I Will Surely Give a Tenth to You (Genesis 28:20-22)
Jacob was literally between a rock and a hard place as we arrive at Genesis 28. His brother, Esau, was bitterly angry with him for deceptively stealing the blessing from his father (Genesis 27:1-40). Verse 41 says, “Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing” and he vows to kill his brother, Jacob, after his father’s death (27:41). Because of his evil intents, Rebekah urges Jacob to flee to her brother, Laban, in Haran for “a few days” (27:42-45). So, Jacob leaves not knowing when it may be safe to return (28:1-10). On his first night away from home, Jacob lays his head down to sleep on a rock (28:11).
Now, for a moment, imagine how Jacob must feel. Imagine the thoughts twirling in the mind of a boy leaving home. His father and mother are still living so he has inherited nothing yet. Esau, his twin, hates him and he has left for his own safety. The sun has set and he is sleeping in a field in the dark on a rock in between the safety of his father and uncle’s homes. For the moment he is living on the hope of unfulfilled promises. He hopes he will inherit his father’s land. He hopes God will make him fruitful (but those prospects seem dim). He still hopes he may be able to find a wife with whom to share his life. He hopes the promises of Abraham will still be fulfilled in him (see Genesis 28:4). Yet, right now, he is pillowing his head on a rock.
Thankfully, God shows up in perfect timing. As Jacob dreams, God sends a message and guarantees the blessing of Abraham for his weary sojourner (28:12-15). Perhaps the most reassuring phrase from God was, “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 spoken to you” (28:15). In other words, the promises are true. You will be “fruitful and multiply” and “inherit the land” promised to Abraham (see 28:3-4). God will see to it.
In response to this awesome dream, Jacob arises and exclaims, “Surely the Lord is in this place!” (28:17). He uses the stone pillow to set up a pillar. He renames the place “Bethel” meaning “House of God” (28:18-19). He also makes a vow, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God…and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to you” (28:20-22).
Notice God had hardly blessed Jacob with so much as a pair of sandals yet. But, God would. His flocks would prosper under Laban. He would marry Laban’s daughters. He would be blessed with children. He would return to his father’s land, the land of Canaan. In return for his success, he promises to “give a tenth” back to the Lord. This is an ancient example of giving back to God what you have been prospered (see 1 Corinthians 16:2). Yet, at this point, the prosperity was only a promise in prospect. Even so, Jacob praises God and vows to give him a portion of his prosperity. May we also have the heart of Jacob realizing the source from whom all blessings flow and pledging to return a portion back to Him.