The Ladder

Torah Portion: Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:2) 
Gospel Reading: John 1:51; Gal. 3:1-29; Heb. 8:1-6; John 14
Commentary by: Kelsey Bryant

Jacob’s dream is one of the most tantalizing, mystical episodes in the Torah. I get excited just thinking about it…imagining what it looked like, what it meant to Jacob, and if it symbolizes something more than surface skimming reveals.

Part 1
It started coming together as I studied for writing this article. I have a grasp on only a handful of all the layers, meanings, and explanations, but with just a little diving, I (and hopefully everyone) can appreciate this event and how it points to Yeshua Messiah. 

“He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (Genesis 28:12, NASB).
We might not have thought of that ladder having anything to do with Messiah if not for His cryptic words in John 1:51 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Messianic types and shadows in the Tanach (Old Testament) are relatively easy to find, but it’s especially imperative to sit up and take note when Yeshua Himself draws our attention to them. I think we all can agree, in that verse in John, He’s comparing Himself to the ladder that made such a big impression on Jacob in his dream. 

The vision took place in “the place” (Genesis 28:11), previously unspecified but coupled with the definite article anyway. “The place” is “hamakom” in Hebrew, which, in Jewish tradition, is a moniker for the Tabernacle or Temple. (Deuteronomy often speaks of “the place” or “hamakom” as being where Adonai calls His people to come worship Him – Deut. 12:5, 11; Deut. 16:6, 11.) Given that Jacob later on exclaims, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17), and calls the name of the place “Bethel,” meaning house of God, it’s no stretch to see we’re looking at a foreshadowing of God’s dwelling place on earth. 

The Tabernacle was a place for God and man to meet. Priests mediated there so sinful mankind could draw near to the holy God on earth. However, Yeshua, the divine Messiah, is the one who mediates in the heavenly Tabernacle and allows us to draw near to God spiritually. He saves us and cleanses us (Hebrews 8:1–6).

The Tabernacle was also the place for the Lord to dwell among man. As He says in verse 15, “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.” He dwells and remains with us. It matches such verses in the Gospels as Matthew 28:20 (“I am with you always, even to the end of the age”), John 14:23 (“We will come to him and make Our abode with him”), John 1:14, and John 15:4–7.

We can only access God via one ladder – the Son. Our prayers ascend because of His mediation. He’s both man and God, His feet on earth, His head in the heavens. Jacob’s dream can be interpreted to show that man needs a ladder to God, a place, a mediator who can connect us to our Lord. God appointed a place, and He appointed a Mediator. 

Part 2
There is something else the Messiah does for us: He makes believers into “Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). As part of Jacob’s dream, Yahweh told him, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 28:13–14). This promise about Jacob’s seed came at the same time and place that the ladder representing Yeshua appeared. And in the Brit Chadashah we learn Yeshua is the one who fulfills the promise of Jacob’s seed blessing the nations. 

This mysterious event in the story of Genesis unequivocally points to Yeshua Messiah, centuries and centuries before He was fully revealed. It’s no surprise, considering the depths of our glorious God’s ways!

(You may be interested to know that in his book Kol HaTor, eighteenth-century Jewish rabbi HaGra connects Jacob’s ladder with Messiah. For this article, I am thankful for the insights of Tzvi Sadan in the book The Concealed Light and of Dr. Dinah Dye at Foundations in Torah.)