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Deeper Commentary

Gen 28:1 Isaac called Jacob, blessed him, and commanded him, You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan- This 'blessing' is so significant. As noted throughout Gen. 27, all concerned in the sad drama had failed to realize that the true blessing was the Abrahamic blessing, and not corn and wine, i.e. material things. Isaac realizes now that he had been mistaken in trying to fight against the Divine plan that the elder should serve the younger; in this sense he blessed Jacob by faith (Heb. 11:20- although the question is where his faith came in when blessing Esau). In connection with that blessing, he urges Jacob not to follow his brother and marry a Canaanite. Isaac had himself waited until 40 years old and seen his father go to huge effort to find him a wife within the faith. To remain within the Divine program of blessing, Jacob had to marry someone in the faith. And so he went to Mesopotamia subconsciously expecting to find a wife there, just as his father had found one there through Eliezer meeting Rebekah by the well.

Gen 28:2 Arise, go to Paddan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father. Take a wife from there from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother- Isaac had effectively taken that journey in the person of Eliezer in Gen. 24. He too had found a wife from the family of Laban.

Gen 28:3 May God Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, that you may be a company of peoples- I noted on Gen. 27 that Isaac's allusions to the Abrahamic promises had focused on the immediate and the material, with no attention to the important promises of the seed who would multiply. But now Isaac appears to have learnt his lesson, and understands this as the most important blessing. And he speaks of God blessing Isaac, rather than of he himself blessing his sons ("that my soul may bless you", Gen. 27:25).

Jacob self-admittedly didn't believe as he slept that night at Bethel; for he said that if Yahweh would bring him safely home, only then would Yahweh be his God. But just days  before that, as Jacob here sheepishly stood before his sorrowful, betrayed father; right there, right then, God promised Jacob that he would become "a multitude (LXX ekklesia) of people", words which could only become true through their application to Christ. The LXX gives: "Thou shalt become gatherings of nations". The idea is that the nations would be gathered together in unity through his seed.

Gen 28:4 And give you the blessing of Abraham, to you, and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land where you travel, which God gave to Abraham- According to the New Testament, and the implications of the inheritance promise in Gen. 15:7, the inheritance of the land was to be eternal, and not in this life. Jacob died in Egypt and didn't inherit the promised land in his lifetime, and so the fulfilment must be yet future at the resurrection of Jacob; and he is to inherit it with "your seed with you", suggesting they too must be resurrected (Heb. 11:8-13, 39,40). Likewise the land was not given to Abraham in his lifetime; but Jacob is invited to see it as being as good as his, so sure is the promise of fulfilment. But Isaac still fails to fully perceive these things, and speaks as if Jacob would receive the full inheritance in his mortal life. But Isaac has commendably moved on from his level of appreciation of the promises displayed in Gen. 27; he accepts that God gives blessing, and that "the blessing of Abraham", rather than Isaac's wishes of corn and wine, were the only blessing worth having. But Isaac came to this understanding through God's patient working with the failures and misunderstandings of all the family.


Gen 28:5 Isaac sent Jacob away. He went to Paddan Aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, Rebekah’s brother, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother- Jacob is now placed before Esau, in recognition that he really is being treated as the firstborn. We recall that Abraham "sent away" his sons by Keturah to the east, to this same location, because he perceived living and remaining in the promised eretz as fundamental to covenant relationship (see on Gen. 25:6). Later, both Jacob and Joseph wished to be buried in the eretz. So to send Jacob away to the east, out of the eretz, to relatives whom Abraham had been told to separate from, could be seen as not the best decision. For Abraham had expressly forbidden Isaac to go there, but rather must a woman be willing to leave that area and come to him in the eretz. And indeed Jacob did suffer spiritually from his 20 or 40 years out of the eretz; although his earnest desire to be buried in the eretz showed that he learnt the lesson at the very end of his long life.

It must be remembered that Israel are ethnically linked to the other Arab nations in the ‘land’- Jacob’s 12 sons married wives from there; some of their mothers were Arab slave girls; Jacob’s wives were Arameans, as was his mother (Gen. 28:5); historically there was much intermarriage with surrounding nations, throughout Israel’s history; Ephraim and Manasseh were half Egyptian. Rahab, Ruth etc. are all reminders of the amount of Arab blood in the average Jew. The definition of ‘Israel’ was therefore not so much on ethnic principles but rather on spiritual ones. Anyone who has walked the streets of modern Israel and pondered the question ‘What is a Jew?’ will have come to this conclusion, as they see Russians, Americans, black Africans… all wearing skull caps.

Gen 28:6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan Aram, to take him a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a command, saying, You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan- It is twice emphasized that Esau noticed that Isaac had blessed Jacob, although the blessing in view is the Abrahamic blessing, which required raising the Godly seed through not marrying unbelievers but those within the Abraham family of faith. He wished to have whatever blessings might be going, and so he takes more wives, from Ishmael's family. And yet although Ishmael was circumcised into the covenant, he had returned to Egypt in every sense and clearly didn't want part in the covenant. Esau continues to be presented as the typical man of the flesh, vaguely interested in external appearances of doing the right thing, but not grasping the spirit of things at all.

Gen 28:7 And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Paddan Aram-
There is sustained emphasis on Jacob's obedience to his parents, especially to his mother (Gen. 27:8,13,43; 28:7). The whole story is a foretaste of the issues involved with Christians and parental expectation in our day. It might not be going too far to say that he grew up far too much under her thumb; he meekly obeyed her faithless suggestion that he deceive his father into granting him the blessing, content with her assurance that it would be mum's sin, not his (and I imagine her pecking him on the cheek as she gave him the tray with Isaac's food on). No wonder he fell madly in love at first sight, when he first saw the girl he knew his mother wanted him to marry, perhaps at the same well where his father's servant had first met his mother. Jacob introduces himself as "Rebekah's son" (Gen. 29:12), although it would have been more normal to describe himself as Jacob ben-Isaac. Gen. 29:10 labours the point three times that Laban was "his mother's brother". The fact Deborah, his mother's nurse, was taken under the wing by Jacob, further suggests his very close bond with his mother; he buried Deborah under Allon-Bachuth- 'the oak of his (Jacob's) weeping' (Gen. 35:8).  Jacob struggled to accept his father's God as his God. And yet he in so many ways is portrayed as deeply influenced by Rebekah his mother.

Gen 28:8 Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan didn’t please Isaac, his father- Perhaps he refers specifically to how his Canaanite wives were a grief of mind to his parents, and his mother had said she wanted to die because of the thought of Jacob marrying such women (Gen. 27:46). Although Rebekah clearly used the 'marriage out of the faith' issue as an excuse to send Jacob away to safety, she also sincerely felt as she said she did about the matter; and we ever remember that both Isaac and Rebekah had sacrificed so much to marry only within the family of faith.

Gen 28:9 Esau went to Ishmael, and took, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife- The polygamy of Esau, in an attempt to please his parents, is presented as so inappropriate- as they were not apparently polygamists, and Isaac isn't recorded as taking any other wives when Rebekah was barren for the first 20 years of their marriage. The names of these women all suggest idolatry.

Gen 28:10 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran- Bethel is about 70 miles from Beersheba, so Jacob would have had a few days to reflect before the dream. He went from Beersheba, "the well of the path", to Haran, "the parched place". The hint could be that this was a bad move; it was the apostate who moved eastwards. If he wanted a wife from Abraham's family there, then he could have done what his father did, and send someone to invite someone to come to him within the land or promise.

Gen 28:11 He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep- Jacob's sleeping with a stone as his pillow is hardly a natural thing to do- but it was done in order to induce dreams and revelations from the gods (J.G. Janzen, Abraham And All The Families Of The Earth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) p. 108). And the one true God responded to Jacob, by showing him Angels ascending from him to God, and Angels descending from God to Jacob in response. It wasn't the other way around- because surely the idea was to show Jacob that his prayers really were being heard, Angels were in touch with God about them, and God was zealously responding even then through Angelic providence. Yet all this was done by God when Jacob was so far from Him. Just as a patient and loving father bears with his child, so God bore with Jacob; and He does with us too, and we are to reflect this in our dealings with our brethren.

Gen 28:12 He dreamed- This was later understood by Jacob as an answer to his "distress" (Gen. 35:3). God often sees situations as prayers, and responds; demonstrating that the effectiveness of prayer is not simply dependent upon our ability to verbalize, because this ability varies between persons.

Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it- See on Jn. 1:51. The idea of a stairway leading into Heaven of course has obvious connections with the ziggurats of those times; the white limestone cliffs or slopes around him merged into a ziggurat in his dreams. But note that those stairways had a temple on the ground immediately where the stairway started, and led up to a temple at the summit. On a human level, Jacob's subconscious was thinking of pagan temple systems. But God turned all this around. For the man Jacob lying there that night, in all his weakness, was a temple, connected by the Angels to Yahweh's Heavenly temple. And we too in all our weaknesses are the temples of God on this earth. Thus his idolatrous dream of a Ziggurat was turned into an assurance of Divine care for him, the shrine which topped Mesopotamian ziggurats being turned by God in the vision into the throne of Yahweh. Indeed, ‘Babylon’ meant “gate of God”, and in thinking that he was at heaven’s gates, Jacob was confusing Babylon and the true city of God. But still God worked through all this.

The stairway or ladder was "set", literally, erected or stood up. The same word is used for how Jacob later at this very same place stood up or erected an altar (Gen. 35:14). A different word is used here in :18. Jacob realized that his altars and sacrifices were ascending to God Himself personally, just as this magnificent staircase led to God, with Angels ascending and descending upon it, between God and himself. This is the power of prayer, of covenant relationship, of sacrifice and fellowship with God. The idea of reaching up to heaven and God reaching down from heaven is meant literally here, but it is also a metaphor meaning that God paid attention to the point of feeling whatever was done on earth (Gen. 11:5; 18:21; 2 Chron. 28:9; Jer. 51:9; Rev. 18:5). This sensitivity of God, and His response, is articulated through the Angels. Jacob was being taught that it is not just the situation at Babel or Sodom which elicits this huge attention; but the state of a lonely fugitive sleeping rough in the semi-desert. He deals directly with individuals. The order "ascending and descending" suggests that our situation is as it were taken up to God in heaven, and then He responds through Angelic means [descending].

We all grow up with some concept of God. This is as true for those with atheist or apostate backgrounds as it is for those steeped in Sunday School from the cradle. That concept of God which we have in our youth tends to stay with us, and in some ways dogs us for much of our lives. Growth towards a real, personal knowledge of the true God, our Father, is a lifelong process. Jacob grew up in the most spiritual home on earth at the time (although some of the goings on would have made the neighbours doubt this). He was brought up 'in the Truth', we could say. And yet his conception of God was woefully immature for many years. His struggle towards the true knowledge of God is not only fascinating; because Jacob's spiritual growth really is intended as our model. Nathaniel thought he really believed in the Lord Jesus. The Lord commented: "You shall see (usually used in John concerning faith and spiritual perception)  greater things than these... you will see heaven opened, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man" (Jn. 1:51 RSV). It was Jacob who saw Heaven opened and the Angels ascending and descending. And the Lord's comment that Nathaniel was "an Israelite (Jacob-ite) indeed, in whom is no guile" (i.e. Jacob without his guileful side) is a reference to Jacob's name change. It confirms that Nathaniel was to follow Jacob's path of spiritual growth; he thought he believed, he thought he saw Christ clearly; but like Jacob, he was to comprehend far greater things.  

Gen 28:13 Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac- This is another way of reminding Jacob of the promise given to Abraham, "I will be their God". Yahweh Himself was involved with Jacob; the huge staircase was to make Jacob see that his situation was directly transferred to God, and God would directly respond; for the bottom of the ladder was Jacob, more precisely, Jacob's mind. And God saw all that was there and responded there, through a huge, awesome system.

It seems that great stress is placed in Scripture on the Angels physically moving through space, both on the earth and between Heaven and earth, in order to fulfil their tasks, rather than being static in Heaven or earth and bringing things about by just willing them to happen. The vision of Jacob's ladder showed the Angels coming and going, perhaps meaning that they are sometimes physically present with us, sometimes not. Gen. 28:13-15 are the words of the Angel to Jacob. God manifested through Jacob's specific guardian Angel then goes on to say, v. 15, "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 of unto thee" (AV). At the end of his life, Jacob mentions the presence of the Angel which he had sensed all through his life. But that one Angel controlled the multitude of Angels which he saw that night in vision ministering to him. See on Gen. 18:10.

The land whereon you lie, to you will I give it, and to your seed- This was making specific the Abrahamic blessing, which Isaac had never clearly articulated to Jacob because he seemed so caught up in the literal, material aspects of the promises. So far as we know, Jacob had no wife nor children. He was being set up psychologically to expect that soon, therefore, he would have both. He meets Rachel, but finds that this promise was hard of fulfilment; he had to work seven years for her, and then there were major issues of infertility. All this was not God punishing Jacob, but rather seeking to hone his focus and faith in this prophetic word.

Gen 28:14 Your seed will be as the dust of the earth, and you will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. In you and in your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed- See on Gen. 12:3. Paul interprets the "seed" as singular, referring to the Lord Jesus, and the multiplication as being through individuals being baptized into that seed (Gal. 3:16,27-29). This promise of spreading abroad geographically didn't happen in Jacob's lifetime, and so he would have been driven to faith in a resurrection and future fulfilment in the Kingdom of God on earth. The mention of the compass points would have encouraged Jacob to see himself as Abraham, who was told the same (Gen. 13:14). However, he does use the Hebrew for "spread abroad" in describing how his family has "increased greatly" (Gen. 30:30,43). The blessing of all families of the eretz came true in a limited sense through his seed Joseph being a blessing for them all in saving them from famine through giving all families of the earth the bread of life, pointing forward to the salvation of all peoples from all compass points in Christ (Lk. 13:29; Rev. 21:13). And so we see what we ought to discern in our lives- an incipient fulfilment of the Kingdom blessings right now.

Gen 28:15 Behold, I am with you, and will keep you, wherever 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 of to you- Heb. 13:5 combines quotes from Gen. 28:15; Josh. 1:5 and Dt. 31:16. Heb. 13:5 doesn’t quote any of them exactly, but mixes them together. This is typical of how the New Testament quotes the Old, and is how the Rabbinic commentaries likewise functioned. The promises just made were eternal, and so the promise to not leave Jacob until they were fulfilled continues right up to the establishment of the Kingdom on earth at the Lord's return; He therefore will never "leave" Jacob and his seed, the true Israel of God. Which is why this promise is so frequently applied to all God's people at various points in history. "I am with you", Emmanuel, God with us, is a promise carried on to all the true seed, as Jacob himself realized when he insists that "God will be with you" (Gen. 48:21; repeated in Dt. 31:23); although it maybe took him a lifetime to realize it, seeing that in :20 he seems to question it at this stage: "If God will be with me..." (AV).

The promise of Divine keeping connects with the Angel cherubim keeping the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24); Jacob was promised to be kept in the way, however lonely that way must have seemed at the time, with the end in view being re-entry to a restored Eden. But the same word is used of how Abraham's seed were to "keep" the covenant and "the way of Yahweh" (Gen. 17:9; 18:19); and Israel in the wilderness, for whom Moses was primarily writing Genesis, also had an Angel to "keep" them in that "way" (Ex. 23:20). But the life of spiritually stumbling Jacob shows that this was and is not a tit for tat offer- 'If you keep My covenant, I'll keep you'. God kept Jacob in the way by grace, even when Jacob was not committed to keeping the covenant (see on :21,22). God unilaterally fulfilled His side of it, and it was this grace which finally led Jacob to respond. Moses uses this word "keep" multiple times in Deuteronomy, several times in almost every chapter. He urges Israel to both "keep" the covenant requirements, and also to "keep" themselves and their own hearts (Dt. 15:9). The covenant was therefore so intensely personal, and the Angel who worked to "keep" them within the covenant way (Ex. 23:20) was therefore working on a personal level with every heart within Israel. And that Angel in its work is understood as the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives today (Is. 63:9,10 cp. Eph. 4:30). Under the new covenant, the Spirit is placed within our hearts to cause us to "keep" the covenant requirements (Ez. 36:27). As Jacob came finally to "keep" the covenant in which he himself had been kept by grace, we are to follow his path (Hos. 12:6).

"Bring you again into this land" is the same Hebrew word for word as in Gen. 3:19: "return unto the ground", from which Adam had been taken just as Israel in the wilderness and Jacob had originally been in the eretz and were being brought again to it, albeit by a long and circuitous route. The connection is to highlight the way in which there is a way out of the curse upon Adam; we shall indeed return unto the ground, but we can also be brought into the promised land- necessarily, through a bodily resurrection from the dead. This is one of so many nudges throughout the Bible that the curses upon Adam can ultimately be reversed for God's people.

God promised that He would not leave or forsake Jacob. He said the same to Israel in the wilderness, and yet predicted that Israel would leave or forsake God by forsaking the covenant and thereby God would leave / forsake them (Dt. 31:8,16,17). Likewise God did not forsake or leave Jacob's father Isaac because Isaac respected the implications of the covenant (s.w. Gen. 24:27). But the way God speaks to Jacob here appears to be unconditionally promising that He would not leave Jacob; and it was that unmerited grace which in the end elicited Jacob's response to it.

Gen 28:16 Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, Surely Yahweh is in this place, and I didn’t know it- The conflict of tenses is arresting. Yahweh is [present] here, but I did not [previously] know it. Although the vision was ended, Jacob realized that the promised presence of God, with Angels ascending and descending upon him, was ongoing, and not just a dream. And he admits that he had not appreciated this when he first laid down in that place, nor earlier in his life. We see here definite growth in Jacob. The same Hebrew term is found in Ex. 6:3, where we read that Yahweh revealed Himself to Jacob and He was 'known' to him thereby. So we conclude that after the dream, Jacob 'knew' Yahweh, although he had not previously done so. We note the gradual growth of Jacob in knowing or having relationship with God.

"Yahweh is" in Hebrew here means more than the present tense of the verb "to be". The idea is that Yahweh exists, right here. Moses was primarily writing for Israel in the wilderness, who had questioned whether "Yahweh is among us" using the same Hebrew (Ex. 17:7, as Jud. 6:13). Even if they had not known it, they were to realize that His presence, mediated perhaps by the same Angel who dealt with Jacob, was just as real for them as it had been for him in the desert that night. Dt. 29:26; 32:17 and other passages teach that the idols of the nations were not 'known' by Israel who worshipped them; the idea is that Yahweh alone enters into personal relationship, which is the Hebrew idea of 'knowing'. And likewise all the possible idols in our lives do not offer the personal knowing / relationship with God which He alone does.

Gen 28:17 He was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other than God’s house, and this is the gate of heaven- "Dreadful" suggests that Jacob feared God with the fear of one who has no real relationship with Him. He was on one hand in awe at God's closeness; and yet he was afraid. I suggest this was the fear of sinful man before God Almighty. The first reference to "fear" is in Adam's words of guilt before God: "I was afraid" (Gen. 3:10). He feared because he felt he was so close to God now; at the gate of heaven. The Lord maybe used this idea in speaking of the virgins in the parable knocking at the door of the Kingdom. Jacob felt he was still "outside", at God's gate, so close, but perhaps he felt so far, and therefore feared.


Gen 28:18 Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on its top- See on Jn. 1:50. As noted on :12,  Jacob understood this makeshift alter as his poor replica of the stairway to heaven. His humble altar and sacrifice of the oil of his spirit were a way of ascending to God Himself personally, just as this magnificent staircase led to God, with Angels ascending and descending upon it, between God and himself. This is the power of prayer, of covenant relationship, of sacrifice and fellowship with God.


Gen 28:19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first- Before that watershed night of Gen. 32, Jacob was influenced by the surrounding religious ideas, and was possibly involved with idol worship. The fact he openly says that Yahweh will only become his God if He brings him back home in peace is proof enough that up until age 77 at the earliest, Jacob was not an unreserved worshipper of Yahweh. Yet knowing the nature of the man, it seems impossible to believe that he was totally irreligious until the time of his repentance in Gen. 32. The connections between Jacob and idolatry are so very numerous throughout the prophets that it seems impossible to totally disconnect him from idolatry. "Luz" appears to refer to a tree which was associated with idolatry. Jacob renamed it to Bethel, the house of God, although his later life was hardly free from the influences of idolatry. But here we see the beginnings of the development of a rejection of idolatry. He also perceived that God needs no "house", for He reveals Himself deep within the heart of His people, and ascends and descends upon them, wherever they are. This was a not insignificant paradigm shift; for the 'religion' of his day as of ours tended to think in terms of having a 'house of prayer', a place you went to do your religious stuff and find contact with your deity.

Gen 28:20 Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go- See on Gen. 48:20; Jer. 10:16. As Jacob set out to relatives in a distant land, hoping to find a wife, he was fully aware that he was in principle replicating his father's experience. When he spoke of God keeping him "in this way that I go" and bringing him again "to my father's house" (:21), his mind was on the story he had so often heard of how God lead Abraham's servant in "the right way" and leading back home with a wonderful wife for Isaac his father (Gen. 24:27,40,42,48,56). When at this stage in life (he was 77, remember) things suddenly took a different turn, his great hope was that God would bring him back safely "again to my father's house in peace" (28:21); he wanted to go back to the stay-at-home life. What God put him through in the rest of his life was the exact opposite of this. He says that if God does this, he will "surely give the tenth unto thee" (28:22 cp. 14:20)- exactly as granddad Abraham had done (Gen. 14:20), who had doubtless told Jacob this many a time as they 'dwelled together in tents' (Heb. 11:9). We very much get the impression that Jacob was wrapped up with his parents too much; he had not yet avowed Yahweh as his personal God, but he felt a safety in his religious family and consciously and subconsciously living out their expectations. He was like many raised "in the faith"; he had to discover it all for himself, alone, and throw away the crutches of the family environment, upon which a man shall never see his God for himself. 

And will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on- This is simply incredible in its lack of faith; 'If God will really look after me, which includes giving me food and clothes, if He's as good as His word, then I'll accept Him as my God'. And yet Paul speaks of how we should serve our Master well, especially if he is our brother (alluding to Jacob and Laban), and "having food and raiment be content" (1 Tim. 6:2,8), as if the fact Jacob only expected food and clothing from God was a sign of his unmaterialism. The Spirit focused upon one part of Jacob's words and imputed righteousness to him because of them, just as the bitter and cynical words of Sarah are quoted so positively in the New Testament. At the very time Jacob said those words, he at best only half believed, and the next 20 [or 40] years of his life were devoted to accumulating far more than just food and clothing. And yet his words regarding food and raiment, sandwiched as they are between much that is wrong, are treated as a reflection of his spirituality.

Having heard the promises concerning his future seed and the present protection God would grant him, Jacob immediately seized on the latter: "If God will be with me... then shall Yahweh be my God" (:21). He brushed past the implications of Messiah, although later he came to see that these were the most fundamental things God had promised. The way he raised up (cp. resurrection) the pillar and anointed it at this time may have shown a faint conception of Messiah, but this took years to seriously develop.

“If God… then…” implies was that Jacob didn't consider Yahweh to be his God at that time. He was not totally committed to Yahweh as his God. The fact he promises to give a tenth to God in the future suggests that he did not then consider God to be his King, for the idea of tithing seems to have been established before the Law of Moses was given (as were many other elements of that Law; Gen. 14:20). Jacob's words sound as if he believed in 'God' as a kind of force or spirit, but did not have Yahweh as his personal God. And yet God had promised Abraham that He would be the God of his seed (Gen. 17:7,8); Jacob was aware of these promises, and yet he is showing that he did not accept their personal relevance to him at this time. The fact at the end he does call God his God reveals that he then accepted the Abrahamic promises as relevant to him personally. His offer to give a tithe to God if God delivered him would have been understood in those days as saying that Yahweh would then be his king (cp. 1 Sam. 8:15,17); and yet he evidently felt that Yahweh wasn't then his King.  There is no record that Jacob ever did build a temple or tithe; but at the end of his life he realizes that God had kept His side of the deal, in that He had been with him and fed him all his life long. The fact he hadn’t kept his side of the deal made Jacob realize the huge grace of God…

 The fact at the end he does call Yahweh his God reveals that he then accepted the Abrahamic promises as relevant to him personally (Gen. 49:24,25). This is an essay in the titanic difference between knowledge and belief. At baptism we tend to have knowledge, which masquerades as belief. And all our lives long we must struggle, as Jacob did, to turn knowledge into faith. His personal grasp of the wonder of the promises at the end is revealed in Gen. 48:4, where Jacob recounts how "God Almighty... said unto me, Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I will make of thee a multitude of people; and will give this land to thy seed after thee for an everlasting possession" (AV). God never actually said all this to Jacob; Jacob is quoting the promise to Abraham of Gen. 17:8 and applying it to himself. And with us too, a personal grasp of the wonder of it all, that it really applies to me, is a mark of that final maturity we fain would achieve.  

So only at the end, Yahweh was Jacob's God. God seems to recognize this by describing Himself as the God of Jacob / Israel so very often. His joy, His sheer delight at Jacob's spiritual achievement is recorded throughout the Bible. The way God describes Himself as "the God of Israel" (201 times) or "the God of Jacob" (25 times) infinitely more times than anyone else's God is proof enough that God saw His relationship with Jacob as very special. "God of Abraham" occurs 17 times; "God of Isaac" 8 times; "God of David" 4 times. Remember that whenever we read "Israel", we are reading of the man Jacob and his children. That God was the God of mixed-up, struggling Jacob is a sure comfort to every one of us. God is not ashamed to be surnamed the God of Jacob (Heb. 11:16 Gk.). The clear parallel between the historical man Jacob and the people of Israel is brought out in Mal. 1:2: “I loved you… I loved Jacob”. Had Israel appreciated God’s love for the man Jacob, and perceived that he was typical of them, then they would never have doubted God’s love for them. And the same is true of us, whom Jacob likewise represents.

The covenant God made with Abraham was similar in style to covenants  made between men at that time; and yet there was a glaring difference. Abraham was not required to do anything or take upon himself any obligations. Circumcision [cp. baptism] was to remember that this covenant of grace had been made. It isn’t part of the covenant [thus we are under this same new, Abrahamic covenant, but don’t require circumcision]. Perhaps this was why Yahweh but not Abraham passed between the pieces, whereas usually both parties would do so. The promises to Abraham are pure, pure grace. Sadly Jacob didn’t perceive the wonder of this kind of covenant- his own covenant with God was typical of a human covenant, when he says that if God will give him some benefits, then he will give God some. Although he knew the covenant with Abraham, the one way, gracious nature of it still wasn’t perceived by him.  

Because of the great importance of Angels or a specific Angel in our lives, many of God's people seem to have conceived of God in terms of an Angel. Jacob (Gen. 48:15) and the patriarchs are clear examples. The extent of this is shown by Jacob vowing to his Angel at Bethel that "if God (the Angel) be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go... so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord (Yahweh) be my God" (Gen. 28:20,21). That the 'God' was definitely the Angel is shown by Gen. 31:11,13: "The Angel of God spake unto (Jacob)... I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me". So was Jacob promising his Angel that if He protected him, "then shall Yahweh be my Elohim (Angel)"- i.e. 'then I will recognize Yahweh is behind you, and I will relate to Him as I do to you'?

Gen 28:21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Yahweh will be my God- The AV and others suggest that Yahweh becoming Jacob's God was part of the deal which Jacob was offering God. See on :20 for the implications of this. We can each personally, as members of the seed, enter into Jacob's experience at this time. David certainly did:

Gen. 28:20,21 re. Jacob

Psalm 23 re. David

He is with me

For You are with me (i.e. just as You were with Jacob)

He will keep me

He makes me lie down, he leads me, he restores my life

He will give me bread to eat

He prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies

I come again to my father's house in peace

I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever


David was a man who saw the height of Jacob, perceiving Jacob as our example, and the deep significance of his spiritual growth as our pattern. His almost fanatic devotion to "the Law" would have included the record of Jacob- around a fifth of "the Law" which he studied all the day (and deep into the night watches).

It's questionable whether Jacob ever did really return to his father's home in peace. But all the same, as is clear from Jacob's final words, he fully accepted Yahweh as his God at the end of his life. He realized that his passionate hankering after being back home with mum and dad, of returning to how things used to be... was of the flesh. God wanted him to be a man, standing alone before Him. And Jacob realized that, and made Yahweh his God all the same, despite never really returning home in peace. He likely never saw his mother again, and the record of his burial of Isaac with Esau leaves us to imagine his nervousness and inability to ever live again near Esau.

Gen 28:22 Then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house. Of all that you will give me I will surely give the tenth to you- As noted on :20, this was understood as accepting Yahweh as his king. There is no record that Jacob ever did tithe to Yahweh, nor that he ever attempted to build a sanctuary, a literal "house", at the spot where he had erected that pillar. He does return there and erect a pillar later (see on :12), but he built no literal "house" of worship for God. He would've looked back and perceived how inappropriate was his bargain with God; and all he offered to do, he concluded was inappropriate. God was worthy of his all, not just a tenth; and the house of God was him, his heart, upon which Angels ascended and descended constantly because of his covenant relationship.