When God Says, "I Will Never Leave You"
Genesis 28:15- 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.”
When God comes to Jacob in a dream and promises he will not leave him, it’s obvious that this is exactly what Jacob needs to hear. He has fled from his brother Esau and is sleeping with his head on a stone. Jacob has followed God’s command to leave home and find a wife from Laban’s daughters. We know that Jacob will be away from home for the next 20 years before he returns to this land, but Jacob has no idea.
In the aftermath of my divorce I wasn’t sure if I should flee the state I had lived in for so long and return home, but God said stay. He said to me what he promised Jacob- I am with you and I will not leave you. Having lived states away from my family for many years, I was ready to run home to the open arms of supportive family and friends, but God had a continued purpose for me in that place. A plan for my growth and my continued recovery.
Staying in the home I had shared with my former spouse was often emotionally draining. Reliving the memories of happier times and our pre-divorce life was difficult to say the least. It lead to the need for intentionality and discipline. I could simply not sit and wallow day after day. I had to determine why God had caused me to be still in this place.
Like Jacob, my life would never be the same. Jacob could not go back to the time before he chose to steal his brother’s birthright and blessing. The days when he was just his mother’s favorite child and the innocent younger brother. I could never go back to the days of my marriage and the comfort of knowing what to expect, and how to plan for what I wanted next.
The intentionality I began to employ was both a defense mechanism and a lifeline. As Jacob awoke that morning from his dream, he began immediately to take steps in following God’s plan for him.
Genesis 28:18-22- 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. He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Lutz at the first. 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, 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. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
Step 1: Recognize God’s Presence
Jacob first recognizes that God has said he will be with him and take care of him in these days of uncertainty. Jacob has no idea what will happen when he arrives at Laban’s, but he knows God will be with him there. Jacob has no home, no family, and no means to support himself. As a newly divorced woman, I was facing many of these struggles. Living in a house about to foreclose, far away from family, and without knowledge of God’s plan I was stripped of all the control I thought I had over my life. Thankfully with my job still intact, I was able to provide monetarily for my needs but this was little consolation when all I desired was to snuggle back into the known and proceed as I had planned with my married life. And yet God was there. He had not left me- and would not leave.
Step 2: Take the First Step
Jacob immediately picked up the stone he had slept on and created an altar. A place to intentionally worship the God who was with him. Pouring oil over the pillar was a sign that Jacob was willing to give all that he had to the Lord. Verse 17 notes that Jacob was in total awe, or “fear”, of God’s provision and care of him in that moment, in that place of hardship. Jacob recognized that this was no ordinary moment- no ordinary God. He was so taken with God’s proclamation of protection that he felt led to make this moment one of commitment and purpose by setting up the pillar and renaming this place Bethel- meaning the house of God. We too must set up routines and practices intended to worship God regularly. To show God that we see His never ending care for us and we are ready to serve him today.
Step 3: Make a Promise
Lastly, Jacob makes a vow to the Lord his God. A vow isn’t just any old promise. A vow is something to be upheld at all costs. Something that binds us to our promise in a more formal and dedicated sense. Similar to a wedding vow in which husband and wife promise to be wed until death, Jacob promises God he will recognize and accept the Lord as his true God. That he will trust God for provision and preservation as Jacob goes about the plans that God has for him. This is much easier said than done. At this stage, Jacob’s vow is somewhat conditional. If you do this God, then I will serve you. If you give me food and clothing- then I will serve you. Jacob does not yet understand that this type of vow could be offensive to an all-sustaining God. Jacob does not give his unconditional vow to the Lord regardless of circumstances, but makes a vow to follow the Lord if he is taken care of.
When marriage vows break, it may be easy to doubt the authenticity in which these vows were made. But here we see Jacob is sincere in his devotion to God at this point in his spiritual journey and he believes the actions and words he is uttering will serve as a binding tie between himself and God. Our promises to God may not be fulfilled because we attempt to complete them in our own way and with our own stipulations, but this doesn’t mean that we stop making promises to God. It’s important to dedicate ourselves to God’s plans regardless of our own comforts and expectations.
Jacob soon proceeds to Laban’s house and begins a 20 year journey before God would come again to him in a dream and remind him of that day he made the vow. Jacob sees God’s care and protection over these years and obeys God once again. God has never left him. He has never wavered in his consistent protection and guidance. He kept his promise that Jacob would one day return home. Whatever our circumstance we can be sure that God is still there. He will never leave and his promises are sure.