Chapter 28

Submitted by admin on Thu, 2020-02-06 15:51.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

In view of what Rebekah had said about how she would be affected if Jacob were to marry a woman like the ones whom Esau had married, Isaac sent for Jacob and instructed him not to take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Instead, he was to go to Padda-arm (in northern Mespotamia) to the “house of Bethuel,” the father of Rebekah, and marry one of the daughters of her brother Laban. Isaac blessed Jacob with a blessing that was of greater significance than the one which Jacob, at the directive of Rebekah, had received through deception. Unlike the earlier blessing, the new blessing focused on God’s promise to Abraham. “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you so that you may become a congregation of peoples. May he give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed [or descendants] with you, that you may possess the land of your alien residences, [the land] which God gave to Abraham.” This blessing made it clear that the descendants of Jacob, not of Esau, would receive the land that had been promised to Abraham decades earlier. (28:1-4)

Esau came to know that Isaac had sent Jacob to Paddan-arm (Mesopotamia [LXX]), to “Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean [Syrian (LXX)], the brother of Rebekah.” His father Isaac had sent Jacob to take a wife from there, had blessed him, and instructed him not to marry one of the Canaanite women. Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and set out for Paddan-aram. Having come to realize that his Canaanite wives did not please his father Isaac, Esau decided to marry yet another woman. He went to the family of Ishmael (the son of Abraham by Hagar) and chose as his wife Mahalath the sister of Ishmael’s firstborn son Nebaioth. It appears that Mahalath was also known as Basemath. (25:13; 28:5-9; 36:3) In his Antiquities (I, xviii, 8), Josephus referred to her as Basemmath (Basemath) and wrote that Esau took her as his wife to please his father Isaac and had “great affection for her.”

From Beer-sheba (Well of an oath [LXX]; a place at the edge of the desert south of the mountainous region of what later became a part of the territory of the tribe of Judah), Jacob headed northward toward Haran in Paddan-aram. After he had traveled some distance and the sun had set, he decided to lie down to sleep, placing a stone under his head for support. (28:10, 11) Concerning the reason Jacob chose to sleep outside, Josephus (Antiquities, I, xix, 1) wrote, “Because he hated the people of that country, he would not lodge with any of them, but took up his lodging in the open air, and laid his head on a heap of stones that he had gathered together.” Targum Jonathan says that Jacob used “four stones” for his pillow.

Jacob had a dream in which he saw a “ladder,” stairway, or ramp positioned on the ground, and its top reached the sky (literally, “the heavens”). “Angels of God” ascended and descended on it, suggesting that communication from heaven above could reach the earth below. YHWH (likely his representative angel) occupied the place at the top and confirmed the blessing of Isaac and the earlier promise made to Abraham, saying: “I am YHWH, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you are lying I will give to you and to your seed [descendants]. And your seed will be like the dust [particles] of the earth [or ground], and you will spread out to the west [the sea (the Mediterranean)],” the east, the north, and the south (the Negeb). “By you and by your seed, all the families of the earth will bless themselves. Look, I am with you and will preserve you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” (28:12-15)

Well over three centuries later, the descendants of Jacob began to take possession of the land that had been promised to them. The “seed” by whom people of the nations were to bless themselves is the Messiah or Christ, Jesus the unique Son of God. Persons who put faith in him and his sacrifice of himself for them are granted forgiveness of their sins and thus gain an approved relationship with God as his beloved children. As had been promised to him, Jacob did return safely to the land that became the inheritance of his descendants, proving that YHWH did not leave him.

When awakening from his sleep, Jacob was moved to say, “Surely YHWH is in this place, and I did not know it.” It may be that the location already had a sacred status, for Abraham, over 100 years previously, had built an altar east of the site that Jacob afterward called Bethel (“House of God”). (12:8; 28:16)

Jacob apparently was filled with a reverential fear and referred to the site as giving rise to fear or reverence. In view of the dream that revealed God and a personal message to him, he considered the location to be the “house of God” and the “gate of the heavens.” Early in the morning, Jacob took the stone that had served as his pillow, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil (undoubtedly olive oil) on the top of the stone. Previously the name of the city in the proximity of which Jacob had his dream was called Luz, but he, based on what he had experienced, called it Bethel. He vowed that YHWH would be his God to whom he would give a tenth of everything that he would come to have. This would be in the event that God would be with him, preserve him on the way, provide him with “bread to eat and clothing to wear,” and make it possible for him to return to his father’s house “in peace” or in safety and without having to face conflict. Jacob referred to the stone he had set up as a pillar as “house of God,” apparently because it would serve as a tangible testimony to what had taken place at the site. (28:17-22)

Targum Neofiti quotes Jacob, upon awakening from his sleep, as saying that the place was set aside before God, and that the gate was the “gate of prayer.” A similar thought is expressed in Targum Jonathan. “This place is not common, but the sanctuary of the Name of the Lord, the proper spot for prayer, set forth before the gate of heaven, and founded beneath the throne of glory.” Regarding the stone he had set up as a pillar, Targum Onkelos indicates that there Jacob would worship before God.


Basemath is the name found in Targum Jonathan, but Targum Neofiti and Targum Onkelos, like the Hebrew text (28:9), read Mahalath.

According to Targum Jonathan, the day on which Jacob set out from Beer-sheba was miraculously shortened because God (literally, the “Word”) wanted to speak with him. The second miracle was that the “four stones” Jacob used for a pillow had become one stone when he got up in the morning.

Targum Neofiti adds interpretive elements to the account in Genesis regarding the ladder, stairway, or ramp. “The angels who had accompanied [Jacob] from the house of his father ascended to bear good tidings to the angels on high, saying: Come and see a just man whose image is engraved in the throne of the glory, whom you desired to see. And look, the angels from before the Lord were ascending and descending and observed him.”

Josephus (Antiquities, I, xix, 2, 3) quoted God as saying the following: “O Jacob, it is not fit for you, the son of a good father and grandson of one who had obtained a great reputation for his eminent virtue, to be dejected at your present circumstances, but to hope for better times. You shall have great abundance of all good things by my assistance. For I brought Abraham here, out of Mesopotamia, when he was driven away by his kinsmen, and I made your father a happy man; nor will I bestow a lesser degree of happiness on you. Be of good courage, therefore, and under my conduct proceed on this your journey, for the marriage you so zealously pursue shall be consummated. You will have children of good characters, but their multitude will be innumerable. They will leave what they have to a still more numerous posterity, to whom, and to whose posterity, I will give the dominion of all the land, and their posterity will fill the entire earth and sea, so far as the sun beholds them. But do not you fear any danger nor be afraid of the many labors you must undergo.” Jacob then “became very joyful at what he had seen and heard.”

It may be noted that the deception in which Rebekah and Jacob participated led to loss for both of them. Rebekah lost years of association with her dearly loved son, and Jacob faced hardships and deceptive dealings in his service to Laban for the wife he truly wanted. For Rebekah and Jacob, patient waiting on YHWH to fulfill his word would have spared them much distress.