GENESIS - CHAPTER 28
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
28:1. “And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.”
The blessing which had been given unwittingly, was now confirmed by an Isaac who had learned that it is folly to oppose God. In addition Jacob was forbidden to marry a woman of Canaan.
We have already noted that the wife represents the expression of the man’s spiritual life: the godly woman representing true spiritual life; and the ungodly, what passes with the unbeliever for spiritual life. Jacob therefore, unmarried, stands before us as one who has some knowledge of divine truth, and who indeed strives to avail himself of divine blessing, but who has not yet come to a full knowledge of the truth. This early part of his life furnishes us symbolically with the steps by which such a man is brought by the discipline of God out of spiritual darkness into spiritual light, he being foreknown by God as one who will become a believer.
His being without a wife, godly or otherwise, and his seeking one, proclaims the fact, that unlike the deluded man who thinks he has spiritual life, Jacob was aware that he did not have spiritual life. His having the blessing pronounced upon him while in this state simply tells us of God’s foreknowledge, on the basis of which He could pronounce a blessing, that a faith yet to be exercised, would enable Jacob to enjoy in the future.
God’s foreknowledge is often erroneously mistaken for predestination, and there are many things which God does predestine, but an individual’s salvation is not one of them. Scripture is crystal clear that each man has a free will, by the exercise of which he may choose whether his soul will be eternally in heaven, or in the lake of fire. God has predestined that the soul of the unbeliever will be in the lake of fire eternally, just as He has also predestined that the soul of the believer will be in heaven eternally, but He has not predestined any man’s choice. Where a man’s soul will be eternally depends on the choice that man makes in regard to Christ.
28:2. “Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother.”
Padan-aram means their ransom is high. Bethuel means point ye out God: wasting of God, with dweller in God being suggested by some as also a possible third meaning, and Laban means white.
That this introduces a new phase in Jacob’s life is clear beyond any doubt, not only on the basis of the literal statement, but on the basis also of what is stated symbolically. In regard to marriage, we read in Ge 2:24 “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” Marriage breaks a man’s tie with his parents, and marks the point in his life where he is no longer a son, but a husband, the head of a new family. The previous chapter prepares us for this break; there we begin to see the first activity of Jacob the man, rather than Jacob the son. As Isaac’s son he represents the activity of Isaac’s will, but from this point on it seems that we are to see Jacob as the representative of the man, not yet a believer, but foreknown of God as one who will become such.
His wife is not to be a Canaanite, but rather one who is of his own blood line, he himself being of the blood line of Abraham, and therefore, of faith; and in this God would teach us of the relationship that exists between Christ and His bride, the Church. Every member of that mystical body is of His blood line: we possess His very nature. By the new birth the “Canaanite” I once was has died, and as a believer I am a new creature, not of earth, but of heaven; no longer simply an extension of the ruined life of the fallen first Adam, but a member of the body of Jesus Christ, the sinless last Adam.
Many refuse to see in Jacob anything typical of Christ, and this seems to be an error. David is very clearly a type of Christ, yet no one would be foolish enough to maintain that he was so when he committed adultery and murder. Spiritual discernment recognizes where the type stops, as it recognizes also that few of those chosen to typify Christ, do so from beginning to end of their lives. It is evident that the Holy Spirit has been pleased to select incidents in the lives of many of the characters of the Old Testament to present us with pictures of Christ, even though there may be a great deal in any single life which clearly isn’t typical of Him.
It would appear that Jacob’s departure from his father’s house, the journey to Haran, and the years of service there for his bride, do indeed picture the Lord’s departure from His Father’s house, and the more than thirty years of obedient service here on earth for His bride.
Padan-aram their ransom is high where the bride dwelt, is a picture of this world. It is the place where man has exalted himself, and where pride has lifted man up in independence of God, and it is the place for which the Lord has paid an incalculably high ransom. It is also the place which spiritually is “the house of Bethuel.” The three meanings of Bethuel point ye out God: wasting of God: dweller in God, portray characteristics of the world. It is the place where His own point God out to others, but it is also the place where the wasting or judgment of God is known; and it is the place where there are found the few who “dwell in God.” But it is also the place where “Laban” lives: it is the home of what he represents, self- righteousness apart from God. The wife Jacob found there was of the same blood line as he, and the price he paid for her was the long period of service rendered to Laban. The heavenly bride, the Church, has also been bought: the price the Lord paid was His life, and by redemption, that bride is of His own blood line, possessing His very nature. He was willing to come down to the place where we were, to assume humanity, in order that He might bring us into union with Himself.
28:3. “And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people.”
In Ge 27:28, when pronouncing the blessing, Isaac was not only ignorant of the identity of the man he was blessing, but ignorant also apparently of the character of the God in Whose name he was bestowing that blessing. There, he simply said “God give thee...” but here he says “And God Almighty bless thee....” It seems that he had been awakened to a fuller realization of the nature of that God who would bless Jacob. He was God Almighty. It is the same Almighty God who blesses His own today.
28:4. “And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.”
God’s blessing on Abraham is recorded in Ge 12:2-3 “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” It is a richer blessing than the one Isaac had pronounced on Jacob in Ge 27:28-29. There Isaac had made no reference to Jacob’s becoming a great nation, nor did he express any thought in regard to Jacob’s name becoming great. Missing also from that first blessing are the words “thou shalt be a blessing,” and “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”
An Isaac who has entered into a deeper realization of God’s character must accordingly pronounce a richer blessing. An increasing knowledge of God reveals Him to be a God who delights to bless, and Whose blessings are in proportion to His almighty power and limitless resources.
Emphasis is here laid upon his being given the land in which he and Isaac and Abraham have been simply sojourners. Possession of that land is crucial to the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. An earthly people, who are to be blessed with earthly blessings, must have a land in which to enjoy those blessings. The soon-coming Millennium will see the promise fulfilled, but in far fuller measure than any of the patriarchs ever dreamed, for it will be a transformed land, ruled over by the Prince of Peace. It will be the best of all lands, situated in a world of abundance, where war will be unknown, and the ferocity of the carnivore exchanged for the meekness of the lamb, Isa 11. And these earthly blessings, yet to be enjoyed by an earthly Israel, are themselves but types of the still greater blessings to be enjoyed by spiritual Israel, the Church. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Co 2:9).
28:5. “And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Padan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.”
This is the last recorded command given Jacob by his father Isaac, and as such it has a lesson for us. We have noted that Jacob, as his son, represents not only the new nature in Isaac, but also the activity of Isaac’s will. Jacob’s going to Padan-aram therefore, speaks of Isaac’s new nature existing (and by his own command) in the place whose typical significance has been discussed in verse 2. It was the place which speaks of independence, pride and self-righteousness, and it was the place where Jacob must exist in bondage. That unhappy bondage is typical of what accompanies a believer’s choice to walk in pride and independence of God.
Blame in unjustified measure has been placed upon Jacob for his part in the duplicity which had made this necessary, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that had Isaac been in a right relationship with God no scheming on the part of Rebekah and Jacob would have been necessary. Had Isaac been willing to bow to God’s will as expressed in His words to Rebekah in Ge 25:23 “... the elder shall serve the younger,” he would not have been guilty of attempting to bestow the blessing on Esau. Had he been in harmony with the divine will, his physical blindness would have been replaced with spiritual illumination, as was Jacob’s in Ge 48:13-20, and had he loved Jacob as he should, he would have had no desire to bestow the blessing on Esau.
An exegesis which has dwelt exclusively on Isaac as a type of Christ has had the unfortunate result of obscuring the truth that he is also a type of the believer, and like every other believer, there was much imperfection in his life. God intends us to recognize that imperfection, so that we may profit from our consideration of it. Clearly, whatever blame is due Rebekah and Jacob, Isaac is the one who must accept ultimate blame. As husband and head of the house he was responsible for all that occurred in that house, just as the believer is responsible for all that he permits in his life. This explains the divine silence in regard to Isaac’s life from this time onward. We read nothing further concerning him until Ge 35:29 where his death is recorded. The reason for the silence would appear to be that there was nothing worthy of record. Nor will there be divine approbation of the life of the believer, who by indulging the flesh, mars the working of his new life, and places his new nature in bondage to independence, pride and self-righteousness.
It is emphasized that Rebekah is the mother of both Jacob and Esau, and God would remind us in this that the expression of the spiritual life of the believer is linked with two natures, the old and the new. It is by the use of his own will that a believer displays whether he has yielded his body to the service of the old nature or the new.
28:6. “When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;”
28:7. “And that Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-aram;”
Each nature within the believer is fully aware of every activity of the other, and here, he who represents the old, watches the departure of him who represents the new. And he was aware also that the purpose of that departure was to take a wife.
Jacob’s obedience is the symbolic declaration of the fact that the new nature is no more in control than is the old. It is the believer who has control of the two natures within him, and their activity can be only according to what he by an act of his own will permits.
28:8. “And Esau seeing that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;”
It is significant that there is no mention of Esau’s seeing that the Canaanite women also displeased Rebekah. The old nature, knowing that it can operate only as the believer permits, will seek to commend itself to him by any and every means possible. It cares nothing about the spiritual life (of which the godly wife is the expression), because it knows that its activity in the spiritual life is dependent solely on the will of the believer (Isaac). The spiritual life has no control over the believer any more than does the old. It is only by the will of the believer himself that either nature may express itself.
As has been noted in previous studies, Canaanite means trafficker, and he represents one who traffics or trades in divine truth simply for gain. The female Canaanite therefore, represents that apparent submission yielded only for an ulterior motive. Isaac’s displeasure with the Canaanite women therefore, declares that even the carnal believer cannot approve the feigned submission of the spiritual trafficker.
28:9. “Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.”
Ishmael was also a firstborn, and as such, represents also what Esau represents, the old nature. Seeking to appease his father, Esau took a third wife who is not a Canaanite, but rather a granddaughter of Abraham. This portrays the attempt of the old nature to ape the activity of the new. But this Mahalath is closer to Ishmael than to Abraham, for she is his daughter, and as such, speaks also of the old nature. As a woman, she speaks of passivity, but as Ishmael’s daughter, she represents the passivity of the old nature. This marriage represents the attempt of the natural man to mimic true conversion by adopting a life style which seems to be marked by submission to God, but which is still simply the active working of the old nature. The natural man may have what passes with men for spiritual life, but such life is possessed only by the born again man. The unbeliever may have a religious life in which there seems to be submission to, as well as activity for God; and it may in fact be difficult sometimes to distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit, but though Mahalath was Abraham’s granddaughter, it must be remembered that her grandmother was Hagar the Egyptian, Abraham’s concubine, not his wife. Ishmael had been born by the will of the flesh, and not as Isaac had been, by the will of the Spirit. Heb 4:23 “... he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.” Ishmael’s birth was the result of Abraham’s failure to wait God’s time. Abraham’s true son was Isaac, the child of promise, born of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and given by a miracle of God when neither Abraham nor Sarah were capable of becoming parents.
Mahalath means making sick: sickness: appeasing. Everything connected with this marriage has an evil connotation. In Scripture, literal sickness is the symbol of spiritual sickness, so that the truth being conveyed here is that Esau was joining himself to that which represents spiritual sickness. The natural man, already spiritually sick, only makes his condition worse by any attempt to mimic true conversion. He may have all the correct outward form: profession of faith, obedience to a moral code, religious ritual, etc., but without true faith in Christ he is sick, and by an empty outward form, is only making his condition worse, for now he may have deluded himself into thinking that he has true spiritual life. His condition is then worse than when he was aware that he lacked spiritual life.
The third meaning appeasing needs little explanation. As Esau took this wife in order to appease Isaac, many a man has made the mistake of thinking that he can appease God by adopting a mere religious form.
Mahalath was also the sister of Nebajoth, which means prophetesses. Everything that can be used to support the seeming good of this marriage is brought forward. Not only does Mahalath have some connection with Abraham (the representative of faith), but even her sister seems to indicate good, for isn’t prophecy the forth telling of the mind and will of God? Nothing however, can alter the fact that Mahalath, like the man who would make her his wife, represents the old nature, and despite the seeming good meaning of her sister’s name, the truth is that the old nature, seeking to disguise itself as the new, will busy itself with a seeming interest in Scripture, and an outward obedience to its precepts.
28:10. “And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran.”
Beer-sheba means well of the oath, and Haran as a personal name, means “their mountain, but as a place name, their burning.
In previous studies we have noted that Beer-sheba represents the “well” of the Word; Haran, pride and worldly ambition; and Laban, self-righteousness. Jacob’s going from Beer-sheba therefore, speaks of a man’s turning his back on the Word, and going to dwell spiritually in the world where pride, worldly ambition, and self-righteousness rule (see comments on chapter 27:43).
28:11. “And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.”
Since it is clear that God had been dealing with Jacob as one, not yet a believer, but to become one, we may view him here as a believer walking in self-will, rather than as an unbeliever, though undoubtedly he represents both. The steps by which a sinner is led to Christ, and a believer is restored, are very similar.
The spiritual picture here is multi-faceted. Jacob, as we have noted, is the representative of (1) a man being led to a saving knowledge of Christ, (2) a back
Literal darkness speaks of spiritual darkness, and it is significant that when Jacob came to this place it was night. The sinner is in the spiritual darkness of nature, and the backslidden saint, like the backslidden nation of Israel, is in darkness because they have both chosen to turn away from the light. All the time spent away from “Beer-sheba,” the well of the Word, is spiritually night time.
”... because the sun was set.” This speaks of light departed, reminding us that man is in his present sorry condition because the whole human race has chosen to turn away from the light. “... they are without excuse: because that when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God....” (Ro 1:20-21. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light....” (Jn 3:19). Men are in darkness, not because they never had light, but because they deliberately turned away from the light (truth) revealed in the beginning. He who deliberately turns his back on the light must walk a thorny road.
It is the same with the nation of Israel. She is in darkness today because she has deliberately turned her back on Christ, the Light of the world. And it is the same with the backslidden saint. His darkened state is because he too has chosen to turn his back on the Word which is “... a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps 119:105).
No more accurate picture of Jacob’s spiritual condition could be found than the one painted here. The darkness of night accurately reflects his true spiritual state. May we not discern also, however, the shadowy outline of another picture? In Jacob, away from the comfort of his father’s house at Beer-sheba, alone in the darkness of night at this place called Luz perverse (but to become Bethel house of God), seeking a bride whom he will purchase at an exorbitant price, destined to inherit the whole land of Canaan, and to be a channel of blessing to multitudes, can we fail to see a picture of Christ?
He who views the Old Testament as having relevance only to the past, robs himself of a great deal of divine revelation. It seems that many today forget that on the day of His resurrection, when the risen Lord walked with the two on the road to Emmaus, He said unto them, “0 fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Lk 24:25-27). Not a word of the New Testament had then been written. The Scriptures were the Old Testament writings. He began at Moses (the Pentateuch), and from all the Old Testament writings, showed them truth concerning Himself. We search the Old Testament Scriptures in vain for any direct reference to Christ, yet He Himself declared that they all spoke of Him. It is only as we begin to understand the symbolic language of those Scriptures that we begin to understand just how clearly they do speak of Him. All Scripture is the revelation of Christ.
“... and he took of the stones ... for his pillows.” That he slept with his head on a stone is most unlikely. It was probably used in some way as a support for his actual pillow, but in declaring the stone, rather than the pillow itself, to be that upon which he slept, God would focus our attention on the stone. That stone is also a figure or type of Christ, for He is frequently referred to in Scripture as a stone, e.g., Mt 21:42 “... the stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner,” and (1 Pe.2:4) “... to whom coming, as unto a living stone....”
In the morning Jacob took that same stone, set it up for a pillar, poured oil upon it, and vowed a vow unto God. Clearly that stone is also a symbol of Christ, its being laid down to become Jacob’s pillow, pointing to Christ’s death, while its being set up in the morning and anointed with oil, points just as clearly to His resurrection.
Jacob may have chosen to walk by sight rather than faith in regard to the birthright, and as a result, have had to submit to divine chastisement, but neither the disobedience nor the chastisement cut him off from God’s love. He could rest his head on that rock pillow even though at the time he was ignorant of its significance. “For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth....” (Heb 12:6), and even in the midst of chastisement the believer can rest his troubled head on the same rock pillow, Christ.
There is, however, also another lesson to be learned from Jacob’s sleep. Whether it be the sinner, the backslidden saint, or the equally backslidden nation of Israel, Jacob’s unconscious oblivion portrays their state. Unless ended by the Holy Spirit, that oblivion will result in eternal loss: for the sinner, it will be the loss of his soul; for the saint, the loss of reward at the Bema.
God, by His foreknowledge, knows who will and who will not respond to the Spirit’s promptings, but in His sovereignty He sometimes permits those promptings, even where He knows that there will be no response, just as in that same sovereignty He restrains the Spirit’s promptings where He knows there will be no response. As to why, in the face of foreknown lack of response, He should in some cases permit the striving of the Holy Spirit, and in others withhold it, we can offer no explanation, except to note that the Creator has the right to do as He pleases. Scripture warns, however, that he who deliberately rejects the striving of the Holy Spirit lays up for himself a more terrible punishment than that which will be suffered by the man with whom the Spirit never strove, “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Pr 29:1). “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb 10:29). Here “despite” means to “offer wanton insult,” “to affront,” to outrage,” “to mock.”
28:12. “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.”
The Bible abounds with examples of God’s speaking to men in dreams, and this truth is nowhere more clearly stated perhaps than in Elihu’s words to Job, “For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then He openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, that He may withdraw man from his purpose (work), and hide pride from man” (Job 33:14-17).
In Jacob’s case God foreknew that the Spirit’s striving would result in the formation of Israel he shall be prince of God, therefore He troubled Jacob’s sleep to bring him the assurance of protection and blessing even in the midst of chastisement. We do well to remember what is written in Heb 12:5,6,11 “... despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.... Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”
Many have already pointed out that the ladder here is also a picture of Him, Who by coming down to earth and assuming humanity, has made Himself the “ladder” by which heaven’s care and protection are brought down to earth’s “Jacobs,” until the day when they, by means of that same “ladder” will ascend to heaven.
Others too, have noted in regard to the order of the angels’ movements that the ascending precedes the descending, and have likened this to the changing of the angelic guard charged with Jacob’s protection. The fact of their first ascending indicates that they were already there guarding him while he slept. God’s care of His own (even those under His discipline) is unceasing.
There is undoubtedly also a prophetic significance to this ladder. In Jn 1:51 the Lord told Nathanael, “Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon (in the service of) the Son of man.” Others have already noted that Nathanael is very clearly a type of the converted remnant of Israel that will emerge from the Tribulation to inherit millennial blessings, and it has also been noted that Jacob is very obviously also the symbolic annunciation of that same truth. The ladder, then, connected with both of these typical men, points to the fact that Israel’s future blessings will be through Christ, the One portrayed in the ladder, and that there will probably be again in the Millennium, as in the past, an active angelic ministry devoted exclusively to the redeemed nation of Israel. (There are many instances of angelic activity recorded in connection with Israel in the past, e.g. the angelic visit to Abraham in Ge 18; the angelic captain of the Lord’s host who appeared to Joshua in Jos 5; the angelic army mentioned in 2 Ki 6, and many others).
28:13. “And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed.”
Abraham, the great man of faith, and the spiritual father of all men of faith, is here declared to be Jacob’s father, though he was really his grandfather. In this we are being shown that though there was much that was wrong in Jacob’s life at this point, there was found in him what outweighed all other deficiencies: he was of the line of faith, and God could deal with him accordingly. However weak that faith might have been that night, God foreknew that it would eventually replace the supplanter with the prince: Jacob would become Israel.
But God also declared Himself to be the God of Isaac, and though Isaac might be backslidden, living for the things of the flesh rather than the things of the Spirit, yet he was Abraham’s heir, and his unworthy state couldn’t negate God’s promise. In this is the assurance that our eternal blessing is guaranteed by God’s faithfulness, not ours.
28:14. “And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
This was simply the confirmation of the promise given Abraham in Ge 12:7 “... unto thy seed will I give this land.” Jacob was of the seed of Abraham (faith). Israel’s occupation of the land at the end of their wilderness wanderings was a partial fulfillment of the promise, but complete fulfillment awaits the Millennium. And spiritual Israel (the Church) is included in the promise, for we are assured that when Christ returns to reign, we also shall reign with Him, not, as already noted, on the earth, but over it from the heavenly Jerusalem.
Abraham is the father, not only of literal Israel, but also of spiritual Israel, and God accordingly promised him a posterity as numerous as the dust of the earth, and also as the stars. Isaac on the other hand, because he represents the spiritual aspect of the life of faith, is promised a posterity which is likened to stars only. Jacob, however, not as Isaac’s son, but as a man acting for himself, seems at this stage of his life to represent, as already noted, one who would become a believer, and who was being dealt with accordingly. His marriage to Rachel portrays the actual moment of his conversion. Jacob’s life, both before and after his conversion, presents us with the typological picture of a believer in the school of God, undergoing that discipline which is necessary to conform him to the image of Christ. The peaceable fruit of that discipline, however, is produced here during our lives on earth. For this reason, and because he also represents the literal nation of Israel, Jacob’s seed is likened to dust only, that which is earthly.
Because He can act toward the man whom He foreknows as though that man were already a believer, God’s dealings with Jacob show us also how He brings men to repentance. Jacob was alone with God, and the divine promises of blessing were being poured into his ear. He who would be saved must similarly be alone with God, aware of his need, at the end of his own resources, and willing to believe God’s promises. No promises were to be the result of his own efforts, nor will any man who depends on his own works, have any promise from God except the assurance that he will perish in his sins.
Here it is not a question of what Jacob’s scheming will accomplish: it is the declaration of what God, in grace, will bestow upon him, and that in spite of his unworthiness.
These blessings go far beyond what Jacob would inherit simply as possessor of the birthright that Esau had despised and sold. It is doubtful whether Jacob fully comprehended the magnitude of the blessings God promised him, nor do we. “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Co 2:9). It was the God of eternity Who pronounced the blessing on Jacob that night. Who could begin to count the number of literal Jews who have been upon the earth, and who will yet be born? It is impossible. They are like the dust. And who could begin to number the spiritual “Jews” who have been upon the earth and who will yet be? That too is impossible. And while Jacob may have envisaged his promised dominion as extending to the utmost boundaries of Canaan, God was looking far beyond that land. Millennial Israel will have dominion over all the nations, and through Israel they will be blessed. “... the Gentiles ... shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders ... they shall bow down to thee with their faces toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet” (Isa 49: 22-23).
The foretold directions of expansion are unusual, and we must presume that God has deliberately chosen this particular order for good reason. Since the west (the direction that speaks of approach to God) comes first, the lesson being taught may be that enlargement and blessing come only as we draw near to God.
Since the east is always connected with sin and departure from God, this foretold eastward expansion may point to another aspect of Israel’s dominion in the Millennium. Of the children born to that first converted generation standing on the millennial earth, there will be some who will reject salvation, and whose obedience to Christ’s rule will be only feigned. These rebels will be dwelling spiritually where the rebel always is, “eastward” away from God. Israel’s dominion, however, will include them. Until the Millennium ends, and Satan is released from the abyss, no rebellion will be tolerated on the earth. These rebels will be compelled to obey or die.
The north is always connected with reason and intellect, and the lesson of Israel’s northward expansion may be that in the realm of wisdom, as in all others, she will be supreme. The only true wisdom is the knowledge of God, as it is written, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10), and in the Millennium, as in the past, Israel will be the depository of that knowledge. “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa 2:3).
Since the south is always connected with faith, the lesson of Israel’s southward expansion is easy to read: in the Millennium faith in God will be the outstanding characteristic of the nation that has for so long been marked by rebellion and self-will. In that coming glorious age, blessing will flow to all the families of earth through an obedient Israel.
The prophetic significance, however, shouldn’t blind us to the spiritual application to ourselves. We too will be blessed as we draw near to God.
In regard to the east, it is our own old nature that dwells there in rebellion against God, but as believers, spiritual Israel, we have been given dominion over that realm: we are to keep the old nature in subjection.
Since our salvation began with the fear of the Lord, and since that godly fear is the beginning of wisdom, we are to walk not as fools, but as wise men. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15).
The “south” also is ours. It is the realm of faith, and as Abraham was bidden, “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth...” (Ge 13:17), so are we bidden to walk by faith through that good land that God has given us.
28:15. “And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.”
There is not a word here of what Jacob will do, for the truth is that he is helpless to do anything except leave himself in the hand of the mighty God Who declares, “I will....” And it is not until a man comes to the same realization of his own inability to justify himself before God, or to merit blessing, that he can receive blessing. Isaiah chapter 41 should be read here in connection with God’s blessing of Jacob. In verse 14 of that chapter Jacob’s helplessness is declared when the Lord addresses him, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob ... I will help thee, saith the Lord.”
To hear a truth declared, and to live by it, however, are two very different things. Jacob must spend years in God’s school, scheming and conniving, matching wits with his equally scheming and conniving uncle Laban, before he would take to heart the truth declared to him that night at Luz. He could have saved himself much heartache had he relinquished his own worthless efforts, and simply left himself in God’s hand. And so could we. He who heeds God’s precepts saves himself the toil of experience, and enjoys blessing sooner.
The assurance given Jacob that night is also given us, for Jacob, after all, is but a picture of ourselves. In spite of his unworthiness, and ours, God says, “I am with thee, and will keep thee....” The assurance was also given “... and will bring thee again into this land.” He was brought back to Canaan, and by God’s hand, we will be brought safely to heaven.
As well as being a statement in regard to Jacob’s literal return, however, this is also a prophecy in regard to the nation bearing his name. An Israel that has been away from her own land for twenty centuries, as Jacob was for twenty years, will also be brought back, and today we see the stage being set for that return. There have been partial fulfillments of this prophecy in the past, e.g., the return from Egypt, and from Babylon, but complete fulfillment awaits the Millennium.
28:16. “And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.”
This language pictures the experience of both the awakened sinner, and the reawakened backslidden believer. Both come to an awareness, that all the time, God has been dealing with them, bringing the one to salvation, and the other to restored communion. Each can look back to a time when he slept, the one in ignorance, the other in disobedient indifference, and acknowledge that all the time God was working “and I knew it not.”
28:17. “And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
To be afraid is the inevitable result of a man’s discovering that he is in a wrong relationship with God. A Gospel that makes men fear and tremble is not very popular today, but popular or not, that is the characteristic of the Gospel we find in the Word of God. The very nature of salvation implies also fear. Since salvation is received by an act of a man’s own will, and since it is a salvation from the eternal torment of the lake of fire, how can a man be saved without fear? He is not likely to “flee from the wrath to come” if he has no fear of that wrath. In regard to Paul’s conversion we read in Ac 9:6 “And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” At the time of his conversion the Philippian jailer “came trembling ... and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Ac 16:29-30. In Ac 24:25 we read that in response to the Gospel preached by Paul “Felix trembled.”
”How dreadful is this place?” The word here translated “dreadful” is literally “to be feared: reverenced.” That God is to be feared (reverenced) is a concept that seems to be quickly disappearing from Christian thought. The reverence that becomes God’s presence is conspicuously absent both from our individual lives, and from our Church meetings. Jacob realized that he was in the presence of the One Whose very name is Holy and Reverend” (Ps 111:9). Moses, as he drew near to the visible manifestation of that holy presence in the wilderness, was commanded, “... put off thy shoes ... for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex 3:5). “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him” (Ps 89:7).
”... this is none other but the house of God.” There were several things connected with that place that are characteristic of the house of God. First of all there was the ladder from earth to heaven. Whether it be Israel, God’s “house” in the past; the Church, or the individual believer where He dwells today through the Holy Spirit, one mark of God’s house or dwelling place should be that it is the place where men are taught the truth represented by the ladder. That ladder was a picture of Christ. He is the only way from earth to heaven. A disobedient Israel failed to disclose to the nations around her the right way of approach to God, and it is to be feared that the Church must in large measure be charged with the same failure. And with a few rare exceptions, we as individual believers are equally guilty of failure to present Christ as “the Way” from earth to heaven.
Service to others on God’s behalf (portrayed in the activity of the ascending and descending angels) is also to mark God’s house. And we who have been saved through Christ’s death are that “house.”
It was also the place where he received assurance of protection and coming blessing. Whether it be as a believer or as a local church, God’s “house” should be the place where this ministry of assurance and comfort is available to all who belong to Christ.
”... and this is the gate of heaven.” Failure on the part of a man or a church to minister to the needs of believers is a serious dereliction of duty which will result in loss at the Bema, but failure to present Christ to sinners as the “Gate of heaven,” the only “Way” by which they can enter heaven, is to be guilty of a far greater offense. Because of that failure, men and women whom we should have warned will be in the lake of fire eternally.
28:18. “And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.”
The communication given him that night resulted in Jacob’s rising up “early in the morning.” In previous studies we have noted that “arising up early in the morning” signifies prompt obedience to God’s commands. Jacob’s immediate response to this communication from God was that he took the stone that had been his pillow, and set it up as a pillar. In Scripture the pillar is used as a memorial or symbol, both of people and of covenants, e.g. here it is the memorial of the covenant which God had just made with Jacob, and in Ge 31:45 a pillar was set up as a token of the covenant between Jacob and Laban. In Ge 35:20 Jacob set a pillar upon Rachel’s grave as a memorial of her, in 2 Sa 18:18 Absalom, having no sons, set up a pillar to keep his name in remembrance, or to be a memorial of himself. In Ge 19:26 Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt, a memorial to her folly.
In this present instance the pillar is more than a memorial: it is a picture or symbol of Christ, for it is through Him that this covenant is to be ultimately fulfilled. As a pillow, that stone represents Christ as the One in Whom the believer finds rest, but as a pillar it represents Him in resurrection as the One through Whom all God’s promises to us will be fulfilled, and our expectations realized.
It is in a resurrected Christ that we will be blessed, and that resurrection is pictured here. The stone lying down is Christ in death; the stone set up and anointed with oil is Christ resurrected.
”... and poured oil upon the top of it.” Oil is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit, and its being used here to anoint the pillar points to the Lord Jesus Christ as the one Who was anointed by the Holy Spirit. That anointing was seen from the beginning to the end of His earthly life, for He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and it was through that same Holy Spirit that He “offered Himself without spot to God” (Heb 9:14). But since the oil was poured on the pillar set up, and not on the stone lying on the earth, it speaks of a resurrection anointing: it is the symbolic fulfillment of Ps 45:7 “Therefore God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows.”
28:19. “And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.”
Bethel means house of God; and Luz, perverse. Two things more opposed would be difficult to imagine, but in changing Luz to Bethel, God is symbolically declaring what He will yet do with Jacob. He who was the very epitome of perverseness would yet become Israel, a prince of God. But a still greater truth is being declared: that perverse nation that has sprung from him will also be transformed, and in the Millennium, will display all the glory that is implied in her name Israel. And certainly it isn’t difficult to see in this also what God does to the man who trusts Christ. He who by natural birth was perverse, becomes through the new birth, “Bethel,” a habitation or house of God through the Holy Spirit, (Eph 2:22).
28:20. “And Jacob vowed 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 raiment to put on,”
28:21. “So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord by my God.”
Jacob, however, was still Jacob, and his vow disclosed how little he yet understood of divine grace. His buying the birth right had certainly indicated a desire to be blessed, but it indicated also a lack of faith to believe that God would bless according to grace, and not in response to any bargain man might make. He didn’t know then that man can’t bargain with God, for the simple reason that man has nothing with which to bargain. God’s blessings are bestowed as His gift to those who trust Him; they can neither be bought nor earned. Jacob was still on the low ground occupied by all the unconverted, and unfortunately, also by many of those who are converted. He represents those who fail to distinguish between the blessings bestowed by grace upon all believers, and the recompense at the Bema of the faithful works of those believers. Grace saves believers from hell and the lake of fire; it brings them into heaven; it makes them God’s children, etc., but these things are not to be confused with the rewards which will be given for faithful service rendered after that servant has already been assured of all these blessings of grace. The faithfulness of the service indicates the degree of love produced by the realization of just how deeply we are indebted to God’s grace for all the blessings that are ours as His gracious gift. These blessings are bestowed upon all believers, and are gifts. What we will receive at the Bema are rewards which will have been earned. They will be the wages paid to the laborer in proportion to his service in the harvest field or in the vineyard.
Jacob’s “if” declares his lack of faith in God, as it declares also the confidence he still had in him-self. Hadn’t God already promised him all these things? Jacob’s “if” implies that God might go back on His word, and as if to guard against that possibility, Jacob offers to do something that will guarantee fulfillment of the promise. He had much to learn both about himself and about God. When we read again the blessings promised in verses 13-15 it is almost impossible to believe that Jacob could have displayed such doubt as is indicated in verses 20-21.
What is even more incredible is that we who have received even greater promises, should be guilty of similar doubt, yet isn’t every fear, every worry, simply the declaration of our unbelief? Hasn’t God promised to be with us, to keep us, to give us bread to eat and raiment to put on, and to bring us safely home to heaven in peace?
Jacob would reverse the divine order. “... then shall the Lord be my God.” He would allow the Lord to be his God, if that God met his (Jacob’s) conditions! Were it not that we have all been guilty, it would be impossible to believe that a mere man (one described by God as “thou worm Jacob”) would dare to thus bargain with God. A greater wonder is that God didn’t destroy the presumptions, unbelieving bargainer on the spot.
God’s order is not for mere man to first experience blessing, and then permit the Lord to be his God. The divine order is that man shall first believe the promises, submit to God’s control of his life, and then receive the blessings.
28:22. “And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
Jacob’s words were invested with a significance far beyond anything he intended or could have imagined that morning. That pillar, as we have noted already, was a type of Christ. God’s house is not to be built upon any earthly stone, but upon that “living stone” which is Christ. “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded” (1 Pe 2:4-6). “... upon this Rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). The full quotation from Mt 16:18 is “And I (Jesus) say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (Greek petros, a stone), and upon this Rock (Greek petra, a Rock), I will build my Church.” The Lord was not declaring that He would build His Church upon Peter, but upon Himself. He was the great foundation Rock (Petra); Peter, and the other eleven Apostles were simply foundation stones (Petros).
In Eph 2:20 it is written “And (ye) are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.” The lie of the great harlot (Re 17:1) is contradicted by the very Scriptures of which she claims to be the interpreter. It is the Lord Jesus Christ, not Peter, upon Whom the Church is built, and Jacob’s words were an unwitting prophecy of that truth.
“... I will give the tenth unto Thee.” These words declare the attitude of the natural man: he will buy blessing, and fail to see his folly. His thought is just as ridiculous as that of the child who would take a tenth of the pocket-money given by his parents, and give it to them, saying, “With this I am buying your love and care.” Love, human or divine, cannot be bought.