Gen 28:10-22 NRSV
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the LORD stood beside him 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 offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that 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." 16 Then Jacob woke 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."
18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you."
Esau was not pleased about being duped out of his blessing. Isaac blessed Jacob again and sent him to Paddan Aram (and away from Esau) to find a wife. It was on this journey that Jacob had an amazing encounter with God at the royal Canaanite city of Luz.
I wrote about the attempt to build a tower to heaven at Babel (Gate of God) in earlier posts. They intended to name themselves and take authority over their own lives. The word translated “ladder” here is a little obscure in its meaning and could mean “stairway.” Indeed, a common image in Mesopotamia was of people ascending a stairway from the netherworld up to heaven. (Where do you think Led Zeppelin got the idea for their song “Stairway to Heaven?”) This also relates to ziggurat (temple of stairways) built at Babel.
Key to the dream is verse 12 where it says the “ladder was set up on earth,” which has the clear connotation that it was placed on the earth from heaven. God was reaching down to humanity! The angels moving up and down the ladder symbolized the pre-fall exchange between God and humanity. It is in the midst of this dream that Jacob learns that all of humanity is to be blessed through him. But there is more.
Jacob was in the middle of the city of Luz. He was on the run with Esau behind him and uncertain prospects in front of him. His life to this point had been one of scheming, conflict, and struggle. To his astonishment, God broke in and revealed Jacob's true location both geographically and within God’s story. Babel was Babylonian for “Gate of God,” but it was a gate humanity was building to bring down God. Jacob calls Bethel the “Gate of God” because he saw it as the place where God was breaking through to reach down to humanity. Jacob was called out of the human “eternal present” into the future God had in store.
God disillusioned Jacob about his plight and called Jacob into a divine plan. The illusion had been exposed.