The Word Made Fresh
1Then Isaac called Jacob, gave him his blessing and told him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2Leave immediately for Paddan-aram. Go to the house of Bethuel, your maternal grandfather, and marry one of the daughters of your uncle Laban. 3May Almighty God favor you and give you many children until you become a large family. 4May God pass the promise given to Abraham on to you and your children, until you possess this land where you now live as a foreigner. This is the land God gave to Abraham.”
5So, Isaac sent Jacob away, and he traveled to Paddan-aram to the home of Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, and brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.
6Esau knew that Isaac had given Jacob his blessing to travel to Paddan-aram to find a wife. He also knew that Isaac had ordered him, “Do not marry one of the Canaanite girls.” 7And he knew that Jacob had done what his father and mother told him to do and had left for Paddan-aram. 8So, when Esau realized that his father was not pleased with his Canaanite wives, 9he went to his uncle Ishmael and married Ishmael’s daughter Mahalath, Nebaioth’s sister, and this in addition to the wives he already had.
10Meanwhile, Jacob left Beer-sheba and journeyed toward Haran. 11After sunset he bedded down for the night. He used one of the stones there as a pillow and lay down to sleep. 12He dreamed there was a ladder that reached from the ground all the way to heaven. God’s angels were climbing up and down on it. 13The LORD was standing there and said to him, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your grandfather, and the God of Isaac your father. I am going to give you and your descendants the land on which you are sleeping. 14Your children will be as numerous as the grains of sand on the earth. They will spread out in every direction and every family on the earth shall be rewarded because of you and your children after you. 15You can be sure that I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land. I won’t leave you until I’ve done all that I have promised you.”
16When Jacob awoke from his dream, he said, “Now I know now the LORD is in this place, and I never guessed it!” 17But it was a scary experience and he said, “This place is awesome! This must be the dwelling place of God. This is the entrance to heaven!”
18So he arose. It was still early morning when he took the stone he had used as a pillow and set it up as a marker. He poured oil over it 19and named the place Bethel (“house of God”), though the nearby city was originally known as Luz. 20Then he made a promise: “If God will go with me and watch over me on this journey, and see to it that I have food and clothing 21so that I safely return to my father’s house, then the LORD shall be my God. 22This stone marks the location of God’s house, and I will return to you one tenth of everything you give me.”
1-5: So, Isaac summons Jacob and sends him to Padan-aram (Haran) to marry a first cousin. He bestows upon Jacob the blessing of Abraham.
6-9: Poor, clueless Esau! It finally dawns on him that his wives are a source of angst for his parents because they are Canaanite; so he goes and marries an Egyptian girl, Mahalath, his own first cousin, daughter of his uncle Ishmael.
10-17: Jacob’s dream is one of the best-known stories of Genesis. He leaves Beer-sheba in the far south on the edge of the wilderness and travels northward toward Damascus and then on to Haran. He stops in the hill country after a day’s journey to spend the night, and there he dreams of a ladder or stairs reaching from earth to heaven, with the angels of God climbing up and down on it. In the cultural imagery of the time the ladder represents the road by which God’s messengers are sent to earth to perform their various duties and then return to heaven to report. In his dream God stands beside him (some translations have God standing above the ladder) and tells him that the promise made to Abraham will be passed on to him. He will be given the land, and his descendants will be too numerous to count. God also tells Jacob that God’s blessing of all the families of the earth will be carried out through Jacob’s descendants. God also promises to watch over him and keep him until he comes back to Canaan. When Jacob wakes up, he is convinced he is in a holy place and the thought frightens him.
18-22: He sets the stone pillow in a prominent place and pours oil on it. He names the place Bethel, which means “house of God” (although the place name has been mentioned before — see Genesis 13:3). Jacob then strikes a deal with God. If God will keep him safe, and if God will provide food and clothing, and if God will bring him back again in peace, then Jacob will accept the LORD as his God, and will give him a tenth of all he has. It sounds as if Jacob is trying to control the terms of his relationship with God, but remember that this was a dream he had, and although a dream can seem very real it is still a dream. Remember also that Jacob is a wheeler-dealer, trained by his mother. The way Jacob has of testing the dream is to lay out the conditions under which he will be convinced that it is more than just a dream, that God has really been present there.
We are reading the stories about God’s chosen people, but never forget that God uses individuals and families as instruments through whom everyone will be blessed by God.