Category: Jacob

The term “Jacob’s Ladder” has become a common phrase—it has been used as a movie title, a book title, a name of a flower, and even as a name of an electrical device. But from where did this phrase originate?

Genesis 28:10-12 first mentions “Jacob’s Ladder” when it says, “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. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway/ladder resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”

It is in this passage that God reveals Himself to Jacob and reaffirms the covenant He made with Abraham, promising Jacob (who will later be named Israel) that his offspring will be many and that the Promised Land will one day belong to his descendants. In this vision Jacob sees something similar to a ladder or a stairway (Hebrew word: sullam) which signifies a connection between God and man. In this instance, it was God who provided the means necessary to link Himself to man as opposed to the men of Babel in Genesis 11 who tried to reach heaven by their own actions, aside from the help of God.

These two passages of Scripture reflect differing schools of thought over the issue of salvation: One group tries to reach heaven based on their own actions aside from God’s help, but the other group has access to heaven based on the provisions of God and only the provisions of God.

As Christians we see this dream of Jacob’s as highly symbolic, representing the Mediator, Jesus Christ, who came to earth and became that ladder or stairway for us to reconnect the relationship with God that was severed because of sin. Romans 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”

According to the Bible, Jesus was our ideal “Jacob’s Ladder” who came to earth, from the line of Jacob, through the provisions of God, and redeemed us so that we may live in heaven for eternity.

To best answer this question, it helps to know, among other things, that deep-seated family hostilities characterized Jacob’s life. He was a determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. In fact, the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “grabber.”

To know Jacob’s story is to know his life was one of never-ending struggles. Though God promised Jacob that through him would come not only a great nation, but a whole company of nations, he was a man full of fears and anxieties. We now come to a pivotal point in his life when he is about to meet his brother, Esau, who has vowed to kill him. All Jacob’s struggles and fears are about to be realized. Sick of his father-in-law’s treatment, Jacob has fled Laban, only to encounter his embittered brother, Esau. Anxious for his very life, Jacob concocted a bribe and sent a caravan of gifts along with his women and children across the River Jabbok in hopes of pacifying his brother. Now physically exhausted, alone in the desert wilderness, facing sure death, he’s divested of all his worldly possessions. In fact, he’s powerless to control his fate. He collapses into a deep sleep on the banks of the Jabbok River. With his father-in-law behind him and Esau before him, he was too spent to struggle any longer.

But only then did his real struggle begin. Fleeing his family history had been bad enough; wrestling with God Himself was a different matter altogether. That night an angelic stranger visited Jacob. They wrestled throughout the night until daybreak, at which point the stranger crippled Jacob with a blow to his hip that disabled him with a limp for the rest of his life. It was by then Jacob knew what had happened: “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30). In the process, Jacob the deceiver received a new name, Israel, which likely means “He struggles with God.” However, what is most important occurs at the conclusion of that struggle. We read that God “blessed him there” (Genesis 32:29).

In Western culture and even in our churches, we celebrate wealth and power, strength, confidence, prestige, and victory. We despise and fear weakness, failure, and doubt. Though we know that a measure of vulnerability, fear, discouragement and depression come with normal lives, we tend to view these as signs of failure or even a lack of faith. However, we also know that in real life, naïve optimism and the glowing accolades of glamour and success are a recipe for discontent and despair. Sooner or later, the cold, hard realism of life catches up with most of us. The story of Jacob pulls us back to reality.

Frederick Buechner, one the most read authors by Christian audiences, characterizes Jacob’s divine encounter at the Jabbok River as the “magnificent defeat of the human soul at the hands of God.” It’s in Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion and relentless pain.

Even the apostle Paul experienced similar discouragements and fears: “We were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5). But, in truth, God does not want to leave us with our trials, our fears, our battles in life. What we come to learn in our conflicts of life is that God proffers us a corresponding divine gift. It is through Him that we can receive the power of conversion and transformation, the gift of not only surrender, but freedom, and the gifts of endurance, faith and courage.

In the end, Jacob does what we all must do. He confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him . . . and faces God. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing (Genesis 32:29).

What we learn from this remarkable incident in the life of Jacob is that our lives are never meant to be easy. This is especially true when we take it upon ourselves to wrestle with God and His will for our lives. We also learn that as Christians, despite our trials and tribulations, our strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.

Jacob’s wrestling with God at the Jabbok that dark night reminds us of this truth: though we may fight God and His will for us, in truth, God is so very good. As believers in Christ, we may well struggle with Him through the loneliness of night, but by daybreak His blessing will come.

Jacob and Esau were the sons of Isaac and Rebekah and the first twins mentioned in the Bible. Even before they were born, they were struggling together in the womb of their mother. Their prenatal striving foreshadowed later conflict (Genesis 25:21-26).

The twins grew up very different. Jacob was “a quiet man, staying among the tents” and his mother’s favorite. Esau was “a skillful hunter, a man of the open country” and his father’s favorite. One day, Esau returned from hunting and desired some of the lentil stew that Jacob was cooking. Jacob offered to give his brother some stew in exchange for his birthright—the special honor that Esau possessed as the older son, which gave him the right to a double portion of his father’s inheritance. Esau put his temporary, physical needs over his God-given blessing and sold his birthright to Jacob (Genesis 25:27-34).

When the time came for Isaac to bestow his blessing on his sons, Jacob and his mother contrived to deceive Isaac into blessing Jacob in Esau’s place. When Esau found that his blessing had been given to Jacob, he threatened to kill his brother, and Jacob fled (Genesis 27:1 – 28:7). Years later, Jacob and Esau met and were reconciled (Genesis 33).

Both Jacob and Esau were fathers of nations. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:28), and he became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Esau’s descendants were the Edomites (Genesis 36). Edom was a nation that plagued Israel in later years and was finally judged by God (Obadiah 1:1-21).

In the New Testament, Esau’s choice to sell his birthright is used as an example of ungodliness—a “godless” person who will put physical desires over spiritual blessings (Hebrews 12:15-17). By his negative example, Esau teaches us to hold fast to what is truly important, even if it means denying the appetites of the flesh. Both Old and New Testaments use the story of Jacob and Esau to illustrate God’s calling and election. God chose the younger Jacob to carry on the Abrahamic Covenant, while Esau was providentially excluded from the Messianic line (Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:11-14).

The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel comprises one of the larger  sections of Genesis and includes much information relevant to the history of the  Jewish people. Jacob, the son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, fled to his  mother’s brother Laban. At the time, Jacob feared his twin brother, Esau, would  kill him (Genesis  27:41-46).

Laban offered Jacob a place to stay. Jacob soon fell in  love with Laban’s younger daughter, Rachel, and agreed to work for Laban seven  years in exchange for marriage to her (Genesis  29:16-20).

Laban agreed, but after seven years, he deceived Jacob  and gave Rachel’s older sister, Leah, to him as a wife instead. Jacob protested,  but Laban argued that it wasn’t the custom to give the younger daughter in  marriage first. Laban then said Jacob could have Rachel in exchange for another  seven years of work (Genesis  29:21-30). In an ironic twist, the deceiver Jacob had been deceived and had  two wives in exchange for fourteen years of work.

Jacob showed  favoritism to Rachael and loved her more than Leah. God compensated for the lack  of love Leah received by enabling her to have children and closing Rachel’s womb  for a time (Genesis  29:31). There developed an intense rivalry between the two wives. In fact,  at one time the wives bartered over the right to sleep with Jacob. Genesis 30:16 says, “When  Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said,  ‘You must come in to me, for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.’ So he  lay with her that night.” In the end, Jacob fathered twelve sons and some  daughters. Leah bore him six sons; Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, bore him two;  Rachel bore him two; and Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, bore him another two (Genesis  35:23-36).

After twenty years with Laban, Jacob, now very wealthy,  moved his family back to his father’s land. As they were leaving Laban’s house,  Rachel stole her father’s teraphim (Genesis 31). Jacob knew that he would have to face Esau again. He still feared  Esau’s anger, and he sent gifts to satisfy him before he arrived. The night  before Jacob crossed the Jordan, he “wrestled with God” and was given the name  Israel, confirming that he was the one who would receive the promises granted to  Abraham.

Rachel died giving birth to her second child, Benjamin. Even  Benjamin’s name, meaning “son of my right hand,” indicates the importance Jacob  placed on his youngest son because of his love for Rachel. Rachel “was buried on  the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her  tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day” (Genesis 35:19-20). Leah  was buried in the same tomb as Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis  49:30-32). Jacob and his son Joseph would also later be buried in this tomb  (Genesis 50).

The story of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel is filled with much  difficulty, yet God used these people greatly to impact history. Their twelve  sons were the leaders of the twelve  tribes that became the nation of Israel. Through their family, Jesus Christ  would be born from the tribe of Judah to offer salvation to all (John 3:16; Luke  2:10).

The  phrase “the time of Jacob’s trouble” is a quote from Jeremiah 30:7 which says,  “Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of  Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it” (KJV).

In the previous  verses of Jeremiah 30, we find that the Lord is speaking to Jeremiah the prophet  about Judah and Israel (30:3-4). In verse 3, the Lord promises that one day in  the future, He will bring both Judah and Israel back to the land that He had  promised their forefathers. Verse 5 describes a time of great fear and  trembling. Verse 6 describes this time in a way that pictures men going through  the pains of childbirth, again indicating a time of agony. But there is hope for  Judah and Israel, for though this is called “the time of Jacob’s distress”  (NASB), the Lord promises He will save Jacob (referring to Judah and Israel) out  of this time of great trouble (verse 7).

In Jeremiah  30:10-11 the Lord says, “‘I will surely save you out of a distant place,  your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and  security, and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you,’  declares the LORD.”

Also, the Lord says He will destroy the nations who  held Judah and Israel in captivity, and He will never allow Jacob to be  completely destroyed. However, it should be noted that the Lord describes this  as a time of discipline for His people. He says of Jacob, “Though I completely  destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy  you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely  unpunished.”

Jeremiah  30:7 says, “That day is great, so that none is like it.” The only time  period that fits this description is the period of the Tribulation. This time is  unparalleled in history.

Jesus described the Tribulation using some of  the same imagery as Jeremiah. In Matthew  24:6-8, He stated that the appearance of false christs, wars and rumors of  wars, famines, and earthquakes are “the beginning of birth pains.”

Paul, too, described the Tribulation as birth pains. First Thessalonians  5:3 says, “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will  come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not  escape.” This event follows the Rapture and the removal of the Church, in  4:13-18. In 5:9, Paul reemphasizes the absence of the Church from this time  period by saying, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining  salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The wrath spoken of here is God’s  judgment on the unbelieving world and His discipline of Israel during the  Tribulation.

These “birth pains” are described in detail in Revelation  6-12 Part of the purpose of the Tribulation is to bring Israel back to the  Lord.

For those who have received Christ as Savior from sin, the time of  Jacob’s trouble is something for which we should praise the Lord, for it  demonstrates that God keeps His promises. He has promised us eternal life  through Christ our Lord, and He has promised land, seed, and blessing to Abraham  and his physical descendants. However, before He fulfills those promises, He  will lovingly but firmly discipline the nation of Israel so that they return to  Him.

  Jacob’s life began with a struggle. As a twin in the womb with Esau, he jostled  for position and was born grasping his brother’s heel. Jacob’s name is  translated as “he deceives” (Genesis  25:26). When his mother, Rebekah, asked God during her pregnancy what was  happening to her, God told her that there were two nations within her womb who  would become divided. One would be stronger than the other, and the older would  serve the younger (Genesis  25:23).

Jacob and Esau grew up together living a nomadic life. Esau  became a fine hunter and loved to be out and about in the countryside while  Jacob was a quiet, “stay-at–home” type (Genesis  25:27). Esau, being a hunter, was his father’s favorite as Isaac loved the  wild game Esau brought home, while Jacob was favored by his mother (Genesis 25:28). This  destructive favoritism would follow the family into the next generation, most  notably with Jacob’s son Joseph. Such was Jacob’s favoritism for Joseph that it  caused great resentment among his brothers and nearly cost Joseph his  life.

When Isaac was old and his eyesight faded, he realized he was near  to his death and made arrangements with Esau to pass on to him the blessings due  to the firstborn son (Genesis  27:1-4). On hearing this, Rebekah hatched a plan to deceive Isaac into  blessing Jacob instead. Thus, Jacob received his father’s blessing, and as Esau  discovered, this was the second time he had been deceived by his brother (Genesis 27:36). Esau vowed  he would kill Jacob for this as soon as the period of mourning was over for his  father’s death (vs. 41).

Once again, Rebekah steps in and warns Jacob of  his brother’s vow, and after influencing Isaac that Jacob should find himself a  wife from among his own people, Jacob is sent off to his uncle Laban who lived  in their ancestral home of Haran (vs. 43). During Jacob’s journey, he has a  dream of a ladder to heaven with God at the top  and angels ascending and descending. This imagery is mirrored in Jesus’ words to  His disciple Nathanael (John 1:51).  God gives Jacob His assurance of His presence and the fulfillment of His promise  to Abraham (Genesis  28:13-15). As a result of this experience, Jacob renames the place “Bethel,”  meaning “house of God,” and he makes a vow to serve God.

After Jacob  settles in Haran, Laban offers him payment for the work he had been doing as a  shepherd looking after his flocks. And Jacob agrees with Laban to work for seven  years in return for Laban’s daughter Rachel, whom he loved deeply. However,  Jacob was to discover that his uncle Laban could be just as much a deceiver as  he had been. On Jacob’s wedding night, Laban substitutes his older daughter,  Leah, for Rachel (Genesis  29:23-25). However, Jacob agrees to work a further seven years for Laban to  marry Rachel, which he does a week after marrying Leah. And Jacob loved Rachel  more than Leah (vs. 30).

While Rachel remained barren, Leah gave birth  to Jacob’s firstborn son, Reuben. Then followed the birth of 11 more sons from  Rachel, Leah, and their two handmaidens. These sons would be the progenitors of  the 12 tribes of Israel. Eventually, Jacob receives God’s command to return to  the land of his fathers accompanied by His promise “And I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). So, Jacob  leaves Haran, taking with him his wives and children and all the vast flocks he  had accumulated. When Laban learns that Jacob has left, he sets off in hot  pursuit as he discovers his idols have been stolen. Continuing the legacy of  deception, Rachel had taken them, but she manages to conceal them from her  father during his search. Laban and Jacob eventually part company after swearing  an oath not to invade one another’s lands or to harm any of its  inhabitants.

Jacob’s next highlight comes when he has to face his  brother Esau. Though twenty years had passed since they had last seen each  other, the memory of Esau’s threat to kill Jacob had never left him (Genesis 32:11). Jacob  sends messengers ahead of him with gifts, instructing them to tell Esau that he  is following on. On this night, Jacob experiences the greatest highlight of his  life when he wrestles with a man whom he later learns is God (vss. 22-31).  During the wrestling he is blessed by God and given the promised new name of  “Israel,” the name that would remain with his descendants and the land they were  promised by God until the present day.

To Jacob’s relief, the reunion  with Esau is a warm one. Nevertheless, Jacob isn’t fully trusting of his brother  Esau and so, instead of meeting up with him as agreed, Jacob takes his family  another route where they finally purchase a plot of land and settle in El Elohe  Israel or “Mighty is the God of Israel.” Jacob the deceiver is always wary of  others who might be trying to deceive him. Here we see that the mind of those  who plot to deceive is always suspicious of the motives of others and can never  fully be at rest.

The following chapter (Genesis 34) records the rape  of Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, and the revenge her brothers Simeon and Levi  carry out on the rapist’s entire community. Once again, we see how the  deviousness of the parents is passed on to the children in the way they overcome  their enemy. Jacob is livid with his sons, and, in obedience to God’s guidance,  he moves his family back to Bethel (Genesis  35:1), where God reappears to Jacob and confirms His blessing (Genesis 35:9-10). In  Jacob’s meeting with God, he receives the promise that kings and many nations  will come from him and that the land God had promised his forefathers would be  his inheritance (vss. 11-12).

We may be inclined to consider Jacob’s  name “deceiver” as fitting; however, we mustn’t overlook the fact that it was  his mother, Rebekah, who conceived the plan to deceive Jacob’s father on the  basis of God’s promise that the older would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23). However,  as Jacob went along with the plan, he reaped the consequences. “Like father,  like son” is a phrase that would be appropriate for Jacob’s family as we read of  his sons deceiving Hamor and his people in order to avenge the rape of their  sister, Dinah. Nevertheless, God remained faithful to Jacob and, despite Jacob’s  faults, God chose him to be the leader of a great nation that still bears his  name today. But for this, it is unlikely that we would know much about Jacob,  who appears to be in the middle of events while the key players are those around  him. There is no great wisdom or bravery in Jacob to speak of, and we are  tempted to see him as little more than God’s passive instrument. If we are  tempted to think that, because we aren’t in the spotlight performing great acts  for God, we are unimportant to Him, then we should consider the life of Jacob  and know that, in spite of our failings, God can and will still use us in His  plan.

When Jacob is fearful for his life and his family, he prays a  humble prayer to God, reminding Him of the promise He had made to him for his  safety (Genesis  32:9-12). The Bible is full of promises that God has made to those He has  called. So, when we are in times of trouble and fearful of the outcome, like  Jacob we should humbly call on God and remind Him of His promises to us, and as  with Jacob, God will fulfill them.