How can Jacob's claim that God answered him (Gen 35:3) when there is no record of Jacob petitioning or praying to God in Genesis 28?

Genesis 35:3 "Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Jacob's dream in Genesis 28:10-15 is usually taught or explained as if God is here initiating everything without any prior interest on behalf of Jacob however Jacob's later description of this event as a response or answer from God seems to suggest the opposite. Wenham in his Genesis commentary makes the following remark about this but I am not sure what he is implying"

Note how the ptcp (“answered“) in the relative clause is continued by finite verb (“has been“) (GKC, 116o,x; WOC, 561, 631).

Wenham, Gordon John. Genesis 16-50, Volume 2 (Word Biblical Commentary) (p. 320). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

3 Answers 3


There are two matters here that should be addressed separately.

1. To what incident does Gen 35:3 refer?

Jacob refers to some incident in which God appeared to him and answered him in his distress. I think there can be little doubt that Jacob is referring to the ladder/stairway to heaven incident in Gen 28:10-22 because:

  • In Gen 35:1 - he is told to return to Bethel where the vision was received
  • In the same verse Jacob says that this was the time when he fled in fear from his brother Esau

2. Did God appear in answer to Jacob's plea?

The Genesis record is necessarily incomplete - we do not have a record of every conversation and every incident affecting the lives of the characters. Therefore, the fact that we have no record of a prayer from Jacob requesting divine help, is no evidence that such did not occur.

Therefore, assuming the record in Gen 35:1-5 is accurate (I see no reason to doubt it) we have a reference to such a plea for diving help from Jacob, as stated by the record:

Gen 35:3, God, who answered me in my day of distress

  • what do you make of Wenham's comment? Any guess what was he trying to imply?
    – Derek
    Commented Dec 26, 2020 at 9:00
  • @Derek - all I can make of this remark is a fancy grammarians way of saying what we mortals simply read in the translation. That is, God was with him in response to Jacob's plea for help.
    – Dottard
    Commented Dec 26, 2020 at 11:45

In Hebrew, the word "answer" can sometimes refer to fulfilling a prayer. Thus, this event is referring to when G-d answered Jacob when he made his prayer in Genesis 32:12 which says "Please deliver me from the hand of my brother Esau, because I am scared that he will strike down my camp, mothers and children alike" (Genesis 32:12). Then, finally when Jacob reaches Esau, "And Esau ran to greet him, he hugged him falling on his neck, he kissed him, and they wept" (Genesis 33:4). Thus we see that Jacob understands this incident as G-d delivering him, as he feared that Esau would kill him, and G-d turned Esau killing him into Esau hugging and kissing him.

  • How exactly did Jacob "flee" from Esau in Chapter 32? The same word used here (35:1) is the same word used to describe his flight from Esau in Genesis 27:43.
    – Derek
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 1:24
  • The answering does not have to be the same event. They are discussing different events.
    – aefrrs
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 1:26
  • I don't understand, how can we know for certain that Gen 35:1-3 are referring to different events?
    – Derek
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 1:57
  • What I am saying is that they don't have to be referring to the same event. I could of course be wrong, but there is no reason to require them to be the same event.
    – aefrrs
    Commented Dec 28, 2020 at 2:19

Jacob's claim that God answered him (Gen 35:3) could reasonably refer to the actual oath Jacob made (interpreted as a prayer-oath) when naming the place Beth-El. It, however, is unreasonable to interpret the Vision of God as a response to a prayer since Gen. 28:16 states

Jacob awoke from his sleep and said: "Indeed, God's presence is in this place and I didn't know it.

Jacob was surprised. This clearly shows that God did initiate the Vision. However verses 18-22 read as follows:

Jacob awoke in the morning; he took the stone on which he rested his head and made it a monument; he poured oil on its head. And Jacob named the place Beth-El (literally, House of God), even though originally its name was Luz.

And Jacob vowed a vow as follows:

If God will be with me, watch me on the path I am going, give me food to eat and garb to wear, I return safely to my father's household, and God will be my Lord, then this stone which I have made a monument will be a House of God, and of all You give me I will give a tenth to you.

I think it plausible to regard this as a coupled prayer-vow. Jacob is praying for safety, food, garb, and a peaceful return and in exchange for God being Jacob's Lord (constantly watching and providing) Jacob vows to make Beth-El a house of God and to give tithes.

It is pretty explicit that Jacob alludes to this vow-prayer in Gen 31:7-13.

And your father (speaking to his wife) belittled me and changed my wages 10 fold but God did not allow him to harm me.....God appeared to me in visions [when Laban attempted to change wages]...God say "I am the Almighty of Beth-El where you anointed a monument and made a vow.

As to the grammar of "answer" I would note that the present conjugation is used

To the God who answers me on the day of my problems and who was with me on the path I went.

Building on Wenham's observations, we see two verbs in this sentence. Answer is conjugated in the present while "who was with me" is conjugated in the past.

I think it reasonable (and consistent with the English translation ) to interpret this as a habitual present, "God who answers me whenever I have a problem." There is no standard way to indicate the habitual present in biblical Hebrew and it can be indicated by a future, past, or present conjugation so this is a reasonable approach

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