Reflecting and Doing
Make a growing ladder! This fun and memorable illustration helps us to think about Jacob’s dream, and the picture it gives of God being accessible.
You will need:
- A large newspaper
You can do this as a demonstration from the front (it works well with a volunteer assistant) or you can give out the materials and have people make their own.
Starting at a narrow end, roll one sheet of newspaper into a narrow cylinder.
Use the scissors to cut a broad notch in the middle of the cylinder. You should remove the top half of the cylinder, so that you have three equal sections: full cylinder, then half cylinder, then full cylinder.
Bend the outer sections down at a right angle so that it looks like a square-ish bridge. The half-tube section flattens out to be the bridge itself and the full-tubes the side supports. This will turn into your ladder, with the flat sections being the rungs of the ladder, but at the moment it doesn’t reach very high.
Gently ease the top rung up at the sides, and ladder will start to grow. Keep easing up the rungs and allow the sides to spiral up. Eventually, you can have a ladder several feet tall. Just don’t try to climb it!
Last summer I took my kids to see the Harry Potter studios. It was fab! I’m a huge fan of the books – I was one of those waiting for Deathly Hallows when it was first published, and read it non-stop until I’d finished – and I’m just as much a fan of the films.
I did wonder if perhaps having a glimpse behind the scenes would destroy the magic. You know, finding out that the Ministry of Magic was just very cleverly painted MDF, or seeing the (marvellous) animatronic head that a 6’ 42” rugby player wore to play Hagrid in long shots. It didn’t. If anything, it made it more amazing to see how some very creative people had produced a magic all of their own to bring the books leaping, flying, scuttling and, in some cases, oozing to life.
But what does all this have to do with Jacob?
Sometimes in the Bible, we get a glimpse behind the scenes. One of my favourites is when Elisha’s servant got up one morning to find that they were completely surrounded by enemy troops. The servant said to Elisha, “It is bad, sir! What should we do?” He answered, “Do not be afraid. For those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes, that he may see.” And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw. He saw that the mountain was full of horses and war-wagons of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17)
I love that story. God had always been in control. He had always had vast heavenly forces ranged against the enemy. The fact that Elijah and his servant had not been able to see them before did not mean that they had not been there. And that’s what we see with our reading today. Jacob and his dream. The Stairway to Heaven (No. Stop it. Put down that air-guitar right now!) A glimpse behind the scenes to a reality that had always been, even if not perceived.
The newly-discovered reality for Jacob was that this ‘Lord’ person that his dad and his grandad had kept going on about actually was real, and that he could know and be known by God. In the allegory of the dream, the stairway is a means of getting from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven, and the angels are messengers. (We get our word angel from the Greek word ἄγγελος = angelos, which means messenger.) God is telling Jacob that the way to him is open, that he both speaks and listens, and that Jacob should do the same.
Jacob, who has hitherto displayed scant attention to the God of his fathers, takes this to heart and pledges his allegiance. Sort of.
If we read on to verse 20 we see a typical Jacob-style wheeler-dealer bargain with God. “If God will be with me and take care of me as I go, and if He will give me food to eat and clothes to wear, so that I return in peace to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God.” Ah well. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor Israel, it seems.
But let us take heart from this less-than-perfect sinner’s prayer. God still accepted the deal and Jacob muddled along with him in a less-than-perfect life that ultimately, as promised, brought good “to all the families of the earth”.
Is your walk with God less-than-perfect? Mine too. I like it that we don’t have to try to be someone we’re not when we come to God. Jacob was a schemer (and that’s the polite version – check out the end of the previous chapter for why Jacob was legging it across the desert on his own) and God accepted him as such.
This does not mean we can get away with doing whatever we like, saying, ‘it doesn’t matter what I do because God will forgive me.’ We are, as children of our heavenly Father, supposed to be acquiring a family likeness. But it does mean that even if the family likeness is, let us say, in the aspirational stage still, that nothing that we do will stop God loving us.
To quote from What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less.
Do you ever feel that God loves you less because of what you have done? Ain’t so.
Genesis 28:10-19 New Life Version
Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed the night there, because the sun had gone down. He took one of the stones there and put it under his head for a pillow. And he had a dream. He saw steps going up from the earth to heaven. He saw the angels of God going up and down these steps. And he saw the Lord standing above them. He said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham, and the God of Isaac. I will give to you and your children after you the land where you are lying. They will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread out to the west and the east and the north and the south. Good will come to all the families of the earth because of you and your children. See, I am with you. I will care for you everywhere you go. And I will bring you again to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done all the things I promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “For sure the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “This place is so different! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So Jacob got up early in the morning. He took the stone he had used as a pillow, and set it up as a pillar. He poured oil on the top of it. He gave that place the name Bethel.
New Life Version (NLV)
Copyright © 1969 by Christian Literature International
Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace? 1997, 71. Find on Amazon
Giorgio Vasari II, Jacob’s Dream, ca 1557