Genesis 28:12 (ESV) … “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!”
As he drifted off, he wondered if he would make it. He remembered every word of Isaac’s blessing about the land and a people. But he was fleeing the land and was childless, indeed wifeless. What a mess he had made of his life. “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it” (vv. 12, 13a). Jacob’s dreaming eyes saw a ladder extending from the earth, on which he lay, far up to Heaven. Was it a staired ramp as on a ziggurat or a runged ladder? We do not know. But it makes no difference because it was a surreal dream ladder.
And there was more. It was freighted with angels. Some were rising from where he lay, and others were coming down. August emissaries of God were conducting commerce between Heaven and earth. The arrangement of the descriptions—from the ladder to the angels to the Lord—narrows the focus to the central point of the vision, which was God himself. The Hebrew suggests exclaiming with uplifted arm and open mouth in astonishment, “There, a ladder! Oh, angels! And look, the Lord himself!” Yahweh presided over the commerce of Jacob’s life. God was directing everything. There was heavenly activity in this desolate place on Jacob’s behalf. Jacob’s somnolent eyes were upturned to Yahweh in his splendor. Divine reality assaulted his quivering soul.
God speaks. Then from above the ladder, from Heaven, God himself spoke in grand covenantal terms:
And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 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.” (vv. 13, 14)
The intent was to hearten the sleeping Jacob. The unconditional personal and national promises first made to Abraham were now made to Jacob by the Lord himself.
Indeed, he was the third patriarch. God had become the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and now the God of Jacob. This was the divine title that God would now bear throughout the Scriptures.
With the covenant promises affirmed, the Lord then explained the significance of the ladder: “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” (v. 15). The dynamic presence of God, who directs commerce between Heaven and earth for his own people, would never leave Jacob. Jacob could never go beyond God’s keeping. The angel-freighted ladder rising to God above would go with him on the thousand-mile trek to northern Mesopotamia, where it would accompany him for twenty years and return to the land with him. Always the ladder! Always the angels! Always God!
Fellow believers, this is all grace. Jacob, the conniving believer who was outcast and alone due to his own sin, who merited nothing from God, was met by God in his misery with an unparalleled revelation of God’s care and assurance for the future. Jacob was not seeking God—he was fleeing the consequences of his deception. He was not expecting grace. But grace was unleashed upon his soul—and with not even a word of reproach. The vision and the voice of God only bore assurances.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
John Newton, 1779
It was grace that had brought Jacob safe thus far, and grace would lead him home.