Traveling to a new land—Genesis 28—29

Before Isaac sends Jacob to Mesopotamia, he blesses Jacob to possess the land of his sojournings (Gen 28:4). More significantly, before Jacob can leave for Mesopotamia, God appears to Jacob and promises him the land on which he lies, and that God will bring him back to this land (28:13-15).

After God speaks to Jacob in his sleep, Jacob sets up a stone pillar and pours a libation on it (28:18-22). Setting up a stone could signify a covenant (31:45) or a memorial (35:20). God’s revelation and Jacob’s devotion frame his departure and return to the promised land. When Jacob returns, God again speaks to Jacob, and he sets up a pillar and again pours a libation over it (35:14). Although the Torah later forbade this familiar practice of setting up sacred pillars (Deut 16:22), Scripture preserves memories of earlier times and reports Jacob setting up this stone pillar as an act of devotion.

Soon after Jacob met God at a stone, he meets Rachel at a stone, and Jacob moves this one also (29:10). Different age groups have different sorts of advantages, but one that characterizes young men is their strength (cf. 1 John 2:14), which they can sometimes display as an act of devotion to someone (e.g., John 20:4; 21:7, 11; contrast 21:18). The shepherd Jacob devotes his strength to God; he also shows it off for Rachel.

Jacob first waters (yashq) Laban’s sheep (29:10) but afterwards kisses (yishaq, a different but similar-sounding word) Rachel (29:11). This would not of course be a long romantic kiss but the sort of kiss appropriate to a greeting from a distant relative, though Jacob seems already smitten. In times of transition, our hearts are most vulnerable to new things.

Rachel runs and tells her father Laban (29:12)—as earlier Jacob’s mother Rebekah (Rachel’s aunt) had run to tell her brother Laban. But this story plays out differently than Rebekah’s story, because Jacob has neither the resources nor the orders (or necessarily even the direct invitation) to return to Canaan immediately. Isaac and Rebekah undoubtedly did wish to keep the brothers apart for awhile (27:45). Jacob will soon find himself trapped in Mesopotamia in a way that makes a journey home difficult. How will God’s promise be fulfilled? The answer unfolds in the following chapters of Genesis.

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