From Grace to Law

Observations as I follow God through the Chronological Bible

By Teena Myers

Genesis 28:13-15[1]

Jacob had learned about God from his father and grandfather but did not encounter God until he was 70 years old. His bad behavior forced him to leave the Promised Land or risk death at the hands of his twin brother. When he stopped to rest at Bethel, God appeared to him in a dream, and promised to watch over him and bring him home again.  

In the dream, God identified himself as the “God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.”[2] The wording is intriguing because Isaac was Jacob’s father, not Abraham. Unless God was talking about his family knit together by a common faith instead of carnal acts. Abraham possessed the faith that pleased God. God never acknowledged or commended Isaac’s willingness to sacrifice his life.

God directed Jacob’s attention to the gospel of grace he taught Abraham that Abraham taught to Isaac, Jacob and Esau. The benefits of Abraham’s obedience belonged to Jacob and to his father Isaac. Jacob’s behavior did not deter God from keeping the oath he swore when Abraham obeyed him. God’s promise to give Jacob and his seed land and to multiply them as the dust of the earth that spreads to the west, east, north and south was not new. When he appeared to Jacob in the dream, God had been saying the same thing for 170 years.

The last comments God made to Jacob were personal. He promised to be with Jacob and to bring him back to the land he fled from, fearful his brother would kill him. But the patriarchs never owned the land where they lived. During their lifetime on earth God’s enemies, who fought with each other, endured famines, and suffered a catastrophic judgment, inhabited the land. Jacob returned home as God said he would, but did not stay there. He died in Egypt. When God promised to bring him back to “this land” did God mean the land where the patriarchs lived as foreigners or was God talking about the day Jesus returned to rule the world? I am inclined to believe the latter.

God’s message of grace to Jacob placed no demands on Jacob’s life. He was not as gracious as God. Jacob awoke in awe that he had found the gate of heaven and made a deal with God that put demands on both of them. If God gave Jacob “food to eat and clothes to wear”[3] besides the things God promised in the dream, Jacob would do three things. He would make the Lord who spoke to him in the dream his God, make the pillar he erected God’s house, and give God a tenth of all God gave to him.

Jacob did not need to ask God for food and clothes. God would have given him those things whether or not Jacob asked. God did not ask Jacob to build the house of God and tithe. Those things were Jacob’s idea. Jacob made a foolish and unnecessary vow that shifted his relationship with God from grace to law. He eventually paid a high price for making a vow and refusing to keep it.

[1] All scripture quotes are from the NIV Bible unless otherwise noted.

[2] Genesis 28:13

[3] Genesis 28:20

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