Genesis 28:10-22 “Jacob’s Ladder, part 3”

Posted on September 11, 2011. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, September 11, 2011 Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 28:10-22

10 Jacob left Beershebaand went toward Haran. 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<a title="Or a flight of steps” href=”″>2 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<a title="Or beside him” href=”″>3 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.”


Introduction: Last week we began our exposition of the text of this very familiar story of Jacob’s Ladder and covered vss.10-15, the part where Jacob finds a “certain place” to sleep outside of Luz in his flight from Esau to Haran, and has a dream of a ladder or stairway from heaven with angels on it and the Lord standing above him. Jacob encounters God, not because he was seeking God, but because of God’s seeking him! Derek Kidner writes (p.158), “This is a supreme display of divine grace, unsought and unstinted. Unsought, for Jacob was no pilgrim or returning prodigal, yet God came out to meet him, angelic retinue and all, taking him wholly by surprise. Unstinted, for there was no word of reproach or demand, only a stream of assurances flowing from the central ‘I am the Lord’, to spread from the past to the distant future, from the spot where Jacob lay to the four corners of the earth (14) and from his person to all mankind (14b).


This is a story of God’s grace which happened to Jacob and which Moses is proclaiming to his people, the descendants of Jacob, answering the questions: Who are we and Why are we here? This account also helps answer the same questions for us today because we, too, are the needy recipients of God’s grace.


  1. I.                   Jacob Encounters God, vss.10-15
    1. A.      God Jacob’s Dark Night of the Soul, vss.10-11
    2. B.      Jacob’s Ladder, vv. 12-15


  1. II.                Jacob’s Reaction, vss.16-19
    1. A.      Awakened by God, Awakened to God, v.16
      1. 1.       Then Jacob awoke- The dream seems to have awakened Jacob, in more ways than one. Have you ever had a dream that actually woke you up in the middle of the night or earlier than usual? It can be a very startling thing. Mathews, p.452, “…he is fearfully startled by his dream, awaking in the midst of the night.”
      2. 2.       Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it!– Mathews mentions (p.452) that the words for “surely” and “know” appear together in Ex. 2:14, the story of when Moses killed the Egyptian. The significance of this is that this phrase indicates a fear of discovery. Jacob here had no idea when he lay down that this place was inhabited by the Lord and he now has a holy fear. There is no escaping nor hiding from God who sees all, knows all, and is everywhere present. For the one who encounters the Holy God and realizes that he is but an unclean sinner, a worm compared with the glory of God, it is a fearful thing.
      3. 3.       Psalm 139:1-12.
      4. 4.
      5. 5.       Apply- while we somewhat know and understand the omnipresence of the Lord, Jacob’s understanding was likely a bit more towards the idea of tying the Lord to a particular place. But perhaps in our more advanced theology, we have lost something. Is it a good idea treat the church building as a holy place? As a sanctuary? Should we treat it the same as a gymnasium or movie theatre? Do we teach our children reverence in the church building? Or does that take away from the truth of God’s omnipresence?
      6. 6.       Apply- have you been someplace in your past, perhaps a church youth camp or retreat in college, perhaps out in nature, where you had such a surprising close encounter with the Lord that you could join Jacob in saying, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!” Those kinds of experiences are treasures but we cannot always stay on the mountain tops. Valleys all too often follow. Jacob will have some serious valleys in the future.
      7. 7.       What was Peter’s response to seeing Jesus glorified along with Moses and Elijah on the mountain in Matt.17?
      8. 8.       This is the first encounter with the Lord that we know of Jacob having. He has been awakened to the Lord’s presence in his life. With Abram it was some kind of communication while inUr. With Moses it was the burning bush. With Peter, Andrew, James and John it was Jesus meeting them at the dock saying, “Come follow me!” With Saul of Tarsus it was the blinding glory of the Lord confronting him on the Road toDamascus. I am reasonably sure that Jacob’s father and grandfather gave him sound instruction in the Lord, but perhaps this was the point where he was genuinely awakened by God, for God.
      9. 9.       Victor Hamilton, p.243, compares Jacob’s shock at discovering the Lord’s presence in this place with Isaac’s shock at discovering Jacob had been present instead of Esau. “Jacob, once the source of shock and surprise, is now the object of shock and surprise.”
      10. 10.   There is perhaps a hint of shame or reproach in what Jacob is saying. He did not know that the Lord was in this place, and he feels like he should have known.Hamilton makes a good point, p.244, by saying, “Jacob’s comprehension of God and his presence is the opposite of Samson’s: Jacob was unaware that Yahweh was with him in that place; Samson was unaware that Yahweh was not with him (Judg.16:20). Ignorance of or presumption on the presence of God is inexcusable.”
      11. 11.   Apply- Which are we guiltier of, not being aware of God’s presence or presuming that he is with us?
    2. B.      This Is the House of God! Vs. 17
      1. 1.       And he was afraid- the dream did not seem to have any overtly scary things in it, yet he woke up afraid. The holy presence of God Almighty is a wonderful yet fearsome thing, both. Jacob seems to be fearful a few times. Here, he is frightened by the surprising presence of God; he is afraid of Laban in 31:31; and he fears his brother Esau in 32:7,11.
      2. 2.       Ross writes, (p.491), “Jacob’s attitude of fear was appropriate for such a meeting with the Lord. The term ‘fear’ is used in the Bible to describe a mixture of terror and adoration, a worshipful fear (cf. Exod.19:16). All worshipful acts must begin with and be characterized by reverential fear at the presence of the Lord (Exod. 3:6; 19; Ps.2:11).”
      3. 3.       Apply- Have we lost the idea of fearing God?
      4. 4.       this is the house of God- Beth-El,Bethel.
      5. 5.       this is the gate of heaven- the name forBabylon means gateway to the gods. There are some similarities between this event in Jacob’s life and the telling of the story of theTower ofBabel. The ladder/stairway comes from the ancient Sumerian ziggurats as depicted in Gen. 11. The promise of God to Jacob that his offspring would spread out all over the world resembles what happened after God confused the languages atBabel. And now, the use of “gate of heaven” is another similarity.
    3. C.      Jacob’s Pillar, v.18
      1. 1.       So early in the morning- the dream woke him up, he contemplated the meaning of the dream, and then, early in the morning, he takes action on God’s revelation to him. His response is immediate, he does not delay. Look at Abraham in19:27;21:14; and 22:3.
      2. 2.       Jacob took the stone…and set it up for a pillar- Jacob raises other pillars, see 31:45, 51-52; 35:14, 20, (see also 1Sam.7:12; Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Prov.22:28; 23:10). He also sets up altars like his fathers, 33:20; 35:1,3,7.
      3. 3.       Apply- What are some pillars or Landmarks, of our faith that have been, or are in danger of being forgotten, removed?
      4. 4.       The idea of landmarks in the faith led to a new strain of Baptist in the 1850s. The Landmark Baptists are named from an article by Southern Baptist Pastor James M. Pendleton “An Old Landmark Re-Set” which is based on Prov. 22:28.
      5. 5.


  1. 6.       and poured oil on the top of it- anointing with oil consecrates a person or a site for the Lord. The imagery is that this consecrated pillar of stone is a witness and a constant reminder of the covenant between God and Jacob.
  2. 7.       The oil is a sacrifice to the Lord.
  3. D.      Bethel, v.19
    1. 1.       He called the name of that place BethelMathews notes that the naming formula is the same as for Abraham in22:14 “The Lord will provide.”Bethel is mentioned more often in Scripture than any other city except forJerusalem (Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, vol.1 Merrill C. Tenney, ed. 1975, p.531).
    2. 2.       See 12:8; 13:3 for examples of a later editor, even Moses, updating a place name becauseBethel did not exist in Abraham’s day. This is not a problem for inerrancy or inspiration.
    3. 3.       The point is that Jacob took immediate, appropriate action after receiving a revelation of God, from God. How do we respond to the revelation we receive in the Bible?


  1. III.             Jacob’s New –Found Faith, vss. 20-22
    1. A.      Three Petitions to God, v.20-21a Presence, Provision, and a Return
      1. 1.       Mathews, p.454, “Jacob is the only patriarch who makes a formal vow to God.”
      2. 2.       Waltke says that this is the longest vow in the entire OT (p.393).
      3. 3.       Ross writes, p.493, “Vows were not made to induce God to do something he was not willing to do. They were made to bind the worshiper to the performance of some acknowledged duty. Jacob made his vow on the basis of what God had guaranteed to do. He was thus taking God at his Word and binding himself to reciprocate with his own dedication.”
      4. 4.       Wenham, p.224, writes, “This vow is of great importance within the Jacob cycle, for it is mentioned again at key points (31:13; 35:1-3,7)….
      5. 5.       Jacob is making a vow in exactly the right kind of situation. He is in distress because his brother is about to kill him and he is leaving home to go someplace he has only heard of. He has received a revelation of God.
      6. 6.       If God will be with me- he is requesting what God promised in v.15. The presence of God- only a God who is Spirit can be omnipresent. He is here with us.
      7. 7.       and will keep me in the way that I go- “prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love” Jacob needs the Lord to keep him in the way…and so do we. Prov 3:5-7

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding.

6 In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

7 Be not wise in your own eyes;

fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

8 It will be healing to your flesh

and refreshment to your bones.


  1. 8.       keep- from the  Hebrew word group for “watch” means giving protective oversight and guidance as in a shepherd guiding his flocks (Mathews, p.454), see Gen.30:31 “I will again pasture your flock and keep it.” 1Sam.17:20 “And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper”. This calls to mind the 23rd Psalm

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

3 He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord



  1. 9.       The doctrine of Assurance- the Holy Spirit will not leave the new believer but will always be there to guide us into following the Lord and convicting us when we disobey and get off the path. Jacob prays for the Divine protective Presence.
  2. 10.   …give me bread and clothing…  Here Jacob prays for Divine Provision. We get used to going to work, getting paid, going shopping, coming home and eating and having clothes to wear. Jacob includes the basics of life in his vow. In The Lord’s Prayer in Matt 6:11 “Give us this day our daily bread” and in Matt.6:28ff 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
  3. 11.   For Israel in Moses’ day did not the Lord provide the manna and the quail? But also look at this in Deut.10:18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.
  4. 12.   Deut.29 These are the words of the covenant that the Lord commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant that he had made with them at Horeb.2  And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 3 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. 5 I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.
  5. 13.   Do you see how readily this experience of Jacob’s transfers into a preachable moment for Moses and Israel in the wilderness!
  6. 14.   Our world of high technology, electricity, computerized everything, and tremendous wealth, is so fragile and so tempting that we forget to pray for the basics like Jacob did, and like Jesus taught us. Now days we pray, Lord make the cable work for this football game, or, Lord don’t let my internet to out just now!
  7. 15.   so that I come again to my father’s house in peace- see Gen.33:18. Peace- shalom, not merely the absence of conflict or a cessation of hostilities, but the presence of divine favor, blessings, things are the way they were meant to be.
  8. 16.   Conclusion: Jacob prayed for God’s Presence and Protection, for God’s Provision, and to Return in Peace. While we are sojourners on this earth, we need the presence of the Holy Spirit and the protection from sin that he gives us, we need the provision for these earthly bodies and we need the assurance that we will end our days by going “Home” to our Savior.
  9. B.      Three Promises To God, v.21b-22
    1. 1.       then the Lord shall be my God- this calls to mind Gen.17:7-8 “I will be their God”. This is the moment when Jacob accepts and seals the covenant that God is making with him. Look forward to Moses’ day in Exodus 6:2-8.
    2. 2.       Scholars are a bit split on the nature of Jacob’s response here. It is common in vows to have an “if…then” aspect. ButHamilton shows sound grammatical reasons (p.248) for looking at this vow differently. The story is all about God’s choosing of Jacob, NOT Jacob’s choosing of God. The better way to understand this perhaps is “since God will be with me…then the Lord shall be my God.”
    3. 3.       and this stone…shall be God’s house- Jacob will return here to worship, it will be a shrine.
    4. 4.       I will give a full tenth to you- this is clearly reminiscent of Abraham and Melchizedek in Gen 14.

Conclusion: Jacob the deceiver, fleeing for his life, is not searching for God, but God finds him in this lonely, dark place. The Lord reveals his covenant with Jacob and Jacob responds with a vow, worship and a promise of a tithe. Here is the gospel for our day. The Lord seeks us out and saves us by his grace, love and mercy. We do not seek Him. He promises to be with us, keep us and guide us, provide for us and bring us home. Our proper response should be to trust in His promises, worship him, follow him and obey him.


Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50, in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, MI. 1995 (pp.243-250).

Kidner, Derek. Genesis: An Introduction & Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Inter-Varsity Press:London 1967 (pp.158-9).

Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary, Vol.1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman&Holman Publishers:Nashville, TN 2005 (pp.452-455).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids, Mi. 1998 (pp.491-494).



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