One particular Old Testament worship experience that happened in the life of Jacob is found on a journey from Beersheba to Haran. The Bible only describes the place he stopped for the night as a “certain place”–no greater context. Modern Western Christians often miss that scripture happened in a land far away from America called Israel. They have become so accustomed to an American lifestyle that they have no idea what it is like to sleep under the stars.
In the midst of such darkness, stars light the canopy of the sky in brilliant grays. The night has a mind of its own. Man is reminded in the night that he cannot control his surroundings. It is in this place that Jacob lies down to sleep on a rock.
And then it happens. He sees a stairway to heaven. The stairway was probably contrasted greatly to the earlier people’s who had built a tower of Babel. Here the entrance to heaven is open, angels ascending and descending on it, with the Lord standing a top with a promise. In a moment when we least realize it, God shows up, all his angels in toe, and gives us a light show Disneyland could never match–a spiritual fantasmic if you will. But it is not only the awareness of God, for many other religions are aware of God and know his attributes of peace, love, wrath, power, steadfast hesed love, and they also stand in awe, but it is in the awareness of the promise.
God, standing atop the ladder to heaven, lays out the promise to Jacob. What is strange to me is that God introduces himself as the “God of Abraham and the God of Issac.” God introduces him as though the great patriarchs really are part of his family (a family that Jacob is now welcomed into; a family that we are welcomed into). You see, up to this point, Jacob had never met God. He had been a deceiver, full of tricks to steal Esau’s birthright, but now he was standing in the presence of the Almighty. The only thing he could was worship. What else could he do?
And this is how we worship. It is when when we meet God face to face and say, what else can we do?
But not only does God introduce himself by bringing Jacob into the tradition of his fathers, but he suggests that the very land he sleeps on will be his. He promises not only this, but that his descendants will move out to all corners of the earth so that all nations can be blessed.
Worship happens when we realize that the scope of God’s ministry is the whole world–no exceptions. Worship happens when we realize God may be calling us to Iran, Iraq, Afgahnistan, Darfur, and even India or Pakistan to be a blessing for his name. Because God promises that all people will be blessed by Jacob’s people.
And when Jacob wakes up he is fearful. He realizes that he had just been in the house of God, and so right names the place Bethel (Bi’et El or house of God in Hebrew). When we realize the scope of his ministry, and accept that he has come into our lives radically, we become worshipers of the one true God.