Commentary on Genesis 28

Last updated: September 27, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women. 2Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” 5Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.

6Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,” 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. 8So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, 9Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

10Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15Behold, 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.” 16Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18So 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. 19He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20Then 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, 21so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22and 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.”

Notes

1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women.

By this act, Isaac confirms Jacob’s title to the birthright independently of the deception. Jacob is recognized to be the true heir to the Abrahamic covenant, which is why he must not marry outside of the family.”1

8-9 So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

Esau’s response to this whole scenario is to try to gain approval by marrying girls from the family – in this case, Ishmael’s family. In so doing he only ends up identifying with the line that has been sent away, perhaps prefiguring to some degree his own eventual status.”2

12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!

One cannot help but be struck by the parallel between the stairway in this dream, a stairway whose top reaches the sky, and the tower of Babel, whose top also extended into the heavens (11:4). But the similarity stops here. Unlike the Babel tower, Jacob’s stairway is not a product of human delusions of grandeur. It is a way by which God will make himself known to Jacob. Messengers, not pride, go up and down this structure.3

13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.

Jacob is confirmed as the third patriarch in the line of Abraham and Isaac.

14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

These promises are like the promises made to Abraham in 13:14-17.

17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

The site is called “the house of God” because God manifested his presence there. It is called “the gate of heaven” because the angels ascend to and descend from heaven at this place.

18 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.

The stone serves as a witness to the dream and divine promises. The pouring of oil may have been a sign of the vow (31:13).

20-22 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.”

Jacob is the only patriarch to make a vow to God. The tithe appears to be a one-time offering. It is not clear who would receive the tithe or what would be done with it. Normally a tithe would be given to a king or a priest. Walton suggests that “Jacob most likely anticipates that any wealth coming to him will be in the form of flocks and herds. In such a case the tithe will be represented in sacrifices at Bethel. Genesis 35 does not mention sacrifices being made, but Jacob does build an altar, thereby making it all the more likely that he fulfills this part of his vow by sacrifice.”4

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament 1B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Sarna, Nahum M. JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989.

Walton, John H. Genesis. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

1Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 195.

2Walton, Genesis, 570.

3Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 240.

4Walton, Genesis, 572.

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