THE STORY OF THE LADDER THAT REACHED TO HEAVEN
After Esau found that he had lost his birthright and his blessing, he was very angry against his brother Jacob; and he said to himself, and told others:
“My father Isaac is very old and cannot live long. As soon as he is dead, then I shall kill Jacob for having robbed me of my right.”
When Rebekah heard this, she said to Jacob, “Before it is too late, do you go away from home and get out of Esau’s sight. Perhaps when Esau sees you no longer, he will forget his anger, and then you can come home again. Go and visit my brother Laban, your uncle, in Haran, and stay with him for a little while.”
We must remember that Rebekah came from the family of Nahor, Abraham’s younger brother, who lived in Haran, a long distance to the northeast of Canaan, and that Laban was Rebekah’s brother.
So Jacob went out of Beersheba, on the border of the desert, and walked alone, carrying his staff in his hand. One evening, just about sunset, he came to a place among the mountains, more than sixty miles distant from his home. And as he had no bed to lie down upon, he took a stone and rested his head upon it for a pillow, and lay down to sleep.
And on that night Jacob had a wonderful dream. In his dream he saw stairs leading from the earth where he lay up to heaven; and angels were going up and coming down upon the stairs. And above the stairs, he saw the Lord God standing. And God said to Jacob:
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac your father; and I will be your God, too. The land where you are lying all alone shall belong to you and to your children after you; and your children shall spread abroad over the lands, east and west, and north and south, like the dust of the earth; and in your family, all the world shall receive a blessing. And I am with you in your journey, and I will keep you where you are going and will bring you back to this land. I will never leave you, and I will surely keep my promise to you.”
“Surely, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it! I thought that I was all alone, but God has been with me. This place is the house of God; it is the gate of heaven!”
And Jacob took the stone on which his head had rested, and he set it up as a pillar and poured oil on it as an offering to God. And Jacob named that place Bethel, which in the language that Jacob spoke means “The House of God.”
And Jacob made a promise to God at that time and said:
“If God really will go with me and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and will bring me to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God: and this stone shall be the house of God, and of all that God gives me I will give back to God one-tenth as an offering.”
Then Jacob went onward in his long journey. He walked across the river Jordan in a shallow place, feeling his way with his staff; he climbed mountains and journeyed beside the great desert on the east, and at last, came to the city of Haran. Besides the city was the well, where Abraham’s servant had met Jacob’s mother, Rebekah; and there, after Jacob had waited for a time, he saw a young woman coming with her sheep to give them water.
Then Jacob took off the flat stone that was over the mouth of the well, and drew water and gave it to the sheep. And when he found that this young woman was his own cousin Rachel, the daughter of Laban, he was so glad that he wept for joy. And at that moment he began to love Rachel and longed to have her for his wife.
Rachel’s father, Laban, who was Jacob’s uncle, gave a welcome to Jacob and took him into his home.
And Jacob asked Laban if he would give his daughter, Rachel, to him as his wife; and Jacob said, “If you give me Rachel, I will work for you seven years.”
And Laban said, “It is better that you should have her, than that a stranger should marry her.”
So Jacob lived seven years in Laban’s house, caring for his sheep and oxen and camels; but his love for Rachel made the time seem short.
At last the day came for the marriage; and they brought in the bride, who, after the manner of that land, was covered with a thick veil, so that her face could not be seen. And she was married to Jacob, and when Jacob lifted up her veil he found that he had married, not Rachel, but her older sister, Leah, who was not beautiful, and whom Jacob did not love at all.
Jacob was very angry that he had been deceived,—though that was just the way in which Jacob himself had deceived his father and cheated his brother Esau. But his uncle Laban said:
“In our land we never allow the younger daughter to be married before the older daughter. Keep Leah for your wife, and work for me seven years longer, and you shall have Rachel also.”
For in those times, as we have seen, men often had two wives or even more than two. So Jacob stayed seven years more, fourteen years in all before he received Rachel as his wife.
While Jacob was living at Haran, eleven sons were born to him. But only one of these was the child of Rachel, whom Jacob loved. This son was Joseph, who was dearer to Jacob than any other of his children, partly because he was the youngest, and because he was the child of his beloved Rachel.