Sir Godfrey Gregg OHPM, ROMC
And Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran.
And he came to a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set, and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.
And he had a dream, and behold, a ladder set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven: and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.14Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:10-17).
As we begin reading this section, there is nothing within the context to prepare us for the impending event. The circumstances seem far from the supernatural. Indeed, they seem to be laced with the dreariness of the natural and the secular.
Jacob is in the midst of a journey. He has set out from Beersheba and he is headed for Haran. He is alone upon the road and the reason that he is alone and the reason he is on the road is that he is a fugitive from his own family.
He comes to a place near the city of Luz. We do not know what the name means and it doesn’t appear to have meant much to Jacob, either. There is nothing compelling about this place. It is just a place to stop for the evening. When this night is over, Jacob will give this place a new name. It shall be called Bethel – the House of God – the Gate of Heaven.
There are three aspects to this dream. Each of the three aspects is introduced by the word “behold.”
1. A Ladder.
The dream involved a vision of a ladder. This seems odd because there is no mention earlier in Genesis of a ladder. The word used here for the ladder is sullam. It is a hapaxlegomenon. It is only used this one time in the Old Testament. It seems to come from the more common verb, Selah, to lift up. It has been suggested that the same word would have been used to indicate a stairway, perhaps pointing to the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, but there are more definite words for stairway (ma’alah would be the normal word for “stairway”).
2. The Angels of God.
Even more foreign is the concept of angels of God ascending and descending. Angels have already been pictured. Angels came and visited Abraham. Angels were involved in the rescue of Lot from Sodom. And the Angel of the Lord has been seen interacting both with Hagar and with Abraham. Certainly, they have been shown to be divine messengers. But here, for the first time, they are seen in the midst of delivering messages to and from heaven.
This picture of the angels of God ascending and descending is found in only one other place in the Bible. It is John 1:51 when Jesus speaks to Nathanael.
And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51).
In the words of Jesus, there is no mention of the ladder. The angels are ascending and descending on the Son of Man. He IS the ladder. Thus, if the ladder represents God’s presence upon earth, then Jesus is seen as the One who is “God with us.”
3. The Lord Stood Above It.
At the bottom of the Ladder was Jacob. At the top of the Ladder was the Lord. The ladder, therefore, served as the connecting link between them.
The promise which is given to Jacob is essentially the same one which was given to Abraham and to Isaac.
|“I am God Almighty” (Gen 17:1).||“I am the God of your father Abraham” (Gen 26:24).||“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” (Gen 28:13).|
|“For all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever” (Genesis 13:15).||“For to you and to your descendants, I will give all these lands” (Gen 26:3).||“The land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (Gen 28:13).|
|“And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth” (Gen 13:16).||“And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven” (Gen 26:4).||“Your descendants shall also be like the dust of the earth” (Gen 28:14).|
|“And in you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3).||“And by your descendants, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 26:4).||“And in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 28:14).|
|“Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you” (Gen 15:1).||“Do not fear, for I am with you” (Gen 26:24).||“And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go” Gen 28:15).|
However, there are also some differences. Isaac had been told by God to stay in the land (Genesis 26:2). Jacob, on the other hand, is told that the Lord will be with him and shall accompany him on his extended journey out of the land and that ultimately he shall be brought back to the land of promise.
This is to be the basis of Jacob’s believing all of the earlier promises. The reason he can believe that he will receive the inheritance of land from which he is presently fleeing and that his descendants shall be as numerous as the dust when he hasn’t even a wife and that his descendants shall be a blessing to all of the families of the earth when he has stolen a blessing from his own brother is because God will be with him.
This is what the vision of the ladder is all about. It is a sign that God is with him. It is not there for God’s sake. It is there for Jacob’s sake.
The miracle is not that there was a ladder. The miracle was that Jacob could SEE the ladder. It was that he could see the manner in which God had communicated Himself to men.