What Is Jacob's Ladder?

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What is Jacob's ladder? Was the patriarch a young man when he saw it? What was the purpose of God showing him such an unusual sight? Before we discuss Jacob's ladder, however, we need to cover the events prior to him observing this spiritual staircase.


Jacob pretends to be his brother Esau and steals his birthright blessing from their virtually blind father Isaac (Genesis 27). Rebekah, their mother, then discovers that Esau plans to murder his brother as revenge (verse 41). Her plan to save her son's life entails manipulating Isaac to send him far away, to her relatives, in order to find himself a wife. Rebekah's plan works as Isaac sends Jacob to Padanaram where her brother Laban lives.

The Spiritual Staircase

Jacob, traveling north through Canaan toward Padanaram, stops near the village of Luz for the night. God, unbeknownst to him, has chosen Luz as the place to communicate his will, for the first time, to the patriarch. While he dreamed, he saw a spiritual ladder that joined heaven to earth.

Jacob's Ladder
Jacob's Ladder
Sanzio Raffaello, 1513 - 14

And behold, a ladder (or staircase, Strong's #H5551), was 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, 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 seed . . . And in you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in every place where you go . . ." (Genesis 28:12 - 15, HBFV).

Why Did God Do It?

Countless Christians, Jews and Muslims, throughout the years, have speculated regarding the possible symbolism of Jacob's ladder. What is certain, however, is why God gave it and what it accomplished.

Prior to his dream the patriarch had not professed faith in or knowingly worshipped the Eternal (Genesis 28:20 - 22). God used the movement of angels to and from himself to show, in vivid fashion, who he was, and his words confirmed he was the same deity worshipped by both Jacob's father and grandfather (verse 13).

God confirmed the promise made to Abraham and Isaac that Jacob and his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. He also reiterated the promise that his posterity would multiply exceedingly and migrate around the world. The blessings they would inherit would end up blessing all people (verses 13 - 14).

The Eternal ends his brief discourse by promising he would watch over him and not leave him. He would protect him wherever he went and would bring him back into the land of Canaan (verse 15).

A Stunned Response

Jacob, stunned by what he dreamed, sets up the stone upon which he rested his head as a memorial. He also renames the place Bethel (which means, "house of God"). Lastly, He vows to worship God alone and give him 10% of all he receives (Genesis 28:16 - 22).

Did You Know . . .

Jacob was not a young man when he cheated Esau out of his blessing! He and his twin brother were seventy-seven years old when he fled Canaan and dreamed of his famous ladder.

Rebekah convinced Isaac to send Jacob away by complaining her life would be meaningless if he married a Hittite (Genesis 26:34 - 35, 27:46). What's missing from her complaint, however, is that their son had not expressed any desire to find a woman!

God chose to reveal himself as standing near a ladder. This is the first time the Eternal showed himself standing in heaven as opposed to sitting on a throne.

The patriarch's promise to God (Genesis 28:20 - 22) is the first vow mentioned in the Bible. Jacob's ladder, the original "stairway to heaven," has also inspired music, a popular toy, movies, books and a host of other creations.

List of All Terms in
Dictionary of Biblical Words

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Keil and Delitzsch Commentary
Matthew Henry's Commentary