Genesis 28:11-18 - "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go ..."

When he [Jacob] reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 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, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. (Genesis 28:11-18)

Why was Jacob traveling?

According to Genesis 28:1, Isaac tells Jacob not to marry a Canaanite woman. This is quite odd because they were living in a Canaanite area, surrounded by Canaanites, according to archeologists.

According to Genesis 28, Jacob was sent away by Isaac to Paddan Aram in order to find a suitable wife there. Paddan Aram was apparently located in the upper Mesopotamia, theoretically outside the region considered Canaan.

Curiously, at the time, most of Judea and many parts of the Middle East were part of Canaan. And archeological evidence has determined that these early Israelites were actually Canaanites. The descendants of Abraham were, for all tense and purpose, Canaanites. Historically, that's the society where they resided.

Indeed, if we accept the Biblical version, Canaan was given to Abraham by God:
The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." (Genesis 17:8)
But history also illustrates many battles over territory between tribes in the land of Canaan. Certain tribal rulers wanted to reign control over the region. This we find apparent in the Book of Joshua, as Israelites were battling with various regional tribes in the lands of Canaan and Judah.

Biblical scholars have teased apart these texts to find a recurring theme here, comprised of at least four different writer/editor sources that melded the writings and oral traditions of at least 19 different writers. For this reason, we find repeated themes that run parallel with sometimes-conflicting verses interwoven into fables that contain devotional lessons.

Today, most Biblical scholars agree that the Book of Genesis and the other four books of the Torah is an edited compilation of over a dozen different writings that were put together in such a way as to assume a historical document. And for this reason, we find contradictions between verses and a repeated narrative that the family and descendants of Jacob were given the region by God - specifically, the lands of Benjamin, Judah and Canaan (which are also portrayed as people in Abraham's family in the Bible).

Was Isaac a racist?

There is no obvious basis for the assumption that Isaac would not allow Jacob to marry a Canaanite woman. Would Isaac really be this racist that he could not accept a person from another race into his family? This reveals a prejudice towards Canaanites during a time when Canaanites were at odds with many early Israelites.

Isaac was devoted to God. As such, he was not a racist. According to Genesis 9, Noah became upset with his son Canaan because Canaan saw Noah naked when Noah had been drinking and fell naked into his tent. So according to the text, Noah cursed Canaan:
"Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers." (Genesis 9:25)
It simply doesn't make sense that in only a few generations, the animosity towards anyone born into Canaan's family would be so prejudiced upon. At least in a devotional perspective. Just because Canaan accidentally saw his father naked?

If we were to accept that Noah and his three sons were the only people left on the earth (or even in the region), then the only way the population would have become expanded would have required inter-family relations. At least cousins would mate with cousins, if not brothers and sisters.

In other words, Canaan's descendants would have had to mix with the other two brothers' descendants in order to expand the population. Yes, it is possible to have kept them separated - but that would have required that Canaan's offspring would have had to bear children together.

The other side of the equation is much more likely and scientific - that the flood was regional, and there were many people that lived outside of this region who repopulated this region known historically as Canaan. And the story of Noah passed down over the generations was an amalgamation of some other flood stories (yes, there have been many flood stories that predate the story of Noah - including a pre-Noah flood story from early Mesopotamia). And Noah and his three sons were mythological characters in a symbolic, parable with devotional lessons.

Furthermore, when we consider this together with the assumption that Abraham, Jacob and Isaac were all theoretically promised by the Supreme Being to inherit all the Canaanite lands, we arrive at a logical point that the editors of this document also had a specific agenda supporting a political benefit at the time of its recording - sometime during the 6th Century BCE.

This means that these two elements would be considered historical propaganda of sorts: A rally cry to separate from the Canaanites and acquire Canaan territories.

Just consider what the narrative suggests otherwise: That Canaanites were awful people because centuries before, their great, great, great ancestor had seen his father naked one time. And because they were lucky enough to be born into Abraham's family, they were the chosen people.

Such an assumption would suggest a narrative of racism. If a person thinks that they have more rights or privileges than another just because of the family they are born into - that is racism.

This is actually a common narrative for some politicians even today. In order to consolidate power, some political groups have demonized certain races or immigrants in order to gain popularity among the people. Sometimes fear is used - trying to paint the "other" group as harmful or dirty or otherwise beneath them. This is racist.

Doesn't racism conflict with devotion?

Racism is by its very nature, is contradicted by the loving worship of the Supreme Being and the existence of a spiritual realm or heaven. These would necessitate that the soul - the spirit-person - is not the physical body.

The assumption of spiritual life means a Supreme Being and a spiritual realm beyond the temporary confines of this temporary physical body. The physical body is a temporary shell of the eternal spirit-person, who is by nature a resident of the spiritual realm.

Because these physical bodies are temporary vehicles, we cannot be judged by these bodies. We cannot be divided by them. Our physical body does not indicate whether we are chosen by God or not.

For this same reason, if a person is injured and their legs have to be amputated, they are not considered any less of a person. They are the same person - but their physical body has changed. No one says a handicapped person is any less of a person - because innately we all know we are not these changing physical bodies.

Each of us is the spirit-person within this body. Our body is temporary. It is born, ages, and then dies. We continue to be the same person regardless of the age of the body. This is why we each feel weird as our body begins to age. We deny our age because we feel ageless. The spirit-person within the body is eternal.

Above all, the Supreme Being does not care what physical body we wear - what family we are born into. As such, racism cannot be something supported by the Supreme Being.

What does Jacob's dream mean?

It is interesting that we find no narrator of this event. We don't find the first-person narrative that we would typically find for a dream. If Jacob did not narrate this dream, then who is the author and how did they know that Jacob had that dream? Is this a fable? Or the narrative of an angel?

Let's take a closer look at the Hebrew.

In the first part of the dream, Jacob sees a stairway to heaven. The Hebrew is סֻלָּם (cullam) - commonly referred to as a ladder. And שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) is used to denote the sky, the heavens, or the abode of God.

Then we find that angels are ascending and descending the stairway. "Angels" comes from the word מַלְאָךְ (mal'ak), which refers to the messengers of God. So Jacob is seeing the messengers of God going up and coming down the stairway.

Then Jacob sees God above (or beside - עַל (`al)) the ladder, and God supposedly says that He is giving all the land "on which you are lying" to Jacob and Jacob's descendants.

The question now becomes whether God would go through all this trouble to inform Jacob that he and his descendants will be "given" all that land. Hasn't God already given all this land to Abraham and Isaac? Well, if one considers that Canaan and surroundings were given to them, and Jacob left that area and went to Harran - then now God is giving Harran to Jacob?

Is it really land that is being given?

The word "land" is being translated from the Hebrew word, אֶרֶץ ('erets). The most primary meaning of the word is actually, "whole earth (as opposed to a part)" according to the lexicon. It can also mean "the earth's inhabitants." Only its secondary meaning relates to regional territories of land, but this also includes a small piece of ground or a bit of soil.

The Hebrew can also refer to a nation of people - "people of the land."

So to infer that God is giving Jacob (and Abraham and Isaac) and their descendants a particular region of land is a bit of a stretch. It is also nonsensical that God would be focused upon giving land away, as though He is a land-grant office.

What is more logical - given the Hebrew - is that God is giving Jacob a population of people - a nation - that will follow his teachings and the teachings of his followers.

The key word in this regard is the word "descendants." Why would God automatically give away land to Jacob's descendants - which we also find never really controlled that land anyway?

"Descendants" is taken from the Hebrew word זרע (zera`). זרע (zera`) means "a sowing," "seed," "sowing time," as well as "of moral quality" according to the lexicon. It can also mean "seed" or "semen."

But as we've described before, "descendants" is a poor translation of the Hebrew, because the statement by God is metaphorical. God is not promising something to people who had not even been born yet. Rather, the Hebrew word זרע (zera`) illustrates the spreading of the philosophy of love for God - devotion to God.

We must remember that the Bible is scripture. It is not a political thesis that supports a particular race of people or political agenda. It is a collection of stories characterizing the lives of some of God's most devoted people and those around them. And it characterizes the relationships that existed between these devoted people and God.

This points to another reality: God does not care about how many descendants Jacob and Isaac will have. Nor does He give away land to people who hadn't even been born into human form yet.

But God does want Jacob to teach on His behalf. He does want Jacob to teach the philosophy of love for God - the same philosophy Abraham taught - far and wide.

So what will this naturally result in? Having many followers - a nation of followers. God is bestowing upon Jacob that he will have many followers (a nation of followers) in the generations to come.

What does this have to do with the word זרע (zera`)?

Just consider the English word - disseminate. This word has as its root, the word "semen." To disseminate means to pass on knowledge to others. It means to "plant a seed" of knowledge with others.

Thus, זרע (zera`) has nothing to do with descendants of the physical body. This is about passing on the teachings that Abraham taught to Isaac and Isaac taught to Jacob. Now God wants those same teachings passed on far and wide by Jacob. God wants Jacob to plant the seed of knowledge of loving God and serving God to others.

In other words, God is empowering Jacob to be His representative - just as He empowered Abraham and Isaac before him.

This is the symbolic importance of Jacob seeing God's messengers ascending and descending the stairway to heaven.

And yes, Jacob indeed passed on God's word to many, and as a result, there are many generations of devoted persons who followed those teachings by becoming students of Jacob and students of Jacob's students. This is the way spiritual knowledge is passed down. From teacher to student.

And we must remember that God gives no value in a piece of desert such as Judea. God is not promising to give any land to Jacob or his descendants. God is not a land-grant office. He owns all land and continues to own it. And with regard to Jacob returning to any land - this is not some kind of "promised land" made of desert - where there is little water and few crops can grow. Did God really give His "chosen people" a bunch of dry famine-ridden desert?

No. The so-called "promised land" is the spiritual realm. Here we live in the physical world that our physical bodies dwell in now. The spiritual realm - our home - is that place where we can return to His personal presence. This is the real "promised land."

Consider another translation of these verses in Chapter 28 of the New Book of Genesis.