Jacob’s Ladder


Learn more about the origin and meaning of Jacob's ladder and why it represents God's first step toward His chosen man.

“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” (Gen. 28:14).

- Genesis 28:10–17

Moses turns his attention back to the history of Jacob’s life in today’s passage. On the way to the city of Haran in the region of Paddan-aram, Jacob stops for the night and lays on the ground in a place far from any large cities. Jacob places a stone “under his head” (Gen. 28:10–13) and prepares to stay the night there despite being alone and vulnerable. Yet we know Isaac’s younger son has nothing to fear because it is here that he first meets the Lord.

Jacob’s vision is of a “ladder” joining heaven and earth (v. 12). Most commentators believe stair steps are in view here as the Hebrew word used may be related to words used to describe towers with staircases. Thus, we may compare the tower of Babel (11:1–9) with Jacob’s ladder. In Babel, arrogant sinners vainly attempted to climb up into heaven, but with Jacob, God in His grace takes the first step towards His chosen man. Nothing indicates that Jacob was looking for the Lord; rather, God sought him and found him just as He finds all His people (Ps. 139:1–16; Luke 15:1–7;Rom. 8:29–30).

God’s appearance to Jacob comes at a crucial point in his life. Though he has received the good blessing from his father (Gen. 27:26–29; 28:1–5), he is homeless and his life is endangered. The Lord’s gracious visit thus assures Jacob that Isaac’s words have not been spoken in vain. He is indeed the recipient of the promises of salvation made to his father and grandfather (28:13). His offspring will spread abroad to all the corners of the earth (v. 14), an early indication that Jacob’s family (all those with faith in the Messiah, Gal. 3:29) will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). Moreover, Jacob can know all this will happen because God will be with him to accomplish His Word. Matthew Henry reminds us: “Whom God loves he never leaves.”

Christ alone is the way to this same salvation (John 14:6); thus, He later compares Himself with Jacob’s ladder (1:51). While we do not see Him with our eyes today, if we trust God’s promises, we will see Him in the age to come (1 Cor. 13:12). John Calvin comments that Christ “is the medium through which the fullness of all celestial blessings flows down to us, and through which we, in turn, ascend to God.”

Coram Deo

Hebrews 13:5–8 makes it clear that the Lord who promised to be with Jacob is our Lord, and He will likewise never leave His people. Have you been faithfully serving God and yet feel as if He is far away from you? Take heart and trust in His Word, for our Father has not left you but is sustaining you in your trials in ways you may not even realize. Remember always that our Lord is a covenant-keeping God, and thus He will never abandon those whom He loves.

Passages for Further Study
  • Deut. 31:1–8
  • 1 Sam. 12:22
  • Jer. 51:5
  • John 14:18
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