Jacob Saw More Than a Ladder
Jacob the Patriarch
Jacob, one of the founding patriarchs of the Jewish faith, had many character flaws. It is not a good thing to deceive your blind Father, but Jacob did. Jacob, however, was chosen by God for a profound purpose. God revealed part of that purpose to Jacob in a vision of a miraculous ladder that linked heaven and earth.
In Genisis 32:22-32, Jacob finds himself wrestling all night with a mysterious stranger whom he knows can bless him. Because Jacob had overcome both spiritual and physical obstacles, God, the giver of all blessings, changes Jacob's name to Israel (God Contended, Wrestles with God). Contrary to what will be future procedures, God allows Jacob to marry two sisters, Rachel and Leah.
For thousands of years, many individuals and institutions have used Jacob's name to remember the Supreme God and Creator, calling Him "the God of Jacob. Legend has it that Jacob's tomb, under rigorous protection, resides in the Middle East more than 3,000 years after his demise.
Jacob the Legend
Jacob was the inheritor of the sacred covenant that God made with his grandfather Abraham and later with his father, Isaac. Even while still in the womb of his mother, Jacob struggled with his older twin brother Esau (Genesis 25:22). According to Carole Fontaine, Professor of Hebrew Bible at Andover Newton Theological School, in Newton, Massachusetts, Jacob may have been doing his mother Rebekah a favor by struggling with his brother. Newton says that around the seventh month of his mother's pregnancy, Esau was so anxious to be born that he was willing to kill Rebekah to do so. Jacob was struggling to restrain Esau. Jacob was so intent on curbing the intentions of his older sibling that he came out of the womb behind Esau with a firm grip on his heal.
Esau was the older brother. In ancient times the oldest son received the inheritance and the most prominent blessings from his Father. Jacob, however, through cunning ends up with it all.
How Esau Lost
The Bible indicates that Esau, who seems to be his Father Isaac's favorite, becomes a hunter and lives skillfully off of the land. Jacob, who appears to be his mother Rebekah's favorite, stays at home sheltered by the comfort of tents and fireplaces.
In Genesis 25:29-34, we find Esau exhausted and about to starve after an intense hunt. Jacob is cooking some red, lentil, stew. Esau is so hungry that he trades his inheritance for stew, bread, and something to drink. Before Esau eats, Jacob insists that Esau sware that the birthright is Jacob's. In so doing, Esau obtains the historical name "Edom," which means "Red." Jacob's cunning act results in the covenant that God made with Abraham, going to Jacob and his descendants rather than Esau's.
Taking It Further
What seems even more deceiving is what happens when a nearly completely blind Isaac, on his death bed, asks his son Esau to prepare one of his favorite meals; good, savory wild game. Isaac loves food cooked with wild game, and Esau knows how to make it just the way his father likes it. After Esau brings him the food, Isaac plans to state the blessings that rightfully belong to his oldest son.
Rebekah overhears the conversation. She devises a scheme to supplant the plans of her husband, Isaac. To make sure that Jacob is blessed instead of Esau, Rebekah tells Jacob to go and get two goats out of the flocks. She then cooks her husband's favorite dish and has Jacob take it to his father in Esau's stead. Rebekah is willing to take the punishment if her husband finds out about the deception. She makes the meal, dresses Jacob in Esau's clothes, and puts hairy gloves on his hands.
In case Isaac, his Father, touches him, the furry gloves allow smooth skin Jacob to feel like his hair-covered brother Esau. The plan works. Jacob, who already has stolen his brother's birthright, now also has his blessing. Some scholars have said that Isaac knew that he was blessing Jacob all along. They contend that Isaac was fulfilling the will of God. Jacob, however, really attempted fraud. After Jacob leaves, Esau comes in and virtually gets nothing.
In his anger and disappointment, Esau feels like killing his brother. Heeding his mother's advice, Jacob flees his father's place in Beersheba and hightails it to Haran, where his uncle Laban, Rebekah's brother lives.
Forced to abandon the comforts of home, Jacob, on the way to Haran, finds himself in the mountainous, uncharted wilderness of a strange land. He eventually makes camp in a place later to be renamed Bethel (the place where God lives).
A man of the tents, Jacob has no choice but to pause outside in the wilderness. As night begins to fall, Jacob stops to rest for the night at a remote place called Luz. Although he is feeling fearful and vulnerable, Jacob rests his head on a stone, closes his eyes, and falls asleep.
While sleeping, Jacob dreams that he sees a stairway resting on the earth. The top of the stairway reaches to heaven. Ascending and descending the stairs are the glorious angels of God. To his amazement, Jacob sees God standing at the very top of the stairwell. God says that He is the God of Abraham (Jacob's grandfather), and the God of Isaac (Jacob's father).
God tells Jacob that the ground he is lying on belongs to him and his descendants. God then informs Jacob that his descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the field. Jacob's offspring will cover the whole world and be a blessing to all families on earth.
God promises to be with Jacob and protect him wherever he goes. God pledges to be with Jacob until all of His words come true.
Through the ages, many artists have tried to depict what Jacob saw in his dream. However, Jacob observed more than just a ladder. The Hebrew word used to describe a ladder is "Sullam." Three Hebrew pictographs called Samech, Lamed, and Mem represent the word. The Hebrew term "Sullam" is used nowhere else in the Old Testament except to describe Jacob's ladder. Because other Hebrew words for a staircase do not represent Jacob's ladder, the ladder in Jacob's dream takes on special significance.
The word angel is synonymous with the word messenger. In Jacob's vision, the messengers of God were ascending and descending the stairway to heaven. The only other place in the Bible that uses the word "Sullam" to describe a ladder is in the New Testament book of John. John 1:51 says, "And he saith unto him, 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" (KJV).
Jesus is The Ladder
The book of John indicates that Jesus is the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream. Jesus is the "Sullam." Jesus says that He is the way to heaven. God, the Heavenly Father, stands at the top of the ladder, and the only way to get to the Father is by utilizing the divine ladder, Jesus Christ. Jesus further confirms that He is the ladder in Jacob's vision by saying, "I am the living GOD, The Way, and The Truth and The Life; no man comes to my Father but by me alone," John 14:6 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English).
The three Hebrew letters in the word "Sullam" also represent numbers.
- Samech, Number 60 represents pride.
- Lamed, Number 30 refers to the blood sacrifice of Christ.
- Mem, Number 40 indicates trials or probation, or a probationary period that results in renewal.
The most significant benefit comes when Jesus, the perfectly flawless descendant of Jacob, sacrifices Himself for imperfect humanity in all of his flaws.
While in the wilderness, Jacob is fearful, not knowing if the blessings that he cunningly obtained will truly belong to him. When the ladder, the "Sullam," appears, God puts away Jacob's pride and ends the probationary trials that have permeated his life. In essence, God forgives Jacob. To work out His purpose, God blesses Jacob, confirming to him the right of the blessing and the inheritance.
In the midst of it all, the most significant benefit comes when Jesus, the perfectly flawless descendant of Jacob, sacrifices Himself for imperfect humanity in all of his flaws. Jesus is the one who is our ladder, our "Sullam." Jesus Christ is the way to the Father in heaven. Jesus is the ladder that brings the blessings of God down to all of humanity.
Mysteries of the Bible - Jacob's Ladder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/-HJppuC4INw
The Mystery in Sullam - The Hebrew Word for Jacob's Ladder. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/hj8lm3hAzA
© 2020 Robert Odell Jr