Bibliotheca Sacra 142 (1985) 224-37.

Copyright © 1985 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.




   Studies in the Life of Jacob

                            Part 1:



                      Jacob's Vision:

                The Founding of Bethel



                                      Allen P. Ross






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 story unfolds quickly and dramatically. Being persona

non grata in Canaan after deceiving Isaac and receiving the bless-

ing, 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 con-

firmed 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.




Jacob's Vision: The Foundling of Bethel                225




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 (bc.Amu) on the earth, and the Lord standing

(bc.Ani) 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 hbAc.ema ("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

reader's attention on Jacob's vision of the Lord -- the standing

stairway pointing to it and the standing stone being a reminder

of it.

The repetition of the word wxro also confirms this connection

between the two parts. Jacob had seen the stairway with its top

(Owxr) in the heavens, and so he anointed the top (h.wAxro-lfa) of the

stone that he set up in commemoration, a stone he had used for the

place of his head (vytAwoxEram;).

Moreover, the key words in verses 11-12, the last part of the

vision, are reversed in their order in the first part of the response.

Jacob saw the stairway reaching to heaven, on it the angels of God,

and above it the Lord. That the central focus is on the Lord is clear

from the inversion; what came last in the vision is the first thing

Jacob was concerned with. He exclaimed, "The Lord is in this

place.... This is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!" (vv


The story deliberately emphasized the place's insignificance,

which leads up to its naming in verse 19. The word "place" (MOqmA) is

used six times in the story. Verse 11 reports that Jacob came upon a

place to spend the night, took one of the stones from the place, and

lay down in that place. But in the second half of the narrative, after

the theophany, Jacob said, "Surely the Lord is in this place," and

"How terrifying is this place!" Then "he named that place Bethel,"

though it was formerly called Luz (v. 19). It was not an anonymous

place after all; there was a city nearby called Luz. But for the sake of

this story it was just a "place" until it became Bethel.

The literary features, then, strengthen the development of the

motifs of the narrative to show how a place became a shrine, a

226                 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1985


stone became an altar, and a fugitive became a pilgrim--God in

His grace revealed Himself to Jacob in that place.



The two most significant events in the life of Jacob were

nocturnal theophanies. The first was this dream at Bethel when

he was fleeing from the land of Canaan, which ironically was his

by virtue of the blessing. The other was his fight at Peniel when

he was attempting to return to the land. Each divine encounter

was a life-changing event.

But the location of these episodes in the Jacob stories is

strategic. The Bethel story forms the transition from the Jacob-

Esau cycle to the Jacob-Laban cycle, and the Peniel story forms

the connection back to the Esau story. In each of the encounters

with God there is instilled in the patriarch great expectation for

the uncertain future. In this incident at Bethel Jacob's vow

expresses his anticipation for the future. God would now be with

him and help him, even though he might be slow to realize it.

The promise of God's presence and protection would bring con-

tinued encouragement during the 20 years with Laban.

The parallels between this story and the beginning of Gene-

sis 32 are striking, showing that the story of Jacob's sojourn in

Aram is deliberately bracketed with supernatural visions.3 In

this story Jacob saw the angels of God (Myhilox< ykexEl;ma) on the

stairway, but in 32:1 the angels of God (Myhilox< ykexEl;ma) met him.4

These are the only two places in the Book of Genesis where

reference is made to the "angels of God." In addition, in both

passages (28:11; 32:1) the construction of the verb "encoun-

tered, met" is the same, a preterite form of fgaPA with the preposi-

tion B and the object. In 28:16-17 it is used four times, the last

two being in the statement, "This is the House of God, this is the

gate of heaven"; and in 32:2 it reappears in the clause "this is the

camp of God." Also in both accounts Jacob names the spot,

using the same formula for each: "and he named that place ...

(xUhha MOqm.Aha-Mwe-tx, xrAq;y.iva). "And finally, "going" and "the way" (j`leOh

and j`r,D,) in 28:20 are reflected in 32:2.

The stories about Jacob's encounters with God or His angels

also form an interesting contrast with the other Jacob stories.

Jacob is usually working against another individual in the nar-

ratives, first Esau in the Jacob-Esau cycle of chapters 25-27,

and then Laban in the Jacob-Laban cycle of chapters 29-31, and

then Esau again in 33. The account in chapter 34 of the defile-

Jacob's Vision: The Founding of Bethel                 227


ment of Dinah also shows a crisis, though Simeon and Levi

figure more prominently in that narrative. But in the encounter

passages (28:10-22 at Bethel, 32:2-3 at Mahanaim, 32:23-33 at

Peniel, and 35:1-7, 14-15 at Bethel again, the latter forming a

conscious liturgical conclusion to the whole complex5) Jacob

alone is mentioned. Neither Esau nor Laban were with him. In

fact Esau never experienced any divine appearance, and Laban

received only a warning dream. But when Jacob had these

appearances he participated in liturgical acts. The narratives,

then, heighten what the Bethel story declares, namely, that

Jacob's life functioned on two levels, his conflicts with individ-

uals and his encounters with God. The encounters assured

Jacob that he would prevail in the conflicts.

This liturgical motif forms the climax in the Bethel story. In

fact Westermann calls the whole story a sanctuary foundation

narrative.6 It explains how Bethel came to be such an important

center for the worship of the Lord. Because God actually met the

patriarch on this spot, it was holy ground. Here then was a place

where worship was appropriate.




The story begins with Jacob's departure from Beersheha for

Haran. The preceding narrative in Genesis explains the reason

for this trip--Esau was threatening to kill him for stealing the

blessing. So it was, as Kidner says, that Jacob was thrust from

the nest he was feathering.7

To be sure, Jacob had obtained the blessing by deception at

first, but then had it confirmed by the shaken Isaac (28:1-4)

who, realizing what had happened, was powerless to change it

(27:37). But were the promises actually his? If he truly was the

heir, why must he flee from the land? Would God's blessing be

his as it had been Abraham's and Isaac's before him? Nothing

less than a sure word from God would ease his doubts and give

him confidence for the future.8

The narrative unfolds in a disarmingly casual manner.

Jacob came upon9 a place where he would stay for the night, for

the sun had set. The only detail that is mentioned is that he took

"one of the stones" at random to lay by his head while he slept.10

But this casual finding of an anonymous place and taking one of

the stones in the darkness of night begins to build suspense.

228                 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1985



With an abrupt change of style that brings the vision into

the present experience, the narrative introduces the dream. Up

to this point the narrative sequence has employed preterites

(, j`l,y.eva, fGap;, Nl,y.Ava, MW,y.Ava, bKaw;y.iva, and MloHEy.ava); but this is now

broken off abruptly by means of the repetition of hn.ehi followed by

participles. Jacob was surprised by what he dreamed, and the

reader is vividly made aware of this. Fokkelman points out that

the particle functions with a deictic force; it is pre- or para-

lingual. It goes with a lifted arm, an open mouth: "--there, a

ladder! oh, angels! and look, the Lord Himself!"11

The arrangement of the clauses also narrows the focus to

the central point of the vision, the Lord. Each clause in Hebrew

is shorter than the preceding; the first has seven words, the

second six, and the third four:

There was a stairway standing on the earth with its top

reaching the heavens, and there were angels of God ascend-

ing and descending on it, and there was the Lord standing

over it.


Attention is focused first on the setting, then narrowed to the

participants, and then to the Lord.12

The first thing noticed is the stairway. Ml.Asu, translated "lad-

der" or "stairway," is a hapax legomenon, a word or form occur-

ring only once in the biblical corpus. It has been traditionally

connected to the root llasA, "to heap up, cast up." Related nouns

are hl.Asim;, "paved way" (but not of a street in a city), and 17b, "a

bank, siege-ramp" (2 Sam. 20:15). These suggested etymological

connections, however, do not clarify the meaning.

The Greek text translated Ml.Asu with kli<mac, which can be

translated “ladder” or "staircase." So too is the case with the

Latin scala. The same uncertainty of meaning prevails with the


Several specific interpretations have been offered for Ml.Asu,13

but the one that has the most to commend it is the view that

connects the with Mesopotamian temple towers. The Akka-

than word simmiltu, cognate to Ml.Asu, provides the link.14 It is

used to describe the "stairway of heaven" extending between

heaven and the netherworld with messengers ascending and

descending on it.15 The comparison is certainly an attractive

one. Another possible connection is with the celestial ladder

Jacob's Vision: The Founding of Bethel                 229


found in the Pyramid Texts of Egypt.16 But this may be too

different. Pyramid text 267 shows that the function of the stair-

way was to lead the deceased (king) to heaven.

The connection to Akkadian simmiltu with the Mesopota-

mian background is the most probable view. In the myth of

"Nergel and Ereshkigal" communication between the nether-

world and heaven takes place via the long stairway of heaven

that leads to the gate of Anu, Enlil, and Ea.17 The idea of a

ziggurat with its long staircase to the temple top would be

behind the idea. Nothing in Genesis 28, however, describes a

ziggurat. The most that can be said is that a word used in

ziggurat settings is cognate to the word used here, a word that

fits the way of communication between heaven and earth.18 So

Hebrew Ml.Asu is appropriate to the point of the story--here was a

place that heaven and earth touch, where there is access to


The second feature of the vision is the angelic hosts

"ascending and descending" on the stairway, suggesting their

presence on earth along with their access to heaven. Driver

writes, "The vision is a symbolic expression of the intercourse

which, though invisible to the natural eye, is nevertheless ever

taking place between heaven and earth."20

Nothing is said here about the function of the angels; like-

wise no hint can be found in the corresponding episode at

Mahanaim which simply reports that the angels "met him."

Other references to angels in Genesis are more helpful. Of course

the cherubim in 3:24 guard the way to the tree of life. Then in

chapter 18 three visitors came to Abraham, and in chapter 19

two went on to meet with Lot in Sodom. In 18:2 they are simply

called "three men." That this may be a manifestation of the Lord

is suggested by the context and reinforced by the use of vylAfA Mybic,Ani

in 18:2 which corresponds to 28:13. But in 19:1 the two who

went to Sodom are called MykixAl;m.aha hnew;. Their task was to rescue

Lot before the judgment on the city.

The expression hvAhy; j`xal;ma, "the angel of the Lord," is used

interchangeably with "the Lord" in 22:11, 15. In 48:16 Jacob

apparently was referring to the Lord when he said, "The angel

(j`xAl;m.aha) who protects me from all evil bless the lads...."

The activities in these passages are guarding, communicat-

ing, rescuing, and protecting. In this vision, then, the angels of

God communicated God's protection for Jacob, the recipient of

the promises.

230                 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1985


The third and central feature of the vision, however, was the

Lord who was standing over the stairway.21  Later, in Genesis 48,

Jacob would identify the Lord as God Almighty (yDawa lxe), explain-

ing that God had given him the blessing at Bethel.



The word of the Lord in this vision took the form of a

covenantal communication and extended the patriarchal prom-

ises to Jacob. The message begins with the identification of the

Lord as the covenant God: "I am the Lord, the God of Abraham

your father, and the God of Isaac." This pattern of self-revelation

was used in Genesis 15:7 for Abraham; it also appears in Exodus

at the beginning of the covenant (Exod. 20:1) and throughout

the Law when God stressed His covenant relationship to His

people. The identification of Abraham as the "father" of Jacob

shows the latter's continuity with the covenant.

The first part of the revelation guaranteed that Jacob

would receive the blessings at first promised to Abraham. The

wording of the promises is close to that in Genesis 13:14-16 and

22:17-18. Prominence is attached to the promise of the land, for

it is mentioned before the seed promise and stressed by the word

order: "The land, upon which you are lying, to you I will give it

and to your seed."22 The mention of the seed here would have

been encouraging to Jacob who was going to find a wife, and is

further elaborated on by the statement that the seed would

"break out" and settle in every direction in this Promised Land

(cf. 13:12-18).23 Finally, the promise that all the families of the

earth would be blessed in Jacob shows that the Abrahamic

blessing had indeed been carried forward to Jacob (cf. 12:3).

These promises given to Jacob so dramatically would have

provided him with confidence. Though he had been deceitful in

gaining the blessing, God in His grace gave it to him; and even

though he was fleeing from his land, God promised to give him

the land.

The second part of the revelation guaranteed protection for

Jacob in the sojourn. It begins with the promise of God's pres-

ence: "Indeed, I will be with you" (j`m.Afi ykinox;).  The promise of

the divine presence carried God's chosen people through many

times of danger and difficulty. It assured them that they did not

have to accomplish His plan by themselves. Moses, for example,

drew great comfort from this in his early career. When he was

afraid to go to deliver the people God said, "Surely I will be with

Jacob's Vision: The Founding of Bethel                 231


you (j` hy,h;x, yKi)." The writer of Psalm 46 also realized the

benefits of God's presence: "The Lord of hosts is with us (Unm.Afi),

the God of Jacob is our refuge" [Ps. 46:7, 11). This passage also

brings to mind Isaiah's oracle that promises "God is with us (lxe

Unm.Afi)" (7:14).

That God's presence would guarantee safety is verified by

the next verb, "and I will keep you." His presence, then, meant

that God would be Jacob's "Keeper, " so that no harm would come

to him wherever he should go.24  Joshua also reminded the

people how God had protected them on their sojourn (Josh.

24:17). This is a theme that Psalm 121 develops for the pilgrim

on his way to Jerusalem, where he would hear the high priestly

blessing announce the same divine intent: "The Lord bless you

and keep you" (Num. 6:24). The promise of divine protection

does not exclude conflict and tension, but it does guarantee the

outcome for the good of the covenant and its recipient.

The promise concludes with the statement that God will

restore Jacob to the land to receive the promises. The statement

"I will not forsake you until I shall have done" need not imply that

once God fulfills the blessing He will abandon Jacob; rather, it

provides assurance that the promises just made will be fulfilled.

God's protective presence will work toward the fulfillment of the




            When Jacob awakened he was overwhelmed with the fact

that the Lord was "in this place" (v 16). He had never imagined

that this rather ordinary place could be a holy place. Jacob here

realized what God had promised--His presence was with him.

Jacob's attitude of fear was appropriate for such a meeting

with the Lord. The term "fear" is used in the Bible to describe a

mixture of terror and adoration, a worshipful fear (cf. Exod.

19:16). People may revere the Lord (the positive, worshipful,

aspect of the word), but when they comprehend more fully His

sovereign majesty, they shrink back in fear. All worshipful acts

must begin with and be characterized by reverential fear at the

presence of the Lord (Exod. 3:6; 19; Ps. 2:11). Of Jacob, Bush

says, "His feelings upon awakening were those of grateful won-

der mingled with emotions of reverential awe, bordering close

upon dread."25

Jacob realized that this place was holy: "How frightening is

this place! This is none other than the House of God, and this is

232                 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1985


the gate of heaven." Here the motif of "house" is first introduced

( Myhilox< tyBe, house of God). By using this term Jacob designated

the place as a shrine. No literal house was there, nor an actual

gate. But it would now be known as a place where people could

find access to God, where God could be worshiped. He had

"seen" God in the heavens, and so God's "house" on earth was

man's gate to the heavens.



Devotion. Early in the morning Jacob arose and stood the

stone up as a pillar at which he could express his submission

through worship. The preparation for worship by setting up a

pillar raises questions about the custom. Graesser shows how

standing stones in the ancient world would serve as markers,

arresting the attention of the onlooker because they were not in

their natural position.26  Such a standing stone had to have

been put that way; it would mark a grave (Rachel's pillar in Gen.

35:20), form a boundary (the treaty with Laban in Gen. 31:45),

note some important event (Samuel's Ebenezer in 1 Sam. 7:12),

or, as here, mark out a sacred area where God could be "found,"

where prayer could reach Him. This pillar would be a commem-

oration of the vision, recalling the stairway to heaven.

Jacob's offering took the form of oil poured on top of the

stone, perhaps pointing to the Lord at the top of the stairway.

Pouring the oil before the Lord was a gift to God, for it conveyed

much the same attitude as making a sacrifice. It was a symbolic

ritual act by which Jacob demonstrated his devotion to the Lord

and consecrated the spot as holy to Him. Later, oil was used in

worship to sanctify the holy places and holy things (Lev.

8:10-11). So this duly consecrated altar served to commemorate

the appearance, express the patriarch's devotion, and guarantee

the seriousness of the oath of the worshiper (cf. Gen. 12:8;

13:18; 26:25).

Commemoration. According to the story Jacob named the

place "Bethel" because God had come near to him there. This

naming actually transformed the place from being merely a

Canaanite town called Luz into God's "house" for Jacob and his

descendants to use for worship.27

Modern scholarship suggests that this spot was an original

Canaanite shrine or sanctuary city, founded before the time of

Abram and dedicated to the god El. Von Rad says that Bethel

must have been known as a cult center before the time of Israel

Jacob's Vision: The Founding of Bethel                 233


because a god named Bethel was worshiped there.28 It is true

that the name "Bethel" does not always seem to be a place name

but at times is a divine name, perhaps developing metonymical-

ly through association with a shrine.29 The evidence for this

deity does not, however, include Phoenician or Ugaritic liter-

ature, and so the presentation of such a deity for the second

millennium B.C. in Canaan cannot be convincingly defended. As

far as the Hebrew account is concerned, the name of Bethel

derives its significance from the fact that the Lord appeared to

Jacob there. The motivation for the name came in the speech of

verse 17 which is a stylized reaction to the theophany (cf. Judg.

6:22; 13:22; Gen. 16:13b; Exod. 20:18; Deut. 5:24).30

This part of the passage develops the theme of "house." The

key is the patriarch's exclamation, "This is the House of God." He

then preserved the vision by naming the place "House of God." But

the word tyBe is repeated in verses 21a, b, and 22a. It is as if this

fugitive was saying that when he returned to settle in the land God

would settle with him. God would go with him and bring him back

to his father's "house" in peace. When he returned, there would be a

"house" for God in the Promised Land.

Dedication. Jacob's promise to worship God at Bethel was

solemnized by oath. Vows were not made to induce God to do

something He was not willing to do. They were made to bind the

worshiper to the performance of some acknowledged duty.

Jacob made his vow on the basis of what God had guaranteed to

do. So he was taking God at His word and binding himself to

reciprocate with his own dedication.

The oath then must be divided between a protasis and an

apodosis--"if... then. " It is not easy to determine just where to

make this division. The protasis should form the foundation for

his promise and should include what God had promised to do.

The apodosis should record what Jacob wanted to do for God. So

the most appropriate place to start the apodosis may be in verse

22. The vow would then read:


If the Lord God is with me.

and keeps me in this way in which I am going,

and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear,

so that I return in peace to the house of my father,

and the Lord becomes my God.

then this stone which I set up as a pillar

will be the house of God,

and all which you give me a tenth I will give to you (author's


234                 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1985


God had promised to be with him, keep him, bless him, return

him in peace, in short, be his God; consequently, Jacob prom-

ised that the spot would be a place of worship and that he would


The vow to tithe is the only part of Jacob's promise that is a

real action. Moreover, the structure of the speech changes to the

second person in a personal address to God directly. His grati-

tude and submission to God would be expressed through the

paying of a tithe.

So Jacob did more than consecrate Bethel as a place of

worship for the nation of Israel. He himself was moved to wor-

ship there, and his acts formed a pattern for later worshipers to

follow in the offering of their devotion and their substance to





This brief account tells how God deals graciously with His

covenant people. It tells how God suddenly and unexpectedly

broke into the life of the deceiver who was fleeing for his life, and

assured him of the covenantal promises and His protective pres-

ence. But the point of the narrative is the effect on Jacob's life--

he worshiped and prepared for the worship of his descendants

at this "House of God."

The didactic level of the story for Israel would be clear. Jacob,

who represents Israel in the story, who was anything but obe-

dient at the outset, would spend a number of years outside the

land (cf. Gen. 15:13-16). During that time God would protect and

bless him (cf. Exod. 1:7, 12, 20) and ultimately return him to his

inheritance. Such covenantal blessings should inspire worship-

ful devotion from God's people (cf. Exod. 5:1; 14:29-15:21; Josh.

4:19-24; 8:30-31).

The Christian experience is similar. The effectual revelation

of God's protective presence and promised blessings for Chris-

tians will inspire devout and faithful worship. Those who fully

realize God's gracious provision, those whom the Word of God

has powerfully impressed, will respond with consecration and

commitment. Where there is no reverential fear, no commitment

or no devotion, there is probably very little apprehension of what

the spiritual life is all about. Like the revelation to Jacob, the

written revelation of God makes the believer aware of the Lord's

presence and prompts him to a higher level of living.

Jacob's Vision: The Founding of Bethel                 235



1 The critical analysis of this passage is rather complex. Long says that J is

partially preserved in verses 10, 13, 15, 16, and 19, but that it is now overlaid and

dominated by E in verses 11, 12, 17, 18, and 20-22 (Burke O. Long, The Problem

of Etiological Narrative in the Old Testament [Berlin: Alfred Topelmann, 19681,

p. 60). Von Rad's combination is different. He argues that verses 16 and 17 are

parallel, as are 19a and 22a, and he then takes verses 13-16 and 19 as J, and

verses 10-12, and 17-22 (except 19) as E (Gerhard von Rad, Genesis

[Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 19611, p. 278). According to von Rad only J

contains the etymological formula on the name. Even if a case could be made

convincingly for these sources, and if there was agreement on the divisions, one

would still be left with the difficulties and tensions in the final, fixed form of the

text. All the ideas in the story were apparently understood as a unified tradition

of the founding of Bethel. Moreover, the literary design of the account bolsters its

unity. The problem of the parallel passage in Genesis 35 could then also be

understood as a stylistic device of confirmation and recapitulation.

2 The author is indebted to Fokkelman's discussion of the basic ideas about

the literary features of this passage (J. P Fokkelman, Narrative Art in Genesis

[Assen, Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 19751, pp. 65-81).

3 Michael Fishbane, Text and Texture (New York: Schocken Books, 1979),

pp. 53-54.

4 C. Houtman, "Jacob at Mahanaim: Some Remarks on Genesis 32:2- 3," Vetus

Testamentum 28 (1978):39. See also Fokkelman, Narrative Art, p. 198. Fishbane

adds that j`xAl;ma is a theme word in chapter 32, referring to both the angels of God

and the messengers sent to Esau (Text and Texture, p. 54).

5 Westermann develops the idea of these liturgical acts that belong to Jacob

exclusively (Claus Westermann, The Promises to the Fathers, trans. David E.

Green [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 19801, p. 90).

6 Ibid., p. 85.

7 Derek Kidner, Genesis (Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967), p. 155.

8 The effect of this gracious revelation in Genesis 28 appears to have had just

such an effect. In 29:1 the text says "And Jacob picked up his feet and went." In

other words, with this assurance from God Jacob had a new gait in his steps.

9 The verb jqaPA adds to the note of casualness. It means "to encounter, meet."

Fokkelman translates it "he struck upon" a place (Narrative Art, p. 48).

10 It is unlikely that a stone large enough to be a pillar should be a pillow. The

word signifies what is at the head. It is used in 1 Samuel 26:7 in the same way:

Saul lay sleeping within the trench, with his spear stuck in the ground "at his


11 Ibid., pp. 51-52. The KJV of course uses "behold" in all three places, as does

the NASB. The Niv has not reflected the impact of hne.hi by translating the verses, "He

had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top

reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

There above it stood the Lord...."

12 It is interesting to note that the next chapter uses hne.hi in a similar way. It first

introduces the setting, "there is a well in the field" (29:2); then the participants,

"and oh, there are three flocks of sheep lying by it" (29:2); and then the focus of

the story, "and look, Rachel his daughter is coming with the sheep" (29:6). By the

repetition of this pattern the narrative shows a direct correspondence between

the sections, the second being the beginning of the outworking of the first.

13 Some of these area temple tower with. a pathway winding around it, a tower with

a stairlike entrance, and a staircase leading into a palace (see C. Houtman, "What Did

Jacob See in His Dream at Bethel?" Vetus Testamentum 27 [19771:337-52;

236                 Bibliotheca Sacra - July-September 1985


A. Henderson, "On Jacob's Vision at Bethel,"Expository Times 4[1982]:151; and

C. A. Keller, "Uber einige alttestamentlichen Heiligtumslegenden I," Zeitschrift

fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 67 [19551:141-68).

14 The connection between Ml.Asu and simmiltu involves a metathesis (see

Sabatino Moscati, An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic

Languages [Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1964], p. 63).

15 The view was first presented by Landsberger ("Lexikalisches Archiv,"

ZeitschriftfdrAssyriologie and vorderasiatischeArchdologie 41 [19331:230); it

is discussed briefly in Harold R. Cohen, Biblical Hapax Legomena in the Light

of Akkadian and Ugaritic (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978), p. 34. For the

relevant texts see O. R. Gurney, "The Myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal,"Anatolian

Studies 10 (1960):105-31; and "Nergal and Ereshkigal-Additions, " in Ancient

Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard, 3d ed.

(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969):507-12.

16 J. G. Griffiths, "The Celestial Ladder and the Gate of Heaven f Gen. 28:12 and

17]," Expository Times 76 (1964/65):229-30; and "The Celestial Ladder and the

Gate of Heaven in Egyptian Ritual," Expository Times 78 (1966/67):54-55.

17 A. R. Millard, "The Celestial Ladder and the Gate of Heaven (Gen. 28:12,

17)," Expository Times 78 (1966/67):86-87.

18 If there is an implied connection to the ziggurat here, then this passage

forms an antithesis to the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis which also has a

Mesopotamian background. Comparing the two passages one could say that if

there is communication between heaven and earth it is initiated in heaven (Gen.

28) and not on earth (Gen. 11).

19 Christ compared Himself to the stairway in John 1:51: "and the angels of

God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." He is the Mediator between

heaven and earth; He is the Way to God.

20 S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis (London: Methuen & Co., 1904), p. 265.

21 The prepositional phrase can be translated "over it" or "beside it" or "beside

him." The use in Genesis 18:1 suggests "beside him," but the context here

suggests "over it" because God's realm is in the heavens, and because Jacob

anointed the top of the stone.

22 The purpose of the casus pendens is to throw the independent nominative

to the beginning for emphasis.

23 Fokkelman observes what he calls a sound fusion, a melting of consonants

in the transition: Cr,xAhA rpafEKa is followed by TAc;rapAU; the letters c-r-p out of the

prepositional phrase become the verb. He says, "The levels of sound and mean-

ing have become integrated: they point to each other, they explain each other,

they pervade each other" (Narrative Art, p. 59).

24 One clear example of this is Genesis 31:24 which records how God warned

Laban in a dream not to harm Jacob (see also v. 29).

25 George Bush, Notes on Genesis, 2 vols. (New York: Ivison and Phinney &

Co., 1860), 2:109.

26 C. F Graesser, "Standing Stones in Ancient Palestine," Biblical Archae-

ologist 35 (1972):34-63.

27 The shrine later became the place of corrupt, idolatrous worship (2 Kings

12. 28-29). Hosea alluded to this passage but altered the name by a wordplay

from to lxe-tyBe to  Nv,xA tyBe, "house of vanity" (i.e., idols, Hos. 4:15). Amos 5:5 said that

"Bethel shall come to nothing" (i.e., be destroyed), but expresses this with

28 Von Rad, Genesis, p. 286.

29 Some biblical passages may suggest "Bethel" could be used as a divine

epithet. JeremIah 48:13 says that "Moab shall be ashamed of Chemosh, as the

house of Israel was ashamed of Bethel, their confidence. " Zechariah 7:2 could be

interpreted to read "Bethel-shar-ezer," a personal name, instead of "the house of

Jacob's Vision: The Founding of Bethel                 237


the god Sharezer" (see J. Philip Hyatt, ‘A Neo-Babylonian Parallel to Bethel-sar-

eser, Zech. 7:2," Journal of Biblical Literature 56 [1937]:387-94; and "The Deity

Bethel and the Old Testament," Journal of the American Oriental Society 59

[ 19391:81-98). Support for the theophorittc element "Bethel" in names comes from

Babylonian names like bit-ili-sezib and bit-ili-sar-usur, as well as some attested

in Elephantine: Bethel-natan, Bethel-nuri, and Anat-bethel. (See Otto

Eissfeldt, "Der Gott Bethel," Andover Review [1930]:20 [reprinted in Kleine

Schrften II; Rudolph Kittel, "Der Gott Bet' el," Journal of Biblical Literature 44

[19251:123-53; Wolf Wilhelm Grafen Baudissin, "El Bet-el [Genesis 31:13; 35:71,"

Beihefte zur Zeitschriftfur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 41 [ 1925]:1-11;

and W. F Albright, Archaeology and the Religion of Israel [Baltimore: Johns

Hopkins University Press, 1942], pp. 169-75. In addition, see the list of 32 names

with this element from Elephantine in Bezalel Porten, Archivesfrom Elephan-

tine [Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1968], p. 328).

30 Long, Etiological Narrative, p. 60.

31 Many translations begin the apodasis with "then the Lord will become my

God," which is equally possible. If God actually promised to be his God in the

words of the Abrahamic promises (as in Gen. 17:7), then it would not be some-

thing Jacob would be promising to do.



This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204


Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: