by Lois Tverberg
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Genesis 28:16
An interesting pattern emerges as we read the stories of Isaac and Jacob carefully. Both of these men had encounters with God, and interestingly, the encounters usually happened when they were traveling into or out of the Promised Land.
Isaac never actually left the land, but when a famine came, he headed for Egypt to find food. On his way there, arriving at the southern boundary of Canaan, he had a vision from God. The Lord told Isaac not to leave the land and that he would prosper there. Since God had promised to give this land to Abraham’s descendants, it was symbolic of that promise that his son never left the land and lived his entire life there.
Isaac’s son Jacob, however, did need to leave the land to go and find a wife from among his relatives back in Haran. His first encounter with God came as he was traveling out of Canaan, when he had a vision of a stairway to heaven. God said to him, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15). His next encounter was as he was going to cross the Jabbok river on his way back into the land (Genesis 32:24). There he wrestled with God, and God gave him a new name, Israel.
The last encounter occurred when his sons brought him down to Egypt to live with his long lost son, Joseph, who was in a position to provide for their family during the famine. When Jacob got to the southern border of Canaan, he had a vision in which God said to him,
I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you a great nation there. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also surely bring you up again; and Joseph will close your eyes. (Genesis 46:3-4)
All these encounters show us that God had claimed the land of Canaan as the particular place where he would dwell with his people. The early patriarchs entered it and left it only with his permission and at his direction. Interestingly, the scenario is repeated when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land upon their return from Egypt. An angel of the Lord with a drawn sword in his hand stopped Joshua and told him to remove his sandals for the place where he was standing was holy. (Joshua 5:13-15). Once again God had made his presence known as he lead his people into this, his special land.
Photo: Yair Haklai