We cannot help but feel that, had Rebekah told Isaac of Esau's murderous plans, Isaac would, or at least could, have taken a hand in restraining Esau. For reasons best known to herself Rebekah does nothing of the sort. Her words of Ge 27:46 have the desired result. She had agreed (Ge 27:13) that any eventual curse resulting in the case of miscarriage of her plans might light upon her. For the same reason she feels the responsibility for keeping Jacob safe from Esau's wrath. Jacob is called, though, indeed, Isaac should have taken care of the matter of Jacob's marriage without solicitation by his wife. The expression "and blessed him" is here used in the summary way common in Hebrew narrative, giving the entire story beforehand, then following with the details: cf. Ge 21:27; 24:29 b; Ge 27:33 b. Why a separate act of blessing really is yet necessary after the formal blessing, of the preceding chapter, will appear when we examine v. Ge 28:4. Of the words that Isaac speaks, v. lb and v.2 may be regarded as a preliminary condition that ought to be met by the recipient of the weighty blessing of v. Ge 28:3,4. However, the matter of avoiding one kind of wife and choosing another is not merely suggested as helpful counsel. The full patriarchal authority is employed: "and he laid commandment upon him." On this question Isaac felt as Abraham had. There is even the possibility that Isaac may have learned of the part Rebekah played in the preceding chapter. Yet he felt that a woman of Rebekah's type, in spite of what minor failings she may have displayed here or there, was infinitely superior by reason of her faith.
2. Isaac does not delegate some old reliable servant to go to secure a wife for Jacob, as had been done in his own case, possibly because he recognized Jacob's capacity to handle the situation himself. The two imperatives, "up" (qûm) and "go" (lekh), impart an urgent tone to the command. Here is a commandment that is to be carried out now, not a suggestion to be acted upon ultimately. "Paddan-aram" may signify "field of Aram" as many, on the strength of Ho 12:12, conjecture. The only ones Isaac knows of that have spiritual ideals sufficiently akin to those of the chosen race are the relatives in Mesopotamia, He may have felt that there would be opportunity for Jacob to secure a wife from this group because they on their part might till now have been reluctant too about marrying off their daughters to men given to idolatry. Here was not, as some suppose, merely a case of trivial conceit where men were intent upon preserving the strain of blood pure.
3, 4. And may El Shaddai (God Almighty) bless thee and make thee fruitful and multiply thee and mayest thou become a company of peoples; and may He give to thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee and to thy descendants with thee, that thou mayest possess the land of thy sojourning, which God gave to Abraham.
In giving "the blessing of Abraham" how natural to revert to the language the Almighty Himself had used on that occasion; note the resemblance with Ge 17:1, 2. In point of fact, how appropriate is here the name "God Almighty." Blessings certainly depend upon the Almighty's power to render them effectual. How much in place is the wish, "make thee fruitful and multiply thee," now at a time when the father of the chosen group is still but one. So Isaac would naturally speak. How trivial to say: so P naturally writes. The idea "company of peoples" (qehal ammîm) in a connection where strength of numbers alone is under consideration could hardly involve the Messianic thought of the spiritual subjugation of many nations. The Messianic thought finds expression in v.4. Nor is this a blessing that went wide of the mark, failing of fulfillment. Apparently, the separate tribes that came from Jacob are to be understood here, each being viewed poetically as the equivalent of a "people" ('am). This involves a figure of speech but does not yet, as K. W. contends, establish the meaning of "tribe" for 'am. Consequently, we do not here find an expansion of the blessing of Abraham.
4. In fact, the identity of this blessing with the one given to Abraham is established by the words, "may He give thee the blessing of Abraham." By these words Isaac conveys the most important part of the patriarchal blessing, the part relative to the Messiah, which he had not quite ventured to bestow previously when he still thought that he was dealing with Esau. Sobered by the failure of his attempt and made wiser, he freely gives what he fully understands to have been divinely destined for Jacob. "The blessing of Abraham" is fully as much as was promised to him but no more. Since previously (Ge 27:27-29) Isaac also had not ventured to bestow the land of promise on the one who presumably was Esau, now he unmistakably bestows it on Jacob, that which is now a "land of sojourning" where the patriarchs have as yet no permanent possession except a burial place. Lerishtekha, "for thy possessing," has a subject suffix (G. K.69-m). God "gave" this land to Abraham, of course, only by promise but none the less actually.
5. So Isaac sent Jacob away; and he went to Paddan-Aram to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramaean (Syrian), the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
In rather a formal fashion the author reports how Jacob obeyed the paternal injunction. The formality consists in repeating the name of the place to which, as well as that of the person to whom he went. The identity of this person is also established in a formal manner -- his nationality and his relation to Jacob's mother also being appended. This formality is the Hebrew way of emphasizing the importance of an event. For, certainly, very much hinged on this momentous journey, and very important issues depended on it.
6-9. When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him away to Paddan-Aram to get a wife there or himself, and that as he blessed him he also commanded him, saying: Not shall thou take a wife from the daughters of Canaan; and that Jacob hearkened unto his father and unto his mother and went to Paddan-Aram; and when Esau further saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac, his father, then Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael the son of Abraham, and the sister of Nebaioth in addition to the wives that he had.
Hardly with a touch of irony and yet as an indication of Esau's obtuseness in the more spiritual issues, the author now reports how Esau felt impelled to take a non-Canaanite wife. Esau observes, first of all, that Jacob is sent away for a wife. Besides, Esau either himself hears or hears by report that in the blessing spoken at the dismissal (observe how the infinitive construction goes over into the finite verb, K. S.413 a-e) Isaac even commanded Jacob not to take a Canaanite wife. Then Esau observes -- for apparently v.7 is still object of the wayyar' of v.6 -- that Jacob obeys this command emanating from father and mother.
8. The initial wayyar' of v.6 is resumed -- and when Esau further saw. Apparently, at this late date Esau first discovers, or at least begins to reckon with the fact, that the heathen Canaanite wives pleased not Isaac. What a dullness of spiritual perception! Growing up in a household where it was well known why Abraham had taken pains to secure a non-Canaanite wife for Isaac, Esau never seems to have understood why this was done. The entire spiritual heritage and all spiritual traditions had not as yet begun to mean anything to Esau. These few verses help us to understand very clearly why God could not use Esau in the building of the kingdom. Besides, it is quite significantly reported that Esau noted only that these Canaanitish wives did not please his father. Apparently, he never troubled to discover his mother's reaction -- and she was vexed most. The expression "pleased not" gives a milder touch to the Hebrew, which originally said: "were evil (ra'ôth) in the eyes of."
9. Even in his attempt to go right Esau still goes at least half wrong, for he takes a wife from stock which has already been cast off by God, from Ishmael's family, who may, indeed, yet have preserved some of the good traditions of the house of Abraham. Procksch has an idle and erroneous speculation when he remarks in this connection: "It is here indicated that the blessing had to come upon Jacob and not upon Esau because it is tied up with the purity of the blood." Spiritual issues not blood issues govern the case. Esau could not have visited Ishmael in person, for, as we showed at the beginning of the preceding chapter, Ishmael had died about thirteen years before this time. The preposition al here bears the less common meaning of "in addition to," as in Ge 31:50 (B D B, 755 a). It must further be observed that Esau's attempted remedy of the evil is no remedy. He allows the evil to continue and merely adds something that may be half right. The existing wrong is not broken with, and so the moral indecision of the man is made very apparent.
10, 11. And Jacob went forth from Beersheba and came to Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place and spent the night there, for the sun had gone down, and he took one of the stones of the place and laid it as his head place and he lay down in that place.
A characteristic Hebrew way of summarizing the whole story before the details are given: he "went forth from Beersheba and came to Haran," cf. "and he blessed" (v. Ge 28:1). Was Jacob a fugitive? In a mild sense, Yes. But they let their imagination play too freely, who make him run forth in haste from home in continual fear of being overtaken and let him cover the entire distance from Beersheba to Bethel -- about 70 miles as the crow flies over mountain roads -- in one day. Esau had threatened to kill his brother only after the death of Isaac. It may have been about the third day when Jacob arrived at this spot after traveling leisurely, for he had a long journey before him.
11. "Lighted upon" (pagha') is to be taken much in the sense of "he chanced upon." However, we avoided the latter rendering because the Scriptures know of no "chance." The verb implies that there was no design or purpose behind Jacob's coming here. However, is maqôm, "place," here meant, as often in the Scriptures, as "the cult-place" belonging to a certain town? We doubt it very much. Such a "cult-place" would hardly have been a seemly place for Yahweh to reveal Himself; for perhaps without exception these places were set apart for the idols of the land. Yahweh has nothing in common with the idols. Such a spot would be an abomination to Yahweh. The article bammaqôm -- "upon the place" -- does not overthrow our contention, for as Skinner admits, "the rendering a certain place' would be grammatically correct (G. K.126 r)." Meek renders the phrase in the same way. The article simply marks it as the place which was afterward to become famous. Jacob spends the night just there because that was all that was left for him, for "the sun had gone down" and the night had fallen swiftly, as oriental nights do. The hardy shepherd is not disturbed by the experience, for shepherds often spend the night thus and are observed to this day sleeping with a stone for a pillow. Here mera'ashtaw does not actually mean "pillow" but "head place" -- a proper distinction, for pillows are soft, "head places" not necessarily so.
They who must find rational explanations for everything here conjecture about some stony ascent which Jacob saw in the rapidly descending dusk and which then afterward in the dream took the form of a ladder (even Edersheim). Dreams, especially those sent by the Almighty, require no such substructure.
Not quite so harmless is the contention of those who import liberally of their own thoughts into the text and then secure a sequence about as follows: The stone used by Jacob is one of the pillars or sacred stones of the "cult-place," (a pure invention). Jacob unwittingly takes it in the semi-darkness and prepares it for a headrest. The charmed stone then superinduces a dream. On awakening, Jacob is afraid, because he realizes he has rashly used a sacred stone and quickly makes a vow to fend off possible evil consequences and to appease the angered Deity. Such interpretations transport the occurrence into the realm of superstition, magic, fetish and animistic conceptions, debasing everything and especially the patriarch's conception of things.
12, 13 a. And he dreamed and, behold, there was a ladder set upon the earth and its top touched the heavens; and, behold, the angels of God were going up and down on it; and, behold, Yahweh stood above it.
This is the first theophany that Jacob experiences of a total of seven according to the following count: the second, Ge 31:3, cf. Ge 31:11-13; the third, Ge 32:1, 2; the fourth, Ge 32:24-30; the fifth, Ge 35:1; the sixth, Ge 35:9-13; the seventh, Ge 46:1-4. Men may differ in their mode of counting but not to any very great extent. Dreams are a legitimate mode of divine revelation. On this instance the ladder is the most notable external feature of the dream. The word sullam, used only here, is well established in its meaning "ladder." If it reaches from earth to heaven, that does not necessitate anything grotesque; dreams seem to make the strangest things appear perfectly natural. Nor could a ladder sufficiently broad to allow angels to ascend and descend constitute an incongruity in a dream. The surprise occasioned by the character of the dream is reflected by the threefold hinneh -- "behold": behold a ladder, angels, and Yahweh. The last prepositional phrase, 'alaw, could mean that Yahweh was standing "over him," but grammatically simpler and fitting better into the picture is the old "above it" (R. V., also Luther). Such a clear-cut dream must embody a deeper symbolism. Why a ladder? Why the angels? Why the Lord above it? Answer: In order to convey by a visible sign what the words themselves also convey as Yahweh speaks. The ladder symbolizes the uninterrupted communion between heaven and earth, mediated through God's holy angels and instituted for the care and the needs of God's children on earth. The angels bear man's needs before God and God's help to man. For this reason Jesus could alluding specifically to this passage (Joh 1:51), claim that the truth involved was most significantly displayed in His own life, for in Him the divine and the human met in perfect union. So Jacob becomes a type of the Christ, though, indeed, an imperfect one. The many other interpretations that have been attempted must be rejected: the ladder does not symbolize the church, or faith; nor "the heavenly source and goal of the revealed religion of Abraham and Israel" (K. C.); nor "the mystery of the incarnation" (Luther), at least not so immediately as Luther construes it.
13 b-15. And He said: I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac -- the land upon which thou liest, to thee will I give it and to thy descendants. And thy descendants shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And in thee shall be blessed all the families of the earth and in thy seed. And, behold, I am with thee and will keep thee withersoever thou goest; and I will bring thee back to this land, for I will not forsake thee, until I have done what I have told thee.
Is the Lord blessing a cheat and prospering one who secured a blessing by craft? By no means. Our interpretation of the preceding chapter confirms itself at this point. Jacob is being strengthened in the faith and supported by liberal promises, because he was penitent over his sin and stood greatly in need of the assurance of divine grace. Besides, Jacob was deeply grieved at being called upon to sever the ties that bound him to house and home, and he was apprehensive of the future as well. The Lord meets him in his need and grants him the support of His grace.
After identifying Himself as Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Isaac, and so tying up this present revelation with those that preceded, Yahweh, the merciful covenant God, proceeds to confirm to Jacob "the blessing of Abraham," which Isaac had bestowed upon him just at his departure. The first element of the promise bestowed by the Lord is the possession of the land ("the land upon which thou liest") on which he now lay practically an exile. Ha'ßrets is a nominative absolute (K.S.341 c).
14. The second portion of the blessing that is specially confirmed to him is that of numerous descendants like "the dust of the earth" (Ge 13:16 cf. Ge 22:17). For "spread out" the Hebrew uses parats, "to break through," in the sense of bursting all restraining bonds. Emphasis is added to the thought by letting the expansion extend to all points of the compass.
15. Lastly, protection during the time of his absence from home is promised to Jacob, protection due to nothing less than God's personal presence -- "I am with thee and will keep thee." "Whithersoever thou goest" implies that Jacob's wanderings will be extensive. The protection promised involves being brought back to this very land of promise, and it is further confirmed by the added assurance not to be forsaken until all that is promised has been attained. 'Asîthî, a perfect, practically -- a future perfect -- "until I shall have done" (G. K.1060). "To this land," 'adhamah -- to "this piece of ground," for Jacob is to experience the providence of God in being brought back even to this very region and this very spot.
16. And Jacob awoke from his sleep and said: Surely, Yahweh is in this place and I knew it not.
This verse and the next record Jacob's immediate reaction to the dream, spoken while the effect of the dream was still strongest upon him. This word indicates what had been uppermost in his mind. Jacob had felt himself severed from the gracious presence and the manifestation, of Yahweh, which he knew centered in his father's house. Jacob understood full well the omnipresence of God, but he knew, too, that it had not pleased God to manifest and reveal Himself everywhere as Yahweh. Now the patriarch receives specific assurance that God in His character as Yahweh was content to be with Jacob and keep and bless him for the covenant's sake. That Yahweh was going to do this much for him, that is what Jacob had not known. To understand the word rightly note that Jacob could not have said -- for it would have involved an untruth: "Surely, God is in this place and I knew it not." Of course he knew that. Any true believer's knowledge of God involves such elementary things as knowledge of His not being confined to one place. Such crude conceptions the patriarchs never had. To suppose that the account is trying to picture Jacob as on a lower level than Abraham in spiritual discernment is misunderstanding.
17. And he was afraid and said: How aweinspiring is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.
Since Jacob, a sinful man, had come near to God, this nearness caused fear. Any other reaction would have been improper. The Hebrew nôra'," awe-inspiring," is the passive participle of yare', "to be afraid." The translation could cover this by the rendering: "he was awed, saying: How awesome,' etc." Since here is a place where God meets man, Jacob gives expression to this thought thus: "This is none other that God's house," for to him this was at the same time as kindly an experience in spite of his fear as though he had been allowed to enter God's dwellingplace and meet Him. But to be at such a place was practically equivalent to having found a gate leading to heaven. At such places where God had once revealed Himself men with good reason felt that they would be sure to be able to meet God again. Yet on the other hand, besides construing "gate of heaven" as gate leading to heaven, it is equally proper to construe it as gate leading from heaven, through which, when it so pleases God, He steps forth into contact with men. The divine name 'Elohîm appears here because Jacob wishes to express the simple thought: Contact with the Deity is possible here. Yet previously (v. Ge 28:16) he had recognized that Yahweh in His mercy granted this revelation.
Criticism makes another of its unproven claims, when, largely because of the divine name Yahweh, the verses Ge 28:13-16 are described as a Yahwistic insertion in an Elohistic narrative: "v.17 follows v. Ge 28:12 without sensible breach of continuity." Now, without a doubt, the climax of the whole divine revelation was the word spoken v.13-16; that is the golden jewel of the chapter. Yet so discerning a writer as the supposed E had lost the best part, which then had to be supplied from J. This creates a problem that criticism will never explain and which overthrows its contention.
Witness also the following exposition, the most fantastic of all: the entire experience is supposed to convey the thought that from this gate to heaven access to the heavenly sanctuary is gained, as it were by the ladder -- "when to this (to the idea of a sacred stone or sanctuary at Bethel) was added the idea of God's dwelling in heaven, the earthly sanctuary became as it were the entrance to the heavenly temple, with which it communicated by means of a ladder" (Skinner).
Luther's rendering, "here is none other, etc." for this is none other, etc., is also entirely permissible; for the demonstrative zeh is used as the adverb "here" (cf. Ges. Buhl, and K. S.43).
18. And Jacob arose early in the morning and took the stone which he set as his head place and set it up as a pillar and poured oil upon the top of it.
The words spoken in v. Ge 28:16, 17 were uttered during the night immediately after the dream. Whether Jacob again fell asleep or not is not told. In any case, he arose early in the morning and took the stone used for a head place and set it up in a manner calculated to make it stand out and so to mark the precise spot where the dream-vision had occurred. The stone must have had enough size so that when it was set up it might be classed as "a pillar" (matstsebhah). Since the pillar marked a holy experience, it was in this instance consecrated by the pouring out of oil upon it (cf. Ex 40:9-11). It has been claimed that travelers would in olden times regularly carry a horn of oil with them so that the oil might be used for purposes of anointing and for food. In addition to the consecration expressed by the anointing there is the possibility that the oil also gave expression to the idea of sacrifice and was offered as sacrifice, for in Ge 35:14 in consecrating the Bethel altar Jacob poured a drink offering and oil upon the altar. In any case, we need not wonder that Abraham and Isaac had not set up memorial stones heretofore; they had no direct occasion to do so as Jacob here had. Good parallels are seen in Ge 31:45; Jos 4; 24:26 f; 1Sa 7:12. So natural is it to do a thing of this sort that anyone of us might in our day do a similar thing with the utmost of propriety, Later, when the Canaanite shrines for idolatrous worship had these "pillars" regularly set up round about the "holy place" (maqôm), as excavations still amply prove, and Israel stood in danger of copying heathen abominations, the Lord saw fit to forbid the use of such matstsebhoth and bade Israel to destroy them -- Ex 23:24; Ge 34:13; Le 26:1; De 12:3; 16:22. The idea of a fetish stone simply does not enter into this case. Efforts to inject it by claims very boldly stated are quite futile; as when it is said: matstsebhah -- "originally a fetish, the supposed abode of a spirit or deity -- a belief of which there are clear traces in this passage." Koenig has successfully refuted such claims by pointing out that Jacob says: "How awe-inspiring is this place" -- not "this stone."
It is much to be deplored that on this point another attempt to cheapen the holy record is made by identifying Jacob's anointing of the stone with the so-called Baetylian stone worship. That such a practice as stone worship existed rather widely in days of old is, of course, true. That such anointed stones were called in Greek baituloi is also known. But this accidental point of coincidence proves nothing about Jacob's experience as belonging into this class. It might possibly be admitted that a distorted record of the Bethel experience began to circulate among the Gentiles and gave rise to stone worship. But even that assumption has great difficulties. For, in the first place, the name baiuhl ("Bethel") does not occur in this chapter of the Septuagint, being rendered "house of God," and if it did appear, as Keil points out, it would be quite inexplicable how the u was changed to the t in baituloi. Besides, it is claimed that Baetylian worship in days of old centered around meteoric stones, which were thought to have been dropped down from high heaven by the gods. In any case, if a superstitious practice existed among the heathen, must everything similar at once be put into the same class? Then with equal propriety sacred memorials that we might set up in our day would also have to be classed as Baetylian worship, especially if the practice of anointing stones should be revived.
19. And he called the name of that place Bethel, whereas the name of the city had formerly been Luz.
Beth-'el means "house of God." The substance of the thought of v. Ge 28:17 is incorporated in this name. Jacob may have meant the name for this particular spot only. The city that already may have stood there then, or perhaps was first built there or near there later, presently came to bear that name. Originally it was called Luz, remarks the well-informed author, who had used the name Bethel already in Ge 12:8 by anticipation. Jos 16:2 does not conflict with our passage, for there, according to v. Ge 28:1, "Bethel" must mean "mountains of Bethel."
20-22. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying: If God will be with me and will keep me in this way which I am going, and will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and I shall return in peace to my father's house, and Yahweh will be God to me -- then this stone, which I have set up as pillar, shall be a house of God and of all that Thou givest to me, I will surely give a tithe to Thee.
Jacob's gratitude for the much needed comfort and encouragement finds expression in an appropriate vow, of which v.28:20, 21 forms the protasis and v.22 the apodosis. True, the greater promises concerning the possession of the land and of being a blessing to all the families of the earth are not mentioned. That does not say that Jacob does not understand them and is not grateful for them. They, in the nature of the case, are seen to lie in the distant future. For the other tangible blessings which the next years are to bring Jacob vows to give tangible tokens of gratitude. For the greater blessings, what shall or can he return to the Lord? Nothing except praise and thanks, because these blessings are unspeakably great. In enumerating protection, food, clothing and safe return Jacob is not displaying a mind ignorant of higher values but merely unfolding the potentialities of God's promise (v. Ge 28:15), "I will keep thee and bring thee again," etc. When he says: "If Yahweh will be God to me," he is paraphrasing the promise (v.15): "I am with thee." Consequently, in all this Jacob is not betraying a cheap, mercenary spirit, bargaining with God for food and drink and saying: "If I get these, then Yahweh shall be my God." That would be about the cheapest case of arrogant bargaining with God recorded anywhere. In fact, it is difficult even with the very best construction that it is possible to put upon the words to draw the clause wehayah yahweh lî le'lohim into the apodosis: "then shall the Lord be my God" (A. V. and Luther). The Lord was his God. Jacob was not an unconverted man still debating whether or not to be on the Lord's side and here making an advantageous bargain out of the case. They who postpone his conversion to a time twenty years later at the river Jabbok completely misunderstand Jacob. Not only does the construction of the Hebrew allow for our interpretation, it even suggests it. The "if" clauses of the protasis all run along after the same pattern as converted perfects -- future: "if He will," etc., including: "if Yahweh will be, or prove Himself, God to me." Then to make the beginning of the apodosis prominent comes a new construction: noun first, then adjective clause, then verb.
22. By "house of God" (beth-'el) Jacob does not mean a temple but a sacred spot, a sanctuary, which he purposes to establish and to perpetuate. How Jacob carried out the vow is reported in Ge 35:1-7: he built an altar to Yahweh on the spot. Nothing is reported about his giving of the tithe, perhaps because that is presupposed as the condition upon which the maintenance of the sanctuary depended. The silence of the Scriptures on this latter point by no means indicates that it was neglected. Incidentally, this constitutes the second Scriptural reference to the voluntary tithe (cf. Ge 14:20).
If the first five verses of this chapter are to be used as a text, the last verse of the preceding chapter should be prefaced to them. Though a similar text is found in the beginning of chapter 12 and repeatedly thereafter, this text should be evaluated according to its connection and should be used to show that the Messianic hope was clearly understood and realized to be the crowning glory of God's revelation to Abraham. The next portion, v. Ge 28:6-9, is not to be recommended for use, for its subject is too largely negative: the folly of an unspiritual man. The last section, v. Ge 28:10-22, is unusually fruitful. The most natural approach is to regard it as an excellent demonstration of God's providential care for His erring children. It sets forth a broader comprehension of what God's omnipresence means to His children. Since Joh 1:51 is an evident allusion to this experience of Jacob, it would be very much in order to approach the text from the angle that suggests that Christ is the perfect embodiment of continual communion with the Father in heaven.