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Genesis 28:11-19

Context
28:11 He reached a certain place 1  where he decided to camp because the sun had gone down. 2  He took one of the stones 3  and placed it near his head. 4  Then he fell asleep 5  in that place 28:12 and had a dream. 6  He saw 7  a stairway 8  erected on the earth with its top reaching to the heavens. The angels of God were going up and coming down it 28:13 and the Lord stood at its top. He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father Isaac. 9  I will give you and your descendants the ground 10  you are lying on. 28:14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, 11  and you will spread out 12  to the west, east, north, and south. All the families of the earth will pronounce blessings on one another 13  using your name and that of your descendants. 14  28:15 I am with you! 15  I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you!”

28:16 Then Jacob woke up 16  and thought, 17  “Surely the Lord is in this place, but I did not realize it!” 28:17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is nothing else than the house of God! This is the gate of heaven!”

28:18 Early 18  in the morning Jacob 19  took the stone he had placed near his head 20  and set it up as a sacred stone. 21  Then he poured oil on top of it. 28:19 He called that place Bethel, 22  although the former name of the town was Luz.

1 tn Heb “the place.” The article may indicate simply that the place is definite in the mind of the narrator. However, as the story unfolds the place is transformed into a holy place. See A. P. Ross, “Jacob’s Vision: The Founding of Bethel,” BSac 142 (1985): 224-37.

2 tn Heb “and he spent the night there because the sun had gone down.”

3 tn Heb “he took from the stones of the place,” which here means Jacob took one of the stones (see v. 18).

4 tn Heb “and he put [it at] the place of his head.” The text does not actually say the stone was placed under his head to serve as a pillow, although most interpreters and translators assume this. It is possible the stone served some other purpose. Jacob does not seem to have been a committed monotheist yet (see v. 20-21) so he may have believed it contained some spiritual power. Note that later in the story he anticipates the stone becoming the residence of God (see v. 22). Many cultures throughout the world view certain types of stones as magical and/or sacred. See J. G. Fraser, Folklore in the Old Testament, 231-37.

5 tn Heb “lay down.”

6 tn Heb “and dreamed.”

7 tn Heb “and look.” The scene which Jacob witnessed is described in three clauses introduced with הִנֵּה (hinneh). In this way the narrator invites the reader to witness the scene through Jacob’s eyes. J. P. Fokkelman points out that the particle goes with a lifted arm and an open mouth: “There, a ladder! Oh, angels! and look, the Lord himself” (Narrative Art in Genesis [SSN], 51-52).

8 tn The Hebrew noun סֻלָּם (sullam, “ladder, stairway”) occurs only here in the OT, but there appears to be an Akkadian cognate simmiltu (with metathesis of the second and third consonants and a feminine ending) which has a specialized meaning of “stairway, ramp.” See H. R. Cohen, Biblical Hapax Legomena (SBLDS), 34. For further discussion see C. Houtman, “What Did Jacob See in His Dream at Bethel? Some Remarks on Genesis 28:10-22,” VT 27 (1977): 337-52; J. G. Griffiths, “The Celestial Ladder and the Gate of Heaven,” ExpTim 76 (1964/65): 229-30; and A. R. Millard, “The Celestial Ladder and the Gate of Heaven,” ExpTim 78 (1966/67): 86-87.

9 tn Heb “the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” The Hebrew word for “father” can typically be used in a broader sense than the English word, in this case referring to Abraham (who was Jacob’s grandfather). For stylistic reasons and for clarity, the words “your father” are supplied with “Isaac” in the translation.

10 tn The Hebrew term אֶרֶץ (’erets) can mean “[the] earth,” “land,” “region,” “piece of ground,” or “ground” depending on the context. Here the term specifically refers to the plot of ground on which Jacob was lying, but at the same time this stands by metonymy for the entire land of Canaan.

11 tn This is the same Hebrew word translated “ground” in the preceding verse.

12 tn The verb is singular in the Hebrew; Jacob is addressed as the representative of his descendants.

13 tn Theoretically the Niphal stem can be translated either as passive or reflexive/reciprocal. (The Niphal of “bless” is only used in formulations of the Abrahamic covenant. See Gen 12:2; 18:18; 28:14.) Traditionally the verb is taken as passive here, as if Jacob were going to be a channel or source of blessing. But in other formulations of the Abrahamic covenant (see Gen 22:18; 26:4) the Hitpael replaces this Niphal form, suggesting a translation “will bless (i.e., pronounce blessings upon) themselves/one another.” The Hitpael of “bless” is used with a reflexive/reciprocal sense in Deut 29:18; Ps 72:17; Isa 65:16; Jer 4:2. Gen 28:14 predicts that Jacob will be held up as a paradigm of divine blessing and that people will use his name in their blessing formulae (see Gen 12:2 and 18:18 as well, where Abram/Abraham receives this promise). For examples of blessing formulae utilizing an individual as an example of blessing see Gen 48:20 and Ruth 4:11.

14 tn Heb “and they will pronounce blessings by you, all the families of the earth, and by your offspring.”

15 tn Heb “Look, I [am] with you.” The clause is a nominal clause; the verb to be supplied could be present (as in the translation) or future, “Look, I [will be] with you” (cf. NEB).

16 tn Heb “woke up from his sleep.” This has been simplified in the translation for stylistic reasons.

17 tn Heb “said.”

18 tn Heb “and he got up early…and he took.”

19 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Jacob) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

20 tn See the note on this phrase in v. 11.

21 tn Heb “standing stone.”

sn Sacred stone. Such a stone could be used as a boundary marker, a burial stone, or as a shrine. Here the stone is intended to be a reminder of the stairway that was “erected” and on which the Lord “stood.” (In Hebrew the word translated “sacred stone” is derived from the verb translated “erected” in v. 12 and “stood” in v. 13. Since the top of the stairway reached the heavens where the Lord stood, Jacob poured oil on the top of the stone. See C. F. Graesser, “Standing Stones in Ancient Palestine,” BA 35 (1972): 34-63; and E. Stockton, “Sacred Pillars in the Bible,” ABR 20 (1972): 16-32.

22 tn The name Bethel means “house of God” in Hebrew (see v. 17).

map For location see Map4 G4; Map5 C1; Map6 E3; Map7 D1; Map8 G3.



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