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Gen 28:10-20

Genesis 28:10-20
Background to the Book of Genesis

Literary Features:
Genesis is a fascinating book which begins with two creation accounts of the world in Gen 1-3, continues with stories about humanity in general through to the end of Gen 11 before we come to the specific journeys of Abraham. Gen 1-11 is often referred to as universal history or primeval history and is applicable to all of humanity. The genealogies enable Abraham to be descended from Adam and Eve. Indeed, another purpose of the genealogies is to divide these eleven chapters as follows into a 5-fold division:

  • Gen 2:4a heaven and earth - these are the generations of the heavens and the earth ...
  • Gen 5:1 ff Adam - This is the book of the generations of Adam.
  • Gen 6:9 Noah - And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth
  • Gen 10:1 Noah’s 3 sons - These are the generations of the sons of Noah. ...
  • Gen 11:10 Shem - These are the descendants of Shem ...

Besides the suggested division above, scholars have proposed different recurring literary patterns such as sin, speech, punishment - Gen 1-3, 4, 6-9,11 (Westermann) in Gen 1-11: von Rad includes forgiveness: sin, speech, forgiveness, punishment. Whether one wants to go along with any of the above suggestions about the literary divisions or patterns in Gen 1-11, there is almost unanimous agreement that there is a tightly formed literary pattern and we are meant read it as a unity. Creation of the world and humans is torn apart when the relationship between God and humans is told in Gen 3 and between humans and humans in Gen 4. One of the literary patterns which may be considered to not only be present in Gen 1-11, but also extend through into the remainder of the book of Genesis is that connected with the command in Gen 1:28 - ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Not only does the phrase occur in a number of places, but the lists of genealogies show that indeed the people have been fruitful and multiplied - Gen 5, 10, 11. The genealogies continue in Gen 12-50 at particular points: Gen 25:12 (These are the generations of Ishmael), Gen 25:19 (These are the generations of Isaac), Gen 36:1, (These are the generations of Esau), Gen 37:2 (These are the generations of Jacob). The genealogies not only show that God's command in Gen 1:28 has been followed, but the promises to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, Gen 15:5 have come true. That is, Abram will have many descendants and become a great nation. At the point where each of the genealogies are listed we have the story of that person in the following chapters. Abraham in Gen 11:27-25:18: Jacob in Gen 25:19-36:43: Joseph, Judah and Jacob's family in Gen 37:1-50:26. There are a number of covenants mentioned in the Book of Genesis all of which come into the category of unconditional or promissory. Unlike the condition covenant in Exod 19 in which God seeks a response of obedience from the people, the covenants in Genesis are based on first person pronouncements by God. In Gen 9 it is an universal covenant with all living creatures, but once we move into Gen 12 the covenants are specific to Abraham and his descendants. The relationship has been set up from creation when humans were created to be in special relationship with God (Gen 1:26-27).

Attempts have been made since the 18th century to explain such things as: a different word used for God -Yahwist or Elohim: multiple versions of the same story = Abraham’s pretence, Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-18, 26:6-16: repetition within the same story = Gen 6:5-7, 11-12: contradictions - for example, Exod 20:24 gives permission to offer sacrifices at numerous altars v Deut 12:13-14 which forbids this and restricts sacrifice to one place only or Gen 7:17 in which the flood remains for 40 days v Gen 7:24 in which the flood remains for 150 days and other examples. The classic theory suggests that the Pentateuch has a number of written sources as well as the early oral traditions which account for the sort of differences mentioned above. In Gen 1-11 there is the Priestly source which can be seen in Gen1:1-2:4a, 6:9-22, some verses in Gen 7-8, 9:1-17, 10:1-7, 11:10-27 and the remaining texts come from the Yahwistic source. Some characteristics of what is know as the 'P' source are: the use of the Hebrew term toledoth/generations, the writing is sophisticated and often in a liturgical style (Gen1:1-2:4a), in the creation account God speaks and it happens, humans are made in the image of God, the covenant is unconditional and can be made with the animals, and an abiding concern to state numbers and years. The Yahwistic source uses myths and sagas to tell the story, God and animals speak (anthropomorphic), the world is very small (Gen 2:10-14) compared with the universal world of the 'P' source (Gen 1:1-2:4a).

Historical: (History within the text). Gen 12-50 tells the stories about Abram and his descendants as they move from Haran into the land of Canaan and begin wandering around the land and then into Egypt. These stories began as oral traditions passed down within the tribes long before they became part of the written tradition. It is the way many cultures remember their history, but in the Western world we became influenced by the enlightened definition of 'history' which understood 'history' as written facts from an objective viewpoint. This has caused many scholars to debate whether the Patriarchs can be proven to be true people through archaeological means. Other scholars say that this is not possible and therefore they cannot be historical people. If this argument was applied to Bedouin tribes or Australian Aboriginal people we deny them any history. History as oral tradition passed down is the history of a people, and does not need to be justified by Western values. The people are portrayed as very human with all their faults and strengths - they lie, deceive, steal, test God, they have courage, journey into the unknown, seek God, question God and are obedient. These traits apply to men and women, and many of the women (Sarah, Rebecca, Tamar) play a significant role in the working out of the promises of God. I encourage people to read these stories for themselves. After the story of Abram in Gen 11:27-25:18 the next block, Gen 11:19-36:43, tells us about Jacob and finally about Joseph in Gen 37:1-50:26. At the end of the book we are placed ready to begin the story of Moses, the release of the Hebrews from Egypt and their wanderings in the wilderness.

We know something of this period from the discoveries of the Mari Tablets - 20,000 tablets in old Akkadian of which 5,000 were official correspondence (J.Bright. A History of Israel. London: SCM Press, 57). Mari was a great city with highly sophisticated living conditions and the centre of trade. Terah and his family would have travelled through Mari to get to Haran. Mesopotamia was a centre of civilisation in the Far East in the same way that Egypt was in the Near East.

It is a period in which some people lived in cities and others lived a semi nomadic life travelling with their herds and stopping for periods, but rarely settling to an agrarian life style. We seem to have examples of both these life styles within the story of Abraham.

Context of Genesis 28:10-20
The interlude of Isaac's journey into Philistine and Gerar has separated the events of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob and the time when it is about to become a reality at the point of Isaac's death. After the story of Isaac's adventures with Abimelech and the their final reconciliation with the swearing of an oath with each other (Gen 26:30), we return to the family of Isaac. The final verses of Gen 26 (vv.34-35) provide the link which will continue the story about the twins begun in Gen 25. Time has passed and Isaac who is close to death asks his elder son to hunt and bring him his favourite dish at which time Esau will receive his father's blessing. There follows the story in which Rebekah plays a major role in deceiving Isaac in order that Jacob receives the blessing. When Esau discovered that he had been deceived and deprived of wealth he asked that Isaac bless him also. Instead Isaac prophesied that Esau would live by his sword apart from Jacob and would eventually break loose from his brother's yoke (Gen27:39-40). When Rebekah heard of Esau's hatred she sends him to her brother Laban in Haran. Rebekah complains to Isaac about the treatment she receives from the Hittite women (Gen26:34-35), the two wives of Esau. This becomes the reason to send Jacob off to prevent him marrying a Canaanite woman. The odd feature is that Isaac calls Jacob and blesses him before charging him to go and marry one of his cousins. The promise from Gen 1:28 is repeated by Isaac. After the description of Jacob's encounter with God in this week's lectionary reading the story continues with Jacob's arrival at Haran where like his father he met one of his future wives, Rachel, at the well. He then gets to meet his uncle Laban and the ensuing episode will be continued next week.

Insights/Message of Genesis 28:10-20

Literary: I have copied out the literary outline again to show in which section this week's reading comes from.
Conflict with Esau (25:19-34; 27:1-45; 27:46-28:9)

Meeting at Bethel (28:10-22)

Conflict with Laban (29:1-30)

Births (29:31 -30:24)

Conflict & Covenant (30:25-31:55)

Meeting at Penu'el (32:22-32)

Reconciliation with Esau (32 -33:17 xxx(Brueggemann:213)

Jacob has fled from the anger of Esau with the help of his mother Rebekah, and is on the journey to Haran to find a wife from among his cousins. It is the first time we have Jacob as the focus by himself and it marks a new beginning for him away from immediate family. Gen 28:10-22 is divided into the following sections: v.10 = an itinerary note, vv.11-13a = arrival, preparations, dream; vv.13b-15 = divine promise; vv.16-19 = Jacob's reaction to the dream; vv.20-22 = Jacob's vow (Scullion: 209). The imagery of the ladder with angels ascending and descending connects us between the heavenly and earthly spheres. These angels are not acting as messengers because God is above and speaks directly with Jacob. The speech of God uses formulaic language found elsewhere in Genesis (15:7, 18; 17:8; 22:17; 26:2-3; 28:13) identifying God as the same one who called his father and grandfather. The promise of land and descendants first stated in Gen 12:3 is reiterated here, together with the confirmation that they shall be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Again "the assurance of divine presence, assistance and guidance back to the land is characteristic of the Jacob cycle" (Scullion:210). Indeed, we can find this cycle throughout the Patriarchal narratives. This is the first of the dream narratives in the Old Testament (Westermann.12-36: 454). Vv.20-22 are probably a later tradition which is expanding on the promises of God and actions of Jacob so the stone becomes God's house and v.22 b reflects Deut 26.

Message:This tradition of Jacob's experience of God at Bethel is important to the northern tribes who had a cultic shrine at Bethel from the early days of settlement. It is important to remember for future generations those places at which God spoke with one of their ancestors. Furthermore, these places have been the gateway to heaven in which God has appeared and the barrier between heaven and earth parted for a time (also in Psalm 78:23). The experience is similar to those people who visit the great Cathedrals in Britain and Europe and feel the presence of God in them because of the prayer and worship that has taken place over centuries. Secondly, this experience is especially important because the promises to Abraham are reiterated to Jacob and he can journey on with confidence knowing he will return to claim the land one day. As readers who have read the story before we know this promise will be fulfilled by the end of the Jacob cycle (Gen 32). Jacob's immediate response is one of awe (repeated twice in v.17) - fear in the sense of awe is meant and not the abject type of abasement. When Jacob anoints the the stone with oil "it is not meant to be a sacrifice but the conveyance of power to a holy object" (Westermann. 12-36: 458). It becomes the symbol for the meeting place between God and God's people. This episode comes between the conflict of Esau and Jacob, and the conflict between Jacob and Laban. It is reassuring to the listeners in that, God will still be with him in order that God's purposes are not thwarted. This experience of God by Jacob is his own adult faith occurrence in which he can own God for himself rather than his comment in Gen 27:20, "Because the Lord your God granted me success". It is true for people today who have grown up in the family of the church that at some point they need to be able to experience God for themselves. To know and own their own experience is important aspect of faith. The words spoken by God in v.15 - "I am with you" are spoken to Jeremiah (Jer 1:19), the to Isaianic community (Isa 43:2) and to the Matthean community (Matt 28:30). Not only is the promise of God's presence important, but also the assurance of God's action - "I will keep you". This promise is present six times in Ps 121 and again in the famous blessing of Num 6:24-26 (Brueggemann: 245). For Jacob the third promise in Gen 28:15 is that he will return home. Jacob's reiteration of the promises in the vow of vv.20-22 indicate that he will trust in what the Lord has said and continue his journey confident in God. We know the presence of God in many different ways and yet at times we can forget these promises which begin in the Old Testament and are repeated again in the New Testament.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 13:24-30, 36-43: the parable of the mustard seed could allude to Ezek 17: 23 in which the birds of the air represent the Gentiles.

Resources/Worship for Genesis 28:10-20
The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Genesis, the author is R.W.L.Moberly, 1992. (Genesis 12-50)

Brenner, Athalya, ed. A Feminist companion to Genesis. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
---. ed. Genesis. Feminist companion to the Bible (Second Series), 1. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Int. Atlanta, Ga.: John Knox 1982.
Coats, George W. Genesis, with an Introduction to Narrative Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1983.
Davies, Philip R., and David J. A. Clines, eds. The world of Genesis: Persons, Places, Perspectives. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998.
*Fretheim,Terrence E. "The Book of Genesis: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. Vol 1. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.
Hamilton,Victor P. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17. NICOT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1990.
---. The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50. NICOT, Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1995.
Hess, Richard S., and David Toshio Tsumura, eds. I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1-11. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.
*Moberly, R. W. L. Genesis 12-50. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992.
*Rogerson, J. W. Genesis 1-11, OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1996.
Scullion, John J. Genesis: A Commentary for Students, Teachers, and Preachers. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1992.
Waltke, Bruce K., and Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, c2001. Call Number: 222.11077 W237g
Wenham,Gordon J. Genesis 1-15. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
---. Genesis 16-50. WBC. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1994.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1987.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: 

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