Please read Genesis 28:10-12 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
Why do we observe a Memorial Day? There are lots of reasons for the practice, both practical, sentimental, and historical. One reason is to remind us. Our memories tend to be short-lived as we focus on the present. President Franklin Roosevelt said: “Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” We have a Memorial Day to prompt our memories of our forebears in faith, family, and nation, so that we will once more be grateful for all we have received by means of their sacrifices.
No one knows our nature better than our Lord Jesus Christ. He knew we are prone to forget things, even important things, so he instituted the Lord’s Supper as a memorial. Our regular observance is an opportunity to be grateful for his sacrifice for our salvation.
We who have received so much must be grateful. We must demonstrate our gratitude by obeying God and being faithful to the heritage we have received from those who have come before us.
Jacob encountered God and memorialized the experience.
CONTEXT - Jacob had to leave home in a hurry. Here’s why: in chapter 27 he and his mother Rebekah tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing normally reserved for the firstborn. (In this case, his older brother Esau.)
In 27:41, Esau vowed to kill his brother in angry retaliation for his having stolen his blessing. He had no right to be mad about it, as he’d traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup way back in chapter 25. I guess that slipped his mind.
Rebekah heard about Esau’s vow and at the end of chapter 27 she put a plot in motion where she convinced her husband Isaac that Jacob needed to go find a wife from her brother’s daughters. This would get Jacob out of harm’s way until Esau calmed down and forgot his oath. Her plan worked; as we read in chapter 33, Esau and Jacob were reunited without any violence. But for now, Jacob is pretty much running for his life and we find him at the end of the first day of his journey to visit Uncle Laban. He stopped running when darkness fell (11). Probably physically and emotionally spent, Jacob lay down to rest.
1. Jacob encountered God in a dream. (28:12-15)
In that dream, he saw a STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN. (12) This image of a STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN was common among the pagan religions of Jacob’s day. In Jacob’s case it signified God’s involvement in our everyday lives and our access to God (that’s why the angels were both coming down and going up). Being in Heaven (at the top of the stairs) does not make Him uninvolved in our lives, just the opposite.
Jacob saw the LORD and received His promises. This is similar to a vision God gave Abraham in chapter fifteen, where similar promises were made. Here in chapter 28, God promised Jacob three things: the land, offspring, and His protective presence.
First, the land. (13+15) The Land and the Law were the two crucial components of Old Testament faith. At this time, the Law had not yet been given, but the promise of the Land had long ago been made to Jacob’s grandfather Abraham.
Second, offspring. (14) Where God commanded Adam and Eve to “BE FRUITFUL AND MULTIPLY,” (Genesis 1:28), He promised Jacob NUMEROUS DESCENDANTS. In fact, Jacob’s issue will become so numerous, they will spread out to every border of the land, in every direction to fill it. In so doing, they would not only be blessed themselves, but would be a means of God’s blessing ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH.
Third, God’s abiding presence. (15) God promised to be with Jacob and PROTECT him, wherever he went. Though he had to leave the LAND for a time to find a wife, God promised to bring him back to it again. We see this promise fulfilled in chapter 35 when Jacob returned to Bethel and set up another memorial in this place. God would be with Jacob until He finished giving Jacob everything God promised to him.
2. Jacob acted upon his dream. (28:16-22)
His actions were predicated on his recognition that the place was sacred. (16-17) This makes sense: Jacob encountered his God here. If fact, years previous to Jacob’s experience, his grandfather Abraham had built an altar in that same spot and called on the name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8).
Jacob used the stone he’d selected for a memorial.(18) The NLT translates vs. 10+18 to indicate Jacob used the stone as a pillow. This is the traditional interpretation. If this is what actually happened, then it may signify the haste with which Jacob left home: he didn’t bring bedding (or, as his vow implies, food or clothing) with him.
The Hebrew is not certain. Other translations say Jacob put the stone near him but did not lay on it. If that is the case, the speculation is he selected it as a “good luck” charm. I’m not comfortable with the thought of Jacob being so superstitious, but he was a product of his times just as we are products of our own times.
However he used it the night before, in the morning Jacob used the stone as a MEMORIAL PILLAR. This was not an uncommon custom in these days nor for Jacob personally; this was the first of three memorial pillars he would set up.
Jacob consecrated the pillow-turned-pillar by pouring oil on it. This was a way things were set apart for God’s use.
In response to his vision of heaven Jacob renamed the place BETHEL. (19) The text tells us the meaning of BETHEL: “House of God.” The name LUZ was a Hebrew word that meant “almond” or “almond tree.” It also meant “bone” or “backbone.” In my opinion BETHEL is an improvement over LUZ and points to Jacob’s promise in verse 22 that he would erect a house of worship in that place.
Lastly, Jacob made a vow of faithfulness in verses 20-22. He asked God to PROTECT him in his journey and PROVIDE for his needs until he returned to the land. In return for God’s faithfulness, Jacob vowed to set up an actual house for God and to endow that house for worship by giving a 10% tithe OF EVERYTHING God gave him.
Let’s give Jacob credit for having a full-featured faith in this moment. Frequently we consider prayer to be presenting God with our wish list. It’s superficial to treat God as if He were the voice coming out of the drive-through speaker, like He only wants to hear our order. It is a more full and active faith that offers, “God, here’s what I’m going to do for you.” God is glorified when we act upon our faith.
Jacob encountered God and memorialized the experience.
If I asked you how many historical markers there are in the city of Sioux Falls, what would you guess? I have a list here, one that is fairly current, and there are more than SEVENTY historical markers on this list. It seems we like our memorials pretty well in our community. I’m pleased to note that and appreciate the effort people have put in to preserve our history.
Jacob’s MEMORIAL was an act of faith on his part, a recognition of God at work in his life. This is an important function that memorials can serve in our lives as well. On this Memorial Day, let us consider how we might do as Jacob did and create a memorial that honors God and reminds us of our personal encounters with Him.
https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon-illustrations/100154/freedom-by-david-simpson, retrieved on 27 May 22.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2, Genesis, John H. Sailhammer