Stairway from Heaven: Babel, Bethel, and Jesus Christ

At Babel sinful humans build a tower to reach God. At Bethel God places a stairway earthward to reach men. At Babel humans attempt to make a name for themselves. At Bethel God chooses to make the name of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob great. At Babel God scatters humans to prevent them from thwarting his plan of redemption. At Bethel God promises to scatter Jacob’s offspring to ensure the fulfillment of his salvific agenda. In a word, Bethel teaches us that true religion does not come from human effort but from a gracious act of divine condescension.1As the Westminster Confession expresses it,

The distance between God and the creature is so great that even though rational creatures are responsible to obey him as their Creator, yet they could never experience any enjoyment of him as their blessing and reward except by way of some voluntary condescension on his part, which he has been pleased to express by way of covenant.2

In simpler language: we don’t come to God on our terms; God comes to us on his terms. That’s what Genesis 28 is all about. There’s a great distance between God and man, and only God can “bridge the gap.” God bridges that gap by coming down and revealing himself to man in the form of covenant-promise. What’s more, Genesis 28 anticipates and foreshadows the full and final act of divine condescension: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

In the sermon below I attempt to highlight the these truths by preaching Christ and the gospel of grace from the Old Testament narrative of Genesis 28:10-22 (commonly but mistakenly known as “Jacob’s Ladder”). As we’ll see, God’s act of self-condescension is core truth of OT religion and as such prepares the way for the fulness of God’s revelation in Christ.3 You can watch the video or download the audio below.4

  1. I have borrowed and adapted these words from Edmund Clowney who summarizes the burden of Genesis 28:10-22 as follows: “True religion does not come from man’s quest, but from God’s intervention.” The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1988), 64.
  2. 7.1 in WCF: Modern English Study Version (Great Commission Publications, 1993), 27.
  3. For more on the doctrine of divine condescension, see K. Scott Oliphint, God With Us: Divine Condescension and the Attributes of God (Crossway, 2012).
  4. This sermon was preached at Immanuel Baptist Church on Sunday, March 19, 2017, and can be accessed here.