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Jacob’s Ladder - Bible Story Summary

Jacob’s Ladder Confirms God’s Covenant

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Jacob's Ladder

In a dream with angels ascending and descending a ladder from heaven, God extended his covenant promise to Jacob.

Photo: Sami Sarkis / Getty Images

Scripture Reference:

Genesis 28:10-22.

Jacob's Ladder - Story Summary:

Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, was fleeing from his twin brother Esau, who had vowed to kill him. Esau was furious with Jacob because Jacob had stolen Esau's birthright, the Jewish claim to inheritance and blessing.

On his way to his relative's house at Haran, Jacob lay down for the night near Luz. As he was dreaming, he had a vision of a ladder, or stairway, between heaven and earth. God's angels were on it, ascending and descending.

Jacob saw God standing above the ladder. God repeated the promise of support he had made to Abraham and Isaac. He told Jacob his offspring would be many, blessing all the families of the earth. God then said,

"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." (Genesis 28:15, ESV)

When Jacob awoke, he believed that God was present in that place. He took the stone he had been using to rest his head, poured oil on it and consecrated it to God. 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, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 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." (Genesis 28:20-22, ESV)

Jacob called the place Bethel, meaning "house of God."

Points of Interest from the Story of Jacob’s Ladder:

• Most scholars interpret Jacob's ladder as a connection between heaven and earth, with God taking the initiative to reach out to man. The perfect "ladder" is Jesus Christ, who was God come to earth to save humanity. Jesus refers to himself as this ladder in John 1:51: "And he (Jesus) said to him, 'Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.'" (ESV)

• In the NIV translation of the Bible, the term "stairway" is used instead of ladder. The word ladder appears in the King James Version, New King James Version, English Standard Version, and New American Standard Bible.

• Jacob vowed to give one tenth of his income to God's work. This observance, called tithing, is still practiced today by many Christian denominations.

Jacob's Ladder is the title of a 1990 movie starring Tim Robbins, dozens of books, and a 1987 #1 hit song written by Bruce Hornsby and performed by Huey Lewis and the News.

Question for Reflection:

Scholars sometimes contrast Jacob's ladder, God's outreach from heaven to earth, with the Tower of Babel, man's grasping from earth toward heaven. Are you trying to climb to heaven on a "ladder" of your own good works and behavior, or are you taking the "ladder" of God's plan of salvation, his Son Jesus Christ?

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