Bible Question:

What is Jacob's ladder all about? – Genesis 28:12

Bible Answer:

Jacob’s ladder is found in Genesis 28:12. It reads as follows:

Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.” Genesis 28:10-13 (NASB)

Jacob's Ladder

Ladders and Angels

Here we are told that God spoke to Jacob in a dream. God often spoke to prophets in dreams and visions as indicated throughout scripture. The dream is unusual because Jacob sees a ladder that is placed on the earth and reaches into heaven. The Hebrew word for “ladder” is sullam and it means ladder – not stairway. Some claim that this is not a ladder but a staircase because angels are going up and down the ladder.

But there are two key reasons to believe that this is a ladder. First, if the Holy Spirit had wanted to tell us that this was a stairway, He could have used the Hebrew word maala which translated is “stairway.” He did not do that.[1]

Second, some say that this must be a stairway because angels are going up and down at the same time. But the passage does not say that they are going up and down at the same time. Therefore, we believe that Jacob saw a ladder in his dream with angels going up and down. If the angels were going up and down the ladder simultaneously this does not affect the message of the passage.

Meaning of The Dream

No explanation is given as to why the ladder and angels appeared in the dream. It is not explained in scripture. However, they appear to symbolize that God is communicating with Jacob since the Hebrew word for angel, malak, actually means messenger and God is standing at the top of the ladder. The ladder does not actually exist. This was a dream.

In the dream God repeats the covenant promises made to Abraham and Isaac regarding a homeland for their descendants.

Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 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 promised you.” Genesis 28:14-15 (NASB)

God promises to fulfill the covenant and never leave him.  The entire dream reveals God’s awesomeness, sovereignty, and faithfulness. Even though God made the promises to Abraham and Isaac who were dead, God would remain faithful.


God wanted Jacob to understand that He was communicating with him. Have you ever felt that God was speaking with you maybe in a dream, or through someone? Well, God spoke to Jacob in a dream. God does communicate with us. He primarily uses the Bible and the Holy Spirit to talk with us. But today He will move the heart of a believer in the direction that He wants that person to go. It only requires that we are quiet and sensitive to His leading.



1. Note, that most Bible versions translate maala as stairway in Nehemiah 12:37; Isaiah 38:8 and Ezekiel 40:31.

Suggested Links:

Jacob Meets God - Genesis 28:1-22
Book of Genesis