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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-9


Genesis 28:1

And Isaac called Jacob (to his bed-side), and blessed him,—in enlarged form, renewing the benediction previously given (Genesis 27:27)—and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan (cf. Genesis 14:3). Intermarriage with the women of the land was expressly forbidden to the theocratic heir, while his attention was directed to his mother's kindred.

Genesis 28:2

Arise, go to Padan-aram (vide Genesis 14:10; Genesis 25:20; Genesis 27:43), to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father;—(vide Genesis 14:24). If yet alive, Bethuel must have been very old, since he was Isaac's cousin, and probably born many years before the son of Abraham—and take thee a wife from thence—though Isaac's wife was found for him, he does not think of imitating Abraham and dispatching another ,Eliezer in search of a spouse for Rebekah's son. Probably he saw that Jacob could attend to that business sufficiently without assistance from others—of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother (vide Genesis 14:1-29). "Isaac appears to entertain no doubt of Jacob's success, which might be the more probable since the same reason which kept Jacob from marrying in Canaan might prevent Laban's daughters from being married in Haran, the worshippers of the Lord being few (Inglis).

Genesis 28:3

And God Almighty—El Shaddai (vide Genesis 17:1)—bless thee,—the Abrahamic benediction in its fullest form was given by El Shaddai (vide Genesis 17:1-8)—and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be—literally, and thou shalt become (or grow to)—a multitude—an assembly, or congregation, or crowd called together, from a root signifying to call together (Gesenius), or to sweep up together (Furst); corresponding to ἐκκλησία in Greek—of people.

Genesis 28:4

And give thee the Blessing of Abraham,—i.e. promised to Abraham (vide Genesis 12:2; Genesis 22:17, Genesis 22:18). The additions of τοῦ παρός μου (LXX.), אביךְ = τοῦ πατρὸς σου (Samaritan), are unwarranted—to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger,—literally, the land of thy sojournings (Genesis 17:8)—which God gave unto Abraham—by promise (cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:7, Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:8).

Genesis 28:5

And Isaac sent away Jacob (Rebekah only counseled, Isaac commanded): and he went to Padan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethel the Syrian (vide Hosea 12:12), the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother. The historian here perhaps intentionally gives the first place to Jacob.

Genesis 28:6-9

When (literally, and) Esau saw that Issue had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge,—literally, in his blessing him (forming a parenthesis), and he commanded him—saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan; and that (literally, and) Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone (or went) to Padan-aram; and Esau seeing that (more correctly, saw that) the daughters of Canaan pleased not (literally, were evil in the eyes of) Isaac his father; then (literally, and) went Esau unto Ishmael (i.e. the family or tribe of Ishmael, aiming in this likely to please his father), and took unto the wives which he had (so that they were neither dead nor divorced) Mahalath (called Bashemath in Genesis 36:3) the daughter of Ishmael (and therefore Esau's half-cousin by the father's side, Ishmael, who was now dead thirteen years, having been Isaac's half-brother) Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth,—Ishmael's firstborn (vide Genesis 25:13)—to be his wife.


Genesis 28:1-9

Jacob and Esau, or diverging paths.


1. The path of duty. Entered on in obedience to his mother's wish and his father's commandment, it was an evidence of filial piety. It is the token of a good son that he "hears the instruction of his father, and forsakes not the taw of his mother" (Proverbs 1:8). Sons come to mature age should respect and, where not inconsistent with allegiance to God, yield submission to parental authority (Proverbs 6:20; Malachi 1:6; Ephesians 6:1-3).

2. The path of blessing. The benediction already bestowed upon Jacob was repeated with greater amplitude and tenderness before he left the patriarchal tent. Happy the youth who enters upon life's journey carrying on his head and in his heart a father's blessing I much more who goes forth beneath the canopy of Heaven's benediction! and this is ever the experience of him who travels by the way of filial obedience. Pious children seldom fail to come to honor, and never want the favor of the Lord (Psalms 37:26; Proverbs 4:20-22; Proverbs 8:32).

3. The path of promise. In addition to his father's blessing and the Almighty's benediction, Jacob carried with him as he left Beersheba the promise of a seed and an inheritance to be in due time acquired; and in like manner now has the saint exceeding great and precious promises to cheer him in his heavenward pilgrimage, promises the full realization of which is attainable only in the future (John 14:2; 1 Peter 1:4).

4. The path of hope. Sad and sorrowful as Jacob's heart must have been as he kissed his mother and bade farewell to Isaac, it was at least sustained by pleasant expectation. Gilding the horizon of his future was the prospect of a wife to love as Isaac had loved Rebekah, and to be the mother of the seed of promise. So the pathway of the children of promise, though often painful, arduous, and protracted, is always lighted by the star of hope, and always points to a bright and beautiful beyond.


1. The way of sin. His former wives being neither dead nor divorced, the conduct of Esau in adding to them a third was wrong.

2. The way of shame. In the selection of Ishmael's daughter he hoped to please his father, but was apparently indifferent about the judgment of either Rebekah or Jehovah. Daring transgressors, like Esau, rather glory in their shame than feel abashed at their wickedness.

3. The way of sorrow. If not to himself, at least to his pious parents, this fresh matrimonial alliance could not fail to be a grief. The daughter of Ishmael was certainly better than a daughter of the Hittites, being almost as near a relative on Isaac's side as Rachel and Leah were on Rebekah's; but, unlike Rachel and Leah, who belonged to the old family stock (the Terachites) in Mesopotamia, Mahalath descended from a branch which had been removed from the Abrahamic tree.


1. The care which pious parents should take to see their sons well married.

2. The piety which children should delight to show to their parents.

3. The connection which subsists between true religion and prosperity.

4. The inevitable tendency of sin to produce shame and sorrow.

5. The wickedness of violating God's law of marriage.


Genesis 28:1-9

Life with, and life without, God.

The divergence of the two representative men is seen in this short statement of their marriage relations.

1. Domestic life under the blessing of God and apart from that blessing.

2. The true blessing is the blessing of Abraham, the blessing which God has already provided, promised, and secured.

3. The heir of the blessing must be sent away and learn by experience how to use it.

4. The disinherited man, who has scorned his opportunity, cannot recover it by his own devices. Esau is still Esau. Polygamy was suffered, but never had the blessing of God upon it.—R.

Verses 10-22


Genesis 28:10

And Jacob went out from Beersheba,—in obedience to his father's commandment to seek a wife (Genesis 28:2), but also in compliance with his mother's counsel to evade the wrath of Esau (Genesis 27:43; cf. Hosea 12:12. On Beersheba vide Genesis 21:31; Genesis 26:33and went towards Haran—probably along the route traversed by Abraham's servant (cf. Genesis 14:10).

Genesis 28:11

And he lighted upon a certain place,—literally, he struck upon the place; i.e. either the place best suited for him to rest in (Inglis), or the place appointed for him by God (Ainsworth, Bush), or more probably the well-known place afterwards mentioned (Keil, Wordsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary'). Situated in the mountains of Ephraim, about three hours north of Jerusalem, it was not reached after one, but after several days' journey (cf. Genesis 22:4)—and tarried there all night, because the sun was set;—being either remote from the city Luz when overtaken by darkness, or unwilling to enter the town; not because he hated the inhabitants (Josephus), but because he was a stranger—and he took of the stones of that place,—i.e. one of the stones (vide Genesis 28:18). "The track (of pilgrims) winds through an uneven valley, covered, as with gravestones, by large sheets of bare rock; some few here and there standing up like the cromlechs of Druidical monuments"—and put them for his pillows,—literally, and put for his head-bolster, the word signifying that which is at the head of any one (cf. 1Sa 19:13; 1 Samuel 26:7, 1 Samuel 26:11, 1 Samuel 26:16; 1 Kings 19:6)—and lay down in that place to sleep (cf. Genesis 19:4; 1 Samuel 3:5, 1 Samuel 3:6, 1 Samuel 3:9).

Genesis 28:12

And he dreamed. This dream, which has been pronounced "beautifully ingenious," "clever" and "philosophical," the work of a later Hebrew poet and not of Jacob (De Wette), was not wonderful considering the state of mind and body in which he must have been—fatigued by travel, saddened by thoughts of home, doubtless meditating on his mother, and more than likely pondering the great benediction of his aged and, to all appearance, dying father. Yet while these circumstances may account for the mental framework of the dream, the dream itself was Divinely sent. And behold a ladder—the rough stones of the mountain appearing to form themselves into vast staircase (Stanley, Bush)—set up an the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven:—symbolically intimating the fact of a real, uninterrupted, and close communication between heaven and earth, and in particular between God in his glory and man in his solitude and sin—and behold the angels of God—literally, the messengers of Elohim, i.e. the angels (Psalms 103:20, Psalms 103:21; Psalms 104:4; Hebrews 1:14)—ascending and descending on itvide John 1:51, which shows that Christ regarded either the ladder in Jacob's vision as an emblem of himself, the one Mediator between God and man (Calvin, Luther, Ainsworth, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Murphy), or, what is more probable, Jacob himself as type of him, the Son of man, in whom the living intercourse between earth and heaven depicted in the vision of the angel-trodden staircase was completely fulfilled (Hengstenberg, Baumgsrten, Lange, Bush).

Genesis 28:13

And, behold,—"the dream-vision is so glorious that the narrator represents it by a threefold הִגֵּה (Lange)—the Lord stood above it,—the change in the Divine name is not to be explained by assigning Genesis 28:13-16 to the Jehovistic editor (Tuch, Bleek) or to a subsequent redactor (Davidson), since without it the Elohistic document would be abrupt, if not incomplete (Kalisch), but by recalling the fact that it is not the general providence of the Deity over his creature man, but the special superintendence of the God of Abraham and of Isaac over his chosen people, that the symbolic ladder was intended to depict (Hengstenberg)—and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac:—thus not simply proclaiming his personal name Jehovah, but announcing himself as the Elohim who had solemnly entered into covenant with his ancestors, and who had now come, in virtue of that covenant, to renew to him the promises he had previously given them—the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed—given to Abraham, Genesis 13:15; to Isaac, Genesis 26:3.

Genesis 28:14

And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth,—promised to Abraham, Genesis 13:16; to Isaac, under a different emblem, Genesis 26:4and thou shalt spread abroad (literally, break forth) to the west, and to the east, to the north, and to the south:—(cf. Genesis 13:14; Deuteronomy 12:20). In its ultimate significance this points to the world-wide universality of the kingdom of Christ (Murphy)—and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed (vide Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18 (Abraham); Genesis 26:4 (Isaac).

Genesis 28:15

And, behold, I am with thee,—spoken to Isaac (cf. Genesis 26:24); again to Jacob (Genesis 31:3); afterwards to Christ's disciples (Matthew 28:20)—and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest,—literally, in all thou goest—in all thy goings (cf. Genesis 48:16; Psalms 121:5, Psalms 121:7, Psalms 121:8)—and will bring thee again into this land;—equivalent to an intimation that his present journey to Padan-aram was not without the Divine sanction, though apparently it had been against the will of God that Isaac should leave the promised land (vide Genesis 14:6, Genesis 14:8)—for I will not leave thee,—a promise afterwards repeated to Israel (Deuteronomy 31:6, Deuteronomy 31:8), to Joshua (Genesis 1:5), to Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:20), to the poor and needy (Isaiah 41:17), to Christians (Hebrews 13:7)—until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of—cf. Balaam's testimony to the Divine faithfulness (Numbers 23:19), and Joshua's (Gen 21:1-34 :45), and Solomon's (1 Kings 8:56). It is impossible, in connection with this sublime theophany granted to Jacob at Bethel, not to recall the similar Divine manifestation vouchsafed to Abraham beneath the starry firmament at Hebron (vide Genesis 15:1).

Genesis 28:16

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep (during which he had seen and talked with Jehovah), and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. Jacob does not here learn the doctrine of the Divine omnipresence for the first time (Knobel), but now discovers that the covenant God of Abraham revealed himself at other than consecrated places (Rosenmüller, Keil, Lange, Murphy); or perhaps simply gives expression to his astonishment at finding that whereas he fancied himself alone, he was in reality in the company of God—so plus adeptum ease quam sperare ausus fuisset (Calvin).

Genesis 28:17

And he was afraid,—so were Moses (Exodus 20:18, Exodus 20:19), Job (Genesis 42:5, Genesis 42:6), Isaiah (Genesis 6:5), Peter (Luke 5:8), John (Revelation 1:17, Revelation 1:18), at similar discoveries of the Divine presence—and said, How dreadful is this place!—i.e. how to be feared! how awe-inspiring! φοβερὸς (LXX.), terribilis (Vulgate)—this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. Not literally, but figuratively, the place where God dwells, and the entrance to his glorious abode (Keil); the idea that Jacob was "made aware by the dream that he had slept on one of those favored spots singled out for a future sanctuary, and was fearful that he had sinned by employing it for a profane purpose" (Kalisch), being fanciful.

Genesis 28:18

And Jacob rose up early in the morning (cf. Genesis 19:27; Genesis 22:3), and took the stone that he had put for his pillows (vide supra), and set it up for a pillar—literally, set it up, a pillar (or something set upright, hence a statue or monument); not as an object of worship, a sort of fetish, but as a memorial of the vision (Calvin, Keil, Murphy; cf. Genesis 31:45; Genesis 35:14; Joshua 4:9, Joshua 4:20; Joshua 14:1-26; 1 Samuel 7:12)—and poured oil upon the top of it. Quasi signum consecrationis (Calvin), and not because he regarded it as in itself invested with any degree of sanctity. The worship of sacred stones (Baetylia), afterwards prevalent among the Greeks, Romans, Hindoos, Arabs, and Germans, though by some regarded as one of the primeval forms of worship among the Hebrews, was expressly interdicted by the law of Moses (cf. Exodus 22:24; Exodus 34:13; Le Exodus 26:1; Deuteronomy 12:3; Deuteronomy 16:22). It was probably a heathen imitation of the rite here recorded, though by some authorities (Keil, Knobel, Lange) the Baetylian worship is said to have been connected chiefly with meteoric stones which were supposed to have descended from some divinity; as, e. g; the stone in Delphi sacred to Apollo; that in Emesa, on the Orontes, consecrated to the sun; the angular rock at Pessinus in Phrygia worshipped as hallowed by Cybele; the black stone in the Kaaba at Mecca believed to have been brought from heaven by the angel Gabriel (vide Kalisch in loco). That the present narrative was a late invention, "called into existence by a desire" on the part of the priests and prophets of Yahweh (Jehovah) "to proclaim the high antiquity of the sanctuary at Bethel, and to make a sacred stone harmless", is pure assumption. The circumstance that the usage here mentioned is nowhere else in Scripture countenanced (except in Genesis 35:14, with reference to this same pillar) forms a sufficient pledge of the high antiquity of the narrative (vied Havernick's 'Introd.,' § 20).

Genesis 28:19

And he called the name of that place Bethel—i.e. a house of God. Rosenmüller and Kalisch find a connection between Bethel and Baetylia, the former regarding Beetylia as a corruption of Bethel, and the latter viewing Bethel as the Hebraised form of Beetylion. Keil objects to both that the interchange of τ in βαιτύλιον, and Θ in βαιθήλ), would be perfectly inexplicable. On the site of Bethel (Beitin) vide Genesis 12:8. But the name of that city was called Luz at the first. Originally the Canaanitish town, built according to Calvin after this event, was called Luz, or "almond tree," a name it continued to bear until the conquest (Judges 1:23). From the circumstances recorded in the narrative, Jacob called the spot where he slept (in the vicinity of Luz) Bethel—the designation afterwards extending to the town (Genesis 35:6). Until the conquest both titles appear to have been used—Luz by the Canaanites, Bethel by the Israelites. When the conquest was completed the Hebrew name was substituted for the Hittite, the sole survivor of the captured city building another Luz in another part of the country (vide Judges 1:26).

Genesis 28:20, Genesis 28:21

And Jacob vowed a vow,—not in any mercenary or doubtful spirit, but as an expression of gratitude for the Divine mercy (Calvin), as the soul's full and free acceptance of the Lord to be its own God (Murphy), as the instinctive impulse of the new creature (Candlish)—saying, If (not the language of uncertainty, but equivalent to "since, ' or "forasmuch as;" Jacob by faith both appropriating and anticipating the fulfillment of the preceding promise) God (Elohim; for the reason of which vide infra) will be with me,—as he has promised (Genesis 28:15), and as I believe he will—and will keep me in this way that I go,—a particular appropriation of the general promise (Genesis 28:15)—and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on (i.e. all the necessaries of life, included, though not specially mentioned, in the preceding promise), so that I come again to my father's house—also guaranteed by God (Genesis 28:15), and here accepted by the patriarch—in peace (i.e. especially free from Esau's avenging threats); then shall the Lord be my God—literally, and Jehovah will be to me for Elohim (Rosenmüller, Hengstenberg, Keil, Kalisch, 'Speaker's Commentary'), though the received translation is not without support (LXX; Vulgate, Syriac, Calvin, Michaelis, Lange, Murphy, Wordsworth); but to have bargained and bartered with God in the way which this suggests before assenting to accept him as an object of trust and worship would have been little less than criminal. Accordingly, the clause is best placed in the protasis of the sentence, which then practically reads, "if Elohim will be Jehovah to me, and if Jehovah will be to me Elohim".

Genesis 28:22

And (or then, the apodosis now commencing) this stone which I have set for a pillar (vide on Genesis 28:18) shall be God's house—Bethel, meaning that he would afterwards erect there an altar for the celebration of Divine worship—a resolution which was subsequently carried out (vide Genesis 35:1, Genesis 35:15). "The pillar or cairn or cromlech of Bethel must have been looked upon by the Israelites, and may be still looked upon in thought by us, as the precursor of every "house of God" that has since arisen in the Jewish and Christian world—the temple, the cathedral, the church, the chapel; nay, more, of those secret places of worship that are marked by no natural beauty and seen by no human eye—the closet, the catacomb, the thoroughfare of the true worshipper. And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. Literally, giving I will give the tenth (cf. Genesis 14:20). The case of Jacob affords another proof that the practice of voluntary tithing was known and observed antecedent to the tune of Moses


Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob at Bethel, or heaven opened.


1. His desolate condition. Exiled from home, fleeing from the murderous resentment of a brother, o'er-canopied by the star-lit firmament, remote from human habitation, and encompassed by a heathen population, on the bleak summit of the Bethel plateau, upwards of sixty miles from Beersheba, the wandering son of Isaac makes his evening couch with a stone slab for his pillow, an emblem of many another footsore and dejected traveler upon life's journey.

2. His inward cogitations. The current of his thoughts needs not be difficult to imagine. Mingling with the sadness of leaving home, and the apprehension with which he regarded the uncertain future, there could not fail to be a sense of security, if not a gleam of hope, arising from the consciousness that he carried with him his father's blessing; in this again affording a reflex of most men's lives, in which joy and sorrow, hope and fear, continually meet and strangely blend.

3. His heavenly visitation. If the dream by which Jacob's slumber was disturbed was occasioned by unusual cerebral excitement, if its psychological framework was supplied by the peculiar color of his meditations, it is still true that it was made the medium of a Divine theophany and revelation. So God, who is "never far from any one of us," is specially near to his children in solitude and sorrow, "in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed, opening the ears of men, and sealing their instruction" (Job 33:15, Job 33:16).


1. The celestial vision.

(1) A ladder reaching from earth to heaven; suggesting the thought of an open pathway of communication between God and man, and in particular between the heirs of the promise and their covenant God.

(2) The angels of God ascending and descending upon it; symbolizing God's providential government of the world by means of the celestial hosts (Psalms 103:20, Psalms 103:21; Psalms 104:4), but especially the ministry of angels towards the heirs of salvation (Psalms 91:11; Hebrews 1:14). A truth henceforward to be exemplified in the experience of Jacob, and afterwards more fully, indeed completely and ideally, realized in Christ.

(3) Jehovah standing above it. The situation occupied by the symbolic presence of Jehovah was designed to indicate two things: first, that Jehovah was the true and only source whence blessing could descend to man; and, second, that the, pathway which had been opened up for sinful man conducted straight into God's immediate presence. Thus it was a visible unveiling of the grace and glory comprehended in the covenant, and now fully revealed by the gospel.

2. The accompanying voice.

(1) Proclaiming the Divine name; as the covenant God of Abraham and of Isaac, of which the New Testament interpretation is the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the true seed of Abraham.

(2) Renewing the covenant promises—of a land, of a seed, of a blessing.

(3) Personally engaging to extend to Jacob continual attendance,—"Behold, I am with thee,"—constant protection,—"and will keep thee in all thy goings,"—complete fidelity,—"I will not leave thee," &c.; in all which again the voice was but an anticipatory echo of the heavenly voice that sounds in the gospel.


1. Devout impression. The night having passed in contemplation of the unseen world, the morning found the startled sleeper with a strong sense of the supernatural upon his soul, which filled him with alarm. Even to God's reconciled children awe-inspiring (cf. Job 42:6; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8; Revelation 1:17), a vivid realization of the Divine presence is to the sinful heart overwhelmingly terrible.

2. Reverent adoration. "This is none other but the house of God"—implying ideas of Divine residence,—"Surely the Lord is in this place!" Divine provision,—the thoughts of "bread to eat and raiment to put on" appear to have been suggested to Jacob's mind,—and Divine communion—Jacob realizes as never before the conception of personal intercourse between Jehovah and his people;—"and the gate of heaven"—in which lie embedded the fundamental notions of nearness, vision, entrance.

3. Grateful commemoration.

(1) He sets up the stone slab on which his head had rested as a visible memorial of the sublime transaction which had there occurred, and in token of his gratitude pours the only gift he carried with him on it, viz; oil. Sincere piety demands that God's merciful visitations should be remembered and thankfully acknowledged by offerings of the choicest and best of our possessions.

(2) He calls the name of the place Bethel: in the mean time with a view to his own comfort and satisfaction, but also, there is little doubt, with an eye to the instruction and encouragement of his descendants. It is dutiful in saints not only to rejoice their own hearts by the recollection of Divine mercies, but also to take measures for transmitting the knowledge of them to future generations.


1. Faith's expectation. In a spirit not of mercenary stipulation, but of believing anticipation, Jacob expresses confidence in henceforth enjoying

(1) Divine companionship—"If," or since, "God will be with me;"

(2) Divine protection "and will keep me in this way that I go;"

(3) Divine sustenance—"and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on;"

(4) Divine favor—"so that I come again to my father's house in peace;" and

(5) Divine salvation—"then," or rather, and since, "Jehovah shall be my God;"—five things promised to the poorest and most desolate of heaven's pilgrims.

2. Faith's resolution. Confidently anticipating the fulfillment of God's promises, Jacob resolves—

(1) To erect an altar at Bethel on returning to the Holy Land, a vow which he afterwards fulfilled. Whatever vows God's people make should be paid, and no vows are more agreeable to God's will than those which have for their objects the cultivation of personal piety and the perpetuation and spread of his religion among men.

(2) To consecrate the tenth part of his increase to God, i.e. to the maintenance of God's worship—an example of pious liberality which has seldom been approached by Christ's followers, though, considering their higher privileges and obligations, it ought to have been frequently surpassed.


Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob's dream.

Where revelations had been vouchsafed it was supposed that they would be repeated. The stony pillow on which the weary head rested may be changed by the visitation of Divine grace into the meeting-place of heaven and earth. The morning beams breaking in upon the shadowy refuge of the night are transfigured into a dream of covenant blessing. The ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reached to heaven. Angels of God on the way of mediation, ascending, descending, carrying up the wants and services of the man of God, bringing clown the messages of consolation, the vouchsafements of help and deliverance. "Behold, the Lord stood above it," as the source of all the blessing, standing ready to work for his chosen. This is the first direct communication of Jehovah to Jacob, the first in a long line of revelations of which he was the recipient. It is a renewal of the covenant made to his fathers, it is a republication of the promises. But we require to hear the Lord say to us, "I am with thee, I will not leave thee," especially when we are already on the journey of faith, when we are obeying the commandment of God, and of the father and mother speaking in his name. Such a place as Jacob found may be made known to us—

I. IN PROVIDENTIAL INTERPOSITIONS. We journey on through the wilderness and light upon a certain place where we think we are only among stony facts, where we can find but a harsh welcome; but the Lord is in the place, though we know it not till he reveals himself. Then we cry with trembling gratitude, This is the house of God, &c.

II. IN SEASONS or RELIGIOUS OPPORTUNITY. The ordinary and customary is lifted up by special gift of the Spirit' 'into' the opened heaven, the visiting, angels, the vision of the throne of God. "The house of God, the gate of heaven. Such may be the awaking of our soul in the sanctuary of our own private devotions or of our public worship.

III. Jacob is A TYPE OF THE LORD'S PEOPLE REGARDED AS A WHOLE. The Church has often laid itself down upon the stones and slept with weariness in its passage through the desert, and the Lord has revealed the ladder of his covenant, connecting together that very place and time of hardship with the throne of grace and. glory, and the ascending and descending angels.

IV. Jesus himself employed this dream of the patriarch as A TYPICAL PROPHECY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD. "Heaven open, and the angels of God Ascending and descending upon the Son of man," the true Jacob, the Prince prevailing with God and with men (John 1:51). The cross is the ladder of mediation. It was set up on the earth. It was not of earthly origin as a means of atonement, but its foot was on the earth as it came forth out of the method and course of earthly history in connection with Divine counsels. Its top reached to heaven, for it was a Divine Mediator whose sacrifice was offered upon it. Angels of God ascended and descended upon the ladder, for only through the atoning merit of Christ is angelic ministration maintained. It is for them "who shall be heirs of salvation." At the summit of the cross, representing the whole mediatorial work of Christ, is the Lord standing, speaking his word of covenant, and stretching forth his right hand on behalf of his people. Resting at the foot of the cross we hear the voice of a faithful Guide, saying, "I will not leave thee," &c. In every place one who is conscious of surrounding covenant mercy can say, "This is none other but the house of God," &c.—R.


Genesis 28:12

A stairway to heaven.

"And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. Jacob in fear of his life leaves home. The last kiss of his mother is taken. During the day Jacob goes forward cheerfully. Night comes on at length. The path is no longer distinct. The wind moans sadly. A sense of loneliness creeps over him. Fear of Esau haunts him. He sees the figure of his brother behind this shrub and that rock. Had Esau outrun to murder him in that lonely spot? He trembles at every shadow, and shudders at every sound. He thinks of the God of his father and mother, and prays. He lies down in the desert; a furze-bush is his only shelter, and a stone his hard pillow. He looks up into the dark vault all glittering with the silent stars. More intense becomes his loneliness, for the stars have no voice for him. Plotting and far-seeing Jacob had deep home-longings, mystic inquirings, and a wealth of affection in his nature. Of such God can make something; to such God can reveal something. To idolatrous, carnal Esau's how little can God make known. Selfishness hinders. Here in the desert Jacob draws his camel-hair robe more tightly over his feet, and dreams of parents and home, and heaven and God. It might surprise us that he could have such sweet dreams when he was fleeing from the one whom he had undoubtedly wronged. God would over-rule the wrong, and therefore sent him this vision.

I. ALL HAVE DREAMS OF A HEAVEN. A heaven is that for which all men are seeking, whether sought in the way of business, or pleasure, or politics, or literature. Even skeptics have their heaven in their doubt and intellectual pride. That which is our highest object is our heaven. As water cannot rise above its level, so the heaven of some cannot be above their thoughts. There will be a future state answering to the highest longings of the believer, a place of existence in glory far beyond anything here.

II. ACTUAL COMMUNICATION WITH HEAVEN IS POSSIBLE. One author (Hazlitt) says, "In the days of Jacob there was a ladder between heaven and earth, but now the heavens are gone further and become astronomical." True science opens up an infinite number of worlds and densely-peopled spaces. Material discoveries lessen the sense of spiritual realities. It need not be so. If the universe is great, how great also is the soul, which can embrace in its thoughts the universe! And it is in the soul that God can and does reveal heaven. Peace, hope, love is the spirit of heaven, and that is revealed by Christ. Purify the spirit and heaven comes near.

III. EARNEST EFFORT IS NEEDED TO MAINTAIN COMMUNICATION WITH HEAVEN. In the dream of Jacob he saw a picture of his own struggling ascent in life. Angels might flit up and down, but man had to struggle and put forth earnest effort to maintain the union. Early in life the ascent seems easy. A mountain never appears so far to its summit as it is in reality. As we go on we become more conscious of the difficulties in the way of maintaining the open communications. Often we find ourselves with heads between our hands, pondering whether we shall ever overcome the evil and attain to the good.

IV. THERE IS ALWAYS HELP FROM THE HEAVENS IN THE EFFORT TO MAINTAIN THE COMMUNICATION. A voice comes to Jacob. A promise of guidance and support was given. Christ in his conversation with Nathaniel shows us how all good comes through him. In Christ all goodness centers. All heaven rays out from him in the pardon and reconciliation he has brought. He is the Word made flesh. He is the Divine voice from above. Through him the Holy Spirit is given, and that Holy Spirit shows us things to come, makes heaven plain, and the way direct. One day we shall be called to follow the way the angels go, and after death shall ascend that stairway which "slopes through darkness up to God."—H.


Genesis 28:15

God's providential care.

"Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest." Among things believed; but not sufficiently realized, is the truth of God's constant overruling care. We can trace cause and effect a little way, then lose the chain, and feel as if it went no further, as if events had no special cause. This a common evil in the life of Christians. Its root, walking by sight more than by faith. Jacob—what made him try craft? Did not trust God fully. Had no habit of faith. But God had not forgotten him. And as he slept on the stone at Bethel the reality of God's presence was made known to him (Isaiah 43:2; Matthew 28:20) and recorded for our learning.

I. GOD DOES ALWAYS WATCH OVER AND GUIDE. The ladder was not a new thing; it had existed always. The vision showed what exists everywhere (2 Kings 6:17). The ladder shows the truth which should stamp our lives. God is love, and love means care. This is for all. Not our love that causes it. Our love, trust, life spring from that truth. The living God is close to us. His hand touches our life at every point. How is it that we are unconscious of this?

II. GOD'S WORKING IS HIDDEN AND SILENT. Jacob was startled to find him near. Because year by year the world goes on as before, unbelievers deny God's active presence, worldly men think not of it, and even godly men sometimes forget, for we cannot see the top of the ladder. But God, there, directs all.

III. HIS PURPOSES ARE ACCOMPLISHED BY MANY AGENTS. Many angels, messengers (Psalms 104:4; Hebrews 1:14); natural agents, the elements, &c.; human agents, men good and bad alike carrying out his will; spiritual beings (Psalms 91:11). How often those who pray for spiritual blessings forget that common things also are ruled by God. Thus a great door of communion is closed.

IV. BUT THERE IS SO MUCH CONFUSION IN THE WORLD. We often cannot trace God's hand. How often is trust confounded, wise schemes frustrated, earnest self-denial in vain; prayers, real and intense, without apparent answer. Nay, these are but seeming confusions, to teach the lesson of faith. Through all these, by all these, God's purposes are surely carried out. One great truth is the key of all—the love of God revealed in Christ. This is the ladder from which he proclaims, "Lo, I am with thee" (cf. Romans 8:32). He who wrought out redemption, can he fail?

V. GOD'S GOVERNANCE IS FOR OUR SALVATION, in the fullest sense of the word, giving us the victory over evil. God was with Jacob. He had been from the first, though not recognized. He was so to the end. Not giving uninterrupted prosperity. Many a fault and many a painful page in his history; but through all these he was led on. The word to each who will receive it—"Behold, I am with thee." Not because of thy faith, still less of thy goodness. Oh that every Christian would practice trust (Psalms 5:3); hearing our Father's voice, "Commit thy way unto the Lord," and gladly believing "the Lord is my Shepherd."—M.


Genesis 28:18-22

The grateful retrospect and the consecrated prospect.

I. THE TRUE LIFE is that which starts from the place of fellowship with God and commits the future to him. We can always find a pillar of blessed memorial and consecration. The Bethel.

1. Providential care.

2. Religious privilege.

3. Special communications of the Spirit.

God with us as a fact. Our pilgrimage a Bethel all through.

II. THE TRUE TESTIMONY that which erects a stone of witness, a Bethel, where others can find God.

1. Personal. The pillow of rest the pillar of praise.

2. Practical. The testimony which speaks of the journey and the traveler.


1. Coming out of fellowship.

2. Pledging the future at the house of God, and in sight of Divine revelation.

3. Blessed exchange of gifts, confirmation of love. Jehovah keeping and guiding and feeding; his servant serving him and giving him a tenth of all he received. The patriarch's vow was the result of a distinct advance in his religious life. The hope of blessing became the covenant of engagement, service, worship, sacrifice. The highest form of religious life is that which rests on a solemn vow of grateful dedication at Bethel. The end before us is "our Father's house in peace."—R.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 28". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-28.html. 1897.
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