At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord … The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants … What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go … I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”… Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God.—Genesis 29:13-21, NLT
In the place Jacob would later call Bethel (the House of God, through a divine dream, the Lord revealed himself to him, posed at the top of a stairway to Heaven. He declares his name, Yahweh, which means “I am”, a name of promise to all who will truly listen to him: “I am with you and will never leave you.”
The God who speaks in the Scriptures always presents as the God who “is with.” The promise recurs notably to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14), to Joshua on the banks of the River Jordan (Joshua 1:9), to Isaiah in the prophecy of Immanuel or “God with Us” (Isaiah 7:14), and in the person of Jesus when he concludes the Great Commission (Mathew 28:20). According to the divine nature God accompanies us and will not leave us alone.
In the face of such a divine promise of fidelity, Jacob responded with his typical suspicion. Although impressed with what he saw, he also felt the fear that every human feels when confronted with holiness. Between the fascination and the fear of holiness, an adequate response demands total submission. But Jacob, who didn’t trust anyone, wanted to put God to the test—if, if, if. “If God will indeed be with me,” he says, “and if he will provide me with food and clothing,” adding “and if I return safely to my father’s home.”
Under such conditions, Jacob offered God a conditional deal—a fool’s bargain. God does not seek followers who insist on evidence of God’s goodwill. God seeks those who will worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), those who will put their unconditional faith in God, following God when they can see evidence of God’s blessing and when they can’t. We climb the stairway to Heaven by faith, never looking down nor looking back. In the same way, the road of the immigrant goes better when we follow the God who has promised always to be with us.
Dr. Joseph Castleberry is President of Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington. He is the Author of Your Deepest Dream: Discovering God’s Vision for Your Life and The Kingdom Net: Learning to Network Like Jesus. Follow him on Twitter @DrCastleberry and at http://www.facebook.com/Joseph.Castleberry.