Genesis 28:1-2 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him: “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.
We closed the last study with Rebekah’s concern that Esau’s hatred of Jacob presented a real danger to Jacob’s safety, so she told Isaac that she wouldn’t be able to stand it if Jacob married a local Canaanite woman. This was her way of arranging for Jacob to be shipped out until Esau’s anger subsided, but Isaac showed a much more meaningful purpose in his response to Rebekah’s concern: Jacob, as the inheritor of the blessings, needed to avoid dabbling with the local pagan women and their customs. Esau had already stumbled in that area, and Isaac should have been clued into Esau’s heart when he married the two Hittite women. Isaac wasn’t, and apparently had not performed his responsibility as a patriarch in Jacob’s life either, until after the circumstances of the previous chapter forced Isaac’s hand (i.e., blessing Jacob). Once Jacob received that blessing, Isaac must have realized that he needed to become fully invested in protecting Jacob’s spiritual heritage. He certainly could have realized this much earlier, and saved everyone a lot of pain.
Laban was Rebekah’s older brother, and we met him a few chapters ago. By this time, Laban had a family of his own and Isaac was aware somehow that Laban had at least two daughters of marrying age. Isaac gave Jacob specific instructions to marry one of these daughters. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would all have wives taken from the same family of Terah, son of Nahor. God’s plan was for His people to be a specific family, on both the paternal and maternal sides.
Genesis 28:3-4 “May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may be an assembly of peoples; 4 And give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which God gave to Abraham.”
When Isaac first blessed Jacob (as a result of Rebekah’s scheme), it was offered as if the receiver was Esau, because obviously, Isaac thought he was blessing Esau. So “Esau’s” blessing contained promises of the “dew of heaven” (enough rains to grow crops), “fatness of the earth” (flocks and herds in abundance), and “plenty of grain and wine” (there would be lots of bread and grog – exactly what Esau wanted). The blessing also promised a position of influence and power, mastery over his neighbors, and authority over his relatives. For the most part, this blessing seems to be rather worldly. Esau would have loved it, because these things were important to him. Jacob, on the other hand, might have been left wanting more, because his objectives in life were more spiritual than carnal. We often judge Jacob harshly because of his method used in obtaining the blessing. But let’s not forget that there was a reason why he and his mother went after it so hard: they desired the spiritual aspects of the blessing for Jacob’s life.
I think Jacob appreciated the particulars of the first blessing (who wouldn’t?), but I also think that he had a better understanding of the spiritual inheritance that was passed from Abraham than Esau did. Something Jesus said may have resonated with Jacob: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31-33)
So, now with a chance to actually address Jacob with the blessing that was intended for him, Isaac finished the blessing, and specifically promised Jacob the “blessing of Abraham.” This was the Divine blessing that included the covenant God had made with Abraham. Genesis 17:1-2: “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. 2 And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” This should have been spoken to Jacob earlier, but since Isaac thought it was being received by Esau, it wouldn’t have meant anything to Esau.
Now that Isaac was obedient to bless the appropriate son, he could be more specific about the things God wanted to say. In our own lives we can often find ourselves “de-spiritualizing” our speech when we think we are dealing with worldly people. Actually, the Lord has things to say to everyone, and we should just be willing to talk about the Lord and refer to Scripture no matter who we are talking to.
Genesis 28:5 So Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Padan Aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
Jacob was at least 60 years at this point, maybe as much as 70. People lived longer back then, and so 60 or 70 was likely an age where a man would still be in his prime. Notice how even as a grown man, Jacob chose to be obedient to the wishes of his father. Isaac was more than a dad, he was the patriarch of a community which had been established by God, and Isaac’s authority was based on God’s covenant. So the complex dynamics between Isaac and his sons included more than a father-son relationship where the son must honor his father. Isaac was the “head of state” of his community. His word was law, and if we remember that, we can better understand the differences between Esau (who despised his birthright, his heritage, his parents honor, and the will of Isaac) and Jacob, who was obedient and was willing to submit himself under authority. Read Romans 13:1-7 for an understanding of how God would like us to respond to governing authority.
Genesis 28:6-7 Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Padan Aram.
Esau had married two Hittite women, which was a source of grief to his parents. In other words, he went against the wishes of his parents in an area of his life in which he should have honored them. So here, he took particular notice of how Jacob was blessed, and he made a note of Isaac’s charge to Jacob, and he observed Jacob’s obedience. But his analysis of Jacob’s situation was backwards. Esau equated Jacob’s blessing with Jacob’s obedience, as if Jacob earned a blessing due to his efforts to be obedient. We know Esau wanted a blessing too, because he had begged Isaac to find one for him. “Have you not reserved a blessing for me? (Genesis 27:36)” But while he desired a blessing, he was unwilling to be repentant. He was willing to put on a show for it, though.
Genesis 28:8 Also Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please his father Isaac.
Huh. Maybe he should have realized this before he went outside of his parents’ wishes and married Hittites. However, now, he could see Isaac’s displeasure based on how Jacob was being blessed, as if Jacob, the “good kid” had somehow earned brownie point from dad for doing what he was asked. (Didn’t the blessing come first?) Esau could not possibly understand the spiritual nature of the blessing, yet he desired one for himself. And since he didn’t understand how it was that Jacob received it, he could only assume that if could repeat the steps for himself, he would get a blessing too. It’s as if he believed he could buy something that was meant to given freely. Read about Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8, who thought he could buy the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s response to him included this (verse 21-22): “You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” This could so easily have been said to Esau, because his plan was to “buy” his dad’s favor:
Genesis 28:9 So Esau went to Ishmael and took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife in addition to the wives he had.
Since Canaanite women were out, perhaps Esau could impress his father by finding a new wife within the “family,” just like Jacob was about to do. The difference was that Esau chose to look into Ishmael’s branch of the family. We have previously studied how Ishmael represented Abraham’s work of the flesh, and that was a work that God did not acknowledge. So Esau’s best efforts to impress his father in order to get back into the blessings were to go back to a work of the flesh.
Did it do anything for him? It couldn’t have. We can’t earn our salvation, and we can’t work our way into impressing God. The Lord blesses us out His grace, not because of our works, and it is our obedience that pleases Him, not what we can do on our own for Him. Our best efforts to please God in our strength will fall short as works of the flesh It is our obedience to the leading of His Holy Spirit that will always keep us under His free blessings. Esau, thinking carnally about how to be blessed spiritually, could do nothing to impress his father. Jacob, looking past the worldly aspects of the blessing, was obedient to the spiritual call on his life, and was blessed from the beginning (remember, God identified Jacob as the heir before he was even born). He didn’t earn the blessing, it was given to him freely. In order to remain under the blessing, Jacob just needed to continue being obedient.
Genesis 28:10-11 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.
The place where Jacob stopped, known as Bethel, was about 40 miles from Beersheba. The language seems to indicate that this was the first night of his journey, so Jacob would have really made good time to travel 40 miles in one day. His first day’s journey was long and hard, and his first night’s lodging was literally hard, because he used a stone as a pillow. I would have to be completely exhausted in order to fall asleep with my head on a rock. Just a little worse than having to sleep in an airline seat.
Isaac wasn’t poor, and Jacob could have easily asked for several camels loaded with supplies and tents and beddings, and a litter to lie on during the travel, etc. Apparently, Jacob didn’t travel with any luxuries, because he didn’t even have a sleeping bag. His “bed” was literally the cold, hard ground, underneath the open sky and the cool night air. Jacob was certainly not a softie like he is sometimes portrayed. And he had traveled very light.
Bethel was that place we studied once before during Abraham’s time. Abraham moved to a place with Ai (“heap of ruins”) behind him and Bethel, (“house of God”) in front of him. Now, Jacob was stopping for the night in Bethel after leaving Beersheba (“Well of the Oath”). God’s covenant with Abraham had been established with Jacob at Beersheba, and then Jacob had been directed by the influencing of the Holy Spirit to move to Haran. On the way he found himself in the house of God, or put another way, in God’s presence.
God will reaffirm his covenant (promises) with us, and lead us in His direction. In our obedience, we will find ourselves in His presence, and even if we are forced to travel light, and without luxuries and comforts, and even if we must “rest” in a stony, cold, and hard location, we will find His rest there. We don’t have to be spiritual “softies” who can’t handle uncomfortable situations, because God will meet us there and give us the rest and peace we need.
Genesis 28:12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
In spite of the rocky bed and pillow, we can clearly see that Jacob passed out. Dreams occur when we are sleeping soundly.
This dream was very interesting, with a ladder reaching to heaven and angels going up and down the ladder. A ladder is a way that makes it possible to reach something that is out of reach. I can’t get up onto the roof of my house without a ladder, and I can’t get down again if someone moves the ladder. A ladder connecting earth and heaven is a picture of something bridging the gulf between earth and heaven. We can’t reach heaven, because it is too far away, so we need help.
And what is it that makes it possible for us to experience God’s presence here on earth? We know He is here, and we can be literally laying down to rest in a place that He fills with His presence. But to experience the Lord’s presence, we need something to bridge that gulf that is between us and Him. A large percentage of the world goes through life completely unaware that they can be in God’s presence. He is here, but the gulf that exists between man and God is too vast for most to know it. Maybe Jacob went to sleep not realizing how near he was to the Lord. So the Lord gave him this dream about the ladder.
What we see in this ladder is a picture of Jesus Christ, with His feet placed on earth and His head in heaven. Jesus was fully man (1 Timothy 2:5), and his life lived as a man places Him in the same earth and in the same experiences that we live in. He fully understands us and relates completely to us. But Jesus is also fully God (John 10:30, John 20:28, Isaiah 44:6), and is now sitting in His Divine nature at the right hand of the Father (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 8:1). As the ladder between earth and heaven, Jesus provides the way we can reach the Father. There is no other way. If we try and construct any other ladder to reach heaven, we are no better than the thieves and robbers spoken of by Jesus in John 10:8, referring to those that point to any other doorway than Him.
Jesus also provides the way that the Father ministers His grace to us. Jacob observed God’s angels using the ladder, going up and down it as they ministered to people on earth. Jesus said in John 1:51, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Jesus said this in response to Nathaniel’s realization that Jesus was the Son of God, the King of Israel. When we come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, our God, our Lord and King, we see access to heaven opened to us, and we see God’s grace dispensed to us because Jesus placed Himself between heaven and earth.
Jacob might have fallen asleep thinking about how far he was from God’s presence. He might have been discouraged that he could never reach that place. He could have been like Job, who despaired because he thought there was no mediator between him and God: For He is not a man, as I am, that I may answer Him, and that we should go to court together. 33 Nor is there any mediator between us, who may lay his hand on us both. (Job 9:32-33). What Job was unaware of, and what Jacob was allowed to see in his dream is what Paul spoke of in 1 Timothy 2:5: For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. Jacob could hear directly from the Lord, perhaps for the first time in his life, because he could see that God had provided a way for the gulf to be bridged. Jacob could look forward and see that God would provide a ladder. We can look to the cross and see Jesus.
Genesis 28:13-15 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 15 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.”
The Lord spoke to Jacob directly, and promised him the same ground on which he lay sleeping. Jacob also received the promise of uncountable descendents, and that among Jacob’s descendents, there would be one who would be the blessing to the entire earth. In the context of the dream about the ladder spanning the distance between heaven and earth, Jacob could very well have understood this in the same way that we do: Jacob’s seed would include the Messiah.
One of the Lord’s promises specifically addressed a fear that Jacob could have fallen asleep with. Would he ever make it back to his land? Esau might remain angry for the rest of his life, so Jacob’s future was filled with uncertainty. God spoke to that fear and uncertainty, and promised Jacob that he would be brought back. When we find ourselves in God’s presence, He will show us His blessings and provide answers for our fears and uncertainties, just like He did for Jacob.
The Lord spoke to Jacob from above the ladder. Jesus, who bridges the gap between earth and heaven, relates to our humanity because he was a man just like us. But when He speaks to us, it is from His Divine position as God. There have been a lot of “good men” throughout history who have had “good” things to say. But they can only speak to us from their positions as earthly, fleshly people. Jesus is the only one who speaks to us His words as God, with the full power and authority of the same Word that was used to create everything in the universe. This is our Ladder!
Genesis 28:16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
When Jacob fell asleep after a hard day’s travel, he wasn’t even aware that God had an encounter for him. It’s not that he wasn’t seeking one, but maybe the point here is that Jacob wasn’t on some devotional quest to “find God.” If He is everywhere, then we don’t have to go anywhere, or prepare anything, or light the candles, or play the right music, or fast a certain number of days, or any other “work” that somehow brings us closer to Him. We should be careful of what it says in Isaiah 29:13: “These people draw near with their mouths and honor Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.” Instead, “The word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.” Deuteronomy 30:14. Obedience to God’s Word will always keep us in His presence and as long as we are obedient, we don’t need to create some “devotional quest” to hear God speak, because we will hear from Him when His Spirit is ready to move in a situation.
Genesis 28:17 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!”
This is a great place to be when we encounter the Lord in such a powerful way. It would be very easy to become prideful and full of ourselves thinking how cool it was that God chooses us to receive His revelation. Paul received a thorn in the flesh to remind him to be humble, “lest [he] be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 2:17). Jacob experienced a healthy fear, because where God meets us in His Holy presence, we respond with our humble reverence. Why? It is only because of His grace that we can actually go through the gates of heaven to come before His throne, in spite of the fact that we are corrupt sinners. There is nothing in that about it being earned or deserved.
Genesis 28:18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.
Jacob awoke, and recognized that the Lord was in this place. He might have gone to bed heavy and weary, and then encountered the Lord during the night, but he awoke knowing that the Lord was in that place still. It hadn’t ended, and so Jacob took that rock which represented the hard and heavy restlessness that he started out with, and he made it into an altar. Right there before the Lord, he poured out oil over the top of it. Oil, in this context, makes me think of gladness. His response to the Lord was to worship Him in gratitude. During the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, oil was used to consecrate altars, and it was a sign of gladness and thankfulness for God’s presence. Really, there is no greater devotion that we can show than to be joyful and thankful to just be in the Lord’s presence.
Genesis 28:19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.
So, we’ve seen Bethel mentioned a few times so far in Genesis, and now we know how it got its name. Luz meant “almond tree.”
Genesis 28:20-22 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “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, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
Jacob was not proposing conditions in which he would serve the Lord, such as, “If you do this for my, God, I’ll serve you.” What he said could be better translated this way, “Since God will be with me, and keep me…, and give me bread…, and will bring me back to my father’s house, then I will serve Him because He is my God.” Not “If You will do this for me…” but “Since You have promised me and I believe You will do it…” Having received the Word and the promises, Jacob committed His life to serving the Lord.
In addition, while dedicating his entire life to be in service to the Lord, Jacob identified that a tenth of everything God gave him would be set apart for God’s house. What this means is that Jacob offered his whole life, while at the same time establishing a principle of giving to the Lord’s work on earth. It’s not that God needs our money to perform His work. Instead, we can show our gratitude for the work that God does on earth in His house, the Church, by accepting His invitation to be part of it, and supporting it.
In the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were obligated to give their tithe to support the priestly ministry and the Lord’s tabernacle. Today, we are not obligated to give, but tithe out of a cheerful, willing heart, because our desire is to honor the Lord.
- 2 Corinthians 9:7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
- Proverbs 3:9 Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase.