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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Isaac directs his son Jacob to take a wife from the family of Laban. Jacob sees in a dream a ladder reaching up to heaven, with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. Awaking from sleep, he admires the vision, and vows the tenth to God.

Before Christ about 1759.

Verse 3

Genesis 28:3, &c. God Almighty bless, &c.— Isaac here confirms the blessing which he had conferred on Jacob, and particularly prays that he may share the blessing of Abraham, that is, without all doubt, the inheritance of Canaan, and the descent of the Messiah, the promised Seed. This blessing is renewed and confirmed by God himself, Gen 28:14 who, it is to be observed, always personally ratified the covenant and promise to the person inheriting it. For a full and accurate discourse concerning the blessings of Jacob and Esau, we refer to the excellent Bp. Sherlock's Use and Intent of Prophecy, p. 116.

Verse 5

Genesis 28:5. Isaac sent away Jacob, &c.— It has been generally supposed, though without any warrant from the text, that Isaac sent away this son, the heir of the promise, to walk quite alone all this long journey into Syria. I cannot conceive, that even in those times, simple as they were, such a step would have been taken: and I apprehend, that the reason which is given for this proceeding in Isaac and Rebekah rather proves the contrary: they sent him away privately, it is supposed, through fear of Esau. Now it is evident that Esau knew perfectly well the whole scheme, (see Genesis 28:6.) and consequently could not have had a fairer opportunity to kill his brother, than in this solitary and unattended journey, as it has been thought. It is therefore much more reasonable to believe, that he was accompanied with presents, and with proper servants, sufficient to defend him from any attacks: nor can one hardly conceive that Abraham would send his servants with camels, &c. and Isaac dismiss his son, the heir of the promise, with his staff only in his hand. Add to this, that from Gen 28:18 it appears he had oil with him, more than sufficient for his own use, as he employed it to other purposes. And as a further confirmation of this opinion, I would observe, that he must have had provisions with him for his journey, as there were no inns or public places of reception; and it is not to be imagined that he was able, (circumstanced as he must have been,) or, if he had been able, that it was proper for him to have travelled alone. These reasons will serve, the more they are weighed, to confute the popular opinion.

REFLECTIONS.—Rebekah's advice, we find, prevailed on Isaac; and, now Jacob is sent away into a distant land, expecting a lingering exile. Note; Those who are God's people must expect the cross with the crown, the suffering with the blessing. Observe,

1. The charge given him, whither he should go, and for what purpose. Note; (1.) It is comfortable to have a godly friend's house, where we can find an asylum. (2.) It is our duty not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

2. The blessing bestowed on him. Isaac was now convinced it was God's will that the blessing should be Jacob's, and therefore confirms the promise. Fruitfulness and numbers should enlarge his house, and Abraham's emphatical blessing, the Messiah, spring from him. Though now a distant exile, the possession of Canaan is his own, and Esau's abode shall not affect his title. Note; Faith can trust more securely on the promise than any other tenure.

3. Jacob sets off without delay, unknowing when he shall return. Behold how God trains him up for greatness by humiliation, and teaches him to govern by his servitude: we find no murmuring at his lot. Note; If they who are reduced to the lowest ebb have the promise of God with them, they have enough to enrich and comfort them.

Verse 9

Genesis 28:9. Then went Esau unto Ishmael That is, to the country or family of Ishmael: see ch. Genesis 36:3. Ishmael himself had now been dead several years. Esau began now to see his rash choice, and fain would mend it by a match more to his father's mind: in order to which he takes a daughter of Ishmael; and thus, instead of mending the matter, he, if possible, but more confirmed the exclusion of his seed from the grand promise, for the bond-woman had been solemnly cast out and rejected. Note; They who have only an eye to please men in what they do, will often meet with bitter disappointments.

Verse 11

Genesis 28:11. Lighted upon a certain place, &c.— From Beer-sheba to Padan-aram was a journey of about 500 miles. In the first day's journey he rested at a place called Luz, Gen 28:19 which is about a day's journey from Beer-sheba. Here he found a convenient place to lodge in, shaded probably with trees, for the word Luz signifies an almond tree: and, used to the labours of a pastoral life, he chose one of the stones which he thought most convenient for his pillow; on which, being properly strawed or covered over, he rested his head and slept: When, behold, the Almighty appeared to him in an extraordinary vision, and renewed his promise of blessing to him. The ladder, which reached from earth to heaven, was a proper image of the Providence of God, whose care extends to all things on earth and in heaven, Psalms 113:5-6. The angels are represented ascending and descending upon this mysterious ladder, because these ministering spirits are always active in the execution of the wise designs of Providence, and are especially appointed guardians to watch over and protect the just, Hebrews 1:14. They ascend, as it were, to receive, and descend to execute the Divine orders. Lastly, by the representation of the Divine Majesty appearing above the ladder, is meant, that however the conduct of Providence be high, and often beyond the reach of human comprehension, yet the whole is under the management of infinite wisdom and goodness; that though we see but a few of the lower steps of the ladder, or that end of it which stands upon the earth, yet it hath a top which reacheth unto heaven; and, could we trace the concatenation of causes and effects up to their hidden source, we should see them all ascend by just gradation higher and higher, till they terminate in the Supreme Being, the first and proper Cause of all, who presides over, superintends, and directs the complicated scheme of Providence, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of things. That this is a true explication of the vision, appears not only from the suitableness of the several images to illustrate all the parts of the moral truth designed, but from the direct application which God makes of it to Jacob, in the 15th verse, by assuring him, that, in consequence of this general view of Providence, and more especially of the grand [evangelical] promise granted to him, his particular interest would always be taken care of, that God was now with him, would keep him in all places whither he went, would bring him again to his father's land, and not leave him until he had accomplished his promise concerning him. And what could have been a more seasonable relief to him in his present circumstances, than to have such a joyful assurance that, though exiled from his native home, he was still in the presence of his Maker; and that, whatever dangers he might be exposed to in his perilous journey, he was safe from any absolute or real evil, under the Divine foresight and protection. See more in Saurin's twenty-eighth Dissertation. Eusebius has made it appear, that the heathens have many traces of this vision of Jacob's, as well as of many other particulars in his life.

Verse 13

Genesis 28:13. The Lord Jehovah; the second Divine Person, He who had always manifested himself to the Patriarchs. The words, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed, might perhaps be read with as much propriety, to thee, EVEN to thy seed: see ch. Genesis 13:15. Nothing can be conceived more majestic than this declaration, on the part of the Almighty; and to Jacob, nothing could be more consolatory and refreshing. The benediction given to Jacob was applied in after-times among the Jews by those who wished a numerous posterity to any one: "God bless you as he blessed Jacob, and make your offspring like to his."

REFLECTIONS.—We have here Jacob on his journey to Syria. Night approaching, he bethinks himself of a lodging. Observe,

1. He had a hard bed and a cold pillow for weary bones to rest upon: but he had God's blessing and care over him, and then he could sleep in peace.
2. His dream, his sacred vision, made up for all the inconveniences of his lodging: Angelic Hosts watched over him. These are the ministering spirits, who, though unseen, still minister to the heirs of salvation. He had left his home and his friends, but God appeared for him, let down his ladder of Grace, and opened to him the gate of heaven. Note; Christ is this ladder: no man cometh to the Father, but by him.

3. God's promise: a confirmation to him and his seed of the covenant made to Abraham; and moreover, an assurance of protection and provision wheresoever he went. Note; If God be our guardian, no danger can come nigh us.

Verse 16

Genesis 28:16. Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not Jacob knew very well that the Lord was in every place; nor can his words be fairly understood to contradict this fundamental knowledge. But though the Lord is in every place, yet, he was pleased, of old times, to vouchsafe his presence to manifest his glory, in some places peculiarly; to this Jacob refers: "This is a place consecrated to, and in which the Lord manifests himself; and I knew not that it was a place of such a nature: I did not know that it was any other than a common spot; I understood not that Jehovah peculiarly manifested his presence here." In the primitive ages, when God vouchsafed to exhibit symbols and tokens of his presence in particular places, it was natural and just to affix a notion of relative sanctity to these places. In this view, all objections concerning the patriarch's imperfect notions of the Deity vanish: and the next words follow with great propriety, This is none other but a house of God, (which I conceived to be an ordinary place,) and this is the gate of heaven! the door of entrance into those celestial regions, which this Divine vision hath represented to me. Some think that these words allude to the custom of those times, of kings and judges keeping their courts in the gates of cities, attended with their guards and officers; as if Jacob had said, "Here God keeps his court, attended by his angels."

Verse 18

Genesis 28:18. Set it up for a pillar, and poured oil, &c.— The antiquity of this custom (of which we shall find frequent mention) is very evident from this place: he set up the pillar to preserve the memory of the vision, and he poured oil upon it, to consecrate it to God, and as a monument of his favour. See Dr. Jackson's Treatise of the Original of Unbelief, c. 35. It might perhaps be esteemed an omission, were we not to observe, that this stone was held in great veneration by the Jews in after-times, and was translated to Jerusalem. And, according to vulgar tradition, this is the stone on which the inauguration of the kings of Scotland was performed, in which the people placed a kind of fatality, and had engraven on it this distich:

Ni fallat fatum, Scoti, quocunque locatum Invenient lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem.

"Or fate's deceived, or Heav'n decrees in vain, Or where they find this stone the Scots shall reign."
It had been brought out of Spain into Ireland, afterwards out of Ireland into Argyleshire, and Edward I. caused it to be conveyed to Westminster.

Verse 19

Genesis 28:19. Of that place, Beth-el That is, the house of God. It is imagined from what follows, (the name of that city was Luz,) that there was a city near the place where Jacob slept; but it is more probable that a city was built there in after-times. From the word Beth-el some derive the baetylia or baetylii of the Heathens, mentioned by Sanchoniatho; a sort of rude stones, which they worshipped as symbols of divinity. The word matzebah, says Stack-house, which our interpreters render a pillar, is by the Septuagint translated σπηλη, and by the vulgar Latin titulus; and hence several, both ancients and moderns, have supposed that there was an inscription on this pillar. The manner of consecrating this pillar was by pouring oil upon it, which Jacob might have by him without a miracle, (considering how common the use of oil is in these hot countries,) to refresh his limbs when weary with travelling; and how necessary upon that account it was to carry some with him in his journey: nor is there any reason to suppose that Jacob made use of this form of consecration in compliance with the custom of the country where he then was. It is uncertain whether this custom was established in Jacob's time; but if it was, it is hardly credible that so pious a man as he is represented, would have adopted a superstitious ceremony into the worship of the true God. The much more probable opinion therefore is, that as the rites of sacrificing and circumcision were instituted before the promulgation of the law; so this manner of consecrating things in the way of unction or libation was at first enjoined the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac by God; and, either by precept or tradition from them, came afterwards to be practised by Jacob: nor is it unlikely but that Jacob's practice in this particular, and the great veneration which was afterwards paid to his monumental pillar, might give occasion to the worshipping such erected stones in future ages, and (upon such abuse) to God's so strictly prohibiting any to be set up: Ye shall not make you any idols or graven image, neither shall ye rear up any matzebah (statue or pillar) to bow down unto it, for I am the Lord your GOD.

Verse 20

Genesis 28:20. Jacob vowed a vow, &c.— This is the first time we find mention made of a vow, which was allowed then, and in after-ages, to be a part of religion, and no doubt had been inculcated upon Jacob as such by his pious ancestors. See Psalms 50:14; Psalms 65:1; Psalms 65:13. The plain meaning of Jacob's vow is this: "If God shall be pleased to preserve me, that I may return again to this place, then will I glorify him here in a public and remarkable manner, by adhering stedfastly to the true religion in the midst of this land of idolaters; and this place where I have set up a pillar, will I mark as my most solemn place of public worship, ch. Genesis 35:3. and the tythe of all that I get before my return will I consecrate to God, either by applying it to the maintenance of the poor, or for other pious uses." From which explication it appears that the vow has no particular and immediate reference to that internal worship of God, which is our indispensable duty at all times and in all places, otherwise we might well suppose that Jacob intended to forsake the God of his fathers during the interval; but that it refers only to special acts of gratitude and religion. Jacob's moderation in requesting only the necessaries of life, food and raiment, shews his character in an amiable view.

Verse 22

Genesis 28:22. This stone, &c.— Not that he intended, as Le Clerc observes, to erect any building in the place, but only that by coming and worshipping there, he would appropriate this stone to the service of God, and probably build an altar there; for in these early times they adored God under the open canopy of heaven, and groves or mountains were all their temples. And we may observe, as we have already intimated, that it has been usual in all the early ages of the world to consider such sacred scenes, or theatres of devotion, as peculiar habitations of the Divinity, on account of that Divine Presence, or intercourse with God, which truly pious minds enjoyed in acts of worship there. Superstition at length abused this relative sanctity into a notion of the Divine Presence being confined to statues, temples, groves, and consecrated houses.

I will surely give the tenth unto thee This is the second place in which we find mention of the tenth, or tythes, solemnly consecrated to God. Jacob promises to give them in return for his prosperous journey, as his grandfather Abraham had given them in return for his victory. To what use these tythes were immediately appropriated is not quite clear. Upon our hypothesis, that a regular priest-hood, as well as sacrifices, was appointed from the beginning, there will be no great doubt about the matter. Bp. Patrick observes very judiciously upon the subject, that it may certainly be hence concluded, that Jacob was induced to vow a tenth by the custom which was then among religious people. How they came to pitch upon this portion, rather than a fifth, twentieth, or any other, is not so easily to be resolved. But they seem to speak with much reason who observe, that in the number ten all nations in a manner end their account, (Aristotle in his Problems, Genesis 50:3 : § 15.) and then begin again with compound numbers; or, as others phrase it, this is the end of less numbers, and the beginning of greater; so that it was looked upon as the most perfect of all other, and accordingly had in great regard. But, after all, it seems most likely to me that they had some divine direction for it, as they had for sacrificing.

REFLECTIONS.—Jacob had a blessed night's rest: he probably wished rather still thus to sleep than to awake. Observe,

1. How he was affected when he awoke. Struck with surprize and reverential awe, he cries, How dreadful is this place! God was there, and he knew it not. Note; (1.) God is nearer us than we are always aware. (2.) His comfortable presence is the joy of heaven: we are at the gate, when in his ordinances he manifests himself to us, as he doth not to the world. (3.) Whenever we are conscious of his nearness, it will ever humble us in the dust under the view of our own vileness.

2. What he did to preserve the memory of such a visit. He set up his pillow for a pillar, and pouring out his oil upon it, called it by a new name, Beth-el, the house of God. Note; The time and place where God first appeared to us in mercy deserve a perpetual memorial.

3. His vow thereupon. If God bring him back in peace, and during his exile supply him with food and raiment, (he asks no more,) then, (1.) The Lord shall be his God. (2.) Whatever God bestows on him, the tenth shall be dedicated to him. Note; [1.] To bind our souls to God by solemn engagements is a grateful return we owe to his love. [2.] We should learn with Jacob to be content with food and raiment. [3.] To have the Lord for our God is not more our duty than our privilege.

[4.] We must make conscience in dedicating part of our worldly goods to the use of the poor, and the service of God's cause, according to our ability.
We may observe on this whole chapter, that the regard which the Lord paid to Jacob shews, that HE is present with his children wherever they are, and that he employs his angels for their security and defence. While from Jacob we may observe, that a believer is never alone; he finds his God every where, in the silence of the night, in the hurry of travelling, in the noise of the most busy towns, in the solitude of the most frightful desarts. And from Jacob we may learn, to moderate our desires, and to devote to God part of our substance, in a peculiar sense, as a proof of our piety and gratitude.

Reflections on Jacob's vision as typical of the mediatorial office of the Messiah.

We have already shewn how this vision, in its immediate and primary sense, was representative of the providence of God. And we shall not perhaps think amiss, if we consider the emblematical ladder as a figure of the Messiah himself, who is the blessed Medium of communication between heaven and earth; the way without whom no one comes to the Father, and the one Mediator between God and man. We cannot perhaps find a better explication of what Christ himself promised to Nathanael, that Israelite indeed, "Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man," Joh 1:51 than by comparing it with this wonderful ladder, which he seems to compare to himself. And there is no contemptible analogy; for, first, whereas the foot of this ladder was on earth, and the top reached to heaven, this may represent both what is the constitution of his person, and what are the blessed fruits of his mediatorial interposition. As the ladder seemed to unite the heaven and earth, the most distant extremes, so the Person of Immanuel unites the Human Nature and the Divine, though the distance between them is infinitely great: and as the ladder opened a path from God to man, and from man to God, by reaching from heaven to earth, so the mediation of Jesus Christ has paved a way both for the approach of the Deity to sinners, that he may dwell with them; and for the access of sinners unto God, that they may dwell with him, and have their conversation in heaven. O merciful and faithful High-Priest, by thy incarnation and satisfaction a friendly correspondence is established between heaven and earth; for thou hast laid thy hand upon us both, and art thyself our new and living way to everlasting bliss, and the channel of conveyance to every spiritual blessing!—Whereas the angels of God were seen to ascend and descend upon the ladder: this may both signify, that in Jesus Christ angels and men shall be united in one society; and that by Jesus Christ those angelic hosts are upheld from falling, and supported in their happy state. Were not they the friends of men, why should they be represented as running upon our errands? Were they not confirmed and supported by Jesus our Mediator, why should spiritual beings and winged messengers be said to ascend and descend upon the Son of Man as on a ladder?—Whereas the Lord stood above this ladder, and from its top spoke good and comfortable words to his servant Jacob, confirming the gracious covenant made with his fathers: is not this an intimation, that God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, confirming his covenant, and uttering his gracious promise, as well pleased in his Beloved Son?—Whereas, in the vision, Jacob alone was at the foot of the ladder, on whose top the Lord seemed to stand: might not this have been considered by the adoring patriarch, after he awoke, as a comfortable intimation, that the glorious Person who was signified by the vision should spring out of his loins, and be made of his seed according to the flesh, as the true possessor of the birth-right, and inheritor of the patriarchal blessing? And, lastly, Whereas he saw but one ladder, Jesus Christ is the alone Mediator, without whom the Father comes to no man, and no man comes to the Father.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 28". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-28.html. 1801-1803.
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