Jacob on the run
Isaac tells Jacob to leave1 Isaac called in Jacob and greeted him with a blessing, wishing him well. Isaac told him, “Don’t marry any of the women who live here in Canaan. 2 I want you to leave right now and go to Paddan-aram, to the family of your mother’s dad, Bethuel. Marry one of his granddaughters—one of the daughters of your Uncle Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God All-powerful take good care of you, give you lots of children, and grow your family into a huge crowd of relatives. 4 May God extend to you and your descendants the promise he made to your grandfather Abraham—to give you this land where you have lived as a foreigner and an immigrant, this land God gave Abraham.” 5 Isaac said goodbye to Jacob. Then Jacob left for Paddan-aram, to stay with his Uncle Laban, brother of Rebekah and son of Bethuel the Aramean.
Esau marries his cousin6 Esau knew that his father Isaac blessed Jacob with best wishes and sent him to Paddan-aram to find a wife. Esau also knew what Isaac told Jacob: “Don’t marry any of the women who live here in Canaan.” 7 Esau could see that Jacob made his parents happy when he obeyed them and went to Paddan-aram. 8 It became painfully obvious to Esau that Isaac didn’t want his sons marrying Canaanite women. 9 So Esau married his cousin next: Mahalath. She was a daughter of his Uncle Ishmael, Isaac’s big brother. Nebaioth was her sister.
Jacob, dreamer on the run10 Jacob left his family’s home in Beersheba and traveled north toward the city of Haran. 11 As the sun started to set he decided to make camp where he was. He took one of the stones in the area and used it as a pillow, to rest his head. 12 He had a dream. He saw a stairway that started on the ground and reached up into the sky. God’s angels walked up and down the stairs, traveling between heaven and earth. 13 The LORD himself stood at the top of the stairs. He said, “I am the LORD. I am the God of your grandfather Abraham and your father Isaac. I want you to know something. I’m going to give this land that you’re resting on to you and your descendants. 14 You’ll have so many descendants that they’ll be as impossible to count as grains of dirt on the ground. Your people will spread out in all four directions, going west, east, north, and south. Because of you and your descendants, the people of this world will be blessed—better off than they would have been without you. 15 Look, you’re not alone. I’m with you. I’ll take care of you wherever you go. Someday I’ll bring you back to this land. I’m not going to leave you until I’ve done everything I promised you.” 16 This startled Jacob awake. He said, “I didn’t realize it, but the LORD is here.” 17 Terrified, Jacob said, “This place is holy ground. It’s the doorway to heaven, into God’s house.” 18 When Jacob got up in the morning he took the stone he had used as a pillow and he set it up like a pillar. Then he poured olive oil on top of it. 19 The nearby city was called Luz. But to Jacob it became Bethel. 20 Jacob made a promise. He said, “If God goes with me, takes care of me on this trip, provides the food and clothing I need, 21 and brings me back home safely, then the LORD will be my God. 22 This stone I have stood up like a pillar marks the house of God—a place of worship. I will give you, God, a tenth of everything you give me.”
Israel and Palestinian territories.
A region in southern Turkey and northern Syria. Nahor probably lived near the city of Haran in southern Turkey.
Hebrew: El Shaddai.
Arameans lived mainly in what is now Syria.
Esau was already married to two Canaanite women (Genesis 26:34).
Hebrew for “house of God.”
Rebekah talks Jacob into tricking his father, Isaac, out of the deathbed blessing. Then she convinces Isaac to give Jacob his blessing to travel up to what is now Turkey to find a wife better than the two local women Esau has married. Given what you have seen of Rebekah so far, how would you describe her?
As the Genesis writer tells the story, we get a sense that Jacob pretty much ran for his life with nothing but the clothes on his back. For his first night on the road, he sleeps with a rock as his pillow. He prays for food and clothes. Then when he finally gets to his uncle’s home up in what is now Turkey, he doesn’t have anything he can use to buy himself a wife. Bummer. What do you think happened? Did his wealthy parents send him on this long journey with nothing more than a pair of sandals and a Snickers bar?
One of the things we discover when we study the Bible is that God does not usually answer “why” questions. But those are the favorite questions to ask. We want to know why on earth God would pick a jerk like Jacob—a literal and figurative Heel of a man—and promise him all the good stuff we read about in this chapter: the land, lots of descendants, protection, and a return trip home. Why do you think God, instead, didn’t give him a one-way bus ticket to the Sinai badlands? As far as we can tell, Jacob does not have a decent bone in his head.
Here are examples about how people in ancient times interpreted dreams. Do you think there’s anything to it? Can a dream handbook get it right? Or does God have a monopoly on dream interpretation: “Don’t dream explanations come from God?” (40:8).
DREAM – A man sees… MEANING Himself dying Good news: He’s going to live a long time. Himself looking out of a window Good: His cry is being heard. A snake Good: Food is coming. Eating crocodile Good: He will become an official. Himself burying an old man Good: Prosperity ahead. His bed catching fire Bad: He is driving away his wife. A “dwarf” Bad: He will live just half a life. Himself drinking warm beer Bad: Suffering ahead. Himself with his face to the ground Bad: The dead want something from him. Walking into a room with wet clothes Bad: He’ll have a fight coming up.
Jacob wakes up from his vivid dream, startled and terrified in the night. He seems to think the place is some kind of wormhole, ‘the very gateway to heaven!’ (28:17).” Could it possibly work that way, that there are portals into the spiritual dimension? Or was this the imagination of a man who probably thought the earth was flat?
What do you think of the promise Jacob makes to God in Genesis 28:20-22? Does it make Jacob more of a jerk or less of a jerk?
LIFE APPLICATION. On the surface, the moral of this story so far seems to go something like this: If you treat other people like they are your personal vending machines, God will be happy with you. Let’s assume that’s not the point that the Genesis writer was trying to make. What do you think is the take-away message that a preacher could talk about on a bright and sunny Sunday morning?
LIFE APPLICATION. The promises God gave to Jacob are the same promises he gave Abraham and Isaac. The apostle Paul told Christians, “If you’re one of the Messiah’s people, then you’re a descendant of Abraham. You’re part of the family. And you’re going to inherit what God promised” (Galatians 3:29). Here is one of those promises: “Look, you’re not alone. I’m with you. I’ll take care of you wherever you go” (28:15). Can you tell us about a time when you or someone you know found comfort in the belief that God was with them—or perhaps when you or someone you know could sense God’s presence in a tough time?
LIFE APPLICATION. God told Jacob, “Because of you and your descendants, the people of this world will be blessed—better off than they would have been without you” (28:14). If that’s true today, what examples would you give to support it?