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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 28

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 28:0


Jacob is Sent AwayJacob Escapes from Esau(Genesis 27:41-5)Jacob's Departure for Aram and His Dream at Bethel(Genesis 27:46-22)Isaac Sends Jacob to Laban(Genesis 27:46-5)Isaac Sends Jacob to Laban(Genesis 27:46-5)
Genesis 28:1-5Genesis 28:1-5(vv. Genesis 28:3-4)
Esau Marries Mahalath Esau Takes Another WifeAnother Marriage of Esau
Genesis 28:6-9Genesis 28:6-9Genesis 28:6-9Genesis 28:6-9Genesis 28:6-9
Jacob's DreamJacob's Vow at Bethel Jacob's Dream at BethelJacob's Dream
Genesis 28:10-17Genesis 28:10-17Genesis 28:10-17Genesis 28:10-15Genesis 28:10-19
Genesis 28:16-17
Genesis 28:18-22Genesis 28:18-22Genesis 28:18-22Genesis 28:18-22
Genesis 28:20-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 28:1-5 1So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother's brother. 3May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham." 5Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.

Genesis 28:1 "So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him" The interpretation of this chapter is based on Rebekah's overhearing the plot of Esau and her plan which is implemented in Genesis 27:46. It is significant that Isaac blesses Jacob freely here without being tricked. Possibly he recognized that he was fighting against God's choice in wanting Esau to receive the blessing. However, in context the "blessing" here is a mere greeting formula (e.g., Genesis 47:7, Genesis 47:10 and Ruth 2:4).

"You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan" This is exactly the statement made by Abraham to his servant for finding a wife for Isaac in Genesis 24:3-4. This must be related to the exclusive worship of YHWH. Although Bethuel's son, Laban, may not be a true YHWHist (i.e., Teraphim, see Special Topic: Teraphim, cf. Genesis 31:19, Genesis 31:34, Genesis 31:35), apparently there was some theological understanding within that family.

Genesis 28:2 Isaac gives Jacob several commands.

1. "arise," BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. "go," BD 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE

3. "take," BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE

"to Paddan-aram" This term (BDB 804 and 74) is later used for the Syrian empire (cf. Genesis 25:20) and yet here it seems to refer to the area around Haran (i.e., a city or a district).

"to the house of Bethuel your mother's father" See also Genesis 22:20-24; Genesis 24:15.

Genesis 28:3 "May God Almighty bless you" This is the title El Shaddai (BDB 42 and 994, see note at Genesis 17:1). This was a common patriarchal title for God (cf. Genesis 17:1; Genesis 28:3; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 43:14; Genesis 48:3; and possibly Genesis 49:25). We learn from Exodus 6:2-3 that this was the name or title that the Patriarchs used for God. See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.

"a company of peoples" This is the first use of the Hebrew term Qahal (BDB 874, cf. Deuteronomy 5:22; Deuteronomy 9:10; Deuteronomy 10:4; Deuteronomy 23:2-9; Deuteronomy 31:30), which is translated by the Septuagint as ekklesia. The NT believers used this term to describe their own new fellowship of covenant believers. It was their way of saying that they felt they were one with the OT people of God.

Genesis 28:3-4 These verses have several IMPERFECTS used in a JUSSIVE sense.

1. bless, Genesis 28:3, BDB 138, KB 159, Piel IMPERFECT

2. make fruitful, Genesis 28:3, BDB 826, KB 963, Hiphil IMPERFECT

3. make you multiply, Genesis 28:3, BDB 915, KB 1176, Hiphil IMPERFECT

4. give you the blessing of Abraham, Genesis 28:4; Genesis 28:4, BDB 678, KB 733, Qal IMPERFECT, cf. Genesis 15:7, Genesis 15:8

Genesis 28:4 "the blessing of Abraham" This becomes a standard phrase for the Abrahamic promise (cf. Genesis 28:13; Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15, Genesis 13:17; Genesis 15:7, Genesis 15:8; Genesis 17:8; Genesis 26:3, Genesis 26:4; Exodus 6:4).

Verses 6-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 28:6-9 6Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan," 7and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram. 8So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; 9and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth.

Genesis 28:6 "Now Esau" We get another insight into the character of Esau from Genesis 28:6-9. He still does not want the responsibility, but he desires the blessing. And, again, he seems to be a man who is rather secular-minded. He already had wives from the daughters of Canaan (cf. Genesis 26:34-35; Genesis 27:46; Genesis 28:8; Genesis 36:2), and now he will marry a daughter of Ishmael in order to please his father. This girl goes by the name "Mahalath" in Genesis 28:9, but is called "Basemath" in Genesis 36:3. Possibly he is still trying to get a blessing from Isaac.

Verses 10-17

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 28:10-17 10Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 16Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." 17He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."

Genesis 28:10 "Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran" Hosea 12:12 says that he was fleeing from his brother (cf. Genesis 27:41-45).

Genesis 28:11

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, NJB, LXX"and he came to a certain place" TEV"to a holy place" REB"to a certain shrine"

This seems to be a rather unusual phrase (lit. "the place," BDB 879) for a random place. It refers to somewhere in the hill country of Ephraim, close to the site of the city of Luz. This area had some special connections with Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3-4).

Genesis 28:12 "a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven" The term for ladder (found only here in the OT) is from the root "to stack something up" (BDB 700, KB 757). The area is known for its flat stones. Instead of a ladder in the modern sense, it was probably a stair-step arrangement of these large stones. Jesus uses this staircase in John 1:51 to describe Himself.

"the angels of God were ascending and descending on it" The order seems to be reversed here, but it may be in this unique order to show the significance that the covenant God of Abraham was already with Jacob, and His angels were already guiding his daily life.

Genesis 28:13

NASB, NKJV, RSV, Pehsitta"the LORD stood above it" NRSV, TEV, JPSOA, NRSV“the LORD standing beside him" NJB, NASB (margin) "the LORD stood beside him" NIV"above it stood the LORD" LXX"the LORD stood upon it"

The VERB (BDB 662, KB 714, Niphal PARTICIPLE) means "stand." The context or accompanying PREPOSITION must clarify the particulars. Here לע can mean "by" or "on." This is another covenant renewal statement, the first official one to Jacob. The phrase "I am the God of your father" is a patriarchal title (i.e., Genesis 26:24; Genesis 28:13; Genesis 31:5, Genesis 31:29, Genesis 31:42, Genesis 31:53; Exodus 3:6, Exodus 3:15).

"the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants" This was spoken first to Abram (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15, Genesis 13:17; Genesis 15:7, Genesis 15:8; Genesis 17:8), then to Isaac (Genesis 26:3), and now to Jacob.

Genesis 28:14 "be like the dust of the earth" YHWH promises a large number of descendants to the Patriarchs (cf. Genesis 12:2; Genesis 13:16; Genesis 15:5; Genesis 16:10; Genesis 17:2, Genesis 17:4-5). In a sense this was the fulfillment of the promise of an heir, but much more-many heirs. Those of us who are Christians see this in Galatians 3:14 and Romans 2:28-29; Romans 8:15-17! Genesis 3:15 is a reality.

"and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed" This is the major truth that the purpose of the call of Abraham was the redemption of the whole world (see H. H. Rowley, The Missionary Message of the Old Testament). This particular VERBAL form is Niphal in Hebrew and should be translated "shall be blessed." This same form appears in Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Acts 3:25; Galatians 3:8. The Hithpael form appears in Genesis 28:4 and 22:16-18 and should be translated "shall bless themselves." These are two ways of looking at the same blessing. God will show a blessing through His people that others will see and desire. However, it will be found only through a relationship with the patriarchal God (i.e., YHWH).

Genesis 28:15 "I am with you" The "I Am" God (cf. Genesis 28:13) is personally present with Jacob. This is the greatest of God's blessings (cf. Genesis 26:3).

"I will not leave you" YHWH promises to never abandon his promises/people (e.g., Deuteronomy 31:6, Deuteronomy 31:8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).

"until I have done what I have promised you" Note the surety of YHWH's promises, see Deuteronomy 7:9 and Isaiah 55:11.

Genesis 28:16

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, REB"Surely the LORD is in this place" TEV“the LORD is here" JPSOA"Surely the LORD is present in this place"

The ADVERB "surely," "truly" (BDB 38, cf. Exodus 2:14; 1 Samuel 15:32; Isaiah 40:7; Isaiah 45:15; Jeremiah 3:23 [twice]; Genesis 4:10) denotes intensity.

"and I did not know it" Apparently Jacob felt that he had violated holy ground, but he did not know it was holy because it did not look unusual or different. This, in my opinion, negates the theory of some ancient commentators that this was a Canaanite holy site.

Genesis 28:17 "He was afraid" Jacob's attitude toward this dream is described as "fear" (BDB 431, KB 432, Qal IMPERFECT). He describes the place as "awesome" (BDB 431, KB 432, Niphal PARTICIPLE). Humans were/are fearful of seeing or being in the presence of a holy God or the spiritual realm (i.e., angels). Note God's word to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3:5 or the nation of Israel before Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:0.

"This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" Some commentators feel that this phrase "the gate of heaven" (BDB 1044 CONSTRUCT 1029) and the concept of a ladder reaching to heaven is reminiscent of several Babylon religious motifs (i.e., the Ziggurats). Although it is true that these motifs are found in Babylonian mythology, that does not mean that it is the source of Jacob's thought.

This is a metaphor for the place where God and humans meet. Here the added concept of God's angels going and coming denotes His active involvement in the daily affairs of humans, especially the covenant family.

Verses 18-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 28:18-22 18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21and I return to my father's house in safety, then the LORD will be my God. 22This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God's house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You."

Genesis 28:18 "set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on its top" This pillar, in Hebrew massebah (BDB 663), is a memorial (cf. Genesis 35:14) to the site where Jacob met God. It later became associated with the worship of the fertility gods and was condemned in the Mosaic legislation (e.g., Exodus 23:24; Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 16:22).

Genesis 28:19 "He called the name of that place Bethel" This is from the Hebrew word for house, beth (BDB 108), and the general name for God in the Ancient Near East, El (BDB 41). It was known by the Canaanites as Luz, which means "almond tree" (BDB 531 II, cf. Genesis 35:6; Genesis 48:3), but from this point on the Jews called it Bethel (i.e., house of God).

Genesis 28:20-22 "If" This does seem like a lack of faith on Jacob's part, but it may be that he was trying to put into specific language the promise of God. It may be much like the FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCES in Greek and that he is assuming that what God had said was true and he was putting it in terms that he can understand and hang on to. At this point I'm not ready to negate the faith of Jacob because of this ambiguous phrase.

Note the conditions.

1. if God will be with him

2. if God will keep/watch over (BDB 1036, KB 1581)

3. if God will give him food

4. if God will clothe him

5. if he returns to his father's house in safety

Note Jacob's promised actions.

1. he will establish the site of the dream and raised stone as God's house

2. he will tithe ("surely give a tenth to Thee," INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB of the same root [BDB 797, KB 894] denotes intensity)

Jacob does not ask for wealth, but sustenance and God's presence and protection on his journey.

Genesis 28:22 "I will surely give a tenth to Thee" The tithe, like circumcision and sacrifice, is much more ancient than the Mosaic legislation. We see this concept of the tithe in Genesis 14:20 and here and Genesis 28:22, long before Moses received the laws. It seems to be a symbol for that which is due to God as a sign that all that we have belongs to Him.

One wonders to whom Jacob would pay this tithe. There were no priests or structures at this isolated place where he encountered YHWH. Possibly burnt offerings!


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Had Isaac changed his mind about Jacob being the true promised heir?

2. By what name did the Patriarchs know God?

3. What meaning does the ladder that reached to heaven have for Jacob, and later for Jesus?

4. What is a pillar and why is it condemned?

5. What does Genesis 28:22 say about tithing?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 28". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-28.html. 2021.
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