28 10Jacob went out from Beer-Sheba and set out for Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there for the sun had come in. He took one of the stones of the place, set it near his head, and lay down in that place.
12 He dreamed: Here he saw a ramp, its foundation on earth and its top reaching the heavens. God’s messengers were going up and coming down it. 13 And, here,YHWH was standing over against him saying, “I am YHWH, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land upon which you lie, I give to you and your seed. 14 Your seed will be like the dust of the earth; you will burst forth to the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the clans of the earth will find blessing through you and your seed. 15 Look, I am with you; I will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have spoken to you.”
16 When Jacob woke from his sleep, he said, “YHWH is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was awestruck and said, “How fearsome is this place. This is none other than a house of God and this a gate of heaven.”
Jacob, on a mission, is between his beginning and end: Beer-Sheba and Haran. He is in an anonymous place, an everyday place, a place he just happens to be at. Jacob settles in for a night—Night brings us back to the beginning Story of Creation.
Placing a protective stone near his head, Jacob proceeds to dream. This stone will mark a turning point for Jacob, and we can anticipate additional points that Jacob will also mark with stones.
The Hebrew often translated as “ladder” is a one-of-a-kind word. This uniqueness makes it ambiguous. Looking at other nearby phrases indicating its top in “heaven” and this place as “a gate of heaven,” we are returned to the imagery of Babel and might better see this as a ramp, as in a ziggurat. This image keeps us from imagining clown-like messengers scrambling over one another and using both sides of a ladder. It does lose, however, the joy of key changes in the song about Jacob’s Ladder.
The loose boundaries of dreams is present with language that can locate YHWH as either standing over Jacob or on the ramp.
This unknown, specific place is revealed to be for Jacob and his seed. Jacob is also directly linked to Abraham through a blessing similar to his—a blessing to all peoples. A side-note here: This blessing is an even closer relationship with Abraham than the blood relationship Esau sought by taking to wife Abraham’s granddaughter through Ishmael.
Remembering the trick Jacob played on Esau and Isaac, Readers might wonder about the effect on Jacob’s decisions of assurance of protection and right to this land. Will they strengthen or weaken his trickster skills? Will it make him more independent or tie him into responsibilities regarding the development of a nation? To what combination of Abraham and Isaac will he add his opportunities and choices.
This anonymous place, as is every place, is “a gate of heaven.” It may be easier to recognize a gate-of-heaven in the wilderness than at Beer-Sheba or Haran.