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A Proper Response to God’s Gracious Promises

July 30, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: The Book of Genesis

Topic: Gospel-Shaped Life Passage: Genesis 28:18–22


An Exposition of Genesis 28:18-22

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: July 30, 2023

Series: The Book of Genesis

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Holy Scripture says:

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”(Genesis 28:18-22)


“[God’s] grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10). That’s what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15. God’s grace intercepted Paul the rebel and transformed him into a faithful servant of the Lord. Grace impacts, transforms, and makes fruitful those who receive it. Divine grace generates a fitting response in the people who receive it – in people like Paul and Jacob.

Genesis 28:18-22 is Jacob’s response to the vision and promise that the Lord gave to him in Genesis 28:12-15. It is important to understand the logical relationship between these two passages. First comes God’s revelation to Jacob (v. 12-15), and then Jacob’s response follows (v. 18-22). First comes God’s gracious promises to Jacob (v. 12-15), and then Jacob’s reaction follows (v. 18-22).

Remember, Jacob is in the early stages of a 500-mile journey from Beersheba in southern Canaan to Haran in Syria (Genesis 28:10). Jacob’s parents have sent him on this journey for two reasons: first, to flee from his brother Esau who wants to kill him (Genesis 27:42-45); and second, to find a wife from among his extended family (Genesis 28:1-5). Early in this journey Jacob lays down to sleep (Genesis 28:11). While he is sleeping, Jacob had a dream, and in that dream the Lord revealed Himself to Jacob (Genesis 28:12-15). Jacob saw a ladder stretching from earth to heaven, and God’s angels ascending and descending on the ladder, and the Lord standing forth. Heaven is open, the stage is set, and the Lord speaks. The Lord identifies Himself as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. The Lord reaffirms the Abrahamic Covenant with Jacob: Jacob will become a great nation that inherits and fills the promised land of Canaan, and through this great nation “all the families of the earth [shall] be blessed” (Genesis 28:14). Finally, the Lord declares that He is with Jacob and will keep Jacob wherever he goes and will bring Jacob back to the land of Canaan and will fulfill His promises to Jacob.

When Jacob awoke from this remarkable dream and vision, he immediately recognized that he was on holy ground: “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it. And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place!”” (Genesis 28:16-17) Jacob awoke and said these things right after the dream, while it was still nighttime. Regardless of how much or how little time passed between verse 17 and verse 18, once early morning came, Jacob settled upon a deliberate response to the revelation that he had received.


Jacob’s response to God’s gracious revelation can be subdivided into two segments.

Jacob memorializes the place where the revelation occurred (v. 18-19)

First, Jacob memorializes the place where the revelation occurred (v. 18-19). Remember, before he had gone to sleep the night before, Jacob had “[taken] one of the stones of the place” and “put it under his head”. The prepositional element that is translated ‘under’ could also be translated ‘at’. So, maybe Jacob utilized this stone as a pillow or maybe he utilized it to form the head of his makeshift bed. Either way, the stone was a tangible part of the scene and had been near his head when the revelation took place. Now Jacob thought that it would be fitting to use the stone to commemorate and symbolize what had transpired that night. He set up the stone as a pillar and consecrated it with oil. At this point (in v. 18) we might assume that this stone pillar is functioning as an altar, but in Jacob’s mind it actually stands forth as a symbol of God’s house (as we learn in v. 22). Of course, altar and house aren’t mutually exclusive: the stone pillar could be an altar in God’s house, the place of sacrifice in God’s temple.

The consecration of the stone pillar as a symbol of God’s house coincides with the commemoration of the place with a name. Jacob may or may not have known that he was in the Canaanite city of Luz, which was the name of the place “at the first” (v. 19). Regardless, Jacob named the place Bethel – literally, Beth-El, with ‘Beth’ meaning house and ‘El’ meaning God. Jacob named the place House of El, or House of God. Therefore, both the name that Jacob gave the place as well as the stone pillar that he had set up, were two ways of calling attention to the fact that God’s house had descended upon Jacob in that place the night before. Jacob sees the place as a temple in which he, a mere man on earth, had an encounter with the God of heaven: “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (v. 17)

Jacob declares his devotion to the Lord in response to the Lord’s grace (v. 20-22)

So, the first thing Jacob did was to memorialize the place where the divine revelation occurred. Now to the second thing Jacob does: Jacob declares his devotion to the Lord in response to the Lord’s grace (v. 20-22). Verse 20 begins: “Then Jacob made a vow, saying”. The vow itself is focused in terms of the promise at the end of verse 22: “And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” But all that Jacob says in verses 20-22 is connected to the vow. Before Jacob declares the vow, he first describes his relationship with the Lord.

Before we consider Jacob’s words, remember the spiritual frame of mind he is in. Jacob has just been overwhelmed and awe-struck by the presence of the Lord, as indicated by his comments in verses 16-17. Then he has consecrated and designated the place as God’s house in verses 18-19. So, Jacob is in a sober mindset of worship and of humble devotion to the Lord.

Jacob stands in the Lord’s promises

Now starting in verse 20, Jacob recalls the personal promises that the Lord had just made to him, which shows us that Jacob is standing in the Lord’s promises. Notice how verse 20 and the first part of verse 21 echo what the Lord had promised him in verse 15. The Lord promised Jacob in verse 15: “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land” (italics added) Now Jacob recalls those promises in verses 20-21: “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace” (italics added). The “with me” and “keep me” comments correspond exactly to what God had said in verse 15. And although God hadn’t said anything specifically about bread and clothing, it is implied: when God accompanies His people and sustains His people in all their circuitous journeys and brings them to the appointed place, He furnishes them with everything needful, including food and clothing. After the children of Israel lived in the wilderness for forty years, they were told that the Lord had led them, the Lord had fed them with manna, and the Lord did not let their clothing wear out (Deuteronomy 8:2-4). Jacob understands that the Lord’s protection and provision aim at his eventual return to the land, which for him means a return to “his father’s house” – and to return there not in the fragmentation, hostility, and fear of a divided house with a brother who wants to kill him, but to return there “in peace”, in shalom, in safety, with blessing and flourishing on all sides.

Jacob’s devotion to the Lord arises from the Lord’s grace

As we continue to probe Jacob’s words in verses 20-22, the next thing we see is that Jacob’s own devotion to the Lord arises from the Lord’s grace to him. Jacob’s ‘if, then’ reasoning makes this clear: “[If] God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace,then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” (v. 20-21, italics added) The Lord’s gracious promises to Jacob are foundational to the relationship, and Jacob’s devotion is built on that foundation.

Attempting to understand Jacob’s ‘if, then’ statement

I would caution against taking a negative view of Jacob’s ‘if, then’ statement. Some people might take the word ‘if’ in an unnecessary direction, as in: “If God will be with me and [if God] will keep me in this way that I go, and [if God] will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then [after all that, if indeed God has done all that, then at such time in the future] the LORD shall be my God, and [then also, after God has done all that] this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” (italics and bracketed statements added) That is a possible way of construing Jacob’s words, but I doubt that such a construal is on the right track. And here’s one important reason why: When Jacob says “this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (v. 22), he is not predicting a mere future possibility. Instead, he is describing a present reality. He has already declared it plainly: “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (v. 17) Then in verse 18 he set up the stone pillar as a symbol of God’s house and named the place ‘God’s house’. Jacob already believes that this is God’s house. This stone that he set up already, in the present moment, symbolizes the house of Almighty God. Now it may be true that he envisions a future return to Bethel – a future return to God’s house – in order to worship the Lord there, which would only be possible after the Lord has fulfilled his promises to Jacob. But even so, the statement “this stone… shall be God’s house” (in v. 22) still describes a present reality with ongoing implications for the future. In like manner, I would argue that the previous statement “the LORD shall be my God” (in v. 21) also describes a present reality with ongoing implications for the future: henceforth from this moment forward, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac shall also be the God of Jacob. “[The] LORD shall be my God”.

So, Jacob’s ‘if, then’ statement doesn’t have to be understood as a doubting Jacob postponing any commitment to the Lord until after the Lord has fulfilled these promises. In fact, there are other ways to understand Jacob’s statement that are more consistent with the holy fear and attitude of worship that Jacob demonstrates in verses 16-22. For example, the ‘if, then’ sequence may simply communicate the logical relationship between God’s promises and Jacob’s devotion. The logical relationship is simple to understand: God’s pledge to Jacob is foundational to Jacob’s response of faith. Let me illustrate. Suppose a contractor stops by my house unannounced, and identifies himself as no average contractor, but as one who has a long history of working on houses such as mine, and he promises to greatly improve my house: he promises to fix the siding, repair the walls, throw out a wing on the south side, revamp the basement, and landscape the yard. Now suppose I believe every word he said and am eager to solidify the contractor-client relationship, and I say something like this: If you will do all those things that you said, so that you upgrade my modest house into a comfortable estate, then [right now, at this very moment, before you have made the first improvement] you shall be my contractor, and my house shall be your work site. Do you see? The ‘if, then’ language communicates the logical relationship between his commitment to me and my commitment to him: namely, his commitment to me comes first, and my commitment to him is a fitting response.

Another way to capture the logical relationship of the ‘if, then’ statement is to utilize the word ‘since’ instead of ‘if’ (and the word translated ‘if’ can legitimately be translated ‘since’): “[Since] God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” That might capture quite well what Jacob is saying in these verses. Jacob believes God’s promises, and because he believes God’s promises, he is resolved to walk with the Lord, to remember the content of the gracious promises the Lord had revealed to him, and to remember the place where he had received these promises. Jacob declares his devotion to the Lord as a response to the Lord’s gracious promises to him. Jacob pledges his allegiance to the Lord and his resolve to honor God’s house, because the Lord first pledged His faithful presence, protection, and care to Jacob.

Jacob’s vow to give a tenth of everything to the Lord

Finally, after restating the Lord’s promises in verses 20-21 and describing his present devotion to the Lord in verses 21-22, Jacob finally proceeds to make the actual vow: “And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” Notice that this final statement is the only statement that Jacob speaks directly to God – and this shows us that this final statement is the actual vow. Previously, Jacob was speaking about God (“If God will be with me”) and about his relationship with God (“the LORD shall be my God”). But now he is addressing the Lord directly: “And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (italics added)

The ESV’s phrase “a full tenth” reflects the fact that Jacob emphasizes giving a tenth by repeating the word for tenth. Jacob is basically saying, “I will give a tenth – a tenth – to you.” The repetition conveys emphasis: Jacob will surely give a tenth; Jacob will give a tenth indeed; Jacob will tithe the tithe. Tithe is a fancier word that simply means, in its verb form, ‘give a tenth’ or ‘give ten percent’.

In order to appreciate Jacob’s vow, it is important to understand that he possesses almost nothing at this stage in his life. He has left home and is heading to a foreign land. Twenty years later, when Jacob is finally leaving Haran and returning to the promised land, he says to the Lord: “I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.” (Genesis 32:10, italics added) When Jacob left Beersheba for Haran in Genesis 28:10, when Jacob made the vow in Genesis 28:22, he had almost nothing except the clothes on his back and a staff in his hand. But he anticipated that the Lord would furnish him, give to him, provide for him. And he was resolved to honor the Lord’s practical care for him by giving back to the Lord ten percent of everything that the Lord gave him.

For us readers of The Book of Genesis, part of the background to Jacob’s vow is Abraham’s gift to Melchizedek: “Abram gave him [Melchizedek] a tenth of everything” (Genesis 14:20). Just as Abraham, the man of faith, gave the King of righteousness “a tenth of everything”, so Abraham’s grandson and covenant heir Jacob, also a man of faith, will give the Lord “a full tenth” of everything that the Lord gives him.

Giving a tenth is a meaningful and substantial gift

Lest anyone be tempted to belittle the size of Jacob’s promised gift, it is important to say that giving a tenth is not small potatoes – giving ten percent is not an insignificant gift. The Lord gives to us in order to sustain and refresh our physical bodies in this physical world. By the time that Jacob had become two camps twenty years later, he had a lot of expenses: he had two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and one daugther, some household servants, and livestock. That is a lot of mouths to feed and a lot of bodies to clothe. Jacob would have needed a number of tents and many tools and many resources in order to provide for his household. The Lord gives to us with the expectation that most of what he gives us will be spent on the maintenance and care of our households. Paul instructs Christians, “[Aspire] to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12) In another passage, Paul says: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8) Of course, we should hold everything we have with an open hand and be willing to part with anything at the Lord’s direction. But in the ordinary thick and thin of life, the Lord instructs us to spend the resources that He gives us for the reasonable care of our families and extended families. And yet, the Lord has designed life to work in such a way that we also honor the Lord with substantial and tangible material gifts – not because the Lord needs anything, but because it is only right to honor the Lord with material gifts in order to demonstrate to Him, to our families, and to the whole world that the Lord is our God – and therefore we honor Him tangibly and visibly as the Savior and Sustainer of our entire lives.

Therefore, having Abraham’s example in Genesis 14 and Jacob’s example in Genesis 28, followed by numerous other examples and instructions throughout Scripture, we also should take a meaningful and substantial part of our resources – and for most people, ten percent is a meaningful and substantial part of our budgets – and we give it to the Lord. Giving material gifts to the Lord effectively and practically means giving material gifts to support the ministry of the Word; the advance of the gospel; the maintenance and care of the church; and the relief of the poor, orphans, and widows, especially those who are part of the household of faith. We give, because He first gave to us. And out of everything He gives us, we give.


Let me share two applications related to the passage.

God’s grace brings about our devotion

First, God’s grace brings about our devotion to Him.

When we looked at Genesis 28:10-17 last week, the application I attempted to drive home is that when it comes to having covenant fellowship with the living God, God is the One who graciously initiates and establishes the relationship. If anyone is going to have fellowship with the Lord, then the Lord must graciously take initiative to establish the relationship. That is exactly what the Lord did for Jacob in verses 12-15. The other side of the coin is that whenever the Lord does graciously initiate and establish fellowship with a sinful human being, that sinful human being must consciously stand in the Lord’s grace and pledge his or her loyalty to the Lord.

You need to clearly understand this pattern: first, the Lord bestows His lavish grace upon us; and second, that lavish grace impacts us and generates in us a fitting and grateful response to the Lord. If you find yourself frustrated in your attempt to muster up heartfelt devotion to the Lord, you need to realize that you’re not going to be able to muster it up out of yourself. What you need to do is focus your attention on the Lord’s gracious promises, and let His promises generate in you a heartfelt response of faith and devotion.

The Ten Commandments are structured in this way. Before the Lord tells His people how they ought to live, He reminds them of what He did for them. The preamble of grace comes before the commandments: “And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”” (Exodus 20:1-2) After God announces His grace, then He gives us His commandments.

Turning to the New Testament, we learn that God’s mercies come first. As we taste and internalize God’s mercies, we then offer ourselves in willing service to the Lord: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

Similarly, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) We don’t decide to live for the Lord as a strategy to get the Lord to be gracious to us. That would put the cart before the horse, and that cart is not going to heaven. Instead, we yield ourselves to the Lord in response to the lavish grace that He has already given us. Worshiping and obeying and serving and giving to the Lord is not a way to get God’s favor. Instead, worshiping and obeying and serving and giving to the Lord with joyis how we demonstrate our faith and confidence that God’s favor has already been freely given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, vanquished the grave, and “was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4) so that sinners like you and me might leave the darkness behind and walk with the Lord in His light.

Like Jacob, we declare our loyalty to the Lord (“the LORD shall be my God”) and we live accordingly, all in response to His gracious promises. Have the Lord’s promises captured your heart? “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10) “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 44:22) “I will be merciful toward [your] iniquities, and I will remember [your] sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12) “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35) “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) God’s promises enlarge our hearts to live for Him.

We look forward to a better and permanent Bethel

Second, we look forward to a better and permanent Bethel – a better and permanent House of God.

For those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, for those who stand firm in God’s promises and strive to honor the Lord in their everyday lives, a remarkable promise awaits us. This remarkable promise is remarkable in how it surpasses the experience that Jacob had in Genesis 28. Jacob’s experience in Genesis 28 was a foretaste of something better and permanent. In Genesis 28, the Lord appeared to Jacob in a dream and revealed His faithful covenant promises to Jacob. In response – listen carefully now – in response Jacob set up a pillar as a symbol of God’s house and named the place House of God. Now with that in mind, listen to the Lord’s promise to everyone who holds fast to the Lord, endures suffering, and stays faithful:

“I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

You see, it was never really about a physical location. It’s not about stone pillars and buildings and GPS coordinates. It’s always primarily about the Lord calling people into fellowship with Himself; it’s always primarily about the Lord transforming sinful people into grateful worshipers who fill God’s glorious house with praise. Indeed, it's about grateful worshipers who are God’s house (see Ephesians 2, Hebrews 3, 1 Peter 2), with the God of heaven dwelling among them forever. You can forget the stone pillar in Bethel, and you can forget Bethel as the name of a geographic location. You, faithful Christian believer, will be a pillar in God’s living house. You, faithful Christian believer, will dwell in God’s living house forever – you’ll never have to depart from the glory and light of God’s presence. You, Christian believer, will have God’s name written on you, and God’s city-name written on you, and the Messiah’s new name written on you. You will be defined by and incorporated into God’s eternal house forever; the gateway to heaven shall give way to a joyful union of heaven and earth as the heavenly Jerusalem descends upon the new earth; and the Lord shall dwell in the midst of His redeemed people forever.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!



Assohoto, Barnabe and Samuel Ngewa, “Genesis.” In Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary Written by 70 African Scholars. Tokunboh Adeyemo, General Editor. Zondervan Edition (first edition published in 2006).

Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G. The Book of Genesis (Ariel’s Bible Commentary). Fourth Edition. San Antonio: Ariel Ministries, 2020.

Henry, Matthew. A Commentary on the Whole Bible: Volume 1: Genesis to Deuteronomy. Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company.

Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976.

Steinmann, Andrew E. Genesis (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019.

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