The Gate of Heaven
In case you want a refresher on what took place on the previous chapter (Genesis 27) of Genesis you can listen to my study of it entitled Thy Will Be Done? where I discuss how Jacob deceived his father Isaac and stole his brother Esau’s blessing. Esau did not take it very well and planned to kill Jacob (Genesis 27:41). Rebekah, their mother, heard and told Jacob to flee to her brother Laban.
Isaac Blesses Jacob
Genesis 28 opens with Isaac calling and blessing Jacob.
Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him: “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan.
- Genesis 28:1 NKJV
This time there was no deception, the blessing was meant for Jacob, and the blessing included descendants and land.
“May God Almighty bless you,
And make you fruitful and multiply you,
That you may be an assembly of peoples;
And give you the blessing of Abraham,
To you and your descendants with you,
That you may inherit the land
In which you are a stranger,
Which God gave to Abraham.”
- Genesis 28:3-4 NKJV
Notice the creation language used in the blessing when you compare it to Genesis 1:22,28; 9:1,7, we recognize this as a blessing of fruitfulness which is necessary for the formation of the assembly (Leviticus 16:17; 1 Kings 8:55) So the blessing points to God as creator and also a personal God because the second part of the blessing refers to Abraham and what God promised him, showing that the blessing from Abraham was extended to Isaac and will now continue through Jacob. It is noteworthy that some of this language was omitted in the blessing Isaac pronounced in the previous chapter. Sure, similar principles were mentioned so one could argue that these blessings were implicit, but you could also argue that Isaac thought he was blessing Esau and he knew that these blessings, the blessings of Abraham, really belonged to Jacob. Therefore, Dr. Doukhan believes that Isaac is now able to bless Jacob with the blessing that was meant for him more freely and in good conscience. (Doukhan, Jacques. Genesis. Nampa, ID, Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2016. p337)
So Isaac sends Jacob away…
Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Padan Aram to take himself a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,”
- Genesis 28:6 NKJV
Suddenly Esau noticed that his father and mother did not like his Hittite wives. (Genesis 26:34-35) So he decides to take another wife, a descendant of Abraham! So he marries Mahalath, the daughter of Ishmael, in addition to the wives he had. I want to give Esau points for trying, but in marrying the daughter of Ishmael he ends up identifying himself more with the outcast son. Sadly the wilderness tribes that come from their family union historically opposed the descendants of Jacob in the land (Psalm 83:6).
(Mathews, K. A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. Vol. 1B, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005. p441)
back to Jacob
Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.
- Genesis 28:10
In English, we don’t really notice that Jacob arrived at “the place” since most English translations don’t translate the definite article the word place possesses in the original Hebrew. To be honest, I don’t read the Bible in its original language and I had not realized this until it was pointed out to me. The phrase “the place” is actually repeated three times in Genesis 28:11 for emphasis and definiteness (Matthews p.449) The presence of God makes this otherwise public space holy.
I would like to take a moment to highlight a small detail that a friend pointed out to me. Jacob stops at this place “because the sun had set” (Genesis 28:11 NKJV) but not only that, Jacob is there because he deceived his father and stole his brother’s blessing. Jacob is camping, apparently in the middle of nowhere, because he lied and cheated and is currently on the run. Jacob’s poor choices put his life in danger, his own brother wants to kill him. Jacob’s deception has ushered a difficult period in his life, and it will get worse before it gets better.
I wish to highlight the apparently small detail that the sun had set I believe it signifies the beginning of a period of darkness in the life of Jacob. I would like to suggest to you that this period of darkness will last until Jacob finds himself wrestling with someOne until daybreak. (spoiler alert Genesis 32:26) I just want you to keep this in the back of your mind as we continue our journey through Genesis. When we get to that post I will bring this up again.
From a stone pillow to a stone pillar
Now we arrived at what could be called the heart of the passage.
Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
- Genesis 28:12 NKJV
This dream at first should remind us of the tower of Babel, a tower that reached toward heaven. (Genesis 11:4) However, the tower of Babel was built because of human ambition, it represented a human effort to reach heaven, or the house of the gods. The stairway or ladder signify a divine presence and mediation. The tower of Babel, though the first is not the first human structure to try to reach the realm of the gods. Many civilizations incorporated the building of structures that reach to the heavens (pyramids/ziggurats), to approach the realm of the gods as part of their religion/worship.
Did you know?
“Despite the towering reputation of Egypt’s Great Pyramids at Giza, the Americas actually contain more pyramid structures than the rest of the planet combined. Civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, Aztec and Inca all built pyramids to house their deities, as well as to bury their kings.” (History.com)
The great contrast here is that Jacob is not the one trying to build something in order to reach God. Jacob is all alone, sent away from his home, running for his life, and God reaches out to him. The angels ascending and descending on the ladder belong to the heavenly order and not human effort or ambition. (Doukhan p.339)
The ladder in Jacobs dream reminds us that we do not reach God by our own efforts. We do not strain and build and invest and reach God, that would never work. The truth is that only God can provide a way for us to reach Him.
And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
- Jesus (John 1:51 NKJV)
But Jacob’s dream did not stop with the stairway/ladder.
Blessings from God
And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 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 spoken to you.”
- Genesis 28:13-15 NKJV (bold mine)
God identifies Himself as the God of the past, the God of Abraham and Isaac, as well as the God of the future, who will give the land to Jacob’s descendants. The same God who is responsible for the blessings and miracles of the past will ensure the future. I like how Dr. Doukhan puts it,
God repeats to Jacob the promises he has been making throughout the generations, blessings of land and of offspring. It is interesting to note a new dimension to this blessing, the promise of Jacob’s descendants spreading east, west, north, and south. This also contrasts with the builders of the tower of Babel who wanted to remain gathered in one spot. We also read about the seed again, we have been following the seed since God’s promise to Eve in Genesis 3:15. The promise continues through Jacob that in his Seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. (spoiler alert, it’s pointing to Jesus Galatians 3:16)
God also promises to keep Jacob wherever he goes and to bring him back. God promises to never leave Jacob until He has done for him all that He has promised. This is extremely important because, at this point in his life, all that Jacob has is God’s blessing. Look at how Kenneth A. Matthews puts it
It was Esau, not Jacob, who appeared to have gained the possessions of their father despite the stolen blessing. All that Jacob had to rely on was the word of the Lord, and he patiently waited for twenty years until the divine directive came to return. He found that to trust God’s promises was sufficient no matter how long the delay.
- Matthews p452
The Gate of Heaven
16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”
Genesis 28:16-17 NKJV
Jacob wakes up aware of a new reality, there is a connection between heaven and earth. This is a reality that must be revealed by God. We are unable to find Him unless He reveals Himself to us. The phrase gate of heaven is used only here in the entire Hebrew Bible and it reminds us of the name Bab-El “gate of God.” Ironically humans were never able to reach the gate of heaven. Interestingly the gate of heaven parallels the phrase the house of God. We see here early indicators of an earthly sanctuary pointing to its heavenly counterpart. God initiates it, He reveals it to us, and allows us to better understand heavenly realities.
18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.
- Genesis 28:18-19 NKJV
Jacob now takes that pillar and anoints it consecrating the stone as a monument conveying a spiritual lesson. The stone is a reminder of the lessons of Jacob’s ladder, the heaven-earth connection. I believe this connection will not be fully appreciated until Jesus’ crucifixion (John 8:28) and resurrection, but we see God revealing Himself here, teaching Jacob that we can only reach the presence of God through God’s gift. The stone is not worshiped, and Jacob does not believe that God somehow lives in that stone, the stone is not the house of God, but a reminder of a spiritual truth. While the name Babylon means the gate of the gods here we have a revelation of the true gate of heaven, the house of God, and it is not about our efforts but all about God’s grace and interest in connecting with us. The stone was only a symbol of God’s desire to connect with us and one that will be used again in the New Testament (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:6).
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”
Jacob is the only patriarch who makes a formal vow to God. Jacob is asking that God do exactly what God promised him in a dream. The interesting thing is that Jacob can only fulfill his vow if God keeps His word and stays true to his promises. Which means, Jacob can only return a tithe to God if God first blesses him with something. Remember, Jacob has nothing. He left his father and mother, his brother wants to kill him, and he has no wife, no land, no home, nothing, except God’s promises. But as long as God gives Jacob bread to eat and clothing to put on, and keeps him in his travels, and brings him home safely He will be Jacob’s God and Jacob will give him a tenth of all that He gives Jacob.
What about you?
Has God given you food to eat?
Clothes to put on?
Has God kept you in your travels? (are you still alive?)
Will God bring you home safely? To a home He has promised you? (John 14:1-4)
Like Jacob, do we want to enter into this covenant with God? Returning to Him 10% of all that He gives us?
Because let me tell you about The Gate of the Heavens.
Jesus is the connection between heaven and earth.
“And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
- John 1:51 NKJV
Jesus is also the only way to heaven.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
- John 14:6 NKJV
And Jesus is coming soon to take us to be with Him.
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
- John 14:1-4 NKJV
My friends, Jesus says
7 Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
- John 10:7-10 NKJV
In the end, it is all about Jesus and His desire to be our God, to provide for us life more abundant here on earth and eternal life in heaven.
Maybe you feel like Jacob right now, like the sun has set, and you’re scared and alone and its dark and you’re not sure what the future holds. Maybe you feel bad, alone, guilty, like this is all your fault. Maybe you have contributed to your current situation. Maybe you’re trying to sleep with a rock as your pillow, or using the rock as a shelter for your head while you sleep all alone and scared in the dark.
But I have good news for you.
Jesus is the Stairway, He is the Stone, He is the Gate of Heaven, and He takes the initiative to reveal Himself to you and to save you. You cannot save yourself any more than you can build a stairway to heaven. But Jesus is willing to save you. Make a vow with Him as Jacob did, claim His promises, and promise to make Him your God.
Jacob woke up and he had nothing but a promise, but let me tell you, a promise of God is plenty, we can stand on His promises.