Jacob had stolen his brother Esau’s birthright and in an effort to escape from him, he was making his way speedily to Haran which is around 500 miles from Beersheva. Even from inside his mother’s womb, Jacob and Esau had wrestled and that continued throughout much of their lives. Now though, Jacob was a lonely fugitive, fleeing his brother who was a hunter, and he made great haste in covering the 50 miles to Luz.
Sadly and ironically, Jacob had strived to acquire the birthright which had been revealed to Rebekah his mother when she enquired of the Lord whilst they struggled within her (Genesis 25:22-23). But is that not like us? How many times in our strength, cunning and ingenuity do we attempt to fulfil what God has already promised us from the Scriptures? How difficult we make life for ourselves, often creating a rod for our own back and suffering the consequences, when we take matters into our hands and attempt to accelerate the purposes of God.
Yet God was merciful and the stone which was his pillow in the wilderness for one night would be used as an altar to which he added oil to memorialise his meeting with God. Jacob was destitute and companionless on his travels though he would encounter the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that same night. That provided reassurance and also changed him forever.
Jacob’s ladder is indelibly imprinted in our culture, even in the UK. I remember conquering Jacob’s ladder at the River Dart Country Park in Dartmoor and seeing another Jacob’s ladder at Sidmouth, plus there is a Jacob’s ladder in the Pennine Way and another one at Cheddar Gorge. Jacob had a dream; a ladder was set up on earth, it reached to heaven and angels of God ascended and descended upon it.
Jacob’s ladder reminds us that God has appointed angels as His messengers and servants, and that He is actively involved with the affairs of mankind. Who was at the top of the ladder? God stood above it. Theologians call this a ‘theophany’ or in other words, God appearing. How could Jacob see God and survive? Where else is this referred to in the Bible? When the Lord Jesus met Nathanael who perceived that Yeshua was the Messiah, He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man John 1:51).” Who is the Son of Man? The Son of Man is a Messianic title (Daniel 7:13-14) and also a title that Yeshua attributed to Himself (c.f. Matthew 24:30; 26:64).
What does this mean? Jacob’s ladder is a picture of who Messiah is. Jesus is the gate, He is the door and the only way to the Father is through Him (John 10:7, 9; 14:6). He is the gateway, there is no other way and the gate is also narrow. “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:14).”
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
The Lord revealed Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and reassured Jacob of the land that He would give to His descendants. He would be with him and keep Jacob wherever he went. In ancient cultures many thought that gods were local, semi powerful, or tribal. The God of the Bible showed that He was everywhere and all powerful. Wherever Jacob trod and though he might at first be alone even in the Promised Land, God would be with him. God would also protect him and watch over him. It is no accident that midway through the last century, Israel was re-established as a Nation State and despite intense and lasting worldwide persecution, the Lord has preserved the Jewish people. The believer also has the assurance of God being with them-Immanuel means God with us (Isaiah 7:14; c.f. Matthew 1:23; ). God kept His promises with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and also keeps His promises with those who trust in Him alone.
When Jacob awoke, he realised that God had been there, and he had not known it. Sometimes we can be slow to hear God speaking to us. Most often God speaks to us through His Word though sometimes God reveals Himself in dreams. Often, we are too busy, rushed or preoccupied with day to day matters that we fail to discern when God has communicated to us. Samuel heard the Lord speak four times and call his name before he discerned who was calling him and then the Lord came and came and stood and called as at other times before he replied “speak Lord for your servant hears (1 Samuel 3:10).
Jacob was afraid and that was not a bad thing, since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). Was not Moses afraid and Gideon afraid and Manoah afraid when they met God? Some television evangelists say that they have seen God yet speak of such matters as if this were a normal every- day occurrence yet have no fear of the Lord. Some are intent on seeing God’s glory though if they did, they would die (Exodus 33:20). “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father has declared Him (John 1:18; c.f. 1 John 4:12).”
Luz become Bethel
Jacob named the place ‘Bethel’ though it was formerly known as ‘Luz’. Bethel means ‘the house of God’. Luz has more than one meaning. In one sense it means ‘almond tree’ and various interpreters have commented on the possible significance of that derivation. It also means ‘separation’ or ‘departure’. Until we come to trust in the Lord our sin separates from Him, but when we come to Know Him, then we are able to be in fellowship with Him and enjoy His presence and go to Him. You can go to a building to attend a service in the house of God, but it is imperative to know Him and trust in Him.
How often do we try to climb the ladder to heaven through our own efforts? This is none other than the sin of Babel when the people tried to build a tower up to heaven. Did you know that ‘Babel’ means ‘confusion’ and Babylon ‘gateway to the gods’? There is only one Saviour and only one gate and only one way to the Father and that is through Messiah Yeshua, who is the only way to the Father. Jacob later returned and built an altar which he called ‘El Bethel’, meaning ‘God of the house of God’, which spoke of his personal fellowship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This is the first vow in the Bible. Some say that Jacob was attempting to bargain with God. Nonetheless the word ‘if’ is probably more helpfully translated ‘since’, and shows Jacob’s trust in the Lord to be able to be with Him and keep Him, and provide for his needs and enable him to return to his Father’s house in peace. He would be Jacob’s God and he would willingly remember the stone set as a pillar and memorial to his encounter with God and of all that God gave him, he would surely give a tenth in return.
It is evident that changes were taking place in Jacob’s life which would be more fully realised when God wrestled with Him and changed his name to Israel in Genesis 32:22-32. God often speaks several times to us; frequently through His word or through other people, until we hear His voice and begin to trust and follow Him wholeheartedly. Jacob was on a journey to Haran and would return to Bethel. He was also on a greater spiritual pilgrimage. Like Jacob, those who trust in the Lord may experience many troubles, heartaches and at times walk a lonely road, but the Lord is always with us and watches over us and provides for our needs. Our real home is in heaven where we will abide forever with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.