Genesis 28
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.
1. and blessed him] This mention of Isaac’s blessing of Jacob, without reference to the deception in chap. 27, is a clear indication of the distinctness of origin of this passage from that which precedes it.

Thou shalt not … Canaan] Cf. Genesis 24:3. “The daughters of Canaan” cannot be distinguished from “the daughters of Heth” (Genesis 27:46).

Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother.
2. Paddan-aram] See note on Genesis 25:20. This is the name given by P (cf. Genesis 31:18, Genesis 33:18, Genesis 35:9; Genesis 35:26, Genesis 46:15) to the region which in the J narrative is called “Haran”: another indication of the literary distinctness of this passage from that which immediately precedes it: see Genesis 27:43.

And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people;
3. God Almighty] Heb. El Shaddai. This Divine Name is here communicated by Isaac to Jacob: see note on Genesis 17:1 (P).

make … multiply] See note on Genesis 1:22 : a phrase characteristic of P, cf. Genesis 8:17, Genesis 9:1; Genesis 9:7, Genesis 17:20, Genesis 35:11, Genesis 48:4.

a company of peoples] A phrase used in the blessings, in P’s narrative, Genesis 35:11, Genesis 48:4. The Heb. ḳ’hal ‘ammîm combines the two terms used for “assembly” (ḳâhâl) and “people” (‘am), as in Ezekiel 23:24; Ezekiel 32:3. LXX renders εἰς συναγωγὰς ἐθνῶν. Compare “a multitude of nations” in Genesis 17:5 (P).

And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.
4. the blessing of Abraham] Probably a reference to Genesis 17:8. The same blessing as Abraham received is now pronounced by Isaac upon Jacob, recognizing him as the religious representative of the family, and ignoring Esau. This verse would be almost unintelligible, if we were not on literary grounds sure that this section is from the P tradition, and is independent of the J narrative (chap. 27), which describes Isaac’s age and Jacob’s deceit towards his father in obtaining the blessing of the firstborn. This is not the blessing of a dying man, but of a father parting with a son. It repeats, in a summary form, the national aspect of Abraham’s blessing. It lacks the poetical vigour and spiritual interest of the blessing in J (Genesis 27:27-29).

the land of thy sojournings] A P phrase: see note on Genesis 17:8, and cf. Genesis 36:7, Genesis 37:1. It is here applied by Isaac to Jacob’s residence in Canaan after his return from Paddan-aram.

And Isaac sent away Jacob: and he went to Padanaram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother.
5. and he went to Paddan-aram unto Laban] In this short sentence the narrative of P disposes of the journey of Jacob, which is described in much greater detail in the parallel narratives from J and E, preserved in Genesis 28:10-22 and chap. 29.

the Syrian] Heb. Aramean. Cf. Genesis 25:20; Deuteronomy 26:5.

When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padanaram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;
6. Now Esau saw] The conduct of Esau in this passage is prompted by the desire to obtain a blessing such as Isaac had given Jacob in Genesis 28:3-4. In order to propitiate his father, he contracts a marriage with his first cousin, the daughter of Ishmael. Neither in this, nor in the following verse, is there implied any resentment on the part of Esau towards Jacob, or any other reason for Jacob’s journey to Paddan-aram beyond that of marriage with one of his own kindred.

And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padanaram;
And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;
Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.
9. unto the wives] i.e. in addition to Judith and Basemath (Genesis 26:34).

Mahalath … the sister of Nebaioth] Nebaioth was the firstborn son of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13). In Genesis 36:3, the name of Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebaioth, appears as Basemath. Here she is called Mahalath; while Basemath, in Genesis 26:34, is the name of one of Esau’s Hittite wives.

Ishmael is mentioned in this verse as the uncle of Esau. The reference is personal, though it may also denote tribal kinship. According to P’s chronology, it would appear that Ishmael was at this time 114 years old, and lived for 23 years more. Cf. Genesis 17:24-25, Genesis 25:17; Genesis 25:26, Genesis 26:34.

And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
10–22. This section taken from J and E follows upon Genesis 27:45. Observe the mention of Haran in Genesis 28:10 (cf. Genesis 27:43), and the mention of Beer-sheba as the dwelling-place of Isaac in Genesis 28:10 (cf. Genesis 26:23). Genesis 28:10; Genesis 28:13-16; Genesis 28:19 are probably from J; Genesis 28:11-12; Genesis 28:17-18; Genesis 28:20-22 from E.

This passage, recording Jacob’s dream at Bethel, and the passage in Genesis 32:22-32, recording Jacob’s wrestling with the Angel, relate the most famous and significant events in the narrative of the patriarch Jacob. The present passage is in some respects one of the most suggestive and impressive in religious literature. The distinctive features of the narrative have been an inspiration in the poetry and prose of religious literature, e.g. the hymn “Nearer, my God, to Thee.”

And he lighted upon 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.
11. And he lighted] i.e. he by chance reached, like our colloquial “hit upon.” The Divine purpose of the revelation made to Jacob is contrasted in this word with the fortuitousness of Jacob’s action.

a certain place] Heb. the place. For the special significance of “place,” with the possible meaning of “sacred spot,” see note on Genesis 12:6. The scene of this story is afterwards (Genesis 28:19) identified as Bethel: and it is natural to assume that the famous story of the Theophany to Jacob was preserved and honoured at the shrine of Bethel.

put it under his head] Jacob makes a pillow of the stone: his action in so doing, though it may sound strange to English readers, can be illustrated by the ordinary experience of those who are acquainted with Arab life and Oriental travel.

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
12. And he dreamed] The vision, about to be described, is conveyed through the medium of a dream; cf. Genesis 20:3.

a ladder] It has been suggested, e.g. by Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, p. 219) that the ledges of rock, one above the other, on the Bethel hill produced an impression on the faculties of Jacob, which took the shape, in his dream, of a flight of steps. By “a ladder,” LXX κλίμαξ, Lat. scala, we must not understand a house ladder, with uprights and rung of wood; but, rather, a stairway, or ascent by successive terraces. Possibly, the “ladder” here mentioned resembled the ascent to Babylonian and Assyrian temples, in which the shrine or sanctuary, on the summit, was reached by steps leading through seven terraces, corresponding to the seven planets: see note on Genesis 11:4.

on the earth … to heaven] The distinctive feature of the vision is the communication between earth and heaven.

For the impression produced upon the mind of a modern traveller by the scenery of this spot, see footnote1[24].

[24] “One of the most singular stone formations west of the Jordan in Palestine is to be seen in the great stonefield a little to the north of the modern town of Beitin, the ancient Bethel.… Huge stones seem to be piled one upon another to make columns nine or ten feet or more in height. In reality these columns are produced by erosion, and the different density of the strata has led to greater erosion in one part than in another, so that they taper and bulge in manifold and various shapes. So strong is the resemblance to construction made by men’s hands that I myself have gone to this spot, not once but several times, and examined every stone, to make sure that there could be no mistake in my impression, and I have found that others have done the same thing. It is only after such a careful examination of the site that one convinces one’s self that in reality these stone pillars are the work of nature, not of man.… Surely it is a point at which heaven and earth meet. And there stand the pillars which the mighty heroes of antiquity erected.… It was only the giant men of olden times who could set up as memorials of communion with God these mighty stones at this point where heaven and earth are so clearly united” (Peters, Early Hebrew Story, pp. 111, 112).

the angels of God] For this unusual expression, cf. Genesis 32:1-2. The expression “the angel of God” is common, but that of “the angels of God” is most rare. We are to suppose that to the sleeper’s eyes were revealed the heavenly hosts, the members and attendants of the heavenly court (see notes on Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 6:2).

ascending and descending] See the use made of this vision in our Lord’s words to Nathanael, John 1:51. “Ascending” comes before “descending,” which reminds us that the process of Divine ministration to the sons of men has been going on before it is finally revealed to their spiritual faculties. “Ascending,” with tasks completed: “descending,” with fresh commissions from above.

And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
13. the Lord stood] Lit. “was set, established, stationed,” LXX ἐπεστήρικτο, Vulg. “innixum.” The appearance of Jehovah is mentioned, but not described.

above it] Better, probably, as R.V. marg., beside him. Both renderings are possible. We should perhaps prefer that of the margin. The preposition is the same as in the account of the appearance of the three men to Abraham, Genesis 18:2 (“Lo, three men stood over against him”). On the other hand, the versions LXX ἐπʼ αὐτῆς, Lat. and Syr. Pesh., render as R.V. text. But the substance of Genesis 28:13-15 is a personal revelation to Jacob. It is distinct from the vision of Genesis 28:12, which, on a great and impressive scale, taught the general lesson of the union between earth and heaven. There is, therefore, reason for preferring the personal allusion, either “beside him,” or “over (i.e. bending over) him.” Jacob is lying down: Jehovah is standing by him. Jacob is made to realize the ever-protecting Presence, at his side, or watching over him.

and said] The blessing of Jacob consists of (1) the Divine personal revelation; (2) the promise of the land (Genesis 28:13); (3) the multiplication of his descendants (Genesis 28:14); (4) the world’s blessing through his seed (Genesis 28:14); (5) the personal promise of Presence and Protection (Genesis 28:15).

thy father] i.e. thy ancestor. Abraham’s name is mentioned as that of the first recipient of the Divine promise.

the land] The renewal of the promise to Abraham, Genesis 13:14-16.

And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
14. as the dust of the earth] Cf. Genesis 13:16.

spread abroad] Heb. break forth. Cf. Genesis 30:30, “increased,” 43, Exodus 1:12.

to the west] Cf. Genesis 13:14.

in thee … be blessed] See note on Genesis 12:3.

And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
15. I am with thee] Cf. Genesis 26:24, Genesis 31:3. The personal promise to Jacob consists of (1) Divine Presence (with thee): (2) Divine preservation (keep thee): (3) Divine restoration (bring again): (4) Divine fulfilment of promise (until I have done).

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
16. in this place] Jacob’s words express astonishment that Jehovah should have manifested Himself (a) in a place remote from his father’s home; (b) to himself a solitary wanderer.

this place] Compare Exodus 3:5, “the place whereon thou standest is holy ground”; Joshua 5:15, “the place whereon thou standest is holy.”

And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
17. How dreadful] This adjective is rendered unsuitable by colloquial usage. The sense would be better given by “awesome” or “terrible.” Jacob believes that he has been in the presence of Jehovah and of the heavenly host. The belief that those who saw “the angel of the Lord” face to face would die is expressed in the terror of Jacob. Cf. Jdg 6:22-23; Jdg 13:21-22.

the house of God] Heb. bêth Elohim, i.e. “a dwelling-place of the Divine Being.” This clause contains the popular etymology of the name Bethel.

And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
18. for a pillar] Heb. maṣṣêbah. This word is used in the O.T. for the sacred upright stone which stood by the altar, and was one of the usual features of worship and sacrifice at a “high place” (bâmah). Its use is condemned in Deuteronomy 16:22. But in Hosea 3:4 it is associated with other forms of Israelite worship.

Here the erection and consecration of a stone as the memorial of the Divine manifestation, correspond with the religious use of such upright stones for purposes of ceremonial and symbolical offerings. Cf. Genesis 31:45; Exodus 24:4; Joshua 4:3; Joshua 24:26-27; 1 Samuel 7:12.

At the excavations in Gezer, eleven maṣṣêbahs were found standing close to the altar of the Canaanite “high place,” cf. Driver’s Schweich Lectures.

poured oil] Oil was used as the symbol of an offering made to the Divine Being, whose presence or abode is connected with the consecrated stone. For the use of oil in consecration, cf. Exodus 30:25-30; Leviticus 8:10; Numbers 7:1. There are many instances in ancient literature of sacred stones which were anointed with oil (λίθοι λιπαροί). Compare Tylor’s Primitive Culture3, ii. 160–167.

And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.
19. Beth-el] That is, The house of God: see Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:6. This place was one of the most famous sanctuaries in Canaan. It was selected by Jeroboam as one of the High Places at which he set up the calves of gold (1 Kings 12:29-33). For its repute and popularity as a sanctuary and place of pilgrimage, see Amos 7:13 : close by the altar of Bethel would stand the pillar connected with its worship, and associated with this story of Jacob. The site has been identified with the modern Beitin.

Luz] The old city’s name mentioned also in Genesis 35:6, Genesis 48:3, Jdg 1:23, not identical with, but close to Bethel, Joshua 16:2. The narrative does not suggest that Jacob’s dream was in the vicinity of a town.

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,
20. vowed a vow] See Genesis 31:13. This is the first mention in the O.T. of a religious vow, i.e. a solemn promise, enforced by an adjuration of the Deity, to dedicate, or wholly set apart, some offering or gift.

If God will be with me] Jacob’s vow is made with special reference to the personal promise in Genesis 28:15. Its three conditions are: (1) Divine presence (with me), (2) Divine preservation (keep me), (3) Divine restoration (so that I come again).

So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:
21. to my father’s house in peace] It does not appear that this was literally fulfilled. Jacob, on his return, did not dwell at his father’s house. But, perhaps, “father’s house” means “the land of his fathers.” “In peace,” a common Heb. phrase, noticeable here for the rendering of LXX μετὰ σωτηρίας, “with safety.”

then shall the Lord be my God] The rendering of the margin, and the Lord will be my God, then this stone, &c., is that of the ancient versions, LXX, Lat. and Syr.: that of the text is on the whole preferable. The crowning thought is that in days to come, Jehovah, who has been the God of Abraham and Isaac, shall also be the God of Jacob. This forms the substance of Jacob’s vow; to which is added, that Bethel, as well as Beer-sheba and Hebron, shall be a place of Jehovah’s worship. Jacob’s vow, with the conditions attached to it, reflects his calculating character. But it acknowledges that Jehovah is the God who has revealed Himself to his fathers, and is distinct from mere nature-gods.

And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
22. God’s house] See note on Genesis 28:17. Here the title “God’s house” is applied to the stone itself.

of all … give the tenth] Very strange is this concluding promise to pay a tithe to Jehovah. In Genesis 14:20, Abraham pays a tithe to Melchizedek of Jerusalem (?). The payment of tithe was maintained at Bethel in the times of the Israelite monarchy, cf. Amos 4:4. The mention of Jacob’s promise at Bethel to pay a tenth to Jehovah, shews that this Israelite religious usage was believed to go back to pre-Mosaic times. For the Levitical tenth or tithe, cf. Leviticus 27:30-33.

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