The Sending off of Jacob and Esau
Genesis 28. This chapter gives us the beginning of Jacob’s history outside his parents’ home. The Lord speaks to Jacob before he leaves the promised land, and promises to be with him and to care for him. Jacob’s response reveals his true condition: afraid of the presence of God, and falling far short of what God had in mind for him.
Jacob as a Type. The life of Jacob is a remarkable type of the nation that bears his name, the children of Israel. Most of Jacob’s life was taken up with seeking to gain earthly blessing through the efforts of the flesh, rather than walking in communion with God as Abraham had. This is similar to Israel’s history under the law, seeking to establish their own righteousness, rather than have the righteousness which is by faith (Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:9). Because he had deceived Isaac and offended Esau, Jacob had to live in exile, beginning with Gen. 28. The majority of the record of Jacob’s life took place outside the land of Canaan, where he was under both the discipline and protection of God. This is similar to how the children of Israel, through their own disobedience, were taken captive and cast out of their land. When at last Jacob returned to Canaan, his family was a mess. The son of his old age, Joseph, was sold into slavery by Jacob’s sons, and Jacob was deceived by his boys just as he had done to his own father Isaac. To Jacob, his son Joseph was as good as dead. This pictures the rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah by the Jews. At last God sent a famine which brought Joseph into power over Egypt, and the brothers down to buy corn. The seven years of famine are a type of the seventieth week of Daniel, the seven-year tribulation period. Jacob being deprived of Benjamin is a type of the nation’s darkest hour; the “time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). Joseph’s dealing with his brothers is a type of God’s work with the Jews throughout the tribulation, seeking to bring them to a realization of national guilt, and repentance (Zech. 12:10). This work was brought to completion when Joseph revealed himself to his brethren, a type of Christ revealing Himself to the Jewish remnant. Jacob was brought to Egypt and blessed in association with Joseph, who a type of Christ as exalted in the Millennium; “there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Num. 24:17). Jacob’s life closed with him worshiping, “leaning on the top of his staff” (Heb. 11:21) This speaks of Israel’s final restoration and blessing in the Millennium, seen as the outcome of Jehovah’s work with them, His discipline, and the fruit of His faithfulness to His own sovereign promises.
Isaac Blesses Jacob and Sends Him Off (28:1-5)
1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Padan-Aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father, and take a wife thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother. vv.1-2 Instructions to Jacob. It would seem that Isaac had been spiritually sleepy in the two previous chapters, and we find that Esau had married women of the land of Canaan. Isaac appears to be awake again in ch.28, after the startling intervention of God in ch.27. He instructs Jacob to go outside the land and find a wife from his brother-in-law Laban’s house. This was good: the children of faith should not mix with the children of the world. But there is a decline from what Abraham had done, when he sent his servant and said “Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again” (Gen. 24:6). Isaac tells Jacob to go, and this was to protect his life because of Esau’s anger, but Jacob had trouble in that place. There is a further decline in the third generation, when Judah marries a daughter of a Canaanite (Gen. 28). It is common among believers that carefulness as to separation from evil can deteriorate with each successive generation.
3 And the Almighty GOD bless thee, and make thee fruitful and multiply thee, that thou mayest become a company of peoples. 4 And may he give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee and to thy seed with thee, in order that thou mayest possess the land of thy sojourning, which God gave to Abraham! vv.3-4 Blessing to Jacob. Isaac could bless Jacob again, not requiring the savory venison as in the previous chapter. Note that this blessing, in comparison with that given while Isaac was in a poor state (ch.27), rises higher.1 Perhaps this is included in the Divine commentary, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come” (Heb. 11:20). It is no longer simply “God”, but “God Almighty”. Isaac was asking from El Shaddai (Almighty God, the Protector of those He calls, who had first revealed Himself to Abraham as such, Gen. 17 and Ex. 6:3) the same blessing “which God gave to Abraham”. It is interesting the God was seeking to deal with Jacob directly, not derivatively through Isaac. At the end of the chapter the Lord reveals Himself as “I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham, thy father”. The blessing here though is more strongly connected with the earth, with the land of his sojourning.
5 And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Padan-Aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebecca, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother. v.5 Jacob sent off. At last Jacob is sent away, and a new chapter opens in Jacob’s life. He went north and east to Padan-Aram (one of the provinces of Syria) where Abraham’s brother Nahor had apparently settled with his family, including his youngest son Bethuel, whose son was Laban and whose daughter was Rebecca. This made Laban Jacob’s second-cousin through Isaac, and also Jacob’s uncle through Rebecca. See Terah’s family tree.
Esau takes a Third Wife, an Ishmaelite (28:6-9)
6 And Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob, and sent him away to Padan-Aram, to take a wife thence, blessing him, and giving him a charge saying, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan; 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother, and was gone to Padan-Aram. 8 And Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the sight of Isaac his father. 9 And Esau went to Ishmael, and took, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife. vv.6-9 Esau Marries an Ishmaelite. Esau now takes a third wife, which speaks to his insatiable natural desires. His other two wives were Judith and Basmath, who were of the Hittite inhabitants of Canaan. It says “they were a grief of mind to Isaac and to Rebecca” (Gen. 26:35) and that “Rebecca said to Isaac, I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth” (Gen. 27:46). Esau learned by observing Isaac’s instructions to Jacob that it did not please Isaac for him to marry Canaanite women; “Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the sight of Isaac his father”. Notice that Esau only learned what was pleasing to his father, not why it was pleasing to his father. Esau should have learned, and Isaac should have taught him, that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the sight of the Lord. This is a valuable lesson for parents. We should teach our children to do what is right, not only because it pleases the parents, but because it pleases the Lord. Esau knew how to please his father, but he never learned to please the Lord. Perhaps Esau was seeking to regain his standing in the family, and was pleased to see his brother sent far away. So Esau married his cousin, “Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son”. While Ishmael’s family was genetically different from the Canaanites, it was foolish to think that adding a third wife, “besides the wives that he had”, would be a good move. It was at this point that the Edomites and the Ishmaelites families become intermingled, and it is hard to distinguish them apart. But it is interesting in the blessing of Ishmael (Gen. 16:11-12) and of Esau (Gen. 27:39-40) that a similar character is predicted; that of living a nomadic, unrestrained and uncivilized lifestyle, and of constantly engaging in strife with the peoples around.
Jacob’s Dream at Bethel (28:10-22)
10 And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went towards Haran. 11 And he lighted on a certain place, and lodged there, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of the place, and made it his pillow, and lay down in that place. vv.10-11 Jacob’s Overnight Stay. Jacob was about leave the land of promise. Notice that Beersheba means ‘the well of the oath’ and Haran means ‘mountainous’. It is a type of the nation of Israel’s exile from the promised land, in captivity, as a result of their sin. The setting fits this application, because it was a time of darkness (“the sun was set”), and a time of hardness (a stone for his pillow).
12 And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to the heavens. And behold, angels of God ascended and descended upon it. 13 And behold, Jehovah stood above it. And he said, I am Jehovah, the God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land on which thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. 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. 15 And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places to which thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done what I have spoken to thee of. vv.12-15 Jacob’s Dream. It was right at the time when Jacob was a about to leave the land of Canaan that he has this dream. The ladder, with the angels of God ascending and descending, speaks of Divine providence and protection. This interpretation is confirmed by the Lord’s words in v.15; “behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places to which thou goest”. It is a type of God’s providential care for the nation of Israel all the time while they are out of their land. The Lord Himself used similar language in speaking to Nathanael in John 1:51; “Henceforth ye shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man”. The disciples would witness the attendance of the angels of God as they served and cared for the humiliated Son of Man is this world. They were “ascending” to report to God of our Lord’s needs as a man. They were “descending” to refresh Him and sustain Him in the path (Luke 22:43). Perhaps in John they appear more as worshipers, but in Luke as His ministers. Here is the a promise to Jacob that heaven would shine upon him, caring for his needs, all along his pathway. The Lord confirmed the promises to Jacob, as He had to Isaac and Abraham. One difference is that the promise here seems to have more to do with the children and the land of Israel. Jacob was literally laying down on the land (v.13). But no matter where Jacob or his children were, God promised to look out for them, and watch over them. This was a wonderful promise! Notice that the Lord is above it all, at the top of the ladder. He is over all of our circumstances. Jacob’s ladder applies to us as well. When Christ made purgation for sins, He “sat Himself down at the right hand of the majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3), like Jehovah at the top of the ladder, and sent the angels of God as “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Heb. 1:14). How wonderful to know that, “he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5). Jacob did not really understand this at the time, but he never forgot it. In Gen. 48:2-3 he spoke of this to Joseph at the end of his life. It was this promise that gave Jacob confidence that his many descendants would one day be established in the land of promise (Gen. 48:21). And it is this same promise that God is still upholding, even today, providentially looking over the children of Israel, who have been scattered and beaten down. One day Israel will be established in the land by Jehovah Himself, because He has promised it to them.
Heaven Opened. In John 1:51 the Lord spoke not of a ladder between earth and heaven, but heaven fully opened. This goes beyond what Jacob saw in his dream. The remnant of Israel, of whom Nathanael is a type, would see a greater manifestation of glory. When the Lord returns, heaven will open over the Son of Man on earth as the object of divine favor and love. “Heaven opened” is a figure of the blessing of God on the earth because He is satisfied with the Man whom He will set over the creation. It is a picture of the Millennium (Heb. 2:5-9), when heaven and earth – distanced now as a result of sin – will once again be connected through Christ.
16 And Jacob awoke from his sleep, and said, Surely Jehovah is in this place, and I knew it not. 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. vv.16-17 Jacob’s Fear. When a person is not in the enjoyment of the grace of God, the presence of God is a terror to the soul. This was the case with Jacob; “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”. Jacob knew that the Lord was there, but attributed it to a special feature of the geography, as if this place contained a secret door to heaven. The Lord could have appeared to Jacob in any place! But God did choose this place and time for a reason. We will never enjoy the presence of God while we are walking in our own self-will. This was the first time the Lord had spoken to Jacob, and it was totally foreign to him. The first time the Lord spoke to young Samuel he also was unfamiliar with it, but he didn’t respond like Jacob. The difference was the state of soul.
18 And Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had made his pillow, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place Beth-el [‘house of God’]; but the name of that city was Luz [‘almond tree’] at the first. vv.18-19 Bethel. Jacob used his pillow-stone for a pillar, and set it up in that place. This is the first of four pillars that Jacob sets up in his lifetime: one in Gen. 28:18 when he was leaving the land, one in Gen. 31:45 for his peace with Laban, one in Gen. 35:14 when he returned to the land, and one in Gen. 35:20 to mark Rachel’s grave. Jacob was as yet unfamiliar with the Lord, but did have some sense of the honor that was due Him. He sets up the pillar and pours oil on top, so as to mark it as sacred or holy. He also changes the name of the place from Luz (‘almond tree’) to Bethel (‘house of God’).
20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and keep me on this road that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and a garment to put on, 21 and I come again to my father’s house in peace — then shall Jehovah be my God. 22 And this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou wilt give me I will without fail give the tenth to thee. vv.20-22 Jacob’s Vow. Jacob seeks to enter into a conditional arrangement with God; “If God will be with me… then shall Jehovah be my God”. God had made Jacob a gracious promise (“I will”), but Jacob puts it as a condition. His thoughts fell far short. Jacob was thinking of God more along the lines of a good luck charm. He wanted God to be with him on the road that Jacob was going. How different from seeking to be on the path of God’s choosing! Jacob did not have the confidence of faith. Because of this, his vow of return would be on a legal basis; “of all that thou wilt give me I will without fail give the tenth to thee”. This is not worship. He puts it into the future; Jacob would deal with it later. Nevertheless, Jacob was taking up the name of Jehovah in profession. But God desired much more for Jacob – true confidence, and a relationship – and Jacob would go through many trials in order to accomplish God’s will. But in this state Jacob pictures a man under law, and is a type of the nation of Israel seeking to establish their own righteousness through law-keeping.
- See note. Wigram, G.V. When Was the Blessing Given to Jacob. Present Testimony: Volume 10, 1859