In our study of Genesis chapter twenty eight, we look at the promise of access to the God of heaven. We will look at Jacob's dream of a ladder and his understanding of the dream as well as its meaning for us and the Jewish people.
So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him. Then he commanded him: 'Do not marry a Canaanite woman, 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.'
In chapter 27, we saw that Rebekah informed him that she did not want Jacob to marry a woman from the land that they were in which was known as Canaan. The land was named after the cursed son of Ham (see Genesis 9:24) and, in Hebrew, the name means "humiliated". We are reminded of the fact that Canaan was cursed because his father, Ham, had humiliated Noah by exposing his nakedness. Here, we see that Isaac grants Rebekah's request and instructs Jacob to go to her relatives and get an acceptable wife. We must note that, although Isaac was a man of God, this is not the biblical pattern of getting an acceptable wife.
'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.' 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.
Here, we see that Isaac finally accepted the will of God and willingly transferred the promises (blessings) that God had given to Abraham to his son Isaac. We remember the fact that Jacob was not the oldest son but was the son chosen by God to receive these promises. Isaac had resisted because he liked Esau better and, according to their tradition, he was the legal heir to the promise. This is a reminder that access to the God of heaven only comes through accepting His will for your life.
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,' and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 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.
We remember, from chapter twenty seven, that Esau was so angry that Jacob had "stolen his blessing" that he had planned to kill his brother. He must have been watching him and overheard the conversation about getting a wife. We also remember that Esau was more concerned about wealth and things of the flesh than spiritual matters. With this in mind, he decided to get back at his father by marrying a woman that Isaac and Rebekah would not have liked. In doing this, we are reminded, once again, of the family of Ishmael and how he was born out of man's efforts instead of trusting in God. Esau married Mahalath which, in Hebrew, is Machalath and means "sickness". We also see that he already had other wives and so was definitely out of the will of God. This choice would have consequences for Esau but they continue to affect our world today. God had promised Hagar that Ishmael would be a great nation but that he would not be a part of the chosen nation (see Genesis 21). Esau was a part of the chosen nation but was not selected by God to be the leader of that nation. He could have chosen to seek and accept the will of God in the matter but was not concerned about the things of God. This unholy union between the two families would constantly remind them of the fact that they were not the chosen ones. With this would come the "sickness" of disobedience and trying to overthrow the will of God which continues even to this day. Most of the strife that we see in Israel today, as well as in much of the region, is due to the fact that man seeks to overthrow the will of God for His chosen people and land.
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 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.
Jacob was really moving in his effort to get away from the threat of death at the hands of his brother, Esau. He traveled about forty miles in one day through mountainous rocky terrain and finally stopped when it was getting dark. This would have been his first night away from home and he was surely feeling alone and afraid. He knew that God was back at home but, for all that he knew, he had left God there with his mom and dad.
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 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.'
Jacob had a dream in which he saw what has been commonly called "Jacob's ladder" but the Hebrew word is "cullam" and it is more accurately described as a staircase. He saw angels, which are messengers from God, going up and down the stairs with God at the top. He knew that it was God as He identified Himself as the God of his father and grandfather. How wonderful it is to see that, during his first time alone and feeling scared, God showed up to reassure Jacob that he was not alone. So, why would God show Jacob a staircase? A ladder or staircase provides access to a higher place and, in this case, God was demonstrating the fact that He was active in the world through His messengers. Although this is a rather routine idea for us, as believers, it would have been an amazing revelation to Jacob. We also notice that Jacob saw the angels going both up and down the stairs and that is a reminder that angels are simple messengers who take their orders from God. It seems that everyone in our world, today, believes in angels but sometimes they are elevated to godlike status and that is wrong. They, like us, are created by God and it is God alone that deserves our worship.
'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.'
God's promises that are stated here are still in effect today as the world is truly blessed through a Jew named Jesus. You can follow this promised path from Jacob to Jesus in Matthew 1. We remember that, at this time, Jacob is asleep in the land of Israel as he was about twelve miles north of Jerusalem. In the first part of this promise, we see that God confirmed that the land of Israel was given to Jacob and his descendants. Most of the problems in that part of the world are due to man's refusal to accept this fact. The land of Israel was given by God Almighty, the Creator, to the people that are known as Jews. Any efforts of men to give the land away or to take it and give it to another people will fail. It is not possible for there to be peace in that land or even in the world without the acceptance of that fact. In the last part of this passage, we see the promise of Jesus Christ and the fact that He is our staircase to heaven.
'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.'
What a reassurance this verse would have been to a young man that was away from home for the first night and was going to be going even further away to a foreign land. The idea that God was going to travel with Jacob to Paddan Aram would have been a huge revelation for this young man. This same promise is extended to us through Jesus Christ. Like Jacob, we can rest assured in the fact that God is with us and will not leave us until He has fulfilled all of His promises.
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.' 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.'
When Jacob woke up, he recognized that God was in that place but he did not understand the dream and the promise that God had made to him. He did not understand that God would be with him wherever he went and that the access to heaven was with him as well. This is a fundamental mistake that has continued throughout the history of the world and down to this day. He made the mistake of thinking that the staircase of his dream was located there instead of recognizing that it was everywhere. This would continue with the building of the temples and, today, with "churches". There are many people who think that they have to "go to church" to meet with God, to pray, or to serve Him. This has been passed down through the years and is a part of religion. As Christians, our staircase (access to our heavenly Father) has been built through our relationship with Jesus Christ. He has also given us the Holy Spirit to reside in us as a means of communicating with the Father even when we do not have words to use. That access and ability is not confined to a time or a place but is to be enjoyed each and every second of our lives.
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. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
Jacob used the stone to mark this spot and put oil on it as way of consecrating it to God. He named the spot Beth El which means "house of God" because of the fact that he knew that God dwelled there. It is easy to understand how Jacob could have made this mistake but it is harder to understand those that do today. Jesus predicted that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed and, in fact, replaced with a personal presence (referring to the Holy Spirit). Even as we look back on His prophecy fulfilled, it seems that many want to rebuild that temple or replace it with their local "church".
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 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.
When you first read this passage, it may seem like it is all good and that Jacob has had a breakthrough in his faith but a closer look reveals the magnitude of his mistake. We remember that, in Jacob's dream, God made promises to him to do all of the things that are listed here. Here, we see that Jacob turned those promises into a contract. Instead of accepting the things that God said and being grateful for them, Jacob promised to recognize God if God kept up His side of the deal. He was either not sure of God's ability to keep His promises or not sure of God's character and the fact that He cannot break His promises. This type of a contract is at the heart of all religion and is the opposite of faith. We are reminded that it is only through our faith (trust) in God that we can please Him. We have the assurance of everlasting life as well as the promise that God will provide for us in this world but it is not through a contract or religion. We have His promises because we trust in Jesus and His character not because of anything that we can do to please Him. Jacob did not have the information that we have concerning what God has done so we can understand why he would try to make this contract. On the other hand, we have all of the information that we need to know as well as the Holy Spirit living in us so there is no excuse for trying to turn God's grace into a religion.