Jacob makes a vow
It might be conditional
Or it might not be
While dreaming “Ba Makom” (at a certain, unnamed “place”) Jacob is told by God, “Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15).
After he wakes, Jacob realizes what he has experienced. “Surely God is present in this place, and I did not know it! … How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17)
Then he makes a promise, “If God remains with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house, Adonai shall be my God.” (Genesis 29:20-21)
At first glance, Jacob’s vow seems conditional. He’ll accept God only if certain conditions are met. But those conditions were already promised by God during the dream, without any conditions placed on Jacob. Doesn’t Jacob trust God?
According to the JPS Commentary on Genesis, two possible explanations are given in Genesis Rabba 70:4. One is that the events are out of sequence. That would mean God’s promise was in response to Jacob’s vow. The other explanation is that Jacob’s isn’t placing conditions on his vow, but is expressing gratitude.
It’s as if Jacob was unsure about whether God would protect him as he fled from his angry brother Esau. But when he hears the word of God in a dream his worries subside. He knows things will be good for him and says, in effect, “Well then, as long as God has vowed to stay with me, protect me, and safely return me to by father’s house then I don’t have any concerns about accepting Adonai as my God.”
Would you be willing to accept God’s promise transmitted in a dream, or would you wait until those promises were fulfilled before fulfilling your own vow? Would your vow be conditional, or an expression of gratitude?
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