Genesis 28


Isaac directs Jacob to take a wife from the family of Laban, 1, 2;

blesses and sends him away, 3, 4.

Jacob begins his journey, 5.

Esau, perceiving that the daughters of Canaan were not pleasing

to his parents, and that Jacob obeyed them in going to get a

wife of his own kindred, 6-8,

went and took to wife Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael his

father's brother, 9.

Jacob, in his journey towards Haran, came to a certain place,

(Luz, ver. 19,) where he lodged all night, 10, 11.

He sees in a dream a ladder reaching from earth to heaven, on

which he beholds the angels of God ascending and descending, 12.

God appears above this ladder, and renews those promises which

he had made to Abraham and to Isaac, 13, 14;

promises Jacob personal protection and a safe return to his own

country, 15.

Jacob awakes, and makes reflections upon his dream, 16, 17.

Sets up one of the stones he had for his pillow, and pours oil

on it, and calls the place Beth-el, 18, 19.

Makes a vow that if God will preserve him in his journey, and

bring him back in safety, the stone should be God's house, and

that he would give him the tenths of all that he should have, 20-22.


Verse 1. And Isaac called Jacob] See Clarke on Ge 27:46.

And blessed him] Now voluntarily and cheerfully confirmed to

him the blessing, which he had before obtained through subtlety.

It was necessary that he should have this confirmation previously

to his departure; else, considering the way in which he had

obtained both the birthright and the blessing, he might be

doubtful, according to his own words, whether he might not have

got a curse instead of a blessing. As the blessing now pronounced

on Jacob was obtained without any deception on his part, it is

likely that it produced a salutary effect upon his mind, might

have led him to confession of his sin, and prepared his heart for

those discoveries of God's goodness with which he was favoured at


Verse 2. Go to Padan-aram] This mission, in its spirit and

design, is nearly the same as that in Ge 24:1-4, &c., which see.

There have been several ingenious conjectures concerning the

retinue which Jacob had, or might have had, for his journey; and

by some he has been supposed to have been well attended. Of this

nothing is mentioned here, and the reverse seems to be intimated

elsewhere. It appears, from Ge 28:11, that he lodged in the open

air, with a stone for his pillow; and from Ge 32:10, that he went

on foot with his staff in his hand; nor is there even the most

indirect mention of any attendants, nor is it probable there were

any. He no doubt took provisions with him sufficient to carry him

to the nearest encampment or village on the way, where he would

naturally recruit his bread and water to carry him to the next

stage, and so on. The oil that he poured on the pillar might be a

little of that which he had brought for his own use, and can be no

rational arguement of his having a stock of provisions, servants,

camels, &c., for which it has been gravely brought. He had God

alone with him.

Verse 3. That thou mayest be a multitude of people]

likhal ammim. There is something very remarkable in the

original words: they signify literally for an assembly,

congregation, or church of peoples; referring no doubt to the

Jewish Church in the wilderness, but more particularly to the

Christian Church, composed of every kindred, and nation, and

people, and tongue. This is one essential part of the blessing of

Abraham. See Ge 28:4.

Verse 4. Give thee the blessing of Abraham] May he confirm the

inheritance with all its attendant blessings to thee, to the

exclusion of Esau; as he did to me, to the exclusion of Ishmael.

But, according to St. Paul, much more than this is certainly

intended here, for it appears, from Ga 3:6-14, that

the blessing of Abraham, which is to come upon the Gentiles

through Jesus Christ, comprises the whole doctrine of

justification by faith, and its attendant privileges, viz.,

redemption from the curse of the law, remission of sins, and the

promise of the Holy Spirit, including the constitution and

establishment of the Christian Church.

Verse 5. Bethuel the Syrian] Literally the Aramean, so called,

not because he was of the race of Aram the son of Shem, but

because he dwelt in that country which had been formerly possessed

by the descendants of Aram.

Verse 9. Then went Esau unto Ishmael] Those who are apt to take

every thing by the wrong handle, and who think it was utterly

impossible for Esau to do any right action, have classed his

taking a daughter of Ishmael among his crimes; whereas there is

nothing more plain than that he did this with a sincere desire to

obey and please his parents. Having heard the pious advice

which Isaac gave to Jacob, he therefore went and took a wife from

the family of his grandfather Abraham, as Jacob was desired to do

out of the family of his maternal uncle Laban. Mahalath, whom he

took to wife, stood in the same degree of relationship to Isaac

his father as Rachel did to his mother Rebekah. Esau married his

father's niece; Jacob married his mother's niece. It was

therefore most obviously to please his parents that Esau took this

additional wife. It is supposed that Ishmael must have been dead

thirteen or fourteen years before this time, and that going to

Ishmael signifies only going to the family of Ishmael. If we

follow the common computation, and allow that Isaac was now about

one hundred and thirty-six or one hundred and thirty-seven years

of age, and Jacob seventy-seven, and as Ishmael died in the one

hundred and thirty-seventh year of his age, which according to the

common computation was the one hundred and twenty-third of Isaac,

then Ishmael must have been dead about fourteen years. But if we

allow the ingenious reasoning of Mr. Skinner and Dr. Kennicott,

that Jacob was at this time only fifty-seven years of age, and

Isaac consequently only one hundred and seventeen, it will appear

that Ishmael did not die till six years after this period; and

hence with propriety it might be said, Esau went unto Ishmael, and

took Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael to be his wife.

See Clarke on Ge 26:34, &c.

Verse 11. A certain place, and tarried there] From Ge 28:19, we

find this certain place was Luz, or some part of its vicinity.

Jacob had probably intended to reach Luz; but the sun being set,

and night coming on, he either could not reach the city, or he

might suspect the inhabitants, and rather prefer the open field,

as he must have heard of the character and conduct of the men of

Sodom and Gomorrah. Or the gates might be shut by the time he

reached it, which would prevent his admission; for it frequently

happens, to the present day, that travellers not reaching a city

in the eastern countries previously to the shutting of the gates,

are obliged to lodge under the walls all night, as when once shut

they refuse to open them till the next day. This was probably

Jacob's case.

He took of the stones] He took one of the stones that were in

that place: from Ge 28:18 we find it was

one stone only which he had for his pillow. Luz was about

forty-eight miles distant from Beer-sheba; too great a journey for

one day, through what we may conceive very unready roads.

Verse 12. He dreamed, and behold a ladder] A multitude of

fanciful things have been spoken of Jacob's vision of the ladder,

and its signification. It might have several designs, as God

chooses to accomplish the greatest number of ends by the fewest

and simplest means possible. 1. It is very likely that its

primary design was to point out the providence of God, by which he

watches over and regulates all terrestrial things; for nothing is

left to merely natural causes; a heavenly agency pervades,

actuates, and directs all. In his present circumstances it was

highly necessary that Jacob should have a clear and distinct view

of this subject, that he might be the better prepared to meet all

occurrences with the conviction that all was working together for

his good. 2. It might be intended also to point out the

intercourse between heaven and earth, and the connection of both

worlds by the means of angelic ministry. That this is fact we

learn from many histories in the Old Testament; and it is a

doctrine that is unequivocally taught in the New: Are they not all

ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be

heirs of salvation? 3. It was probably a type of CHRIST, in whom

both worlds meet, and in whom the Divine and human nature are

conjoined. The LADDER was set up on the EARTH, and the TOP of it

reached to HEAVEN; for GOD was manifested in the FLESH, and in him

dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. Nothing could be a

more expressive emblem of the incarnation and its effects; Jesus

Christ is the grand connecting medium between heaven and earth,

and between God and man. By him God comes down to man; through

him man ascends to God. It appears that our Lord applies the

vision in this way himself, 1st, In that remarkable speech to

Nathanael, Hereafter ye shall see the heaven opened, and the

angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man,

Joh 1:51. 2dly, in his speech to Thomas, Joh 14:6:

I am the WAY, and the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto

the Father but by me.

Verse 13. I am the Lord God of Abraham] Here God confirms to

him the blessing of Abraham, for which Isaac had prayed,

Ge 28:3, 4.

Verse 14. Thy seed shall be as the dust] The people that shall

descend from thee shall be extremely numerous, and in thee and thy

seed-the Lord JESUS descending from thee, according to the flesh,

shall all the families of the earth-not only all of thy race, but

all the other families or tribes of mankind which have not

proceeded from any branch of the Abrahamic family, be blessed; for

Jesus Christ by the grace of God tasted death FOR EVERY MAN,

Heb 2:9.

Verse 15. And, behold, I am with thee] For I fill the heavens

and the earth. "My WORD shall be thy help."-Targum. And will

keep thee in all places, εντηοδωπαση, in all this way.-

Septuagint. I shall direct, help, and support thee in a peculiar

manner, in thy present journey, be with thee while thou sojournest

with thy uncle, and will bring thee again into this land; so that

in all thy concerns thou mayest consider thyself under my especial

providence, for I will not leave thee. Thy descendants also shall

be my peculiar people, whom I shall continue to preserve as such

until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of-until the

Messiah shall be born of thy race, and all the families of the

earth-the Gentiles, be blessed through thee; the Gospel being

preached to them, and they, with the believing Jews, made ONE FOLD

under ONE SHEPHERD, and one Bishop or Overseer of souls. And this

circumstantial promise has been literally and punctually


Verse 16. The Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.] That

is, God has made this place his peculiar residence; it is a place

in which he meets with and reveals himself to his followers. Jacob

might have supposed that this place had been consecrated to God.

And it has already been supposed that, his mind having been

brought into a humble frame, he was prepared to hold communion

with his Maker.

Verse 17. How dreadful is this place!] The appearance of the

ladder, the angels, and the Divine glory at the top of the

ladder, must have left deep, solemn, and even awful impressions on

the mind of Jacob; and hence the exclamation in the text, How

dreadful is this place!

This is none other but the house of God] The Chaldee gives

this place a curious turn: "This is not a common place, but a

place in which God delights; and opposite to this place is the

gate of heaven." Onkelos seems to suppose that the gate or

entrance into heaven was actually above this spot, and that when

the angels of God descended to earth, they came through that

opening into this place, and returned by the same way. And it

really appears that Jacob himself had a similar notion.

Verse 18. And Jacob-took the stone-and set it up for a pillar]

He placed the stone in an erect posture, that it might stand as a

monument of the extraordinary vision which he had in this place;

and he poured oil upon it, thereby consecrating it to God, so

that it might be considered an altar on which libations might be

poured, and sacrifices offered unto God. See Ge 35:14.

The Brahmins anoint their stone images with oil before bathing;

and some anoint them with sweet-scented oil. This is a practice

which arises more from the customs of the Hindoos than from their

idolatry. Anointing persons as an act of homage has been

transferred to their idols.

There is a foolish tradition that the stone set up by Jacob was

afterwards brought to Jerusalem, from which, after a long lapse of

time, it was brought to Spain, from Spain to Ireland, from Ireland

to Scotland, and on it the kings of Scotland sat to be crowned;

and concerning which the following leonine verses were made:-

Ni fallat fatum,-Scoti quocunque locatum

Invenient lapidem,-regnare tenentur ibidem.

Or fate is blind-or Scots shall find

Where'er this stone-the royal throne.

Camden's Perthshire.

Edward I. had it brought to Westminster; and there this stone,

called Jacob's pillar, and Jacob's pillow, is now placed under the

chair on which the king sits when crowned! It would be as

ridiculous to attempt to disprove the truth of this tradition, as

to prove that the stone under the old chair in Westminster was the

identical stone which served the patriarch for a bolster.

And poured oil upon the top of it.] Stones, images, and

altars, dedicated to Divine worship, were always anointed with

oil. This appears to have been considered as a consecration of

them to the object of the worship, and a means of inducing the god

or goddess to take up their residence there, and answer the

petitions of their votaries. Anointing stones, images, &c., is

used in idolatrous countries to the present day, and the whole

idol is generally smeared over with oil. Sometimes, besides the

anointing, a crown or garland was placed on the stone or altar to

honour the divinity, who was supposed, in consequence of the

anointing, to have set up his residence in that place. It

appears to have been on this ground that the seats of polished

stone, on which the kings sat in the front of their palaces to

administer justice, were anointed, merely to invite the deity to

reside there, that true judgment might be given, and a righteous

sentence always be pronounced. Of this we have an instance in

HOMER, Odyss. lib. v., ver. 406-410:-





The old man early rose, walk'd forth, and sate

On polish'd stone before his palace gate;

With unguent smooth the lucid marble shone,

Where ancient Neleus sate, a rustic throne.


This gives a part of the sense of the passage; but the last

line, on which much stress should be laid, is very inadequately

rendered by the English poet. It should be translated,-

Where Neleus sat, equal in counsel to the gods;

because inspired by their wisdom, and which inspiration he and

his successor took pains to secure by consecrating with the

anointing oil the seat of judgment on which they were accustomed

to sit. Some of the ancient commentators on Homer mistook the

meaning of this place by not understanding the nature of the

custom; and these Cowper unfortunately follows, translating

"resplendent as with oil;" which as destroys the whole sense, and

obliterates the allusion. This sort of anointing was a common

custom in all antiquity, and was probably derived from this

circumstance. Arnobius tells us that it was customary with

himself while a heathen, "when he saw a smooth polished stone that

had been smeared with oils, to kiss and adore it, as if possessing

a Divine virtue."

Si quando conspexeram lubricatum lapidem, et ex

olivi unguine sordidatum (ordinatum?) tanquam

inesset vis prasens, adulabar, affabar.

And Theodoret, in his eighty-fourth question on Genesis,

asserts that many pious women in his time were accustomed to

anoint the coffins of the martyrs, &c. And in Catholic

countries when a church is consecrated they anoint the door-posts,

pillars, altars, &c. So under the law there was a holy anointing

oil to sanctify the tabernacle, laver, and all other things used

in GOD'S service, Ex 40:9, &c.

Verse 19. He called the name of that place Beth-el] That is,

the house of God; for in consequence of his having anointed the

stone, and thus consecrated it to God, he considered it as

becoming henceforth his peculiar residence; see on the preceding

verse. This word should be always pronounced as two distinct

syllables, each strongly accented, Beth-El.

Was called Luz at the first.] The Hebrew has Ulam

Luz, which the Roman edition of the Septuagint translates

ουλαμλουζ Oulamlouz; the Alexandrian MS., ουλαμμους

Oulammaus; the Aldine, ουλαμμαους Oulammaous; Symmachus,

λαμμαους Lammaous; and some others, ουλαμ Oulam. The Hebrew

ulam is sometimes a particle signifying as, just as; hence

it may signify that the place was called Beth-El, as it was

formerly called Luz. As Luz signifies an almond, almond or

hazel tree, this place probably had its name from a number of such

trees growing in that region. Many of the ancients confounded

this city with Jerusalem, to which they attribute the eight

following names, which are all expressed in this verse:-

Solyma, Luza, Bethel, Hierosolyma, Jebus, AElia,

Urbs sacra, Hierusalem dicitur atque Salem.

Solyma, Luz, Beth-El, Hierosolyma, Jebus, AElia,

The holy city is call'd, as also Jerusalem and Salem.

From Beth-El came the Baetylia, Bethyllia, βαιτυλια, or

animated stones, so celebrated in antiquity, and to which Divine

honours were paid. The tradition of Jacob anointing this stone,

and calling the place Beth-El, gave rise to all the superstitious

accounts of the Baetylia or consecrated stones, which we find in

Sanchoniathon and others. These became abused to idolatrous

purposes, and hence God strongly prohibits them, Le 26:1; and it

is very likely that stones of this kind were the most ancient

objects of idolatrous worship; these were afterwards formed into

beautiful human figures, male and female, when the art of

sculpture became tolerably perfected, and hence the origin of

idolatry as far as it refers to the worshipping of images, for

these, being consecrated by anointing, &c., were supposed

immediately to become instinct with the power and energy of some

divinity. Hence, then, the Bactylia or living stones of the

ancient Phoenicians, &c. As oil is an emblem of the gifts and

graces of the Holy Spirit, so those who receive this anointing are

considered as being alive unto God, and are expressly called by

St. Peter living stones, 1Pe 2:4,5. May not the apostle have

reference to those living stones or Baetyllia of antiquity, and

thus correct the notion by showing that these rather represented

the true worshippers of God, who were consecrated to his service

and made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and that these alone could

be properly called the living stone, out of which the true

spiritual temple is composed?

Verse 20. Vowed a vow] A vow is a solemn, holy promise, by

which a man bound himself to do certain things in a particular

way, time, &c., and for power to accomplish which he depended on

God; hence all vows were made with prayer.

If God will be with me, &c.] Jacob seems to make this vow

rather for his posterity than for himself, as we may learn from

Ge 28:13-15; for he particularly refers to the promises which

God had made to him, which concerned the multiplication of his

offspring, and their establishment in that land. If, then, God

shall fulfil these promises, he binds his posterity to build God a

house, and to devote for the maintenance of his worship the tenth

of all their earthly goods. This mode of interpretation removes

that appearance of self-interest which almost any other view of

the subject presents. Jacob had certainly, long ere this, taken

Jehovah for his God; and so thoroughly had he been instructed in

the knowledge of Jehovah, that we may rest satisfied no reverses

of fortune could have induced him to apostatize: but as his taking

refuge with Laban was probably typical of the sojourning of his

descendants in Egypt, his persecution, so as to be obliged to

depart from Laban, the bad treatment of his posterity by the

Egyptians, his rescue from death, preservation on his journey,

re-establishment in his own country, &c., were all typical of the

exodus of his descendants, their travels in the desert, and

establishment in the promised land, where they built a house to

God, and where, for the support and maintenance of the pure

worship of God, they gave to the priests and Levites the tenth of

all their worldly produce. If all this be understood as referring

to Jacob only, the Scripture gives us no information how he

performed his vow.

Verse 22. This stone shall be God's house] That is, (as far as

this matter refers to Jacob alone,) should I be preserved to

return in safety, I shall worship God in this place. And this

purpose he fulfilled, for there he built an altar, anointed it

with oil, and poured a drink-offering thereon.

For a practical use of Jacob's vision, See Clarke on Ge 28:12.

ON the doctrine of tithes, or an adequate support for the

ministers of the Gospel, I shall here register my opinion. Perhaps

a word may be borne from one who never received any, and has Done

in prospect. Tithes in their origin appear to have been a sort of

eucharistic offering made unto God, and probably were something

similar to the minchah, which we learn from Gen. iv. was in use

almost from the foundation of the world. When God established a

regular, and we may add an expensive worship, it was necessary

that proper provision should be made for the support of those who

were obliged to devote their whole time to it, and consequently

were deprived of the opportunity of providing for themselves in

any secular way. It was soon found that a tenth part of the

produce of the whole land was necessary for this purpose, as a

whole tribe, that of Levi, was devoted to the public service of

God; and when the land was divided, this tribe received no

inheritance among their brethren. Hence, for their support, the

law of tithes was enacted; and by these the priests and Levites

were not only supported as the ministers of God, but as the

teachers and intercessors of the people, performing a great

variety of religious duties for them which otherwise they

themselves were bound to perform. As this mode of supporting the

ministers of God was instituted by himself, so we may rest assured

it was rational and just. Nothing can be more reasonable than to

devote a portion of the earthly good which we receive from the

free mercy of God, to his own service; especially when by doing it

we are essentially serving ourselves. If the ministers of God

give up their whole time, talents, and strength, to watch over,

labour for, and instruct the people in spiritual things, justice

requires that they shall receive their support from the work. How

worthless and wicked must that man be, who is continually

receiving good from the Lord's hands without restoring any part

for the support of true religion, and for charitable purposes! To

such God says, Their table shall become a snare to them, and that

he will curse their blessings. God expects returns of gratitude

in this way from every man; he that has much should give

plenteously, he that has little should do his diligence to give of

that little.

It is not the business of these notes to dispute on the article

of tithes; certainly it would be well could a proper substitute be

found for them, and the clergy paid by some other method, as this

appears in the present state of things to be very objectionable;

and the mode of levying them is vexatious in the extreme, and

serves to sow dissensions between the clergyman and his

parishioners, by which many are not only alienated from the

Church, but also from the power as well as the form of godliness.

But still the labourer is worthy of his hire; and the maintenance

of the public ministry of the word of God should not be left to

the caprices of men. He who is only supported for his work, will

be probably abandoned when he is no longer capable of public

service. I have seen many aged and worn-out ministers reduced to

great necessity, and almost literally obliged to beg their bread

among those whose opulence and salvation were, under God, the

fruits of their ministry! Such persons may think they do God

service by disputing against "tithes, as legal institutions long

since abrogated," while they permit their worn-out ministers to

starve:-but how shall they appear in that day when Jesus shall

say, I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; thirsty, and ye gave me

no drink; naked, and ye clothed me not? It is true, that where a

provision is established on a certain order of priesthood by the

law, it may be sometimes claimed and consumed by the worthless and

the profane; but this is no necessary consequence of such

establishment, as there are laws which, if put in action, have

sufficient energy to expel every wicked and slothful servant from

the vineyard of Christ. This however is seldom done. At all

events, this is no reason why those who have served God and their

generation should not be comfortably supported during that

service; and when incapable of it, be furnished at least with the

necessaries of life. Though many ministers have reason to

complain of this neglect, who have no claims on a legal

ecclesiastical establishment, yet none have cause for louder

complaint than the generality of those called curates, or

unbeneficed ministers, in the Church of England: their employers

clothe themselves with the wool, and feed themselves with the fat;

they tend not the flock, and their substitutes that perform the

labour and do the drudgery of the office, are permitted at least

to half starve on an inadequate remuneration. Let a national

worship be supported, but let the support be derived from a less

objectionable source than tithes; for as the law now stands

relative to them, no one purpose of moral instruction or piety can

be promoted by the system. On their present plan tithes are

oppressive and unjust; the clergyman has a right by law to the

tenth of the produce of the soil, and to the tenth of all that

is supported by it. He claims even the tenth egg, as well as the

tenth apple; the tenth of all grain, of all hay, and even of

all the produce of the kitchen garden; but he contributes nothing

to the cultivation of the soil. A comparatively poor man rents a

farm; it is entirely out of heart, for it has been exhausted; it

yields very little, and the tenth is not much; at the expense of

all he has, he dresses and manures this ungrateful soil; to repay

him and keep up the cultivation would require three years'

produce. It begins to yield well, and the clergyman takes the

tenth which is now in quantity and quality more in value than a

pound, where before it was not a shilling. But the whole crop

would not repay the farmer's expenses. In proportion to the

farmer's improvement is the clergyman's tithe, who has never

contributed one shilling to aid in this extra produce! Here then

not only the soil pays tithes, but the man's property brought

upon the soil pays tithes: his skill and industry also are

tithed; or if he have been obliged to borrow cash, he not only

has to pay tithes on the produce of this borrowed money, but five

per cent interest for the money itself. All this is oppressive and

cruelly unjust. I say again, let there be a national religion,

and a national clergy supported by the state; but let them be

supported by a tax, not by tithes, or rather let them be paid out

of the general taxation; or, if the tithe system must be

continued, let the poor-rates be abolished, and the clergy, out of

the tithes, support the poor in their respective parishes, as was

the original custom.

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