Rita Belle met Richard Walters at a senior center, a mission in downtown Phoenix for the poor and homeless. “He always came in with a little backpack and cap on.” While Richard was reserved, Rita was outgoing and offered to visit with him and they became friends. He had never married, didn’t have children, and was estranged from his brother. He told her he had no home and slept on the grounds of the senior center. He ate at the hospital and used a telephone there when needed. Appearances can be deceiving. What Rita didn’t know about Walters was that he was a retired engineer; an honors graduate of Purdue with a Masters degree; and a Marine. In time when Walters became ill Rita became his nurse and ultimately the executor of his estate. Walters was wealthy. He left behind 4 million dollars, which was given to places like the senior center. Among his few passions was a radio. You may have heard on the radio an announcement like this: “Support for NPR comes from the estate of Richard Leroy Walters, whose life was enriched by NPR, and whose bequest seeks to encourage others to discover public radio.” He also left $400,000 to NPR. The way someone appears doesn’t tell the whole story. We are sometimes taken in by the appearances of others.
1. The Problem of Judging By Appearances
Mysterious mystery writer Agatha Christie wrote, “The human face is, after all, nothing more nor less than a mask.”
When we judge by appearances we can give credit to those who don’t deserve it, and we can fail to acknowledge those who deserve to be encouraged. Deciding who is worthy of our love and friendship based on outward appearances is a problem for humans. Pre-judging someone is prejudice. It can be racial, based on gender, country of origin, religion, body shape, or even the way we dress. We know not to judge a book by its cover, but we do it anyway.
When Saul became King there was an interesting mixed reaction. Saul himself tried to hide from all the attention, but Samuel was having none of that.
1 Samuel 10:23-24; 26-27 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others.Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!” … Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched.But some scoundrels said, “How can this fellow save us?” They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent.
By all appearances Saul would be a great king – and he did have a good start. But those who knew him best didn’t think so highly of him. Even when Saul failed miserably due to a lack of integrity and faithfulness, Samuel mourned the loss of his reign.God chose a new king and Samuel was sent to anoint him.
Whenever we judge someone by their appearance we should remember this staggering truth:
2. God Sees the Heart
We cannot see what is in the depths of a person’s soul, but the Lord can. More – he can see what is in our heart. That’s a provocative truth. For some it is likely frightening … the exterior masks we wear might fool others, but God is in the know. For others it is comforting … God knows us more intimately than any human could, but he loves us more deeply than anyone could.
Steven Charnock was a Puritan clergyman in London who died in 1680 wrote, “God knows all that is done in the most secret caverns of the heart. No place is deprived of his presence.”
That’s what Samuel finds out in his meeting with Jesse and his sons.
1 Samuel 16:5b – 13 Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.”Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.”Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.”So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
David does have an attractive appearance, but that is not what leads the Lord to appoint him as the next King of Israel. It is his heart.
There are many stories about the life of King David that may run through our minds as we contemplate him. He is the Songwriter of Israel; consider the Psalms he wrote.
In Acts 13:22 God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
But no matter how many great things we remember, there’s always that horrific fall with Bathsheba … and the murder of her husband Uriah. Appearances are not deceiving to the Lord. We may fool others, but we can never deceive Him. King Saul tried to cover up his sin and thought he could escape the judgment of God. What we learn from David is what God desires from us when we fall short: A Contrite Heart
Have mercy on me, O God,according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassionblot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquityand cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinnedand done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdictand justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth,sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.Let me hear joy and gladness;let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sinsand blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presenceor take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvationand grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.Then I will teach transgressors your ways,so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;a broken and contrite heartyou, God, will not despise.
A homeless man might be a millionaire; a popular King might not be what he presents himself to be; the population might be fooled into believing a deception; people might pre-judge others based on appearances.
God sees the heart. I encourage you to see this as a comforting truth. He knows you best, and loves you most.
“Love is what God is, love is why Jesus came, and love is why he continues to come, year after year to person after person…May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about, and may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins. – Rob Bell
When we give our heart to God he can cleanse us, save us, and strengthen us. The heart is where He does his best work. Whatever troubles your heart, come to God.
LIFEGROUP DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Can you remember what your favorite Halloween costume was when you were a kid? If you could buy the perfect costume for halloween this year, what would it be?
2. Not only was Eliab tall and handsome, he was also Jesse’s firstborn son (1 Samuel 17:13), the one who normally would have been chosen first in Israel’s culture. Even though we know better, why do we sometimes favor / judge favorably those who look good to us?
3. Aside from outward appearance, what other factors influence how we accept/judge others? When is a time you discovered you had judged someone wrongly once you got to know them better? Can you think of people you know or have known whose inner qualities and abilities far exceeded what their meek exterior might suggest? Perhaps even an example from a movie or book might be good for the group to hear.
4. Last week a School Board in Biloxi, Mississippi banned the well known novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The language used in the book (a racial slur) made some uncomfortable. Ironically, the book presents a perspective against racial prejudice. Racial tensions remain a continuous struggle in our world today. What could we draw from this story to help Christians re-frame any feelings about relating to various races in our global community?
5. God sees the heart. What would you suggest to help someone who feels frightened or ashamed at that truth?
6. The Bible presents many ideas about the heart. Take turns in the group reading and reflecting on these selected passages from Psalms and Proverbs. Feel free to share with the group other passages about the heart that you remember.
7. Billy Graham wrote, “Don’t ever hesitate to take to [God] whatever is on your heart. He already knows it anyway, but He doesn’t want you to bear its pain or celebrate its joy alone.” How can we be more accepting of God’s grace and
Complaining is a terrible habit, but many spend a good bit of conversation doing it. Stephanie Vozza writes, “A half hour of complaining every day physically damages a person’s brain, according to research from Stanford University. …Over time, complaining becomes a habit. If you’re surrounded by complainers, then you’re more likely become one.” It’s unlikely that we realize how much we complain. There’s even a Complaint/Restraint project where those who commit to try it will not complain during February. Katherine Elon article: “Effectively Stop Complaining in Seven Easy Steps”, but they don’t seem that easy to me!
The Bible addresses the bad habit of complaining!
John 6:43 (NRSV) “Jesus answered them, Do not complain among yourselves….”
Philippians 2:14 “Do everything without grumbling or arguing…”
James 5:9 (CEB) Don’t complain about each other, brothers and sisters, so that you won’t be judged…
Israelites had been set free from 400 years under harsh Egyptian slavery. They witnessed the plagues of God. They followed the pillar of cloud and fire. They walked across dry land as the Red Sea parted. Even so… They grumbled to God when challenges came. We should remember that they were afraid for their lives. They remembered a time when they had plenty to eat. It would be hard not to look at Moses and Aaron and wonder what have they done to you! This is not just a story about Israel Grumbling in the Desert of Sin! There’s a word for us in here as well. What happens when we fall into the habit of grumbling?
1. We Forget That God Has Provided What We Need (1-3)
Exodus 16:1-3 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron.3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
The need on their mind is food – something they seem to remember having plenty of back in Egypt. It’s possible they have the ‘Good Ole Days’ syndrome. What had they forgotten about life back in Egypt? The intensified harsh treatment of their own people. The exaggerated expectations of the workload. The fear of losing their lives unjustly. All they can remember now is having plenty to eat.
God the Provider …Provided exactly what they needed. Not extravagantly, but sufficiently. How often do we mix up our “needs” and our “wants”.
Give thanks for the many ways that God has provided! One moment we feel like super heroes of faith, but let an unmet need come along and suddenly we think God has left the building. Grumbling blinds us to the fact that God has provided. When we fall into the habit of grumbling…
2. We Ignore the Instructions God Provides for Faithful Christian Living! (4-9)
Exodus 16:4-9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt,7 and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”8 Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
God gives them specific instruction to how they can live in such a way that He is pleased. Grumbling / complaining is not a part of that. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ should continually drive us toward his character and manner. Notice that in this verse their complaining was regarded by the Lord as against HIM! (vs 8).
Why are Grumbling and complaining so bad?
*It can lead to further disobedience / sins against others
*It can give the enemy a hold in our lives
*It cannot change situations or make things better.
*It increases frustration.
*It is contagious and can spread discord, discontentment and negativity to others.
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Still, I think the greatest reason why we need to resist the habit of complaining is still ahead of us.
3. We Miss the Vision of the Glory of God (10-12)
Exodus 16:10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. 11 The Lord said to Moses,12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
He reminds them that He is the Lord and they have nothing to fear if they will just trust Him. How gracious! God doesn’t hate grumblers, he loves them – He loves us. But our character is not to be centered around complaining and grumbling. What should be filling our thoughts and words is the glory of God.
God’s people moved from complaining to compliance to completeness. That’s the path we need to take as well. The Grace of God is demonstrated so beautifully in contrast to the grumbling in the Desert of Sin. Have you spent some rime in the ‘Desert of Sin’ … feeling abandoned, hurt, ignored? Don’t miss the daily provisions that come from the Lord, the instructions he gives for faithful living, and the glory of the Lord that should remain on our horizon at all times.
Remember the provision of manna by remembering the provision of the bread of life to be found in Jesus Christ. This provision is offered freely to all, without limit. Jesus the promise of yesterday reminding us that the provisions of tomorrow will be the same. Jesus the fountain of forgiveness overflowing with the blood of Jesus.
LifeGroup Discussion Questions
1. The Israelites longed for ‘the good ole days’ as they faced challenges in the Desert of Sin. Go around the group and ask each one to name something from the ‘good ole days’ that wasn’t so good as we look back on it now.
2. Why did God view the complaints against Moses and Aaron as complaints against himself? In what ways can our complaints about things that bother us actually be complaints against God?
3. How would you distinguish Grumbling/Complaining from…
*Speaking out against injustice
*Expressing an opinion when asked
*Pointing out a way for something to be done better
*Sharing something that hurt you, with a friend
*Expressing lament, such as grief or pain, to God
4. Philippians 2:14 -16offers a view of life that is opposite of a bitter complaining attitude. In The Message, Philippians 2:14 -16 reads “Do everything readily and cheerfully – no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.”
What do you see in that passage that stands out to you as a strong encouragement not to complain or grumble?
4. One strategy to overcome the grumbling habit may be to count your blessings – to remain aware of the many ways that God has provided for you. What are some strategies you might suggest to help us focus more on God’s blessings than on the things that move us to complain?
5. Read the following passages and talk as a group about how they address the subject of today’s lesson.
*1 Thessalonians 5:18
6. Although we may struggle individually with the habit of complaining / grumbling, what can we do to help those among our acquaintances who have fallen into that habit?
In spite of his parent’s most hopeful wishes, their little son Al just did not develop as expected. He was four years old before he started to speak. He didn’t read until he was seven years old. His development was slow enough that both his parents and teachers regarded him as mentally handicapped, slow, and antisocial. Little Al was expelled from school. When he finally was able to get through school and was admitted to a university. Though he graduated he couldn’t get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor labeled him as the laziest dog they ever had in the university. He ended up as an entry-level position in a government patent office. Al didn’t show much promise, and one has to wonder if he didn’t believe so many of the things he had heard about himself growing up.
The main character in our text today is quite the opposite. Though Moses was born to humble beginnings as a Hebrew slave, he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. He had everything that he could have wanted… money, power, fame, and the promise of reigning over Egyptian Empire. But he couldn’t bear to see his own people mistreated and he killed an Egyptian guard. He fled to the desert to save his life and for 40 years he was a shepherd, married to Zipporah, serving his father in law. The memories of the Moses he used to be long faded into the past. And then one day he saw a bush on fire that wasn’t burning.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb,the mountain of God.2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will worship God on this mountain.” 13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.[c] This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever,the name you shall call mefrom generation to generation. – Exodus 3:1-15, NIV
Why Choose Moses? Moses Was the Man for the Job but he didn’t believe it. Moses is the perfect person to go and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. He was raised in Egypt, a survivor of an attempted genocide of the Hebrew people. He knew the Egyptian ways from the inside, in a way no other Hebrew could. When he walked into Pharaoh’s court, he was walking into familiar territory. He knew what to expect and could prepare to respond when he encountered resistance.
Moses is exactly the wrong person to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. He rejected the ones who rescued him from the river and raised him as a son. He turned away from those who gave him everything he could have wanted to live a life of luxury / power. He was a murderer who was running from Egyptian justice. He was 40 years removed from Egypt. Perhaps forgotten much of what he knew. Even he thought he was the wrong man for the job! The negatives outweigh the positives. That might be exactly the point.
Perhaps Moses was right – he couldn’t do it. At the burning bush we learn why Moses could be one of the greatest leaders of all time. And why we can be awesome disciples of Jesus Christ.
Burning Bush Messages
Come Near to God. God calls Moses to come near, and recognize holiness. Whenever we draw near to God, listen for His voice, we are on holy ground. God doesn’t just want to be studied, he wants to be followed. His holiness is the standard we always move toward.
James 4:8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
When we know God’s holiness, we desire to turn away all sin, impurity, and temptations.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. Moses wasn’t making idle excuses, but what he believed about himself. How many of us would love to do great things for God but we are weighed down by two powerful words: “I Can’t” (shame, guilt, weakness, doubt, struggles, pain). Moses didn’t tell God anything new. But God kept countering his excuses with truth. God wasn’t going to let Moses off the hook because he knew something Moses didn’t seem to perceive yet.
Moses couldn’t do it, but God Can. When God told Moses that his name was I AM, he was affirming his total control and power in the situation.
– The past – I AM has always been.
– The present – I AM is the here and now.
– The future – I AM is not going anywhere.
The Great I Am is still empowering the multitude of those who trust Him.
Our past, the condition of this world, the work of the enemy … all of it beats us up and makes us think that what we are doing is not very important, that God couldn’t use us to do anything vital or meaningful. Don’t forget the burning bush! Come Near to God; God knows you well; and God Can. We follow Jesus Christ, the son of God.
John 8:58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!”
When we come to the cross and trust in Christ to save us, we have the same power to make a difference that Moses did. Do you know who in your life might be in bondage to sin, unable to escape, and God has heard them… and wants to send you as an agent of deliverance?
Too many of us are like little Al. He was so slow to develop, so unimpressive to his professors, and ended up at such a lowly job. But that’s not the end of Al’s story. “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Al was anything but stupid. In 1921 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics and Albert Einstein’s name is equated with genius even today.
When you wonder if you can make a difference, pay less attention to your own self-objections and more attention to the presence of God that goes with you. Look inside and thank God for what He has done through a broken vessel. When you think that the work of the kingdom is about you, remember it is about I AM. When you have God with you, you have everything you need.
LifeGroup Discussion Questions
1. Is there anyone in the group who hasn’t seen the entire film of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments? Is there anyone in the room who might have seen this film in a movie theater? Below is a YouTube movie snip of the scene with the burning bush. If possible, watch as a group. One trivial note is that no one knows who the voice of God is that comes from the burning bush in this movie, although Demille and Heston both claimed it was them. What scene from this epic movie is the one you remember the most?
2. When God mentions that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that may have made Moses feel better about his own failures. What ‘fail’ stories can you recall about those patriarchs? Why didn’t those cause them to be rejected by God?
3. Why do you think sometimes we allow our own spiritual failures of the past keep us from being active in following God in the present? If you have been able to overcome this, would you share with the group how that happened.
4. Who are some of the characters of the Bible who got a second chance at living a life of faith after a failure? What can we learn about following God from these examples?
5. When Moses first encountered God it was because he saw the burning bush. What kinds of things do you see in your life, in our culture, in the marketplace, at your workplace … that remind you that God is near and is at work?
6. At the burning bush Moses is told to take off his shoes because it is holy ground. When you consider your prayer / devotional life … is there any place you consider to be holy… the place where you encounter God? What does that place look like or what is it about that place that give it special meaning for you? For example, some people light a candle in their place of prayer to remind them that God is present.
7. The Hebrew people were enslaved for 400 years. In our text God notices and hears their cries. What does this say to you about suffering, God’s intervention, and how God acts in today’s world?
8. When the Hebrew writer reflects on the life of Moses in Hebrews 11:24-26, what qualities do you see in him that can be admired and used as an example in your life?
Do you remember the dreams you had last night? Whether you remember them or not, we all dream. The purpose and meaning of dreams is still a mystery. Dr. Ilana Simmons, in an article in Psychology Today, wrote about five theories on why we dream:
*We Dream to Practice Responses to Threatening Situations. Ever notice that dreams have a blood-surging urgency to them? In dreams, we are rehearsing fight-and-flight responses, even though the legs and arms are not actually moving.
*Dreams Create Wisdom. Dreams sort through memories to determine which ones to retain and which to lose. Sleep turns a flood of daily information into what we call wisdom: the stuff that makes us smart for when we come across future decisions.
*Dreaming is Like Defragmenting Your Hard Drive. Dreaming is a shuffling of old connections that allows us to keep the important connections and erase the inefficient links. They are a reordering of connections to streamline the system.
*Dreams Are Like Psychotherapy. In dreams we confront difficult and surprising emotions and sit with those emotions in a new way. We think through emotional stuff in a less rational and defensive frame of mind. We come to accept truths we might otherwise repress.
*The Absence of Theory. Others argue that dreams have no meaning at all —that they are the random firings of a brain that doesn’t happen to be conscious at that time. The mind is still “functioning”, but there’s no conscious sense behind the film.
Philosophical Brazillian author Paulo Coelho wrote:
“We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage
What if you had a dream about God that changed your life? In our text today is a dream by one the prominent Old Testament Patriarchs has a dream that shifts his life toward a greater consciousness of God.
Genesis 28:10-17 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
It wasn’t a typical dream – there are no other dreams in the Bible just like this one. There are 21 dreams recorded in the Bible – this is the second one.You can likely recall some of the dreams of the Bible. Old Testament Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down to him.New Testament Joseph had a visit from an angel in a dream about Mary’s faithfulness. These recorded dreams are all different and have varying elements. In the Bible, dreams are not typical of one another. This dream is unique in it’s elements and message.
This dream was a reinforcement of the promise made to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham.
God doesn’t only give dreams of meaning to the good guys. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a giant statue that revealed the periods of history both past and future. Pontius Pilate’s wife had a dream about Jesus and urged him to let him go. Jacob actually wasn’t that great of a man of God either. In fact when Jacob has this dream he is on the run after stealing his brother’s birthright through deception.
We shouldn’t give equal weight to every dream. Jacob was a human being who, like us, had many dreams. Even vivid dreams may not contain any Divine information for us. But if you go to sleep with a rock for a pillow you might have strange dreams.
After his dream Jacob awoke with this thought:
Genesis 23:16 “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
What We Learn From Jacob’s Dream
-God keeps his promises. God keeps his promises even when we fail. Sometimes we find this hard to accept. True, there are conditional promises in the Bible, but even then God keeps his word. But if God revoked his promises every time we slip up or when we fail to live up to His word perfectly, then we could never be sure that He was going to keep his promises.
-God is near, even when he seems far away.I imagine Jacob was feeling pretty lonely about this time in his life. He had betrayed his father and his brother. He had to run for his life. He was uncertain what lie ahead for him and his future. Here is the grandson of the Father of the Faithful, who, with the help of his mother, was nothing more than a liar and a thief on the run. She sent him away to her brother’s and would never see him again. It wasn’t his brightest day.Someone said, “It must have been tough for Jacob to live with Jacob!” Yet God was near. God is so near that Jacob thinks, “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!” In the CEB: “It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven.” In our times of trouble I pray we can all look around and recognize God’s presence and know that heaven is near.
“Bethel” means “the house of God.” By renaming the site Jacob made a lasting statement about the meeting he had there with the living God. “Bethel” is wherever our Lord meets with us. The hospital bed, the assisted living facility, our living rooms, and especially our places of prayer can be “Bethel’s.”
-God fulfills many of his promises through Jesus. In our accounting we may not understand why God renewed Abraham’s promises with the unworthy Jacob, but we are grateful that he did. There’s an interesting story in John 1 where Jesus called Philip to follow him. Philip told Nathanael that he had found the Messiah. Remember Nathanael’s response? “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” (John 1:46) Philip told him to come meet Jesus and when he did, Jesus gave Nathanael a great compliment. “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” We’ve been studying about Jacob who was quite a deceitful character, but Nathanael was not. Though Nathanael doubted at first Jesus won him over and said, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
LeRoy Garrett: Scholars agree that Jesus is thinking of the Genesis story in making this statement. If so, that means that Jesus sees himself as the ladder in Jacob’s dream that reaches from earth to heaven. He, as the risen Messiah, would be the access to heaven for all mankind. It is one more instance of the Old Testament anticipating the future Messiah…He is the ladder to heaven!. Nazareth is not all that bad after all!
Surely God is in this place and I did not know it. When do we need to recall this significant statement of faith? It needs to remain on our minds as we face the battles of life. Jacob is a reminder of the words Paul wrote about himself in Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” His dream at Bethel was just one marker on the journey.
1. Can you recall a dream that was either touching … scary … or that was so vivid it remains in your memory? Or are you one of those who never remember any dreams? If you could choose to dream about something what would it be?
2. Jacob is a moral mixed bag in his life story … like most of us. Some take the view that if we disappoint God by failure He will no longer keep his promises. What do you think about that?
3. God keeps his promises. Can you name some of the promises of God … especially any promise that is very meaningful to you? Twelve Promises: A promise from God is a statement we can depend on with absolute confidence. Here are 12 promises for the Christian to claim.
God’s presence—“I will never leave thee” (Heb. 13:5)
God’s protection—“I am thy shield” (Gen. 15:1)
God’s power—“I will strengthen thee” (Isa. 41:10)
God’s provision—“I will help thee” (Isa. 41:10)
God’s leading—“And when He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them” (John 10:4)
God’s purposes—“I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil” (Jer. 20:11)
God’s rest—“Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)
God’s cleansing—“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
God’s goodness—“No good thing will He withhold from them that work uprightly” (Psalm 84:11)
God’s faithfulness—“The Lord will not forsake His people for His great name’s sake” (1 Sam. 12:22)
God’s guidance—“The meek will He guide” (Psalm 25:9)
God’s wise plan—“All things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28)
From Our Daily Bread, January 1, 1985, Posted HERE.
If it is possible, watch THIS BRIEF VIDEO that touches on the more than 3,000 promises in Scripture. Which one or two really catches your attention?
4. The setting of today’s text begins in the previous chapter when Rebekah led her son Jacob through a deception of his father. What deceptions do you see at work in Genesis 27:1-4, 15-22?
5. Jacob named the place of his dream “Bethel” which means “house of God” … what are some “Bethel” places in your life … some places that you connect with God’s presence?
6. In spite of the sketchy character of Jacob at certain points of his life, over 22 times in Scripture God is described as the “God of Jacob.” In Matthew 22 Jesus is talking about the resurrection. In your view, what point is Jesus making when uses the term “God of Jacob”?
Matthew 22:31-33 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” 33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
7. What dreams do you have for your life with God?
Bonus: Jacob’s Dream statue on the campus of Abilene Christian University
Next Week: Exodus 2:23-25; 3:1-15; 4:10-17 – God’s Name is Revealed