Jacob entered this encounter with God as a result of taking the birthright and blessing from his brother Esau through deceitful chicanery. Esau was so indignant, he let it be known that there was a contract on Jacob's life: He was going to kill him.
So Jacob did what anybody would do in that situation—he fled. He decided to go to his mother's relatives, to Laban in Syria. On the way, he stopped at the place described in verses 12-17. Here he encountered God.
Jacob saw a ladder in a dream stretching into heaven, with angels ascending and descending. Verse 13 is very important: "And behold, the LORD stood above it."
"The LORD stood above it" is a mistranslation. The Revised Standard Version, the Revised English Bible, and the New International Version all translate this to say that God stood beside him. God stood by Jacob at the foot of the ladder, not above it.
In other words, God came down the ladder; He revealed Himself as being there. This is why Jacob said, "God is in this place," and why he named it Bethel, meaning "this is God's house." Not that God is in heaven, but that Jacob's God was right there—that was His house. Consequently, Bethel became a shrine in later years.
Jacob did not merely have an encounter with God, but something happened to Jacob himself. He arrived a man with a price on his head and the guilt of many deceitful tricks. He was guilty of stealing, and in one sense of the word, guilty of a sin that was worthy of death. God in no way condoned his actions, yet He had chosen Jacob even before he was born, while he and Esau were still in the womb.
At Bethel, God confirmed that He had chosen Jacob and that He would follow through with him nonetheless. Jacob arrived a man with a price on his head and no future. He was transformed so that he had a future and a hope with which he could live. He was so encouraged that he promised that he would tithe to God all of his days.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prayer and Seeking God
Another generation appears on the scene, and again God chooses the line of descent for His Son. As God had promised his father and grandfather, He tells Jacob at Bethel, "In your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 28:14; 35:11). Centuries later, He inspires Balaam to prophesy: "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel. . . . Out of Jacob One shall have dominion" (Numbers 24:17, 19).
Paul considers this "election" of Jacob to be significant:
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated." (Romans 9:11)
The lesson in Jesus descending from Jacob focuses on God's sovereign prerogative to call whomever He wills to be His children and servants (John 6:44). We have a heavenly calling into the Family of God if we continue to endure and grow in this way (see Hebrews 3:1, 6).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Born of a Woman
This promise indicates that the nations that come from Abraham are going to spread over the whole earth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Three)
Genesis 28:13-14 records yet another restatement of the promises. These are part of God's comments to Jacob at the occasion of his dream of a ladder reaching to heaven. Jacob is in Bethel at this time.
Notice that these promises are the same ones God earlier made to Abraham: land; a multitude of descendants spreading east, west, north, and south; and the "Seed," Jesus Christ, who would bless all nations. It is also extremely important to note that all the earth's families would be blessed "in you and in your seed" (emphasis added). Those blessings were to come not only as a result of Jacob's posterity, or even as a result of Christ's work, but of something Jacob himself was to do.
Searching for Israel (Part One): The Promises to the Faithful
Critics assert that Israel's history demonstrates the weakness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in that their God could not keep His promises. Is that so? We need to set the record straight.
The Old Testament is a chronicle of Israel's repeated failure to obey God, of its refusal to keep His commandments and statutes. In Psalm 78:10-11, 40-42, 56-57, the psalmist mentions that Ephraim (meaning Israel at large)
did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them. . . . How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power. . . . Yet they tested and provoked the Most High God, and did not keep His testimonies, but turned back and acted unfaithfully like their fathers.
II Kings 17:7-8 speaks of the sins of the Kingdom of Israel, up north:
For so it was that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, . . . and they had feared other gods, and had walked in the statutes of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel.
The prophet Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 32:30, quotes God's scathing indictment of the people of both Kingdoms: "[T]he children of Israel and the children of Judah have done only evil before Me from their youth."
Because of their sins, as II Kings 17:18-20 indicates, God
was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight. . . . Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made. And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel, afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of plunders, until He had cast them from His sight.
In Psalm 78:59-62, the psalmist Asaph relates that God, when He became aware of the idols of Israel,
was furious, and greatly abhorred Israel, so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, . . . and delivered His strength into captivity, and His glory into the enemy's hand. He also gave His people over to the sword, and was furious with His inheritance.
As early as the days of the founder of the Kingdom of Israel, Jeroboam I, God understood the direction Israel was taking. In I Kings 14:15, God warns that He will ultimately
strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water. He will uproot Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the [Euphrates] River, because they have made their wooden images, provoking the LORD to anger.
Much later, Amos warned Israel, "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth" (Amos 9:8).
The patriarchs were, as God attests again and again, faithful. However, the people of Israel failed to observe the terms of God's conditional promises to them. Israel exhibited again and again its refusal to obey God. As a result, it has yet to enter into the peace, prosperity, and eternal possession of the land He promised the patriarchs. Hebrews 3:8-11 summarizes the matter: "In the day of trial in the wilderness, [the children of Israel] . . . tested Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation. . . . So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"
Because of the peoples' recalcitrance, God withheld His blessings, ultimately separating Himself from them by casting them out of the land He had promised the patriarchs. God punished Israel for its disobedience by deferring the fulfillment of His promises to the patriarchs. This deferment did not make Him unfaithful to the people, because His promises to them were conditional, based on their obedience to His revelation.
In fact, it is not perverse to assert that God was completely faithful to the children of Israel, doing to them exactly what He promised He would do if they persistently sinned against Him. At the right time and for the right people, God will honor His unconditional promises to the patriarchs. Israel's sad history is the consequence of peoples' faithlessness, not of their God's weakness.
Searching for Israel (Part Eight): The Scattering of Ten-Tribed Israel
These promises either imply or clearly state large populations, large land surfaces, good geographical locations, good weather patterns, rich soil, and mineral wealth. Do not these promises indicate that Israel is to become a major force in the world?
In the prophecies of the Old Testament pertaining to the end-time and beyond, Israel is almost always the subject, and other nations, regardless of how populous and powerful, are mentioned only as they come in contact with Israel. His revelation is devoted almost exclusively to the end time, yet evidence of Israel's existence at that time is very sparse and vague. But as the time of the end has approached, what has God done? He has revealed to His church where Israel is. The rest of the world does not give a hoot, but to the church it means something. It has been revealed so that we can make a proper use of this truth. Indeed, Israel is large, and it is important. Its combined population is somewhere around 500 million people.
The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are given in the sense of the entire completion of God's purpose, when all of mankind will be included within the sons of Abraham—all converted, all part of the Family of God as well. We are in an important juncture today, but from the time Genesis 12 took place up until now—throughout all of history—God has been following through on all of His prophecies and promises regarding this.
We have reached a critical point at the time of the end when He has revealed where Israel is right now, and we know that Israel's combined population—the United States, Britain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, and so forth—is over 500 million people. Its combined economic, military, educational, religious, political, and geographic influence is unrivaled in the world. It is lopsided in almost any area one could research. For instance, 70% of the world's fresh water is in Israel, and most of that 70% is in the United States.
God has blessed the Israelitish people to such an extent there has never been a power on earth that can even begin to rival them. One can make any kind of comparison, whether it be the Roman Empire, or China at its greatest, despite its hundreds of millions of people, nobody can hold a candle to Israel. That is why the United States and Britain just blew Europe off in the lead-up to the recent Gulf War. There is nothing that they could do about it except yell at us and complain. So does God just write Israel off in the most significant end-time book of all, Revelation? Hardly. It is there, but it is prophetically hidden.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Three)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 28:14: