Though meeting with and hearing from God was slightly nuanced at different times and with different people, the fact seems clear that there was a face-to-face element to it. So are the modern proponents of prophecy, visions, and dreams correct? Should the modern Christian expect to hear from God like Jacob did, to see Him in a dream or vision?
The dual questions of where do we meet God and how do we hear from God are important. And they are also highly relevant in 21st century Christianity. These two questions run like yellow-brick roads throughout Scripture, weaving their way through the varied landscapes of the Bible. We first encounter these questions in the very beginning of Genesis, where we see God personally speaking to and communing with Adam and Eve. He met them in Eden and spoke to them face to face. After the fall and humanity was kicked out of Eden, there was no central meeting place of God and humanity, at least until He called Israel out of Egypt and met with Moses on Sinai. But He still spoke personally and audibly to Israel, or at least to His prophets who then relayed His message to the masses.
But perhaps these two questions are not more fully on display than in Genesis 28, in the account of Jacob’s dream at Bethel. You may remember the story, Jacob fleeing from Esau en route to his Uncle Laban. Along his journey he stops for a night’s rest and has a dream. In this dream, a ladder is set up on the earth, extending into heaven, where he sees the angels of God going up and down. God then speaks, in which He gives His covenant promises to Jacob as He had Jacob’s father and grandfather. Quite the experience no doubt. Jacob wakes up and says in 28:16 “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He even names the place house of God (Bethel) in light of his experience. He truly heard from the Lord and met Him there. It would be easy to think that Jacob got something wrong here, that He misinterpreted the dream. However, God seems to affirm Jacob’s impression in 31:13, when He calls Himself “the God of Bethel,” reminding Jacob of all that he had heard and experienced at that moment. Later, when Israel has taken the promised land, Bethel seems to be again a place to meet with God (see Judges 20). So Jacob must have been right! Maybe Bethel is where God meets with humanity in a special way.