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Alexandria School of Theology

Alexandria Branch

First Year 2007/2008


Commentary on Genesis 28:10-22: Jacob's ladder

Presented by: Mina Fouad Tawfike



Introduction… 1


Some important words analysis… 2


Jacob's dream analyzed: The Jewish view… 5


Jacob's dream analyzed: The Christian view… 7


What does Jacob's ladder mean for me today?



Appendix I: The text in its expanded meaning…10


Bibliography… 12


Jacob means "heel holder" or "supplanter" 1 . He takes his place, as the successor of Isaac in the

dynasty of the “heirs of the promise” 2 . The second born, of the twin sons, of Isaac and Rebekah.

He was born probably at Lahai-roi, after 20 years of delay. Like his father, he was of a quiet and

gentle character, and when he grew up followed the life of a shepherd, while his brother Esau

became an enterprising hunter. His dealing with Esau, however, showed much mean selfishness

and cunning (Gen. 25:29-34) 3 . The fraud that Jacob at Rebekah request practiced upon his father

and brother, lead to his flee to Laban his uncle, where, in his way was fondled by the vision of

the Ladder from sky.

Jacob’s vision of a ladder to heaven is one of those enigmatic Scriptural passages which has

puzzled the keen intellects of many Bible scholars down through the ages, for well-known

Christian commentators such as Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke have stabbed at its meaning

realizing it has something to do with the Person of Jesus the Messiah and his heaven-ordained

ministry to reconcile earth’s inhabitants to their Heavenly Father and Creator 4 , but others as Keil

and Delitzsch don’t even connect this dream to the Person of Jesus 5 .

But while we have a look at what the Christian Biblical scholars have said, we've also to see

what the best of rabbinic Judaism has to offer us by way of explanation of Jacob’s dream.

1 James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, 1890, E-sword Software (

2 James Orr, International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1915

3 Easton M.G., Easton's Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI, 1897

4 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder, Waters in the Wilderness, A Teaching Ministry of Hoshana Rabbah Messianic Discipleship Resources, (Electronic Version,

Some important words analysis:

In verse 11, most of the Bible versions read it: "And he lighted upon a certain place", but the

Hebrew Torah read it in another particular way: "And he lighted upon the place, ~v' !l,Y"Üw: ~AqøM'B;

[G:“p.YIw": 6 , (B particle preposition "in, at, by", h; particle article "the", ~Aqm' noun common

masculine singular absolute "a standing place, place") 7 , In the Jewish commentaries we read

about this:

In the ArtScroll Bereishis, quoting Rashi, we read, “The Torah does not tell us which place.

Instead it uses the definite article in the place, implying that the identity of the place was so well

known that it need not be specified. This indicates that it refers to the site referred to elsewhere

by the designation the place: Mount Moriah, of which it is said [in Gen. 22:4 (see also Deut.

16:16)]: ‘he saw the place from afar’…. It cannot refer to any place other than Mount Moriah

since the Torah itself refers to that holy site as makom ~Aqm, the place, in several places [Gen.

22:4]" 8 .

Mount Moriah has special significance; it's one of the mountains, in the place where the sacrifice

of Isaac took place (Gen 22:2), and also the elevation on which Solomon built the Temple, where

God appeared to David. It's very interesting to recognize that Jacob saw the Ladder in the same

place of the Temple, where God dwells, was built.

6 Mechon Mamre, Hebrew - English Bible According to the Masoretic Text, 2005 (http://www.mechon-,

The Holy Scriptures (Old Testament) by the Jewish Publication Society (1917), (, Paul Feghali and Antoine Aoukar, Hebrew Old Testament, Université Antonine, 2007

7 The Whitaker Revised BDB Hebrew Lexicon, Bible works SW 6.0

Verse 11 continues: "and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and

lay down in that place to sleep" (JPS),

The Hebrew word for "stone" is "ן”“", which means stone through the meaning to build (from

banah) 9 , we can find of usage of the word ehben elsewhere in the OT: 10

The 10 Commandments on tablets of stone (ehben) (Deut. 4:13; 5:22; Exod. 24:12; 34:1, 4)

Referring to the Messiah: Stone (ehben) the builders (banah) refused is become the head of

the corner (Ps. 118:22)

Referring to the Messiah: A stone (ehben) of stumbling and a rock of offence to both the

houses of Israel (Is. 8:14)

Referring to the Messiah: Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone (ehben), a tried stone

(ehben), a sure foundation (Isa. 28:16)

A title for Elohim: the Stone (ehben) of Israel (Gen. 49:24).

The word "eben" then is always related to God, specifically to the Messiah, that's Jesus Christ.

In verse 12, we find the most important word of all, the "Ladder ס", its origin is from the

word"《《ס " which means "to lift up, cast up, exalt" 11 ,

And according to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) probably means

highway or literally a road that is higher than the adjacent terrain, The Hebrew verb is used

chiefly for figurative expressions, especially in hostile contexts. Pharaoh lifts himself up against

God's people (Exo. 9:17), Job decries his treatment by God (Job 19:12) and people alike (Job

9 James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, 10 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder, 11 James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance,

30:12). TWOT also notes that this word is used by the prophets in the sense of “God’s [spiritual]

highway” from which Israel had departed to follow false bypaths (Isa. 57:14; 62:10]) 12 .

In Jewish thought, especially in Jewish mystical literature, this ladder is a "supernatural image of

Elohim " 13 .

Rabbi Ya’acov Baal Ha Turim says some amazing notes about this word, First he notes that the

word sulam 》לּס is spelled defectively (replacing the vav after the letter samech). Therefore,

sulam is spelled samech, lamed, mem or 》《ס instead of samech, vav, lamed, mem or 》《וס.

What is the significance of this occurrence in the Torah? According to Rabbi Michael Munk in

his book, The Wisdom In the Hebrew Alphabet (pp. 100-103) defective spelling of words occurs

occasionally in other words in the Torah such as shalom ו (peace, well being) and owr ÷ו

(light). When a word is spelled defectively it signifies that the word should be understood to take

on a moderated or defective meaning as opposed to the full expression of the word at its highest

spiritual level. 14

The second note of Baal HaTurim that the gematria (numerical valuatation of the Hebrew

letters) for sulam is the same as that for the words wealth/money and poverty as well as for the

words sound or voice. The numerical values of the words a ladder set up or standing is

equivalent to the ramp leading up to the altar of the Temple and the concept of the ladder set up

on the earth or earthward is an allusion to the altar which in Exodus 20:21 is described as an

“altar of earth” and the expression its top or head reaching heavenward is an allusion to the

12 The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Bible Works SW 6.0

13 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder,

14 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder,

fragrance of the offerings which ascended heavenward as a sweet savor to YHVH (Exod. 29:18;

29:25; etc.) 15 .

Jacob's dream analyzed:

The Jewish View:

The classic Jewish commentaries offer several interpretations of Jacob's ladder:

According to the Midrash, the ladder signified the exiles which the Jewish people would suffer

before the coming of the Messiah. First the angel representing the 70-year exile of Babylonia

climbed "up" 70 rungs, and then fell "down". Then the angel representing the exile of Persia

went up a number of steps, and fell, as did the angel representing the exile of Greece. Only the

fourth angel, which represented the final exile of Rome/Edom (whose guardian angel was Esau

himself), kept climbing higher and higher into the clouds. Jacob feared that his children would

never be free of Esau's domination, but God assured him that at the End of Days, Edom too

would come falling down 16 .

Another interpretation of the ladder keys into the fact that the angels first "ascended" and then

"descended." The Midrash explains that Jacob, as a holy man, was always accompanied by

angels. When he reached the border of the land of Canaan (the future land of Israel), the angels

who were assigned to the Holy Land went back up to Heaven and the angels assigned to other

lands came down to meet Jacob. When Jacob returned to Canaan (Genesis 32:2-3), he was

greeted by the angels who were assigned to the Holy Land.

15 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder, 16 Scherman, Rabbi Nosson (1993). The Chumash. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, Ltd (cited in www.

Some other Jewish rabbis taught that the ladder Jacob’s ladder represents Torah. The ladder

alludes to Sinai, since the words Sinai and sulam both have the numerical of 130; the angels

represent Moses and Aaron; and God stood atop the ladder just as He stood atop Sinai to give the

Torah. Accordingly, the Torah, given at Sinai and taught by sages such as Moses and Aaron, is

the bridge from heaven to earth 17 .

Rabbi Jacob Charlap gives us anther look upon other Jewish views of Jacob's ladder:

"Well-known interpretation is that of the Tanhumah 18 , which views the ladder as signifying the

history of mankind, its rungs representing the kingdoms that ruled the earth, one succeeding


A different viewpoint interprets Jacob's ladder as the ascendancy to spiritual elevation. Other

interpretation in this vein is by Maimonides 19 .

According to Maimonides (Guide of the Perplexed) the purpose of the ladder is to explain the

relationship between two realities, between existence on earth and existence in the "world of

heavenly spheres," both of which are set in motion by God. Jacob sees "angels of God" on the

ladder. Those "going up and down on it" are the prophets who, from studying the ladder--the

connection between the two worlds, i.e., God's providence--are elevated to a higher, heavenly

level of understanding. That is why it says "going up and down"; first they ascend and become

inspired, then they descend and transmit the understanding they acquired to the world. In

17 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder, 18 Midrash Tanhuma is the name given to three different collections of Pentateuch haggadot; two are extant, while the third is known only through citations. These Midrashim, bearing the name of R. Tanuma (Tanhuma bar Abba who was a Palestinian amora of the 5th generation), must not be regarded as having been written or edited by him. They were so named merely because they consist partly of homilies originating with him (this being indicated by the introductory formula "Thus began R. Tanuma" or "Thus preached R. Tanuma") and partly of homilies by haggadic teachers who followed the style of R. Tanuma. 19 Moses Maimonides (March 28, 1138 Córdoba, Spain – December 13, 1204 Fostat, Egypt), was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Andalusia, Morocco and Egypt during the middle Ages. He was one of the various medieval Jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-Jewish world. Some of his works are: Commentary on the Mishna ,Sefer Hamitzvot, Mishneh Torah, Guide for the Perplexed.

addition, "God stands on it," e.g., on the "ladder"; this means God is there constantly, as the

Prime Mover, the Cause that governs and is providence over all. According to Maimonides, the

dream is a representation of the two worlds, and Jacob, as the person who contemplates the

ladder, e.g., the connection between the worlds, attains an understanding of God and of His ways

in our world" 20 .

The Christian View:

The ladder or stairway to heaven in Jacob’s dream had one end planted/established in the earth

with its top or head reaching to heaven (Gen. 28:12). This is no less than a picture of Messiah,

the YHVH-Man 21 . Jesus himself said so: “Truly, truly I say to you, Here after you shall see

heaven open, and the angels of Elohim ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John

1:51). Therefore, this ladder is the Body of Messiah; a picture of the cross (which suspended him

between heaven and earth and the base of whose post was sunk into the earth).

John 1:51 is an allusion or quotation of Genesis 28:12, and Jacob's ladder is replaced in the verse

by "the Son of Man". The title “Son of Man" in John's Gospel has the basic understanding of His

origin in heaven (John 6:27, 33), that He will return again to His place of glory (John 6:62) by

way of the cross (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:23, 34; 13:31). The divine origin and authority of Jesus is

suggested by the title “Son of Man", it was the Messianic title that Jesus chose for Himself 22 .

Matthew Henry says: " Τhis represents the two things that are very comfortable to good people at

all times, and in all conditions: -

20 Rabbai Jacob Charlap, The Meaning of Jacob's Dream, www.

21 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder,

22 Wil Pounds, Christ in the Old Testament: Genesis 28:10-22 Jacob's Ladder, 2007,

(1.) The providence of God, by which there is a constant correspondence kept up between

heaven and earth. The counsels of heaven are executed on earth, and the actions and affairs of

this earth are all known in heaven are executed on earth… Angels are employed as ministering

spirits, to serve all the purposes and designs of Providence, and the wisdom of God is at the

upper end of the ladder, directing all the motions of second causes to the glory of the first Cause.

(2.) The mediation of Christ. He is this ladder, the foot on earth in his human nature, the top in

heaven in his divine nature: or the former in his humiliation, the latter in his exaltation. All the

intercourse between heaven and earth, since the fall, is by this ladder. Christ is the way; all God's

favors come to us, and all our services go to him, by Christ. If God dwell with us, and we with

him, it is by Christ. We have no way of getting to heaven, but by this ladder; if we climb up any

other way we are thieves and robbers. To this vision our Savior alludes when he speaks of the

angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man (John 1:51)" 23 .

Jesus was also the anointed rock; Jacob anointed the rock at the base of the ladder with oil (Gen.

28:18) the same rock (ehben) he laid his head upon , and Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone (Eph.

2:20), the Head of the Corner (Matt. 21:42; 1 Pet. 2:7), a Stone of Stumbling (Isa. 8:14), a

Foundation Stone (Isa. 8:16), the Foundation Stone of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14), the Rock in

the wilderness that gave water to Israel (1 Cor. 10:4), also David refers to YHVH as his Rock of

Salvation (Ps. 62:2,6), Strong Rock (Ps. 31:2), Rock Fortress (Ps. 18:2), Rock to set my feet on

(Ps. 40:2), Rock that is higher than me (Ps. 61:2), and Rock of Refuge (Pss. 62:7; 94:22) .

What does Jacob's ladder mean for me today?

23 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume I (Genesis to Deuteronomy), Grand Rapids, MI, 2000

Personal relationship with God, that's what Christ do for us, he resembles the ladder that

connects us with heaven by his death on the cross. Through him the Heaven and earth are

reconciled; through him man can come back to Heaven in the presence of God. "And for this

cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the

transgressions [that were] under the first testament, they which are called might receive the

promise of eternal inheritance" (Heb. 9:15), " For ye have not received the spirit of bondage

again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption (through Christ), whereby we cry,

Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15), " o wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,

not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation"

(2Co. 5:19).

Appendix I

The Text in Its Expanded Meaning 24

Here we can read the Biblical text read the text under consideration with the meanings of the

words and the expanded concepts:

"10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 And he encountered/interceded/prayed at the place [Mount Moriah/the Temple Mount], and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took of the stones [the Two Stone Tablets, the two houses of Israel] of the place [Mount Moriah/the Temple Mount] which he arranged around his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder [literally a highway to heaven, a staircase, a ramp up to the altar, a Torah scroll] set up [set up, put, place, stand firmly, fix, establish, to be planted] on the earth [the Land of Israel], and the top [head, beginning, first, height, highest part] of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of Elohim ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, YHVH stood above it, and said, I am YHVH, Elohim of Abraham your father, and the Elohim of Isaac: the ground upon which you are lying, to you will I give it, and to your seed/descendants [the offspring of Jacob/Israel, namely, the twelve tribes of Israel]; 14 And your seed/descendants shall be as the dust [scattered and degraded like dirt throughout the nations] of the earth, and you shall spread out powerfully to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in you and in your seed/descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed [speaking of redemption and salvation, the Suffering Servant, a role Yeshua fulfilled]. 15 And, behold, I am with you, and will guard you in all places wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land [the Land of Israel, speaking prophetically of Jacob’s descendants returning to the Promised Land after a long dispersion/exile throughout the nations of the world]; for I will not forsake you, until I have done what I have spoken about you. 16 And Jacob awoke out of his sleep [the descendants of Jacob, the dispersed of both the Houses of Judah and of Ephraim have been sleeping for thousands of years spiritually with regard to their prophetic roles and identities and with regard to the Messiah, the Torah, their relationship to the covenants of Elohim and their relationship to one another], and he said, Surely YHVH is in this place; and I knew it not. 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other but the house of Elohim, and this is the gate [a picture of Messiah Jesus, the Written and Living Torah-Word of Elohim and the Door to Salvation and the Father in Heaven] of heaven. 18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone [Jesus, the Houses of Israel united in Messiah: the Written and Living Torah’s personified] that he

24 Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder, Waters in the Wilderness, A Teaching Ministry of Hoshana Rabbah Messianic Discipleship Resources, (Electronic Version,

placed around his head, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19 And he called the name of the place Bethel [at that exact spot about 1800 years later the Temple would be standing and Messiah Jesus would be crucified]: but the name of that city was called Luz originally. 20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If Elohim will be with me, and will guard me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothes to wear, 21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall YHVH be my Elohim:

22 And this stone [singular, a reference to Jesus], which I have set for a pillar, shall become a house of Elohim: and whatever you give me I shall repeatedly give a tenth/tithe to you."


- Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, E-Sword SW (,


- Easton M.G., Easton's Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI, 1897

- Hazy Notion, The Meaning of Life: Ascending Jacob’s Ladder, 2006

- Jacob Charlap (Rabbi), The Meaning of Jacob's Dream, (www.

- James L. Kugel, The Ladder of Jacob:Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and His Children, Princeton University Press, (, 2006

- James Orr, International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1915

- James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, E-sword Software (, 2007

- Jerome H. Neurey, Jacob Traditions and the Interpretation of John 4:10-26, Weston School of Theology, (, 1979

- Johann Keil & Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, E-sword SW (www.e-, 2007

- Louis Jacobs, Gematria, Oxford University Press, (, 1995

- Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume I (Genesis to Deuteronomy), Grand Rapids, MI, 2000

- Mechon Mamre, Hebrew - English Bible according to the Masoretic Text, (, 2005

- Nissan Dovid Dubov, The Key to Kabbalah: the Ladder,

(, 2007

- Paul Feghali and Antoine Aoukar, Hebrew Old Testament, Université Antonine, 2007

- Scherman, Rabbi Nosson, the Chumash. Brooklyn, NY, Mesorah Publications, Ltd (cited in www., 1993

- Tali Loewenthal, Joining Worlds, (, 2007

- The Holy Scriptures (Old Testament), the Jewish Publication Society, E-Sword SW (www.e-, 1917

- The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Bible Works SW 6.0

- The Whitaker Revised BDB Hebrew Lexicon, Bible works SW 6.0

- W. Hommel, Concept of Jacob’s Ladder Exploring the Philosophical Meaning of The Ladder of Heaven, ( ,2007

- Wil Pounds, Christ in the Old Testament: Genesis 28:10-22 Jacob's ladder,

(, 2007

- Ya’acov Natan Lawrence (Rabbi), Jacob's ladder, Waters in the Wilderness, A Teaching Ministry of Hoshana Rabbah Messianic Discipleship Resources, (