Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 28

Verses 1-9

JACOB (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 37:2 a)

Jacob Flees to Haran to Find a Wife of His Own Kin And Remains There Over Twenty Years Establishing His Own Sub-Tribe Before Returning Home (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 37:2 a).

Jacob’s Departure (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 28:9 )

Genesis 27:46

‘And Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do to me?” ’

It was always the intention of Isaac and herself to obtain a wife for Jacob from their kinsfolk. The way in which this is the constant aim of the family demonstrates a sense in which they felt themselves to be exclusive. They were like royalty in past days, but even more exclusive.

The purpose behind this was presumably the maintenance of the exclusiveness of the family tribe itself, and of its leadership within the tribe. To marry outside the family would be to introduce foreign elements. Canaanite daughters would introduce religious practises that were seen as evil, for Canaanite religion was debased. To marry within the commonality of their own tribe could damage the recognition of their own patriarchal status in the eyes of the tribe.

There is a lesson for all Christians here to ensure that they marry those who will deepen rather than challenge their faith. Marrying a non-believer is condemned in Scripture (2 Corinthians 6:14).

There had been no hurry in bringing this about, but events have now precipitated matters. For his own safety from a revengeful brother Jacob must be got to a place of safety. Yet Isaac must be kept unawares of the strains within the family, and Rebekah knew that he would probably dismiss the threat to Jacob out of hand. He would say he should be able to stand up for himself. And he certainly would not like the suggestion that they were all waiting for him to die (Genesis 27:41). So she goes to Isaac with the suggestion that now is the time to consider a wife for Isaac. However, like any wise diplomat she wants him to think that the suggestion is his.

So she satisfies herself with telling him how distressed she is to think of Jacob marrying a Canaanite woman. ‘Such as these’ may even suggest that some have been showing interest in Jacob and have been visiting the tribe. And her plan succeeds. She knew she had only to plant the seed and he would act on it.

But she had no conception of the fact that Jacob would be away for so long.

Thus Genesis 27:46 is the opening introduction to the new covenant narrative which continues in Genesis 28:0. But it is also important as a connecting link. The compiler clearly wanted it to be seen as connecting directly with the previous narrative. Yet it is equally the commencement of the following narrative.

Jacob Seeks a Wife in Haran and Marries Leah and Rachel (Genesis 27:46 to Genesis 30:24 )

This covenant narrative is based around Yahweh’s covenant with Jacob in Genesis 28:13-15. He obtains wives and is abundantly fruitful, bearing many children. The initial covenant record was possibly Genesis 28:1-22 recorded by Jacob as solemn evidence of Yahweh’s covenant with him. The second, which records the fulfilment of the promise of fruitfulness, may have been added subsequently as a postscript, or may have been a separate record resulting from the vivid awareness by his wives of Yahweh’s intervention in the birth of their children.

Genesis 28:1-2

‘And Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him and said to him, “You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take for yourself a wife from there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother.” ’

Having been prompted by Rebekah’s words Isaac, unaware of the undercurrents around him, calls for Jacob and sends him to his wife’s family, the family of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, to find a suitable wife. The fact that he knows that Laban has daughters serves to demonstrate that the families kept in touch. (Compare for the detail Genesis 25:20).

But noteworthy is the fact that in contrast to the servant who went to Paddan-aram for Rebekah on Isaac’s behalf Jacob bears no expensive wedding gifts. Isaac is clearly not pleased with him. He must make his own way. Alternately it may be that the family tribe was going through hard times and such gifts were not possible. In those days catastrophe, disease and human enemies could soon devastate the fortunes of wealthy semi-nomads as Job 1:0 demonstrates.

Genesis 28:3-4

“And God Almighty (El Shaddai) bless you and make you fruitful, and multiply you that you may be a company of peoples. And give you the blessing of Abraham to you, and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.”

This charge now recognises that Jacob is to receive authority over the family tribe after Isaac has gone, not only the immediate tribe but over the wider family (‘the company of peoples’), and has become the recipient of the blessings of the covenant. The mention of El Shaddai (the Almighty God) as in Genesis 17:0, where the ‘multitude of nations’ is also mentioned, links it with the wider covenant given there. Compare also Genesis 35:11 where God reveals Himself to Jacob as El Shaddai and ‘a company of nations’ is mentioned. The term El Shaddai is thus used when ‘many nations’ are in view in contrast with the more personal name of Yahweh which is more closely connected with the national covenant. Yahweh is the name of God, but He is given many titles in relation to His activities.

Jacob is to become a company of peoples, and is to receive the blessing of Abraham, which includes inheritance of the land in which they at present ‘sojourn’ (that is, live without a settled place to call their own). This anticipates the fact that future Israel will be made up of many nations. We can consider the mixed multitude who united with Israel at the Exodus 12:38 and the nations later conquered and absorbed through history.

Genesis 28:5

‘And Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.’

The continual emphasis of the detail confirms the importance put on the family connection. The repetition is typical of Ancient Near Eastern literature.

Genesis 28:6-7

‘Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take for himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge saying, “You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan, and that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother and was gone to Paddan-aram.’

Up to this point Esau had not considered the question of the provenance of his wives. He appears to have acted independently in his marriages and with little thought to the covenant community. Now the actions of Isaac bring him up short.

The writer is deliberately bringing out the contrast to establish the worthiness of Jacob to take over his father’s position. Jacob does that which is right by the family and the covenant, Esau did not. It is to Jacob, by his actions, that the inheritance truly belongs. With all his failings Jacob was true to the covenant.

“That Jacob obeyed his father and his mother.” The writer lays great stress on Jacob’s obedience in the marriage field. It demonstrates what a central feature it was in his thoughts. He sees Esau’s failure in this a crucial factor.

Genesis 28:8-9

‘And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan did not please Isaac, his father, and Esau went to Ishmael, and added to the wives that he had Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife.’

This verse demonstrates the close connection kept with the wider family. Esau is welcomed by Ishmael’s family as a suitable husband for their daughter, and clearly knows fairly quickly where to find them in order to pursue his suit.

Esau’s love for his father constantly comes over. He desires to please him and the feeling is reciprocated. Yet he did so in independence and not like Jacob in filial obedience. Here he seeks to remedy, rather belatedly, his error in marrying Canaanite women. This brings out how independently he had acted when he married the latter. But even here he acts independently.

This union explains why we next see Esau as leader of a band of men in Seir. He has found the independent lifestyle of the Ishmaelites to his liking. And he is aware that he has no future with the family tribe, thus fulfilling Isaac’s words (Genesis 27:40).

Verses 10-22

Jacob meets God at Bethel (Genesis 28:10-22 )

Genesis 28:10

‘And Jacob went out from Beersheba and went towards Haran.’

At this stage Isaac and the family tribe are still firmly situated in Beersheba. Twenty years later they will be found in Mamre near Hebron (Genesis 35:27). That the tribe had kept in close touch with the children of Heth, who were connected with Mamre (Genesis 23:17-18), is clear from Genesis 26:34; Genesis 27:46. Perhaps they had outstayed their welcome at Beersheba. That Jacob had kept in touch with his family comes out in that he later knows where to find them.

Jacob would not travel alone. In Genesis 32:10 he refers to crossing the river only having a staff, but that is probably because he did not see those who travelled with him as his own. They and the gifts were Isaac’s. He would almost certainly have servants with him, together with suitable gifts to present to the wider family. (It would seem for example that Rebekah sent with him her own nurse, a typical motherly gesture - see Genesis 35:8). Not to take gifts would be a solecism of the worst kind. But he was without the expensive marriage gifts which would have made his way easier. This omission is quite startling. It suggests Isaac’s displeasure with him. He did not want him back quickly and would be quite happy if he remained in Paddan-aram. Rebekah felt the same for a different reason. She wanted him where he would be safe. Alternately it may indicate a period of relative tribal poverty. It may be that Jacob is to restore the family’s fortunes.

Genesis 28:11

‘And he lighted on a certain place and tarried there all night because the sun was set, and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.’

The coincidental nature of the resting place is stressed. Though he knows it not an invisible hand is guiding him. The stone is mentioned because it will become a sacred pillar (Genesis 28:18).

Genesis 28:12

‘And he dreamed, and behold, a ramp set up on the earth and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it.’

The word ‘sullam’ (‘heaped up) suggests a kind of ramp leading upwards. And moving up and down this ramp were angels of God. The general message is clear, that the messengers of God are watching over God’s purposes in the world, and especially as regards Canaan. Compare Genesis 32:1-2 also the angelic messengers in Genesis 19:0 and Zechariah 1:8-11. But the use of ‘God’ rather than ‘Yahweh’ indicates general activity rather than specific covenant activity. It is Jacob who is being looked after by Yahweh Himself (Genesis 28:15).

We note in passing that there is no idea of these angels as having wings, that is why they need a ramp. In fact angels are never described as having wings. Wings are limited to the cherubim/seraphim.

Genesis 28:13-14

‘And behold Yahweh stood above it (or ‘by him’) and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I will give to you and to your seed the land on which you lie. And your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and you will break forth to the west, and to the east, and to the north and to the south. And in you and in your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.” ’

Now Jacob has a theophany of Yahweh, as his fathers had had before him. He sees a vision of God in a dream, and God speaks to him directly as the God of his fathers. He confirms the promises made in the covenant. The land is to belong to their children, they will become countless as the dust of the earth, they will spread abroad widely in all directions, and through them the whole world will be blessed. The final purpose of God is always universal blessing. Jacob is now formally accepted as the seed through whom the promises would be fulfilled.

Genesis 28:15

“And behold I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you again to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you of.”

God’s sovereign purpose in Jacob is revealed. It is not because Jacob is worthy but because God purposes it. Yet there is in Jacob that which will respond, and indeed has responded, and while his behaviour leaves much to be desired God will work on him to make him what he ought to be. Thus God will be with him and will keep and guard him, and will bring about His purpose through him. Jacob is Yahweh’s personal concern.

We too may feel unworthy in our walk with God, but it is not our sense of worthiness that matters but the fact that God is at work on our lives and we are responsive. If we are His He will work in us to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).

Genesis 28:16

‘And Jacob awoke from his sleep, and he said, “Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I did not know it”. And he was afraid and said, “How awe-inspiring is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”.’

Jacob awakes, still filled with the dread and awe that his experience has aroused in him. It is possible that he takes what he has seen literally and thinks that this is literally the place where heaven and earth conjoin and where there is a gate (in the sense of a city gate) through which angels can pass. But more likely he sees it as temporary. Yahweh is here, even though he had not been aware of it. And the place has thus become for the time being the dwelling-place of Yahweh, ‘the house of God’ (beth elohim) and the gateway to heaven.

All this must not be over-pressed. Jacob is aware that Yahweh has revealed Himself in a number of places, for example, at Shechem (Genesis 12:6), in various unnamed places (Genesis 15:1 on; Genesis 17:1 on) and in Beersheba (Genesis 26:24). Each is in its own way as sacred as Bethel. And worship of Yahweh is not confined to Palestine (Genesis 24:26; Genesis 24:48; Genesis 24:52. See also Genesis 29:32; Genesis 29:35 which demonstrate that Jacob has introduced his wives to the worship of Yahweh). The fact that Yahweh will be with him wherever he goes, and will not leave him, is a guarantee of that. But for him Bethel will always be special, for here was where he first met God personally and heard His voice speaking to him.

How often God comes to us when we least expect it. Like Jacob we wander to ‘a certain place’ and then God meets us there.

Genesis 28:18

‘And Jacob arose early in the morning and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.’

The pouring of oil on the pillar was to sanctify it to God, to set it apart as ‘holy’ (Leviticus 8:10-11; Numbers 7:1). It was to become a sacred pillar, a pillar for a memorial of the covenant renewed with him. Setting up stones was regularly a physical reminder of covenants (compare Genesis 31:45-52; Genesis 35:14; 1 Samuel 7:12; Joshua 4:3; see also 2 Samuel 18:18). The pouring with oil gave it a special significance as a holy memorial.

Generally such stone pillars erected in this way were very large. If that is so here the stone will have been lying sideways when he used it as a pillow, mainly buried in the ground, and he put it up on end, no doubt with the help of his servants. In that case ‘took’ in verse 11 would simply mean ‘selected’.

Genesis 28:19

‘And he called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.’

Jacob names the place where he is ‘Beth-el’ (the house of God) but the closest city is called Luz. Its name was later changed to Bethel because of this incident. But the name is not static. Joshua 16:2 still distinguishes between Bethel and Luz, although they are clearly very close (Joshua 18:13). The use of Bethel earlier in Genesis is a result of scribal updating. It was not uncommon for ancient names to be updated when documents were copied. This constant changing or re-adaptation of names in Genesis reflects the gradual taking over of the land by the patriarchs.

Genesis 28:20-22

‘And Jacob vowed a vow saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall Yahweh be my God, and this stone which I have set up for a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that you will give me I will surely give a tenth to you.” ’

Jacob makes a vow. If God will watch over him as He has promised (Genesis 28:15) then he will indeed be totally dedicated to Yahweh. The vow is threefold. Yahweh will be his God, the place where the stone has been erected will be a cult sanctuary to His worship, and he will give one tenth of all he receives to God.

We note that he says ‘if God will be with me’ where we might expect ‘Yahweh’. The terms were interchangeable. But he is going into a foreign land where Yahweh is not acknowledged and thus thinks in terms of ‘God’ going with him. But if the journey is successful then he will establish His worship as the worship of Yahweh, the God of his fathers. He is not saying that Yahweh will become his God but that he will be reconfirmed as his God.

The verse demonstrates that Jacob sees ‘Elohim’ as firmly equated to ‘Yahweh’. The idea of the reconfirmation of Yahweh as his God parallels other examples where a similar idea is in mind (e.g. Exodus 6:3).

“This --- pillar shall be ‘the house of God” (beth elohim).’ As men approach the pillar they will recognise the presence of God and will engage in worship because it signifies that God appeared there and made his covenant with man. But Jacob does not limit God to a stone. His vision alone has made clear to him the transcendence of God. As Genesis 28:19 demonstrates he calls the area as a whole Bethel.

“A tenth.” A recognised percentage given to one to whom one owes dues, as with Abraham to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20). It was a principle recognised elsewhere in the Ancient Near East. He is acknowledging God as his overlord. The change from the third person to the first person in the last phrase reflects the depths of Jacob’s personal dedication.

It is quite probable that this section was put in written form immediately as a covenant document, either by himself or one of his men, a guarantee to Jacob that his future is secured by Yahweh.

Jacob’s vow brings home to us the importance of worship and measured Christian giving in response to the goodness of God.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 28". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/genesis-28.html. 2013.