Genesis 6:9 – 11:32 ; Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-55:5
In last week’s parasha we saw Jacob “putting on” Christ and holding on to his brother’s heel in a Christological prefiguration of his eternal role as the Seed who takes away the sins of the world. This week we meet Jacob as he is leaving Beer-Sheba to go to Haran and study his famous dream and the symbolism of the stone(s) that he puts under his head as well as the ladder that reaches into heaven. We see that this week’s parasha take the form of an “arc” where the beginning and the end tie together and the climax is the birth of Joseph which is preceded by Laban’s (and Lea’s) deception and the extremely fertile competition among the wives of Jacob. This takes us through a profound study where we learn from Jacob how to pray, we learn from Lea we learn how to prioritize our lives and we learn from Rachel about her role in the history of salvation.
What is the “place” where Jacob sleep?
What is the symbolism of the ladder and the stone in Jacob’s dream?
How should we understand Laban’s actions? and Lea’s consent?
What can we learn from Lea’s first four births and the evolution of her faith?
What’s special and prophetic about the birth of Joseph?
What is the connecting line between the supernatural fertility of Jacob’s flock and that of his wives?
We will try to answer these and additional questions in this episode.
Scripture references from the episode
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Jn 1:51)
“No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” (Jn 3:13)
“Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east. And it was shut. And the Lord said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it. Therefore it shall remain shut.” (Ezekiel 44 :1-2)
“The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken.” (Obadiah 1:18)
“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:10-14)
The Apocalypse of Elijah 5.36–39
On that day, the Christ, the king, and all his saints will come forth from heaven. He will bum the earth. He will spend a thousand years upon it. Because the sinners prevailed over it, he will create a new heaven and a new earth. No deadly devil will exist in them. He will rule with his saints, ascending and descending while they are always with the angels and they are with the Christ for a thousand years.
Caesarius of Arles – Sermon 87.4
Listen and see the sublimity of the fact that both Jacob asleep and the Lord leaning on the ladder prefigured Christ. Indeed, when our Savior in speaking of Nathanael had named blessed Jacob, He said: ‘Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.’ Continuing, He said: ‘Presently you shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.’ In the Gospels our Lord preached concerning himself what Jacob had seen prefigured in his sleep: ‘You shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.’ If the angels of God were descending to the Son because He was on earth, how is it that those same angels were ascending to the Son of man except because He is in heaven? Therefore, He Himself was sleeping in Jacob, and from heaven He likewise called to Jacob.
Augustine – The City of God 16.38.2
This is prophetic. For Jacob did not pour oil on the stone in an idolatrous way, as if making it a god; neither did he adore that stone, or sacrifice to it. But since the name of Christ comes from the chrism or anointing, something pertaining to the great mystery was certainly represented in this. And the Saviour Himself is understood to bring this latter to remembrance in the gospel, when He says of Nathanael, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” because Israel who saw this vision is no other than Jacob. And in the same place He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
Aphrahat – ON PRAYER 5
Our father Jacob too prayed at Bethel and saw the gate of heaven opened, with a ladder going up on high. This is a symbol of our Savior that Jacob saw; the gate of heaven is Christ, in accordance with what he said, “I am the gate of life; every one who enters by me shall live for ever.” David too said, “This is the gate of the Lord, by which the righteous enter.” Again, the ladder that Jacob saw is a symbol of our Savior, in that by means of him the just ascend from the lower to the upper realm. The ladder is also a symbol of our Savior’s cross, which was raised up like a ladder, with the Lord standing above it.
Basil of Caesarea – on the Spirit
It is an extraordinary statement, but it is none the less true, that the Spirit is frequently spoken of as the place of them that are being sanctified, and it will become evident that even by this figure the Spirit, so far from being degraded, is rather glorified. For words applicable to the body are, for the sake of clearness, frequently transferred in scripture to spiritual conceptions. Accordingly we find the Psalmist, even in reference to God, saying “Be Thou to me a champion God and a strong place to save me” and concerning the Spirit “behold there is a place by me, and stand upon a rock.” Plainly meaning the place or contemplation in the Spirit wherein, after Moses had entered thither, he was able to see God intelligibly manifested to him. This is the special and peculiar place of true worship; for it is said “Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place … but in the place the Lord thy God shall choose.” Now what is a spiritual burnt offering? “The sacrifice of praise.” And in what place do we offer it? In the Holy Spirit. Where have we learnt this? From the Lord himself in the words “The true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” This place Jacob saw and said “The Lord is in this place.” It follows that the Spirit is verily the place of the saints and the saint is the proper place for the Spirit, offering himself as he does for the indwelling of God, and called God’s Temple. So Paul speaks in Christ, saying “In the sight of God we speak in Christ,” and Christ in Paul, as he himself says “Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me.” So also in the Spirit he speaketh mysteries, and again the Spirit speaks in him.
Caesarius of Arles – SERMON 87.3.31
Now if Jacob sleeping on the ground prefigured the Lord, why is it that the Lord in heaven rested and leaned upon the ladder? How was Christ the Lord seen on top of the ladder in heaven and in blessed Jacob on the ground? Listen to Christ himself say that he is in heaven and on earth: “No one has ascended into heaven except him who has descended from heaven: the Son of Man who is in heaven.” Notice that the Lord himself said he is both in heaven and on earth. We confess, dearly beloved, that Christ the Lord is head of the church; if this is true, he is in heaven with regard to the head but on earth as far as the body is concerned. Moreover, when the blessed apostle Paul was persecuting the church, Christ exclaimed from heaven: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He did not say, “Why do you persecute my servants?” Nor did he say, “Why do you persecute my members?” But he said, “Why do you persecute me?” Now the tongue cries out if the foot is stepped on, You stepped on me, even though the tongue cannot be stepped on at all; through the harmony of charity the head cries out for all the members. Therefore Jacob was sleeping and saw the Lord leaning on the top of the ladder. What does it mean to lean on the ladder, except to hang on the cross? Consider, brothers, that while hanging upon the wood of the cross he prayed for the Jews, and you will realize who shouted from heaven while leaning on the ladder of Jacob. But why did this happen on the road, before Jacob obtained a wife? Because our Lord, the true Jacob, first leaned on the ladder, that is, the cross, and afterward formed a church for himself. At the time he gave it the wages of his blood, intending to give it later the dowry of his kingdom.
Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho 134
The marriages of Jacob were types of what Christ would do. It was not lawful for Jacob to marry two sisters at the same time. So he worked in the service of Laban for [one of] his daughters, and, when he was deceived about the younger, he worked another seven years. Now, Lia represented your people and the Synagogue, while Rachel was a figure of our Church. And Christ still serves for these and for His servants that are in both. For, while Noah gave to his two sons the seed of the third as servants, Christ has now come to redeem both the free sons and their servants, conferring the same blessings upon all who keep His commandments, just as all those who were born to Jacob of the free women and of the bond women became his sons, and were given equal honor. And it was foretold what each would be in rank and in foreknowledge. Jacob served Laban for the spotted and speckled sheep, and Christ served, even to the servitude of the cross, for men of different colors and features from every nationality, redeeming them by His blood and the mystery of the cross. As the eyes of Lia were weak, so, too, are the eyes of your souls exceedingly weak. As Rachel stole the gods of Laban and hid them to this day, so, too, have we been stripped of our ancestral and material gods. Jacob was always hated by his brother, just as we and our Lord Himself are hated by you and, in general, all other men who are all brothers by nature. Jacob was surnamed Israel; and it has been shown that Israel is also Christ, who is, and is called, Jesus.’
after the birth of him who was to become Esau’s adversary (Genesis Rabbah 73:7) — as it is said (Obadiah 1:18) “And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame and the house of Esau for stubble“. Fire (Jacob) that has no flame (Joseph) has no effect at a distance. Therefore, when Joseph was born Jacob put his trust in the Holy One, blessed be He, and wished to return home (Obadiah 1:18).