No Ladder Required

Scripture: Genesis 28:10-22

Key Verse(s): And behold, the Lord stood above it 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. 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 in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, 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.” (v. 13-15)

Observation: Jacob, with some prodding from his mother Rebekah, has tricked his brother Esau out of his birthright and final blessing from their father Issac. When Issac dies Jacob flees from Esau’s presence and travels to Haran to live with Rebekah’s brother Laban. As he is traveling, the sun goes down and so he makes camp for the night. He is in the middle of no where, all alone and vulnerable. He does not have much of anything with him so that he has to use a stone for a pillow. In this place of vulnerability and uncertainty, God speaks to Jacob in a vision. Jacob sees the heavens opened and a ladder (literally a staircase) on which angels are ascending and descending. Jacob receives the reassurance he needs during his time of uncertainty and despair as God confirms the covenant God had made with Abraham. God promises to be with Jacob no matter where he goes.

Analysis: This passage of scripture from the book of Genesis is the origin of the African-American spiritual, “Jacob’s Ladder.” However, a closer reading of the passage reveals that it is not a ladder at all and it does not belong to Jacob. The song does speak of a struggle. For the enslaved African, climbing Jacob’s ladder symbolizes the struggle for freedom from physical slavery tied to the struggle for spiritual freedom. Both physical and spiritual freedom comes from the God of heaven. This passage then is not about Jacob or a ladder but about God. The enslaved Africans saw God’s faithfulness even in the midst of their suffering and uncertainty. We are invited to know, like Jacob and the enslaved Africans, that there isn’t a place that God cannot reach or a place where God is not present. God has promised and God will deliver. Our stones of suffering will become memorials of God’s faithfulness. The pillow becomes a pillar and we come to realize that God’s house is wherever we are, no ladder required.

Prayer: Merciful God, continually remind us that we are always in your presence and therefor always under your care and protection. Continue to comfort us in our times of suffering so that we might continue to feel your presence and give you praise. Help us to recognize the futility of trying to plot and scheme our way to what we want and free us to simply obey you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

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