Bible Commentary: Genesis 28:6-22

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Bible Commentary

Genesis 28:6-22

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Jacob’s Vision at Bethel

In sending Jacob away, Isaac had sternly forbidden him to marry a Canaanite woman. Overhearing this, Esau resolved to find a wife more pleasing to his father—apparently still desiring to somehow get into the good favor of his father that he might thereby receive a better blessing. So Esau took a third wife from the daughters of Ishmael. But, as Esau was to learn, there was no way for Isaac to change his mind about the blessing (Hebrews 12:17 Hebrews 12:17For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
American King James Version×
)—Isaac knew the events had been allowed by God and he had to live in submission to God’s sovereign choice.

Journeying to Haran, Jacob stopped in the place called Luz, later renamed Bethel. There Jacob slept on the ground with a stone at his head (Genesis 28:11 Genesis 28:11And he lighted on a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
American King James Version×
). In his sleep he dreamed, and in his dream God assured Jacob that He would be with him and return him to Canaan. The Abrahamic Covenant, moreover, was confirmed to Jacob. When Jacob awoke, he took the stone at which his head rested and anointed it, setting it up for a “pillar” or sacred stone. It appears that Jacob took this stone with him on his journeys, especially since he mentions the stone in the context of returning to Isaac (verses 20-22), apparently set it up and anointed it again in Bethel later (Genesis 35:14-15 Genesis 35:14-15 [14] And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. [15] And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel.
American King James Version×
), and still later, at the end of his life, he seems to have prophesied that it would be with the descendants of Joseph in the end time (Genesis 49:24 Genesis 49:24But his bow stayed in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob; (from there is the shepherd, the stone of Israel:)
American King James Version×
). If Jacob did take the stone with him, as would be likely, there would have been a physical, typical stone going with Jacob, paralleling the spiritual, antitypical Stone (i.e., God) who had promised that He would be with Jacob and not leave him (Genesis 28:15 Genesis 28:15And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go, and will bring you again into this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken to you of.
American King James Version×
).

Jacob also promised that if God would return him to his father Isaac, then God would be Jacob’s God and Jacob would faithfully tithe. These statements appear perplexing, but a careful attention to the development of Jacob’s character would seem to resolve the apparent difficulty. Jacob surely knew of God. Isaac had never worshiped any other but God, and he had learned this from Abraham. But it appears that Jacob, although certainly worshiping God, likely did so mainly because he believed it to be materially advantageous. Jacob, as we’ve seen, had a grasping personality; he was someone who used others to further his own ends, and perhaps God was no different to him. Jacob, it appears, served God for selfish advantage. The story of Jacob will show that over time Jacob was transformed from being a manipulator into being one who sought righteousness through his actions, and finally into one who became wholly submissive to God and served God out of love and devotion. Jacob’s statement that God would be his God is another way of saying that Jacob would rely on Him alone; his promise to tithe is another way of honoring God by recognizing His sovereign lordship. Thus, the promises essentially boil down to exclusive devotion to God.

In many ways, Jacob is every man. Or, to be more precise, every man is like Jacob. We all start out grasping, self-oriented, concerned with our needs. As we grow, we become less self-centered and more motivated by principle. But as we become mature, we learn to love God and act out of devotion to Him. We must learn to live with God, and along the way our character is changed, shaped and molded, going through various phases as we become more and more like God Himself. For this reason, the character development of Jacob is one of the most interesting studies of the book of Genesis.

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