Dreams are an important part of many Biblical stories and passages because they offer insight and foresight into decisions and actions humanity need to do at each specific time.
God promised to pour out His Spirit in the last days. Dreaming of dreams is one of the benefits promised when the Spirit of God is poured on all men. We look at all the dreamers in the Old Teestament to better and further understand the importance of dreams.
How Many Symbolic Dreamers Are in the Old Testament?
Jacob’s Ladder Dream – Genesis 28
After Jacob tricked Esau out of his inheritance, Esau was so angry at him and wanted to kill him. So Jacob, from the blessing and instruction from his father Isaac not to marry from Canaan, is on the run to his uncle Laban.
He stops for one night to sleep and dreams of a great stairway stretching from earth to heaven, with divine beings moving up and down.
God was at the top of the ladder and He promises that Jacob will indeed return back home, and his descendants will possess the land of Canaan. This was a reminder or continuation of the promise God had to Abraham.
Now Jacob left Beersheba [never to see his mother again] and traveled toward Haran. 11 And he came to a certain place and stayed overnight there because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down there [to sleep]. 12 He dreamed that there was a ladder (stairway) placed on the earth, and the top of it reached [out of sight] toward heaven; and [he saw] the angels of God ascending and descending on it [going to and from heaven]. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above and around him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your [father’s] father and the God of Isaac; I will give to you and to your descendants the land [of promise] on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants shall be as [countless as] the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and the east and the north and the south; and all the families (nations) of the earth shall be blessed through you and your [c]descendants. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep [careful watch over you and guard] you wherever you may go, and I will bring you back to this [promised] land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and he said, “Without any doubt the Lord is in this place, and I did not realize it.” 17 So he was afraid and said, “How fearful and awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gateway to heaven.”
18 So Jacob got up early in the morning, and took the stone he had put under his head and he set it up as a pillar [that is, a monument to the vision in his dream], and he poured [olive] oil on the top of it [to [d]consecrate it]. 19 He named that place Bethel (the house of God); the previous name of that city was Luz (Almond Tree). 20 Then Jacob made a vow (promise), 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 clothing to wear, 21 and if [He grants that] 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 (monument, memorial) will be God’s house [a sacred place to me], and of everything that You give me I will give the tenth to You [as an offering to signify my gratitude and dependence on You].”
The Meaning of Jacob’s Ladder Dream
While the meaning of this dream has been debated for a long time, we shall take a simple interpretation of the dream.
1. Connection to God
The ladder represents a connection between God and man (Jacob). It shows that the Almighty God desires an intimate relationship with His creation, and especially mankind.
2. God is the only initiator
The ladder also shows that God is the only one who can initiate that connection, conversation and relationship with man.
Unlike the story of the Tower of Babel, in which man tried to build a tower to connect with God in Genesis 11:1-9, here God proves that this connection can only be made by Him.
Any connection to God must begin with him.
3. Reaffirmation of Abrahamic Covenant
In the dream, God reaffirms the covenant of Abraham with Jacob, promising that the same blessings and promises He gave to Abraham would be fulfilled and carried on through Jacob.
Four chapters later, God renames Jacob “Israel” (Genesis 32:28) and he would go on to marry and father 12 sons who would become the 12 tribes of Israel.
From this lineage, the nation of Israel is born as God’s chosen people – the ancesstors of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, God’s own son (Matthew 1:1-17).
Lessons from Jacob’s Dream
1. How to Respond to Dreams
In the morning, Jacob immediately recognized the power and providence of God, who had made Himself known to him (Genesis 28:16,17).
“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it".
“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”.
Jacob then built an altar, using the stone he had used for a pillar to dedicate that place to the Lord. His responce was,
“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, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 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” (Genesis 28:20-22).
Every God-given dream will require a response from your side. This is because dreams are a form of communication with God. Communication requires a two-way exchange of information – God’s part and your part.
God’s providence and revelation are always followed by a human response in several places in Scripture. Here Jacob commits to make the God of his father and grandfather, his God, and the God of his descendants forever!
We see Jacob erecting a memorial to act as a reminder of the dream he had with God. In our days, he would have written the dream in his journal/notebook, tablet or computer so he does not forget. It is a sign of faith in the God of dreams that He will bring things to pass as He has said.
2. God Always Has a Bigger Plan
As we learnt from Joseph the dreamer, God’s plans are always grand – way bigger than us. The reaffirmation of Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob was a continuation of God’s promise from the fall of Adam that the seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent.
This dream was about the coming Messiah. And while it impacted and reassured Jacob of his immediate life’s need (to return safely to his home), it was about his 12 sons who would later form the nation of Israel from where Jesus Christ, the Messiah would have lineage.
3. A Shadow of Christ – How Is Jesus Christ our ‘Jacob’s Ladder’?
While this dream is clearly about the connection between God and Israel, it has a deeper meaning. It can be used to show foreshadowing of the new covenant that would be forged in by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The same way Jacob’s ladder represented the connection between God and man (Jacob and Israel), Jesus Christ would become the spiritual connection, mediator, and ladder to bridge the gap between God and men created by sin.
For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).
4. Come Back to God in Thanksgiving – Jacob Moves to Bethel
35 Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you [in a distinct manifestation] when you fled [years ago] from Esau your brother.” 2 Then Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the [idols and images of] foreign gods that are among you, and ceremonially purify yourselves and change [into fresh] clothes; 3 then let us get up and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the [idols and images of the] foreign gods they had and the rings which were in their ears [worn as charms against evil], and Jacob buried them under the a]">[a]oak tree near Shechem.
5 As they journeyed, there was a great [supernatural] terror [sent from God] on the cities around them, and [for that reason] the Canaanites did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 There he built an altar [to worship the Lord], and called the place El-bethel (God of the House of God), because there God had revealed Himself to him when he escaped from his brother. 8 Now Deborah, [who once was] Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried below Bethel under the oak; and the name of it was called Allon-bacuth (Oak of Weeping). Genesis 35:1-8
Jacob came back to Bethel where he had experienced his first symbolic dream of the ladder. And there, God had fulfilled all He had promised him. And Jacob worshipped God there.
We have to look at our dreams after some time has passed and give thanks to God for what He will have fulfilled in our lives. And while at thanksgiving, we see that God appears to Jacob again and reaffirms His covenant with him again.