Baby Steps

“Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel . . .”—Genesis 28:18-19 (NKJV)

Jacob had just had an amazing encounter with God! Alone and on the run in the wilderness, the Lord gave him a divine dream as he slept under a star-filled sky. This dream consisted of a ladder connecting heaven and earth with the heavenly host ascending and descending in between. To top it off, God stood above and promised to protect and bless Jacob in all his ways (Genesis 28:12-13).

We now join Jacob the morning after, who was understandably moved by what he’d experienced. He was so moved that he was moved to action. Notice he creates a pillar from the stone that was his pillow during the night. He also pours oil over this pillar, which represents it was set apart and sacred. Then, he renames this place where he had this dream, “Bethel,” which means, “God’s house.”

All this points to the profound impact this revelation of God had on him. But he doesn’t stop there: “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going . . . then the Lord shall be my God . . . of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’” (Genesis 28:20-22 NKJV).

As we see above, Jacob goes on to make a vow that if God will do the things he lists, then he would respond a certain way. At first glance this sounds very commendable. But dig a little deeper and you’ll start to see a fault line in Jacob’s faith, one that often runs through us as well.

The Lord had already revealed His protective love for Jacob. He wasn’t looking for any sort of performance on Jacob’s part. God simply says, “This is who I am, and I am determined to be for you according to my word.” That reflects the unconditional love of God. But Jacob responds with an “if/then” proposition . . . “If God does this for me, then I will do that for Him.”

No doubt, Jacob thought he was doing the decent thing here. But God didn’t want an “if/then” relationship with Jacob, and He doesn’t want one with us. He isn’t waiting on what we do or how we perform. He wants our relationship with Him to be based on unconditional love, which is the surest and strongest foundation any relationship can ever have.

These first baby steps in Jacob’s spiritual journey toward God remind us that God doesn’t view us the way our human nature is tempted to view Him. We are loved and accepted unconditionally, and that is how we’re to respond and relate to Him.

DIG: What was the flaw in Jacob’s vow?

DISCOVER: When have you exhibited the same flaw in your relationship with God?

DO: On what basis will you relate to God today, tomorrow, etc.?