Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, by John Wesley, [1754-65], at sacred-texts.com
gen 28:1Isaac blessed him, and charged him - Those that have the blessing must keep the charge annexed to it, and not think to separate what God has joined.
gen 28:3Two great promises Abraham was blessed with, and Isaac here entails them both upon Jacob. The promise of heirs, God make thee fruitful and multiply thee. Through his loins that people should descend from Abraham which should be numerous as the stars of heaven. Through his loins should descend from Abraham that person in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. The promise of an inheritance for those heirs, Gen 28:4. That thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings - (So the Hebrew) Canaan was hereby entailed upon the seed of Jacob, exclusive of the seed of Esau. Isaac was now sending Jacob away into a distant country to settle there for some time; and lest this should look like disinheriting him, he here confirms the settlement of it upon him. This promise looks as high as heaven, of which Canaan was a type. That was the better country which Jacob, with the other patriarchs, had in his eye when he confessed himself a stranger and pilgrim on the earth, Heb 11:16.
gen 28:5Rebekah is here called Jacob's and Esau's mother - Jacob is named first, not only because he had always been his mother's darling, but because he was now made his father's heir, and Esau was postponed.
gen 28:6This passage comes in, in the midst of Jacob's story, to shew the influence of a good example. Esau now begins to think Jacob the better man, and disdains not to take him for his pattern in this particular instance of marrying with a daughter of Abraham.
gen 28:11The stones for his pillow, and the heavens for his canopy! Yet his comfort in the divine blessing, and his confidence in the divine protection, made him easy, even when he lay thus exposed: being sure that his God made him to dwell in safety, he could lie down and sleep upon a stone.
gen 28:12Behold a ladder set upon the earth, and the top of it reached heaven, the angels ascending and descending on it, and the Lord stood above it - This might represent The providence of God, by which there is a constant correspondence kept up between heaven and earth. The counsels of heaven are executed on earth, and the affairs of this earth are all known in heaven. Providence doth his work gradually and by steps; angels are employed as ministering spirits to serve all the designs of providence, and the wisdom of God is at the upper end of the ladder, directing all the motions of second causes to his glory. The angels are active spirits, continually ascending and descending; they rest not day nor night. They ascend to give account of what they have done, and to receive orders; and desend to execute the orders they have received. This vision gave seasonable comfort to Jacob, letting him know that he had both a good guide and good guard; that though he was to wander from his father's house, yet he was the care of Providence, and the charge of the holy angels. The mediation of Christ. He is this ladder: the foot on earth in his human nature, the top in heaven in his divine nature; or the former is his humiliation, the latter is his exaltation. All the intercourse between heaven and earth since the fall is by this ladder. Christ is the way: all God's favours come to us, and all our services come to him, by Christ. If God dwell with us, and we with him, it is by Christ: we have no way of getting to heaven but by this ladder; for the kind offices the angels do us, are all owing to Christ, who hath reconciled things on earth and things in heaven, Col 1:20.
gen 28:14In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed - Christ is the great blessing of the world: all that are blessed, whatever family they are of, are blessed in him, and none of any family are excluded from blessedness in him, but those that exclude themselves.
gen 28:15Behold I am with thee - Wherever we are, we are safe, if we have God's favourable presence with us. He knew not, but God foresaw what hardships he would meet with in his uncle's service, and therefore promiseth to preserve him in all places. God knows how to give his people graces and comforts accommodated to the events that shall be, as well as to those that are. He was now going as an exile into a place far distant, but God promiseth him to bring him again to this land. He seemed to be forsaken of all his friends, but God gives him this assurance, I will not leave thee.
gen 28:16Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not - God's manifestations of himself to his people carry their own evidence along with them. God can give undeniable demonstrations of his presence, such as give abundant satisfaction to the souls of the faithful, that God is with them of a truth; satisfaction not communicable to others, but convincing to themselves. We sometimes meet with God there, where we little thought of meeting with him. He is there where we did not think he had been, is found there where we asked not for him.
gen 28:17He was afraid - So far was he from being puffed up. The more we see of God, the more cause we see for holy trembling and blushing before him. Those whom God is pleased to manifest himself to, are laid and kept very low in their own eyes, and see cause to fear even the Lord and his goodness, Hos 3:5. And said, How dreadful is this place! - That is, the appearance of God in this place is to be thought of, but with a holy awe and reverence; I shall have a respect for this place, and remember it by this token as long as I live. Not that he thought the place itself any nearer the divine visions than any other places; but what he saw there at this time was, as it were, the house of God, the residence of the Divine Majesty, and the gate of heaven, that is, the general rendezvous of the inhabitants of the upper world; as the meetings of a city were in their gates; or, the angels ascending and descending were like travellers passing and repassing through the gates of a city.
gen 28:18He set up the stone for a pillar - To mark the place again, if he came back, and erect a lasting monument of God's favour to him: and because he had not time now to build an altar here, as Abraham did in the places where God appeared to him, Gen 12:7, he therefore poured oil on the top of this stone, which probably was the ceremony then used in dedicating their altars, as an earnest of his building an altar when he should have conveniencies for it, as afterwards he did, in gratitude to God, Gen 35:7. Grants of mercy call for our returns of duty and the sweet communion we have with God ought ever to be remembered.
gen 28:19It had been called Luz, an almond - tree, but he will have it henceforth called Beth - el, the house of God. This gracious appearance of God to him made it more remarkable than all the almond - trees that flourished there.
gen 28:20And Jacob vowed a vow - By religious vows we give glory to God, and own our dependance upon him, and we lay a bond upon our own souls, to engage and quicken our obedience to him. Jacob was now in fear and distress, and in times of trouble it is seasonable to make vows, or when we are in pursuit of any special mercy, Jon 1:16; Psa 66:13-14; Sa1 1:11; Num 21:1-3. Jacob had now had a gracious visit from heaven, God had renewed his covenant with him, and the covenant is mutual; when God ratifies his promises to us, it is proper for us to repeat our promises to him. If thou wilt be with me and keep me - We need desire no more to make us easy and happy wherever we are, but to have God's presence with us, and to be under his protection. It is comfortable in a journey to have a guide in an unknown way, a guard in a dangerous way, to be well carried, well provided for, and to have good company in any way; and they that have God with them, have all this in the best manner. Then shall the Lord be my God - Then I will rejoice in him as my God, then I will be the more strongly engaged to abide with him. And this pillar shall be God's house - That is, an altar shall be erected here to the honour of God. And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee - To be spent either upon God's altar or upon his poor, which are both his receivers in the world. The tenth is a very fit proportion to be devoted to God, and employed for him; though as circumstances vary, it may be more or less, as God prospers us.