schemer is met by God during a time when he is most helpless and unable to accomplish anything. It shows God’s grace and Jacob’s true state of being; he is unable to really achieve anything that he desperately needs from God.
Second, the image he receives from God is of a ladder or stairway where angels (messengers) are going up and down. This image plus the words of God show us something really important about God; so hold that thought! God then blesses Jacob with a similar blessing that he gave Abraham and Isaac. Look at Genesis 28:13-14. These words will be familiar for us, they’re a promise to multiply his people and to give them a place to call home and to use their family to bless the nations — first in the people of God, Israel and later in and through Jesus Christ, the ultimate son of Abraham. But, look at Genesis 28:15! These words are new and are personalized to Jacob. God gives Jacob, the man on the run, a promise to be with him and to keep him and to bring him back. The prodigal son is promised a pathway home and that God will be with him in this desert journey. We are a people who desperately need God’s presence. What this ladder image and the spoken promise of God shows us is that God desires to be known, he is a God who delights to reveal himself to his people. This ladder image gets pulled forward into the Gospels and applied to Jesus who is the image of our invisible God, God “with us”, the presence of God fully manifested in the world… God wants to be with his people and be known by them in love (John 1:51).
Finally, Jacob is given a future hope that he believes in. In Genesis 28:20-21 Jacob demonstrates the beginning of trust and faith. This is the first time that Jacob personalizes God to himself, when he was pretending to be Esau he told Isaac that “Your God” gave him favor in his hunting. But here Jacob says “if God will be with me … and keep me… then the LORD shall be my God.” This statement comes across conditionally and is far from a full level of faithful trust, but it is the beginning of Jacob’s heart softening to our gracious God.
As you read through, study and think about this passage take notice of all the examples of God’s grace and how he is committed to this undeserving schemer. God is going to demonstrate his loving kindness to Jacob and show him how much he needs him and this is the next step in that journey.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Genesis 28:10-22 What are 6-10 things you observe in this text that reveal something about God or Jacob that is important to the story?
Why do you think that God meets Jacob in a dream and not in some other way? What does the ladder with the angels ascending and descending reveal about God? Look at John 1:43-51. How is Nathanael the opposite of Jacob and what does Jesus promise that he’d see?
God makes a promise to Jacob to be with him, to keep him and to bring him back home. How does this particularly speak to needs in Jacob’s life given the context of the story so far?
How does this example of God meeting someone in a time of trial and suffering in a “desert” place give the believer encouragement and hope? Does this particularly impact something going on in your life right now? What is that and how can your community group be praying for you in this time?