Monday, December 20, 2010

Genesis 28:10-17 Jacob's Ladder

Genesis 28:10-17 holds some imagery which I had always had a hard time fully understanding.  I was familiar with the concept of Jacob having a dream, and of the ladder which stretched between earth and heaven.  However, when I was a newer believer, I did not understand the whole thing about why angels were walking up and down that ladder, and just what this meant.  There were also verses about this passage in the New Testament (John 1:51) which alluded to this imagery.  Let's take a look at the present passage:

"Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran.  When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep." (Genesis 28:10-11 NIV)

That was my first problem with this passage:  who chooses to sleep with a rock as a pillow?  Apparently though, resting one's head upon a hard surface was not an uncommon practice for people from many cultures (Egyptian, for one).  Keeping in mind that many people slept upon the ground, I see that it is not too far a stretch that their 'pillows' might be hard as well.  Anyway, that was just a side issue.  The real point of this passage is Jacob's dream:

"He had a dream in which he saw
a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven,
and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it."
Genesis 28:12 NIV

I stopped here, even though this is only the beginning of Jacob's dream, because I wanted to note that this stairway was not ladder-like, but probably more like the sloping stairway found on a ziggurat.  The Tower of Babel was probably a ziggurat, and the names assigned to these structures usually indicated that the towering structures were meant to serve as a link between the person on earth and his god.  Sometimes the ziggurat would have a smaller room at the top for making offerings.  I climbed up one of these types of structures in Guatemala, when my husband and I were on our honeymoon.  They are truly impressive.  Climbing up was no problem, aside from the fact that they made the steps pretty high, in my opinion.  Heights don't generally bother me at all, but coming back down was a little more difficult, because the large steps made me feel like I was about to fall forward.  I ended up kinda creeping down sideways.  I will scan the pictures if I can manage to do so.

However, I digress.  Back at Jacob's dream, God appears to Jacob:

"There above it stood the Lord, and he said,
'I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham
and the God of Isaac.
I will give you and your descendants the land
on which you are lying.
Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth,
and you will spread out to the west and to the east,
to the north and to the south.
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, 
and I will bring you back to this land.
I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.' "
Genesis 28:13-15 NIV

Notice again that God repeats the promises of  descendants, land and blessing to all nations, as well as the most important blessing of all, His presence.  This must be especially reassuring to Jacob, as he has recently fled from his brother Esau's wrath, leaving his home and family behind.  Also, at the top of this stairway stands the Lord Himself, not an image or shrine.  It is as though the Lord is extending an offer to be Jacob's God.  

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