Little children love their nighttime routines as long as they can extend them past the designated hour of bedtime. I usually tried my parents’ patience by whining and moaning—aided and abetted by my brother’s teasing— but all I got for the fuss was a quick ticket to bed. That really wasn’t such a bad thing, though, because my mother faithfully read me Bible stories every night.
After all these years, I still have childhood book illustrations stocked in my memory like files in a drawer. The one of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28 immediately came to mind this morning as I listened to a sermon on this passage. The story is a familiar one. Jacob deceives his father and brother, stealing the birthright for himself. The anger of his brother Esau necessitates his fleeing to Haran, but along the way he stops to rest.
This is the point where my mother would turn the page and suddenly the story would be transformed from black and white into technicolor. Most children experience some wild dreams and I was no different. But a ladder from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending? My imagination would take flight and as far as the rest of the story went, it was a wash.
Thankfully, I’ve made a little progress in listening since then and been rewarded by digging deeper into this passage. It’s what Jacob says after this experience that caught my attention.
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
Are there times when you feel as if God is far away? I certainly feel that way from time to time, even as I pray or read Scripture. In fact, it’s easy for me to feel abandoned in the midst of a trial, when things seem out of control and answers are few. I can step into the shoes of the Psalmist and say, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)
But the truth is not to be found (or sought) through my feelings. I can’t rely on my feelings to give an accurate sense of God’s presence. God has promised that He will never leave me or forsake me, and when God makes a promise, He always keeps it. So to paraphrase Jacob’s response, surely the Lord is with me whether I feel it to be true or not. Period.
God often asks His children to trust in what they cannot see or feel. In those times when a conscious sense of God’s presence and power is absent, we can take great comfort in knowing that He has not deserted us. When preaching from Genesis 28, Spurgeon commented, “Whatever we undertake, God is with us in our undertaking. Whatever we endure, God is with us in our enduring! Wherever we wander, God is with us in our wandering!”
Next time you experience that “far away” feeling, remember the names God has for His people:
His portion and allotted heritage (Deuteronomy 32:9)
His treasured ones (Psalm 83:3)
His beloved ones (Psalm 108:6)
His own possession (Psalm 135:4)
A people engraved in the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16)
The apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8)
Life will throw us challenges and uncertainty, but our Father in heaven—who cares about every detail of our lives—is holding us in His everlasting arms.
And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”