10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.
11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.
12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.
14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.
19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on,
21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God.
22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
Jacob “vowed a vow,” that is, he made a solemn vow. This is the first recorded vow in the Bible. There is much to make it appear that the word “if” in this passage [v.20] means “since.” — Williams, page 32.
I checked on Bible Hub to see if “if” could mean “since” here. The Hebrew word is so translated 4 times in other places in the Bible. It’s also translated “certainly,” “surely,” “truly,” and “indeed.” Not everyone buys into this view. Both Mackintosh and Wechsler believe that Jacob intended a conditional if, and take it as evidence that Jacob didn’t yet know God or at least didn’t comprehend Him. Their view seems largely predicated on their opinion that Jacob had a consistently bad character, although, as Morris points out, the Bible never has one bad thing to say about him. I lean toward the since meaning, based on Jacob’s immediate response of setting up an altar and making a sacrifice.
So far as the record goes, Jacob had spent most of his life to date in the family home in Beersheba (Genesis 22:19; 26:33). It was five hundred miles to Haran. … The region around the town of Haran was called Padan-aram (meaning, probably, the “field of Aram,” Aram having come essentially to mean the land of Syria).
It was near Bethel that Abraham had built an altar (Genesis 12:8; 13:3-4), and this was a place to which Jacob would later return (Genesis 35:1). … The word Bethel itself means “the house of God.” Though it was to have many such sacred connotations and memories, apostasy eventually developed there, over a thousand years later, and it had to be destroyed (1 Kings 12:28-33; 2 Kings 23:15-17). — Morris, page 446.
It was on this occasion, as Jacob slept on the stones of Bethel, that God once again came down in a theophany, the first of about eight which Jacob would experience during his lifetime.
The dominant feature of Jacob’s dream was a mighty ladder, reaching from the earth far up into the sky and even into the very heaven of God’s presence itself. The ladder was wide as well as high, so that streams of heavenly angels could be seen going both up and down the ladder simultaneously.
It is obvious that this was no ordinary ladder. The word is the Hebrew sullam, and is used only this one time in the Bible.
Almost two thousand years in the future from Jacob’s day, a devout Israelite named Nathanael was meditating on the things of God. … Philip … told him of Jesus and urged him to come meet the One who was indeed the Messiah! Nathanael was skeptical at first, but Jesus soon convinced him, telling him things about himself and his activities which He could only have known supernaturally. And it was then that Jesus made the tremendous claim and promise, referring to Jacob’s dream: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51).
In other words, the Lord Jesus Christ claimed that He Himself was Jacob’s Ladder, the one means by which one could go from earth to heaven.
As Jacob marveled at the ladder in his dream, he saw God Himself standing above the ladder and heard Him speak words of blessing, repeating all the promises He had made to Abraham and Isaac concerning the Seed and the land. Regarding his own immediate situation, God promised Jacob that he would be with him wherever he would go, protecting him, and then one day bringing him back to the land he was leaving. — Morris, pages 449-450.
Here God had been actually seen and heard; here He met with His people. This place should be called the House of God, Bethel, though it had formerly been called Luz. As the House of God, it was also the Gate to heaven, through which God could come to man and into which man must enter to go to God.
Early in the morning, Jacob rose and hastened to set up the pillar. The central support stone was the stone he had used for a pillow the night before. He had no animal to sacrifice, but he did make a drink offering of oil he was carrying, thus also “anointing” the pillar, dedicating it to the truth of God’s promises.
After anointing the pillar, Jacob rehearsed God’s gracious promises of the night before—God’s promise to be with him wherever he would go. … Therefore, said Jacob (and this was not just making a bargain, as some have suggested, but rather an expression of gratitude and love), “then shall Jehovah be my God and this place will always be a place of remembrance wherein to worship God.” Furthermore, although he had no possessions at the time, Jacob believed that God would indeed supply them, and he voluntarily promised to restore one-tenth of everything to God. … He finally did return to this spot and actually built an altar there (Genesis 35:3, 7).
God’s promise had been unconditional and hence did not require the payment of tithes to keep it in force. It is legitimate, in the Hebrew, to read Jacob’s statement in this way: “Since [instead of ‘if”] God will be with me …” Morris, pages 451-452.
In the revelation which the Lord makes to [Jacob], it is a simple record or prediction of what he Himself would yet do. “I am … I will give … I will keep … I will bring … I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” It was all Himself. There is no condition whatever—no if or but; for when grace acts, there can be no such thing. Where there is an if, it cannot possibly be grace. — Mackintosh, page 285.
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