Studies in the Life of Jacob Part 1: Jacob’s Vision: The Founding of Bethel -- By: Allen P. Ross

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 142:567 (Jul 1985)
Article: Studies in the Life of Jacob Part 1: Jacob’s Vision: The Founding of Bethel
Author: Allen P. Ross


Studies in the Life of Jacob
Part 1:
Jacob’s Vision: The Founding of Bethel

Allen P. Ross

[Allen P. Ross, Chairman and Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]

Introduction

The clear revelation of God’s gracious dealings with man can transform a worldly individual into a worshiper. It is a drama that has been repeated again and again throughout the history of the faith. Perhaps no story in Scripture illustrates this so vividly as Jacob’s dream at Bethel, recorded in Genesis 28:10–22. Before this experience Jacob was a fugitive from the results of his sin, a troubled son in search of his place in life, a shrewd shepherd setting out to find a wife. But after this encounter with God he was a partner with Him as a recipient of God’s covenant promises and a true worshiper. The transformation is due to God’s intrusion into the course of his life.

The Narrative

1 The story unfolds quickly and dramatically. Being persona non grata in Canaan after deceiving Isaac and receiving the blessing, Jacob went on his way to Haran until things settled down. At sundown he stopped at a “place” and took “one of the stones of the place” to prepare for the night. But in a dream that night God appeared to him from the top of an angel-filled stairway and confirmed that the blessing was indeed his. When Jacob awoke he was afraid because he realized that the Lord was in that place; at dawn he set up the stone as a memorial, named the place Bethel, “the House of God,” and vowed to worship there when he returned to his father’s house in peace.

The Narrative’s Literary Features

The literary devices in the passage are designed to show that the vision inspired the manner of Jacob’s worship and gave new meaning to the place of his vision. The repetition of key terms throughout the narrative ties the whole account together and explains the significance of Jacob’s response.2 In his dream Jacob saw a stairway standing (מֻצָּב) on the earth, and the Lord standing (נִּצָּב) above or by it. This repetition suggests that the stairway functioned to point to the Lord. Then in view of what he saw, Jacob took the stone he had used and set it up as a מַבָה (“pillar”), this word recalling the previous two. By setting up the stone in this way Jacob apparently wanted to establish forever that he had seen the Lord standing over the stairway. The wordplays then focus the r...

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