God is in this Place: Genesis 28
“The joy filled One laughed, and calling for the one who followed at His heel, He blessed him, and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters who dwell in low places. Arise, and go to the place where you will be elevated and rescued, to the house where God dwells, the house of your mother’s Father, and take for yourself a wife from there, from the daughters of righteousness, your mother’s Brother.
The beginning of this chapter concludes the final sidra of Toldot (Generations) with Yitzchak giving Yaakov yet another blessing and sending him to Laban at the request of Rivkah. The remaining portion of the chapter begins Vayeitzei (and he went out) and records Yaakov’s dream of the stairway/ladder connecting heaven and earth. This dream reveal’s a great deal concerning the character of God and the future Messiah. The rich symbolism in this story illuminates our understanding of Yaakov’s journey and gives us insight into the future relationship between God and Israel.
28:1 So Yitzchak (He laughs) called for Yaakov (Follower at the heel), blessed him, and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters of C’naan (lowland). 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram (Field of Aram, Route to Aram, Elevated rescue), to the house of B’tuel (Daughter of God, Abode of God), your mother’s father, and take for yourself a wife from there, from the daughters of Laban (White, righteousness), your mother’s brother.
We begin this chapter with Yitzchak ratifying the blessing. Yaakov had tricked Yitzchak into giving him the blessing of the first born, which as we have previously understood, rightfully belonged to Yaakov. Now, however, Yitzchak blesses Yaakov of his own free will, thus affirming the previous blessing and adding to it. The words of the blessing are articulated in verse 3 of this chapter.
The p’shat, plain meaning of the text is clear: “Don’t take a wife from the daughters of idolatry. You are to go to your mother’s family to get a bride from our bloodline”, that is, the bloodline through which HaShem has chosen to perpetuate His plan of salvation for humanity.
“Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and HaShem’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” –D’varim/Deuteronomy 7:3-4
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” –2 Corinthians 6:14 (NIV)
There is also a remez, a hint at something more and a sod, a mystery born of allegory, present in the text. The Hebrew nouns used allude to a spiritual truth that acts in unity with the physical reality. The following is a reading of the text using the meanings of the various nouns:
“The joy filled One laughed, and calling for the one who followed at His heel, He blessed him, and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters who dwell in low places. Arise, and go to the place where you will be elevated and rescued, to the house where God dwells, the house of your mother’s Father, and take for yourself a wife from there, from the daughters of righteousness, your mother’s Brother.”
To be clear, The Joy filled One is HaShem, the follower is the children of Israel (Yaakov), the wife-to-be, is a servant of HaShem born of the blood of Israel and Rivkah the mother, whose name means captivating, is the daughter of HaShem. Thus HaShem is the Father and the Righteous One to whom the daughter is spiritually born is the Moshiyach (Yeshua: God the Son), who is fully God and fully human and is descended from Rivkah’s Fathers’ bloodline, both her physical father and her heavenly Father.
These opening verses are also pretext to what is about to unfold, that Yaakov will meet Righteousness Himself in an Elevated place, and will name a place Beiyt El (House of God) in remembrance of this divine encounter.
3 Now may El Shaddai (God Almighty, Protector) bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you so that you will become a lik’hal (assembly) of peoples. 4 And may He give you the blessing of Avraham (Father of many nations), to you and to your seed with you that you may take possession of the land of your sojourn, which God gave to Avraham.” 5 Then Yitzchak sent Yaakov away and he went toward Paddan-aram, to Laban the son of B’tuel the Aramean (Ha-aram, Exalted, Person of Aram), the brother of Rivkah, the mother of Yaakov and Esau.
This blessing is a continuation of the covenant blessing of Avraham (17:1) and uses the covenant Name of God, “El Shaddai” (God the Almighty Protector). There can be no doubt that the covenant made by God with Avraham, while he slept, is being ratified to Yaakov and the ethnic people of Israel. This covenant blessing is not reliant on the children of Israel acting a certain way, rather it is entirely reliant of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), El Shaddai (God Almighty).
The use of the Hebrew, “lik’hal” (assembly, ecclesia) denotes a diverse people of the same blood. That is, the tribes of ethnic Israel.
This blessing is given as an extension of the former blessing (27:28), meaning that the blessings of prosperity would take place in the land of Israel, whereas Esau’s blessing would be fulfilled elsewhere (Rambam re: 27:39).
Yitzchak states explicitly here that he is conveying upon Yaakov, “The Blessing of Avraham”, and thus, he restates the primary aspects of that blessing.
It is important to note that there is no mention of Yaakov being sent away with any wealth. In fact, it seems clear from his status while in Laban’s company: that Yaakov arrived in Charan devoid of wealth. This is unusual, given that the birth-right entitled him to the majority share of the family wealth. However, Yitzchak had not yet died and it seems that Yaakov’s parents expected his journey to mirror Elietzer’s journey to retrieve a bride for Yitzchak. Thus they expected Yaakov to return in a reasonably short space of time. Given the tradition of a one year engagement, this would place his expected return within two years.
The reason for the obvious statement, “Rivkah, the mother of Yaakov and Esau” is to emphasise the fact that while the sons are of the same blood, it is the one chosen who becomes heir. Election originates from God and is not subject to human desire. Yaakov has not earned his position, to the contrary, it is by the grace of God and through election that Yaakov has come into the blessing.
6 Now Esau (Hairy) saw that Yitzchak (He laughs) blessed Yaakov (Follower at the heel) when he sent him to Paddan-aram (Elevated ransom, Field of Aram) to take for himself a wife from there, when he blessed him and instructed him saying, “Don’t take a wife from the daughters of C’naan.” 7 Yaakov yish’ma (listened to, understood, obeyed) his father Yitzchak and his mother and went toward Paddan-aram. 8 Then Esau saw that the daughters of C’naan were contemptible in his father Yitzchak’s eyes. 9 So Esau went to Ishmael (Hears God) and took Machalat (stringed instrument), the daughter of Ishmael, Avraham’s son, Nebaiot’s (Fruitfulness) sister for his wife, in addition to his other wives.
Esau, having witnessed the second blessing bestowed upon Yaakov by his father Yitzchak and hearing his father’s instruction regarding where Yaakov should seek a bride, now attempts to gain back some respect from his parents by marrying someone more suitable. Tragically Esau misses the point altogether. He does not act to divorce his idolatrous wives, rather he adds to his retinue, seeking to merge his father’s faith with the false gods of C’naan. Ironically, by marrying a daughter of Ishmael, he is aligning himself with the enemies of God and of Israel. Therefore, Esau, seeking to curry favour with man, affirms his rejection of God.
Parashat Vayetze (And he went out)
The following events are a wonderful testimony to the grace of God. Yaakov has not set out seeking God but He has gone with God’s blessing. Yaakov, who spoke to his father saying, “HaShem your Elohiym”, has yet to meet HaShem face to face. He knows off HaShem because of the generational faith passed on to him from his father Yitzchak, and Yaakov is also a man of study, having researched and memorised the history of HaShem’s dealings with his forebears. However, his knowledge is according to earthly record, he has yet to encounter the living Word, the present Creator of the Universe. We observe that although Yaakov was not searching for HaShem, HaShem comes to him. We add to this that HaShem asks nothing of Yaakov, but that Yaakov wants to respond, and so he makes a vow, not as a bargain but as a show of his desire to know HaShem intimately.
“Elohiym demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Messiah (God with us) died for us.” –Romans 5:8
10 Then Yaakov left Beer-sheva (Well of sevenfold oath) and went toward Charan (Scorched mountain). 11Vayif’ga, And he had an encounter Bamakoom in the place and stayed there, for the sun had set. So he took from the stones (meiavneiy: plural) of Ha-makoom, the place and put them by his head and lay down Bamakoom, in the place.
Yaakov has come to Beiyt El (Bethel), however, the text hints (remez) at the location of the destination which is about to be revealed in the dream that follows, saying, “Ha-makoom” (The Place), which is a name for the Temple Mount, Moriah.
The Sages interpret the Hebrew, “Vayif’ga” to mean, “prayed” (Job 21:15, 36:32, Isaiah 53:12, 59:16, Jer 7:16, 15:11, 27:18, 36:25). Based on this interpretation the Sages say that Yaakov instituted the Ar’viyt (evening) prayer service. This translation of vayif’ga (paga) is however, relatively rare when compared to its contextual meaning throughout the remainder of the text of the Tanakh, and it is not used this way elsewhere in the Torah. When we add to this that there is nothing in the text to indicate that Yaakov is intentionally seeking God, we must conclude that the more common meaning, “encountered, met” is the correct interpretation.
We note that Yaakov takes from the stones (Plural) and lies his head on them. However, later in the text he takes the stone (singular) and sets it as a memorial.
The Sages tell a mashal (parable) regarding the stones, saying that the stones argued over who would be the pillow for the righteous head of Yaakov. As a result, God is said to have combined them into one stone. While this is not a historical fact, the meaning can be seen in the simple symbolism of the many stones becoming one (echad). Thus the tribes of Israel, an assembly (lik’hal) of blood related peoples, become echad, one people.
12 He dreamed: v’hineih (and suddenly), there was a sulam (stairway or ladder) standing upright on the land (artzah) and its top reaching to the heavens-- v’hineih (and suddenly), mal’acheiy (messengers, angels) of Elohiym (God) oliym (ascending: plural) going up v’yor’diym (descending: plural) and down!
This dream initiates a section of the text that takes place after sundown. A section that is, in its entirety, focussed on Yaakov’s dream and the place seen in it. This section covers verses 12 through 17 and concerns the subject of the dream, which is the sulam, ladder/staircase, often called, “Jacob’s ladder”. Although, what becomes clear is that it is HaShem’s ladder/staircase, which is the gate/doorway to the heavens (a figurative way of saying, it is the means by which humanity can be reconciled to God).
So what is the ladder/staircase? Yeshua answers this question by saying:
“Hinei, Behold, I tell you the truth, you will see ‘the heavens open, and the angels of Elohiym (God) ascending and descending on’ (Gen. 28:12) the Son of Man.” –Yochanan/John 1:51
“Son of Man” is a messianic reference from the writings of the prophet Daniel (God is my Judge) [Dan. 7:13; 8:17]. Thus Yeshua is saying that He is the ladder/stairway which is pictured in Yaakov’s dream. Yeshua is the gateway/doorway to right relationship with God the Father, Who stands atop the ladder, and both beside and above Yaakov in his dream. God is before us, beside us, below us and above us, and if we are willing, He will dwell in us.
For contextual purposes it is wise to read the entire first chapter of Yochanan/John’s gospel, which illuminates the person and role of Yeshua as the person of God with us.
It makes sense that the location and imagery of Yaakov’s dream should be understood to be a figurative vision correlating to the future physical Temple on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, because it is also a vision that connects Jacob and the people of Israel to the Heavenly Mishkhan (Meeting place) that is yet to descend, that is, God Himself dwelling with us, as recorded in the Revelation given to Yochanan/John (Rev. 21:22). “I saw no temple in the city (New Jerusalem): HaShem El Shaddai and the Lamb will be its Temple”
This text also has a lovely connection to the modern state of Israel and its Aliyah (right of return) policy, which affectionately labels new groups of Jewish immigrants to the land of Israel, “Oliym”, ascending ones.
13 v’hineih (and suddenly), HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) was standing on top of it (above him, beside to him) and He said, “I am HaShem (YHVH: Mercy), Ha-Elohiym (the God) of your father Avraham and Ha-Elohiym (the God) of Yitzchak. Ha-aretz (The land) on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your seed. 14 Your seed will be as the dust of the land, and you will burst forth to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And blessing you (v’niv’rachoo), all the families of the earth will be blessed—and in your seed. 15 v’hineih (and suddenly), Behold, I am with you, and I will watch over you wherever you walk, and I will return you to this ground (ha-adamah), for I will not forsake you while I fashion what I have spoken (promised) to you.”
Scripture customarily uses the Hebrew, “Hinei” to introduce something new and significant. The Akeidat Yitzchak notes that the frequent use of the term in this account denotes an event of great importance.
“Suddenly, Mercy (HaShem) was standing with Yeshua (Jacob’s Ladder) and said, ‘I am Mercy, the Judge of all things, the God of Avraham your father, and the God of Yitzchak. The land of Israel, which you’re lying on, I will give to you and your descendants.”
Notice that HaShem doesn’t call Yitzchak Yaakov’s father, but places the emphasis on Avraham being Yaakov’s father. This is yet another affirmation of the covenant of Avraham upon Yaakov and the ethnic children of Israel.
16 Yaakov woke up from his sleep and said, “Undoubtedly, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) is standing in this place (Bamakoom)—and I was unaware.” 17 So he was afraid and said, “What fear is in this place! This is none other than Beiyt Elohiym (the House of God)--this must be the gate to the heavens!”
“HaShem is standing in this place”, that is, the place in his dream. “I was unaware”, that HaShem had placed His name upon Ha-makoom (The place), Moriah. “What fear is in this place”, that is, the place in his dream. “This is none other than Beiyt Elohim, the house of God”, a title for the Temple in Jerusalem atop mount Moriah. “This must be the gate to the heavens”, that is, this ladder/stairway must be the gate/doorway to the heavens.
“Ein zeh, this place I saw in my dream that the ladder was standing upon. It can be none other than Beiyt Elohiym, the site of the Temple. Our Sages (Pessachim 88) have said that Yaakov called the Temple ‘House’,” –Sforno on Genesis 28:17:2
“This is not an ordinary place but a sanctuary for God’s name, a place suitable for prayer.” –Targum Yonatan
Speaking of the Temple in Jerusalem the prophet Isaiah says:
“These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” –Yishaiyahu/Isaiah 56:7
18 Early in the morning Yaakov got up and took the stone (singular), which he had placed by his head, and set it up as a memorial stone and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Beiyt-El (though originally the city’s name was Luz-almond tree).
This section refers to a place other than the place in the dream, which is called, “this” place. Here Yaakov sets up a single stone in, “that” place. Thus, the former place is Moriah, the Temple Mount which Yaakov saw in his dream, whereas the current place is differentiated from the dream place and is called, “that” place, meaning Beiyt El, which was once called Luz. It is important to note that Beiyt El (Bethel) is only 18 kilometers east of Jerusalem and that Mount Moriah can be seen from Beiyt El.
The oil poured upon the stone is a symbol of the Ruach Ha-kodesh (Holy Spirit) and His being poured out upon the people of Israel, made one through Yeshua, Who is the head and King over Yaakov and his sons. It is worth remembering that stone is porous and absorbs oil into its deepest recesses. We too invite the oil of God’s Ruach to become infused with our own spirits, an intrinsic part of our soul existence and to ignite the overflow of eternal hope in us.
20 Then Yaakov made a vow saying (l’mor), “If Elohiym (God, Judge) will be with me and watch over me on this way that I am going, and provide me food to eat and clothes to wear, 21 and I return in shalom to my father’s house, then HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) will be lee l’elohiym (my God).
The word, “l’mor”, saying, usually denotes a vow formula, which is intended to be said allowed and used by others. However, there is no one to whom Yaakov could be speaking the vow other than Hashem. Therefore, the Sages suggest that his words are meant to be passed on to future generations as an example.
Contrary to popular teaching, Yaakov’s vow does not show mistrust, rather it is because He believes that God will do what He has promised that Yaakov wants to respond by offering a promise of his own. This is another step in Yaakov’s journey toward intimacy with HaShem.
A paraphrase of Yaakov’s vow could read:
“If Elohiym, the Judge of all things, will be with me as He has said, and He will watch over me on this way I’m going, and provide all my needs, and return me in peace to my father’s house. Then HaShem, the God of mercy, will have shown that He is my God, and as a symbolic gesture of my thankfulness I will continually give Him a percentage of the wealth He has provided for me, that figuratively represents all that I have and am.”
Yaakov’s vow is made up of what would eventually become the primary elements of the standing prayer, Ha-Amidah, and in turn is reflected in the Disciples Prayer (Teffilat Ha-Talmidim) that Yeshua taught to His talmidim:
“You should pray like this: Our Father Who dwells in the heavens, may Your name be kept Holy. Your kingdom come, Your will be done in earth, as it is in the heavens.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into trials, but reach down and tear us up and out of that which is evil: For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
22 So this stone which I set up as a memorial stone will become a Beiyt Elohiym (God’s House), and of everything You provide me I will repeatedly give a tenth of it to You.”
The stone, which has been Yaakov’s pillow, a symbol of the unity of the future tribes of Israel and a symbol that connects Yaakov/Israel to the foundation of the earthly Temple, the means of redemption Yeshua/Jacob’s Ladder, and the heavenly Temple to come; is set up not to be worshipped but as a sign of remembrance (zikharon) of what God has done, what He is doing and what He has promised to do.
© 2017 Yaakov Brown
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,