The Angel Ladder
June 15th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM
THE ANGEL LADDER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-15-58 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is our early morning eight-fifteen o’clock hour. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Angel Ladder. It is a following of the story in the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis.
Now before we begin the twenty-eighth chapter, may I say by a few words of summary the concluding portion of the message last Sunday morning on The Exceeding Bitter Cry that I just approached, and then our time was done? In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis, you have the story of the blessing taken away from Esau and given to Jacob. In an earlier chapter you had the story of the sale of the birthright of Esau to Jacob for a mess of pottage [Genesis 25:29-34]. Now in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Genesis, you have the story of the stolen blessing which was taken away from Esau and given to Jacob [Genesis 27:1-29]. "And when Esau," Genesis 27:34, "And when Esau heard the words of his father, he cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father."
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews and the sixteenth and seventeenth verses, that incident is delineated in these words:
Lest there be any profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.
And I entitled that message, which I didn’t preach last Sunday morning, The Exceeding Bitter Cry.
Now just a summary of what the Scriptures speak of in describing that stolen blessing which was bestowed upon Jacob. The Bible calls Esau a bebalos, bebalos, b-e-b-a-l-o-s, bebalos, translated here "a profane person" [Hebrews 12:16]; that is, he had no place for God in his life, a profane person, profane in the sense that he’s ungodly, and yet not ungodly in the sense that he’s vile or wicked or unrighteous particularly, he just didn’t have any place for God. Oh, the world is full of them, the city of Dallas, you see them everywhere: men who have place for business, and place for golf, and place for fishing, and place for money, and place for lots of things, but no time and no room for God. They just leave religion in the church and the Lord out of their lives. Now that’s Esau! And Esau thought nothing of the birthright: as between a big pot of red beans and the birthright, if he were hungry he’d rather have the soup; he’d rather have the lentils, the pottage. He didn’t think anything of it. So God took Esau for his, at his word. "Esau, that’s what you like, that’s what you choose; well, this is what you have."
And God doesn’t do any different today than He did then: He hasn’t changed any. You say you like this world, well then, this world is yours; you’re going to die in it, you’re going to be buried in it. And when the world dies, you die in it. And when the world is destroyed, you’re destroyed in it. And when the world is burned with fire, you will burn in it. He hasn’t changed. If you like this world and you choose to put your life in this world, God doesn’t change your decision; you’ve got it. And what happens to it, happens to you. Death comes, judgment comes, fire comes, destruction comes, and you’re a part of it. You don’t have any resurrection; you don’t believe in the resurrection. You don’t have any part in Christ; you don’t believe in Christ. You don’t have any part in the kingdom of God; you don’t have any time for the kingdom of God. You’re an Esau, and you are rejected because you reject God! I don’t know how God could do it otherwise. If you don’t like God, don’t have any place for God, no time for God, how God could do something with you when you don’t want Him would be a violation of all the moral, spiritual order that we know in this universe.
So Esau sold his birthright for a little gift that he could eat [Genesis 25:29-34]. Then God took him at his word: "That’s what you want, that’s what you like," and when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected. Now, "For he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" [Hebrews 12:17]. Now this passage here has no reference to being saved, to salvation. I’m not saying you could not apply it, I am just saying that, in a true exegesis of the passage, the passage itself has not anything to do with salvation. He was rejected, for he found no place of repentance: he couldn’t change his father’s mind, he couldn’t change the will and destiny of heaven, though he sought that change carefully with tears. What that passage refers to is the irrevocable, unchangeable past: you cannot undo it, ever, never.
The first mother stood on the outside of the garden of Eden, and as the old rabbis always taught, holding a faded rose in her hand; and however she might regret having taken of the forbidden fruit [Genesis 3:6], she stands outside the gate guarded by the flaming sword of Almighty God, no place of repentance, though sought carefully with tears: no way to change the irrevocable past, though earnestly desirous. You have the same thing all through the Word of God and through life. The five foolish virgins pounded and knocked at the door; but the door was shut forever [Genesis 25:10-12]. Just like the door on Noah’s ark, God shut it [Genesis 7:16].
You find that thing in the twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew, in the forty-fifth verse: Jesus comes to His sleeping disciples, and says, "Sleep on now, and take your rest" [Matthew 26:45]. Then in the forty-sixth verse He says, "Arise, let us be going" [Matthew 26:46]. Now you wonder at that. In the forty-fifth verse, He refers to the irrevocable past: "For you to be awake now, it is all over, no good. I asked you to watch and to pray, and you slept and you slept and you slept. Sleep on now, and take your rest; it is all over, does not matter." Then in the next verse, "Arise, let us be going." That is, we have a future; what shall we do with it. "Arise, let us be going." You can’t change the shadow on the dial. The past is irrevocable: you cannot unravel it. That’s why it is so earnestly serious what we do; for you cannot recall the word that is spoken, nor can you undo the deed that is done – the exceeding bitter cry.
Why, I could not tell you the number of men who have said to me, "Oh, oh, oh! that I had my life to live over again," and then these things left out, and these things put in. That’s no time to think of those things. The time to think of those things is now, now before the word is spoken or the deed is done – the exceeding bitter cry.
Now we come to this message this morning. After Esau saw what had happened, he was furious. Jacob had stolen his blessing – in the providence of God – and Esau hated Jacob. Now the forty-first verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of Genesis: "And Esau hated Jacob: and Esau said, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; my father is an old man, and I’ll not kill Jacob while he’s alive. But when my father dies, and he’ll soon die, then I will slay my brother Jacob" [Genesis 27:41]. Now that’s what you would expect from an impetuous, headstrong nature. "I’ll kill him as soon as my father dies. We’ll have two graves: one for my father and the other for my brother, slain at my own hand." Then these words of Esau were told to Rebekah [Genesis 27:42]. And that poor mother, when she heard those words, was filled with fear; but she knew Esau.
Now here’s another thing that is so typical of humanity: when a man sputters and threatens and uses words, and says all kinds of things, he’s one type of a man. The man you want really to fear is the man who when there is tumult and furor in his heart is perfectly silent, doesn’t say anything, doesn’t do anything. But he’s like a panther: you just wait. But a man like Esau, who gives vent to his rage – he tears up the house, he kicks the door, he slams down the golf club, he breaks his gun in two – a man like that, look at him five minutes later and it’s all over. It’s like the burning of a furious fire: in a little while, it’s all over.
Now that was Esau. When Esau, filled with rage and anger, said, "I’ll kill my brother, Jacob," why, Rebekah was afraid. But she knew that if she could get Jacob out of sight for just a while, that Esau would forget all about it. He never cared anything particularly for birthright or blessing; he was just furious at what had happened. So she made up her mind that she would send that younger brother to Laban, her younger brother in Haran, up there at the top of the Mesopotamian Valley, "Until thy brother’s anger turn away from thee, and he forget that which thou hast done to him" [Genesis 27:43-45]. So the thing was made up that Jacob was to go to his uncle’s home, to Rebekah’s brother Laban, up there in Haran. And this is the way that Rebekah did it: in the forty-sixth verse she says to Isaac, her husband, she says, "Isaac" [Genesis 27:46] – now let’s see what happened, and you’re going to find a good difference here between Esau and Jacob – at the close of the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, Esau took to wife Judith the Hittite, and Bashemath, another daughter of another Hittite, now look, "which were a grief of mind unto Isaac and to Rebekah" [Genesis 26:34-35]. He married of the Canaanites of the land, and it just killed Isaac, and it just killed Rebekah.
Well, aren’t you that way? When your child marries wrong, you just die on the inside of you. And that’s what happened there in Esau. I can just see Isaac and Rebekah pleading with Esau, "Oh, Esau – that worthless, good-for-nothing girl; Esau, that thing, oh!" But that didn’t matter to Esau; he made up his mind he was going to marry that Canaanitish woman. And so he married two of them. And that was a grief of mind to Isaac and to Rebekah.
So she used that for the good reason to send Jacob away: "I’m weary of my life," she says, "I just might as well be dead, because of these daughters-in-law. If Jacob takes a wife of the daughters of Heth such as these, which are of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life be to me? I just might as well be dead" [Genesis 27:46]. Now you wouldn’t think in-laws could do that to you, but brother, some of you know better by experience than some of the rest of us how true that is. In-laws can drive you crazy, slap-dab out of your mind!
I read an article on why marriages break up, and the first reason was in-laws, and the second reason was money. But the first one was in-laws.
Now I want you to look at that seventh verse: "Jacob obeyed his father and his mother" [Genesis 28:7]. That’s the difference in those two boys again. Esau, headstrong and impetuous, marrying of those daughters in the land, and Jacob obeyed his father and his mother, and went up to Haran, according to their command, to find a wife of the seed royal [Genesis 28:1-2, 10]. And then you have the beautiful story of his falling in love with Rachel [Genesis 29].
Now, the twenty-eighth chapter of the Book of Genesis is the story of Jacob’s leaving home and of his journey up to Haran [Genesis 28:1-5]. This is one of the great chapters of the Bible. Now we’re going to look at it.
"And Jacob went out," this is the tenth verse, "And Jacob went out from Beersheba" [Genesis 28:10], way down there in the Negev, in the south, and went north, traveling due north, "And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep" [Genesis 28:11]. I have been there at that certain place. And just like all Palestine, the thing is covered in stones. It’s a bleak wasteland.
While I was there, the most – I’ve been there twice – the most impressive thing about Palestine is the rocks, the bare stones, everywhere. Big rocks, little rocks, little teeny weensy rocks, slabs of rocks, great layers of rocks, mountains of rocks, valleys of rocks, rocks everywhere: you never saw anything like it. And I said, "Where in the earth did all these rocks come from?" And I was told two stories. One of them was that the angel Gabriel was coming down here to the world with all the rocks that were to be placed in the world, and the bag broke by which he was carrying them, and he happened to be over Palestine, and they all fell on Palestine. That was one story. The other story that those old Arabs told over there was that Gabriel came down here with the rocks for the world, and after he distributed them all over the world, why, he had a great big amount left and so he just put the rest of them there in little Palestine. But it is an amazing thing, the rocks, the rocks, the rocks!
Now, he comes upon a certain place, a waste place, rocks everywhere, and he takes one of those stones for a pillow, and he lies down to sleep [Genesis 28:11]. Now he’s there because he’s afraid: he is running, fleeing for his life, and he is fleeing northward. And that swift eastward night overtook him in that wasteland, so he laid down there. Not only was he afraid of his brother Esau, but he was afraid for loneliness and for robbers and for wild beasts. He was a home-boy. I don’t think Esau would have thought a thing in the world about being there; he’d slept out under the dew of the night many, many times. He’d been away from home; and I don’t know whether Jacob ever had been away from home or not. You know that tearing yourself away from home is a lonesome time when it comes to a fellow who loves home, and a boy that’s going away for the first time. And there he was, all alone and by himself, afraid of Esau, afraid of the night, afraid of robbers, afraid of wild beasts, there alone in that certain place.
And when he went to sleep, it seemed as though all of those rocks, rocks, rocks, great slabs of rocks, stones, it seemed as though all of those rocks drew near together and formed a great staircase from earth to heaven. And up and down that beautiful staircase – I don’t think a ladder, quite translates it, I think "staircase" would do it better. All of those rocks and rocks and rocks formed a great staircase from earth to heaven, and the angels of God, up and down that staircase, ascending, descending; and God’s throne, and the Lord God Himself standing at the head of it in heaven [Genesis 28:12-13]. That is one of the famous visions of the Bible. And what does it mean? That is one of the richest and most meaningful visions in all the Word of God, that great staircase from earth to heaven.
Here is one thing it means: it means that we do not live on a forgotten and wandering atom of stardust, this little planet, so insignificant in the great mystery of God’s infinite universe. But it is tied onto heaven, it is joined to heaven, this little atom; it’s tied to the throne of God. It’s tied not by the golden chains of poetic fancy, not by the iron fetters of necessity, not even by the silken threads of gravitation; but this little planet of ours is tied to heaven by a great staircase of communion, of fellowship, of ascension and descension, of conversation, of prayers, of love, of care, of concern, of watchfulness, of remembrance: that staircase from earth to heaven.
It meant Jesus. That’s why I had you read the passage. "Some of these days," said Jesus to Nathanael, "you will see the angels of God ascending and descending, ascending and descending upon the Son of Man" [John 1:51] – on that staircase, that staircase, that ladder is Jesus. The angels ascending and descending upon the staircase, the ladder; Jesus interpreted it, "upon the Son of Man." He came down, down, down, down, and there is He incarnate: "And the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us" [John 1:14]. And He ascended up, up, up, up, up into glory to the throne of God [Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-10]. And the rungs in the ladder, the steps in the staircase, are the deeds and the events in His life, from Bethlehem to Olivet to glory: that beautiful staircase between earth and heaven.
"And the angels of God ascending and descending on it" [Genesis 28:12], ascending, bearing upward our prayers, descending, carrying downward God’s answers; the angels, the ministering spirits – with us when we fly through the air, speed on a train, cross an ocean in a ship, on a bed of pain, in the room by yourself, wherever. What a revelation to Jacob: he thought he was alone in that wasteland; and there, as though he were at the busy gate of an Eastern city, except this was the gate of heaven, and angels crowded around it.
You’re not by yourself; you’re never by yourself. If you just have eyes to see, the mountains are filled with horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha [2 Kings 6:17]. And if you just had eyes to see, that ladder reaches from heaven down to your kitchen stove, reaches down to your bedroom where you’re kneeling in prayer, reaches down to that moment of agony and affliction, this angel ladder from earth to heaven [Genesis 28:12].
"And, behold, the Lord stood above it," there at the top of it, reached clear to God’s throne, "and the Lord stood above it, and said," here is the confirmation of the covenant of Abraham, which He made to Isaac, and now He makes to Jacob [Genesis 28:13-14], now look at it, "And God said, Behold, I am with thee.." [Genesis 28:15]. And he thought he was by himself, "Behold, I am with thee." Now, he was afraid. And look what God says in the second phrase, "And I will keep thee." And look at him: would he ever come back home again? "I will bring thee again into this land." Every circumstance and providence of life seems to contradict the promises of God. Look at it, "Until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of" [Genesis 28:15]. "I will save you forever. I will give thee eternal life [John 10:27]. I will never forsake thee, nor leave thee [Hebrews 13:5]. I will guide thee by Mine eye" [Psalm 32:8]. When providence seems to give the lie to those promises, He never changes [Hebrews 13:8]. These little clouds soon pass away; these valleys, we’re soon through them; and there is the great unchanging purposes of God that never faileth. Why, bless your heart, He is all around us: everywhere there is our Lord and His strong keeping hand.
Now look at Jacob, sixteenth verse: "And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said," look, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it" [Genesis 28:16]. Did you ever have that experience? "Lord is in this place, and I did not know it, did not realize it." A lot of times it takes years, and then to go back and see it and how God was there, and God wrought, and God changed, and God chose, and God did; and we don’t realize it. "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." I tell you there is no greater consciousness, no greater awakening that can come to a man’s life than to realize the Lord is here. "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not."
And then in the next verse: "And he said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, this is the gate of heaven" [Genesis 28:17]. That’s always, I have observed, a true response in a man’s life when he senses the presence of God; that is, he is filled with awe and reverence. I have never yet intuitively – even though before, I have began to think of it purposively and made a conclusion concerning it – I have never yet felt that it was the place of man to be familiar with God. I still think when we talk to God, you ought to say "Thee," and "Thou," and not "You." I just feel that way. I think we ought, with great deference, speak of our Lord, our Savior. I don’t believe a man is ever familiar with God, like old buddy-buddy, this is my sidekick. I just don’t like that, neither in song, nor in book, nor in attitude. We are creatures, and God made us. We are so weak; we are of the dust, and He is so great; His mercy, how precious, His condescension, how indescribably wonderful. But our attitude true in His presence is always to be one of awe and reverence and wonder. Take His name in vain? Why, it’d be un-thought of, it’s unspeakable. When we speak of His name, in greatest awe and reverence: "How dreadful is this place; God is here" [Genesis 28:17].
Then I want you to notice what he did. This is the strangest thing. "And Jacob vowed a vow, and he said, Lord, if You will give me my life, and if You will preserve my way, and if You will bring me back home again to my father’s house, I will worship You all of my life; I will give Thee everything I have; and as a token, as a mark of fealty, of all that Thou shalt give me, I will surely, truly, verily give the tenth unto Thee" [Genesis 28:20-22]. Isn’t that a strange reaction? I would not have looked for that as the ending of that marvelous chapter; but that’s the way it ends. "I will give God everything I have: me, mine, all of it shall be His. And as a token of fealty, of my dependence upon Him, a recognition of my stewardship of all God shall ever give me, I will faithfully, surely consecrate a tenth unto Thee."
Oh, I have told you, preaching through these chapters, that Jacob had in him infinite possibilities. Esau seemed so big and fine, and Jacob seemed so unworthy; but God could look into his soul and there were great possibilities. And as the days passed, those great possibilities began to flower and to fruit to the glory of God.
O Lord, look in us, and see something good and fine, and let it grow and blossom to the glory of our Lord.
Now we sing our hymn. And while we sing it, somebody give his heart to the Lord this morning, somebody put his life in the church, a family you, one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, would you come and stand by me? As the Lord shall open the door and lead the way, would you come? Into the aisle, down here to the front, somebody you, if the Lord bids you, make it now; while we stand and while we sing.
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