February 14, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART III: HISTORY OF ISAAC AND JACOB. (Genesis 25:19-36:43)

Topic #B:JACOB'S FRAUD AND FLIGHT. (Genesis 27:1-28:22)                                                                                                                                             

 

 


Lesson III.B.6: Jacob's Vision of the Ladder. (Genesis 28:10-22).       

 

 

 

 (Genesis 28:10-22; KJV)

 

10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 

11 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. 

12 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. 

13 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; 

14 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. 

15 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. 

16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. 

17 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. 

18 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.

19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 

20 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, 

21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 

22 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.

 

 

Introduction

 

It would seem that at this stage of his life Jacob was an unsaved man.  He had been brought up in a believer’s home.  His father and his grandfather were both men who knew the living God.  Jacob himself knew the value of spiritual things and, in his heart, craved the spiritual experiences known to Isaac and Abraham.  But so far he had had no personal encounter with God.  The passage can be divided into two sections with each section having three parts, as noted in the outline.

 

Outline

  1. Jacob’s Dream (28:10-17)
    1. The Far Country (28:10-11)
    2. The Fresh Covenant (28:12-15)
    3. The Firm Conviction (28:16-17)
  2. Jacob’s Decision (28:18-22)
    1. He acted Promptly (28:18a)
    2. He Acted Purposely (28:18b-19)
    3. He Acted Practically (28:20-22)

 

 

 

Commentary

 

JACOB’S DREAM (28:10-17)

The Far Country (10-11)

 

10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.

 

Jacob is on his way to his Armenian Uncle Laban’s home at Haran in Paddan Aram (25:20; 28:2), when he stops for the night at a certain place (11). The trip to Haran was well over 300 miles and the distance to the certain place was about 70 miles from Beersheba.  Another way to look at it is that Bethel is 12 miles north of Jerusalem, and the home which Jacob left was probably 25 or 30 miles south of Jerusalem.  This means that Jacob covered at least 40 miles that first day; and was tired, anxious, frustrated, and afraid.  You can see that he is really hot-footing it away from Esau.  He wants to get as far from him as he can, but the farther he gets away from Esau, the farther he gets away from home.  The threats of his twin brother were still ringing in his ears.  Those early days of his adventure must have been very difficult. 

 

What do you think he was feeling that night?  Well, he was very lonely, that is for sure.  He is actually a man now, a pretty big boy, but I think he was probably homesick.  As far as the record is concerned, this was his first night away from home, the first time he is away from Rebekah.  He has been tied to his mama’s apron strings all his life, and now he is untied and out on his own.  Would Esau follow him and try to kill him?  Would he have enough food to keep him going?  There was no thought about God in Jacob’s mind beyond the fact that he was going where Isaac had told him to go, no hint of repentance or remorse for what he had done. 

 

 

11 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.

 

He found a suitable spot, a certain place where he could spend the night, constructed a crude bed on the ground, hunted up some suitable smooth stones for his pillow (lit., a headrest—a common practice in the Near East), looked up at the stars, yawned in the face of God, and fell off to sleep.  He was the Old Testament prodigal paying the first installment on the “account rendered” for his past behavior.

 

The Hebrew meaning of the expression “a certain place” is “the well-known place,” “the place we are talking about.” The word translated “place” also has the meaning “sanctuary.” Hence, the verse implies that the place was already holy—according to Semitic ideas, a spot at which man could come into effective contact with the Divine. The story gives no hint that Jacob knew anything about the place, or that he expected or sought after an unusual spiritual experience.  He simply happened to stop there for the night, as Moses happened to stop at a holy place in the desert (Exodus 4:24-26).  But from that night on, Bethel was a very special place to Jacob—“Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau” (35:1). 

 

 

 

 

The Fresh Covenant (28:12-15)

 

 

 

12 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.

 

God is a God of infinite grace, and He does not easily allow His prodigal to wander away.  Jacob may pitch his tent and ignore God, but God would slip quietly and unseen into Jacob’s camp and invade Jacob’s dreams.  The dream came without human inducement and its content was determined by the Lord (13), who dominated it.  We note, first, what God proved to Jacob that night.  “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.”

 

The ladder was a visual connecting link between the earthly and the heavenly.  The angels of God were the messengers, the line of communication between man and God.  It’s not clear whether there was an actual image of God in the dream, but there was definitely the awareness of a sovereign God standing above (13) everything.  The Lord didn’t rebuke Jacob for participating in Rebekah’s scheme; instead, He spoke words of promise and assurance to him.  The element of surprise is emphasized by a threefold behold (12-13) in the description of the dream. 

 

That night Jacob had more sense when he was asleep than he had ever had before when he was awake.  That night he learned that the God of Abraham, his grandfather, and the God of Isaac, his father, could become the God of even Jacob.

 

He learned, moreover, that there was such a place as heaven, and that heaven is not only and actual place; it is an accessible place.  Centuries later, in talking to Nathaniel, the Lord Jesus identified Himself as the ladder that Jacob saw.  He is the link between earth and heaven, for as God and man He bridges the immeasurable distance between Deity and humanity, heaven and earth.  We can approach God and reach heaven only through Him. That night Jacob learned a truth centered in Christ.  It was a saving truth.

 

The ladder may be considered the same as the mediation of Christ.  He is this ladder; the foot rests upon the earth in His human nature, the top in heaven in his Divine nature; or, the former in His humiliation, the latter in His exultation.  The angels were ascending and descending upon the Son of man. All the communication between heaven and earth, since the fall of man, is by this ladder.  Christ is the Way; all God’s favors come to us, and all our services go to Him by Christ.  Through Him, a new and living way is opened into heaven.  By this way, sinners draw near to the throne of grace, where they find acceptance for their persons and services.  By faith we discover this way, and in prayer we approach by it.  In answer to prayer we receive all the blessings we need of providence and grace, which are given out by angels, and by the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  If God dwells with us and us with Him, it is by Christ.  We get to heaven by faith in Christ; if we climb up any other way we are thieves and robbers.  Christ is the greatest blessing the world has ever known.  All those who are blessed by Him are blessed because they are in Him and Him in them, and no one is excluded except those that exclude themselves. 

 

My friend, God is speaking to mankind through Christ in our day.  We cannot come to the Father directly.  Every now and then I hear someone say in a testimony, “When I was converted, I came directly to God.  I have access to God.” We do not, my friend.  We come through Christ; we have access to the Father through Christ.  That is the only way we can get into God’s presence.  The Lord Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).  The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is the ladder—not one that we can climb but one that we can trust.

 

 

13 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;

 

One thing which is common to all visitations of God to man in a covenant context is an opening statement which identifies the one who speaks first.  In this case, the speaker made it clear that He was the same One who had visited Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac.  Polytheism was not involved here.  In each instance the same God was the Communicator of the covenant.  He would care for Jacob the same as he did for his father and grandfather, and give him the very land on which he was lying.  He would also multiply his descendants and fulfill the promise to bring blessing through them to all the world (14).

 

 

14 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.

 

The content of the promises of God remained the same.  The land (13) even that on which he was lying, was a gift of God.  It was not for him alone, but for his seed, which would multiply like the dust of earth, beyond computation, and like the points of the compass moving out toward all parts of the world.  This would involve contact with other nations, and, as with Abraham (12:3), it was God’s will that those contacts be blessed, i.e., contribute to their welfare and spiritual enlightenment.

 

 

15 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.

 

Notice what God promised to Jacob.  In his vision, Jacob heard the voice of God speaking to him about the Lord and about the land and about his life.  It was a reconfirmation of the original promise made to Abraham, reaffirmed to Isaac, and now coming to rest on Jacob, the unconditional promise of God.  Jacob was to awake from that dream in the sure knowledge that his was the chosen line which would lead directly to Christ.

 

Several of the promises had a more personal significance.  Like Isaac (26: 24), Jacob was to know the intimate presence of the Lord, but a new pattern was also set.  Jacob was to go out and he was to return—a sequence which was to be repeated many times in the history of his descendants.  The stability of God’s presence was tied to His faithfulness to actualize His purposes in the affairs of men.

 

The Lord promised to be present with Jacob in whatever circumstances lay before him.  In those days, people had the idea that when you left home, you left your god behind.  But the Lord of all the earth promised to go with Jacob, protect him, and one day bring him back home.  You can see that this would be comforting and helpful to a lonesome, homesick boy who really had to leave home in a hurry.  He is on his way to a far country, and this first night God says to him, “I’m going to be with you, Jacob, and I’m going to bring you back to this land.” No matter what happened, He would accomplish His will in and through Jacob.  The promise of God’s presence with His people is repeated often in scripture (Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Samuel 12:22, etc.).

 

Jacob was apprehensive of danger from his brother Esau; but God promises to keep him.  He had a long journey ahead of him; he was to travel alone to an unknown country; but, behold, I am with thee.  He was going as an exile to a place that was far away; but God promised to bring him back again to this land.  He seemed to be forsaken by all his friends; but God gives him this assurance, I will not leave thee. Whom God loves, he never leaves. 

 

God would appear to Jacob at least five more times in the years ahead, but this first meeting was a significant one.  He learned that God was interested in him and was at work in his life.  From that night on, as long as he trusted in the Lord and obeyed His will, he had nothing to fear.

 

 

The Firm Conviction (28:16-17)

 

16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.

17 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.

 

“And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. 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.”

 

The dream and the message jarred Jacob wide-awake; he was thoroughly overwhelmed by a meeting with God for which he was quite unprepared.  Fear seized his heart.  To him the place was dreadful (17), i.e., awe-inspiring.  When a man is made to know that God has not forgotten him, even though he has been a moral failure, there is the moment of rapturous exultation such as Jacob had when he saw the shining ladder and the angels.  He clearly grasped the supernatural, but at the same time he did not lose his senses.  He was well aware that the most unusual event had happened which involved God.  His terms for it were house of God (Beth-el) and gate of heaven.  God was in that place, and he didn’t know it!  What less likely place and time—so it had seemed to him—could there be for God to manifest Himself?  He had come to one of the bleakest and most forbidding spots a man could have chanced upon.  It was no pleasant meadow, no green oasis, and no sheltered valley.  It was a hilltop of barren rock; and its barrenness seemed to represent at that moment Jacob’s circumstances and prospects in life.  He was a fugitive, and he was afraid. But “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7NIV), so Jacob’s response was the right one.  He discovered that he could find God in unlikely places and that any place is “the house of God” (Beth-el) because God is there.  He would be away from his father’s house for at least 20 years, but the Lord would be his “dwelling place” no matter where he went—“Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalms 90:1NASV).

 

When he woke from his vision he felt as if he had stood at the gate of heaven and there was first the sense of wonder and thanksgiving at God’s mercy; but then there swept over him an overwhelming awe.  Jacob was afraid; he was far from being puffed-up and exalted above measure from the abundance of the revelations he had just received.  The more we know about God the more cause we have for holy trembling and blushing before Him.  But wherever God meets us with His special presence, His mercy and grace, and His provision we should meet Him with the most humble reverence, remembering His justice and holiness, and our own unworthiness and vileness.

 

Compelled to leave his father’s house, Jacob found that God, in infinite grace, was offering him His.  He was saved from that moment on.

 

 

 

 


JACOB’S DECISION (28:18-22)

 

The closing verses of the chapter chronicle Jacob’s first steps as a changed man.  Some of his acts, of course, betray his spiritual immaturity, but nevertheless they mark the new dimension of spiritual life that had arisen in his soul and they give evidence of genuine conversion.

 

 

He acted Promptly (28:18a)

 

18a And Jacob rose up early in the morning.

 

First of all Jacob acted promptly.  He “rose up early in the morning.” A new life pulsated in his soul.  He jumped out of his bed with the morning light with the joybells ringing in his soul.  Heaven above was deeper blue and the earth around him was sweeter green! It was not just that it was a new morning; he was a new man.

 

 

He Acted Purposely (28:18b-19)

 

18b 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.

 

To memorialize the event, the stone was upended and anointed with oil.  This was not because he was a primitive man who believed in spirit stones, but because he was convinced of the truth of his encounter with God and wished to witness to that faith.

 

 

19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.

 

Then we read that Jacob acted purposely.  He took the stone he had used for a pillow and set it up as a pillar.  He poured oil upon it to sanctify it and called the place “Bethel.” The Spirit of God notes that “the name of that place was called Luz[1] at the first.” The name Luz means “separation”; Bethel means “the house of God.” To Jacob, Luz was meaningless but Bethel would never lose its significance.  The existing city, which stood nearby, bore the name Luz until the Israelite conquest of Canaan (Judges 1:23, 26), after which the name of the sanctuary was applied to the city as well.

 

He had been “a far off,” separated from God by sin and wicked works, and now he was “brought nigh.” Jacob, in setting up the memorial to his conversion was, in a sense, giving public testimony to what had happened to him.  That is always a good sign.

 

 

 

He Acted Practically (28:20-22)

 

Jacob made a solemn vow upon this occasion. In this vow, there are three things we should observe:

  1. Jacob’s faith; God had said (v. 15), I am with thee, and will keep thee.  Jacob takes hold of that and infers—seeing that God will be with me, and will keep me as He has said, I will depend upon it. 
  2. Jacob’s moderation in his desires.  Though God’s promise had made him heir to a very great estate (13), yet he does not desire wealth and fame; his desire is to please God, have his presence with him, and to be safe in his arms.
  3. Jacob’s piety, and his respect for God appear here in what he desired—that God would be with him, and keep him (20).  We do not need to desire anything more than that in order to be comfortable and happy—wherever we are, to have God’s presence with us and to be under his protection.

 

20 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,

21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:

 

Next, he made a commitment sealed with a vow.  Because the first words Jacob uttered was a conditional if God will be with me, some have pictured him as engaged in a hard-bargaining session with the Almighty quite in line with his deals with Esau.  But the context depicts Jacob as a subdued man.  He was ready to meet the undeserved promises with a voluntary declaration of loyalty to God.

 

What is he doing?  He wants to trade with God.  He says, “Now, God, if You will do this for me….” But God has already told him that He is going to do every one of these things for him—“I and going to keep you; I am going to bring you back to this land; I am going to give you this land; and I’m going to give you offspring.” Then Jacob turns around and bargains with Him, “if You will do it, then I’ll serve You.”

 

God doesn’t do business with us that way.  He didn’t do business that way with Jacob either.  If He had, Jacob would never have made it back to that land.  God brought him back into that land by His grace and mercy.  When Jacob did finally come back to Bethel, he came back a wiser man.  You know what he came back to do?  To worship and praise God for His mercy.  God had been merciful to him.

 

Many people even today say they will serve the Lord if He will do such and such.  You won’t do anything of the kind, my friend.  He doesn’t do business that way.  He will extend mercy to you, and He will be gracious to you without asking anything in return.  But He does say that if you love Him, you will really want to serve Him.  That will be the bondage of love.  It is the same kind of love a mother has for the little child.  She becomes its slave.  That’s the way that He wants you and me.

 

Jacob dedicated himself to the Lord that morning and claimed the promises that God had made to him (13-15).  The “if” found in many translations of verse 20 can also be read “since.” Jacob wasn’t making a bargain with God; he was affirming his faith in God.  Since God had promised to care for him (15), be with him (15), and bring him back (15) home safely, then Jacob would affirm his faith in God and would seek to worship and honor Him alone.

 

 

22 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.

 

So Jacob erects (stands on end) this stone, an act which becomes important from this point on.  These are different from alters.  Memorials were set up to recall Divine visitations so that others might learn about God when they ask, “What do these stones mean?” (Joshua 4:6). He is trying to make an agreement with God!  And a great many of us are trying to make a deal with God.  Oh, my friend, He just wants to become your Father through faith in Christ

 

In acceptance of God’s self-disclosure as genuine, and in recognition of His sovereignty, Jacob was ready to give back a tenth (tithe[2]) to God.  The tenth is a very appropriate portion to be devoted to God, and put to use for Him; but since circumstances vary, it may be more or less, as God prospers us (1 Corinthians 16:2).  Tithing, though not commanded by God, was obviously already known and voluntarily practiced, and served to acknowledge God’s providential benevolence in the giver’s life.  Jacob may have been bargaining with God, as if to buy his favor rather than purely worshipping God with his gift; but it is best to translate the “if” (v20) as “since” and see Jacob’s vow and offering as genuine worship based on confidence in God’s promise (vs. 13-15).

 

This proved to be Jacob’s Damascus road vision of the Lord.  It turned the circumcised son of the covenant from seeking salvation by works to securing it through a faith-struggle that led to a new name.

 

 


[1] The nearby city of Luz (Joshua 16:2; 18:13) was already called Bethel, probably in anticipation of this great event (Genesis 12:8; 13:3).

[2] To give a tithe was an act whereby a person acknowledged that everything he had belonged to God.

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