“When Yahweh Is Your God” (Genesis 28:10-22 sermon)

A few years ago a pastor I know from Oklahoma was in New York City riding in a cab. He saw a little statue on the driver’s dashboard, and he asked the man, who was from India, about it. The man said, “This is my god.” And he began to tell this pastor about his Hindu god. After he finished, he said, “Now, tell me about YOUR God.” The pastor said, “Well, to begin with, He won’t fit on the dashboard!”

Having that little statue on the dash of his taxi was part of that man’s commitment to his god. As Christians, the One True God does not ask us to put little statues of Him on our dashboards — in fact He specifically says DO NOT make little statues of Me — but He DOES ask us to make commitments to Him. In our Bible reading a couple of weeks ago in Matthew 9 we saw where Jesus called Matthew to leave his tax collector’s office and follow Him. He asked for a total commitment from Matthew — even to leave his job. And in our passage for today, we see some evidences of the kind of commitment that the Lord’s followers will make to Him, in the life of Jacob in Genesis 28. Let’s look at some of the commitments you will make, “When YHWH Is Your God”:

I. You Make a Personal Commitment to Him As Your Lord & God

This is the first thing we see. Jacob had this very unusual experience with God that we read about just a few minutes ago. He had a dream of the ladder going to heaven, and God was above it. Many of our Bibles show the name “LORD” there in all capital letters, indicating that in Hebrew, it is not the Hebrew word “Adonai,” or “Lord, but the name, “Yahweh.” Yahweh was the personal name of the one true God, as opposed to the false gods of the nations. Yahweh tells Jacob here that He will bless him, and take care of him, and bring him back to the land, and multiply his descendants — and that He would not leave him until He had done all that He promised.

And that day Jacob made a personal commitment to Yahweh. He set up the pillar there at Bethel to worship God, and he said in :20 that if God would indeed do all that He promised him, (:21) “then the LORD will be my God” — “Yahweh will be my God.” Not all the other gods of the nations; not Baal or Molech, or Asherah, or Ra, or any of the others; no, he said, YAHWEH will be MY God. He was making a personal commitment, that Yahweh, THIS God, who had spoken to him, who said He would bless him, would be HIS own personal God.

This is important, because it’s one thing to say, “I believe in ‘some kind of God.’ It is another thing to have a real, personal commitment to one specific God, especially to YHWH, the God of the Bible. The Bible tells us in the Creation story earlier in Genesis, that it was “Yahweh Elohim” (Yahweh God) who made the heavens and the earth and everything in it. Later in Exodus we’ll see that when God appears to Moses in Exodus 3, and Moses asks Him, “What is Your name,” that God tells him, “I AM THAT I AM,” a variation of that name “YHWH.” So Yahweh is the God of Creation; He is God of Israel; the God of the Exodus; and we see later in the Bible that He is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, in John 8 in the New Testament Jesus was confronting the Jewish religious leaders, and He said to them, “Before Abraham came into being, I AM” — Jesus claimed to be YHWH God Himself, come in the flesh. So the Bible teaches us that YHWH is the one true God, who came in the Person of Jesus Christ, to save us.

See, this YHWH God made us to know Him, and to be fascinated by His glory in heaven forever. But we all separated ourselves from God by our sin and rebellion against Him. So YHWH God Himself came down to earth in the Person of Jesus, and died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that if we would repent of our rebellion against Him, and come back to Him through Jesus, we would be forgiven, and saved, and be given the home with Him in heaven that He created us to have with Him forever. But we must make a personal commitment to Him as our Lord and God for that to happen. It’s not enough to say “I believe there is some kind of God.” You must make a personal commitment to THIS God, to Jesus Christ, to be saved.

It’s like the difference between saying: “I believe in the institution of marriage” in general, and making a commitment to BE married to one particular person specifically. You must make an individual commitment to God through Jesus Christ, personally and specifically, in order to be saved.

Some time ago I shared the story of Anthony Flew, who for a whole generation in the late 1900’s was the primary proponent of atheism, speaking all over the world in debates against Christians. In May of 2004, Flew was scheduled to speak at yet another debate, this time at New York University. But to the shock of everyone present, Flew announced to the crowd that he now BELIEVED in the existence of a God, because developments in modern science continued to point to the existence of a higher intelligence which must be behind all the complexities of creation. Flew said his change of mind was due almost entirely to what science has learned about the amazing depth of information contained in our DNA, and the incredible complexity it takes to create and sustain life — he said this could not have happened by chance. He said it must be the result of a higher intelligence who arranged it.

Flew’s testimony went viral all around the world, as you can imagine: one of the foremost atheists now admitting there must be some kind of God. And that was an amazing development. But yet, one might say, in a sense Flew “got on base” — but he wasn’t really “home” yet, was he? It is a far leap yet from saying there must be “some kind of God,” to committing yourself to faith in one particular God: the God of the Bible. (Now, I will say that in his last book, Flew said that he had been meeting with a British theologian, who was sharing with him about the Bible, and what it says about Jesus Christ, and Flew said that what this theologian was sharing with him was making sense, and that was very open to what he was saying. We can hope that before his death, Anthony Flew did indeed make that last “leap” from a belief in “some kind of God,” to a specific, personal commitment to Jesus Christ as His own Lord & Savior. Because THAT is the commitment that counts. When Yahweh is really your God, you will make a personal commitment to Jesus as your own Lord & Savior.

Some of you are right in that same place today. You have been like Jacob, or like Anthony Flew. You have believed in “some kind of God,” but you haven’t really “nailed down” a commitment to any specific God yet. That commitment makes all the difference. Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, the truth, the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” God is calling you today to take that “leap of faith,” and make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, Yahweh, the God of the Bible, as YOUR own personal Lord & God.

II. You Commit To WORSHIP Him

It’s one thing to say that you are making a commitment to the Lord, it is another thing to SHOW it in some specific, practical ways. And that is what we see Jacob do here. He says in :21, “YHWH will be my God,” and then he makes two practical commitments, expressions of his commitment to the Lord, which all genuine followers of the Lord will have also. The first thing we see he did here, was that he made a commitment to worship YHWH as his God.

We see this in :29, where he says: “This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house.” Calling that pillar “God’s house” didn’t mean that God was going to live there — as II Chronicles 2:6 says “Who is able to build a house for Him, since the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain Him”! No, Jacob couldn’t limit God to that stone. Rather, he was saying, I am making a special place for ME to worship God. From now on, YHWH is going to be my God, and I am going to make some purposeful, specific commitments to worship Him. There will be a specific place for me to worship Him, and I will worship Him there regularly as my God.

And if we are really committing ourselves to Yahweh as our God today, we will show that by making specific commitments to worship Him as well.
We will set up a place to worship God — that’s what we’ve done here with this building, isn’t it? This building we built last year is our “Bethel,” it’s our house of worship for God. Like Jacob and the stone he set up, God is not somehow “contained” here in this building, but we have set it up to be a place which we have set aside to worship our God.

As the people of God, we should be committed to worship God regularly in the place we have set aside to worship Him. Now, I know we are in some extraordinary times right now, with COVID going on. And I am not going to “chew anyone out” for being careful during these times, and staying home. As we have said for the last two years, we are going to respect everyone’s choices, and we will not judge anyone for the decisions they make to take care of themselves during this time. You do what you feel convicted that you should do about staying in or getting out.

But having said that, let’s be careful that we don’t get out of the habit of coming to the place of worship with other believers. There is no substitute for that. As many of you know, Cheryl & I were out 2 Sundays with COVID a couple of weeks ago. And I watched the services online and I’m glad we have that available (many of you are watching today on our Live Stream). But as you know, watching those services on tv was NOTHING like being here in person last week, with our praise team leading “Yahweh, Yahweh, we love to shout Your name, O Lord”, and hearing everyone’s voices sing!

There is nothing like that in-person worship. So although it’s ok to be gone when you need to — just make sure you don’t stay gone. Hebrews 10 says, “Do not forsake your assembling together, as is the habit of some.” One of the most important commitments you should make to the Lord is to come and worship Him in the place we have set aside for worship, just like Jacob did.

But because God is not limited to a “place,” if we are really His people, we will worship Him even when we are not in “the place” of worship. We’ll worship Him every day, in our own personal worship times.
This is what David was talking about in Psalm 63:1, when he said, “O God, You are my God, I will seek You early.” He was saying, because You are my God, I am going to get up early every day and seek You myself.

And if God is OUR God, we will do that same thing every day. We will set aside time — hopefully early, like David did — to seek God in worship and in His word.

This is what many of us are doing this year with our Daily Bible Readings. We are hopefully not doing this just as a “religious activity,” but because Yahweh is our GOD:
— so we want to spend time with Him every day worshiping Him
— we want to hear what He has to say to us
— so we put ourselves before Him every day, to listen to what He will say to us in His word.
I hope that you are committed to spend time with God each day in “worship and the word.” This year, my personal commitment each day has been to get up, and quote Psalm 92:1, which says: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High” — and then spend some time giving Him thanks, and sing some songs of praise to Him — and then pray through an outline of the Model Prayer in Matthew 6 like we studied before — and then watch for what God would say to me in our daily Bible readings.

You don’t have to do that exactly like I do, but I hope you are committed to spending time with God every day in “worship and the word.” If not, make a commitment to get before Him every day, spend some time in worship, and read His word in an attentive, life-changing way. THAT is one of the most important commitments you will make, when Yahweh is your God.

III. You commit to GIVE BACK to Him.

Notice the exact wording of Jacob’s last commitment to YHWH here: “And of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” Notice that specific wording; it is not accidental. He said, “Of all that YOU GIVE ME.” Jacob recognized that all of his blessings came from God, and that anything he might “give” God, God had given to HIM in the first place.

See, in the ultimate sense, you and I can never “give” God anything. What can we “give” to God?! He made everything there is, out of nothing! God said in Psalm 50:9-12 “I have no need for a bull from your stall or goats from your pens, for every beast of the forest is Mine— the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world is Mine, and the fullness thereof.” God says, you can’t “give” Me anything; it is all Mine! What we can really “give” God?!

I just read this week in John Dean’s biography of President Warren G. Harding that when Harding was elected President back in 1920, he had asked a billionaire, Andrew Mellon of Pittsburgh, to serve in his cabinet as the Secretary of the Treasury. But as I read, I thought, what could they use as an inducement to get Mellon to serve — he didn’t need anything! He was richer than the President or anyone in the whole government. There was nothing they could “give” him; he already had everything!

But how much more so with God! In a very real sense, there is NOTHING we can ever “give” Him. God made everything there is. He is the One who first gave us everything we have. So when we “give” something to God, we merely giving BACK to Him what He gave us in the first place!

And that is really the point of the tithe: when we tithe, it is a concrete way of saying: “I realize that everything I have, God gave me. And giving back this 10% shows that I realize where it all came from in the first place.” We give because it does US good to give. It shows our hearts toward God.

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson went on a nationwide whistle stop train tour after the signing of the peace treaty that ended World War I. E.W. Starling, the famed secret service agent who served four presidents, related this story from the trip:
“From Bismarck we went to Billings, where a group of small boys carrying flags crowded around the rear platform to hear the President. As the train began to move away one of (the boys) handed his flag up to Mrs. Wilson and said, “Give it to him!” She accepted the flag, and I noticed one of the other boys, obviously thinking fast, plunged his hand into his pocket. Looking up, he caught my eye, and pulling his hand out of his pocket he began to run after the train. We were moving rather quickly now, so I hooked my leg through the railing and leaned down to him. He reached out until his hand touched mine, running as fast as he could. “Give him this!” he gasped. His hand put something into mine and I straightened up. Turning to the President I opened my fist — lying in it was a dime.” (E.W. Starling and Thomas Sugrue, Starling of the White House, p. 149)

That boy was desperate — to give President Wilson a DIME!! President Wilson did not need that boy’s dime! But the boy needed to give — he WANTED to give; to show that his heart was with the President.

And that’s the purpose of OUR giving as well. We can’t really “give” God anything; we’re like President Harding, who had nothing to offer the billionaire Mellon; or we’re like the little boy, offering the President a dime. We have nothing to really “give” God; but WE need to give — to show our heart towards Him; to show that we really do know where everything we have, came from in the first place.

And it’s no “accident” that the basic AMOUNT that Jacob gave to God was 10%. There is a spiritual principle in God’s word, of giving 10% back to Him:
— We just read this earlier in Genesis, didn’t we, when Abram won the battle of the kings and took all their spoil, and Melchizedek, “the priest of the Most High God” came out, and Abram gave him 1/10 of all the spoils. Where did that come from? This was before Moses; it was before the Law. But even then they knew that 10% was what you gave God as a kind of “thank offering” for all He had given them.
— Then here we see Jacob, who is really committing himself to Yahweh for the first time, committed himself to give — how much? — 1/10 to Yahweh. This was not a “coincidence.” He knew this is how much you give.
— Then, hundreds of years later, when the Law came in, Israel was commanded to give tithes to the Lord, to support the priests. But the tithe did not begin with the Law. A lot of people (who want to try to get out of giving!) like to say: “Oh, tithing is just the Old Testament Law; we’re not under that any more.” But they miss the fact that tithing did not originate with the Law; tithing came BEFORE the Law; giving God a tenth was already an established principle before God ever gave the Law through Moses. We already saw it in Genesis, with Abraham and Melchizedek, and here with Jacob. It is NOT “just the Old Testament Law;” it is a spiritual principle which came way before the Law: that you give 10%, a tithe, of what your God has given you, back to Him, as an act of worship, and as a way of declaring that you realize that everything you have, came from Him in the first place.

I really believe that the tithe is one of the great marks of the Lordship of God in a person’s life. Look at where it comes here in this text: in :21 Jacob says, “then YHWH will be my God …” and then in :22 he says, “And of all that You give me, I will surely give a tenth to You.” Right after he says that YHWH will be his God, he says, and I’ll SHOW it, by giving Him this tenth. The tithe is a mark of Lordship. I think the tithe shows in a very real, practical way, that God really is the Lord of your life. It’s easy for people to SAY that God is their Lord. But when “the rubber hits the road;” in the real, practical matters of your life — for example, when it comes to your money — it doesn’t get any more real, it doesn’t get any more practical than SHOWING He is your Lord, by giving Him that tithe. Worshiping God is not all about money; but you do SHOW the reality and depth of your commitment to God, by what you do with your money — and perhaps nothing shows it better than the tithe. I believe the tithe is one of the strongest and most practical marks of the Lordship of God there is in a person’s life. If that’s so — then what does that say about the reality of the Lordship of God in YOUR life? People who are really committed to the Lord, are committed to give. They hold nothing back — and not just that 10% either; they are ready to give ANYTHING He asks, back to Him.

During the English Civil War in the mid-1600’s, King Charles I was arrested by the English Parliament, and he was soon to be executed. Charles’ eldest son, Prince Charles, sent a note to parliament offering to underwrite any terms that would save his father’s life. The note he sent them was blank. Anything they demanded of him, he would sign his name to, and be willing to do. (Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Revolution, by Maurice Ashley, p. 91)

THAT is total commitment: whatever you want me to do, I will do it. And really, that is the way we have to come to the Lord too. We can’t come to Him and say, “Lord, I’ll give my life to You, only I won’t do x-y- or z …”. No, we have to come to Him like Prince Charles came to Parliament, with a blank piece of paper, and say, “Lord, whatever You want me to do, I’ll do it. You fill in the blanks and I’ll sign my name.” The things I mentioned today are just some Biblical evidences of commitment. The Lord will ask all kinds of specific things from each of us; whatever He needs us to do in our particular situations. And if we are really committed to Him, we will give Him anything He asks of us. Jesus held back NOTHING when He went to the cross for us; He gave His all — and now He asks us to withhold nothing when we commit our lives to Him. The only question is, will you do it? Will you make the commitment for Yahweh to be your God?

— The first question for each of us today is: Have you ever made a specific commitment for the God of the Bible to be YOUR Lord & God? Have you ever personally asked Jesus to be YOUR Lord & Savior? If not, why don’t you take that step today? Ask Him to save you right now …

And if you HAVE asked Him to save you, what is the next commitment you need to make to Him?
— Maybe to be in His place of worship every Sunday, unless you are providentially hindered
— Maybe to spend time in personal worship and in His word daily. Have you been doing that? Maybe you’d say I started, but already failed. Just get back! Ask God to forgive you, and just get back going again. Satan would love to heap guilt on you, and have you give up hearing from God every day. Don’t let that happen. Right now ask God to help you spend time with Him every day in “worship and the word.”
— And then some of us need to ask ourselves: is the way that I’m giving, show my commitment to Jesus as my Lord? Am I happy to give that tithe, because I know that God gave me everything I have? Again, some of us who have failed here just need to ask God’s forgiveness, and ask Him to help you get started — or get started again. Put your money where your mouth is. SHOW that Jesus is your Lord, by the way you give.
— Maybe there’s some other thing God is speaking to you about. Remember, if He is really our Lord, there is NOTHING we will hold back from Him that He asks. Talk to Him about what He’s laying on your heart right now …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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