In Jacob’s journey from his father’s house to Haran, we are told of only one event. A single incident is described from what was otherwise considered an insignificant trip. Jacob dreamed a dream, a dream about a ladder which reached down from Heaven and rested upon the earth. This ladder, or stairway, was covered with angels of God ascending and descending its steps. From the summit of this ladder stood the Lord Himself, calling down to Jacob as he slept. The Lord announced to Jacob Who He is and confirmed to him that he would inherit the land which was first promised to Abraham, his grandfather.
The imagery from this dream illustrates one of the most recognizable scenes from the entire Old Testament. But what exactly was this dream all about? What is the meaning of “Jacob’s Ladder?” What was God trying to show him? Let us consider what this dream meant to Jacob:
What The Dream Meant To Jacob
“Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 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 28:16-17)
The concept that God is not confined to any particular place is something that most modern believers understand, but imagine if we were in Jacob’s place? As far as he was concerned, he had left the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham behind when he fled from the wrath of Esau (Gen. 27:43). The desolate place in which he had arrived, filled with steep rocky crags and littered with boulders stretching skyward, must have done little to reassure him otherwise. Though he had secured the blessing of his father, though he had acquired the position of “first-born” with all the rights and privileges that entailed, he was still, at this point, little more than a frightened fugitive, fleeing for his very life. The loneliness that encompassed him as he now swapped the comforts of Isaac’s household for pillows of stone must have been suffocating.
But this would not be a troubled and dreamless night. Jacob would find sleep, and in that slumber, he would encounter God Himself. And what would the Lord have to say to him? Would He scold him for his unrepentant duplicity with which he had defrauded both his father and his brother? Would God chastise Jacob for his less than honorable actions? We must make no mistake, Jacob would pay a price for what he had done, but not before receiving the assurance that God would be with him always. Before arriving at the house of his Uncle Laban (where he would be outfoxed and beaten at his own game), Jacob would have this direct revelation of God’s mercy, grace, and protection that would follow him for the remainder of his life.
“Surely the LORD was in this place and I did not know it!”, Jacob declares the next morning as he reflects on his dream. Surely this is something to which we can all relate, for we have all gone to places where it seemed that any sign or indication of God’s presence was wholly lacking. But we are reminded, as Jacob was, that there is no place beyond the reach of the Lord, no place that He cannot find. We, too, find Him at work in the most unlikely locations, locations that we ourselves would never have suspected He would go.
Even more so, Jacob concludes that the very spot upon which he had laid his head was the “Gate to Heaven” itself. “This is the House of God, this is the place where Heaven and earth meet”, he thought. Having at his disposal no other way of commemorating the spot, Jacob erected the stones which he had slept on and fashioned a marker with them. He named the place “Bethel”, the “House of God”, and this very spot would serve as a rallying point to which he would later return (Gen. 35).
What The Dream Means To Us
But what exactly is the significance of this enigmatic dream for us? God used it to reinforce to Jacob His covenant which He had made to Abraham, that is, that the land of Palestine would be an everlasting inheritance for the people of Israel. But does “Jacob’s Ladder” hold any meaning for the Gentile? Fortunately, this is one Old Testament incident which Jesus Himself interpreted. In John 1:45, the Apostle Philip ran to tell his friend Nathanael that he had found the promised Messiah. Nathanael was skeptical but agreed to come and meet Jesus. The first words that Jesus spoke to Nathanael were, “Behold an Israelite in whom is no guile!” There was deceit and trickery in the heart of Jacob, but not in Nathanael. Jesus concludes the conversation with a reference to Jacob’s dream when He announces to Nathanael:
“…Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
So, the Ladder that Jacob saw in his dream was not a place, but a Person. The Lord Jesus Christ is that Ladder which stretches from earth to Heaven, connecting man to God. Jesus is the Gateway to Heaven, and there is no other (John 14:6). The angels, the messengers of God, are seen both descending from Heaven and ascending from earth. They carry from God His blessings and provisions to those who love Him, and they come back to our Father bearing the prayers and requests of God’s children. Yet the Highway upon which they travel is none other than Jesus Christ. There is no other road which leads to God.
No one else is uniquely qualified to stand in the position which Jesus does. The Ladder reaches all the way down to earth, for He is all Man. And it rises all the way to Heaven, to the very throne of the Father, for He is all God. The Lord Jesus alone stands with one foot in Heaven and one foot on earth, bridging the gap between them. He is the Ladder by which God reaches down to man and man reaches up to God.
To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,
[This post was originally published June 4, 2010]
[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]