The Bible


Genesis 28:10-22 : Jacob's Ladder

Study the Inner Meaning


10 And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran.

11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.

12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;

14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.

17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.

19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first.

20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on,

21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God:

22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.

   Study the Inner Meaning
From Swedenborg's Works

Main explanations:

Arcana Coelestia 3689, 3690, 3691, 3697, 3698, 3699, 3700, ...

Other references to this story:

Arcana Coelestia 1025, 1298, 1420, 1430, 1453, 2723, 3656, ...

Apocalypse Revealed 779

True Christian Religion 24

References from Swedenborg's drafts, indexes & diaries:

Apocalypse Explained 340, 375, 422, 675, 696

Marriage 24

Related New Christian Commentary

  Stories and their meanings:

Hop to Similar Bible Verses

Genesis 11:31, 12:3, 7, 8, 13:16, 14:20, 17:7, 20:3, 21:14, 30:25, 31:3, 13, 45, 32:10, 35:1, 3, 6, 7, 14, 46:3, 4, 47:24, 26, 48:3

Exodus 2:24, 3:5, 6, 6:7, 32:13

Leviticus 26:42, 45, 27:32

Numbers 12:6, 21:2

Deuteronomy 26:17, 31:6, 8

Joshua 16:2, 18:13, 24:26

Judges 11:30, 20:26

1 Samuel 1:11, 7:12, 16

2 Samuel 15:8

1 Kings 12:29

2 Kings 2:2

1 Chronicles 4:10

2 Chronicles 13:19

Psalms 91:11, 121:7

Jeremiah 16:15

Ezekiel 28:25

Malachi 3:10

John 1:51

Acts 18:10

Hebrews 13:5

Bible Word Meanings

Jacob is told twice that his name will now be Israel. The first time is when he wrestles with an angel on his journey to...

'Haran,' as mentioned in Genesis 11:28, signifies inward idolatrous worship. 'Haran,' as mentioned in Genesis 12:5, signifies an obscure state. 'Haran,' as mentioned in Genesis...

'A dry place,' as in Luke 11:24, signifies states of evil and falsity which are in the life of someone who does the work of...

The 'sun' signifies celestial and spiritual love. The 'sun' in the Word, when referring to the Lord, signifies His divine love and wisdom. Because the...

Stones in the Bible in general represent truths, or things we know concerning the Lord and what He wants from us and for us in...

'To put' has reference to order, arrangement, application, and influx.

In Genesis 28:11, the things which are under the back of the head or neck, that is 'pillows,' or supports, signify communication of inmost or...

lay down
To “lie down” in the Bible represents a state of spiritual serenity, a time when temptations are distant and we are not in spiritual conflict....

A ladder' signifies the communication of truth which is in the lowest place with truth which is in the highest.

Is there any difference in meaning between “earth” and “ground”? At first it doesn’t seem so; both refer to the soil making up the land...

The hand in the Bible represents power, which is easy to understand, so to reach out or stretch out the hand means to exercise power,...

"Air" in the Bible represents thought, but in a very general way – more like our capacity to perceive ideas and the way we tend...

When the Bible speaks of "Jehovah," it is representing love itself, the inmost love that is the essence of the Lord. That divine love is...

"Down" is used many different ways in natural language, and its spiritual meaning in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Phrases like "bowing down,"...

the Lord
The Bible refers to the Lord in many different ways, which from the text seem indistinguishable and interchangeable. Understood in the internal sense, though, there...

The Lord, in the simplest terms, is love itself expressed as wisdom itself. In philosophic terms, love is the Lord's substance and wisdom is His...

As with many common verbs, the meaning of “to say” in the Bible is highly dependent on context. Who is speaking? Who is hearing? What...

Abraham (or Abram, as he is named in the beginning of his story) was the ancestor of all the Children of Israel, through his son...

Father in the Word means what is most interior, and in those things that are following the Lord's order, it means what is good. In...

'Isaac' represents spiritual love. 'Isaac,' in Genesis 17:19, signifies the rational divine. 'Isaac' signifies the Lord's divine rational in reference to divine good. Isaac' signifies...

'Lands' of different nations are used in the Word to signify the different kinds of love prevalent in the inhabitants.

Like other common verbs, the meaning of "give" in the Bible is affected by context: who is giving what to whom? In general, though, giving...

'A seed' signifies love, and everyone who has love, as in Genesis 12:7. 8:15, 16. 'A seed' signifies faith grounded in charity. 'A seed' signifies...

'Powder' or 'dust' refers to love of self and the world.

'North' signifies people who are in obscurity regarding truth. North,' in Isaiah 14:31, signifies hell. The North,' as in Jeremiah 3:12, signifies people who are...

In the Word, 'the south' or 'midday' means a state of light, which is a state of intelligence produced by truths, thus also an interior...

Families (as in Genesis 8:19) signify goodnesses and truths arranged in man by the Lord, according to order. See Secrets of Heaven 917. In Nahum...

The Lord is perfect love expressed as perfect wisdom. He created us so that He could love us, could give us love and wisdom of...

"Keeping" in the Bible generally has to do with controlling the actual actions of life, though in some cases it can mean holding something away...

In the physical world, the places we inhabit and the distances between them are physical realities, and we have to get our physical bodies through...

Like "say," the word "speak" refers to thoughts and feelings moving from our more internal spiritual levels to our more external ones – and ultimately...

In a general sense, sleeping in the Bible represents a state of obscurity about spiritual matters, a state in which you are not recognizing things...

Like so many common verbs, the meaning of "know" in the Bible is varied and dependent on context. And in some cases – when it...

Fear of the unknown and fear of change are both common ideas, and together cover a broad spectrum of the fears we tend to have...

A "house" is essentially a container - for a person, for a family, for several families or even for a large group with shared interests...

"Gates" in ancient times had a significance that does not hold in the modern world. Cities then were enclosed by walls for protection; gates in...

rose up
It is common in the Bible for people to "rise up," and it would be easy to pass over the phrase as simply describing a...

It is common in the Bible for people to "rise up," and it would be easy to pass over the phrase as simply describing a...

Morning comes with the rising of the sun, and the sun – which gives life to the earth with its warmth and light – represents...

Morning comes with the rising of the sun, and the sun – which gives life to the earth with its warmth and light – represents...

Stones in the Bible in general represent truths, or things we know concerning the Lord and what He wants from us and for us in...

In Ezekiel 27:17, 'wheat of minnith, and pannag honey,' 'oil,' and 'balsam' denote the good things that come from love and charity, and the happiness...

'To proclaim' signifies exploration from influx of the Lord.

It's easy to see that names are important in the Bible. Jehovah changed Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah, changed Jacob to Israel and...

When Jacob had his famous dream, of a staircase leading to heaven, he named the place "Bethel," which is Hebrew for "the house of God."...

In the ancient world cities were very nearly nations unto themselves – they existed within walls, with their own laws and customs, generally centered on...

'Luz,' as in Genesis 28, signifies a state wherein truth and good are together in the ultimate principle of order.

the first
'Resurrection' signifies salvation and eternal life. 'The first,' mentioned in Revelation 20:5, 6, does not mean a first resurrection, but the essence and primary part...

Why would it be insulting for a man to refer to his married partner as his “first wife”? Because it implies there will be a...

In Genesis 28:20, 'he vowed a vow' denotes, in the internal sense, willing that the Lord will provide. In the highest sense, where the Lord...

In Genesis 28:20, 'he vowed a vow' denotes, in the internal sense, willing that the Lord will provide. In the highest sense, where the Lord...

In the physical world, the places we inhabit and the distances between them are physical realities, and we have to get our physical bodies through...

In John 14:6, 'the way is doctrine,' 'the truth' is every thing pertaining to doctrine, and 'the life' is the essential good which is the...

Just as natural food feeds the natural body, so spiritual food feeds the spiritual body. And since our spiritual body is the expression of what...

When we eat, our bodies break down the food and get from it both energy and materials for building and repairing the body. The process...

Soft raiment,' as in Matthew 11:9, represents the internal sense of the Word.

Put on
'To put on' is communication and imbuement.

In ordinary life, we tend to think of "peace" as essentially "a lack of conflict." As a nation, if we're not at war, it's a...

When the Bible speaks of "Jehovah," it is representing love itself, the inmost love that is the essence of the Lord. That divine love is...

Resources for parents and teachers

The items listed here are provided courtesy of our friends at the General Church of the New Jerusalem. You can search/browse their whole library at the New Church Vineyard website.

 Angels on Jacob's Ladder
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Ascending and Descending
If we look to the Lord's Word as our guide, we can picture ourselves climbing a wonderful ladder, connecting us to the Lord's heaven.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 Blessings: Jacob's Ladder
Blessings to say at mealtime.
Activity | Ages over 7

 Conjunction by the Word
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 How the Word Enlightens
The Lord wants to help everyone see spiritual things more clearly but the quality and extent of an individual’s enlightenment depends on his or her own spiritual development. Enlightenment is affected by the questions we ask the Lord and the reasons we are seeking answers.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

 Jacob and His Dream
Color the background scene with the ladder. Color and cut out the figures of the angels and Jacob sleeping, then attach them to the scene. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Jacob Dreams of a Ladder
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jacob's Dream
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Jacob's Dream
A New Church Bible story explanation for teaching Sunday school. Includes lesson materials for Primary (3-8 years), Junior (9-11 years), Intermediate (12-14 years), Senior (15-17 years) and Adults.
Teaching Support | Ages over 3

 Jacob's Dream
Jacob had a wonderful dream. He saw a tall, tall ladder, or perhaps rather a wide and magnificent staircase reaching all the way from earth to heaven.
Worship Talk | Ages 4 - 6

 Jacob's Dream
Color the pictures of the Lord and Jacob. Then make a ladder using craft sticks and toothpicks.
Project | Ages 4 - 6

 Jacob's Dream
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 9 - 12

 Jacob’s Dream
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14

 Jacob’s Dream
Lesson outline provides teaching ideas with questions for discussion, projects, and activities.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Jacob's Dream - Level A
Complete lesson with activity choices: make angel crowns and act out Jacob's dream, make a collage of Jacob's Ladder, scripted story discussion, coloring picture, and a memory verse.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 Jacob's Dream - Level B
Complete lesson with activity choices: make angel crowns and act out Jacob's dream, make a pocket stone or necklace to remind you that the Lord is always with you, scripted story discussion, coloring picture, and a memory verse.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 7 - 10

 Jacob's Dream - Level C
Complete lesson with activity choices: flight or fight attitude jar, look closer at the ladder of life, and a scripted story discussion.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 14

 Jacob's Ladder
Article | Ages 15 - 17

 Jacob’s Ladder
This lesson discusses a story from the Word and suggests projects and activities for young children.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 4 - 6

 Jacob's Ladder Collage
Color the ladder and the picture of Jacob. Make your own pictures of angels. Cut these out and assemble to make a collage picturing Jacob's dream. 
Project | Ages 4 - 10

 Jacob's Ladder Mural
Have children make pictures of angels of various sizes (because angels near the top of the ladder would appear smaller), then arrange on poster board (or a bulletin board) with a ladder, Jacob, and the Lord to make the mural. 
Project | Ages 7 - 14

 Jacob's Ladder (sheet music)
Song | Ages 4 - 14

 Jacob's Pillow
Use a small stone as "pillow" and then use it to make this project.
Project | Ages 7 - 10

 Overview of Jacob and Esau Levels A B C D for ages 3-18
An overview of the Youth Journey Program "Jacob and Esau", Levels A, B, D, and D, for ages 3-18.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 3 - 18

 Quotes: Jacob's Ladder
Teaching Support | Ages over 15

 Stairway to Heaven
Coloring Page | Ages 7 - 14

 Surely the Lord Is in this Place
One of the common experiences of life is waking up to something we did not realize before. This is what happened to Jacob after his dream of the ladder reaching from earth to heaven.
Worship Talk | Ages over 18

 The Stairway to Heaven
Family lessons provide a worship talk and a variety of activities for children and teens..
Religion Lesson | Ages 4 - 17

 The Stairway to Heaven
Worship Talk | Ages 7 - 14



Awe and Holy Fear


By Rev. Pearse Frazier

"Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not." So says Jacob, after his dream, in Genesis chapter 28:16.

Fear is an emotion. Like all emotions it can be best understood as a passive experience - it's something that happens to you. We are not our emotions. We might feel joy, or anger, or sadness, or fear, but those are experiences that we feel. It's like feeling something rough or soft or painful or hot or cold. We're not cold or hot or painful. Those are things we feel. All of our feelings are passive in that way. This is an important thing to remember because too often we can identify ourselves as our emotions.

Fear is that kind of passive emotion. It's something we experience. And the Heavenly Doctrine, in Arcana Coelestia 3718, tells us about different kinds of fear and why we experience what we experience. Think about any emotion for a moment. Any emotion is experienced of some affection that we have for something or someone being stimulated or stirred in a particular way.

If you love a child, for example, and that child is given something wonderful and they laugh, you experience the emotion of joy. If that child is harmed then you experience the emotion of sadness or anger. And when a child is threatened -- a child that you love -- you might experience the emotions of fear and anger.

Fear is when something that we love or have an affection for is threatened, is in danger -- that's when we experience fear. A simple illustration of this is why people are afraid of heights. They have an affection for their own health, and for their own life. And when they're at the top of a height, look down, think they might slip and fall, then naturally they think, I could lose this thing that I love -- me! It's a normal thing. They are not their fear. But they are their affection behind that fear. They do genuinely love themselves. And they are that love. It's an appropriate love that they have for themselves. This is why so often our fear does tell us about who and what we are. We are not our emotions, but our emotions tell us who we can or can't be.

In our reading we heard about two kinds of fear, holy fear and un-holy or natural fear. Natural fear is like the fear we just talked about, the fear that you have that you might be harmed. It's the fear that keeps most people in line. It's the fear that you might get a ticket if you speed. It's the fear that any kind of punishment or harm might come to you or to those you love, and it's felt as fear. The Writings say it's felt primarily in the body and in the natural man. You can imagine this fear; it's an unpleasant, physical feeling. It can tighten your stomach and send chills up your spine. We have physical things that we identify with fear, such as darkness, cold, screeching noises, a note out of key. These are the things that trigger the physical feeling of fear. They are all natural feelings of fear.

Holy fear, we're told, doesn't feel the same as natural fear. It doesn't feel physical in that way. We're also told that holy fear is when we have a fear of harm coming to something good or true outside of oneself. Returning to the example of a child: If you love a child and you're afraid for that child to be hurt, that's a kind of holy fear, and you might feel that fear as a knot in your stomach. But this is still a natural sort of holy fear and is not true spiritual holy fear.

We're told that good holy fear, spiritual holy fear, is felt as awe. In a moment we'll discuss love to the neighbor as it relates to holy fear. But first think about times when you have experienced awe or wonder -- Divine awe -- maybe you've been up early in the morning and you saw a sunrise and you thought, My God! What a beautiful sunrise! Literally thinking, Wow! The Lord made this amazing thing! And I've been given the blessing and the opportunity to see it. You are awed by that creation. That sense of awe is the feeling that accompanies holy fear.

But it's even more than that. A breathtaking sunrise is an example of a natural experience, a trick of aesthetics. Think to the moments in your life when real spiritual experience (not something visual) brought you awe. Maybe at your wedding. Or at the birth of your child. Or the death of a loved one, if you were there at their side. In these moments of real spiritual meaning when we experience a sense of awe and wonder, we think My God! We know that something more than our life has occurred here. We are struck by that wonder. Jacob experiences in his dream. That awe is what he's feeling when he wakes up. He realizes that the Lord is in this place. And he had not known it.

Often in our lives we'll have a sense of clarity, a moment where we truly understand that the Lord is God of Creation and is behind all the most meaningful moments of our lives. Maybe it is one of those important life experiences mentioned earlier -- your wedding or the birth of a loved one or the death of a loved one -- or maybe it's another important event, where acknowledgment and recognition of the Lord becomes clear and powerful, almost overwhelming.

We all acknowledge that on the average Tuesday morning, for example, when we wake up, awe is not the feeling we have. What should we do in those moments? How do we capture that sense of awe and clarity?

What does Jacob do? He sets up an alter. As we discussed with the children, you can set up an alter to the Lord in those moments of clarity and awe, when you feel a spiritual holy fear. You can do this with a mind meld, with your imagination, building literally an alter in your mind, setting up a stone and pouring oil on it. These images from the Word have powerful correspondential spiritual truth behind them. And your application of these kinds of images in your imagination can help order your mind.

The Heavenly Doctrine tells us time and again that we should meditate on the Word. This process applied to the story of Jacob's dream is the kind of thing that the Word is talking about: meditate on it. Really think about it.

If you're sitting there in front of a beautiful sunrise and you suddenly realize truly what it means for the Lord to be guiding you and your life, pause, close your eyes, set up an alter and pour oil on that alter, and pray to the Lord. Realize that He is with you.

These images have even more power when they are physical and tangible. This is why it is so useful to come to church. It's why we have an alter with the Word on it. It's why it's useful in your home to have an alter with the Word, a place set aside to remind you of the awe and wonder of the Lord.

Think back now to our original example of our love for a child. People love putting photos up of their children on Facebook. And when you go into a retired person's home, one of the things you may see are pictures everywhere, in the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the living room, on the refrigerator, why? These are physical reminders of the things that are important to that person. They are like alters to the objects of their affections. We put up pictures because we want to be reminded of the things that mean the most to us, and because we want to be reminded of those people for whom we have great affection and love.

Because we're natural, because we're here on earth and we're not perfect, often we'll experience a fear for the well being of those people. We feel this as worry in our stomach or chills up our spine. We might think, Oh, no, what could happen to my son or my daughter or my husband or my wife or my cousin? That fear can happen.

There is another fear. It is the spiritual holy fear of awe and wonder, for instance, when we can look at a picture of a loved one and we can say, My God! He has given them into my life. They are the son or daughter of the Lord, and they've been put into my life. This is like the true holy fear of angels. Angels do not worry about bad things that happen to other people. Their stomachs do not knot up and chills do not come up their spines, because they have faith and confidence in the Lord. And what's more, they know where their power lies.

We too can have that faith and confidence in the Lord, and that feeling the angels have, if we remember where our power lies.

We do not have the power to prevent terrible things from happening to the people we love. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks, or firebombings, or accidents or serious illnesses. We cannot. We can only do our best to mitigate against them.

Where then does your true power lie?

The answer to that question has to do with fear. True holy fear -- the fear that we as individuals might cause harm to those we love -- the fear that a parent has, the terrible fear, that maybe they are parenting poorly, that maybe they've done something wrong. It's the fear that we can have at work when we worry, "Maybe I've offended one of my colleagues." Or it's the fear we can have in our relationships and friendships when we think maybe we have offended someone or caused someone harm, or maybe we might. That is true holy fear, because in that we can trust the Lord. We can ask the Lord for help in being a good friend and worker and parent and spouse. We can know and have confidence that shunning evils as sins and loving the neighbor is in our control and within our grasp. That's where we can have awe and wonder at the gift the Lord has given us.

Remember the Lord told Jacob that he would be a blessing to all nations. Remember we, each of us, can be a blessing to everyone in our lives.

In keeping holy fear, we acknowledge that we are the one who has power over our own sins. That is where our true power lies. We can shun sins. We can do better. The Lord has given us this power. This is the blessing we can be: we can treat our neighbor with love and kindness and honesty and faith. When we love the neighbor, we love God.

Have confidence. Set up an altar to the Lord in your mind, and the Lord will make you a blessing to all nations.