Jacob and Esau struggled to live in covenant faithfulness just as their father Isaac (Gen 26:7-11) and grandfather Abraham (Gen 12:10-20; 20:1-18). However, God’s redemptive plan was never stifled. Genesis 27-29 is framed by literary bookends: Jacob, at the prompting of his mother, played the role of trickster and supplanted Esau of the birthright (Gen 27:5-40). Later Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, played a trick on Jacob and gave him Leah instead of Rachel (Gen 29:13-30). Nonetheless, Jacob showed the persevering spirit of those called to inherit the promise (Gen 25:23) and worked seven more years for Rachel. God’s appearance to Jacob at Bethel in Genesis 28:10-22 is the center point of these chapters. After Jacob saw the stairway extending to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it, he confessed his faith and built an altar of worship to God.
Jacob’s confession in Genesis 28:10-22 introduces a theme that can be followed throughout Scripture’s storyline. At Bethel, Jacob set up a marker-stone that he hoped would be God’s house (Gen 28:22). Later Jacob did return to Bethel, where the Lord reaffirmed His promise saying, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed, an assembly of nations, will come from you, and kings will descend from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you. And I will give the land to your descendants after you” (Gen 35:11-12). Throughout the Old Testament, the place of God’s dwelling was no small matter. The Lord resided in a special way in the tabernacle (Exodus 40) and Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8-9//2 Chronicles 6-7). But with the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh, there is a shift in the locus of God’s house. No longer is the place of God’s dwelling identified with a geographical locale, but it is identified with the Person of Jesus Christ and His followers:
(1) God’s dwelling in Christ. John records that when Jesus told Nathaniel, Philip’s brother, that He knew him under the fig tree even before Philip called Nathaniel to come and see Jesus, Nathan exclaimed, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49). Jesus’ response demonstrates a point of fulfillment for Jacob’s experience in Gen 28:10-22. “‘Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.’ Then He said, ‘I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’” (John 1:50-51). Jesus’ interaction with Nathaniel at the end of John 1 reinforces John’s statements earlier in the chapter. John introduced Jesus by stating: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). In John 2, John wrote that during a certain Jewish Passover celebration Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the court of Gentiles in the temple and said: “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!” (John 2:16). When asked for a sign of His authority to say and do such things, Jesus said that if His opponents destroyed the sanctuary, He would raise it up in three days. John recorded that Jesus was speaking about the sanctuary of His body” (John 2:21).
(2) God’s dwelling with the people of Christ. To the Corinthians Paul wrote: “We are the sanctuary of the living God, as God said: ‘I will dwell among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be My people” (2 Cor 6:16). Paul told the Ephesians, “You are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building is being fitted together in Him and is growing into a holy sanctuary in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit” (Eph 3:19-22). In the vision of the new creation, John “heard a loud voice from the throne (saying): ‘Look! God’s dwelling is with men, and he will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God’” (Rev 21:3).