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Jacob’s Ladder

In 19th-century America, a generation of oppressed slaves sang a spiritual about “Jacob’s Ladder.” The repetitive, rhythmic lyrics about climbing higher and higher helped them envision themselves on a hard journey to a better place.

The original story is about a great ladder reaching up to heaven, and it’s as down-to-earth as the man who dreamed it. According to Genesis, Jacob is not the kind of person you’d want to do business with. Nor is he someone we’d want around the family table. Described by the Bible as a born liar, Jacob’s early years are marked by fraud and deceit. After boldly lying to get his father’s blessing, he leaves home to avoid being killed by the older brother he has cheated.

On the run, however, Jacob’s life takes a surprising turn. When night comes, he makes a pillow out of a rock, falls asleep, and dreams of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven. On this ladder, he sees angels going up and down (Genesis 28:10-12). Above the ladder, Jacob sees one who identifies Himself as the God of his fathers Abraham and Isaac.

As the dream continues, God tells Jacob that He is going to give him the land on which he is sleeping. That, however, turns out to be the local news. The global part of the dream promises that through Jacob’s children all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 28:13-14). Then, for the road ahead, God promises to be Jacob’s ever-present protector and provider (Genesis 28:15).

When Jacob wakes up, he is overwhelmed with the sense that he is in the house of God and at the gate of heaven (Genesis 28:16-17).

With that background, let’s go forward 2,000 years. Rumor has it that the long-awaited hope of Israel has come. A few Jewish fishermen of Galilee, living in the lakeshore village of Bethsaida, have come to the conclusion that they have found the long-awaited Savior of Israel. One of these men, Philip, finds his brother Nathanael and says, “ ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’ ” (John 1:45-46 NKJV).

What happens next surprises Nathanael. As he approaches the teacher from Nazareth, he hears Jesus say, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” (John 1:47 NKJV).

What did Jesus mean? Why would he refer to a common man like Nathanael as an Israelite who wasn’t lying?

At this point, it might help to imagine Nathanael’s ancestor Jacob, the father of Israel, standing quietly in the background. As if to match Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus seems to say something like, “Well, look at this, an honest man from the likes of Jacob.”

Jesus makes a point to affirm Nathanael as someone who says what he thinks. Then seemingly to tease such candor, the Teacher says things about Nathanael that a mere man would not have known (John 1:48). Nathanael hears enough to show that he understands why his brother has brought him to Jesus. “Rabbi,” he declares, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:49 NKJV).

In different ways, both Jesus and Nathanael help to show the wonder of a God who can use some of the most unlikely people and places to show His love for all of us. That is what God had done with Jacob, and Jesus goes on to show that He wants Nathanael to make that connection. Working with Nathanael’s sense of wonder at having found the Son of God, Jesus promises that in the future Nathanael would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51 NKJV).

Just as Jacob dreamed of a ladder bringing heaven to earth, Jesus predicts that Nathanael will see heaven coming to earth in “the Son of Man.”

Finally, in Jesus, we understand the meaning of Jacob’s ladder. From the beginning, God planned to show His grace to a world of people who are more like Jacob than we’d like to believe. In Jesus, the truth of heaven would come to earth to offer mercy and forgiveness to people who are born with bad blood running through their veins. Jacob’s dream foreshadows how far God would descend to bring people like Jacob and us into His family.

Father in heaven, in the story of a born liar and a great ladder, You have enabled us to see our own hearts—and the inexpressible grace of Your Son. In the rhythm of our days and in the hardness of our ways, we join Nathanael and Jacob in the wonder that You know and love us—far better than we know or love You.

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18 Responses to “Jacob’s Ladder”

  1. belleu says:

    When I was in my twenties I was dating an atheist. I thought I was in love and I was very lonely. I asked God if I could please marry this man. God spoke to me, even though I was in open sin, and told me a Christian cannot be unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

    I was amazed God even considered me to be a Christian since I was sinning. I didn’t marry that man and I’m so glad I waited. I’m married to a Christian and have been for 36 years. What a blessing it is.

    As you said, God did descend to bring me into his family as I was. It amazed me at the time and still does.

  2. remarutho says:

    Good Morning BTA Friends –

    I am always amazed that we can become distracted by worries both large and small, and lose the awareness that the movement of heavenly messengers to and from the presence of God is an ongoing reality. Messages of comfort, guidance, healing, and many other wonderful spiritual things, are entering the world via Jacob’s Ladder minute by minute. Mart, you wrote:

    “In different ways, both Jesus and Nathanael help to show the wonder of a God who can use some of the most unlikely people and places to show His love for all of us.”

    Surely the Lord is pelting us with little packets of grace brought by heavenly messengers for our transformation. How does pesky Jacob morph into Israel, the patriarch of the twelve tribes? It cannot be explained except by the grace of God. Grace showers us continually! (Psalm 65:9-10) May the Lord awaken us with the gentle shower falling on our heads. :o)


  3. SFDBWV says:

    One of the smiles I get out of the story of Nathanael is his realization that the man he was talking to was in fact God.

    I get this mental picture of more than a skeptic as he approached Jesus, and ready to put Him to the test, when it is Jesus who drops the bomb on Nathanael by declaring that when Nathanael was under that Fig tree Jesus was aware of it all.

    Something very personal between Nathanael and his requests to God had taken place under that fig tree and Jesus had declared He had witnessed the whole matter.

    Awestruck Nathanael surrendered to Christ.

    If we can remember, many of us have had awestruck moments with God, but being human we soon lose the special feeling that accompanies those moments and start being skeptical all over again, looking for proof.

    How do you suppose Nathanael ended up seeing angels coming to and fro from heaven to the Son of Man, as Jesus declared?


  4. foreverblessed says:

    Funny, when I read about the ladder in Mart’s topic, I thought he is going to take us further along the path of progression into being a child of God, as he was teaching us the last few topics, that the beautitudes are a progression in our growth of being a more christlike person. A ladder.
    Jacob sees a ladder, and we know that he will ascend step by step as God was going to make him holy and pure.
    At least, that was the immediate thought that came into my head.
    God is making us holy, as long as we look up to Him in full desire. “hunger and thirst”.
    But the fact that God chose Jacob, a born deceiver, that must be of comfort to all of us: no matter how bad our “blood” God can work with us, as He could with Jacob.
    That is also the reason why God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    If God would call Himself only the God of Abraham and Isaac, we could be easily feel defeated, but as God attaches His name to a born liar, (Jacob, and not even to his new name Israel, while for Abram God chooses his new name Abraham), He is so gracious, so merciful, thank God for being as He is.

    The connection with Nathanael is something I have to meditate upon, that it will sink in my heart, thank you Mart for bringing it up!

  5. poohpity says:

    Jacob’s deceit seemed like a family issue. Abraham was a liar (Genesis 12:13 NIV; Genesis 20:2NIV) then so was Isaac (Genesis 26:7 NIV). Abraham was then tested for trusting God with the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:12 NIV) but then again lied after realizing God would provide. But God’s plan for the peoples of the world to be blessed through his offspring was not thwarted by the failures of man.

    Nathanael believed because Jesus told him what was happening before he met Jesus but would later see more miracles than that experience. He would learn that Jesus was the One who went from heaven to earth and then back to heaven, seems like Jesus was the Ladder.

    When I first read the Bible it gave me such a sense of relief that through God’s grace He used so many imperfect people, as if there were any perfect one’s, to accomplish His Kingdom work. When we understand that God knows us so completely yet loves us in spite of ourselves because of His awesome grace and mercy we are brought into His family. That alone should turn a hardened heart into one full of love for God and others. Because He first loved us before we even knew anything about him, He knew us.

  6. oneg2dblu says:

    belleu… thanks for sharing that actual life lesson.

    It is a place that any one of us could go as well if we were lonely, even feeling we were in love, but yet still lonely.

    It speaks to us all who are Christian, although you were living in open sin as you have said, you still believed enough to Ask, Seek, Knock, and the answer that one “should get” would always align with His Word, and His Will, if it is God who is answering us.

    Truth is, we Chrisitians all know better than to live in open sin, or any sin, if we also still feel the conviction to clarify our position with God when prompted, either through the certain declaration found in His Word, as in your case, to not be yoked with an unbeleiver even though you thought you were all for it, you knew it was wrong.

    You saved yourself msny greifs in so doing I’m sure, and you pleased Your Heavenly Father by asking for His advice, and blessed us as well in your sharing.

  7. oneg2dblu says:

    Steve… I too smile at the sight of the heavenly ladder and wonder, because whenever I see it I’m always looking up instictively knowing it leads to a higher place. :)

    Wonder if there is a ladder seen hanging on the side of the pit of hell, where all the lower rungs are already burnt away and just out of reach. :O

    All right, it may be time to slow up on the coffee!!!! intake.

  8. BruceC says:

    I notice also that Jacob did not dream of building a ladder with his own hands. It was made in Heaven by the grace of God. Far too many people and false religions today try to “build” their own ladders to heaven: thinking that they can climb up what they have made.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  9. BruceC says:

    Yesterday my hip was in quite a bit of discomfort and grew worse as the day went on. By night the pain was going all the way down to my left foot and then I knew I had a pinched sciatic nerve. Haven’t had it this bad in years and years. I can barely get in and out of a chair. Guess I won’t be thinking about ladders in the physical sense for a while! LOL! Stated my stretch exercises that a physical therapist showed me once before to help pop the disc back in. Please keep me in prayer. The Lord is climbing every rung in the ladder of life with me.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  10. remarutho says:

    Good Morning All –

    Mart, you wrote:
    “Working with Nathanael’s sense of wonder at finding the Son of God, Jesus promises that in the future Nathanael would see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51 NKJV).”

    Nathanael’s spirit has responded to the Spirit of God, it seems to me. Running to see Jesus, he now knows what only the Spirit can impart to his heart and mind: He is in the presence of Messiah who has come to us here. The wonder is that we – whosoever – may relinquish his/her own sovereignty and enter the presence of God just as Nathanael does. In one motion of surrender, he departs the heritage that comes to him through the patriarch Jacob. He sees and hears the love of the Father in the flesh.

    Jesus told a parable illustrating the absence of “guile” in the human heart. He speaks of the kingdom of God as though it were a material matter – Mark 4:24-25. The things of the unseen God are not material, but rather spiritual. The Rev. Dr. Eugene Peterson, in whose mouth butter would hardly melt, translates Jesus’ telling of the parable this way: “Listen carefully to what I am saying—and be wary of the shrewd advice that tells you how to get ahead in the world on your own. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. Stinginess impoverishes.” – The Message

    Prayers going up for an end to that sciatic pain, Bruce.


  11. poohpity says:

    When Nathanael asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” or “How do you know what I am like?” knowing they had never met before, he was amazed that Jesus even knew what he had said when Philip called him. That can either really scare us that even every thought we have God knows or find comfort in that God knows us so very well yet wanted to adopt us as His children. It is easy to want to adopt a compliant child but how hard is it to love one that has bad blood flowing through their veins which we are all prone to have. It seems difficult often times to even admit to ourselves the condition of our hearts yet God has given us something so very wonderful in His grace but one can not really come to terms with that kind of mercy unless we admit what we are like.

  12. poohpity says:

    To me it is also so wonderful that Jesus knows just what to say, at the right time as He calls us to Himself. If our eyes, see and our ears, hear the pathway to our heart becomes open and welcoming to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves realizing that we can in no way love Him like He has loved us but it never stops us from trying. :-)

  13. remarutho says:

    Good Evening All —

    I agree, Pooh, it is mighty comforting to know that Jesus’ love is a vast ocean. There is so much more than we could ever think or imagine!

    Our efforts seem puny — but he always sees us as his children. As Paul said, just when I am weakest, then Jesus is strong. He sends ministers of grace moving down the ladder to us. A great relief to know worry or anxiety are of no use. Jesus is on it already.

    Remember to turn your clock back one hour!


  14. cbrown says:

    Maru, Thank you.I had forgotten about the clock.

  15. poohpity says:

    We do not have daylight savings time here. I think Arizona is the only State that doesn’t.

  16. poohpity says:

    Oh wait neither does Hawaii.

  17. remarutho says:

    Good Morning BTA Friends —

    Naturally, neither do my critters. The dog and cat know what time to eat, whatever the clock is doing! :o)

    God’s assurance given to Jacob sleeping at Bethel is all the more touching, since he was facing Esau’s wrath — and perhaps finally pay-back for all the tricks he had played. He knew what he deserved, according to fairness, brotherly love and the Law. May we all have courage to change our ways when we see own sorry image reflected back through God’s grace in Christ.

    Mart, your prayer is a prayer for today:

    “Father in heaven, in the story of a born liar and a great ladder, You have enabled us to see our own hearts—and the inexpressible grace of Your Son. In the rhythm of our days and in the hardness of our ways, we join Nathanael and Jacob in the wonder that You know and love us—far better than we know or love You.”


  18. poohpity says:

    God’s plan for Jacob was about to unfold but first he had to face the consequences of his deceit and lying. He was on his way to his uncle Laban’s place who did the same things to Jacob by deceit and lying that Jacob had done. I think after receiving what he had given helped him to come to the place of remorse over his actions. I think it was 21 years after the ladder that he faced Esau with the life lessons and a remorseful heart as he finally wrestled with the Lord and let go of doing things his way.

    He loves us so much that he never leaves us as he found us.

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