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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verses 1-22

Genesis 28:0

I. If there be little poetic or romantic charm in the history of Isaac, what a wealth of it there is in that of Jacob! A double deceit, followed by banishment from his country; this expulsion relieved and brightened, first by a glorious vision and then by unexampled prosperity in the strange land whither he had gone; long toils, travails, disappointments, and quarrels; and, at last, light at eventime in Egypt, and the spirit of prophecy resting upon his soul. Jacob's love for Rachel is the most pleasing trait in his character, as the prophecy from his deathbed is the most sublime.

II. The story of Joseph has often and truly been called a romantic one, as marvellous as anything in the "Arabian Nights," and yet alive all over with truth and nature. It combines the charms of the most finished fiction and of the simplest truth. It is at once the strangest and the most likely of stories. The character of Joseph, so mild, yet so determined, so wise and so affectionate, yet so astute and pious, develops before you as naturally as a bud into a flower or a slip into a tree. The subordinate characters in this drama of life are all drawn by brief but most powerful strokes, from the wife of Potiphar with her mock cry, to the chief butler with his tardy admission, "I do remember my faults this day"; from the kindness of Reuben to the cruelty of Simeon; from the tenderness of Benjamin to the pleading eloquence of the repentant Judah.

III. From the history of Jacob and Joseph we may gather these additional thoughts. (1) Let us learn to admire even the eddies of life, and to respect even the weaker members of the Church of God (Isaac). (2) Sometimes, though seldom, policy and piety are found in the same character (Jacob). (3) Let us rejoice that, even in this world of dull injustice and leaden law, there are again and again opened up to aspiring spirits sudden opportunities of rising, like Jacob's ladder stretched along the sky. (4) Let us remember that we, too, in our turn, must be gathered, like the patriarchs, to our fathers.

G. Gilfillan, Alpha and Omega, vol. ii., p. 21.

References: Genesis 28:0 . F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 101; M. Dods, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; Old Testament Outlines, pp. 13, 16, 18; Wells, Bible Children, p. 43.Genesis 29:0 . Expositor, 2nd series, vol. vi., p. 267; F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 110; R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. ii., pp. 17, 28, 36. Genesis 29:20 . W. Meller, Village Homilies, p. 142.Genesis 29:26 . Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 321. Gen 29-31. Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 539; Parker, vol. i., p. 280.

Verses 10-13

Genesis 28:10-13

In his dream Jacob saw three things:

I. A way set up between earth and heaven, making a visible connection between the ground on which he slept and the sky.

II. The free circulation along that way of great powers and ministering influences.

III. He saw God, the supreme directing and inspiring force, eminent over all. From these we learn: (1) that every man's ladder should stand upon the ground: no man can be a Christian by separating himself from his kind; (2) along every man's ladder should be seen God's angels; (3) high above all a man's plans, high above all his heroic moral resolves, there is to be a living trust in God.

H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 1870, p. 643.

Verses 10-15

Genesis 28:10-15

I. Consider the circumstances under which the vision here described was granted to Jacob. He had left his home and was suffering trial and hardship; he was a friendless and unprotected man.

II. Look at the nature of his vision. From this glimpse into the secrets of the unseen world, it appears: (1) that the angels are interested in the well-being of God's people; (2) that heaven is a place of activity; (3) that there is a way of communication open between heaven and earth. This way represents the mediation of Christ.

III. Look at the promises which on this occasion were made to Jacob: (1) God promised to be with Jacob; (2) God promised His protection and guidance to Jacob; (3) God promised him final deliverance from all trouble.

A. D. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 108.

I. God is near men when they little think it. He is near (1) when we are not aware of it; (2) when sin is fresh upon us; (3) when we are in urgent need of Him.

II. God is near men to engage in their religious training (1) God assured Jacob of His abiding presence with him. (2) Jacob was taught to recognise God in all things. (3) He was taught to feel his entire dependence upon God throughout the journey of life.

III. God is always near men to effect their complete salvation. Intercourse has been established between earth and heaven; the whole process of man's salvation is under the superintendence of God.

D. Rhys Jenkins, The Eternal Life, p. 347

Reference: Genesis 28:10-16 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. ii., p. 98.

Verses 10-17

Genesis 28:10-17

Jacob makes his brother's hunger an occasion for bargaining with him for his birthright. Esau says, "What profit shall this birthright do to me?" Neither one nor the other knew what good it would do. The vision of something to be realised now or hereafter dawned upon Jacob a vision probably mixed with many sensual and selfish expectations, still of a good not tangible, a good which must come to him as a gift from God. The absence of all want, all discontent with the present and the visible, is the feeling which exhibits itself in the acts and utterances of Esau.

I. The vision at Bethel was the first step in Jacob's Divine education the assurance which raised him to the feelings and dignity of a man. He knew that though he was to be chief of no hunting tribe, there might yet come forth from him a blessing to the whole earth.

II. Jacob's vision came to him in a dream. But that which had been revealed was a permanent reality, a fact to accompany him through all his after-existence. The great question we have to ask ourselves is, Was this a fact for Jacob the Mesopotamian shepherd, and is it a phantasm for all ages to come? or was it a truth which Jacob was to learn that it might be declared to his seed after him, and that they might be acquainted with it as he was, but in a fuller and deeper sense? If we take the Bible for our guide we must accept the latter conclusion and not the former. The Son of Man is the ladder between earth and heaven, between the Father above and His children upon earth which explains and reconciles all previous visions, and shows how angels and men can meet and hold converse with each other.

F. D. Maurice, The Patriarchs and Lawgivers of the Old Testament, p. 100.

References: Genesis 28:10-18 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 25.Genesis 28:10-22 . S. A. Brooke, Sermons, 2nd series, pp. 231, 249; E. Irving, Collected Works, vol. iii., p. 500; Parker, vol. i., p. 274; Sermons for Boys and Girls (1880), p. 116; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 537; Preacher's Monthly, vol. i., p. 181.

Verses 11-13

Genesis 28:11-13

I. The ladder whose top reached to heaven while its base rested on the earth is the Son of Man who was also the Son of God. If we attempt to approach God otherwise than through the humanity of Christ, utter failure and disappointment shall be the end of our efforts. But the access which we could not ourselves obtain, God has provided in Christ. He is the ladder set up on the earth.

II. The ascending and descending angels represent the communications which, through His mediation, are constantly passing to and fro between God and man.

III. Our churches are our Bethels, where the eye of the mind is opened spiritually to discern the true Ladder and the innumerable company of angels who throng its shining stair.

E. M. Goulburn, Occasional Sermons, p. 83.

Verses 11-16

Genesis 28:11-16

Sleeping to see. One may be too wide-awake to see. There are things which are hidden from us until we lie down to sleep. Only then do the heavens open and the angels of God disclose themselves.

I. It does not follow that God is not because we cannot discern Him, because we are not aware of Him. Little do we dream of the veiled wonders and splendours amidst which we move. To Jacob's mental fret and confusion, the wilderness where God brooded was a wilderness and nothing more. But in sleep he grew tranquil and still; he lost himself the flurried, heated, uneasy self that he had brought with him from Beersheba, and while he slept the hitherto unperceived Eternal came out softly, largely, above and around him. We learn from this the secret of the Lord's nearness.

II. No man is ever completely awake; something in him always sleeps. There is a sense in which it may be said with truth that were we less wakeful, more of God and spiritual realities might be unveiled to us. We are always doing too much so for finest being; are always striving too much so for highest attaining. Our religion consists too much in solicitude to get; it is continually "The Lord, the Father of mercies ," rather than "The Lord, the Father of glory." We require to sleep from ourselves before the heavens can open upon us freely and richly flow around us.

S. A. Tipple, Echoes of Spoken Words, p. 201.

Reference: Genesis 28:11-22 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 529.

Verse 12

Genesis 28:12 .

I. Jesus, the Ladder, connects earth with heaven.

II. This ladder comes to sinners.

III. God is at the top, speaking kind words down the ladder.

IV. Advice to climbers: (1) Be sure to get the right ladder; there are plenty of shams. (2) Take firm hold; you will want both hands. (3) Don't look down or you will be giddy. (4) Don't come down to fetch any one else up. If your friends will not follow you, leave them behind.

T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, p. 91.

I. The ancient heathens told in their fables how the gods had all left the earth one by one; how one lingered in pity, loath to desert the once happy world; how even that one at last departed. Jacob's dream showed something better, truer than this; it showed him God above him, God's angels all about him.

II. The intercourse between God and man has been enlarged and made perpetual in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son.

III. When Jacob awoke he consecrated a pillar, and vowed to build a sanctuary there and give tithes. We cannot altogether commend the spirit in which he made his vow. He tried to make a good bargain with the Almighty; yet God accepted him. The place was holy to him, because he knew that God was there.

R. Winterbotham, Sermons and Expositions, p. 31.

References: Genesis 28:12 . M. Nicholson, Communion with Heaven, p. 77; J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 2nd series, p. 66; W. Meller, Village Homilies, p. 86; R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 3rd series, p. 53; Bishop Woodford, Occasional Sermons, p. 242.Genesis 28:12-22 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 272; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 99. Genesis 28:13 . Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 129.

Verse 15

Genesis 28:15

Jacob's life began in moral confusion. There was no great moral flaw, such as we find in the life of David; but there was a want of perfect openness, frankness, generosity, in carrying out his aims. And yet, to such a soul, God in His goodness came and came quietly and comforted him with the assurance of His presence and of His love nay, of His companionship and of His abundant blessing.

I. In what does the treasure of God's companionship consist? It consists: (1) in the consciousness of God's personality; (2) in the precious possessions He gives us love, reason, conscience, will. To our conscience new light is given; to our love new spheres are open; our will receives new strength from the new example of His love and grace.

II. While these faculties are taken up the companionship of God becomes a reality of our daily life and our "exceeding great reward." And then, besides, and with all this, we have the consciousness of communion with the Incarnate Word "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever"; we know what to do and where to find Him. In this life we are to walk by faith. Our capacities are not intended to be satisfied here, but they shall be satisfied hereafter.

Bishop King, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 193.

There are two very observable facts which may be gathered from the joint study of the Bible and our own hearts. The first is, that we are prone to distrust the promises of God though we know Him to be unchangeable; the second is, that God so condescends to our weakness that He reduplicates His pledges, in order, as it were, to compel us into confidence.

I. God speaks to His people of sin blotted out; He speaks of the thorough reconciliation which Christ has effected between Himself and the sinner; He speaks of His presence as accompanying the pilgrim through the wilderness; of His grace as sufficient for every trial which may or can be encountered. The things of which God speaks to His people spread themselves through the whole of the unmeasured hereafter, and it must follow that the pledge of our not being left until the things spoken of are done is tantamount to an assurance that we shall never be left and never forsaken.

II. The text is thus a kind of mighty guarantee, giving such a force to every declaration of God, that nothing but an unbelief the most obstinate can find ground for doubt or perplexity. It does not stand by itself, but comes in as an auxiliary in declaring God's glorious intention. It is a provision against human faithlessness, words which may well be urged when a man is tempted with the thought that, after all, a thing spoken of is not a thing done, and which bid him throw from him the thought that God is not bound to perform whatever He has promised.

H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1921.

These words teach us: (1) that God has a plan or scheme of life for every one of us, and that His purposes embrace every part of that plan; (2) that no words of God about our life will be left unfulfilled; (3) that there is no unfinished life. The promise is a promise of presence, intercourse, and fellowship.

S. Martin, Comfort in Trouble, p. 181.

Reference: Genesis 28:15 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1630.

Verse 16

Genesis 28:16

At Bethel Jacob gained the knowledge for himself of the real presence of a personal God. He felt that he a person, he a true living being, he a reasonable soul, stood indeed before an infinite but still a true personal being before the Lord Almighty. Then it was that the patriarch entered into the greatness of his calling, and felt for himself the true blessedness of his inheritance.

I. This living sense of God's presence with us is a leading feature of the character of all His saints under every dispensation. This is the purpose of all God's dealings with every child of Adam to reveal Himself to them and in them. He kindles desires after Himself; He helps and strengthens the wayward will; He broods with a loving energy over the soul; He will save us if we will be saved. All God's saints learn how near He is to them, and they rejoice to learn it. They learn to delight themselves in the Lord He gives them their hearts' desire.

II. Notice, secondly, how this blessing is bestowed on us. For around us, as around David, only far more abundantly, are appointed outward means, whereby God intends to reveal Himself to the soul. This is the true character of every ordinance of the Church: all are living means of His appointment, whereby He reveals Himself to those who thirst after Him. We use these means aright when through them we seek after God. Their abuse consists either in carelessly neglecting these outward things or in prizing them for themselves and so resting in them, by which abuse they are turned into especial curses.

S. Wilberforce, Sermons, p. 66.

References: Genesis 28:16 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 401; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 548. Genesis 28:16 , Genesis 28:17 . J. B. Mozley, Parochial and Occasional Sermons, p. 28; W. F. Hook, Sermons on Various Subjects, p. 152; Archbishop Thomson, Life in the Light of God's Word, p. 143.Genesis 28:16-22 . R. S. Candlish, Book of Genesis, vol. ii., p. 10.

Verse 17

Genesis 28:17

I. It must have been the freshness of Jacob's sense of recent sin that made a spot so peaceful and so blessed seem to him a "dreadful" place. Everything takes its character from the conscience. Even a Bethel was awful, and the ladder of angels terrible, to a man who had just been deceiving his father and robbing his brother. The gates of our heaven are the places of our dread.

II. Strange and paradoxical as is this union of the sense of beauty, holiness, and fear, there are seasons in every man's life when it is the sign of a right state of mind. There is a shudder at sanctity which is a true mark of life. The danger of the want of reverence is far greater than the peril of its excess. Very few, in these light and levelling days, are too reverent The characteristic of the age is its absence.

III. Our churches stand among us to teach reverence. There are degrees of God's presence. He fills all space, but in certain spots He gives Himself or reveals Himself, and therefore we say He is there more than in other places. A church is such a place. To those who use it rightly it may be a "gate of heaven."

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 9th series, p. 81.

References: Genesis 28:18 . Expositor, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 169, and vol. vii., p. 66, Genesis 28:19 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 108.

Verses 20-22

Genesis 28:20-22

Jacob and Esau are very like men that we meet every day commonplace, ordinary men, neither of them distinguished in character or ability. They were children of a weak father and of a crafty mother. Neither of them has any special religiousness. In the case of Esau the sensuous half of the man is all that could be desired, the spiritual half is altogether wanting. The natural half of Jacob's character is far less noble than that of Esau, but there were also in him certain religious susceptibilities a religious imagination and sentiment and personal purity which constituted the possibility of religious development. The difference between them is the difference between the good things in a bad man and the bad things in a good man, with their contrasted issues. Both of these youths began with the somewhat feeble religiousness of Isaac's tent. It took no hold upon Esau the profane, and he became Edom. It did take some hold upon Jacob the crafty, and he became Israel.

I. The night at Bethel was clearly a crisis in Jacob's religious character. He lay down a desolate, smitten, remorseful lad; the swift retribution of his sin had overtaken him. His vision was a revelation of the spiritual world and a teaching of the vital connection of God's providence with our human life. A wanderer of whom no human eye took cognisance, he was still under the eye of God; an exile for whom no one cared, God's angels ministered to him. Like Peter, his fall had been the means of his rising to a new spiritual life.

II. And then Jacob vowed his vow. It sounds somewhat carnal and bargain-making, but I do not think it was. Jacob simply takes up the words which God had spoken to him. They were the ideas of his day: he would be devout and benevolent, serve God and man according to his opportunity. He would offer to God all that he could offer. His history is a great parabolic lesson for young men not in its details of wrong-doing and remorse, but in its departure from home, in the loneliness of a new life, and in its new sense of God and consecration to Him.

H. ALLON, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 60.

Reference: Genesis 28:20-22 . W. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 100.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Genesis 28". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/genesis-28.html.
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