Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 19 2011 - E100.9b – Genesis 27:41-28:22, Jacob's ladder

Esau is so angry with his brother Jacob for having cheated him out of his blessing that he is intent on killing him. Rebekah, learning of this, concocts a story to tell Isaac so that Jacob may be sent far away to Haran. Isaac sends his younger son away with the promise God made to Abraham ringing in his ears, "God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!" (Genesis 28:3-4).

As night fell on his first day of travel, Jacob lay down to sleep under the open sky. Remember that, unlike his brother Esau, Jacob liked to stay at home. He liked the company of his mother and a tent to sleep in. Now he was alone, out in the open and in danger of attack from wild animals. It was only the greater fear of Esau that had driven him out into this place of unimaginable dangers.

That night, as Jacob slept fitfully with his head upon a stone, he had a dream in which he saw a ladder (or more likely, a flight of steps) reaching from earth to the heavens. On these steps he saw angels ascending and descending.

I think that the order of words is important here. He first saw angels ascending; angels had been with him in his travels though they had been invisible to him. He saw angels descending; angels would continue to be with him as he moved on. What he saw was a kind of angelic changing of the guard; a disclosure that fresh troops of angels accompanied his every step.

At the top of this staircase Jacob saw the Lord who told him, "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" (28:13-15). God himself declares that Jacob is heir to all the promises that he made to Abraham. God is determined to work out his purposes for the redemption of the world through this sinful and frightened man. Not only will angels go with Jacob, God himself will be with him and will keep him safe.

In the morning, Jacob took the stone on which he had laid his head and set it up as a marker of his encounter with God, naming the place Bethel – the place where God makes his home. And Jacob vowed, "If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you" (28:20-22). The Lord will be his God, and Jacob will serve him; the God of Abraham and Isaac shall become the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The promise of God to Jacob, "I am with you" is one often repeated through Scripture. We can easily miss its remarkable nature. God was with Adam and Eve in the Garden but their rebellion led to their expulsion not only from Paradise but from the face of God. But God is intent to bridge the gulf between himself and humankind – to establish a stairway between heaven and earth and to make his home again with humankind. He is intent upon bringing the blessing of his own presence to all the families of the earth. This is the purpose that has laid hold of Jacob and will run through all the pages of the Old Testament until it finds its fulfilment and focus in Christ – the one in whom God has come to be with us.

God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, thank you that you have not left us alone in the wilderness of this world; you have come to us in Christ and will make your dwelling with us in the new creation. Help us to know that you are with us in every step of the journey of this life and that you will not leave us until you have blessed us with all that you have promised to give us in Christ.

Peter Misselbrook