With some help from his mother, Jacob tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that Isaac had planned to bestow on his firstborn son Esau.
“And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob” (Gen. 27:4).
Rebekah, the mother of Esau and Jacob, heard about Esau’s anger. She told Jacob to flee to Haran and stay with her brother Laban until Esau cooled off and it was safe to come home. What was supposed to be a relatively brief visit with his Uncle Laban turned into twenty long years of exile for Jacob.
During his time of exile, Jacob had spiritual treasures of eternal value. He had both the birthright and the blessing. He had convinced his brother Esau to sell him the birthright for a bowl of lentils, and he had tricked his father Isaac into giving him the blessing that rightfully belonged to Esau. Jacob had obtained the birthright and the blessing by taking advantage of his brother’s hunger and his father’s blindness. Nonetheless, the birthright and the blessing legally belonged to Jacob.
Jacob had these two spiritual treasures, but he did not have any earthly treasures when he fled from his home. The only material goods Jacob had were his staff and whatever he could carry in a bag. He not only lacked a bed to sleep on, he did not even have a pillow. On the first night of his journey “he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep” (Gen. 28:11).
Jacob was no doubt depressed as well as tired. When a man is depressed, sleep can provide a temporary escape from problems. As Jacob slept, he got more than some temporary relief from his problems. He received some profound revelation in a dream that God gave him:
“And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:12-15).
In this dream, God revealed Himself to Jacob as Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Isaac. He promised to give the land to Jacob and to his seed, to increase Jacob’s seed, and to bless all families of the earth through Jacob’s seed. Finally, He promised to protect and preserve Jacob wherever he went, and to someday bring him back to this land.
Jacob’s dream included not only these promises, but also a vision of a ladder. This ladder connected heaven and earth and provided access for the angels to travel back and forth between the realms of heaven and earth.
In the New Testament we learn that Jacob’s ladder is a symbolic picture of the Messiah Yeshua. Yeshua said to Nathanael, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man” (John 1:51).
Like Jacob’s ladder, Yeshua is the link between heaven and earth. He is qualified to be the mediator between God and man because He is both the Son of man and the Son of God. He was both fully human and fully Divine. Thus He is fully qualified to represent God to man and to represent man to God.
I do not like to get too caught up in debates about the deity of the Messiah or about the nature of the so-called Godhead. The Bible does not state nor even suggest that we are expected to understand and explain the details of the Creator’s anatomy in a way that humans can comprehend. When I hear people arguing about things like Trinity versus Oneness, or the question of how Yeshua could be God on earth while praying to God in heaven, I think to myself:
We are like a bunch of blind-from-birth people arguing about various shades of blue. We are arguing about things which are far beyond our ability to even comprehend. We can no more comprehend the Creator’s anatomy than a blind man can comprehend the concept of various shades of color.
While we are not required to understand and explain the details of the Creator’s anatomy, we are expected to believe the testimony of the Holy Scriptures regarding the deity of the Messiah. We do not have to understand how it works or how it all fits together, but we should believe it simply because the Bible teaches it. (See articles in GOE 18-5 & 19-1.)
Regardless of how you want to understand and explain the deity of Yeshua, the New Testament clearly states that Yeshua, like Jacob’s ladder, is the link between heaven and earth. He is the one mediator between God and man:
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus [Messiah Yeshua]” (1 Tim. 2:5).
One time I was discussing the Resurrection of Jesus with a Jehovah’s Witness. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in a “spiritual” Resurrection. They teach that the “resurrected” Jesus was not the body that was placed in the tomb. “Jehovah God raised him from the dead, not as a human son, but as a mighty immortal spirit son... a glorious spirit creature” (Let God Be True, p. 41).
Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe that the physical body of Jesus which was placed in the tomb underwent a transformation from mortal to immortal and from corruptible to incorruptible. They do believe that Jesus is now immortal and incorruptible, but they do not believe that the dead body of Jesus was literally, physically resurrected.
This might seem like an insignificant point or just a matter of semantics, but it’s not. They teach that Jesus was “raised” figuratively by becoming “not a human creature but a spirit” (Let God Be True, p. 276).
This denial of the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus is summed up in the words of Charles Taze Russell, who, along with Judge Rutherford, founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Russell wrote: “The man Jesus is dead, forever dead” (Studies in the Scriptures Vol. 5, p. 454).
If the dead body of Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then what happened to that body? According to Russell, “whether it was dissolved into gases or whether it is still preserved somewhere... no one knows” (Studies in the Scriptures Vol. 2, p. 129).
When I was talking to the Jehovah’s Witness, I asked him if he agreed or disagreed with Russell’s statement that “the man Jesus is dead, forever dead.”
“I’m not a Russellite! I’m not a Russellite!” he protested.
“I’m not calling you a Russellite,” I said. “But Russell, along with Judge Rutherford, founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I just want to know if you agree or disagree with your founder’s statement that ‘the man Jesus is dead, forever dead.’ Yes or no?”
The man did not want to give a straight yes or no answer. He tried to explain his view of the Resurrection.
I interrupted him. “It’s a yes or no question,” I said. “Do you agree with Russell’s statement, or not?”
After a few exchanges, he finally admitted that he agreed with Russell’s statement that the man Jesus is dead, forever dead.
“Well,” I replied, “if the man Jesus is forever dead, then you are forever without a mediator, because the Bible says there is one mediator between God and man, and that one mediator is ‘the man Christ Jesus.’”
If you do not have the man Yeshua as your mediator, then you are without a ladder. You have no access to the heavenly realm. “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6).
Jacob saw the ladder in his dream. In the Gospel of John we learn that Yeshua is the ladder. Later in the New Testament we learn how Yeshua functions as that ladder to heaven. Through His sacrifice He provides access to God. “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13f).
It is through the suffering and the wounds of Messiah that He becomes the ladder to heaven. This truth is eloquently expressed in the old hymn: “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.”
In Exodus 33, Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock and saw a glorious revelation of God’s mercy. In a similar way, we hide ourselves in the wounds of Messiah, the clefts of the Rock, and see a glorious revelation of God’s mercy in Yeshua, our Bridegroom.
In the Song of Solomon, the Bridegroom says to the Bride, “O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice” (Song 2:14).
The Bride who hides in the clefts of the Rock knows the secret places of the stairs. The Bride knows that the rungs of Jacob’s ladder are climbed by hiding herself in the clefts of the Rock, by entering into the fellowship of His suffering. The rungs of the ladder are climbed not only by meditating on His sufferings on your behalf, but also by drinking every bitter cup of suffering that He prescribes for you in this life. In other words, by “enduring hardness as a good soldier of Messiah” (2 Tim. 2:3).
Jacob endured a lot of hardness in his life, not only during his twenty-year exile, but even after that, when his beloved Rachel died and when he lost his beloved son Joseph for many years in Egypt.
Of course a lot of Jacob’s troubles were due to his own actions. Jacob was a cunning, conniving manipulator. He knew what he wanted and he was determined to get it by hook or by crook, even if it meant taking advantage of his brother’s hunger and his father’s blindness.
Even though Jacob’s methods of obtaining the birthright and the blessing were deceptive, Jacob had one thing in his favor: he realized the value of the birthright and the blessing. Esau, on the other hand, despised the birthright. When offered the choice of having a belly full of lentil stew or having God forever be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau, Esau chose the former. Because Jacob valued the birthright and the blessing enough to obtain them, God is now forever known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob instead of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.
We should all follow Jacob’s example of esteeming and pursuing things of eternal value more than things of merely temporal value. And ideally speaking, we should not follow Jacob’s example of using deception and manipulation of others in our pursuit of the blessings of God. We should trust the Lord to guide us in our pursuit of Him and His blessings, and patiently and prayerfully wait for Him to show us what to do, rather than taking matters into our own hands like an ambitious, eager-beaver over-achiever.
God gave Jacob a dream in spite of his flaws. God can give you a dream too, even if there is still some of “Jacob” inside you. Even if you still sometimes tend to take matters into your own hands instead of trusting the Lord, God can still give you a dream to pursue. Just as God gave Jacob a revelation of His plan for him, He can give you a revelation of His plan for you.
After the Lord finished speaking to Jacob in the dream, “Jacob awakened out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not: And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:16f).
If you do not have a dream to pursue, ask God to give you a revelation. Ask Him to open your eyes to the reality of the spiritual realm in a way that will awaken you out of your spiritual stupor. Ask Him to give you an awareness of His presence that will put the fear of God in you.
“Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not,” Jacob said. Didn’t Jacob already know that God is everywhere? Did Jacob need this dream to inform him that God is omnipresent? No. Even before this dream, Jacob surely knew about the omnipresence of God, at least in a generic, universal “God-is-everywhere” sort of way. But now Jacob was experiencing the manifested presence of God, the presence which can be felt, the presence that awakens a man from his sleep and puts the fear of God into the man’s heart.
Yes, God is everywhere, but “everywhere” includes right here, right now. The revelation that God is actually present right here and right now drives a man to cry out, “How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
This sort of revelation will move a man to make some serious changes in his life. Although he was still a manipulator, even Jacob made some vows before moving on from that place.
I never experienced a revelation as dramatic as Jacob’s dream, but I can still remember very clearly the night when I had a spiritual awakening that caused me to make some serious changes in my life.
I had been a disciple of Jesus for a year or two. I had been faithfully reading the Bible, praying, going to meetings, tithing, sharing my faith, occasionally fasting - all the stuff that normal Christians normally did in the early 1970s. On that particular night, I was walking by myself and meditating on the reality of eternity. I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that even though I had forgiveness of sins and eternal life, I would still give an account to the Creator at the end of my life for what I do with my life in this world. It was a profound awareness that the things we do in this life will affect our circumstances for all eternity in the age to come.
I already “knew” this in a doctrinal sense, and I was already seriously devoted to the Lord. But this awakening took me to a new level of “knowing.” I guess you could say it was the second rung on Jacob’s ladder. It put the fear of God in my heart. I resolved then and there to really get down to business and seek the Lord like never before. I already knew the Scriptures better than most of my peers, but I determined to dig even deeper into the Scriptures. I already had a relatively healthy prayer life, but I resolved to deepen it even more.
I was around 24 years old the night I made that decision. This March I will be threescore and ten. Like Jacob, I was (and still am) flawed. Nonetheless, God gave me this revelation to inspire me and motivate me and sustain me through these many years.
The Lord said to Jacob, “And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen. 28:15).
I can testify that God has likewise been with me and kept me in all places whither I have gone, lo, these many years. And I trust that He will not leave me until He hath done that which He hath spoken to me of - even though I’m not always 100% certain exactly what He hath spoken to me of. But regardless of my occasional dullness of hearing, I know that my life will not end until He hath done whatsoever He wants to do in my life.
If you do not have a dream to pursue, ask the Lord to give you a dream that will awaken you to the reality of His presence - not just the doctrinal knowledge of God’s generic omnipresence, but a revelation of His presence right where you live, right now, in your own personal life. Then let that revelation inspire you and propel you to the fulfillment of the dream that God has given you.
Be diligent to passionately pursue God’s vision for you, but be patient as you pursue it. Let me close with the lyrics of a song from Brother Sun, Sister Moon, an old movie about St. Francis of Assisi:
If you want your dream to be,
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends,
Heartfelt work grows purely.
If you want to live life free,
Take your time, go slowly.
Do few things but do them well,
Simple joys are holy.
Day by day, stone by stone,
Build your secret slowly.
Day by day, you’ll grow too,
You’ll know heaven’s glory.
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