The Angel Ladder
February 1st, 1989 @ 7:30 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-1-89 7:30 p.m.
We welcome the throngs of you that share this hour on radio. You’re now a part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Angel Ladder. If you’d like to read in your Bible, follow the pastor as he reads the background text, why turn to Genesis 28, and we begin at verse 10. Genesis 28:
And Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.
And he lighted upon a certain place and tarried there all night . . . And he took of the stones of that place and put them for his pillow, and laid down to sleep.
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.
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.
And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; thou shalt spread abroad to the west, east, north, south; and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
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’ve done that which I have spoke to thee of."
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep and he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place and I knew it not."
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."
And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillow, and set it up for a pillar, poured oil upon the top of it.
And he called the name of that place "Bethel," the house of God.
And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on,
So that I come again to my father’s house . . . then shall the Lord be my God.
And this stone which I have set for a pillar shall be a place of worship, and of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee.’"
The angel ladder. Bethel is a name that is sacred and hallowed in Holy Scripture. In Genesis 31:13, God says to Jacob, "I am the God of Bethel, where thou vowest a vow unto Me." This happened when God sent him back to Canaan from Mesopotamia. Then again in Genesis 35, verse 1, "And God said unto Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel . . . and make thee an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee.’" This is when his two sons, Simeon and Levi, did the despicable thing of destroying the entire city of Shechem [Genesis 34:1-31]. God sends him and his family back to Bethel [Genesis 35:1].
So in Genesis, in the passage we just read, Israel says, "This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" [Genesis 28:17] I feel that way about this sacred place, our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the house of God, and this is the gate to heaven.
We speak first of Jacob’s arrival in Bethel. In Genesis 28:11, "And he lighted upon a certain place . . . where he lodged for the night." It was oblique and a lonely scene. I have been there. I’m sure many of you have been there. All that you find at Bethel is rocks and rocks and more rocks. I’ve heard the story of Gabriel that he had a bag of rocks for the whole earth, and it broke and all of them fell down there at Bethel. I’ve heard another story of Gabriel that he had some rocks left over after he distributed them all over creation, and he put them there at Bethel. It’s a very rocky, stony, barren place.
And so in Genesis 28:11 as you read, "And he took the stones of that place and put them there for his pillow." Well, Jacob was there because of fear. He was fleeing northward from Beersheba from Esau who had sworn to slay him [Genesis 27:30-28:5].
And in that lonely and desperate place, God appeared to him; and that is something for us always to remember [Genesis 28:10-22]. It is mostly in our extremities that God has His greatest opportunity to speak to us and to deal with us; and you remember that when you come into trouble and misfortune and despair. You remember that God speaks to us far more in our necessities and in our extremities than in our abounding good fortunes.
So it was with Jacob. There he saw, then in the dream, the vision of that angel ladder [Genesis 28:11-12]. It seemed as if the huge stones that are everywhere – it seemed as if those huge stones came together and built themselves into a gigantic sullām, sullām. You can translate it "ladder." I think a better translation would be a "staircase." He saw all of those stones at Bethel assemble themselves into a huge staircase that leaned. The top of it went up there to the very throne of God [Genesis 28:12-13]. So we speak of a link between him and God. God was not far away even though it was a lonely, desperate place. The Lord was watching over.
So earth is not a wandering planet, lost and unknown. Rather, it is bound to heaven not by golden chains of poetic fancy, and not by iron fetters of necessity, and not even by invisible silken ties of gravitation, but by a great staircase of fellowship, and communion, and loving care, and remembrance. Wherever you are, there’s a beautiful staircase that goes to up God in heaven.
Well, the infidel looks up, and he sees no bond of union between this atom of stardust and the great throne of God. He sees it not at all; but if his eyes were open, and he’d see the bond between the two – earth here where we are and heaven there where God is – that great leap, that sullām, that stairway is Jesus our Lord.
In the passage that we read together, John 1:, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending." Isn’t that remarkable? Not descending but ascending and then descending upon the Son of Man. He is the link between the two: God up there and we down here. As He says in John 14:6, "No man cometh unto the Father but by Me." He is the Great Mediator [1 Timothy 2:5]. With one hand He holds God, and with the other hand He grasps us.
Now the vision of the angels: that’s one of the most beautiful, imaginative scenes to be thought for. What a comfort it was to Jacob. This lonely spot is as thickly populated as the gate of an eastern city – only this was the gate to heaven. Do you remember the story of Elisha and Gehazi in Dothan? [2 Kings 6:8-23] The Syrian king sent an army to capture him; and when they awakened the next morning, the mountains around were filled all the way around the city – filled with the armies of the Syrian king [2 Kings 6:11-15]. And Elisha was perfectly quiet, unafraid, and Gehazi his servant was perplexed, fearful. And Elisha said, "They that be with us are more than they that be with them" [2 Kings 6:16]; and they’re there, the two of them, surrounded by an army.
So Elisha prayed, "Lord God, open his eyes. Open his eyes" [2 Kings 6:17]. The Lord heard and heeded the prayer of His prophet Elisha, and the eyes of Gehazi were open; and behold, the whole earth, the whole earth around him, was filled with angelic chariots of fire round about Elisha [2 Kings 6:17]. That’s we. That’s we; and that is the great remembrance of God with all of His servants – here with Jacob, there with Elisha, and you where you are. There are angels, guardian angels, all around you. What a comfort and what a strength.
You notice they are ascending? [John 1:51] That’s our prayers going up to God [Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4]. They are descending. That’s the descent of God’s answer; and their ministries are for us, wherever we go, to strengthen and to comfort us [Hebrews 1:13-14]. And may I add one other? It’s those angels that up that glorious sullām, they’re going to carry our souls to heaven some day, some day. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? In Luke 16:22, the beggar died, and he was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom; and up that stairway some day, God’s angels will carry us into glory [Matthew 13:, 24:30-31; Mark 13:27].
I speak now of the voice of God. Genesis 28:13 in the passage, "Behold, the Lord stood above the staircase" – that sullām – God stood above the staircase "and said, ‘I am the Lord God of Abraham and Isaac.’" Now look at the verse. Are you lonely? God said to him, "I am with thee" [Genesis 28:15]. Are you afraid? God said to him, "I will keep thee" [Genesis 28:15]. Do you have hope of return? God said to him, "I will bring thee again into this land" [Genesis 28:15]. Does providence enter divine promises? "I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken of to thee" [Genesis 28:15]. God is with us whatever the providence.
Now the last: Jacob’s response. Genesis 28:16, he says, "The Lord is in this place." That’s a wonderful discovery. That lonely waste and God was there; and wherever you are – that little cottage in which you live, or that little apartment upstairs, or even by that bed of affliction – God is there [2 Timothy 4:15-16; Hebrews 13:5]. If God were to open our eyes, we could touch Him, and the angels are all around. Some never discover that. Some never see it. May I give you an illustration of that?
In the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, there is the story of the conversion of the Apostle Paul [Acts 9:1-22]. He’s on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-3] and – you remember the vision – the Lord appeared to him, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" [Acts 9:4]
Saul falls at the feet of the Lord, and says, "Who art thou, Lord?" [Acts 9:5]
And He replies, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." [Acts 9:5]
And Paul, falling down, says, "Lord, what would you have me to do?" [Acts 9:6]
Now, do you remember the next verse in that story? The men that were with him, the next verse says, heard a sound and that was all [Acts 9:7]. How many, many, many of us are like that? We don’t see. We don’t hear. Our hearts are hard and our eyes are blind when God is there and the Lord is speaking and the precious Savior is calling.
It’s a marvelous thing thus to be sensitive as Israel was: "The Lord is in this place" [Genesis 28:16]. Genesis 28:17: "How awesome is this place!" he says. It inspired godly reverence. Genesis 28, verse 21: "The Lord shall be my God;" and he gives himself to the Lord just as Paul did on the road to Damascus. And then the story closes with a sign of Jacob’s response. Genesis 28:22: "And of all that thou shalt give me I will surely, surely give the tenth unto Thee" – a sign of God’s ownership and a sign of our deep conviction that God is with us and God will bless us.
Do you do that? A tenth of everything that God gives me, I’ll give that to Thee, Lord. I’ll return it to Thee. It is a sign of my commitment. Lord, I’m not my own. I belong to Thee. I never made these hands. I never created this body. What would I trade for my eyes? Sweet people, if you were to offer me $1,000,000 each for my eyes, I would look upon it as a contemptuous trade. Yet, God gives them to me; and the Lord has given us life, and strength, and length of days, and the love and fellowship and encouragement of each other.
O God, how indebted I am; and a sign of that indebtedness – gladly avowing and affirming God’s ownership of me and everything that I could ever possess or do. A sign of it, Lord. Whatever You put in my hands, a tenth of it, I will sacredly dedicate to Thee. And God will bless you for that; and you’ll grow in your own heart, and the Lord will repay you a thousand times over again [Malachi 3:10; Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:7-8]. It’s a beautiful, wonderful thing to be like Israel, Jacob. God is here, and I belong to Him.
Now we’re going to sing us a song; and while we sing the hymn, I’ll be standing right here. And if there’s a family tonight to respond, or a couple, or just one somebody you, "The Lord’s spoken to me, Pastor, and I’ve decided for Christ and here I stand," on the first note of the first stanza, come, and God bless in the way while we stand.
THE ANGEL LADDER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Jacob’s arrival at Bethel
II. Vision of the ladder
1. Link between Jacob and God
2. Ladder is our Lord
III. Vision of the angels
IV. Vision of God
V. Jacob’s response