Bible Dreams – Jacob

Bible Dreams – Jacob

Bible Dreams – Jacob.

“That night God came to king Abimelech in a dream…” (Genesis 20:3); “As Jacob slept, he dreamed of a stairway…” (Gen. 28:12); “In my dream, the Angel of the Lord said to me, ‘Jacob!” (Gen. 31:11); “One night, Joseph had a dream…” (Gen. 37:5); “The previous night, God had appeared to Laban the Aramean in a dream…” (Gen. 31:24); “Interpreting dreams is God’s business, so go ahead and tell me your dreams,’ said Joseph.”(Gen. 40:8); “Two years later, Pharaoh dreamed… (Gen. 41:1);“When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship before the Lord.” (Judges 7:15); “That night, Yahweh appeared to Solomon in a dream.” (1 Kings 3:5, and 9:2); “I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means,’ said King Nebuchadnezzar. He sent for Daniel at once.” (Daniel 2:3, 14); “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream…” (Matthew 1:20, also in 2:19 and 2:22); “God had warned the Magi in a dream.” (Matt. 2:12); “Pilate’s wife sent him a message, saying ‘Let that innocent man alone! I suffered through a terrible nightmare about Him last night!” (Matt. 27:19).

Why would God, who has every means of revelation at His disposal, choose dreams as a way to contact a person and convey vital guidance? Dreams tend to be unreliable, unpredictable, illogical, and poorly remembered if at all. Many if not most dreams don’t seem like a very trustworthy vehicle for divine communication. They can be mistranslated so easily, and sometimes are so bizarre it’s hard to take them seriously. And we know now that dreams can be affected by external things like room temperature, what we ate or drank before bedtime, the events of the day, or even if there are any lingering aromas in the house. And because dreamers are in an unconscious state, dreams are outside of our control as the unfettered imagination runs wild.

Nonetheless, God speaking through dreams didn’t seem to raise any eyebrows in Scripture. Everyone from pagan kings to heroic saints were not surprised by this strategy of God to reach them. We now realize that after decades of so-called dream science, the whole topic of dreams are just as mysterious now as in ancient times. Dreams remain a fascinating frontier when it comes to scientific research, and we still simply cannot confirm why we have this ability to mentally experience vivid pictures, stories and images while in an unconscious state. God in His wisdom knows when to approach someone with divine intervention while a person is in a dream state. He knows who is a likely prospect for His appearance in a dream. Perhaps some people are more receptive to God’s guidance when in an unconscious state, which says a lot about a person’s stubbornness when in a conscious state. Perhaps it is only during a dream that a person doesn’t have much of a choice of whether to listen or not, knowing that dreamers are captive audiences. Maybe God waits for when a certain person’s resistance is down. Perhaps a person’s imagination might be more picturesque and creative during a dream, able to manage an other-worldly, heavenly message. We just don’t know for sure the motivation of God in using dreams, of course, because His very presence is a mystery as He somehow travels back and forth between spiritual, material and imaginative realities. But we do know that God often chooses to work in mysterious ways and in this matter of dreams, He has chosen, and continues to choose, dreams to warn, instruct, guide, reveal His presence, and encourage us. God loves us so much that He will do whatever it takes to reach us whether awake, or asleep, or everything in between.

“As Jacob slept, he dreamed of a stairway…” (Gen. 28:12); “In my dream, the Angel of the Lord said to me, ‘Jacob!” (Gen. 31:11).

It could be that our wrestling Jacob is the biggest dreamer in Scripture. Jacob and the Lord seemed to save their best interaction for the night, apparently the time when that stubborn saint Jacob was at his most receptive. The Hebrew patriarch with the most chutzpah, for both good and ill, was Jacob. He displayed audacity right from birth, and then demonstrated it clearly when he cheated his brother Esau out of both his birthright and his father’s blessing. Somehow God continued to weave all of Jacob’s shenanigans into His overall plan for Jacob’s life. Jacob was certainly a very complex man, and yet was a major part of God’s plan for His Chosen People. God never gave up on him, and even used Jacob’s clever chutzpah in a redemptive way. God continued to meet Jacob wherever he went, especially at night.

A bit of a backstory: The Jewish sages based each of their weekday prayers on the character and actions of the patriarchs. Thus, the recommended daily prayers of Jewish believers were inspired by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham represents the morning prayer, since he often “rose early in the morning to the place where he had stood before God” (Gen. 19:2722:3). Isaac inspired the midday prayer, since he “went out to converse with God (or, to meditate) in the field toward evening” (Gen. 24:63). And Jacob represented the night prayer, since his powerful encounters with God were in the night, including his visions and dreams (Gen. 28 and 31) and his momentous wrestling with the mysterious “angel” (Gen. 28:11, 32:22).

Jacob’s unusual life inspired the nighttime prayer, the evening encounter with God that takes one’s own life into account at the end of the day. Jacob trusted in God and wouldn’t let go of Him, and his encounters with God left him transformed. “That is how Jacob found God – not by his own efforts, like Abraham; not through continuous dialogue like Isaac; but in the midst of fear and isolation. If Abraham is originality, and Isaac continuity, then Jacob represents tenacity.” In our night time prayers, we would do well to remember the spirit of Jacob’s encounters with the Lord during his midnight travels. God was at his side for fresh encouragement and vision, with inspiration and courage, and ultimately peace. (Covenant and Conversation: Genesis, the Book of Beginnings, Rabbi Jonathon Sacks).

In Genesis 28 we find an exhausted Jacob on the run from his angry brother Esau who he had cheated. Jacob finally finds a place where he can lay his head and rest for a while. He finds a suitable stone that would serve as his pillow, and immediately falls asleep. And then something monumental happened.

“Then Jacob dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord Yahweh stood above it, and said, ‘I am Yahweh, God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants… 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 spoken to you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And 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!’ (Genesis 28:12-17).

So Jacob named that place Bethel, the House of God. Then he took the stone pillow and anointed it, thus establishing a memorial that enabled Bethel to remain an important religious site until well after Solomon. Little did Jacob know at that time that his dream was a picture of the Messiah, and that it would be fulfilled by the Messiah Himself!

Fast-forward to the time of Jesus Christ… “When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming, He said of him, ‘There, truly, is an Israelite in whom there is no deception.’ Nathaniel asked, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathaniel answered, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel!’ Jesus replied, ‘You believe that just because I said I saw you under the fig tree. You are going to see greater things than that!’ And then Jesus added, ‘Amen, Amen, I tell you. Truly, Truly, I say to you. You will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of Man.’” (John 1:43-51).

There is a much-used Hebrew word in the Hebrew Bible that points to its root word “truth.” The Greek in the New Testament also picked it up and used it for “truth” as well. That common Hebrew word is “amen.”

Amen. This biblical word basically means: This is truth! I agree that this is true! Yes! We heartily accept and approve of what was said! We are assured that this is certainly true! So be it! We believe this is trustworthy and we take it to heart!

Amen! Amen! is often translated as Truly, Truly, or Verily, Verily, in the New Testament. This double Amen is only recorded in the gospel of John, and is said by Jesus before He offers a statement, not after.  He is the only Person to say this, because He is the only Person who has the authority to say this before He says it. This must be an important distinction for Jesus, because He felt compelled to use this preface twenty-five times in John.  When Jesus begins a statement with that double “Truly,” He is intending to be doubly intense when He says it, and so He wants the listener to be doubly attentive. He wants to emphasize the importance of His words. He is saying, In all truth I tell you. He wants the listener to focus, and He is serious about preparing the listener to be receptive. When Jesus says Truly, Truly, He is saying: Most assuredly, what I am about to tell you is absolutely true and trustworthy. So listen up, because an eternal truth is coming to you now. In all sincerity, says Jesus, this is the solemn truth. Take these words in, says Jesus, and have them go into your mind and then straight to your heart. For these words of mine are double truth, they are doubly true. Jesus might as well have been saying… And you readers out there centuries from now, get ready to apply your hot pink highlighter, get ready to do some double underlining! Truly, Truly, what you are about to hear is the honest to goodness truth.

And now we come to Nathaniel, also known as the apostle Bartholomew, who was sitting under the shade of a fig tree one day in the region of Galilee. He was someone who was earnestly expecting and looking for the Messiah as prophesied in the Scripture. Nathaniel may have been in his special place of prayer under that tree. He may have been studying Scripture and meditating on the coming of Messiah. Sitting under a fig tree was an expression from the Hebrew prophets that was connected to waiting for the Messiah, as mentioned in Micah 4:4 and Zechariah 3:10. “Gathering figs” was also an expression that meant the act of studying Scripture. So we can only speculate what Nathaniel was doing under the fig tree, but that tree was no doubt his private place where he could be alone in his thoughts and meditations. We know Nathaniel was anxiously looking for Messiah, or else why would his friend Philip rush to tell him about Jesus? Philip knew that this would be welcome news to Nathaniel. And sure enough, after Philip told Nathaniel to come and see for himself, Nathaniel did just that. Nathaniel had no hesitation to meet Jesus and find out if this man might be who he is looking for.

Nathaniel gladly accepted the truth about Jesus seemingly immediately. He did not hesitate to call Jesus “the Son of God and the King of Israel.” We are not sure why Nathaniel was so ready to welcome Jesus into his life. Was it because Jesus told Nathaniel a piece of supernatural knowledge, that Jesus had somehow seen Nathaniel studying and praying under a fig tree? Was it because Jesus seemed to know Nathaniel before they ever met, that Jesus read his heart and said that Nathaniel was a fellow Jew in whom there is no guile, no hidden motive, honest and sincere? Jesus saw Nathaniel and instantly knew he had no falsehood within him.

Jesus seemed surprised that a simple miracle like seeing Nathaniel in a distant place under a fig tree would impress him so much. It has been speculated that Nathaniel was meditating on Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28 while under the fig tree. Do you think that’s a big deal, asks Jesus, that I saw you and knew what you were reading? You haven’t seen anything yet! You will soon be given the spiritual sight to see an open heaven, and I will join heaven and earth as the Son of Man. I will be just like Jacob’s ladder, Jesus is saying, when I am lifted up. You will see angels going up and down on this stairway, Nathaniel! You will see me join two worlds, heaven where God resides and earth where man dwells! I will turn Jacob’s ladder into my ladder, Nathaniel! I will become Jacob’s ladder myself!  Imagine that!

Jesus presents Himself in John 1:50 as that ladder of Jacob reaching to heaven. He is the One who brings heaven to earth, and earth to heaven. As that ladder, Jesus is able to be in heaven and earth at the same time. In Him, God and man are united, so it is He that connects heaven and earth, God and man. It is Jesus who opens heaven to see God at the top of the ladder. The ultimate fulfillment is when Jesus is lifted up on the Cross (John 3:14), Jesus and the Cross together forming the ladder of salvation being lifted up to God’s presence in heaven. In Jesus, heaven opened, whether at His birth, His baptism, the Transfiguration, or even His Ascension. As with Jacob’s ladder, heaven tends to open when Jesus is around.

And now back to the Hebrew Bible… “One time, I (Jacob) had a dream… In my dream, the Angel of God said to me, ‘Jacob!’ And I replied ‘Yes, here I am!’ The Angel then said, ‘I have seen how Laban has treated you. I am the God who appeared to you at Bethel… Now get ready and leave this country and return to the land of your birth.’” (Genesis 31:11-13).

Hineni (Hebrew word, literal meaning “Behold, I am!” but is generally translated in Bible as “Here I am.”) In Scripture it is a response of someone to someone else asking for attention. It could be a response to God, to an angel, a response of a child to a parent, or a servant to a master. Sometimes it is even a loving response of a parent to a child. The Biblical Here I am means you have my full attention; I am at your service; I am completely available to you; whatever you want, I am all in; I am in total readiness to hear and obey you; I have no hesitation in responding to you. Most of the time in Scripture the person saying Here I am doesn’t yet know what the caller wants from him. So hineni can essentially be a statement of faith. When someone in authority initiates Here I am, such as God, it is a declaration of presence and readiness to speak or act. Generally, hineni is often stated in a pivotal moment of that person’s life. Here I am can just be a casual response to a caller, but it often is an important moment in the life of the person responding.

Jacob is one of the more complicated persons in Scripture, yet time and again he proved himself to be a man of faith. True, he tended to think he could live by his wits, and he was actually a pretty successful con man in his day. Jacob tricked his brother Esau out of father Isaac’s blessing and birthright, which caused him to run for his life and hide at Uncle Laban’s. But Laban was just as effective a con man as Jacob. So Jacob found himself ten years later married to Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel, and managing Laban’s huge herd of livestock. Finally, after Laban had changed his wages ten different times, Jacob had had enough. An angel of God spoke to Jacob in a dream, saying, “Jacob.” Jacob’s immediate response to the angel was, “Here I am.” (Gen. 31:11). Jacob was ready for his heavenly marching orders, and he was given the okay by the angel to take his family, and his massive collection of livestock, such as goats, camels and donkeys, to the land of his father Isaac in Canaan. Jacob’s readiness to obey the angel’s word was rewarded with freedom from Labron’s tricks and a new start in the land of his fathers.

That wasn’t the last time Jacob said “Hineni.” When he was 130 years old, Jacob had a huge extended family of around 70 people. Because of the famine in the land of Canaan, they needed to find a place where the family could find food and sustenance. And coming to the rescue was his long-lost son Joseph, who had risen to prominence in Egypt since the other sons of Jacob sold him into slavery.  Joseph provided a large parcel of land, Goshen, the most fertile land in Egypt, for Jacob and his huge brood and his livestock. So Jacob resettled his family in Egypt, thanks to Joseph, and the family line was saved and restored. None of this would have happened if Jacob hadn’t heard a word from the Lord in the night once again. God spoke and said, “Jacob, Jacob!” And Jacob replied, “Here I am.” It is at this time that God told Jacob it was okay to move to Egypt. “I am God, the God of your fathers; do not fear to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there.” (Gen. 46: 2-3). And the family of Israel (Jacob) came to settle in Egypt for 400 years. Jacob was faithful to the Lord to the very end of his life. It turned out that both of his “Here I am” moments were pivotal in his life, first in establishing his independence from Laban, and secondly to help his family survive and flourish and prepare for the future.

Jacob, one of the greatest saints in the history of the Faith, ready to believe his dream of the stairway to heaven, and ready to say with enthusiasm… Hineni: Behold, here I am, Lord! even while dreaming. Are we ready to do the same?