"Jacob's Dream" by William Blake, c. 1805

Genesis 28:10–32:2: Underestimating the strength of the ‘weak’

“Then Ya’akov departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.” (Genesis 28:10–11 NASB)

The rock Ya’akov put under his head at the beginning of the Torah section וַיֵּצֵא Vayetze (“he went out,” Genesis 28:10–32:2) reminds me of the rock Aharon and Khur provided for Moshe to sit on while Yehoshua was leading Yisrael in the battle against Amalek (Exodus 17:12).

Just as the battle against Amalek reminded Israel that the LORD was the real source of their victory, the support for Ya’akov‘s head became a reminder of the real source of Ya’akov‘s birthright and all his blessings. We need to pay attention and watch where God is acting.

“He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Genesis 28:12 NASB)

The Hebrew word סֻלָּם sullam, usually translated as ladder, is only found in the TaNaKh. However, the verb form סָלַל salal is found all over the Bible and is commonly used to mean “ramp” or “highway.” Was this path to heaven temporary, like a ladder up against the side of a house, or permanent, such as a ramp or a ziggurat.

Ya’akov called this place two different names: בֵּית אֱלֹהִ֔ים Beit-El (“house of God”) or שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָֽיִם sha’ar ha-shamayim (“gateway to Heaven”).

One recurring theme throughout the Scriptures is that the party who appears to be the weaker party is actually the stronger one. When the righteous look like they are going to be beaten and overcome by evil, watch out.

“Philip found Natan’el and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote ― Yeshua of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Natan’el said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Yeshua saw Natan’el coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Natan’el said to Him, “How do You know me?” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Natan’el answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:45–51 NASB)

Commentaries often note that Natan’el was studying Torah under the tree. That idea comes from the rabbinical idiom “gathering figs.” In Mishna tractate Berakhot folio 40a, the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” in Genesis 3 is described as a fig tree.1

“Fig tree, associated with abundance, as well as with the eschaton; ‘gathering figs’ was an expression that in later sources means ‘studying,’ apparently because the tree of knowledge in Gen 3 was believed to be a fig tree (b. Ber. 40a).”

God covers our nakedness and those things we’d rather keep hidden. When He forgives, He forgets on purpose. He does this through Yeshua‘s blood sacrifice. Praise God that He willingly forgets what He forgives so He can see us as righteous.

When Natan’el refers to Yeshua as both the “Son of God” and  “King of Israel”, these are synonymous expressions.

The term Son of Man is used to refer to a human in all but one or two of the nearly 200 times it appears in the TaNaKh. Many of the uses are God’s nickname for Yetziq’el (Ezekiel) and once for Dani’el. But one striking use of the phrase Son of Man is found in Daniel 7:13–14.

“‘I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.'” (Daniel 7:13–14 NASB)

This text gave rise to the term Son of Man becoming a nickname for the Mashiakh.

Yeshua connects Himself to the moniker “Son of Man” and He also connects Himself to Ya’akov‘s ladder. This is just the beginning, but Yeshua‘s ladder to heaven was not temporary, but permanent. This should give us assurance that there is traffic between heaven and earth all the time.

“Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east. He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for from that well they watered the flocks. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. When all the flocks were gathered there, they would then roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well.” (Genesis 29:1–3 NASB)

There are similarities between Ya’akov‘s meeting with Rakhel and Eleazar’s first meeting with Rivkah. Both meetings happen at a well. Both women were shepherdesses. Laban shows up in both of them, but the big similarity was that both of then happened due to God’s calling. Ya’akov met Rakhel first yet Rakhel had to wait a long time to not only marry him but to give him children.

Le’ah was the first born but Rakhel was the chosen one. God frequently uses the second born to bring a blessing to His people.

Later, due to Laban’s trickery, both Le’ah and Rakhel marry Ya’akov and their sibling rivalry becomes a battle over babies, which for them is synonymous for both Ya’akov‘s and God’s favor. Rakhel tries to use fertility tactics to get pregnant, bargaining for Le’ah’s son’s mandrakes, but God throws Rakhel a boomerang and Le’ah gets pregnant again without the mandrakes. Le’ah was greatly blessed but she also saw herself as hated and despised by Ya’akov.

Meanings of the names of the 12 sons of Ya’akov

Children by Le’ah

ראובן Re’uben: see (ראה ra’ah) a son (בן ben)

שמעון Shim’on: hearing (from שמע shema, to hear)

לבי Levi: joined (from לבה labah, to join)

יהודה Yehudah: praise or extol (based on confession and acknowledgement, by the verb ידה yadah). According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT)2:

“The primary meaning of this root [יָדָה] is ‘to acknowledge or confess sin, God’s character and works, or man’s character.’ The basic difference between this verb and its synonym, הָלַל [halal], is that the latter term tends to stress ‘acclaim of,’ ‘boasting of,’ or ‘glorying in’ an object, while יָדָה emphasizes ‘recognition’ and ‘declaration’ of a fact, whether good or bad. The LXX normally renders יָדָה with ἐξομολογέω.”

So part of praising the LORD is recognizing His separateness and our unworthiness to enter the presence, but for the blotting out of our sins, transgressions and iniquities by the cleaning-up work of the Mashiakh and the Ruakh haKodesh.

יששכר Yissakhar: wages (שכר sakhar)

זְבוּלוּן Zebulon: endowment or dwelling. Le’ah now expects Jacob will dwell with her, as he had before dwelt with Rachel.

דינה Dinah: The daughter’s name comes from דין dinto judge. No explanation is given, but she is No. 8 in Le’ah’s direct line. She not only completed Ya’akov‘s judgment against her, but also she surpassed it.

Yet maybe, Dinah is named so for the judgment her violators from Shechem received.

Sons by Zilpah, Le’ah’s handmaiden

גד Gad: fortune or blessing. This isn’t the kind of fortune or blessing that comes from flipping a coin but a gift from God.

אשר Asher: Happy, blessed, praised or praiseworthy.

Sons by Bilhah, Rakhel’s handmaiden

דן Dan: Rakhel felt the judgment finally was coming her way, but really it hadn’t happened yet.

נפתלי Naphtali: Wrestling, explained as relating to the war with her sister.

Sons by Rakhel

יסף Yosef: From the verb with similar spelling, it means to add or increase. Rakhel thought this was an addition to her, but really this “third son” was actually was her first-born and became the “savior” of the family.

Ben Yamin: The meaning of the name for this second and last son of Rakhel is in Genesis 35.

Rakhel didn’t see that she would not receive her ultimate blessing from fertility boosters nor her handmaiden, Bilhah. Her source of the ultimate blessed child of Yisrael, her son Yosef, comes from God alone.

Rakhel did not learn Sarah’s lesson. This idea that we can help God or “God helps those who help themselves” is shown in Scripture over and over again to be foolhardy.

“Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them. She said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols.” (Genesis 31:34–35 NASB)

Rakhel took her father’s household gods because she wanted remember where she came from. We would say that it was a past she should have left behind but she didn’t want to. This is the opposite of her son Joseph who longed to forget where he came from after his brothers had sold him into slavery and sent him away to Egypt.

Laban appears to have the upper hand in this story but actually Ya’akov was the one with the real power. Rakhel didn’t see how much power Ya’akov actually had at his disposal, to her detriment.

Lessons continue to the time of the exiles

This is the topic of the haftarah, Hosea 11:7-14:10. God brought them out of Egypt to be a righteous people but they all had become, especially Ephraim, a very unrighteous as we read in Hosea 12:7.

“A merchant, in whose hands are false balances, He loves to oppress.” (Hosea 12:7 NASB)

For all the prophets and parables that were given to the people of Ephraim to warn them of the destruction to come, only a small remnant returned to God’s fold. The vast majority of Ephraim’s children were lost to history and absorbed into the other nations.

God uses the weak and the base things to confound the wise. It is better to be righteous even if you are beaten down for it than to be unrighteous and exalted for a short time.

There is going to be a day when the Kingdom of God will be the only kingdom. When His kingdom becomes reality, that will be the only reality. The Kingdom of God is the only reality that matters. The unrighteous suppress the truth and the knowledge of God. The more the unrighteous oppress the righteous, the more obvious the righteous appear.

I always wondered why there is even a final battle after the Kingdom of God arrives on the earth. Don’t they see the futility of fighting against God? But irrational anger can motivate people to do the most unreasonable and futile acts.

The great lesson for us is that although we are surrounded by those who will call us fools because we believe in God, if we are patient, we will witness our vindication, just as Ya’akov did.

The current order of things is held together by a very thin thread. If we were to lose our electrical grid, 80% of the people in America will be dead of starvation in a few months. Everything we think is so advanced and strong, can be toppled so easily. Life and death are only in God’s hands.

Summary: Tammy.

Banner image: William Blake, “Jacob’s Dream,” Wikimedia Commons, c. 1805


  1. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Annotated New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 
  2. R. Laird Harris, ed. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT). The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1980. 

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