Genesis 28: Lessons from Jacob’s Ladder Regarding God’s Path to Heaven

Introduction: Genesis chapter 28 may at first seem to include many unrelated subjects. These include: (1) Isaac’s directive for Jacob to leave the Promised Land to find a wife; (2) Isaac’s confirmation of his blessings for Jacob, which Jacob previously obtained under false pretenses; (3) Esau’s attempt to regain his parents’ favor by marrying one of Ishmael’s daughters as his third wife; (4) Jacob’s vision of a narrow ladder leading to heaven; (5) God’s affirmation of His covenant with Jacob and his descendants; (6) Jacob’s building of an altar of gratitude; and (7) Jacob’s conditional vow to tithe if God stayed with him. Yet, these seemingly different subjects are all connected because they deal with Jacob’s journey and the path leading to heaven. Here, God reveals seven truths about the narrow path through Christ He has set for all to get to heaven.

First, Isaac made the “sin of presumption” by sending his son on a journey outside the Promised Land to find a spouse. As a result, Jacob spent more than 20 years in captivity due to Laban's deceit. From this, God reveals that the path to heaven is painful when you fail to follow His will. Second, Isaac gave Jacob four blessings before sending him on his journey. From this, God reveals that those on the path to God will receive many blessings. From Isaac’s name for God, El Shaddai, He further reveals that His grace in whatever blessings He gives you is sufficient. Third, Esau tried to place himself on the path to his parents’ approval by marrying Ishmael’s daughter as his third wife. Yet, because his heart was evil, he was spiritually blind to God’s correct path. From this, God reveals that many are called but few are chosen because they cannot discern His true will. Fourth, while sleeping on a rock (which symbolized Jesus), Jacob had a dream of a narrow ladder leading to heaven. From this, God reveals that the path leading to heaven is narrow and runs through Christ, the only door to heaven. Fifth, without having repented of any of his sins, God confirmed that His covenant with Abraham would extend to Jacob’s descendants. Here, God reveals that the path leading to heaven is paved with His mercy and grace. Sixth, Jacob responded in faith to God’s promise and built an altar that he covered in oil (a symbol of the Holy Spirit). From this, God reveals that the path to heaven requires faith and should also include Spirit-led gratitude. Finally, after receiving God’s unearned blessings, Jacob made a conditional vow to tithe only if God remained with him. The Potter (God) still needed to mold the clay (Jacob) on his path to heaven. Here, God reveals that the path to heaven requires you to allow Him to transform you into a “new creation” in Christ.

1. The Path to Heaven is Painful When You Fail to Follow God’s Will. Gen. 28:1-2.

  • Isaac’s directive to have Jacob leave the Promised Land. “Isaac trembled violently” in fear after realizing his mistake in ignoring God’s Word by trying to give his blessings to Esau instead of Jacob (Gen. 27:33). But he then compounded his mistake by following Rebekah’s advice that Jacob “flee” from the Promised Land to escape Esau’s wrath: “1 So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.” (Gen. 28:1-2). The Hebrew word “Paddân ʼĂrâm” means the table-land of Aram. This was a region of Syria where Abraham’s relatives were located at that time. The word “Haran” comes from the root word of “charar.” It means “to glow, to show or incite passion: to be angry, a burning of anger, a sore displeasure, wrathful.” It was a place that would bring Jacob and his family pain and anger.

Isaac urged Jacob to flee from the Promised Land to Haran1

  • God called Abraham and his descendants to leave his extended family behind. God called Abraham to leave both his country and his family to move to Israel where He promised to make a great nation out of him (Gen. 12:1-2). His calling occurred before he and his family made it to Haran (Gen. 11:31-32). He called Abraham to leave his family when they were in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia (Iraq) (Neh. 9:7; Acts 7:2-3). Abraham tried to bring his entire family with him. Yet, the family stopped in Paddan-aram because they lacked the faith to enter the Promised Land. God called Abraham to leave his family behind because his father Terah led the family in idol worship: “. . . and they served other gods.’” (Josh. 24:2). Thus, sending Jacob back to Abraham’s extended family in Haran was a terrible mistake.

  • Isaac’s “sin of presumption” in sending Jacob from God’s protections to dwell with pagans. Like Isaac, Abraham instructed his servant not to allow Isaac to marry a pagan Canaanite woman (Gen. 24:3-4). It was against God’s law for believers to marry non-believers: “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.” (Dt. 7:3; Ex. 34:16; Josh. 23:12; Neh. 10:30). Isaac realized his mistake in failing to teach this law to Esau after he took two Hittite wives (Gen. 26:34-35). Yet, Isaac failed to learn from his father’s example not to allow Jacob to leave the Promised Land to search for a bride. Abraham would not allow his son Isaac to go with his servant to his pagan-worshipping relatives in Paddan-aram to find a spouse: “Then Abraham said to him, ‘Beware that you do not take my son back there!’” (Gen. 24:6). Abraham knew that two things could go wrong. First, his son might pick a spouse guided by the flesh. Second, his son might become trapped in his family’s deceit. Paul warned: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” (1 Cor. 15:33). Both of these things happened to Jacob. He picked an idol-worshipping spouse based upon her physical beauty. He then became trapped in Paddan-aram for more than 20 years under Laban’s deceit. “Now it came about when Rachel had borne Joseph, that Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own place and to my own country.”’ (Gen. 30:25). Isaac should have prayed to God for Him to guide a servant to the woman He had “appointed” for Jacob (Gen. 24:14). Isaac was guilty of the “sin of presumption” that he knew God’s will without asking. Both Isaac and Rebekah failed to pray for God to reveal the right path for Jacob. Today, you have His Word to serve as a lamp unto your path (Ps. 119:105). You also have the Holy Spirit to guide you in prayer. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jam. 1:5). Are reading the Word and praying for God to guide your path?

  • The sin of “presumption” can lead to pain and sorrow. There are many times in the Bible where the Jews or others took actions without consulting God. Each time, the result was pain and sorrow. For example, after the Jews rebelled against God at the edge of the Promised Land, God told them to wander in the wilderness. Some Jews thought the punishment was too great and then tried to force their way into Promised Land. Acting on their own and without God’s protection, the Amalekites and the Canaanites quickly killed those Jews (Nu. 14:39-45). The Jews also committed that sin of presumption when they lost the battle of Ai. After winning the battle of Jericho, the Jewish spies boasted that they could take the city of Ai without claiming that God would deliver it. They also did not bring the ark into battle. These spies believed that the troops could take Ai on their own without troubling God. Joshua compounded this sin of presumption by failing to seek God’s counsel. Had he done so, God would have likely warned him not to attack. As a result, the spies and Joshua bore responsibility for the death of 36 Jewish soldiers (Josh. 7:1-5). Believers cannot assume that they can prevail in a battle of the flesh without God. Without His intervention, most will lack the power to defeat an addiction or conquer the desires of the flesh. Are you trying to fight your spiritual battles on your own? Are you helping others to fight their battles?

  • You can flee from temptation, but not from your sins. Isaac followed Rebekah’s directive when he told Jacob to flee to Laban in Haran: “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban!” (Gen. 27:43). The prophet Hosea also makes clear that Jacob did not casually depart from his home: “Now Jacob fled to the land of Aram,” (Hos. 12:12(a)). Believers are encouraged to flee from temptation (2 Tim. 2:22). But God warns that you cannot flee from your sins. If you fail to repent of them through Christ’s atoning blood, your sins will eventually find you out: “be sure your sin will find you out.” (Nu. 32:23(b)). This was similar to God’s warning to Cain before he killed his brother Abel: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7). Thus, Jacob could not flee from his sins by running from God to a foreign land. Failing to repent of his sins, would only lead to bondage in Haran.

  • Disobedience may cause God to remove His hedge of protection. Isaac and Rebekah failed to trust God from Esau’s wrath. Instead, they relied on their own understanding. Because they did not follow God’s will by sending Jacob out of the Promised Land to Haran, Jacob was outside of God’s protection from Laban’s deceit. When you act outside of His will or when you ignore His directives, He may not protect you: ‘“I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.’” (Lev. 26:17). ‘“As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall.”’ (Lev. 26:36). “The LORD shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Dt. 28:25). “You cause us to turn back from the adversary; and those who hate us have taken spoil for themselves.” (Ps. 44:10). Are you being obedient to God’s will?

  • When you walk with God, your enemy will flee. If Isaac and Jacob had walked with God, they would have had no reason to fear Esau. When you walk in faith and obedience, God promises to install fear into your enemy and cause them to flee: “One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you.” (Josh. 23:10). “The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). ‘“But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.’” (Lev. 26:7-8). When you take refuge in God, He promises to be a shield to the evil attacks of the enemy: “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5; 2 Sam. 22:31). With His help, Jonathon also killed many Philistines (1 Sam. 14:12). His power also allowed David to kill Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50-58). He does not want you to fear any enemy (Ro. 8:15). Are you walking in full submission to Jesus to receive His complete protection?

2. The Path to Heaven Brings God’s Many Blessings. Gen. 28:3-5.

  • Isaac’s confirmation of the blessings previously directed at Esau. After his many mistakes, Isaac finally did something right. He blessed Jacob as he was supposed to do: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.’ Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.” (Gen. 28:3-5). Isaac’s blessings through “El Shaddai” (God Almighty) contained four parts: (1) that Jacob be “fruitful and multiply”; (2) that he become a “company of peoples”; (3) that he would receive Abraham’s blessings; and (4) that his descendants would possess the Promised Land. On your path to heaven, each of these blessings is available to you as a believer in Christ.

  • Be fruitful in the Spirit, and God will multiply your efforts. God’s first command in the Bible was for Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply: “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, . . .”’ (Gen. 1:28 (a)). After the Flood, He repeated this command to Noah: “And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.’” (Gen. 9:1). ‘“As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.’” (Gen. 9:7). He later repeated this blessing to Abraham, yet without stating it as a command. ‘“I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you.’” (Gen. 17:6; 12:2; 15:5; 22:17; Heb. 11:12). He would later confirm this promise upon Jacob after renaming him Israel. But, with Israel, He made it a command that the nation fulfill and multiply (Gen. 35:11). He can bless you with all the blessings listed in the Bible. For many, this includes the blessing of children. Yet, even if you do not or cannot have children, you can still receive all His blessings from the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). When you labor for His Kingdom, He will also multiply your efforts. Are any of the fruit of the Spirit missing in your life? Are you laboring for Him so that he can multiply your efforts?

  • Be blessed by becoming a priest in Christ’s unified nation of believers. Isaac prophetically called for a nation to arise from Jacob as a “company of peoples.” (Gen. 28:3). This foreshadowed the future nation of Israel. Later, El Shaddai expanded upon this blessing by prophetically calling for a “company of nations” to come from his line: “God also said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you.’” (Gen. 35:11). This foreshadows the future united reign when the Messiah returns. “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will worship before You.” (Ps. 22:27). “And let all kings bow down before him, all nations serve him.” (Ps. 72:11). “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name.” (Ps. 86:9). “And it will come about in the last days that the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and the peoples will stream to it.” (Micah 4:1). “Even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Is. 56:7). Many will be blessed to serve during Christ’s reign as priests: “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6). By becoming a believer in Christ, you are automatically eligible to become one of His royal priests: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9). Are you living a life worthy of the blessing of being part of Christ’s “royal priesthood”?

  • Inherit the blessings of Abraham through faith in Christ. Isaac also prayed that Jacob would receive God’s blessing to Abraham. (Gen. 28:4). God promised Abraham that, through him, “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3; 17:4; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Josh. 24:3; Is. 51:2). Jesus later fulfilled the promise to extend these blessings to believers throughout the world: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:29). “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.’” (Acts 3:25). “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’” (Gal. 3:8). “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,” (Ro. 4:16). Have you given thanks for your undeserved right to share in God’s blessings to Abraham?

  • Live as a “sojourner” while you wait for God’s blessings of the eternal Promised Land. Finally, in Isaac’s blessings, he prayed that Jacob’s descendants would possess the land where he lived as a “sojourner” (Gen. 28:4). God later restated that the patriarchs were mere “sojourners” when He formed His covenant with them: “I also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they sojourned.” (Ex. 6:4). Because David saw that his real kingdom in heaven, he cried out that he was also a “sojourner” in his kingdom on Earth: “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my fathers.” (Ps. 39:12). “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13). When it comes to the sins offered through the world, Peter exhorts believers to also live as “aliens and strangers” by abstaining from those evil things: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11). Within Jesus’ household, you will be blessed and no longer live as an alien or sojourner: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household,” (Eph. 2:19). Do you live as a foreigner to the evil things that surround you and the temptations of this world?

  • Whatever blessings that El Shaddai may grant you are sufficient. Isaac prayed to God as “El Shaddai”. The NASB translates El Shaddai as “God Almighty” (Gen. 28:3). To many English readers, this might look as though Isaac was placing a respectful adjective in front of God’s name. But this is mistaken. It is the same name that God used to identify Himself when He told Abraham what He expected from Him in a covenant relationship (Gen. 17:1-3). Although its exact translation is unknown, the name has many meanings. It stresses His majesty and power (Ex. 6:3; Nu. 24:4, 16; Job 11:7). The name also signifies His Covenant promise of countless descendants and nations through Abraham (Gen. 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25). The medieval French rabbi known as “Rashi” also translated the name as God “who is sufficient” (Rashi on Genesis 43:14). In the context of the many blessings that God may choose to give you, Rashi’s definition is the most compelling in this context. Jacob had no right to any blessings. Isaac was effectively saying that whatever blessings God may choose to give Jacob were sufficient. God also said to Paul ‘“My grace is sufficient for you, . . .”’ (2 Cor. 12:9). If God withholds some blessings from you, will you still give thanks?

3. The Path to Heaven is Found By Few, Even Though All Are Invited. Gen. 28:6-9.

  • Esau’s third marriage to a daughter of Ishmael. While Jacob submitted to his parents will in finding a godly spouse, Esau trusted in what felt right to him. To correct his parents’ disappointment over his prior choices in marriage, he took a third wife by marrying Mahalath, the daughter of his uncle Ishmael: “Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram to take to himself a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he charged him, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan,’ and that Jacob had obeyed his father and his mother and had gone to Paddan-aram. So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac; and Esau went to Ishmael, and married, besides the wives that he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebaioth.” (Gen. 28:6-9). Esau previously committed the sin of polygamy by marrying two Hittite women. This brought his parents great grief: “34 When Esau was forty years old he married Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they brought grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” (Gen. 26:34-35). “46 Rebekah said to Isaac, ‘I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?’” (Gen. 27:46). Both Isaac and Esau married at age 40. (Gen. 25:20). Forty symbolizes trials and testing in the Bible. Isaac passed the test by waiting for the woman that God “appointed” for him (Gen. 24:14). In contrast, Esau followed the path of Lamech, the first polygamist and a murderer. (Gen. 4:19.) Esau thought he could correct his mistake of marrying two non-believers by marrying a third. Both the Hittite wives and the daughter of Ishmael symbolized the flesh. Their unity through marriages to Esau merely shows that the flesh is united in its war against the Spirit. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Gal. 5:17).

Easu became a polygamist with pagan wives2

  • Those who live by their flesh are spiritually blind to God’s path. Paul warns “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” (Ro. 8:5). They are people “whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” (Phil. 3:19). “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” (Ro. 16:18). They are spiritually blind to the path leading to salvation: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” (2 Thess. 1:9). Thus, Esau never understood why his actions were unacceptable. Like Esau, many live according to their own standard of morality: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdgs. 21:25; 17:6). Like Esau, many are blind to Christ’s one and only ladder leading to heaven.

  • Keep yourself on the right path by seeking the approval of God, not men and women. Esau looked for his parents’ approval when he should have been looking for God’s approval. “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10). Do you do things seeking the approval of men and women or God?

  • Keep yourself on the right path by staying equally yoked with believers. Esau had only contempt for his spiritual birthright: “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” (Gen. 25:29-34). He was both an “immoral” and “godless person” who “found no place for repentance.” (Heb. 12:16-17). His worldly harem kept him from ever hearing God’s call to come back. In the same way, Solomon’s wives turned his heart away from God: “For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” (1 Kgs. 11:4). Thus, Paul warns: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;” (1 Jo. 1:6). Are you keeping yourself from being unequally yoked?

  • Raise your kids in the Lord to keep them on the right path. Esau’s confusion appears partly to be his parents’ fault: “So Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan displeased his father Isaac.” (Gen. 28:8). This suggests that Isaac never gave him clear guidance on this subject previously. Isaac should have raised Esau with God’s law written in his heart: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Dt. 11:19; Dt. 4:9; Eph. 6:4). Are you teaching your children God’s standards of right and wrong? If not, they (like Esau) may become spiritually blind to Jesus’ only path to heaven.

4. The Path to Heaven is Narrow and Runs Through Jesus. Gen. 28:10-12.

  • Jacob’s vision of a ladder leading to heaven. While in the wilderness, Jacob placed his head on a stone (a symbol of Jesus) and saw a vision of the narrow path leading to heaven: “10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” (Gen. 28:10-12). Each aspect of this dream symbolizes Jesus. The dream also symbolized the narrow path through Jesus and the cross.

Ferdinand Bol 1616 – 1680 (Jacob's Dream) (1642)3

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) “Jacob’s Dream” (1726-1729)4

Jacob’s dream5

  • Jesus was Jacob’s cornerstone, the narrow ladder, and the door leading to heaven. Jesus later made clear that Jacob’s vision, which depicted a path of angels descending and ascending from heaven was possible only through Him: “And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” (Jo. 1:51; Matt. 3:16). The stone that Jacob used as a supernatural pillow foreshadowed Jesus (Gen. 28:11). He is your “rock.” “The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” (Dt. 32:4, 18, 30; 2 Sam. 22:3; Ps. 78:35; 92:15; Is. 17:10; Hab. 1:12). He is also the “cornerstone” of your foundation leading to heaven (Ps. 118:22; Is. 28:16; Matt. 21:42; Mk. 12:10; Lk. 20:17; Acts 4:11; Ro. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:7). Without Jesus as your rock, there would be no path for the angels or for anyone else to descend and ascend to heaven.

  • Jesus is the only way. The ladder and the door at the top leading into heaven also foreshadowed Christ. This ladder and the door are only possible through Him: “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.’” (Jo. 10:7). “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (Jo. 10:9). “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”’ (Jo. 14:6). ‘“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber.”’ (Jo. 10:1). “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 10:43). Thus, Jesus is the only way to heaven.

  • The road to destruction is a highway, the path to salvation is narrow. Like the path to heaven, the path leading into Noah’s ark was so narrow that the animals could only enter in pairs. “So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos . . .” (Gen. 7:15). Jesus warned: “. . . the way is broad that leads to destruction . . . the way is narrow that leads to life.” (Matt. 7:13-14). Solomon also warned: “There is a way that seems right to a man. But it ends in the way of death.” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). Are you traveling on the narrow path leading to Jesus?

5. The Path to Heaven is Paved With God’s Mercy and Grace. Gen. 28:13-15.

  • God’s affirmation of Abraham’s blessings on Jacob. Even though he had never repented of his sins, God then appeared and affirmed that the covenant that He gave to Abraham would extend through Jacob’s descendants: “13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’” (Gen. 28:13-15). On seven occasions, God promised to extend Abraham’s blessing to include countless future descendants: (1) Gen. 12:3(b); (2) 13:16; (3) 15:5; (4) 16:10; (5) 17:4-5; (6) 18:18; (7) 22:18. At Beersheba, the place Jacob had just fled from, God affirmed this same covenant with Isaac (Gen. 26:23-25). God repeated His promise to Jacob to both confirm Isaac’s blessings and to boost Jacob’s faith. Although Jacob was not yet strong in his faith, God knew that he could build up Jacob’s faith by repeating His Word to him: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17). You too can build up your faith by listening to His Word. If you fail to read His Word, your faith can atrophy.

  • God’s covenant with Jacob shows that His path is paved with mercy and grace. Jacob had done nothing to earn God’s covenant. His scheming, lies, and deceit should have disqualified him. Moreover, he continued to sin even after God extended His covenant to him. Yet, like Jacob, no one has a right to claim God’s covenant based upon their conduct. All have sinned and fallen short: “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20; Ps. 14:3; Ro. 3:10, 23). God’s covenant with Jacob shows that His path to heaven is paved with His mercy and grace. No one can claim that they have earned it: “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.” (Ps. 145:8). “Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;”’ (Ex. 34:6; Ja. 5:11). Have you given thanks for your unearned path to heaven?

  • Jesus’s covenant with you is also a path paved with His mercy and grace. Just like Jacob, Jesus also loved you and called you while you were still a sinner: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Ro. 5:6, 8). Like Jacob, you are called upon to accept and confirm God’s calling in your life: “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;” (2 Pet. 1:10). “knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;” (1 Thess. 1:4). Have you fully responded to His calling in your life? Or, are you clinging to your old life?

6. The Path to Heaven Should be Met With Faith and Spirit-Led Gratitude. Gen. 28:16-19.

  • Jacob’s altar of faith and gratitude. In response to God’s covenant, Jacob did the first thing worthy of praise in his life. He believed in faith in God’s promise. He then praised God with a Spirit-led altar of gratitude: “16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ 17 He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’ 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz.” (Gen. 28:16-19). The name “Luz” means separation while the name “Bethel” means house of God. Jacob was previously separated from God because of his sins until God brought Jacob back into His house. To reflect what He can also do for you, God later referred to Himself as “the God of Bethel.” (Gen. 31:13).

Jacob builds an altar to show his gratitude6

  • The seven altars of gratitude. This was the seventh altar of gratitude in the book of Genesis. After God spared Noah and his family from the Flood, Noah built the first altar of gratitude (Gen. 8:20). Abraham built a second altar of gratitude after first being shown the Promised Land (Gen. 12:8). After God’s deliverance from his sins in Egypt, Abraham built a third altar for repentance (Gen. 13:3-4). Abraham then built a fourth altar of thanks (Gen. 13:18). Abraham later built a fifth altar for the sacrifice of Isaac and then the substitute ram (Gen. 22:9). Isaac built a sixth altar of gratitude to Yahweh (Gen. 26:25). Here, as a symbol of the completed covenant, Jacob built a seventh altar of gratitude (Gen. 28:16-18).

  • The importance of praise and gratitude in avoiding sin. Having gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice for you on the cross is an important way to keep yourself free from sin. If you don’t care about His sacrifice or if you don’t internalize the price He paid for you, you are more likely to sin. One way to remain grateful is to constantly thank Christ for His sacrifice: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). As an example to follow, David regularly thanked God through songs of praise (e.g., Ps. 18:49; 26:7; 30:4, 12; 50:14; 69:30; 75:1; 79:13; 92:1; 95:2; 97:12; 100:4; 106:1; 107:1, 8; 116:17; 118:1, 119:62; 140:13; 147:7). Another way to be thankful is to offer your life as a living sacrifice of gratitude: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:1-2). Do you regularly sing songs of gratitude? Is your life a living sacrifice of gratitude?

  • Let your praise and worship be led by the Spirit. Jacob poured oil on top of the supernatural rock (Gen. 28:18). In the Bible, oil is a symbol of the Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). Believers must be led by the Spirit in all that they do: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Ro. 8:14). Is your praise and worship led by the Spirit?

7. The Path to Heaven Requires that You Allow God to Transform You. Gen. 28:20-22.

  • Jacob’s conditional vow to tithe only if God stayed with him. Finally, although God had saved Jacob, Jacob was still a work in progress. Jacob responded to God’s underserved covenant with him by testing God with a conditional vow of tithing: “20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.’” (Gen. 28:20-22). As one commentator notes: “Jacob made a vow: Unfortunately, there was a great contrast between God’s promise and Jacob’s vow. One was totally God-centered; the other was terribly man-centered. i. God’s promise to Jacob (Gen. 28:13-15): • I am the Lord God. • I will give to you. • I am with you. • I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken. ii. Jacob’s vow to God: • If God will be with me. • And keep me. • In this way that I am going. • Give me bread and clothing. • So that I come back to my father’s house. How much better if Jacob had prayed like this: Because You promised to be with me and to keep me and to provide for all my needs, and to bring me back to the land which you swore to give to my fathers and to me, I will be completely Yours, God. iv. God was gracious enough to not call off the whole deal when He saw such an unspiritual response from Jacob. Instead, He was willing to be called, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Ex. 3:6).” (David Guzik on Genesis 28) (italics in original).7 Another commentator observes: “God tested Abraham but here Jacob tested God; God instructed Abraham to leave his country before he entered into blessing, but Jacob imposes conditions on God before he vows to benefit the Lord.” (J. H. Walton, Genesis: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) p. 573-4; quoted by Kenneth Mathews, “The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture” Genesis 1-11:26, Vol. 1B, (B&H Publishing Group Nashville Tenn. 1996) p. 442).

Jacob’s vow at Bethel8

  • Like Jacob, God’s path to heaven requires that you allow Him to transform you. Although Jacob was saved by his faith, God still needed to mold him into a man of God. This would be a life-long process. If you have accepted Christ, you are a “new creation” in Him: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). Yet, even though you are a new creation, God may still need to burn away the things of the flesh from your old life. “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand.” (Is. 64:8). “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2). Are you allowing Jesus to mold you and perfect your faith?

  • God calls you, transforms you and forgives you. The Bible identifies people who “walked with God.” This includes Enoch (Gen. 5:24). Noah also “walked with God” (Gen. 6:9) Yet, when God later identified Himself to Moses and the nation of Israel, He did not identify Himself based upon those who walked with Him. Instead, He identified Himself based upon the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Ex. 3:6). “Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.’”’ (Ex. 3:16). God does everything for a reason. He identified Himself as the God of the three patriarchs not based upon their righteousness. Instead, He identified Himself as the God of the patriarchs as a symbol for what He will do for you. Jesus quoted these three names to show that “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matt. 22:32(b)). First, like Abraham (whom He called from his sinful life in Ur), Jesus called you when you were still a sinner. Second, like Isaac (who was supernaturally formed in Sarah’s dead womb), He can transform you. Third, like Jacob, (who lived as a sinner), He can forgive your sins. Thus, He is a living God who called you, transformed you, and forgives you. How are you thanking Him for what He has done for you? (Ro. 12:1-2).

  • Your gratitude should include (among other things) a tithe of a tenth of your wages. Like Jacob, Abraham also gave a tenth of what God gave him as part of his worship and his gratitude: “He gave him a tenth of all.” (Gen. 14:20(b)). The book of Hebrews observes that Abraham gave a tenth of his best of what God had given him (Heb. 7:4). The duty to tithe part of a person’s produce or earnings later became part of the Mosaic law in the Torah (Dt. 14:22; 12:16; Lev. 27:30; Nu. 18:21). Like Abraham and Jacob, the Jews were further to tithe only their best things to God: “You shall bring the choice first fruits of your soil into the house of the LORD your God.” (Ex. 23:19(a); 34:26; Lev. 23:10; Nu. 18:13; Dt. 26:2, 10.) “Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce;” (Prov. 3:9). Do you give Him the best of your time, talent, and treasure?

  • Tithing is the one place where God allows you to test Him. Jacob tested God out of a lack of faith. Normally, you should never test God (Dt. 6:16; Matt. 4:7; Lk. 4:12). Because everything you have comes from God, you rob Him when you withhold your tithes: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:8). Ananias and Sapphira later died for concealing their tithes (Acts 5:1-10). Yet, tithing is only one area were God allows His promises to be tested: ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”’ (Mal. 3:10). Do you trust Him by tithing in both good and bad times? Or, do you only trust Him to tithe your wages when times are good?