Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and 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 all the families of the earth shall be blessed* in you and in your offspring. Know that 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.’ Then Jacob woke 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 28:10-17 (NRSV)
Jacob was on the lam, so to speak. He'd stolen his father's blessing (with his mother's connivance), and now had to slide out of town (or the camp) so his brother had time to cool off. He was headed for his uncle Laban's home where, his mother hoped, he would find a wife from their own people rather than the local ladies. Rudyard Kipling left us a saying about "He travels fastest who travels alone," and Jacob had every wish to put distance between him and his twin, not to mention the encouragement of his parents. But even the most inveterate traveler gets tired, and, lacking a Motel 6 or even a nomad camp nearby, Jacob was forced to sleep rough with his cloak for a blanket and a rock for a pillow. And then he had the dream.
Normally dreams of ladders are said to be insights into social status or success in one's profession. In Jacob's case, though, it wasn't so much about him as it was about what God wanted to show him, using a dream as the vehicle. God uses dreams like that from time to time. With Jacob, it was to make the same kind of promise that had been made to his grandfather, Abraham. This time, however, God was choosing a specific line that had come from Abraham. The place where Jacob had chosen to rest was what we would call a "thin space," a place where it feels as if heaven and earth are very close together, separated only by a very thin veil that humans cannot see through but can sense. It is a sacred space, and Jacob recognized this as he awoke from the dream.
What can I learn from Jacob? Dreams can be more than just interesting movies the mind plays while the body is asleep. Sometimes it is a message that needs attention.
Study your dreams.