Pathway to Blessing - Genesis 28:6–22

November 20, 2022 Preacher: Rev. Stacey Severance Series: Genesis

Scripture: Genesis 28:6–22

This week we make a special effort to express thanks for our blessings, for our prosperity. It’s good to recognize the good things we’ve received, and also the source of those things.

“Blessing” is a major theme in the Scriptures of OT and NT. We saw many months ago back in Genesis 2 that when God created the first man and woman, he gave them a command to obey, with the promise of blessing for obedience and cursing for disobedience. We call this relationship between God and humans “the covenant of works.” It was based on what they did or did not do. 

Adam and Eve failed in their obedience, but God stated that He would overcome their failure.  Then we see the continual development of how God would overcome, through what we call “the covenant of grace.” In this covenant, relationship with God is based not on what we do but on what God does. 

We are born into the covenant of works relationship with God, which we cannot keep because of our sin but in His love God brings His people into a covenant of grace relationship with Himself. We see God initiating this kind of relationship with Noah, and Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob, with the promise that this blessing would come to all the families of the earth.

In the past weeks, we’ve seen how Jacob is being blessed by God though he doesn’t deserve it.  He clearly breaks God’s moral law, and yet, he is being blessed? But isn’t doing right the undeniable pathway to blessing, and doing wrong the pathway to cursing? Don’t we “get” based on what we do? 

The disciples of Jesus thought this way. Once, when they saw a man who had been blind from birth, they said to Jesus, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  But Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents.” Jesus then healed the man. The man’s blindness was based on what he had done, and neither was the man’s healing. 

Looking at Jacob’s life, we can easily make sense of that. But this can be confusing when we go farther ahead in the Bible to the giving of the Ten Commandments and the whole of God’s moral law when it was put in writing for Moses and the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai.

We read in that part of Scripture that obedience gets blessing and disobedience gets curses. And for that reason, it’s often thought, taught, and preached that the Israelites must have been in the covenant of works with God again. But if so, then what happened to God’s grace?

Well, it’s clear that the Israelites wouldn’t be able to keep God’s law perfectly. That’s why the system of sacrifices existed. What happened at Sinai is misunderstood. The moral law of God was restated and further clarified through Moses, but that restating was still part of the covenant of grace.

God had already kept His covenant of grace by bringing them out of Egypt, as He promised to Abraham that He would. And at Sinai, God graciously clarified His moral law for them and urged them to try to live according to it, even though, being sinners, they would fail. God showed through the sacrificial rituals that He could and would deal with their sin.

So why try to obey His law? If we aren’t in the covenant of works anymore, does our obedience make a difference? If blessing is based on God’s grace, does it matter how we live? Yes it does because obeying God’s law is the best way to live. 

Now, conventional wisdom says that good choices bring good results, which is sometimes what we experience, though not always. The good guys don’t always win in this world. Sickness or disaster comes on people for no apparent reason. 

We naturally think that God owes us blessing when we obey, and if we’re feeling cursed, we must have done something to deserve it. It is absolutely true that God approves of obedience, and many blessings are promised to the people of God, but the Scriptures are clear that blessings are not owed to us by God for our obedience. They are not due to us by the law as a covenant of works.

Believers are not “under law” in this way. We are “under grace.” Christians aren’t justified or condemned by what we do, because we are “in Christ.” But for us, God’s law is what the Westminster Confession defines as “a rule of life.” The law of God shows us that we need a Savior, it corrects us, and it teaches us how to live.

Christ came into the world to bring us into God’s covenant of grace, and we must view blessing in the framework of grace where we aim to obey not to get from God but to glorify and enjoy God. This contrast between Jacob and Esau in today’s passage helps to do this by posing two questions to us. You can see them printed on page 6 in the WG. When we look at the lives of these two brothers, we should ask, 

Will we behave as though blessing is based on what we can do, or will we recognize that blessing is based on what only God can do? So let’s look at these.

Jacob leaves to find a wife among his mother’s relatives. That was customary at that time. This may have actually pleased Esau, because now Jacob would be out of the picture. Esau could work to find greater favor with his parents, and he has an idea of how to do it. He figures he should get a wife from among the relatives as well.

There’s a big difference though between Jacob and Esau. Jacob does not yet have a wife. Esau already has two. And if that was not bad enough, he decides to go to Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac. But this is still not good. Ishmael and his family had gone away from God. It’s the same problem as going to the Canaanite people to find a wife. Esau doesn’t get it. 

Notice here what Esau does. He tries to secure blessing through works. He behaves as though blessing is based on what he can do. But the way he goes about it is ridiculous, and we should take note of that.

What kinds of things do we do in our attempts to get blessings from God, to put God in position to owe us - some things which, if we were to step back and take a good look, are absurd as well?

I’ve mentioned before that many years ago, before I was a pastor, my wife and I moved to Alabama, where I took my first-ever job in a church. It wound up being a bad situation. That pastor left the ministry. The church is now closed. 

We left that church under great distress. It was a confusing and hurtful time. And I began to ask God, “How could you do this to me after I’ve served you for so many years.” I had previously worked in college ministry and done other things. But my self-awareness was very low. 

In the months ahead, I began to see how self-centered I was even in my “service to God.” I had come to believe that God owed me a blessing. Even though I believed in the covenant of grace,  I had begun to think and live as if I was back in the covenant of works with God again. In my mind, it was as if I had leverage on God through my idea of “a good work!”

The OT prophet Isaiah wrote, “All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” One translation says “like filthy rags.” The Reformation Study Bible offers this comment on that verse in Isaiah: “Our problem is not merely our sinful acts but the fact that even our very best works are defiled before God.”

Esau’s behavior is a gross and glaring example of a common human problem: delusional self-righteousness. We are way, way more selfishly motivated than we even realize. Even our good deeds can not stand on their own merit without God’s grace.So we don’t earn the blessings that we so often think we earn. We must ask: Will we behave as though blessing is based on what we can do?

Now, let’s compare Jacob. He has a very different experience. He obeys his parents, obviously in pursuit of blessing, and he sets out on a difficult journey. He’s alone, and has nowhere to stay. He uses a rock for a pillow and sleeps on the ground. All things worthy of patting himself on the back. 

But remember his deception and his lies. And yet God comes to him, notice verse [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!” Jacob is passive in all of this. Once again, God initiates. What Jacob sees is a connection between heaven and earth.

How often do people feel that God is far away and disconnected from them? Very often. It is a natural human experience. The Scriptures even affirm that God is set apart from humanity because of our sin. 

But here, God is showing Jacob that He makes a connection between heaven and earth, between sinful man and the holy one true God. There is a stairway, a pathway that God makes. There is a pathway to blessing, but it is built and maintained by God alone.

Then God goes even further and He speaks to Jacob. He gives His word to Jacob, verse [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.” 

These are the promises God made to Abraham in the covenant of grace. These are God-centered promises that will be for people everywhere. By grace, there is a path. There is a way. Blessing will come to people everywhere through Jacob and an offspring of his, through a descendant of Abraham.

In the book of Galatians in the NT, the apostle Paul explains that Jesus is that offspring. Galatians 3 says, “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Jesus is that stairway, He is the pathway, the connector, the mediator between God and humans. Jesus was both fully God and fully man. He comes to us by God’s grace alone, through no doing of our own.

In John 14 in the NT, Jesus speaks to His disciples. This was just before his arrest and death. He says, [1] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. [2] In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. [4] And you know the way to where I am going.” [5] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” [6] Jesus said to him, “I am the way…No one comes to the Father except through me.” Only God can make the pathway of blessing from heaven to earth.

In the final verses, we get to see Jacob’s response. Scholars feel that Jacob’s conversion - his true transformation in faith - is still yet to come. Verse 16 reiterates that God came to him and he was not even expecting it, and verses 17-22 demonstrate that Jacob wanted to respond reverently. He feels fear for having slept in this holy place, as if that was irreverent, and he decides to make a monument out of the rock he used for his pillow. So he anoints the rock with oil he has (to give something back to God) and calls the place “Bethel” which means “house of God.”

Jacob is thankful, he gives honor to God in worship, and he promises to give from what he has. All good things, but notice that he takes the promise of God, which is unconditional, and can’t help but turn it into a conditional agreement. It’s right to make a vow to obey, it’s good to commit to God, but if God’s grace is not always on the forefront of our minds, we revert to the covenant of works again. This, coupled with later events, contributes to why many scholars say that Jacob does not yet quite get it. And it is only by God’s grace that sinners ever could “get it.” 

But God, by grace, is working in Jacob’s life. God is drawing him, bringing him along. And Jacob is being slowly confronted with these two questions: Will you behave as though blessing is based on what you can do, or will we recognize that blessing is based on what only God can do?

Who doesn’t want to be blessed by God? To be made prosperous or receive gifts from Him? Is there anyone who doesn’t want a bright future, a good life, and protection from troubles?

Do you ever feel cursed? Do you ever feel like you’ve done things or haven’t done things and now, you’re doomed? Or do you ever feel like God would bless you if you could just get your act together, if you just didn’t have the same hang-ups and the same old habits? I find that many people feel this way. And many others believe they are blessed because they do have their act together, at least compared to so many others. 

Truthfully, we all have this way of thinking embedded in us. It goes all the way back to the Fall of man in the garden of Eden. But the pathway to blessing is not like you think, it’s not based on what you think it is based on. God’s moral law is a rule for life, and it is the Christian’s duty to obey it, but the pathway to blessing is all grace. It’s all Jesus. 

Will you recognize and rest in the Way today? Let that stir a heart of thanksgiving in you.

Let’s bow in prayer.

More in Genesis

November 27, 2022

By God’s Estimation - Genesis 29:1-30

November 13, 2022

Only a God of Grace - Genesis 27:30–28:9

November 6, 2022

Driven by Love