A Stone of Rememberance

A Stone of Rememberance

Devotional Reading: Psalm 42:1–5

Scripture text: Genesis 28:10–22


Key Verse

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.Genesis 28:15



  1. From Scripture to Song

The Scripture text today from Genesis 28 records Jacob’s experience with God via a dream one night as he was departing from Canaan. The passage has prompted two well-known songs over the years. One is the African American slave spiritual “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” The other is the hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” The latter is perhaps best known as the song that the musicians on board the Titanic purportedly began to play as the ship plunged into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean on that tragic April night in 1912. Much of the content of this hymn is based on the incident found in today’s text.

While the words and melody of this hymn are comforting to hear or sing, we must remember that Jacob’s circumstances in Genesis 28 were very uncertain. He was on the run from his angry brother, Esau. Jacob’s self-exile had him traveling to a place he had never been and moving beyond the territory of the promised land for the first time.

When would he be able to return home? What did the future hold? Jacob came to realize that what he was leaving behind did not include the blessing and protection of God. God had his future well in hand.

  1. Lesson Context

When Esau realized that he had been outwitted by his brother Jacob (for the second time), he determined to kill Jacob, though not until after Isaac’s death. Rebekah learned of Esau’s plan and urged Jacob to flee northward to Harran (Genesis 27:41–45). This was the place where Abraham stopped and stayed for a time on his way from Ur of the Chaldeans to Canaan. Abraham’s father, Terah, had died in Harran (11:32), and apparently Abraham’s brother Nahor had decided to remain there. Jacob was thus being sent to stay with family, specifically with Rebekah’s brother Laban (see lesson 9).

Rebekah then spoke to Isaac about her dislike for the Hittite women in the region (two of whom Esau had previously married) and her concern that Jacob might marry one of them (Genesis 27:46). This persuaded Isaac to do what his father Abraham’s servant had done for him years before: secure a wife for Isaac from his family in the area of Harran. Isaac, however, did not send a servant to do this; he sent Jacob himself (28:1, 2). Isaac may well have been aware of Esau’s intentions to kill Jacob.

Genesis 28:6–9 notes that when Esau recognized that Isaac had sent Jacob away to find a wife, Esau married a daughter of Ishmael (Abraham’s first son by Hagar). Thus Esau married someone with closer family ties. He seems to have desired to lessen Isaac and Rebekah’s disappointment with him on account of the Hittite women he had married. Perhaps Esau wanted to allay some of the hurt Isaac no doubt felt in having been taken advantage of and deceived.



Character Profile:

28:10 Jacob: A Foreshadowing of National Israel

Jacob’s whole life and character are a clear picture of the nation of Israel, which is descended from him. The following outline will show the likenesses:

  1. Although Jacob was not the firstborn, he got the rights of a firstborn son because Esau did not want them. Although Israel did not come into being as a nation as soon as Gentile nations, it has a place in God’s favor that Gentiles do not have because they did not want it.
  2. For many years Jacob was out of the land God gave him, because of his own sin and weak faith. For many years, the nation, Israel, was out of their land because of their sin and lack of faith. They became a nation again in 1948.
  3. All the time Jacob was away, he still tried to get God’s blessing by his own efforts. He became very rich during that time, as many Israelites/Jews have been in the past.
  4. Going back to the land, he was still the same old Jacob, but God met him there and changed his character and even his name. Forever after that he was conscious of his own weakness but also of his trust in the mighty God. Jews have been going back to their land. They still continue in unbelief and sin, but God will surely change their hearts and even their name, so that the nation shall forever after be a praise and a glory to Him. See Isaiah 60:21 and Jeremiah 31:33.


Character Profile: Jacob (27:1-35:29)

Jacob, younger twin son of Isaac and Rebekah, struggled with his twin brother Esau in the womb and was born grasping his heel (25:24-26). God told Rebekah that the boys represented two nations and that the older son would serve the younger (25:23).

Isaac favored Esau, an outdoorsman; Rebekah preferred Jacob, who was happier at home. Once, Esau returned famished from hunting and Jacob bought his birthright with some red stew he had cooked (25:27-34; see Heb 12:16). Later, Isaac asked Esau to prepare wild game so he could eat and bless him (27:1-4; cp. 25:28). Rebekah sent Jacob to deceive Isaac into blessing him instead, and her ploy was successful (27:5-29). Jacob’s ruse was soon discovered (27:30-35), but legally valid blessings were irrevocable promises (27:33). So Isaac gave Esau a lesser blessing (27:36-40), and Esau plotted to kill Jacob (27:41). Rebekah convinced Isaac to send Jacob away to her brother Laban so that Jacob would marry among relatives (27:46).

So Isaac transferred the covenant promises to Jacob and sent him to Haran (28:1-5). Along the way, God appeared to Jacob in a dream and affirmed the promises of land and descendants that he had given to Abraham and Isaac (28:10-15). Jacob worshiped the Lord and named the place Bethel (“house of God”).

At Haran, Jacob began to serve his uncle Laban (chs 29-31). Jacob loved Laban’s daughter Rachel and worked seven years to marry her, but Laban deceived him by substituting his older daughter Leah on Jacob’s wedding night. Jacob worked seven more years for Rachel and an additional six years to acquire flocks for himself (30:25-43; see also 31:38-42). Despite many hardships, he had thirteen children and became very prosperous.

After twenty years, God told Jacob to return to Canaan (31:3). Fearing reprisals from Laban and his sons (31:1-2), Jacob organized his caravan and left while Laban was away (31:4-21). Laban gave chase, but God prevented him from harming Jacob (31:22-24, 29). Laban instead upbraided Jacob for leaving stealthily and for stealing his idols (31:25-30; see also 31:19). Jacob let Laban search his tents, but the idols were not found (31:33-35), and Jacob became angry (31:36-42). Though their conflict remained unresolved (31:43), the two men made a peace covenant (31:44-54); the location formed the lasting boundary between Israel and Aram.

Jacob now faced Esau and God. When Esau came to meet him with 400 men, Jacob sought God’s protection and sent gifts to pacify his estranged brother (32:3-21). During a night that symbolized his whole life, Jacob wrestled alone with a man who dislocated his hip and gave him the blessing he sought (32:22-32). God changed his name to Israel (“God fights”).

Jacob met Esau and the two were reconciled (33:1-11); Esau was gracious and forgiving, and Jacob shared some of his blessing. Esau then returned to Seir while Jacob continued to Canaan. In Shechem, Jacob bought land and built an altar (33:16-20), then moved to Bethel and expelled all foreign idols from his household (35:1-8). God reaffirmed Jacob’s new name, Israel, and renewed his promises of land and descendants (35:9-15).

Jacob’s favoritism for Rachel extended to her son Joseph, whom Jacob intended to anoint as the firstborn and heir (37:1-4), a plan that God confirmed through dreams (37:5-11). But then Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave (Gen 37:9-28) and for over twenty years Jacob believed he was dead. Only after letting Benjamin go to Egypt in Judah’s care did Jacob learn that Joseph was alive and would be the source of famine relief for his family (43:1-14; 45:24-28). Jacob’s spirits revived. He moved to Egypt and joyously reunited with his favorite son at Goshen (Gen 46:28-30), where he prospered for seventeen more years.

When Jacob approached death at age 147, he arranged for the future of his family. He made Joseph swear to bury him in Canaan (47:29-31; 49:29-32). He gave Joseph’s sons his prime blessing (48:1-20) and put Ephraim, the younger son, first. He gave assurance that the family would return to Canaan (48:21-22), then blessed each of his sons and prophesied the future of their descendants (49:1-28). He died (49:33) and was buried at the cave of Machpelah, accompanied by his sons and a large Egyptian procession. His death marked the end of the patriarchal age and the beginning of Israel’s growth as a nation in Egypt until they returned to live again in the Promised Land (see Exodus—Joshua).

The name “Jacob” became synonymous with the nation of Israel (see Num 23:7, 21; 24:5; Hos 12:2). God called the nation to serve him as their forefathers had done (Hos 12:3-13). He promised Israel the same love that he had shown toward Jacob (Mal 1:2). And he promised that a conquering ruler would come from Jacob’s descendants (Gen 49:8-12; Num 24:17-19).

Word Study: Ertetz

Hebrew Pronunciation [EHR ehtz]
Translation land
Uses in Genesis 311
Uses in the OT 2,505
Focus passage Genesis 28:4,12-14

‘Erets is one of the most common and flexible OT nouns, whose meanings seem derived from the idea of land (Gen 2:5). Often it refers to nations such as the land of Israel. ‘Erets denotes area, region, homeland, country, or earth, the latter often in conjunction with “heaven” to represent the whole world (Gen 1:1; 20:1; 21:23; 30:25; 34:1). ‘Erets means district (1Ch 13:2). It is soil (Lv 27:30) or dirt (Jer 17:13) but may suggest the land’s produce (Lv 27:30). ‘Erets can involve distance (Gen 35:16), the surface of the ground (Jdg 6:37), or private property (Gen 23:15). ‘Erets indicates earth (Ps 66:4) or world (Gen 41:57) as the inhabitants of the earth. It describes the depths of the earth (Isa 44:23) and, with modifiers, the underworld (Ezek 26:20). “People of the land” can connote common people (Lv 4:27). “Field of the land” indicates open fields (Lv 25:31).






  1. Moving Away

(Genesis 28:10–15)

  1. Jacob’s Departure (v. 10)


Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel serves several important purposes within the Jacob cycle of the narratives of Patriarchal History. In these narratives, Jacob meets God twice, once here upon his departure from Canaan and once again at the Jabbok River upon his return (32:22-32). These two direct encounters thus provide the framework for Jacob’s trip to Haran; they are sacred portals for his exit from and entry into the promised land, signifying God’s presence with him on his journey (v. 15). Jacob’s encounter with God also advances the theme of promise in the ancestral narratives: It confirms that the promises to his fathers are to be Jacob’s as well (v. 13). Finally, Jacob’s encounter with God provides an explanation for the naming of Bethel and for the founding of its sacred precinct.


The ladder of Jacob’s dream reminds us of Jesus’ words about the angels “ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (Jn 1:51), vividly depicting Himself as the Way into the heavenlies. Certainly Jacob did not deserve such grace after cheating his brother out of the blessings of Isaac. Indeed, he was already suffering by being banished from the fellowship of his family. Nevertheless, God mercifully confirmed the covenant promises made to Abraham and Isaac concerning the land and the descendants. His words, “I am with you and will keep you” speak of God’s personal presence for protection and guidance, anticipating Jacob’s return to the land, so that all the promises might be fulfilled. Surely the grace of God goes far beyond our small expectations.



  1. Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran.

Beersheba is the town where Isaac had eventually settled, following a series of disputes with the Philistines over the ownership of certain wells (Genesis 26:15–33). A journey from Beersheba to Harran, where Jacob’s relatives live, is approximately 550 miles. This is quite a journey for someone who is used to living “among the tents” (25:27)!

Genesis 26:34 states that Esau is 40 years old when he marries two Hittite women. Jacob’s age when he leaves his parents to find a wife is not stated. Circumstantial data based on subsequent events are used by some scholars to suggest him to be age 77 when he leaves his parents. An alternative viewpoint calculates an age of 57.

  1. Jacob’s Dream (vv. 11–15)

11a. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.

Later we learn that the certain place where Jacob stops for the night is the town of Luz (Genesis 28:19). It is approximately 60 miles north of Beersheba, so it may take Jacob a few days to reach that point in his travels. With no streetlights or flashlights available to illuminate the way, travelers of the era must stop when the sun sets. Even if the moon were full, walking would be problematic.

Two meals per day are customary, and perhaps Jacob has the second of these before bedding down for the night. His meal may be something his mother prepared for him, which is possible at this stage of the journey. But Jacob will have to live off the land as the journey progresses.


 11b. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.

We may wonder how Jacob intends to get much sleep if he is using a stone for his pillow! We will discover the importance of this detail when we get to Genesis 28:18, below. And this will be no ordinary night of sleep in any case.


12a. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven,

The stairway of which Jacob dreams is believed, by some, to be more than just a set of steps, but part of a structure known as a ziggurat. A ziggurat resembles a pyramid in shape, but includes steps that one climbs until reaching a platform at the top. An altar or shrine may be there, used by worshippers for sacrifices or other religious ritual.


This vision serves as reminder to Jacob that God intends to dwell on the Earth, hence naming the area Bethel.


12b. and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Probably more captivating to Jacob than the structure is what he sees on it. Angels will play an important part in the account of Jacob’s life, particularly from the standpoint of his spiritual pilgrimage (Genesis 32:1, 24). In the case before us, he dreams of them. The progression (dreaming of angels, meeting them, touching one) may reflect Jacob’s progress in his journey with the Lord, climaxed with the changing of his name by the angel with whom he struggled (Genesis 32:28).

Centuries later, Jesus seems to comment on this incident very early in his ministry. It happens during his first meeting with Nathanael, who becomes one of his disciples. Expressing astonishment at what Jesus knows about him, Nathanael declares Jesus to be both the Son of God and the king of Israel (John 1:49). In response, Jesus declares that Nathanael will witness “greater things” (1:50).

One such thing will be seeing “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). The implication is that Jesus will serve the function of a stairway as he bridges the gap between Heaven and earth, between the holy God and sinful humanity. This happens through his death and resurrection.


13a. There above it stood the Lord,

Archaeologists have discovered that the steps of pagan ziggurats are for gods to descend to earth. What Jacob sees, however, is different: the Lord stands above the stairway and makes no move to descend. What exact form Jacob sees is unknown to us. But it is likely more awe-inspiring and glorious than the angels.


13b. and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.

As the Lord speaks to Jacob, it is worth noting that he says nothing whatsoever about Jacob’s deceptive actions toward his father and his brother. That is not what this wanderer from home needs to hear at this point. Instead, God reaffirms the covenant promises made to grandfather Abraham and father Isaac.

The promise embraces two important elements: the land and Jacob’s descendants. The fact that the land will be given to Jacob’s descendants means that he will have a wife and at least one child. Such an affirmation is likely intended to provide much-needed assurance to Jacob, since he will soon be leaving the territory of the land of promise to go to Harran. Perhaps Jacob has been wondering if and how the promise will be affected by his departure from the land (or by his treatment of his father and brother). If he harbors any such doubts, God has come to ease them.


14a. “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.

This language reflects God’s promises to Abraham. The phrase like the dust of the earth was used when Abraham separated from Lot and as Abraham was promised all the land he could see (Genesis 13:14–18). Jacob may have heard about this from his grandfather personally, for Jacob was 15 when Abraham died (computed from 21:5; 25:7, 20, 26).


14b. “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.

This part of the message was first stated in Genesis 12:3, when Abraham was leaving Harran (the place Jacob is now headed). To bless all peoples on earth has been God’s larger plan all along. It is not a new element.


Here, God confirms that Jacob will be the heir of Messiah, not Esau even though Esau would have been the natural choice. Jacob already has the birthright, Isaac’s blessing, and now the Covenant is confirmed by God Himself. Jacob (Israel) will be the father of the people who bring us Messiah.


  1. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

God’s promise I am with you is one of the most common and reassuring statements in Scripture (see Genesis 26:24; Isaiah 41:10; 43:5; Jeremiah 1:8, 19; 15:20; 42:11; 46:28; Haggai 1:13; 2:4; Matthew 28:20; Acts 18:10). For Jacob these words provide further encouragement as he embarks on life as a fugitive and a sojourner. In pagan thinking, gods are local, not global. They are limited to the territory or country that they rule. But Jacob, though he is moving away from the land promised to his grandfather and father, is not moving away from the presence or protection of God. Finding a place outside of God’s “jurisdiction” is impossible (Psalm 139:7–12).

The landscape covered by God’s promises to Jacob is quite extensive: the Lord will watch over him throughout his travels, bring him back to his homeland, and fulfill everything he has promised to Jacob. In fact, God says I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. This does not mean that once God’s promises have been fulfilled, Jacob is on his own. It expresses the degree of God’s commitment to keeping his word.

  1. Marking the Place

(Genesis 28:16–19)

  1. Acknowledging God (vv. 16, 17)
  2. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

Jacob seems to awaken as soon as the dream ends, while it is yet night. His amazement that the Lord is in this place is probably due to the fact that the spot seems very ordinary. There is nothing especially holy about it. Jacob is learning that God can make the most ordinary location holy by his presence; this is a truth that Moses will come to realize in his day (Exodus 3:5).


  1. He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

A wondrous fear kicks in. (The words afraid and awesome are derived from the same Hebrew word.) Jacob is stunned to have found himself in the presence of God—the God who has revealed something of his splendor to Jacob and has in addition spoken to him.

Many today express desire to have a face-to-face discussion with God. But Jacob’s experience is cautionary. The phrase the house of God is considered in Genesis 28:19, below.

  1. Anointing the Stone (vv. 18, 19)
  2. Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.

Perhaps Jacob lies awake the rest of the night, reflecting on the contents of the dream, replaying it over and over in his mind. Any paralysis in that regard gives way to action when he arises early the next morning.

The stone he had placed under his head now serves a different purpose. The oil he pours on top of it serves to consecrate the place. Oil is often used in the Old Testament to set apart priests and kings. But it will also come to be used on objects (example: Exodus 30:22–29); the one we see here is the first such. A single stone may not constitute a pillar to our thinking today; but the important point is commemorating an event, not the size of the memorial.


  1. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Bethel means in Hebrew “house of God,” which reflects Jacob’s earlier declaration in verse 17. Ironically and sadly, Bethel later becomes the site where the first king of the northern kingdom of divided Israel builds one of his golden calves to keep the people from going to Jerusalem to worship at the temple there (1 Kings 12:28, 29). Archaeologists have not been able to determine with certainty the location.

III. Making a Vow

(Genesis 28:20–22)

  1. God’s Provision (vv. 20, 21a)

20, 21a. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household,

Vows have not been seen prior to this point in Old Testament history. Regulations for making vows will later be included within the Law of Moses (Numbers 30:1–16). Jacob’s vow echoes the words God had spoken to him in his dream (Genesis 28:15).

  1. Jacob’s Pledge (vv. 21b, 22)

21b, 22a. “then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house,

Jacob’s vow should be viewed as different from vows that are sometimes made to God in the heat of a crisis or emergency. Jacob is making his vow based on what God has revealed to him.

One must also keep in mind that this vow is coming from someone who is just beginning to understand what trusting in God means. Jacob has a lengthy journey ahead of him, in terms of both miles and spiritual maturity. When Jacob promises then the Lord will be my God, he is pledging that at the end of his journey his personal relationship with the Lord will be far deeper than what it is now.


 22b. “and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Jacob’s additional promise to give you a tenth has a precedent in Genesis 14:17–20, where Abraham offered a tenth to Melchizedek. As with vows, tithing will also be covered in the Law of Moses (Numbers 18:21–29; Deuteronomy 14:22–29).

The tithe, or tenth, in the ancient world was usually a tax given to a ruler. The context shows that Jacob’s desire to give a tenth to God is in appreciation for God’s working through him.


  1. “Stopping” Stones

We have seen in our study today how something very common, a stone, became something very special for Jacob as he marked the place where God appeared to him. Years later, he stopped at the same place and used a stone yet again to remember God’s faithfulness to him through very turbulent years. The prophet Samuel used a stone to commemorate the Lord’s deliverance of his people during a battle. He called the stone “Ebenezer,” meaning in Hebrew “stone of help” (1 Samuel 7:12).

It is important for us to stop and mark times when the Lord has demonstrated his faithfulness to us or answered our prayers. Our memorial does not have to be a stone (it probably will not be), nor do we have to pour oil on it. It could be a card someone sent, a picture, a gift, a copy of an e-mail. In fact, any object, though as common as a stone, can serve the purpose—if it reminds us to stop at a specific time during our busy schedules and thank God for blessing us.

To pause and remember spiritual landmarks can be a source of great reassurance and encouragement to us. That is especially so when our own times become as turbulent as Jacob’s did.

Key Takeaway

Remember God’s faithfulness to you in tangible ways.

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