Genesis 28 - Jacob Flees From Esau
A. Isaac's farewell to Jacob.
1. (1-2) Instructions to not take a Canaanite wife.
a. Perhaps now Isaac has resigned himself to what his wife Rebekah had been telling him was the Lord's will all along: the older would serve the younger, and that Jacob, not Esau, would receive the birthright. So he sends Jacob on with blessing and instructions.
b. It is essential Jacob not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, as his brother Esau did. Jacob is the one who has inherited the birthright, and he is the one to carry on the seed of the Messiah.
2. (3-5) The all-important transferal of Abraham's blessing.
a. Essentially, this is the aspect of the birthright that Esau despised, but Jacob (who seems equally unworthy) will gain. Jacob is the one to carry on God's promise to Abraham.
i. Essentially, Jacob is promised a land, a nation, and a blessing, even as Abraham was (Genesis 12:1-3).
b. Jacob is by no means worthy of this blessing. Each of the four parties in this whole birthright mess were in the flesh somewhere along the line. The amazing thing is that God could bring any good out of all this, and this is an example of a triumph of God's sovereignty!
c. Tragically, this is the last time Jacob will see his father or mother.
3. (6-9) Esau adds to his wives by marrying a non-Canaanite woman, trying to get back into his parents good graces by doing something in the flesh.
B. Jacob meets God at Bethel.
1. (10-12) Jacob's dream of a ladder.
a. In this desolate wilderness, Jacob has a significant dream as he uses a stone for a pillow (which would seem to cause strange dreams).
i. One can only imagine the strange flood of feelings in Jacob at this moment: the fear, the loneliness, the isolation, the excitement, and the anticipation. This was an absolutely strategic time in Jacob's life.
b. In Jacob's dream, there is now access to heaven: a ladder the angels of God were ascending and descending on. Jacob now knew God was closer than ever and there was real access and interaction between heaven and earth.
c. Jesus makes it clear in John 1:51 that He is the access to heaven. He is the means by which heaven comes down to us and by which we can go to heaven. He is the "ladder."
i. And He said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." (John 1:51)
ii. Jesus is this way to heaven; He does not show us a way, He is the way: Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)
2. (13-15) God speaks to Jacob.
a. These words are for comfort and hope in the life of Jacob, at this critical crossroads in his life. Essentially, God is repeating to Jacob the terms of the covenant He gave to both Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3) and Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5).
i. Before, Isaac told Jacob the covenant was his (Genesis 28:3-4), but now the voice of God Himself confirms it.
b. Jacob had no doubt heard about the great God who had appeared to Abraham and to Isaac, but now this same God has a personal encounter with Jacob himself. This was a life-changing experience for Jacob.
c. 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 spoken to you is the same thought as Philippians 1:6: being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. God won't let us go until His work is complete in us.
3. (16-19) Jacob worships God, naming the place Bethel (house of God).
a. Jacob was right in sensing the presence of the Lord there, but he was wrong in perhaps thinking God was in some places and not in others. David knew this: Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? (Psalm 139:7)
b. From his fleshly perspective, Jacob puts too much emphasis on a particular place: How awesome is this place! He doesn't realize that if the presence of the Lord is not with him in every place, then God can never fulfill His promise to him.
c. The city of Bethel plays an important (though not glorious) role in Israel's history. It is second only to Jerusalem in the number of times mentioned in the Old Testament.
i. Later, when speaking to Jacob, God refers to Himself as the God of Bethel (Genesis 31:13).
ii. Bethel would eventually become a high place, a place notorious for idolatrous sacrifice (1 Kings 13:32, Hosea 10:15, Amos 4:4).
4. (20-22) Jacob's vow unto God.
a. If God will be with me can be also translated "since God will be with me"; but knowing Jacob, he undoubtedly means it in the sense of "if God." God has given him a promise, yet he is still making "deals" with God, even promising God money if He makes good on His promise!
i. The way Jacob prayed, it was evident God's mere word was not enough for him. He had to see God do it before he could believe. Are we the same way? God says, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19); He says, "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him." (Nahum 1:7) Do we believe these things before we see them?
b. Here, Jacob is setting the terms of his covenant with God. He is laying down the deal for God, instead of humbly receiving what God has said would be the deal.
i. Jacob isn't very submissive to God. God will teach him submission in a very tough situation, through his Uncle Laban.
c. Unfortunately, there is a great contrast between God's promise and Jacob's vow. One is totally God-centered; the other is terribly man-centered.
i. God's promise (Genesis 28:13-15):
- I am the Lord God.
- I will give to you.
- I am with you.
- I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken.
ii. Jacob's vow:
- If God will be with me.
- And keep me.
- In this way that I am going.
- Give me bread and clothing.
- So that I come back to my father's house.
d. How much better if Jacob would have prayed like this: "Because You have promised to be with me and to keep me and to provide for all my needs, and to bring me back to the land which you swore to give to my fathers and to me, I will be completely Yours, God."
e. God is gracious enough to not call off the whole deal when He sees such a carnal response from Jacob. Instead, He is willing to be called, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Exodus 3:6).