“It is appointed unto men once to die,” the author of the epistle to the Hebrews rightly declares. Arid this truth was known by the saints in the Old Testament dispensation as well as in the days when the epistle to the Hebrews was written. Isaac knew this and said to Esau, “Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death.” And these were introductory words to his command that Esau get venison for a delicious meal that would precede giving him the blessing of God’s covenant. He wanted to be sure that Esau got it, and his appointment with death must not prevent him from doing what his heart had planned.
No, Isaac was not a hypochondriac. He was not a man who loved to think he had all the diseases of that day and would soon be overtaken by one of them. He was already blind. Sight had died in him. He had become a senior citizen and was considered by his peers to have reached the golden age when, one by one, men are mown down by the “grim reaper.”
But even though it is appointed unto men once to die, it pleases God often to have one linger on beyond the time of others. And the day of that appointment with death we do not often know very far in advance. Isaac lived to be one hundred and eighty years, and lived long enough to be there when Jacob with a family of grandchildren came back to the land of Canaan after serving Laban for twenty years. Truly with the psalmist we can say, whether we be cut short, as men sometimes say, or live beyond the expectations of men, “My times are in Thy hand,” Psalm 31:15.
And Rebekah also expected her husband to die soon. What is more she knew of Esau’s plot to kill Jacob as soon as the days of mourning for his father were past. Yes, Rebekah expected Isaac’s death in the near future and feared a double bereavement. Jacob was therefore sent to her brother Laban. As far as Rebekah was concerned Jacob was being sent for safety from the hatred of Esau. As far as Isaac was concerned, for he knew nothing of this plot, Jacob was being sent to get a God-fearing wife from among Rebekah’s brethren. Esau had already taken to himself three wives. But Jacob apparently had somewhat the same nature as his father and showed no interest in women and was not ready to settle down and take a wife to himself. The hand of God—Who gives all of us our natures—was behind this so that Jacob would not take to himself a heathen wife. Would to God that some of our young people would not be so interested in getting married and would be willing to wait until they find one who will indeed be an help and not an hindrance in their spiritual lives, an help meet or suitable for them as ‘children of God.
But before Jacob is sent away Isaac pronounces the blessing upon him again. This time, however, there is a tremendously significant addition. Thinking that he was blessing Esau, Isaac had before spoken of all the blessings of the field and of the dew of heaven, of people serving him and of the fatness of the earth.Genesis 27:27-29. But turn now to Genesis 28:3, 4. Significantly, Isaac now being fully aware of God’s prophecy that the elder shall serve the younger, and that God loved Jacob but hated Esau adds, “God Almighty bless thee,” and, what is more, “give thee the blessing of Abraham.” That element Isaac did not intend to pronounce upon Esau. After trembling “very exceedingly” he is fully aware now that God purposes to establish His covenant in the line of Jacob’s and not Esau’s children. Was he, when he blessed Jacob, under the impression that he was blessing Esau—for he did have doubts which he also expressed in Genesis 27:20-22 —and therefore did not dare speak of the blessing as handed down from Abraham? At any rate, now, in a moment of stronger faith, he adds what should have been said the first time, “God Almighty bless thee . . . and give thee the blessing of Abraham.”
With what mixed emotions Jacob must have left his home to travel to Padan-aram, about which he knew nothing except that his mother’s relation dwelt there. He knew that his brother hated him enough to kill him. He knew that his mother and father did not see eye to eye, and his father expected to die in the near future. He knew that, having received this full covenant blessing, he had to, was obliged to, get a God-fearing wife for the Covenant’s sake. He knew that he was to carry on after his father’s death as God’s prophet and as spiritual head of the covenant people. But he also knew that he, by God proclaimed to be the supplanter, was now being driven way from the land which had been promised to him. Well could he with a troubled soul ask, “My father blessed me and prayed that God Almighty would also bless me. But will He? I am being banished, driven from the land promised to me. Will I come back? Will I find a wife who with me will raise up covenant seed?” A host of questions must have risen in his mind. And the least of them certainly was not, “Do I deserve to be the spiritual head of the covenant people? Do I deserve to be brought back alive to this land and actually inherit it? Am I really so different and better than my brother Esau? He has those heathen wives, but have I not walked as a heathen who is interested only in earthly things?”
With a mind in turmoil like that, one finds it hard to sleep, especially if one’s bed is the hard ground and one’s pillow is a stone. Yet Jacob sleeps soundly enough to dream. God gave that to him. Do not overlook the grace of God in this historical event. Jacob made that mistake, .but we have no reason to do so in light of what is recorded for us in this incident. We read in Genesis 28:16 that when Jacob awoke after his sound sleep and dream he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.” Whether he prayed to God before he fell on the ground to try to sleep we are not told. And this could very well mean that he did not. How great then the grace of God to appear to him and to confirm what his father had prayed for and in God’s name declared: “God Almighty bless thee.” In the dream, that is what God promised Jacob. Note verse 13: “And behold the Lord stood above it (that ladder reaching from earth to heaven), and said I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed.” And then in verse 15, “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again to this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken of to thee.” All this was a surprise to Jacob; and well might he be surprised; and well may we when we realize that we deserve the very opposite of what God in His grace gives us. That exactly is His grace and gracious dealing with us.
It has been said that “grace is God giving everything for nothing to those who deserve nothing.” Yes, but it is richer than that. God’s grace is God giving everything for nothing to the good-for-nothings. Or, if you will, “God’s grace is God giving everything for nothing to those who deserve the very opposite.” God’s grace is not God giving good things to good people who have earned some wages but receive a bonus on top of those wages. God’s grace is God giving good gifts to bad people, to sinners, to those walking in rebellion against Him.
And the explanation of all this is in that ladder which Jacob saw in his dream, or rather, in the ladder which God showed him in the dream. The ladder reached from the earth to heaven, and thus from the point where Jacob was—that ladder stood at his feet as he lay there on the ground sound asleep—and reached up to God Himself, for we read that God stood above it. Now a ladder is a device which enables one to go from a lower point to an higher one. A ladder is therefore a way of ascent, a way of climbing higher. And at once this reminds us of Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man can come unto the Father but by Me.” John 14:6. He is the way out of the depths of sin into which we have fallen and the way up and into the covenant fellowship with God which is life everlasting. God showed Jacob the Christ there before he left the promised land. And He showed Christ as the reason why Jacob will be protected and brought safely back to inherit the land. All of God’s grace is in Him; and He sends the angels down from God with messages of peace and of great joy to us poor sinners. And He sends angels down to us to assist us in climbing up that way to the Father’s right hand. Angels descending encourage us with the gospel of peace, bring us God’s Word of truth and His rich promises. For the word angel means messenger. But these angels, according to Hebrews 1:14, are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” Christ The Way, sends His angels, to assist us in our struggle on the way to glory. They come down from heaven, but they also return. They bring down blessings to us, but they also bring our souls on that ladder, which is Christ, and in the moment of death to the Father in His heavenly glory.
We call it therefore the ladder of grace. And was it not so for Jacob? What did he do to deserve so beautiful a picture and such reassuring words? The idea of getting a God-fearing wife and to walk in the way of God’s covenant to raise up seed of the covenant did not arise in his soul. We may believe that he would riot have hesitated to take a wife of Canaan, if it would enable him to get more sheep and cattle and the earth and its wealth. No, at this stage Jacob does not appear and show himself forth as a God-fearing man himself. Why should there be guarding angels sent from heaven for him? Let him prove himself first. Let him show first some serious intention of throwing himself upon God. Let him fall on his knees and confess his wickedness and go to Esau and plead for forgiveness, and to his father for his despicable deceit! Surely he deserved the opposite of what God promised him here at Bethel. But the house of God—for such is the meaning of the word Bethel—is ours by grace, and that house of God is built in God’s grace.
Once again, it has been said that “God’s Grace isGod’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” (You may note the word grace spelled out in those capitalized letters.) But therein is the answer. Not because of Jacob’s works. He had no expense account out of which to buy God’s riches. It was at the expense of the precious blood of Christ; it was at a tremendously expensive price that a ladder from this sin-cursed earth to the Father is realized for God’s people. You see, Jacob saw a ladder set up on the earth. He did not find a ladder. He did not make it. He lay there sound asleep doing no work at all. But God set up that ladder when He came in our flesh and when the cross upon which His Son was nailed, as it lay on the ground, was set up and with a sudden jar dropped into the hole dug for it on Calvary. We have salvation because of a ladder, a way of grace. We are saved by grace, not by works, lest any man should boast.
And in that grace it is that Jacob now commits his way to God and confesses Him, so that we come across the first words of faith recorded in Scripture concerning Jacob. Before this he did not look like a child of God. Now by God’s grace he speaks like one and calls the name of that place after God. Indeed Jacob will return to his trickery, and we will to our works of unbelief. But God’s grace is unchangeable, and the angels are in that grace making an uninterrupted descent and ascent for our salvation.