Genesis 28: Jacob's Ladder
Jacob is setting out from the home in Beersheba on the same long journey to Haran which the old servant of Abraham took when he went to bring Rebekah. Jacob seems to be walking and alone, and sleeping at night under the stars. He is going for two reasons, to be safe from Esau, who was angry with Jacob because he had stolen the blessing, and to find one among the relatives in Haran who would be his wife, as Rebekah had come to be the wife of Isaac.
Jacob came on his journey to the high hills of Bethel, from which Abraham and Lot had once looked out over the land. As he slept with a stone for his pillow, he had a wonderful dream. He saw a ladder set up on the earth, but it probably means a way leading upward in broad steps. The Lord stood above it and angels were going up and down upon the steps. The Lord then spoke to Jacob to renew the blessings given to Abraham and to promise to be with Jacob in his journey and to bring him back safely to the land of Canaan. Jacob awoke. He felt that it was a holy place and called it Bethel, house of God. He set up the stone that had been his pillow to mark the place of his dream, the beginning of the heavenly way.
It was a beautiful lesson to Jacob, leading him to feel that the God of his father was always near him. It is a wonderful lesson to each one of us, which should help us to realize every night of our lives the Heavenly Father's loving care of us, His nearness to us. "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for Thou LORD, only makest me dwell in safety."
Jacob was on a journey. Where was he going? And for what two reasons was he going? (Gen. 27:41-46) We have been over this road before, from Beersheba to Haran. Show it to me on the map. The last time was when the old servant went to bring Rebekah.
But stop at Bethel. We already have associations with this place. Here Jacob slept out on the hills with a stone for a pillow. Close your eyes and imagine his beautiful dream: the ladder, probably an ascending way with steps, the angels going up and down upon it; the Lord above it spoke to Jacob. Compare the blessings given to Abraham and to Isaac. (Gen. 12:2, 3; 22:17, 18; 26:4, 5) The Lord also promised to be with Jacob in his journey. What a splendid promise to Jacob, and to any young man or young woman setting out alone to find his or her place and work in the world. The promise and the vision seem to say, "You think you have before you a lonesome journey, but the Lord and angels will be with you if you want their company." It looks to you like a long, dusty road stretching away to Haran, with people and camels passing on the business of this world. But the Lord sets before you an ascending way, leading from earth to heaven. Will the young person going out into the world travel only the flat, dusty road, when the Lord offers the upward way with the promise of His care? Jacob's setting up the stone seems to say that this vision and promise must not be forgotten, but must stay with us always.
1. To what place did Jacob go to find a wife? By what name is the country called in our story today? What other name for the country do you know? (Gen. 24:10)
2. Who was Laban? What have we learned about him before?
3. Where was Bethel? What is the meaning of the name? What did we read of Bethel in the story of Abraham?
4. What did Jacob see in his vision?
5. What help does this vision of Jacob bring to us?
Return to the thought that Abraham and Isaac and Esau and Jacob in general represent three planes of development: celestial, spiritual and natural. They represent also three planes of the Lord's human development and glorification, in the loving states of early childhood, the more intellectual states of older childhood, and the maturer states in which love and truth were made actual in life. In Esau we have a type of goodness in life which cannot be realized at once, but only after a period of faithful obeying of the truth in the work and conduct in the world. You see now the meaning of Jacob's years of labor, and why he spent them in the country of Haran, which represents the plane of life in the world. (A. 1025, 2187, 2658)
What does the land of Canaan represent, and the distant land from which Abraham was called? Now the going back of Jacob to that land represents the turning to the plane of natural, external life, to work out the truth of heaven in practical good deeds. So even the Lord entered into the natural life of the world and the things of natural inheritance from His mother, and glorified this natural plane of life, making it Divine. The Lord saw this great labor of His life described in this story of Jacob's journey to his mother's distant home, and of his years of service there. (A. 3656, 3665)
The dream at Bethel is a wonderful picture of the progress of regeneration as the truth is lived out in conduct in the world. To such a life the windows are always open to heaven and the Lord. The two phases of regeneration are beautifully pictured in the ascending and descending angels, the stage in which we are learning the truth of the Divine law and dutifully doing it, and the stage when the current is reversed and love, descending from within, makes good life spontaneous and delightful. The Lord applied to Himself this vision of the ladder when He said, "Hereafter ye shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." (John 1:51; A. 3699-3701)
A stone set up for a monument in general means that the thing commemorated is one to be kept forever fresh in memory and experience. "And they are there unto this day." (Josh. 4:9) The stone at Bethel stands for the eternal fact, never to be forgotten, that the patient keeping of the Lord's truth in daily life in the world means not a level, dusty journey but an ascending journey and an open way to heaven, a journey in which the Lord provides the food and clothing, the goodness and truth, needed by the soul. Once more, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth in his way." (A. 3734, 3735)