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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-22

Genesis 28:1. Isaac called Jacob and blessed him. A heart-rending business to be forced away from his father’s house in the 58th year of his age. He went not with a train of ten camels, as were sent to his mother when brought to Isaac, but as a pilgrim with his staff in his hand to learn to trust in the Lord. Isaac, in the charge respecting Jacob’s marriage, kept his eye constantly on the promises, and in this he is an example to believers, for the Lord is ever mindful of his faithful word. Young men, on leaving their father’s house, should carefully preserve their religion.

Genesis 28:9. The daughter of Ishmael. Had he not taken two wives before, this would not have been reprehensible; but a motive merely to please man, spoils the best of actions in God’s account.

Genesis 28:11. Lighted upon a certain place. Luz or Beth-el was forty-eight miles from Beer-sheba. Men on an average, encumbered with provisions, &c., would not be able to walk so far now in one day, the stature and strength of man being much diminished since Jacob’s time. He probably travelled in this private way with a staff in his hand, to avoid the pursuit or ambuscade of Esau; and he thought it no hardship to sleep as a shepherd, barely sheltered with trees from the dew.

Genesis 28:12. Dreamed. God did not think proper now to honour Jacob, as he did Abraham, with a visit of his angelic presence. He sees it good not to exalt man too much at the first. The ladder has had many comments upon it; and some of those by the ancient fathers and critics have been highly amusing, rather than edifying. The vision seems at first to have been designed to comfort Jacob, by a view of the care of heaven over him; but on comparing the passage with John 1:49, where our Saviour promised the disciples that they should see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man, it would seem that this ladder was figurative of more than Jacob’s safety. Jesus Christ has descended from heaven to earth by many steps of lineage from Adam to Mary; and he has approached man at sundry times and in divers manners, by visions and revelations of his will. He has by his cross joined heaven and earth, God and man. He also manifested himself to St. Stephen, with heaven open, and himself standing at the right hand of God. Ascending. The angels return to heaven, as accountable beings, when they have fulfilled their mission; and it is by many steps of faith and piety that we ascend to God, and by many steps and movements that providence accomplishes its designs.

Genesis 28:13. I am the Lord God of Abraham. This vision, and hearing these words, afforded the most seasonable consolation to our exiled patriarch, who probably went on his way with many fears, and bedewing his path with frequent tears. It manifested the presence of his covenant God, pointed out his mode of life, wandering from place to place, and promised protection in all his peregrinations and removals of residence. It conferred upon him the whole land, far as the most distant hills his eye could reach, and promised him a posterity numerous as the dust under his feet. Above all, it discovered the invisible world, and a future state, connecting heaven and earth by an angelic ministry. He saw the Lord at the top of the ladder; and of course the cherubim and seraphim, dreadful to behold with eyes of sinful flesh. The prophet Ezekiel admits when he saw the magnitude of those celestial figures, and the wide strake of their wings, that their movements were “dreadful.” Thus the covenant of God with the fathers is the covenant with their children, to which every individual is called, like Jacob, to subscribe with all his heart. Nor should it escape remark, that the Lord made this covenant sure by the superinduction of the grand promise, “In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”

Genesis 28:16. I knew it not. Jacob did not expect visions. He thought himself in this journey exiled from the presence of the Lord; but good men often find him in times and places when and where they did not expect.

Genesis 28:17. House of God, where he reveals his glory, and unfolds his covenant; where he comforts the distressed with marks of his special regard. The gate of heaven. Christ is the gate or door by which we enter into the kingdom of heaven, and faith in him the only way that leads to it.


In Jacob’s flight from his father’s house we may remark, that he went out with the benediction and counsel of his aged Sire: he did not abscond, and abandon him in the advanced period of life. It is good for a son, about to seek his fortune in the wide world, to have the good wishes and blessings of his parents. He should regard these as the best of gifts; abruptly to leave home without this, is a strange defect of filial piety. The first and great object of Isaac’s counsel respecting the marriage of his son, that he must not connect himself with any woman except she feared the Lord, was solely in these hopes, that Isaac confirmed to Jacob the blessings of the covenant; and it must be with the same hopes and purposes that all young men must look for a share in the same temporal and spiritual blessings.

Esau, seeing that his brother went off in the highest favour of his father, becomes half a convert to the maxims of the patriarchs respecting religious marriages. But God looketh at the heart, and unless every action be done with a single eye to his glory, and proceed from faith in Jesus Christ, it cannot be approved, however laudable it may appear in the eyes of men.

The Lord will guide the poor afflicted wanderer in seeking rest and bread. Jacob seems to have left home with a heavy heart, and to have invoked the divine protection; and God showed him the communication which subsists between heaven and earth, the guard of angels, and his ever watchful eye looking down on man, whether waking or asleep. What then has he to fear? No evil shall happen to him while God is his guardian and strong defence. The Lord, in this dream completely dispelled the fears of Jacob, by confirming to him the covenant and promises made to Abraham, and renewed with Isaac. In like manner, when God makes a discovery to young men of his truth and love, they are personally called to enter into covenant with him, and to devote their lives from that period to his glory.

Jacob did this in a way becoming the blessed vision with which his soul had been favoured. He took the stones of the place and set them up for a memorial, and called it Bethel, or God’s house. He poured oil upon it, which was all the oblation his situation afforded. He, on this occasion, modestly asked only food and raiment, for we tempt God when we ask for riches and hurtful things. Those elevated to opulence and distinction in life, find themselves assailed with a thousand cares, anxieties and griefs, which never troubled them when labouring for their bread. If God would grant him these, in his pastoral life, he vowed to devote in return the tenth of his small substance to the Lord. Let us also learn to cherish and support the cause of God. His ministers who serve us should never want food and raiment, the blessing which we ask of God for ourselves and our children.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 28". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/genesis-28.html. 1835.
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