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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jesse Tree: Day 7 - Jacob's Ladder

Ladder Ornament by Faithful Provisions

Genesis 27:41-28:22

Jacob Escapes Esau’s Fury
41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah; so she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran, 44 and stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury turns away; 45 until your brother’s anger turns away, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and fetch you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?”

46 Then Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am weary of my life because of the Hittite women. If Jacob marries one of the Hittite women such as these, one of the women of the land, what good will my life be to me?”
28Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, “You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram to the house of Bethu′el your mother’s father; and take as wife from there one of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 God Almighty[a] bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your descendants with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings which God gave to Abraham!” 5 Thus Isaac sent Jacob away; and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, the son of Bethu′el the Arame′an, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob’s and Esau’s mother.

Esau Marries Ishmael’s Daughter
6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he charged him, “You shall not marry one of the Canaanite women,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and gone to Paddan-aram. 8 So when Esau saw that the Canaanite women did not please Isaac his father, 9 Esau went to Ish′mael and took to wife, besides the wives he had, Ma′halath the daughter of Ish′mael Abraham’s son, the sister of Neba′ioth.
Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

10 Jacob left Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place, and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it[b] and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants; 14 and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves.[c] 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done that of which I have spoken to you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone which he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel;[d] but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou givest me I will give the tenth to thee.”[e]

Commentary

Esau’s reaction
27:45. Rebekah’s intervention saves not only Jacob but also Esau, for if Esau had killed Jacob he would have had to become a fugitive or else die under the law of retaliation. Rebekah shows she is a sensible person: she sees that time and patience will sort things out. However, as the narrative will go on to tell us, she will never again see Jacob.

“Let us learn, then, from Rebekah, how to ensure that envy does not give rise to anger, or anger to paricide. Imitate Rebekah, that is, her patience, the good guardian of innocence; let her persuade us by her example not to give anger an outlet. Let us keep our distance from whomever it may be, until time tones down our indignation and we gradually manage to forget the offence” (St Ambrose, De Jacob et vita beata, 2, 4, 14).

Jacob leaves for Haran
27:46–28:9. After telling us how Jacob managed to obtain the birthright and also his father’s blessing, and the consequences which he had to face from Esau, the book of Genesis now provides a kind of summary in which it leaves aside the tensions within the family and concentrates on the marriages of Jacob and Esau—the former keeping to the traditions of his ancestors (cf. chap. 24), the latter going against them.

The sacred text makes two things clear—one, the fact that Jacob obeys his parents in a matter of such importance as the choice of a wife; the other, the passing on to Jacob of the blessing and promises God made to Abraham. The reason why Jacob has to leave the promised land this time is Rebekah’s aversion towards the women of the area (she was displeased by the way they had treated her: cf. 26:34–35). Isaac, following his wife’s wishes, sends Jacob to the country of his ancestors, which was where Rebekah was from too; but first he passes on to him the blessing God gave Abraham. The reason which is implicitly given here for why the blessing should fall on Jacob and not to Esau is that Esau had contracted marriage with women of Canaan, against what Abraham told Isaac to do (cf. chap. 24). Marriage with Canaanite women will always be very much frowned on in Israel because it brought with it idolatry and the worship of Baal.

This concludes Rebekah’s intervention. She has obtained the birthright and Isaac’s blessing for her son Jacob—and now he has been given the divine blessing and promises made to Abraham and his descendants.

Esau’s gesture of taking a wife from Abraham’s family (cf. v. 9) in addition to the wives he already has, seems to come too late and does not fully meet Isaac’s wishes. This detail indicates the relationship between the Edomites (descendants of Esau) and the Arabs (descendants of Ishmael), distinguishing them both more clearly from the future chosen people. On Heth and the Hittites, cf. the note on 23:1–20.

Jacob’s dream
28:10–22 The narrative continues with this scene which deals with the first appearance of God to Jacob, when he confirms to him the promise he made to Abraham; it also recalls the foundation of the shrine at Bethel.

It is significant that these events occur in Canaan, the land of the promise and the land to which Jacob and his sons will later have reason to return. After the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the land, the Israelites consulted Yahweh at Bethel (cf. Judg 20:18, 26–28); and after the division of the country into two kingdoms, on the death of Solomon, Bethel became one of the main religious shrines of the Northern kingdom (cf. 1 Kings 12:26–33).

In the context in which it appears here, the account of Jacob’s dream shows how the patriarch, strengthened by God who has revealed to him his plan, is now able to face the long years which he will have to spend away from the promised land. The Lord will not appear to him again until he returns (cf. 32:22–32). The Lord does the same thing with us, sometimes allowing quite a time to go by when we do not feel his presence. “You told me that God sometimes fills you with light for a while and sometimes does not. I reminded you, firmly, that the Lord is always infinitely good. That is why those moments of light are enough to help you carry on; but the times when you see no light are good for you too, and make you more faithful” (St Josemaría Escrivá, Furrow, 341).

28:12. As described in the biblical text, the ladder which Jacob sees in his dream (which might have been like the staircases in Mesopotamian or Egyptian temples, copied in turn in the shrines of Canaan) is filled with deep symbolism: it is the link between heaven and earth. Some Fathers of the Church interpret this ladder as being divine providence, which reaches earth through the ministry of angels; others see it as a sign of the Incarnation of Christ (who is of the line of Jacob), for the Incarnation is truly the time when divine and human join, since Christ is true God and true man.

In St John’s Gospel we see Jacob’s dream fulfilled in the glorification of Jesus through his death on the cross: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (Jn 1:51). And so other prominent interpreters see Jacob’s ladder as representing the cross, whereby Christ and Christians attain the glory of heaven. St Bernard applied the symbolism of the ladder to the Blessed Virgin: “She is the ladder of Jacob, which has twelve rungs, counting the two sides. The right-hand side is disdain for oneself out of love for God; the left-hand side is disdain for the world, for love for the Kingdom. The ascent up its twelve rungs represents the degrees of humility. […] By these rungs angels ascend and men are raised up …” (Sermo ad Beatam Virginem, 4).

28:14. Once more, divine revelation makes it clear that the reason for choosing the people of Israel (a choice now confirmed to Jacob) is to have the blessing of God reach all nations (cf. 12:3), and to let all men, created as they are in God’s image and likeness (cf. 1:26), benefit from that choice. The fact that God chose one people does not mean that he has put a limit on his goodness; it is simply the way that he, the Creator of all, chose to make his fatherly call reach the ears of all. “Connected with the mystery of creation is the mystery of the election, which in a special way shaped the history of the people whose spiritual father is Abraham by virtue of his faith. Nevertheless, through this people which journeys forward through the history both of the Old Covenant and of the New, that mystery of election refers to every man and woman, to the whole great human family. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you’ (Jer 31:3)” (John Paul II, Dives in misericordiae, 4).

28:20. St John Chrysostom comments that the words “will give me bread to eat” were endorsed by Jesus in the Our Father: “Give us this day our daily bread”: “Let us request of him no material things beyond this. I mean, it would be quite inappropriate to ask of such a generous giver, who enjoys such an abundance of power, things that will dissolve with this present life and undergo great transformation and decay. All such things are, in fact, human, whether you refer to wealth, or power, or human glory. Let us instead ask for what lasts forever, for what is permanent’ (Homiliae in Genesim, 54, 5).