Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

5. Jacob’s deception for Isaac’s blessing 26:34-28:9

Reacting to Isaac’s disobedient plan to bless Esau, Jacob and Rebekah stole the blessing by deception. Esau became so angry with Jacob over his trickery that Jacob had to flee for his life.

Two reports of Esau’s marriages (Genesis 26:34-35 and Genesis 28:6-9) frame the major account (Genesis 27:1 to Genesis 28:5) providing a prologue and epilogue. Esau’s marriages are significant because Rebekah used them to persuade Isaac to send Jacob away to get a wife (Genesis 27:4 b) and because they were the reason Isaac did so (Genesis 28:1).

The main account centers on Isaac giving the blessing.

"A Isaac and the son of the brkh/bkrh (=Esau) (Genesis 27:1-5).

B Rebekah sends Jacob on the stage (Genesis 27:6-17).

C Jacob appears before Isaac and receives blessing (Genesis 27:18-29).

C’ Esau appears before Isaac and receives antiblessing (Genesis 27:30-40).

B’ Rebekah sends Jacob from the stage (Genesis 27:41-45).

A’ Isaac and the son of brkh/bkrh (=Jacob!) (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:5)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 474. Cf. Fokkelman, p. 101.]

Verses 1-5

Isaac’s blessing 27:1-28:5

Here we have the third round of Jacob’s battle with Esau. The first was at birth (Genesis 25:21-28) and the second was over the birthright (Genesis 25:29-34). [Note: See Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, pp. 418-19, for clarification of the difference between a birthright and a blessing.] In all three incidents Jacob manipulated his brother-unnecessarily, in view of God’s promise (Genesis 25:23).

"This chapter [27] offers one of the most singular instances of God’s overruling providence controlling the affairs of sinful men and so disposing of them that the interests of God’s kingdom are safeguarded. Usually the guilt of Jacob is overemphasized, and Esau is regarded as relatively or entirely the innocent party in the transaction. This traditional view requires modification and correction." [Note: Leupold, 2:735.]

"This chapter portrays an entire family attempting to carry out their responsibilities by their physical senses, without faith. . . .

"All the natural senses play a conspicuous part-especially the sense of taste in which Isaac prided himself, but which gave him the wrong answer. Reliance on one’s senses for spiritual discernment not only proves fallible, but often fouls up life unduly.

"Most importantly, however, the story is about deception." [Note: Ross, "Genesis," pp. 72, 73.]

An oral blessing was as legally binding as a written will in the ancient Near East. [Note: See Davis, p. 239.]

"As in modern society, inheritance under Nuzi law was effected by testamentary disposition, although the [Nuzi] tablets indicate that such a testament was often made orally. One of the tablets tells of a lawsuit between brothers concerning the possession of their late father’s slave girl, Sululi-Ishtar. The youngest of three brothers, Tarmiya, was defending his elder brothers’ claim to Sululi-Ishtar and the tablet sets out his testimony:

’My father, Huya, was sick and lay on a couch; then my father seized my hand and spoke thus to me. "My other sons, being older, have acquired a wife; so I give herewith Sululi-Ishtar as your wife."’

"In the end result the Court found in favour of Tarmiya, upholding his father’s oral testamentary disposition.

"It also appears from another Nuzi tablet that even an oral testament commenced with an opening introductory statement such as: ’Now that I am grown old . . . .’ which was the legal phraseology to indicate that what was to follow constituted a testamentary disposition. In similar manner, Isaac indicated to his elder son Esau that he wished to bestow upon him his testamentary blessing: ’Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death’ (Genesis 27:2)." [Note: West, p. 71. See also Ephraim Speiser, "’I Know Not the Day of My Death,’" Journal of Biblical Literature 74 (1955):252-56.]

Rebekah used her dislike for Esau’s wives as an excuse to gain Isaac’s permission for Jacob to go to Paddan-aram. Paddan-aram was the area around Haran. [Note: See the map "Abraham’s Travels Outside the Promised Land" under my comments on 11:27-32 for its location.] Evidently Rebekah had kept Esau’s hatred for Jacob from his aged father because she believed Isaac was near death (Genesis 27:41). Rebekah’s deceit secured the blessing for Jacob, but it resulted in his having to flee from his home. As far as Genesis records, Rebekah never saw him again.

". . . her broaching the subject of Jacob’s marriage was a masterstroke: it played equally on Isaac’s self-interest and his principles. The prospect of a third Hittite daughter-in-law and a distracted wife would have unmanned even an Abraham." [Note: Kidner, p. 157.]

"Rebekah’s manipulative language to spare Jacob again displays the poverty of Isaac and Rebekah’s relationship. As demonstrated by the previous deception, Isaac and Rebekah do not seem able to communicate honestly with one another on important spiritual matters." [Note: Waltke, Genesis, p. 382.]

Isaac evidently realized that his desire to give the blessing to Esau was not God’s will, so having given it to Jacob (Genesis 27:27-29) he blessed him further (Genesis 28:1-4). [Note: Concerning Isaac’s desire that Jacob marry someone from outside the Promised Land, see the note at 24:3-4.]

This account is another remarkable demonstration of God’s ability to use the sins of men and women to accomplish His purposes and at the same time punish the sinners for their sins.

"What man intends for evil God utilizes for good." [Note: Davis, p. 238. Cf. Romans 8:28.]

Many years later the aged Jacob blessed Joseph’s younger son Ephraim rather than his older brother Manasseh (Genesis 48:14-19). He must have remembered how he had deceived his father Isaac to get his blessing. Joseph’s approach to Jacob on that occasion was honorable by contrast, and his life was free of the consequences of deceit. This was not true of Jacob’s life.

Jacob reaped what he sowed (Galatians 6:7). Laban later deceived him, and later still his own sons (in the case of the sale of Joseph) did so even more cruelly than he deceived Isaac. [Note: For some helpful insights into Jacob’s character, see R. Paul Stevens, "Family Feud," His 42:3 (December 1981):18-20.]

Verses 6-9

Esau’s further marriages 28:6-9

Esau sought to obtain his parents’ approval by marrying one of Abraham’s descendants.

However "he failed to consider that Ishmael had been separated from the house of Abraham and family of promise by the appointment of God; so that it only furnished another proof that he had no thought of the religious interests of the chosen family and was unfit to be the recipient of divine revelation." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:281.]

This great story teaches that when God’s people know His will they should not resort to deceptive, manipulative schemes to attain spiritual success but must pursue God’s will righteously. Every member of Isaac’s family behaved in a self-centered and unprincipled manner, yet God graciously overcame their sins. This reminds us that His mercy is the ultimate ground of salvation.

Verses 10-17

The "ladder" (Genesis 28:12, Heb. sullam) evidently resembled a stairway or ramp. Some interpreters take it as an allusion to a ziggurat while others believe it refers to the slope or ascent of the mountain of Bethel. [Note: See C. Houtman, "What Did Jacob See In His Dream At Bethel?" Vetus Testamentum 27:3 (July 1977):337-51.]

"The ladder was a visible symbol of the real and uninterrupted fellowship between God in heaven and His people upon earth. The angels upon it carry up the wants of men to God, and bring down the assistance and protection of God to men. The ladder stood there upon the earth, just where Jacob was lying in solitude, poor, helpless, and forsaken by men. Above in heaven stood Jehovah, and explained in words the symbol which he saw. Proclaiming Himself to Jacob as the God of his fathers, He not only confirmed to him all the promises of the fathers in their fullest extent, but promised him protection on his journey and a safe return to his home (Genesis 28:13-15). But as the fulfillment of this promise to Jacob was still far off, God added the firm assurance, ’I will not leave thee till I have done (carried out) what I have told thee.’" [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 1:281-82.]

Other visions of God’s heavenly throneroom appear in 1 Kings 22:19-22; Job 1:6-8; Job 2:1-3; Isaiah 6; Ezekiel 1; Zechariah 1:10; Zechariah 6:5; Revelation 4-5; et al. This was God’s first revelation to Jacob, and it came in a dream (cf. John 1:51). Other passages contain promises of the land (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:14-16; Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 24:7), but this one (Genesis 28:13-14) is closest in terminology to the one in chapter 13, which also features a Bethel setting.

Jacob was the second person in the Bible to hear the assurance "I am with you" (Genesis 28:15). Isaac was the first (cf. Genesis 26:3; Genesis 26:24). This was a promise that God later repeated to Moses (Exodus 3:12); Joshua (Joshua 1:5), Gideon (Judges 6:16), regarding Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23), and to all Christians (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5).

Perhaps God’s revelation surprised Jacob because he was preparing to leave the Promised Land (Genesis 28:16-17). He may have felt that God would abandon him since he was leaving the land that God had promised his forefathers.

The "house of God" (Genesis 28:17, Bethel) is the place where God dwells. The "gate of heaven" is the place where Jacob entered heaven (in his dream).

"The term ’fear’ is used in the Bible to describe a mixture of terror and adoration, a worshipful fear (cf. Exodus 19:16)." [Note: Ross, Creation and . . ., p. 491.]

"As Abraham’s vision anticipated narratives from the latter part of the Pentateuch, so Jacob’s vision anticipated the events which were to come in the next several chapters." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 193.]

Verses 10-22

6. Jacob’s vision at Bethel 28:10-22

"From a ’stone pillow’ to a ’stone pillar,’ this account tells how Jacob’s lodging place at Bethel became the most celebrated place of worship among the patriarchal narratives." [Note: Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, p. 442.]

Yahweh appeared at the top of an angel-filled stairway restating the promise to Abraham and adding more promises of blessing and protection for Jacob. The patriarch acknowledged God’s presence, memorialized the place with a monument stone and a name, and vowed to worship the Lord there if He did bless and protect him.

"The two most significant events in the life of Jacob were nocturnal theophanies. The first was this dream at Bethel when he was fleeing from the land of Canaan, which ironically was his by virtue of the blessing. The other was his fight at Peniel when he was attempting to return to the land. Each divine encounter was a life-changing event." [Note: Allen P. Ross, "Jacob’s Visions: The Founding of Bethel," Bibliotheca Sacra 142:567 (July-September 1985):226.]

Bethel receives more mention in the Old Testament than any other city but Jerusalem. This indicates its importance in biblical history.

Verses 18-22

Jacob set the stone up as a memorial to this revelation and God’s promise (Genesis 28:18). Pouring oil on it constituted an act of consecration. Jacob did not build an altar in response to God’s revelation, as his forefathers had done.

Jacob vowed to convert his pillar into an altar if God would fulfill His promise (Genesis 28:15). This is the only recorded time that a patriarch proposed a vow with God (cf. Genesis 31:13). He swore that Yahweh would be his God if God proved faithful to him. Jacob’s vow (Genesis 28:20-21; cf. Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:1-3; Genesis 35:7) can be translated "Since . . . " rather than "If . . . " This was probably not as crass a bargain as it appears to have been, though the record of Jacob’s life shows that he typically was keen on negotiating deals. Jacob was apparently a believer in Yahweh already, but his commitment to God at this time appears to have been somewhat selfish and conditional. He had not yet fully surrendered and dedicated himself to God. [Note: On tithing, see the note on 14:20.]

"The assurance of God’s presence should bring about in every believer the same response of worship and confidence it prompted in Jacob. This is the message from the beginning: God by grace visits His people and promises them protection and provision so that they might be a blessing to others. They in turn were to respond in faith, fearing Him, worshiping Him, offering to Him, vowing to Him, and making memorials for future worshipers at such places." [Note: Ross, "Genesis," p. 75.]

Jacob’s relationship with Yahweh was quite different from what Abraham or Isaac’s relationship had been. God tested Abraham, but Jacob tested God. God told Abraham to leave his country before he entered into blessing, but Jacob imposed conditions on God before he vowed to bless God. [Note: J. H. Walton, Genesis: The NIV Appication Commentary, pp. 573-74.] He was willing to accept God’s promises, but he did not commit himself to God until God proved faithful to him personally. God blessed Jacob because of God’s election and Abraham and Isaac’s faith more than because of Jacob’s faith at this time.

Many believers bargain with God as Jacob did here. They agree to worship Him on their terms rather than because God has proven Himself faithful in the past. God often accommodates such weak faith, but the fact that He does does not commend the practice of bargaining with God.

The revelation of God’s presence and promised blessings inspires genuine worship. This worship is the appropriate response to such revelation.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 28". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". 2012.