Jacob’s Dream

The story of Jacob’s ladder is well known by many who do not know the Bible. Jacob is depicted in song lyrics from Led Zeppelin to U2 to Rush to Huey Lewis and the News. Jacob is also a topic for motivational speakers communicating ones ability to climb the ladder of personal success because “the skies the limit”. The story of Jacob’s ladder has taken on varying shades of meaning and interpretation, which are a stretch from its original biblical context.

The story of Jacob’s ladder dream appears at the beginning of Jacob’s narrative. Jacob had just deceived his twin brother Esau by ripping off his birthright and lying to get his father’s deathbed blessing. Therefore Esau is out to get Jacob’s head and see him dead. So Jacob flees the Promised Land and the momma’s boy who once loved staying home was now driven from his home. He becomes a fugitive from his family fearing his brother’s ferocious rage.

The tension in the story rises as Jacob comes to a certain place at the sunsets. He spends the night out in the elements alone. Without protection in an unknown place Jacob finds a sandy spot to sleep with a rock for his pillow. The tension continues to rises as he nods off to sleep and dreams a strange dream about a ladder that the angels of God ascend and descend upon. God comes to Jacob in a dramatic dream in the middle of the night. For the first time in his life, Jacob encounters God.

How in the world is God going work with this guy?

At this point in Genesis, the covenant promises of God have been applied to the less than perfect people—from Abraham to Isaac to sinfully deceptive Jacob who stole both the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau. Jacob possesses the covenant blessing, but lacks faith-driven relationship with God like that of Isaac and Abraham. Jacob is not a God-pursuer [worshiper, believer]; he is a man-pleaser and self-gratifier. For the first time, Jacob is not living under the faith of his parents, but begins his own relationship with God.

So how does he go from Jacob to Israel? From trickster and deceiver to a worshiper of God? From a total goober to a godly guy? Jacob is probably in his 70s, still living with his parents, mom still washes his whitie-tighties, and has her pack his lunch box with PB & J. He’s totally a late bloomer with no wife, no job, allowed to underachieve, enjoys being spoiled, and has inconstant God-following parents.

The story climaxes as Jacob sees God in his dream. And no, it wasn’t a dose of spicy chili the night before. God speaks to him and promises to be everything that He was to Jacob’s dad [26:3-4] and grand-dad [12:2-3; 15:1-6]. The God of Abraham and Isaac will also be known as the God of Jacob. The Lord not only extends patriarchal promises [i.e. land, descendants, and blessing] but also adds a special promise—His presence—that the Lord will always be with him [and Israel] wherever he goes. The symbol of His presence is the ladder in his dream, which connects heaven with earth.

If I were Jacob, I would have wet my pants seeing God, especially after his sinful escapade. Jacob should have been cursed for all his sin, however God has grace on him and blesses him. In holy fear, Jacob awakes from his dream awed by the Lord. The change in Jacob’s heart turning toward God arises in his commitment to tithe to God as an act of worship to God [cf. 26:25]. Above all it is God who seeks out a covenant relationship with Jacob, which is the pattern continued for all believers throughout human history.

How do we get from Jacob to Jesus?

As Jacob leaves the Promised Land, God promise to be with Jacob wherever he goes. This is an important redemptive theme that progresses throughout the history of Israel to those who follow Jesus.

As Moses is called out of Egypt—leading the Hebrew people to the Promised Land—God promises His presence [Exodus 3:12; Deuteronomy 31:6]. He proves His presence with a pillar of clouds by day, a pillar of fire by night, and His glory in the tabernacle. As Joshua carries the torch of Moses and enters the Promised Land, God assures His presence [Joshua 1:5]. God promises His presence with Israelites kings [1 Kings 8:57]. And when Israel is cast int0 exile God promises His presence with His people [Isaiah 43:2; 41:10].

The culmination of the promise of God’s presence came when He was born as a babe with human skin and walked among His people. His name is Jesus. He is also known by the name, “Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” [Matthew 1:23; John 14:9-10; Colossians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 7:14]. After Jesus rises from the dead He promises His presence with His followers [Matthew 28:20; Hebrew 13:5] and His Spirit dwells in His people [Acts 2:33; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19]. On the last day, when Jesus comes again, He promises to dwell with His people forever in the divine Promised Land of His eternal presence [Revelation 21:3].

The promise give to Jacob by God was fulfilled when God brings him back to Canaan, when God returns the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, and when God returns the remnant from exile in Babylon, but promise is ultimately fulfilled through Jesus Christ the Son of God. The ladder Jacob sees in his dream is a picture of God promise “to be with you.” God is not absent from His creation or His covenant people. He is intimately connected with His creation. The ladder represents His mediation between heaven and earth. Jesus even makes this correlation between the ladder and Himself [John 1:49-51]. Jesus is the mediator between heaven and earth—God and man [1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6]. Jesus is the ladder; He is the connection between heaven and earth.

The purpose of Jacob’s strange ladder dream was to get his attention. Once God got his attention, He promised to be with Him always wherever he would go. That promise would ripple to His holy people [Israel] and also in the Scripture later to His church. The promise of God’s presence is one of the most precious and assuring promises of the Scripture. This promise is meant to be a source of comfort for all His followers. God knows that His people sometimes feel forsaken. However, remember as Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:20]

tale of twin brothers

I am one of six. I have three brothers and two sisters. I am at least 10-years older than my closest sibling. If you have siblings then you know what it is to have a rival. Since most of my siblings are much younger than I am our battles were either unfair or annihilation’s. I was more of the big-brother-built-in-babysitter, but now as my siblings are getting older I get my fair share of beat downs. Mostly verbal onslaughts related to my balding scalp and growing belly.

Today we will peer under the roof of a family with twin brothers who were all boy and at times bad to the bone. Most siblings can relate to these two dudes. However, what their story unfolds is a story that opens up a greater story of redemption and reconciliation, which we will discover over the next few weeks.

Two boys are born [Genesis 25:19-28]

Isaac [the promised son] married Rebekah [the prayed for wife], but come to find out she is barren. This is not a good thing for a family that is promised to bear the Seed of Hope [the promised Son—Jesus]! However, Isaac learned from the story of his mother and father. Instead of taking matters into his own hands he prayed to God who can open wombs as He did with his mother’s womb. God answered with a miracle bringing to life Rebekah’s dead womb.

Rebekah was blessed with not just one, but with two rambunctious boys. Even before her boys breathed their first full breath of oxygen they were picking on each other. Inside their mother’s belly the boys were like to UFC brawlers throwing fists and feet, but instead of a rope and ring they were using the walls of their mothers womb. I have seen my wife’s reaction when our little girl got moving. I could not image two burly boys bouncing around.

Rebekah does not understand why this is happening so she asks God. Isn’t this family something great? Two parents seeking God on behalf of their children. God responds to Rebekah’s inquire with historic news. The two boys within her would be two nations, two divided people, one [Jacob] stronger and the other [Esau] a servant to the younger [cf. Romans 9:10-13; 2 Samuel 8:13]. This is an incredibly important oracle, which would come to play later in the life of the twin brothers.

The first boy to be born was Esau [also called Edom]. He was red and hairy with a coat of fur like Elmo or Clifford the big red dog. The second boy to be born was not far behind. In fact, on the way out he was holding onto his hairy brother’s heel. They named their heel grabbing son heel [or trickster], which in our language is translated Jacob. As they grew Esau became the man’s man always out in the field hunting and gathering trophy game, while his brother Jacob was more of the homebody hanging out with his mommy.

As great as this family started out to be—building a foundation of prayer and faith—there was another foundation being laid of partiality and favoritism. Since, Esau hunted meat his dad favored him, and since Jacob was at home cooking and cleaning with his mom, she favored him. This unbalanced foundation, if left unchecked, will lead to some major conflict in the home, which we are about to see [cf. 37:3].

Buying his brother’s birthright outright [Genesis 25:29-34]

Esau is the firstborn son. There are major perks for being the firstborn. Being the first born Esau was entitled to the family birthright, which would make him the inheritor of a double portion of his father’s estate, leave him as the head of the family when his father passed away, as well as enable him to receive a special blessing from his father. In Abraham and Isaac’s case the one who possesses the birthright inherited the Abrahamic covenant. Esau wielded a lot of power and promise as the firstborn son.

However, Esau did not treat his birthright with that kind of importance. On an ordinary day,  Esau, probably after a long day of hunting came hungry to his brother Jacob who was cooking a yummy smelling pot of stew or spaghetti. Esau was exhausted and wanted something to eat. So Jacob being the trickster got his brother to trade his birthright for a meal. Quite the unfair trade, but as crazy as it was Esau accepted. At the bottom of Esau’s trade was an indifference towards God’s covenant promise to bless all nations through the descendants of his grandfather Abraham, which would ultimately bring forth Jesus Christ. Instead in a moment of flippancy he gave up God’s covenant for the munchies.  Later when he realized what a dumb and dishonoring thing he did it was too late [cf. Hebrews 12:16-17].

It is interesting to note this struggle between two brothers in the womb would continue well into the future. In fact, many years later it reached its climax when King Herod—a descendant of Esau—sought to slaughter all firstborn sons, which included Jesus Christ—a descendant of Isaac [Matthew 1:1-2, 2:13].

God reaffirms promises to the twins father [Genesis 26:1-5ff]

Similar to God speaking to Abraham, God speaks to Abraham’s son Isaac. The major similarities are God’s covenant promise to be with Isaac, bless him, and give him descendants and land. God blesses Isaac because his father Abraham “obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commands, My decrees, and My laws.” [26:5; cf. Deuteronomy 11:1ff]

Throughout the rest of Genesis 26 are a number of similarities between Abraham and Isaac unfold:
•    Both men received God’s call and promise. Both lived during a period of famine.
•    Both men dwelt in Gerar both men had lovely wives. Both men were cowards in the face of possible harm.
•    Both men lied and said their wife was their sister. Both men were spared the consequences of their sin by God’s mercy.
•    Both men were rebuked by good Gentiles for their lying schemes. Both build altars to worship God.
•    Both men were pursued by Abimelech for a covenant [two different Abimelech’s but both related].
•    Both men were a blessing to their neighbors. Both men trusted God and lived peacefully with their neighbors.

Like Abraham, God redeemed Isaac’s unbelief. Isaac was blessed only because of God’s grace to him. God uses imperfect people and keeps His covenant promises. The chapter concludes with a brief note about Esau. Like Isaac, Esau marries at the age of 40. However, unlike Isaac he married two godless women without the counsel of his father, which following the birthright fiasco shows his foolish heart. Esau is a type of prodigal son who becomes a “source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.”

Blindsiding big brother to get father’s blessing [Genesis 27:1-28:9]

Isaac was becoming old and senile. Therefore he called for his eldest son to give him a blessing. This is an important moment in the life of a son—often a life-changing and course-directing moment. Before Isaac offers Esau the blessing he sends him out to hunt a juicy steak.

Rebekah, like Eve and Sarah, took matters into her own hands. Since she favored Jacob over Esau she devised a deceitful plan to rob her son Esau of his blessing. Could this be where Jacob learned his trickery? So Rebekah cooks up some goat meat to Isaac’s liking and dresses Jacob in Esau’s hunting clothes and pads his neck and hands with fur to match to texture of his brother’s man-sweater. Then she sends Jacob into Isaac’s tent and unbelievably the sinful scheme works as schemed. Isaac is duped and Jacob steals Esau’s special deathbed blessing.

Esau comes to his father shortly after with his hunt, but learns he is late and missed the blessing because of his younger brothers trickiness. Isaac becomes furious. Esau weeps, turns bitter towards his brother, and plans to comfort himself by killing him [cf. Genesis 4]. Rebekah catches wind of Esau’s plan and sends Jacob to Laban until Esau cool’s down out of fear that she might lose her both sons over her sin, but a few days ended up being 20-years. This family’s firm foundation of faith and prayer is quickly crumbling, and beginning to look more like an episode of the Maury Povich Show.

Before leaving for Laban’s, Jacob is blessed by his father and commanded to marry only a woman who belongs to God so that the promises of the covenant would continue through his family line. To spite his parents, Esau intentionally marries another godless wife in addition to his other wives that had brought nothing but grief to his parents. Both boys do not appear very godly or worthy of the family blessings promised through Abraham.

Jacob, Jacob, Jacob…How does his story fit into the “Big Story?”

First, a look at Jacob gives you a glimpse of yourselves. He was struggling for power, even from birth through lies and strategic steals. Showing how sly and stealthy we are at sinning to get ahead. Second, his story gives us unusual insight into the Gospel and how God works. Despite his sin and imperfection God uses Jacob as the “covenant carrying” son of Isaac. Just like he uses sinful Jesus-followers to bear the message of good news to a darkened world. God is gracious and merciful!