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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Commentary on Genesis 28:10-22: Jacob's ladder (A study based on the Jewish Interpretation)

Commentary on Genesis 28:10-22: Jacob's ladder
(A study based on the Jewish Interpretation)
2007

Introduction:
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.
 (Continue Below)

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.

 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.

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 "אבן", 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 סלּם", its origin is from the word" סלל" 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 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 סלּם is spelled defectively (replacing the vav after the letter samech). Therefore, sulam is spelled samech, lamed, mem or סלם instead of samech, vav, lamed, mem or סולם.
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 שלום (peace, well being) and owr אור (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 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.
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 another.

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 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: -
(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?
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 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."


[1] James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, 1890, E-sword Software (www.e-sword.com)
[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, http://www.HoshanaRabbah.org)
[5] Johann Keil & Franz Delitzsch, Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, E-sword SW (www.e-sword.com)
[6] Mechon Mamre, Hebrew - English Bible According to the Masoretic Text, 2005 (http://www.mechon-mamre.org/),
The Holy Scriptures (Old Testament) by the Jewish Publication Society (1917), (www.e-sword.com),
Paul Feghali and Antoine Aoukar, Hebrew Old Testament, Université Antonine, 2007
[7] The Whitaker Revised BDB Hebrew Lexicon, Bible works SW 6.0
[8] Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder,
 [9] James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance,
[10] Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder,
[11] James Strong, Strong's Exhaustive Concordance,
[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,
[15] Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder,
[16] Scherman, Rabbi Nosson (1993). The Chumash. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications, Ltd (cited in www. Wikipedia.com)
[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, SpainDecember 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.
[20] Rabbai Jacob Charlap, The Meaning of Jacob's Dream, www. members.tripod.com/~chippit/jacobs_dream.html
[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, http://www.abideinchrist.com/
[23] Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Volume I (Genesis to Deuteronomy), Grand Rapids, MI, 2000
 [24] Rabbi Ya’acov Natan Lawrence , Jacob's Ladder, Waters in the Wilderness, A Teaching Ministry of Hoshana Rabbah Messianic Discipleship Resources, (Electronic Version, http://www.HoshanaRabbah.org)

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