Jacob's Ladder - Have we missed something in this story?
Updated: Aug 19, 2022
In Genesis chapter 28 we read of the event where Jacob is sent to Haran by his father, Isaac, to find a bride from among his relatives. For Rebekah it was so that Jacob could escape the wrath of his brother Esau.
Ancient Haran was in Mesopotamia and is now considered to be in modern day southeastern Turkey. It would have been about a 15 day journey traveling at least 30 miles a day on foot. A 30-40 mile trek per day, on foot, would have been easy for a healthy individual during those times, and even today for those with physical stamina.
We read in 28:10 that Jacob left Beersheba (southern Israel) and came to a place where he would spend the night, since darkness had already fallen. It is here that Jacob had a dream and saw the heavens opened and a ladder where angels were ascending and descending upon the earth. He saw the LORD and heard him make promises to him regarding his descendants and the land that He would give to them, which included the spot where Jacob was lying.
Scripture records that upon waking Jacob realized that he was on holy ground and the gates of heaven were open in that place, hence he named the place Bethel (House of God).
Traditionally, scholars associate this place with modern day Bethel in Israel which is about 10.5 miles north of Jerusalem. This location has been disputed among Bible scholars and some argue there was more than one location called Bethel. However, what if the first location mentioned, north of Jerusalem, is a wrong assumption and in keeping with the overall message and integrity of scripture there is another place which fits the scenario more perfectly, and could this place fit scripturally into the narrative?
First, let's do an important word analysis in Genesis 28:11. In most translations we read, “and he came upon a certain place and slept there all night”. However, in the Hebrew this is not what is said. The Hebrew states “and he came to the place”. The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) bible also states “and he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.” (bold text added for emphasis)
In the Hebrew “The Definite Article” (the) appears in the story describing “the place” where Jacob was spending the night. This means that it is referring to a specific place not just any place.
According to Rashi “scripture does not mention which place, but it means the place mentioned elsewhere, which is Mount Moriah, concerning which it is said (Genesis 22:4): “And he saw the place from afar.” In Deuteronomy 16:16 we read that Elohim chose Mount Moriah and it was once again called “the place”.
Jacob certainly knew “the place” well from his grandfather Abraham and it is a mountain of special significance to God. It was not only the place where Abraham was sent to sacrifice Isaac and he would proclaim that God would provide for Himself a ram, or sacrifice, but it was also the place where Solomon built the temple because “the place” had been shown to his father, David. I believe it significant that Jacob saw his ladder on the same mountain where the future temple would stand and where Messiah Yeshua would give His life as the “promised sacrifice” of the Father.
(Psalm 132:4, I Samuel 24:16-25,
I Chronicles 22:14-19, I Chronicles 29:1-2,
2 Chronicles 3:1.
It is no coincidence that Jacob would name the place, “house of El” since “The House”, as the Temple is referred to, would one day stand on that very mountain.
Ezekiel 43:12 – This is the Torah of the (definite article) House; Upon the mountaintop, all the boundary of it, all around, is most set-apart. See, this is the Torah of the (definite article) House. (TS2009)
Micah 4:2 - And many nations shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of יהוה, to the House of the Elohim of Ya‛aqoḇ, and let Him teach us His ways, and let us walk in His paths. For out of Tsiyon comes forth the Torah, and the word of יהוה from Yerushalayim." In this scripture we see more evidence of a mountain and a "House of Elohim of Jacob".
Furthermore, Jewish literature states that when Rebekah felt struggling in her womb that she went to Mount Moriah to see Shem (Melchizedek) for guidance. Jacob would have been well aware of this sacred place.
John 1:51 – And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, from now on you shall see the heaven opened, and the messengers of Elohim ascending and descending upon the Son of Adam. (TS2009)
This scripture is a direct reference to our story of Jacob's ladder in Genesis 28:12. Yeshua Messiah is the ultimate fulfillment of this experience of Jacob. The Son of Man would visit Mount Moriah and bring completion to the words spoken by Abraham and the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
One last thing – it was approximately 41 miles from Beersheba to Jerusalem. Certainly Jacob could have walked this in one day to make his first nights stay on the sacred Mountain of God. What better place of refuge for a lonely, perhaps fearful, downtrodden traveler who had just been asked to leave his home.
There is so much in this one chapter of Genesis.