Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. Isaac called Jacob and blessed him--He entered fully into
Rebekah's feelings, and the burden of his parting counsel to his son
was to avoid a marriage alliance with any but the Mesopotamian branch
of the family. At the same time he gave him a solemn
blessing--pronounced before unwittingly, now designedly, and with a
cordial spirit. It is more explicitly and fully given, and Jacob was
thus acknowledged "the heir of the promise."
6-9. when Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, &c.--Desirous
to humor his parents and, if possible, get the last will revoked, he
became wise when too late (see
and hoped by gratifying his parents in one thing to atone for all his
former delinquencies. But he only made bad worse, and though he did not
marry a "wife of the daughters of Canaan," he married into a family
which God had rejected. It showed a partial reformation, but no
repentance, for he gave no proofs of abating his vindictive purposes
against his brother, nor cherishing that pious spirit that would have
gratified his father--he was like Micah (see
10. Jacob went out, &c.--His departure from his father's house
was an ignominious flight; and for fear of being pursued or waylaid by
his vindictive brother, he did not take the common road, but went by
lonely and unfrequented paths, which increased the length and dangers
of the journey.
11. he lighted upon a certain place--By a forced march he had
reached Beth-el, about forty-eight miles from Beer-sheba, and had to
spend the night in the open field.
he took of the stones, etc.--"The nature of the soil is an
existing comment on the record of the stony territory where Jacob lay"
12. he dreamed . . . and behold a ladder--Some writers
are of opinion that it was not a literal ladder that is meant, as it is
impossible to conceive any imagery stranger and more unnatural than
that of a ladder, whose base was on earth, while its top reached
heaven, without having any thing on which to rest its upper extremity.
They suppose that the little heap of stones, on which his head reclined
for a pillow, being the miniature model of the object that appeared to
his imagination, the latter was a gigantic mountain pile, whose sides,
indented in the rock, gave it the appearance of a scaling ladder. There
can be no doubt that this use of the original term was common among the
early Hebrews; as JOSEPHUS, describing the town of
Ptolemais (Acre), says it was bounded by a mountain, which, from its
projecting sides, was called "the ladder," and the stairs that led down
to the city are, in the original, termed a ladder
though they were only a flight of steps cut in the side of the rock.
But whether the image presented to the mental eye of Jacob were a
common ladder, or such a mountain pile as has been described, the
design of this vision was to afford comfort, encouragement, and
confidence to the lonely fugitive, both in his present circumstances
and as to his future prospects. His thoughts during the day must have
been painful--he would be his own self-accuser that he had brought
exile and privation upon himself--and above all, that though he had
obtained the forgiveness of his father, he had much reason to fear lest
God might have forsaken him. Solitude affords time for reflection; and
it was now that God began to bring Jacob under a course of religious
instruction and training. To dispel his fears and allay the inward
tumult of his mind, nothing was better fitted than the vision of the
gigantic ladder, which reached from himself to heaven, and on which the
angels were continually ascending and descending from God Himself on
their benevolent errands
13. The Lord stood above it, and said--That Jacob might be at no
loss to know the purport of the vision, he heard the divine voice; and
the announcement of His name, together with a renewal of the covenant,
and an assurance of personal protection, produced at once the most
solemnizing and inspiriting effect on his mind.
16. Jacob awaked out of his sleep--His language and his conduct
were alike that of a man whose mind was pervaded by sentiments of
solemn awe, of fervent piety, and lively gratitude
18, 19. Jacob set up a stone, etc.--The mere setting up of the
stone might have been as a future memorial to mark the spot; and this
practice is still common in the East, in memory of a religious vow or
engagement. But the pouring oil upon it was a consecration.
Accordingly he gave it a new name, Beth-el, "the house of God"
and it will not appear a thing forced or unnatural to call a stone a
house, when one considers the common practice in warm countries of
sitting in the open air by or on a stone, as are those of this place,
"broad sheets of bare rock, some of them standing like the cromlechs of
Druidical monuments" [STANLEY].
20. Jacob vowed a vow--His words are not to be considered as
implying a doubt, far less as stating the condition or terms on which
he would dedicate himself to God. Let "if" be changed into "since," and
the language will appear a proper expression of Jacob's faith--an
evidence of his having truly embraced the promise. How edifying often
to meditate on Jacob at Beth-el.