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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

Verses 1-22


Though scripture tells us that Isaac loved Esau, he had not done as Abraham had in making sure that Isaac's wife was of his own kindred. Rebekah's words to him now evidently awaken him out of such laxity, and he called Jacob and charged him that he must not take a wife of the Canaanites, but must rather go to Padan-aram and take a wife from the kindred of his grandfather, in fact one of the daughters of Jacob's uncle Laban (v.2). Today a marriage of cousins is not wise because weaknesses have multiplied greatly since sin was introduced into the human family, and special weaknesses attach to each family. Those weaknesses would be doubled by the marriage of two who are closely related, and the children therefore likely to be badly affected. In early history this was not a problem at all.

Isaac again gives Jacob his blessing in verses 3 and 4, desiring that God Almighty might make him fruitful and multiply his descendants, and that through him God's promise to Abraham should be fulfilled, both as to his descendants and as to the possession of the land of promise. It seems clear in this passage that Isaac's thoughts had been corrected, for he did not speak this way to Esau. When God had overruled him in having the blessing given to Jacob, then at least Isaac stayed by this action, and here confirms it in no uncertain terms.

Isaac then sends Jacob away (v.5). Possibly this was some relief to Esau, for he did not have to kill Jacob, yet would have him far removed from him. But when Esau knew that Isaac had given Jacob his blessing and sent him away with a charge not to take a wife from the Canaanites, and that Jacob had obediently accepted the charge of his parents (vs.6-7), then Esau was stirred up about the fact that his two wives had not pleased his father (v.8). Yet how sad was his effort to remedy the situation! Apparently he thought his parents would be more pleased by his adding another wife, just so long as she had some relationship to Abraham! So he took the daughter of Ishmael, the son of the bondwoman (v.9). This is of course the foolish reasoning of the flesh. He knew his father had only one wife: how could he expect him to be pleased with Esau's having three! In fact, even the third one alone would not be pleasing to Isaac, who had been persecuted by his half brother Ishmael. But "they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:8).


Jacob goes out from Beersheba (v.10). This is a striktng picture of the nation Israel, the sons of Jacob; for Beersheba means "the well of the oath" and Haran means "mountaineer." Israel has practically left the ground of the unconditional promise of God and has chosen rather the mountain of law-keeping, as though this could ever bring the blessing of God! Just as Jacob, all the time he was in Haran, retained a character of selfish bargaining, so Israel at present remains in a state of self-righteousness, professing to believe and obey the law, but not submitting to the righteousness of God (Romans 10:3).

We are told only of one of the nights Jacob spent on his way to Haran. He laid down to sleep with a stone for a pillow. No doubt he found the law of God rather a hard resting place also, for it is as hard as the stones upon which it was written.

Though Jacob was not walking in communion with God, yet God was not stopped from communicating with him. When God sends a dream He has a captive audience (v.12), and this dream given to Jacob was of particular significance. He saw a ladder set up on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Some have imagined that this intimates that man by his spiritual energy is able to climb up to heaven, gradually ascending by human effort, into favor with God. But it has nothing to do with man's ascending, just as is true when the Lord tells Nathanael he would "see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51).

This is a prophetic picture of the future restoration of communication between heaven and earth, once interrupted by Adam's sin. The fulfilment of this will be during the 1000 years of peace introduced by the coming of the Lord in power and glory. God gave this dream to Jacob in order to assure him that, in spite of Jacob's failure and wandering, God's purposes remained absolutely certain.

The Lord stood above the ladder and told Jacob, "I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac." There was to be no mistaking the fact that Jacob's blessing did not depend on Jacob's faithfulness. The source of it went back, not only to his father and his grandfather, but to the living God, who had revealed Himself in grace to both Abraham and Isaac, and who would not change His purpose even though Jacob was a failing vessel, just as is true as regards God's purposes as to the nation Israel, whom Jacob represents.

In this dream of Jacob the Lord's initial message to him is that He would give him the land on which he was lying. Though Jacob was in a poor state of soul, the Lord did not reprove him, but emphasized the grace of His own heart. He promised the land to Jacob and his descendants. This has nothing to do with heavenly blessing, but is plainly earthly, so that natural blessings in earthly places is all that is promised to the children of Israel, in contrast to "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places" that are today the possession of all the saints of God, members of the body of Christ, the church (Ephesians 1:3).

Consistently therefore, Jacob's seed would be "as the dust of the earth" (v.14), not "as the stars of heaven" (ch.26:4), which was a promise to Isaac because he is a type of Christ in connection with the church, the bride, as typified in Rebekah. The Lord further emphasizes the earthly character of Jacob's blessing in saying that his descendants would spread "to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south." There are no such directions in heaven. More than this, in Jacob and his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. Israel will be the center of blessing on earth in the coming day of millennial glory, and in identification with Israel all the Gentile nations will be blessed. This is a firm, absolute declaration.

Added to this is the Lord's promise to Jacob personally, that he would be with him and keep him everywhere he went, and would bring him back to the land of promise (v.15). He would not leave him till his promises were fulfilled completely. This promise is totally unconditional. This is all the more striking when we consider that Jacob was not enjoying a good state of soul. Nothing therefore depended on Jacob's faithfulness.

Jacob was not really going with God at this time, but God was going in pure grace with Jacob. This is typical also of God's preserving hand being over the nation Israel even at a time when they have failed miserably and are in a state of wandering and self seeking. Though for centuries they have been dispersed in this condition of self-will, God "has not cast off His people whom He fore knew," and He will yet restore them affliction not to depend on themselves, but on their God who cannot fail.

Jacob's soul was stirred to its depths by the dream. In waking up he was alarmed by the fact that the Lord was in that place and he had not realized it (v.16). Did he think it might have been better to go on to another place? Could the Lord not meet him wherever he went? However, it is good that the fear of God was deeply impressed on him to such an extent that he called the place "the house of God" and "the gate of heaven" (v.17), and after 20 years absence he did not forget that place.


Now Jacob sets up the first of four pillars that were landmarks in his eventful life. He set up the stone he had used as a pillow and poured oil on it, calling the place Bethel, "the house of God." Abraham had before dwelt between Bethel and Ai (ch.12:8), and Jacob simply renames the place. "The name of the city had been Luz previously" (v.19). This name means "separation," and reminds us that the house of God must be given a place of holy separation from all the principles of man's civilization.

Though Jacob appreciated God's blessing, yet his faith as to God's promise was pathetically weak. Rather than simply thanking God for the absolute truth of His word, Jacob considered that he also should make a promise to God! But Jacob's promise is conditional, not unconditional, as God's was. Abraham had been "strong in faith, giving glory to God, - being firmly persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform" (Romans 4:20-21), but Jacob was not so sure. He said, "If God will be with me" (v.20). But what God promises, faith simply believes.

However, did Jacob desire God's presence because he wanted to enjoy fellowship with God? This does not seem to be his motive. Rather, he realized that God was able to bless him and keep him in the way he had chosen to go, as well as supplying his food and clothing. Jacob did not ask for God's way (as Moses did inExodus 33:13; Exodus 33:13), but rather desired God's blessing in the way Jacob decided to go! But God had told him He would bless him and bring him back to his homeland. All he needed to do was to believe this and therefore be concerned about enjoying the Lord Himself. If this had been his object, how much trouble he would have been spared!

He promises that, on condition the Lord will fulfil all His promises, then when this is accomplished the Lord would be his God. Who would be his God in the meantime? Also he promises that the stone he set would be God's house. How many there are like Jacob who think that in the future they will be concerned about the truth of God's house, but at present think their own house more important!

He vows too that he would surely give to God one tenth of all that God gave to him! Did he seriously think he was being very generous? God had said, "I will," but Jacob said, "I will surely." Of course God's promise is perfectly fulfilled, but there is no record of Jacob's having ever carried out his promise to give God one tenth of all.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 28". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/genesis-28.html. 1897-1910.
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