A Bible Lesson on Genesis 28

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This lesson is about Genesis 28.  But in order to do that justice, we really need to back up and consider how we get to Genesis 28 in the lives of the characters Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob.  After 20 years of barrenness, Rebekah becomes pregnant with Jacob and Esau, and God tells her that she’ll have twins, the older to serve the younger.  In their youth, Jacob schemes to help that along by taking advantage of his somewhat dim and spiritually dull twin brother, buying the birthright of the firstborn for a mess of lentil soup.  Mom loves Jacob best and Dad loves Esau best.  There is surely strife in the family.  It sees like Isaac thinks he’s near death (he’s not even close, as he lives until long after Jacob returns from 20 years with Laban, but he thinks he’s close to the end) and despite knowing from Rebekah that it is Jacob through whom God intends the line of the covenant to pass, he decides to behind closed doors give his final blessing to Esau.  Rebekah gets wind of this and (not content to leave things in the hands of God) she and Jacob trick the old man into blessing Jacob instead.  All these people are supposedly adults here.  Jacob and Esau are at least 40 (the age at which Esau married the two Hittite women who made life miserable for Rebekah and Isaac) and possibly as old as 80.  They are old enough that they ought to know how to behave.

The upshot is that Esau plans to kill Jacob as soon as his father dies, and Rebekah now feels she has to scheme how to get Jacob out of town to safety.  Notice that up front God has said that it’s Jacob through whom the promise will pass, but nobody in the story acts honorably in regard to this truth.  Jacob and Rebekah can’t just stand back and let God be God, they have to scheme and meddle to “help” God along.  Isaac actively works against God’s revealed will.  And Esau is dim and (understandably) hostile.  But the providence of God will not be thwarted, His constant grace and mercy will not end.

As we pick up the story, Rebekah has decided that a way to get Jacob out of town and to safety is to send him back to Mesopotamia to get a wife from her clan.  In this scheming, she ultimately works the will of God in terms of Jacob not marrying one of the pagans from the surrounding peoples.  But we must keep in mind that this whole thing costs her dearly.  She loses both her sons.  She’ll never see Jacob again, nor her grandchildren by him.  Esau lives out in the boondocks and is no comfort or help to her.  We humans ultimately don’t break the anvil of God’s providence, but when our actions are bad, we do reap corresponding bad consequences.

Genesis 28:1 Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women.

At one level, Isaac has been manipulated here. But this is, in fact, the same command that Abraham gave his servant about a wife for Isaac.  This situation is a mess, but this is consistent with the revealed will of God.

2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take as your wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.

Those who live by the sword die by the sword.  Jacob has been a cheat and a user of his brother.  Now he’s headed to Laban’s house, where he’s going to spend 20 years getting some of his own medicine.  He’ll find out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of what he’s dished out.

3 God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.

Isaac really rises to the occasion here.  He thinks this may be the last he sees of this son, and the blessing he pronounces is from the heart.  May God Almighty, El Shaddai, bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you that you may become a company of peoples.  Commentators will tell you that always before in the covenant promises and blessings, there has been the notion of “many” offspring, but this “company of peoples” is the first mention of community/coherence among them.  This sees its fulfillment in the NT church and in eternity, where the redeemed make not just a separated multitude, but a connected community of those who know God.  There’s a sense here already in Genesis 28 that the reality of faith in God creates a living assembly of those redeemed.

4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!”

The covenant promise was both for offspring and a land.  That is seen again and again in Genesis.

5 Thus Isaac sent Jacob away. And he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban, the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.

6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he directed him, “You must not take a wife from the Canaanite women,”

7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram.

8 So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father,

9 Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.

This is sad and pathetic.  You get the impression here of an inept fellow tripping over himself trying to make a good showing, but not really knowing what that might mean.  Surely adding a 3rd wife to the other 2 isn’t going to make life any more harmonious in this family.  Kidner says Esau’s “… attempt to do the approved thing was, like most religious efforts of the natural man, superficial and ill-judged”  1 Cor. 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.

He’s got about a 500 mile journey to make here on foot and alone.  He’s not the family adventurer on a lark.  He’s in flight for his life. If he has a conscience at this point, it is guilty.  He’s headed away from family and friends, to a place he’s never been. As far as he can see, he’s alone and on his own.

11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.

He’s done about 50 of those 500 miles. As the hymn says: “Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down, Darkness be over me, my rest a stone.”  Darkness is truly over Jacob at this point.  It’s not just night literally, it’s night figuratively regarding his earthly circumstances.  He may indeed be the son of the promise, but the harsh realities of life (many brought on by his own sharp dealings) leave him without an earthly friend.

12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!

But here’s the glorious truth: fallen, frail, crooked, and unlikable though he might be, Jacob is not alone.   The God that Isaac asked to bless Jacob is with him. There is a ladder/stair/ramp between heaven and earth.  On it the messengers of God circulate back and forth between heaven and earth, carrying out the work of God.

13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.

The I AM speaks.  The self-existent One, the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, says that He is the God of Jacob’s father and his grandfather.  As the ESV renders it, God stands at the head of the stairs.  Apparently, instead of the rendering “above it,” another/?better? possibility is “beside him.”  That is, the I AM stands beside Jacob.  In any case, Jacob hears from the LORD Himself that Canaan belongs to him and his offspring.  He’s heard about this promise from his parents, but now he hears it from God Himself, and there is more.

14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

The promise made to Abraham that he and his family would be a source of blessing to all humans is spoken to Jacob.  God is not going to be only the God of Abraham, or the God of Abraham and Isaac, but is going to have relationship with him.  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This in spite of all seamy stuff he has pulled.  God’s grace and steady hand extends even to him.

15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Behold I am with you and will keep you.  That is the fundamental promise of God.  God doesn’t promise easy circumstances or a pleasant trip through this earthly life.  What He promises is His presence and care.  And that is, at the end of the day, the most glorious promise that He could possibly give us.  It is life and light for eternity.  It survives all circumstances of this life and right through death.

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

This is one of those times that a person has touched something and doesn’t quite have the right categories to describe or understand it.  Jacob knows that this is good, really, really, really good.  But he can only think in earthbound terms.  He thinks the place is special.  He doesn’t quite know that what he has been shown is not localized to Bethel.  It’s not as if God will take the escalator down at Bethel and follow him around.  But to Jacob’s credit, he recognizes that it’s a profound thing that the I AM, El Shaddai has pledged Himself to such as Jacob.  Would that modern people would have such a reverence for the kind grace of God.

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.

Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had built an altar at Bethel (Genesis 12:8) and worshiped God there.  Jacob stood the stone he’d used for a pillow on end and anointed it as an act of worship.

19 He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

“Bethel” means “house of God.”

20 Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear,

21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,

22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

This probably ought not be read as Jacob making a deal or bargain with God.  It seems to me that the “if God” is a given and this has more the nature of “in light of the fact that God …”  That is,  Jacob is talking out loud to Himself, thinking of appropriate outward commemoration of the faithfulness of God.   That is, it is quite likely that he’s responding with all the piety that he could possibly be expected to be able to produce.  But even if this is a kind of Thomas-like “if I can see the nail prints and put my hands in His side,” God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love, and God will be with him and keep him in his way.  Just as Thomas saw the nail prints and was embarrassed by his frailty, Jacob will see the mighty hand of God at work.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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