New Testament Reflections: Vayetze

The Ladder between the Heaven and Earth

Close to the beginning of today’s Torah Portion, we find the famous dream of Jacob in Bethel. You may remember that Jacob was running from the wrath of his brother after deceiving his elderly father in the previous Portion (Toledot). At that point he was probably concerned only with his own survival and was not really looking for a spiritual experience. Nevertheless, the God of Abraham and Isaac appeared to the fugitive, made himself known to him, and reaffirmed the promises. In Jacob’s dream, he saw a ladder connecting earth and heaven, and the angels were ascending and descending on this ladder. Why did they first ascend, and only then descend? Here is an explanation of the Jewish medieval commentator Rashi: Outside of the Land, Jacob needed different guardians from those that protected him in his birthplace. The angels that accompanied Jacob in Canaan don’t go outside and therefore ascend to Heaven; then another group of angels descend to accompany him outside the Land.

Of course, everyone who has ever read the New Testament, would be immediately reminded of the first chapter of the Gospel of John, where Jesus presents Himself as the True Ladder connecting earth and heaven: the ladder by which God’s revelation and God’s salvation comes from the heaven to earth: And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”[1]

There is no doubt that Jesus alludes here to Jacob’s dream. By referring to Jacob’s dream at the very beginning of his Gospel, John suggests that from now on, the Son of Man will play the role of this ladder, bridging the gap between earth and heaven. Through his dream, Jacob receives revelation from God and confirmation of the same promises that God gave to Abraham and Isaac. According to John, through the Son of Man his followers will also receive revelation and affirmation of the previous promises.

 

More about the Angels

This Torah Portion is full of angels; not only did Jacob see angels going up and down the ladder in this famous dream on the way from the Land, but many years later, when he was on his way back to the Land, at the very end of our Parashah, we read: Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him.  When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp. ”And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.[2]

Unlike the description of Jacob’s dream, the “Mahanaim” report is very short, and we don’t really know what the angels were doing and how this meeting went. However, there is an intriguing detail here that one can see only in Hebrew.  “When Jacob saw them, he said, “This is God’s camp”, so he named that place Mahanayim[3]Mahanayim is a dual construction of the word “mahane” (camp), so Jacob, in fact, called this place “Two camps”! Why? Rashi explains that  Jacob indeed encountered two teams of angels,  exactly like in his dream—and therefore he saw two separate camps: one of the angels outside the Land, who came with him up to this point, and one of the angels of Israel, who came to greet him. According to Rashi, these are the same two groups of angels—only while in Bethel Jacob saw them in dream, now they “met” him when he was awake, as if to provide an even stronger feeling of security.

Thus,  we understand that angels played an important role in God’s protection and guidance of Jacob.  This understanding of different angels performing different activities on earth at God’s command is very consistent throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. It complies completely with the New Testament, where angels are understood to be “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation”.[4] Here the angels also guide and protect God’s people, punish God’s enemies, bring messages from God, and interpret prophetic dreams and visions.

 

Twelve Tribes in the New Testament

According to the Torah, twelve tribes of Israel originated from the twelve sons of Jacob. Therefore, the births of Jacob’s sons are described in great detail in this Torah portion. The story of twelve tribes starts here …but where does it end?

Toward the very end of the New Testament, in chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation, we read a description of the New Jerusalem: “Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel”[5]

Why are the 12 tribes of Israel so important—not only in biblical history, but also in biblical prophecy? Some people mistakenly think that the tribes of Israel no longer serve any purpose in the New Testament. The truth is that almost all the tribes are mentioned in the New Testament by name.  Even in his message to Mary announcing her pregnancy and Jesus’ miraculous birth, Gabriel says:

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”[6]

Both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, the expression “the house of Jacob” always refers to the Jewish tribes—to the descendants of Jacob/Israel. So the twelve tribes of Israel are still very important in the New Testament, and the fact that the names of the twelve tribes are on the gates of the New Jerusalem, as the book of Revelation describes her, is an additional proof of that.  It’s interesting to note that while the twelve gates in the wall represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve foundations of the wall represent the twelve New Testament apostles:

Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the name of the twelve apostles of the Lamb[7].

Thus, the Book of Revelation emphasizes the unity of the Old and New Testaments.

 

[1] John 1:51

[2] Gen. 32:1-2

[3] Gen. 32:2

[4] Heb.1:14

[5] Rev. 21:12

[6] Luke 1:32,33 [emphasis added]

[7] Rev. 21:14

 

The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com) . At this point, we offer WTP course only in English, while DHB course exists both in Spanish and Portuguese.

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  .  My last book “Unlocking the Scriptures”, with the Hebrew insights into the Torah and  Jewish Background insights   into NT,  is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Nick

    Thanks Julia, unity of O.T. and N.T. Indeed! The N.T. is a continuation of the narrative of the Jewish people that started back in Genesis. Perhaps the good news is that all of G-d’s children can connect with Him – I don’t think a separate competing “religion” was intended. The exclusive franchise on G-d is something invented by mankind to use as a tool for shortsighted counterfeit fulfillment. Well, in my humble opinion…….
    Nick

  2. Rachel

    The Apostle John who knows his Hebrew scriptures very well tells the Christian churches in Asia Minor that they are the New Israel composed of “12 tribes.” John reveals to them that the New Covenant Spiritual Israel is the antitype of the type: Mt Sinai Covenant Israel. These “12 tribes” in the Book of Revelation are not the original literal 12 tribes of Israel as found in the Hebrew writings. John is telling the Christian churches of Asia Minor that the mission (to be a light and a model nation to the Gentile world) given to the Israel of the Hebrew scriptures as a kingdom of priests has been transferred to the Church because Mt Sinai Covenant Israel failed. It failed to spread the Gospel of God and His Laws to the nations. The New Israel — the Christian Church — is now to be the light and model to the Gentile world by preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. John is an excellent student of the Hebrew scriptures and lets the Churches in Asia Minor know that they are a kingdom, a holy nation of priests.

    And just as the number 7 is an Apocalyptic Cosmic number and there are not just 7 literal churches in Asia Minor, the number 12 is also Apocalyptic and Cosmic and is not a literal number.

    1. Nick

      Hi Rachel! I think John had a perspective, take, or opinion on what was going on, but maybe his words are more like a sage than a prophet. No one, not Moses or Jesus of Nazareth, sees everything. Though we all long to.

    2. Julia Blum

      Hi Rachel, thank you for your comment! You are right, of course John knew the Hebrew Scriptures very well – however, his writings can be read and understood in a very different way, he definitely does not say that the Christian Church ( it didn’t even exist at that moment, at least, in a way we understand it today) is the New Israel. I personally think that the Theology of Replacement – that Christian Church is the New Israel – is one of the gravest, if not the gravest one, mistakes of Christianity.

  3. Yvonne Kavanagh

    Shalom
    I believe that he is waking up the lost tribes the northern kingdom , they have mixed seeds for thousand of years so they are not Yewish they were Israelites.
    I heard in my sleep wake up Ephraim. I didn’t know what the word meant , bit by bit I have come to understand that he is calling use to walk in Torah keep sabbath and walk in his feasts .
    I believe we are grafted into the twelve tribes in Yeshua as the twelve tribes are Israel . He is gathering all twelve tribes
    All over the world people are hearing this message to walk in Torah keeping Shabbat , it’s the same law to the foreign
    As it is to Israel ,
    I stoped all pagan feasts and He changed my life because he told me to keep sabbath and don’t eat unclean foods .
    I understand the pain Yah felt When the northern tribes went after pagan worship so He divorced them ,
    He didn’t divorce Judah so Yeshua died to bring the northern tribes back , I come but for my lost sheep , He will not break Torah He died so they can reunite the 12 tribes . .
    And the whole earth can be grafted into the 12 tribes thought his death . its Judah and Israel the two stickers Will become one again .

    1. Julia Blum

      Very prophetic words, Yvonne! Thank you!

    2. Antonio Serrano

      YVONNE, although I can’t say I had a dream or vision, I know the Lord is revealing truth with regard to His people. I guess I can say I have had revelation thru the scriptures. One day I was reading in Gen. Chpt. 48 in the Young’s Literal Translation. In verse 19, Ephraim [doubly fruitful] is told he will become the fullness of the nations. This mirrored Rms. 11;25 so perfectly my eyes were opened. Since then the bible has truly become a treasure beyond my imagination. With regard to your statement that Yeshua died to bring the northern kingdom back [often called Ephraim] I began to understand the parenthetical phrase in Rms. 7;1 “to those who understand the law” Since my awakening my heart has been knit with all things Israel.

  4. Gladys Fox

    It is interesting to note that the twelve tribes are also in Revelations 7:3-8 The number of those sealed were 144 thousand 12 thousand from every tribe of the people of Israel .That 144 thousand are also in Revelations 14 : 1-5.
    There is a Christian author who claims that the first 144 thousand are Jews but the second 144 thousand are Gentile Christians. I believe he is very very wrong. The 144 thousand are a unique group and they do follow Yeshua .They are all virgin males and on their lips no lie was found-they are without defect . They sing a new song that no one else can learn. I believe that this group is all the Jewish boy babies that were killed at the time of Moses and that were killed at the time of Yeshua. I also think that the number 144 thousand is not an actual number , but a symbolic number and that the true number may be far greater.

  5. Emunah

    ..”.It’s interesting to note that while the twelve gates in the wall represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve foundations of the wall represent the twelve New Testament apostles:” Israel – the gate, Yeshua – the foundation through the twelve apostles of the Lamb.