I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Repetitio in Genesis 28

Our text selection this week, Gen 28:10—22, is a fine illustration of Bullinger’s definition of repetitio or repetition.  Repetition occurs when “[a] word or words are repeated, not in immediate succession…not at the beginning, middle, or end of sentences…not at definite intervals; but frequently in the same passage and irregularly for the sake of emphasizing and calling attention to it.”[1]  Two different instances of repetition are recognizable in our text.  

The first term taken up in repetition is “behold” (hinnêh),[2] which occurs in vv 12, 13, and 15.  In the broader context of the narrative, “behold” is used six times in chapter 27 (vv 1—2, 6, 36, 39, 42), during the high-tension episode of Jacob deceiving his father, Isaac, and thus craftily stealing Esau’s blessing.  In the context of 28:10ff, “behold” is used four times to introduce Jacob’s vision and the developments of its escalating intensity. 

“behold…a ladder” (v 12a)
“behold, the angels of God” (v 12b)
“behold, the LORD” (v 13a)
“Behold, I [Yahweh] am with you…” (v 15a)

At this point in the narrative of Genesis, two things are in seeming peril, Jacob’s character and Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham.  Without coming to the text of Genesis with the assumptions that Jacob was a man of virtuous character and strong faith, one would never deduce them from Genesis chapters 25 – 27.  As both Isaac and Esau recognized, Jacob was living up to his namesake (27:35, 36)!  If anything good was to come about in, through or for Jacob (and by extension the whole world, see 28:14c), it would require nothing less than the in-breaking of the covenant fidelity and sovereign grace of Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Isaac (cf. Rom 9).  So, “Behold,” reader, that in-breaking has begun in 28:12f! 

It is also worth noting that the awakening term “behold” was also used to introduce the “smoking fire pot” image of Yahweh’s unilateral covenant cutting and pronouncement to Abraham (15:17), just as it here introduces the image of the “ladder” (28:12a).  Likewise, in 17:4, to Abraham, Yahweh says, “Behold, my covenant is with you…” and to Jacob, he says, “Behold, I am with you…” (28:15a).  Because Yahweh is the substance and surety of his covenant, these clauses are nearly synonymous (comp. 15:1).  “Behold” in 28:12f is, therefore, the clear signal to the reader (and/or hearer) to consider the remarkable revelation of what Yahweh is doing and will do in order to rescue Jacob, and consequently the world, from himself and his deceptive dealings. 

Secondly, just as Jacob’s character was in peril at this point in the narrative, so too were the covenantal promises made to Abraham and his seed.  Not quite as jeopardizing as the near-sacrifice of Isaac (ch. 22), our passage, concerning Jacob, still presents the reader with the suspense of the fulfillment of Yahweh’s covenant being in great peril.  Although Jacob has filched Esau’s birthright (25:29—34), attained the patriarchal blessing through deceit (ch. 27), and even enjoyed the covenantal pronouncement of his father, Isaac (28:3—4), Jacob (and the readers) has yet to hear the Word from Yahweh!  Moreover, Jacob is wifeless and is now being sent out from the land (28:1—2; cf. 46:1—4)!  Thus far, then, Jacob is impious, wifeless, “seed”-less, and now landless, and all the while Yahweh is yet speechless, with respect to Jacob! It appears that the Abrahamic covenant has reached a terminus!  What of a people?  What of the paradise lost in Gen 3?!?  In great trepidation, the reader is left wondering if humanity’s only hope is forever lost—what of redemption!?!  Above all, Yahweh had taken an oath and swore by himself that his covenant to Abraham would be fulfilled (Gen 22:15—18; cf. Heb 6:13—14).  The very truth of God was at stake!  Thankfully, God will not let sinful man or the devil have the last word.     

Against these stark realities, Moses reassures his readers in 28:13—15 that God would most certainly finish the good work he had started in Abraham.  In these three verses, Yahweh renews the covenant promises original to Abraham (cf. 12:1—3).  And to emphasize the absolute certainty of the promises’ fulfillment, repetition is used again. 

I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.
The land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring.
Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth…
And in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 
Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go,
and [I] will bring you back to this land.
For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (28:13—15).

This short section contains not only all three of the primary elements the Abrahamic covenant (i.e., land, seed/offspring, and blessing), paralleling the original bestowal of 12:1—3, etc. to Abraham, it also presents Yahweh as the active subject of a series of wills and shalls that galvanize the hope of final fulfillment of that which was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob.  God to the rescue again! 

I would mention only one more interesting feature that I noticed during my studies for this board.  Genesis 28:13—15 is a covenant pronouncement to Jacob by Yahweh; it is God’s first word to Jacob, and is the starting point for the Jacob narrative proper.  In 46:2—4 we find another covenant pronouncement to Jacob by Yahweh; it is God’s last word to Jacob, and is the finale of the Jacob narrative proper.  Thus, Jacob’s story is encased in a beautiful covenant inclusio! Jacob’s walk with the God of his fathers begins and ends with the absolute, certain word of promise from the ever-faithful Yahweh. 

[1] Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.  Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, Michigan (1968), pg. 263.  (Emphasis added).

[2] All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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