Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 28: 18-22
18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that 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, 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 you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
This section is interesting because we see Jacob’s reaction to interacting with God and seeing the ladder to Heaven. He seems to place a condition on his future worship in these verses.
From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Jacob rose up early in the morning (cf. Genesis 19:27; Genesis 22:3), and took the stone that he had put for his pillows (vide supra), and set it up for a pillar—literally, set it up, a pillar (or something set upright, hence a statue or monument); not as an object of worship, a sort of fetish, but as a memorial of the vision (Calvin, Keil, Murphy; cf. Genesis 31:45; Genesis 35:14; Joshua 4:9, Joshua 4:20; Joshua 14:1-15:26; 1 Samuel 7:12)—and poured oil upon the top of it. Quasi signum consecrationis (Calvin), and not because he regarded it as in itself invested with any degree of sanctity. The worship of sacred stones (Baetylia), afterwards prevalent among the Greeks, Romans, Hindoos, Arabs, and Germans, though by some regarded as one of the primeval forms of worship among the Hebrews, was expressly interdicted by the law of Moses (cf. Exodus 22:24; Exodus 34:13; Le Exodus 26:1; Deuteronomy 12:3; Deuteronomy 16:22). It was probably a heathen imitation of the rite here recorded, though by some authorities (Keil, Knobel, Lange) the Baetylian worship is said to have been connected chiefly with meteoric stones which were supposed to have descended from some divinity; as, e. g; the stone in Delphi sacred to Apollo; that in Emesa, on the Orontes, consecrated to the sun; the angular rock at Pessinus in Phrygia worshipped as hallowed by Cybele; the black stone in the Kaaba at Mecca believed to have been brought from heaven by the angel Gabriel (vide Kalisch in loco). That the present narrative was a late invention, “called into existence by a desire” on the part of the priests and prophets of Yahweh (Jehovah) “to proclaim the high antiquity of the sanctuary at Bethel, and to make a sacred stone harmless”, is pure assumption. The circumstance that the usage here mentioned is nowhere else in Scripture countenanced (except in Genesis 35:14, with reference to this same pillar) forms a sufficient pledge of the high antiquity of the narrative (vied Havernick’s ‘Introd.,’ § 20).
Take the time to read that note as it discusses the history of sacred stone in the wider region and the treatment of the stone in question ehre. We are told by the commentary that the treatment of this stone by Jacob is not mimicked or even countenanced any other place in Scripture.
Next in verse 19, we learn the location of this pillar. From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:
(19) Beth-el . . . Luz.—In Joshua 16:1-2, we find that Luz and Beth-el were distinct places, though near one another; and with this agrees the present passage. For plainly, Jacob and his attendants did not go inside the city, but slept on the open ground; and as they would carry their provisions with them, they would need no supplies from its Canaanite inhabitants. Probably at the time of Joshua’s conquest Beth-el was rather a holy place than a town, and when Ephraim seized upon Luz and put the people to the sword (Judges 1:23-25), the victors transferred the name of Beth-el to it. Thus the spot where Jacob slept would not be the town of Beth-el, but some place a mile or two away from it.
We see both contextually in the passage and in subsequent verses that Bethel and Luz are not precisely one and the same. However, they are very near to one another.
There is not a universal agreement about the location of Bethel and it is further complicated by the fact that the name may apply to more than one location. From Wiki:
Bethel (Ugaritic: bt il, meaning “House of El” or “House of God”, Hebrew: בֵּית אֵל ḇêṯ’êl, also transliterated Beth El, Beth-El, Beit El; Greek: Βαιθηλ; Latin: Bethel) is the name of a place (a toponym) often used in the Hebrew Bible. It is first mentioned in Genesis 12:8 as being near where Abram pitched his tent. Later in Genesis, it is the location where Jacob dreamt of seeing angels and God, and which he therefore named Bethel, “House of God.” The name is further used for a border city located between the territory of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and that of the tribe of Ephraim, which first belonged to the Benjaminites and was later conquered by the Ephraimites.
In several countries—particularly in the US—the name has been given to various locations (see Bethel (disambiguation)).
Luz itself creates some additional ambiguity. Also from Wiki:
Mentioned in Genesis
Luz is the ancient name of a royal Canaanite city, connected with Bethel (Genesis 28:19; 35:6). It is debated among scholars whether Luz and Bethel represent the same town – the former the Canaanite name, and the latter the Hebrew name – or whether they were distinct places in close proximity to each other. According to the King James Version (KJV), Luz was renamed by Jacob: “And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.” (Genesis 28:19)
Mentioned in Book of Judges
22And the house of Joseph, they also went up against Beth-el; and the LORD was with them. 23 And the house of Joseph sent to spy out Beth-el—now the name of the city beforetime was Luz. 24 And the watchers saw a man come forth out of the city, and they said unto him: ‘Show us, we pray thee, the entrance into the city, and we will deal kindly with thee.’ 25 And he showed them the entrance into the city, and they smote the city with the edge of the sword; but they let the man go and all his family. 26 And the man went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and called the name thereof Luz, which is the name thereof unto this day.
In verse 20, we get to Jacob’s vow. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
And Jacob vowed a vow,—not in any mercenary or doubtful spirit, but as an expression of gratitude for the Divine mercy (Calvin), as the soul’s full and free acceptance of the Lord to be its own God (Murphy), as the instinctive impulse of the new creature (Candlish)—saying, If (not the language of uncertainty, but equivalent to “since, ‘ or “forasmuch as;” Jacob by faith both appropriating and anticipating the fulfillment of the preceding promise) God (Elohim; for the reason of which vide infra) will be with me,—as he has promised (Genesis 28:15), and as I believe he will—and will keep me in this way that I go,—a particular appropriation of the general promise (Genesis 28:15)—and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on (i.e. all the necessaries of life, included, though not specially mentioned, in the preceding promise), so that I come again to my father’s house—also guaranteed by God (Genesis 28:15), and here accepted by the patriarch—in peace (i.e. especially free from Esau’s avenging threats); then shall the Lord be my God—literally, and Jehovah will be to me for Elohim (Rosenmüller, Hengstenberg, Keil, Kalisch, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’), though the received translation is not without support (LXX; Vulgate, Syriac, Calvin, Michaelis, Lange, Murphy, Wordsworth); but to have bargained and bartered with God in the way which this suggests before assenting to accept him as an object of trust and worship would have been little less than criminal. Accordingly, the clause is best placed in the protasis of the sentence, which then practically reads, “if Elohim will be Jehovah to me, and if Jehovah will be to me Elohim”.
Since the note makes a point of the translation, let’s look at the word translated “if” in English:
if = אִם ʼim, eem; a primitive particle; used very widely as demonstrative, lo!; interrogative, whether?; or conditional, if, although; also Oh that!, when; hence, as a negative, not:—(and, can-, doubtless, if, that) (not), + but, either, + except, + more(-over if, than), neither, nevertheless, nor, oh that, or, + save (only, -ing), seeing, since, sith, + surely (no more, none, not), though, + of a truth, + unless, + verily, when, whereas, whether, while, + yet.
The commentary’s interpretation – based on a novice’s reading of the Hebrew definition – seems quite plausible.
Let’s also look at how Ellicott interpreted this vow:
(20-22) Then shall the Lord (Jehovah) be my God.—This is a false translation, and gives a wrong sense. Jacob, in his vow, which implies no doubt on his part, but is his acceptance of the terms of the covenant, says: “If Elohim will be with me, and will protect me on this journey that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I come again in peace to my father’s house, and Jehovah will be my Elohim, then this stone which I have set up as a pillar shall be Beth-Elohiin; and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely pay thee tithes.” Genesis 28:20-21 are a recapitulation of the mercies of which he was to be the recipient, while in Genesis 28:22 Jacob states what shall be his vow of gratitude.
But what was a Beth-Elohim? It has been supposed that it was a sort of cromlech, set up to be itself an object of adoration. Attention has also been called to the Baitylia, or stones “possessed of a soul,” which the Phœnicians are said by Eusebius (Praep. Evang. i. 10) to have worshipped; and it has been thought, with some probability, that the word is a corrupt form of the Hebrew Beth-Elohim. These Baitylia. however, were meteoric stones, and their sanctity arose from their having fallen from heaven. Stones, moreover, set up at first simply as memorials may in time have been worshipped, and hence the prohibition in Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 16:22; but there is no trace of any such idolatrous tendency here. Jacob apparently meant by a Beth-Elohim a place where prayer and offerings would be acceptable, because God ad manifested Himself there; and His vow signified that if, preserved by Jehovah’s care, he was permitted to visit the place again, he would consecrate it to Jehovah’s service, and spend there in sacrifice, or in some other way to His honour, the tithe of whatever property he might have acquired.
Both commentaries seem to be in agreement that the proper interpretation of “if” here is not a conditional on the part of Jacob but is instead better interpreted an acceptance of a reality on the part of Jacob. The Pulpit Commentary also adds this to verse 22:
And (or then, the apodosis now commencing) this stone which I have set for a pillar (vide on Genesis 28:18) shall be God’s house—Bethel, meaning that he would afterwards erect there an altar for the celebration of Divine worship—a resolution which was subsequently carried out (vide Genesis 35:1, Genesis 35:15). “The pillar or cairn or cromlech of Bethel must have been looked upon by the Israelites, and may be still looked upon in thought by us, as the precursor of every “house of God” that has since arisen in the Jewish and Christian world—the temple, the cathedral, the church, the chapel; nay, more, of those secret places of worship that are marked by no natural beauty and seen by no human eye—the closet, the catacomb, the thoroughfare of the true worshipper. And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee. Literally, giving I will give the tenth (cf. Genesis 14:20). The case of Jacob affords another proof that the practice of voluntary tithing was known and observed antecedent to the tune of Moses
What is a cromlec? Both commentaries mention it.
(krŏm′lĕk′)n.1. A portal tomb.2. A prehistoric monument consisting of a group of megaliths, sometimes arranged in a circle or in concentric circles.
Also from Wiki:
A cromlech (sometimes also spelled “cromleh” or “cromlêh”; cf Welsh crom, “bent”; llech, “slate”) is a megalithic construction made of large stone blocks. The word applies to two different megalithic forms in English, the first being an altar tomb (frequently called a “dolmen“), as William Borlase first denoted in 1769. A good example is at Carn Llechart. The second meaning of the name “cromlech” in English refers to large stone circles such as those found among the Carnac stones in Brittany, France.
Unlike in English, the word “cromlech” in many other languages (such as Azerbaijani, Armenian, French, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, and Spanish) exclusively denotes a megalithic stone circle, whereas the word “dolmen” is used to refer to the type of megalithic altar tomb sometimes indicated by the English “cromlech”. Also, more recently in English, scholars such as Aubrey Burl use “cromlech” as a synonym for “megalithic stone circle”.
There is some interesting pseudo-history surrounding Jacob’s Stone.
Some Scottish legends surrounding the Stone of Scone, traditionally used for coronations of Scottish kings in the High Middle Ages, have identified this stone with the Stone of Jacob. Supposedly the Stone of Jacob was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah and thence to Scotland.
These legends also feature prominently in British Israelism a belief system that holds the British royal family is descended from King David. From 1308 to 1996, the Stone of Scone rested in the Royal throne of England at Westminster. On 23 December 2020 it was announced by the Scottish Government that the stone is to be relocated to a newly renovated ‘Hall of Destiny’ in Perth’s city centre, only a few miles from Scone.
There is actually a lot of popular culture surrounding the Stone of Scone.
- The Stone of Scone’s removal from Westminster Abbey and return to Scotland is the subject of the 2008 film Stone of Destiny, with Charlie Cox as Ian Hamilton, who also appears in a cameo role in the film.
- The same incident appears in an episode of Highlander: The Series. (Note: One of my favorite episodes of the entire series.)
- It also appears in the final two episodes of Hamish Macbeth, “Destiny” parts 1 and 2.
- The Stone is prominently featured in a scene from the 2010 film The King’s Speech before the coronation of George VI.
- In Sir Terry Pratchett‘s Discworld series, The Fifth Elephant novel features the theft of the “Scone of Stone”, an ancient bread on which a dwarf king takes seat for his coronation.
- Andrew Greig‘s 2008 novel Romanno Bridge is about a quest for the real Stone of Scone.
- August Derleth featured the removal and return of the stone in his short story “The Adventure of the Stone of Scone“, included in one of the collections of his Sherlock Holmes pastiches, featuring his fictional detective Solar Pons. The story credits the recovery of the stone at the abbey to his powers of ratiocination.
- In the alternate history novel Dominion by C.J. Sansom, the Stone of Scone is returned to Scotland by the fictional Nazi puppet government in control of the United Kingdom during World War II.
- In the animated series Gargoyles, Macbeth swears by the Stone of Destiny at his coronation ceremony. The Stone is later revealed to be the same from which Arthur drew Excalibur.
- The Stone appears as a Treasure Demon (a class of enemies based on valuable objects) in the 2016 video game Persona 5.
Jacob’s Stone is also identified with an Irish coronation stone – Lia Fáil.
There are several different, and conflicting, legends in Irish mythology describing how the Lia Fáil is said to have been brought to Ireland. The Lebor Gabala, dating to the eleventh century, states that it was brought in antiquity by the semi-divine race known as the Tuatha Dé Danann. The Tuatha Dé Danann had travelled to the “Northern Isles” where they learned many skills and magic in its four cities Falias, Gorias, Murias and Findias. From there they travelled to Ireland bringing with them a treasure from each city – the four legendary treasures of Ireland. From Falias came the Lia Fáil. The other three treasures are the Claíomh Solais or Sword of Light, the Sleá Bua or Spear of Lugh and the Coire Dagdae or The Dagda’s Cauldron.
Some Scottish chroniclers, such as John of Fordun and Hector Boece from the thirteenth century, treat the Lia Fáil the same as the Stone of Scone in Scotland. According to this account, the Lia Fáil left Tara in AD 500 when the High King of Ireland Murtagh MacEirc loaned it to his great-uncle, Fergus (later known as Fergus the Great) for the latter’s coronation in Scotland. Fergus’s sub-kingdom, Dalriada, had by this time expanded to include the north-east part of Ulster and parts of western Scotland. Not long after Fergus’s coronation in Scotland, he and his inner circle were caught in a freak storm off the County Antrim coast in which all perished. The stone remained in Scotland, which is why Murtagh MacEirc is recorded in history as the last Irish King to be crowned on it.
However, historian William Forbes Skene commented: “It is somewhat remarkable that while the Scottish legend brings the stone at Scone from Ireland, the Irish legend brings the stone at Tara from Scotland.”
The Dindsenchas, recording a tradition from early Irish literature and echoing ancient legends, reports that Lia Fáil would roar in the presence of a false king pretending to hold dominion in Ireland.
According to one version of Gaelic Myth surrounding the Lia Fáil stone, a myth more associated with the Stone of Scone, the sacred stone arrived by ship belonging to the Iberian Danaan into the ancient port of Carrickfergus about 580 BC. On board was Eochaidh, son of a High King and a descendant of Érimón, Princess Tea Tephi and the scribe Simon Brauch. Princess Tea also had in her possession an ancient harp, whose origins some believe lie in the House of David. The stone was delivered to the Hill of Tara by the three. Scota later married High King Eochaidh, both had previously met each other in Jerusalem. Eochaidh recovered the ancient stone in Jerusalem before the invasion of the Babylonians. It is said all future Irish High Kings/British Monarchs inaugurated by the stone have tried to prove lineage back to the Royal Sage and his wife, Tea Tephi, the original bearers of the stone. Eochaidh’s resting place is said to be in the Neolithic passage tomb, Cairn T at Loughcrew.
The location of Jacob’s Stone is currently unknown as the pillar is not known to have survived from antiquity to the present.