Living peacefully in one’s own land is an unmistakable mark of a blessed life. However, we see Jacob who received his father’s blessings not as one who is peacefully enjoying the fruits of the blessings, but as one who is fleeing from the wrath of his brother. Father’s blessings brought him brother’s hatred. His flight from his ancestral home and the consequent vulnerability are the results of his own machinations. He leaves for Haran without knowing what awaits him there. However, on the way God appears to him in a dream (Genesis 28). God’s appearance to Jacob exactly at the moment of his great vulnerability and insecurity indicates that God is on the side of the weak and the oppressed. God is not negligent of the plight of His chosen ones.
While Jacob was asleep God appeared to him in a dream. The divine apparition was entirely a divine initiative. Jacob had nothing to do with it. God willed to appear to Jacob in the middle of a routine activity of sleep that had no special sacred character attached to it. The place God chose to appear was also not singularly significant or sacred. God chose an ordinary place and an ordinary activity as the arena of His apparition. Jacob recognized the sacred character of that place only when God appeared to him there. So he called that place Bethel, the house of God. He also described it as the gate of heaven.
In the dream Jacob sees a ladder the tips of which touch both the heaven and the earth. The ladder signifies God’s connection and communication with the earth and the humankind. The heaven does not remain alone as the safe haven of the heavenly beings in a self-serving mode of existence. Rather heaven is willing to connect to the earth. The human kind is not left to itself. Heaven is willing to help; humans can count on the resources of heaven as exemplified by the coming down and going up of the angels. God talked to Jacob in the dream and He blessed him. He gave him several promises and assured him that He would be with him wherever he goes.
Jacob was very much awe stricken by the closeness of God. Normally when someone comes closer we tend to lose the sense of awe. But, here God comes very close and still Jacob is touched by the majesty and splendour of God. Jacob then decides to build a sanctuary for God. It is interesting that Jacob decides to build a sanctuary for the God who promised him to be with him wherever he goes. What is the use of making a fixed a sanctuary for a God who vows to accompany the humans in their varying locations and situations!? The building of a sanctuary shows the importance of that place as particularly chosen by God. Though God is everywhere, a shrine is the special place where His presence is assured and where people can come together as a worshipping community. The shrine is the visible manifestation of the people’s belief that God is present among them.
Jacob had an unforgettable experience at Bethel and he cherished the place where he had the magnificent experience of God. However, Jacob did not stop his journey and settle at Bethel where he encountered God. Rather, he continued to travel to Haran. The divine experiences are not meant to put an end to our life’s journeys and missions, rather they are to encourage and strengthen us in striving for our goals. Before leaving the place, Jacob erected a stone which he used last night as the pillow now as a pillar to testify to the miraculous experience of his life. Now, the question is whether we have pillows turned as pillars, i.e., the memorable experiences of the divine providence in the routine of our life.
The first divine encounter in the midst of his worst vulnerability must have made Jacob a different man in the sense that he now became more confident and courageous. However, the encounter with God did not make him a man of altogether different personality as the subsequent stories portray him still as a trickster. God’s decision to choose Jacob and to appear to him with promises teach us that God does not wait one to reach the zenith of the ladder of perfection before God could choose one, rather God chooses imperfect human beings and works with and through them. It is as if God helping man to climb the ladder of righteousness, slowly and carefully, just step by step.