Jacob's Ladder by Marc Chagall
Read Genesis Chapter 28
In chapter 27 we saw Jacob, with the help of Rebekah, trick his father Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of Isaac’s oldest son Esau. Isaac made Jacob lord over all his relatives and servants, and sustained him with grain and new wine. A double portion of the inheritance was now due to Jacob upon the passing of Isaac. (see previous posts on Genesis 27: When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes and I blessed him)
Afterwards Esau was enraged. So enraged that he plotted Jacob’s death — he said, After our father passes away and the days of mourning are over, I’ll kill my brother Jacob.
Word got back to Rebekah about what her older son Esau had said. So she sent for Jacob and let him in on it.
She said, Your brother Esau is planning to avenge himself by killing you. So here’s what you’re going to do: Get some supplies together and get out of here. I want you to go to my brother Laban’s place in the town of Harran. Stay with Laban for awhile until Esau cools down. When your brother’s anger subsides I’ll send word to you and you can come back.
Then, I imagine, in part to move her plot forward to rescue Jacob from Esau, and in part because she really did struggle with the behavior of Esau’s Hittite wives, Rebekah went to speak with Isaac.
Rebekah gave Isaac a very strong hint: I’m disgusted with living because of the Hittite women who Esau took for wives. If Jacob were to take a wife from the Hittites, I think I’d lose my mind.
So, perhaps recognizing that Esau might kill Jacob, and also recognizing that Rebekah is distraught with Esau’s Hittite wives, Isaac calls for Jacob and gives him direction.
Isaac says, Don’t marry a woman from the land of Canaan. Go to Paddan Aram where your mother’s brother, your uncle Laban lives. Find a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban. And May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” (v.3-4)
Did you catch that? Isaac said, “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers… and may he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham…” The first time he blessed Jacob, Isaac did so unwittingly. This time he does so intentionally because Isaac and Jacob are reconciled! How good it is to be reconciled with someone with whom we’ve had a falling out. That’s the work of God’s Son, to reconcile us to each other and to God Himself. So important is reconciliation to Jesus that He tells us, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-3-24)
Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, to Laban’s place in Haran which is about 450 miles away. To the brother of Jacob’s mother Rebekah.
God provided a servant to go to the very same place to fetch a wife for Jacob’s father Isaac. But Jacob will have to fetch his own. It’s ironic that Jacob, the one who received the birthright and the blessing, the one who received the double portion of Isaac’s very large inheritance, the one upon whom authority was given over all of Isaac’s household, the one who is promised the land of Canaan, should be chased out of town with only the possessions he can carry and with authority over no one, because he has to travel alone. This is a good reminder for you and for me that God’s promises often don’t line up with our current circumstances. But in the end His way will always prove best — even if we don’t see the outcome this side of heaven. Remembering how He provided a bride for Isaac is a good reminder that God doesn’t work the same way in every life. He works one way in one life and another way in the next person’s life. Even salvation is worked out differently for each of us as Paul said to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Phillipians 2:12)
So Esau hears what happened, that Isaac had sent Jacob off to Laban’s place to take a wife and Esau learns that Isaac told Jacob specifically, Don’t marry a woman from the land of Canaan. And he also learned that his little brother Jacob had obeyed and had left for Laban’s. Esau then realizes what a problem it has been for his mother and father, for him to have wives from the tribe of the Hittites. So he goes to Ishmael, Issac’s half brother, and marries Mahalath, Ishmael’s daughter. So Mahalath becomes his wife in addition to the two Hittite women. This speaks of the power of a good example (Jacob’s example in this case). A good example can influence even those with whom we’re at odds. Although it can be argued that Esau’s effort came too late and fell too short.
Meanwhile Jacob leaves and sets out for Laban’s place. When the sun had set he stopped for the night. He found a stone lying around nearby and used it for a pillow as he lay down to sleep.
Close your eyes for just a minute and picture with me Jacob’s situation: Jacob, fleeing for his life, promised great blessing by his earthly father Isaac but currently possessing very little, sleeping on a stone. Emerson once said about tough times, “When it’s dark enough, you can see the stars.” So often it’s when you or I hit hard times that we find ourselves able to see something of heaven. So often it’s when you’re in trouble that you’re able to feel God’s presence. So often it’s when you’re between the rock and the hard place that you experience God communicating with you. So it was with Jacob.
While he slept he had a dream. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a dream that was so vivid that it seemed real. I once had a dream that I was engaged in spiritual warfare. The dream appeared to be so real that I woke up in mid sentence, commanding some bad…, some bad…, some bad I don’t know what they were — bad angels? Bad men? Bad spirits? Any way, I woke up with my heart racing and in mid sentence commanding them, In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to be gone! Well I imagine Jacob’s dream as falling into this realistic dream category, a stunning and very vivid dream — so vivid it seemed to be real. It must have been, to have left such an impression on him, as we’ll see.
In his dream Jacob 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.” (v.12-15)
Notice first of all that Jacob, though he thought he was alone, wasn’t alone at all. The LORD was with him. The God of Abraham and Isaac was right there, with him, in that very quiet and lonely place. Are you alone? Did you know God tells us very specifically, if you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you. (James 4:8) Ask Him to come near. Get away from your phone, from your computer, from your TV. Seek out a quiet place, a place similar to where Jacob slept. Once there ask Him to draw near. You’ll be surprised at what happens. You’ll be blown away, I promise you. Try it and see.
Notice also that the LORD didn’t speak to Jacob while Jacob was in a pattern of good behavior. Jacob whose name means “The Heel Snatcher” had just cheated his own brother out of his birthright and his blessing. Yet God chose to speak to him, and to bless him, at this low point in his life. It’s yet another example of how God operates. In Jacob’s life we see that God is full of grace toward Jacob. And He’s full of grace toward you and toward me.
The dream itself is fascinating. The LORD’s position at the head of the ladder speaks of God’s sovereign and supreme position in the universe. The angels climbing up and down speak of the constant correspondence between heaven and earth. God’s directives are being carried out by the angels descending from heaven. And the angels ascending picture how all that occurs on earth is being communicated to heaven.
The LORD tells Jacob that he’ll be blessed in the same way as Abraham and Isaac. He’s told that he’ll be blessed in four ways:
1) Jacob will receive the land of Canaan. This is an extension of God’s promise to Abraham down to the third generation.
2) Jacob, this man on the run, who before he went to sleep must have felt like a branch that had been cut off, is now given the great promise that he’ll bear abundant fruit, producing descendants that will be like the dust of the earth.
3) Jacob’s also blessed with the promise that it’s through him that all peoples on earth will be blessed. All peoples on earth would be blessed because, Messiah, Jesus the Christ, would come through Jacob’s family line. (Matthew 1, Luke 3) And all peoples on earth are blessed by Him. All peoples. Everyone will be included, every nation, every race, every religion. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) Every single person will be blessed — the only ones excluded will be those who exclude themselves.
4) Finally, Jacob, who’s running in fear; Jacob, who’s running for his life, is told by God Himself that He, God, will watch over him.
Jacob alone? Not by a long shot. And neither are you alone. Draw near to Him and see what happens to your life. You’ll be blessed also.
When Jacob woke up he thought to himself, I didn’t realize it but the LORD is in this place.
You may not realize it, but like Jacob, whether you realize it or not, God is with you. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) Take time to seek Him.
The dream was so striking and God’s presence so overwhelming that Jacob was afraid. He said aloud, How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven. (v.16-17)
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. Before this all happened that place was called Luz, but Jacob renamed it — he called it Bethel which means house of God. On his way back from Haran, Jacob will build an altar in that very same spot.
Then Jacob made a vow, he said, If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth. (v.20-22)
The Ladder that joins us with God
You may not have heard this but hundreds and hundreds of years after Jacob’s dream; hundreds of years later in history, someone important commented on Jacob’s dream of God, the angels, and the ladder. He shared an answer to a mystery concerning this dream. An answer that unlocks one of the great mysteries of life. He answered the question,
“What or who is the ladder itself?”
In other words, what connects you and me, living here on earth, with God and heaven? What transcends the separation between humankind and God?
It was Jesus who answered that question. Jesus Himself referred to Jacob’s dream when He said to Nathanael,
“Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
He’s your Ladder, He’s the conduit, He’s your connection to God and heaven. Jesus is the ladder.
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.
6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he 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. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 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.”
18 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. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Blue Letter Bible