Genesis 28:10-22 “Jacob’s Ladder, part 2”

Posted on September 4, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 28:10-22

10 Jacob leftBeershebaand went towardHaran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 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.” 16 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.”

18 So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called the name of that placeBethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Pray: Heavenly Father, you who seek us in the darkest, loneliest, hardest places, You who condescends to stand beside sinners and bring salvation to us, we praise you this morning for you alone are above heaven and earth, yet also here with us. We thank you for your covenant of grace that you have sealed in the blood of your Son, Jesus. Lord, we thank you that you want to make us a blessing to others so we pray that we would be faithful to our calling, that we would love, trust and obey you, and that we would be faithful to share the gospel of Jesus to others. Amen


Introduction: First I want to give you a handout that illustrates the chiasm and the outline that I mentioned last week. Hopefully this will help you understand the structure of Genesis a bit more. Beyond that, I believe that this structure is woven into history by a Sovereign God. We do not know how much literary license the Holy Spirit gave to Moses in the writing down of Genesis, but I personally believe that the chiasmus is more than a literary device, I believe that Moses is representing God’s workings in history here. Now on the handout I have cited my source, Dr. Bruce Waltke. While I use some of his material I do not hold to all of his beliefs. But I do not think his explanation of the chiastic nature of the text is problematic except that I am not so sure he views it as historical in nature as do I.


Today we are going to look at the first part of the story of Jacob’s ladder, his encounter with God. While I had hoped to cover the whole story this week…I just found way too much material here. The main idea I want you to discover today in Bible Study is that God’s grace is sovereign. He chooses when, where, how and to whom, he reveals himself. Jacob was not seeking the Lord, but the Lord sought Jacob.


  1. I.                   Jacob Encounters God, vss.10-15
    1. A.      God Jacob’s Dark Night of the Soul, vss.10-11
      1. 1.       Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran; The Promise of Land is Threatened, v.10- Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had told his faithful servant (24:6-7) “See to it that you do not take my son back there,” and the servant went to find a wife for Isaac. But now, due to a very real threat of death from Esau, Jacob must flee Beersheba and return to the ancestral homeland. In the broader scheme of what Moses is relating to us, this constitutes yet another threat to the promises of God, a threat to the promise of inheriting the land. Esau, the non-elect, stays in the Promised Land while Jacob, the elect, is forced out of the land. Will he return?  This departure retraces his grandfather’s pilgrimage for Gen. 12. Waltke writes (pp.388-389) “Back inBeersheba, Esau lies in wait like an angry lion. Ahead inHaran, Laban waits with his spider web to trap and suck the life from his victims.”
      2. 2.       How old was Jacob at this point? Ages are not as precise in the Old Testament as we would prefer in our modern age, so it is a bit difficult to pin this down. I will quote Wiersbe here: pp.34-35 “If the events in chapter 27 occurred shortly after Esau’s marriages (26:34-45), then Isaac was only 100 years old. Since he died at 180 (35:28-29), it seems strange he should feel the end was so near, unless he was just pretending so he could give Esau the blessing as soon as possible. However, if we work our way back from Jacob’s age when he went to Egypt (47:9), Isaac would have been 137 in Genesis 37, with forty-three more years left to live. But this would mean that Jacob was seventy-seven when he went toHaran to get a wife, which seems a bit old. The time line in Scripture isn’t that precise, and we don’t know how old Jacob was when each of his twelve sons was born.” I bring this up because the ages and timelines of people and events in the OT are frequently cited as contradictions or errors. The Hebrews used numbers in a variety of ways with some theological meanings at times that are not fully understood by us today. We like precision. We should not judge the OT authors by modern day methods or standards of accuracy in regards to ages, numbers and timelines. Some of the differences we see will remain unanswered mysteries.
      3. 3.       And he came to a certain place- the word for “came to” (ESV, NASB), lighted upon (KJV), reached (NIV), is the same Heb. word in 32:1 “met” (ESV) where Jacob has another encounter with the angels of God. This is a technique which Moses uses time and again to link various passages together when there is a similar theme or idea.
      4. 4.       a certain place- in vs. 19 we see that this “certain place” already had a name, Luz, a Canaanite city. So you have to ask the question, why did not Moses just say, “And he came to Luz,”? It seems to me that Moses is deliberately discarding the Canaanites ownership of the place and giving it a theological significance as the place where God met Jacob. You do not want to pollute it with the pagan Canaanites so you just call it “a certain place”. Waltke says, (p.388) “The implication is that this place has meaning only when God reveals himself there…” It may have been just “a place” for Jacob at first, just a stopping place to sleep for the night, but it would become Beth-El, the house of God, a place of revelation and encounter with the living God.
      5. 5.       night…the sun had set- emotionally, it may have felt like the sun had set on Jacob’s life. He is not going on a fun voyage of adventure to start his life, he is fleeing a death threat. This is a dark time in his life and I can imagine he is fearful, worried, perhaps despairing. Why doesn’t he go into Luz and find an inn? Is he suspicious that his brother may have people watching for him? Is he just wary of the Canaanites? Is he so distraught that he is just avoiding every body? He comes from a wealthy, respected family, but now we have the image of a fugitive on the run, scared and alone in a dark, stony, barren place at night. Again, this links with his return journey in 32:22, 31 where he encounters the angel (or the Lord himself) at night.
      6. 6.       Waltke, p.389- “This sunset begins Jacob’s dark journey to PaddanAram, through which he must struggle with humans and God. The true ‘daybreak’ for his soul will not come until the end of his twenty-year exile (32:26).”
      7. 7.       Apply- if you are not familiar with the dark night of the soul, depression or despair, loneliness and a hard, stony life, then you are still young and will likely face these emotionally challenging events soon. Few of us, I think, will ever be fleeing a death threat, but we will face other threats that will bring us to the “certain place” where God may meet us and provide hope, comfort and peace. Are there any quick testimonies of your being in that “certain place” of despair and depression? Perhaps you are there right now. Can we help you through it? I think that, to an extent, Jesus experience in Mark 1:12-13 is similar. Jesus was beginning his public ministry, he had just been baptized by John the Baptist, and “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels ministered to him.”
      8. 8.       Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.- Have you ever had a rock for a pillow? Actually, we are a bit unsure what exactly this phrase means. It could very well mean that he crawled underneath an overhanging rock or it could be that the rock was used as a neck roll with a blanket or cloak on top of it. The point is not about his comfort, the point is that an ordinary stone becomes a pillar for a sanctuary, reminding me of Matt. 16:18 “And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros-Rock), and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I wonder if Jesus might have been thinking of Jacob’s stone that became a meeting place with God and a sanctuary?
    2. B.      Jacob’s Ladder, vv. 12-15
      1. 1.       And he dreamed, v.12- Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had an encounter with God while he was sleeping in ch.15, and Jacob’s son, Joseph, would be called, disparagingly, in ch.37, “Here comes this dreamer…” by his brothers.
      2. 2.       Look at 1Kings 3:4-5 and you will see King Solomon going to a sacred place,Gibeon, seeking the Lord and receiving a dream while he slept. This was a common practice in the ancient world among pagans too. However, Jacob was fleeing trouble, not seeking the Lord, he was in a “certain place” but not a known holy place. Waltke writes (p.389), “In this unexpected event in a no-place, God, sovereignly and apart from Jacob’s schemes, reveals himself to Jacob.”
      3. 3.       and behold- literally, “seeing or see”. This word announces all three elements of the dream: he sees there was a ladder; he sees the angels of God; and, he sees the LORD. Also, in typical Mosaic fashion, this key word-behold, see- is used at the beginning of the next part of the story in 29:2.
      4. 4.       there was a ladder- ladder or “stairway” (NIV), given the Mesopotamian context it is likely to mean a stairway, similar to what would be found in a Babylonian ziggurat. This makes for a better visual as well with angels on a stairway rather than a ladder.
      5. 5.       set up on the earth- the Hebrew, according to Waltke (p.390), is literally “placed toward the earth”. Here is a case where the English translation is not adequate because the Heb. makes clear it was a stairway FROM Heaven to Earth, not from earth to heaven as would be the case in ancientSumer andBabylon. In Gen. 11and thetower ofBabel we see men building a tower to reach heaven. Moses clearly contrasts the truth here, in Jacob’s dream, with the lie fostered by the men ofBabel. Man CANNOT find or build his way to God. God is holy and above us, other than us, and He chooses to condescend and come meet us. It is a stairway FROM Heaven to Earth. God must take the initiative, not sinful man.
      6. 6.       behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!– angels are God’s messengers who have appeared in the past with Abraham in 18 and with Lot in Sodom in 19. Prior to that we saw Cherubim placed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were sent out in ch. 3. In 24:7, 40 Abraham promises and the servant testifies of the angel of the LORD going before him on his journey toHaran to see for Isaac a wife. This would definitely teach the doctrine of the existence of angels as spiritual beings who act as go betweens, messengers, between heaven and earth, who, in this context, seem to be a part of God’s promise to Jacob to be “with you and …keep you…and …bring you back to this land.”
      7. 7.       This would also remind Israel in Moses’ day that the Lord’s presence would go before them in Ex.23:20 “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” Notice the similarities with the account with Jacob- Behold, angel, place, the same words used in Gen. 28:10-22. This would likely be a preaching point for Moses to his people.
      8. 8.       behold, the LORD stood above it- it can be translated as “beside it”. The idea is that the Lord is above all, he is the Lord over heaven and earth. It is another stick in the eye of the false gods of the Sumerians/Babylonians whose shrines on top of the ziggurats are filled with idols. Here, at the top of the stairway is the one true God, the LORD. Victor Hamilton, however, (pp.240-241), makes a strong case for interpreting it as the LORD was standing at Jacob’s side. The dream is interpreted by Jacob in vs. 16 as “surely the LORD is in this place” stressing the immediate presence of God with Jacob in this certain place. The dream, then, communicates both the transcendence and immanence of the LORD, he is high and lifted up and he is here with me now. He is above me yet he is also beside me.
      9. 9.       Apply- the world wants us to agree with, or at least be silent towards, the claim that all gods are equal or the same; all religious paths up the mountain lead to the same destination. NOT TRUE! The busyness of life wants to make us forget that He is here with us now but we must, like Jacob confess that he is in this place.
      10. 10.   In John 1:51 “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This provides us with the interpretive key. Jesus is the ladder or stairway from God to man. He is door, the gate, the narrow way, the way, the truth and the life. As Paul writes in 1Tim.2:5 “For there is one God (no others at the top of the stairway) and there is one mediator between God and men (the stairway from Heaven), the man Christ Jesus.”
      11. 11.   the LORD…said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” Vs.13- The LORD reminds Jacob that He is (not was) the God of Abraham (first generation) and the God of Isaac (second generation). Jacob, by the end of this encounter makes the LORD his God (third generation) whereas earlier (27:20) while speaking with Isaac his father, says, “the LORD your God granted me success.” Hamilton says (p.241f) “The phrase the God of Isaac would be particularly poignant to Jacob’s ears. For Jacob now lies before the one who says in essence: I am the God of the one whom you deceived and of whom you took advantage. Jacob could supplant Esau. He could deceive Isaac. But what will he do with Yahweh?”
      12. 12.   This is God revealing himself to Jacob. Jacob was not seeking the LORD, this is raw, radical, sovereign grace toward a sinner. Salvation is all of God. Waltke, (p.391), “Salvation is a surprising gift of God not gained through human manipulation.”
      13. 13.   The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.– This solves the problem of his leaving the Promised Land forHaran and leaving Esau as the potential inheritor. The LORD has now passed on the patriarchal covenant to Jacob and that includes the promise of land. Notice that there is no censure of Jacob for his fleeing, for his deception of his father or bargaining for the birthright. Again notice the grace, “I…give to you”.
      14. 14.   Apply- everything we have is a gift from God, the very air we breathe.
      15. 15.   Your offspring shall be like the dust- descendants are part of the covenant promise made to Abraham, Isaac and now, the unmarried Jacob. God’s promise came to Abraham when he was old, married to a barren woman, but now to an unmarried Jacob. God’s promises transcend our present circumstances. In22:17 God promised Abraham descendants like the stars of heaven and the sand on the seashore; now it is like the dust of the earth as in13:16.
      16. 16.   and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east…- this hearkens back to13:14-15. Waltke writes (p.391), “will spread out…the Hebrew here denotes ‘to break out’ with destructive force; it connotes holy war.” This would be particularly appropriate for Moses’ day, though it is disturbing for many today.
      17. 17.   in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.– The chosen people were chosen in order to be a blessing to the rest of the world. This balances the holy war aspect. This shows the gospel purpose of election, to be a blessing to the whole world. Hamilton writes (p.242) “Thus far in the Jacob story the emphasis has been on Jacob’s ‘getting’ the blessing. Here the emphasis shifts to ‘being’ the blessing. Beraka is not something to be sought at all costs. It is, rather, something to be bestowed.”
      18. 18.   Time and again in our studies in Genesis we have seen this covenant between the Lord and the patriarchs and this promise that “you will be a blessing”. We know that that blessing, ultimately, is the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The ultimate blessing from Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob is the Saviour. Salvation is from the Jews, and ultimately, all from God.
      19. 19.   How does that blessing apply to us? First of all, we receive the gift of salvation as the Holy Spirit seeks us out, convicts of our sin, gives us a new heart whereby we can repent and believe in Jesus- the promised blessing, the offspring of Jacob. Secondly, we get to participate in being a blessing to others as we live our lives in accordance with God’s Word, empowered by the Spirit, demonstrating the gospel in every activity and then positively sharing the gospel, proclaiming the gospel, as we tell others what Jesus has done for us. When we get a glimpse of the glory of God and become aware that He is in this place, we can believe his promises and seek to carry out those promises by being that blessing to others as we share the Word. The gospel is that God, our Creator, is holy and demands from us loving obedience, but we, as sinners, cannot and will not return to God what he demands. Therefore, God sent his only Son, Jesus, to be a 100% real man, live a perfectly obedient life, and die on the cross as our substitute to atone for our sins. Jesus is the stairway, the ONLY mediator between God and man. He died so that we could be forgiven and he was raised from the grave on the third day, so that we could have new life in Him. The gospel is that we must repent and follow Jesus. That is the blessing which we must share.

Make Me A Blessing #569 in The Baptist Hymnal 1991 ed. words by Ira B. Wilson and tune SCHULER by George S. Schuler. The words were written in 1909 and the tune in 1924. Schuler, at his own expense (because the song had been rejected by a publisher) printed up 1,000 copies and began using them at and International Sunday School Convention inCleveland,Ohio and it became a popular evangelistic song. This is a favorite from my youth, but I recognize that some of the theology from verse 2 is a bit off. The overall message of the song is on target.

1 Out in the highways and byways of life,
many are weary and sad;
(are weary and sad)
Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife
making the sorrowing glad.

Make me a blessing,
Make me a blessing,
Out of my life
out of my life
May Jesus shine;
Make me a blessing, O savior, I pray,
I pray Thee, my Savior,
Make me a blessing to someone today.

2 Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love;
Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
(His pow’r to forgive).
Others will trust Him if only you prove
true ev’ry moment you live.


3 Give as ’twas given to you in your need;
Love as the Master loved you;
Be to the helpless a helper indeed;
Unto your mission be true.


  1. 20.   Vs. 15 Behold, I am with you- this is amazing because we have not seen any sign of spirituality with Jacob at all, but the Lord says He is with Jacob. This is comforting because we know the doctrine of election was demonstrated at his birth back in ch.25 (and explained by Paul in Rom.9). This gives hope to the parent of a wayward child, the wife of a wayward husband, etc. God has been with Jacob! Is with Jacob!
  2. 21.   This brings to mind what Jesus said in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
  3. 22.   The presence of the Lord was certainly proclaimed and experienced by Moses andIsrael.
  4. 23.   will keep you- here is the promise of His continued presence and protection with Jacob. Again, I go to the words of Jesus in Matt.28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold (there’s that word again), I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We something similar in Numbers 6:24 “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
  5. 24.   Here we see the doctrine of assurance for the believer. Can anyone separate you from the love of God? Not according to Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or 1John 5:11-13 “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” And Paul writes in 2Tim.1:12 “for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
  6. 25.   and will bring you back to this land- fleeing for his life, Jacob finds out that God has been with him, is with him, and will bring him back to this land. God’s promises are sure. He does have the blessing of God and this land will be his. Although the dark night of his soul looked pretty lonely and grim, God is there, and he will bring him back. Notice that God makes this promise even before Jacob has left the land. Despite all that has gone on, Jacob is right where God wants him; he is in God’s will.

Conclusion: In the dark of night fleeing a threat, thinking perhaps that all is lost, God found Jacob in a certain place and graciously revealed himself to Jacob and gave him a promise of land, descendants and blessing. All of it undeserved and unexpected. That is how God’s sovereign grace, amazing grace works. We are not seeking Him, He seeks us. The ladder comes from heaven to earth, He takes the initiative. He gives us hope and assurance. His promises are sure.

Next week we will look at Jacob’s Reaction to this Grace and his new found faith. Hopefully we will also look a little bit at John 1:51 and how Jesus uses this passage from Genesis 28.

Jacob’s Reaction, vss.16-19

Jacob’s New –Found Faith, vss. 20-22





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One Response to “Genesis 28:10-22 “Jacob’s Ladder, part 2””

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Excellent explanation of Jacob’s Ladder in Sunday School!

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