Genesis 28:1-5 Isaac listened to his wife, blessed Jacob, and told him to go back to Haran and marry one of Laban’s (Rebekah’s brother) daughters. This must have been a hard departure for the domestic Jacob.
Genesis 28:6-9 Esau, apparently learning a lesson by regarding Jacob’s obedience to go to Haran to take a wife there, finally realized that his wives were not pleasing. He took another wife, a daughter of Ishmael. He did this perhaps that there still might be a chance that he could still get a blessing.
Notes: Esau’s motives were all wrong. People will temporarily change their ways and be more religious in the hopes of gaining something, whether material things, be relieved of some suffering, or protection from some type of fear. Esau, however, still retains his two Hittite wives.
Genesis 28:10-11 Jacob left for Haran, alone, without servants or wealth. He even had to use a large stone, most likely smooth, as a pillow. Leaving Beersheba, Jacob sets out to travel the 550 miles to Haran.
Genesis 28:12-15 God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream. He assured Jacob that he has now inherited the blessings given to Abraham and Isaac. The Lord promised that the land that Jacob was currently sleeping on would be his and his descendants forever. Jacob’s descendants would be numerous, spreading in all directions, and all the families of the earth will be blessed (Jesus). The Lord assured Jacob that no matter where Jacob ended up, He would be with Jacob and protect him and that eventually would bring Jacob back to the land he just left.
Notes: The ladder provides a bridge between heaven and earth, revealing that God is still committed to making the earth his dwelling, a graphic portrayal of the heavenly Lord’s personal involvement in the affairs of earth. Jesus identifies himself as the ladder linking earth and heaven. While human beings want to ascend to heaven (as reflected in the Tower of Babel story), God is interested in making the earth his temple-city. More than likely, the angels crossed a stairway rather than a ladder.
Genesis 28:16-17 Jacob was astonished when he realized that God was everywhere, even in the middle of a desolate place that Jacob decided to sleep. Jacob for the first time feared God in a new way.
Notes: Jacob’s reaction to the dream suggests that he perceived God as being with him on earth rather than in heaven. Since Jacob names the location “Bethel”, which means “house of God,” the idea of God being present on earth is clearly dominant in his thinking.
Genesis 28:18-22 Jacob anointed with oil the stone his head rested on, set it up as a pillar to God, and named the place Bethel. Jacob vowed that if God kept His promise to care, provide, protect him, and return him to his father’s house in peace (He was most likely thinking of Esau and his death threat), then God would be his God. He promised that the stone that became a pillar would be part of God’s future house and he would give back to God a tenth of everything God gave him.
Notes: Although Jacob commemorates this special event by setting up a pillar and consecrating it with oil, it is noteworthy that he does not build an altar. This is a further indication that he has not yet fully accepted the Lord as his God. While the practice of setting up pillars was common in Canaanite worship, the Lord later in the law prohibits it. Years later, after his faith-transforming encounter with God at Penuel, Jacob returns to Bethel in order to construct an altar.
Notes: The conditional nature of Jacob’s vow reveals that he is still uncertain regarding his commitment to the Lord. Although God reveals himself to Jacob at Bethel, it will require a further personal encounter before Jacob fully trusts in the Lord. Remember, it was a dream he had, not a direct revelation of God.