The story of Jacob’s ladder is well known. There is even a song about it, an old spiritual: “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…” But I’m thinking the song has it backwards – we aren’t climbing up Jacob’s ladder in order to live in heaven; God is coming down Jacob’s ladder. He is coming to live in us. So maybe we don’t know the story that well after all. Even Jacob didn’t understand the story. It changes everything; it turns the universe upside down.
Look again at Genesis 28.10-21.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran.
11 And he came to a certain place and stayed there that 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 to sleep.
The story begins simply enough. Jacob is on a journey and he stops for the night – at “a certain place.” Notice that he stopped there because it was dark. This “certain place” was just where he happened to be at sunset. That night he had a dream.
12 … behold, there was a ladder 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!
13 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 offspring.
14 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 in you and your offspring
shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
In the dream, he saw a ladder (or series of steps) connecting earth and heaven. Angels were going up and down upon it. The LORD promised Jacob His faithfulness and blessing.
Jacob’s response? When he awoke, he said:
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”
Jacob’s response is perhaps the most concise description of the human condition in the Bible. “The Lord is here and I do not know it.” Everyone can say this. For it is the truth about every place and everyone. It is the truth about you as you sit right now, reading this.
Go back to the story. Why was God in that “certain place?” It wasn’t because the topography of that place was just right for a bridge to heaven. It wasn’t because epic historical events had occurred at that site. Jacob had not stumbled upon a “Bermuda Triangle“ or “Area 51.“ The reason God was in that place was because Jacob was there. God was after Jacob.
So why was God after Jacob? Was Jacob something special? Jacob’s story takes up more ink in the Old Testament than Abraham’s, but if you read his story, you are struck with an odd realization. The most extraordinary thing about Jacob is that there isn’t a most extraordinary thing about Jacob. Not in the positive sense anyway. Jacob wasn’t a hero. He had not accomplished great things. In fact, at the time of his journey, he was on the run from lying to his father. No, God was at that ‘certain place’ because he was after Jacob – unremarkable as he was.
I claimed earlier that Jacob’s response was a concise statement of the human condition. If so, that has implications. It changes everything.
Notice the certain place you are at this moment. Is God there and you don’t know it?
We live blindly. We think we will find God when we stumble across a holy place or situation. We think we will find God when we are heroic or accomplished. But the real lesson of Jacob’s ladder is that your perception is upside down. You aren’t finding God. He is finding you.
He knows the certain place where you are – unremarkable as it may be. He is seeking you out – unremarkable as you may be. He intends to build a series of steps that give Him entrance into you. He intends to live inside you. You are the ‘certain place’ where God wants to be.
And He wants you to know it.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.