TUESDAY 26TH OCTOBER

“I will be with you”

We recently looked at the symbol of the rainbow and today we look at the symbol of the staircase.

You may recall Laurel and Hardy’s best-known catchphrase: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” Today we see Jacob in a mess but it was by and large all his own doing.

Let’s look at the passage-Genesis 28:10-17

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

PREDICAMENT

Along journey, a hard pillow, a guilty conscience, a heavy heart. These are the things that make men dream. It had been two days since he had left home—Esau seething in the background/Rebekah weeping/Isaac waving goodbye.

Two days on a journey of 500 miles. Jacob is on his way from Beersheba to a place called Haran in a land called Paddam Aram. To get there you travelled north, then east across the Jordan River, then north again toward Damascus, then east to Tadmor, then a sharp turn north for the final leg of the journey, crossing the Euphrates River, finally arriving in Haran, which was located not far from the southern border of modern-day Turkey. He’s been on the road now for two days. Two days to walk. Two days to think. Two days to ponder. Two days to wonder what might have been. He left home so quickly. It wasn’t the beautiful send-off he wanted. No, he hurried out of town lest Esau should decide to take matters into his own hands. Jacob was running for his life, relationships broken, family ties destroyed.

Now, on the evening of the second day, as the sun sinks over the western horizon, Jacob stops for the night. He’s come to the outskirts of a city called Luz, a place unknown to him, a city filled with strange and possibly dangerous people. So filled with fear was Jacob that when he came to Luz, he dared not enter the city, even though night had fallen.

Outside the town, on a hillside strewn with rocks and boulders, Jacob made his bed. In that part of the world, night comes quickly. In the gathering darkness Jacob rests his head upon a large, flat stone.I imagine he had a hard time sleeping that night. As he reminisced in his mind, I wonder if he thought about his family. Did he worry about his aging father? Did a silent tear slip down his cheek as he remembered waving goodbye to his mother? Did his face turn crimson in the darkness as he replayed his shameful deceit? Did a bullet of fear strike his heart as he thought about Esau’s pledge to kill him?

I’m sure he thought about all those things, and much more, as he tried to sleep on a rocky bed under the stars with a stone for a pillow. As the stars came out, and the strange sounds of night filled his ears, Jacob realized that for the first time in his life he was truly alone- homeless, penniless and helpless.

PILLOW

He had only himself to blame. That much is sure. And I’m sure he didn’t argue that point at all. For he was the one who cheated his brother. He was the one who lied to his father. He was the deceiver. He was the scoundrel. He was the one who broke up his own family.

“Jacob, you fool. No wonder you sleep uneasily tonight. No wonder you dream strange dreams. Your heart is heavy because your conscience is guilty. Your hands are not clean. Jacob got what he wanted. That night alone on the hillside, outside the city of Luz, resting his head on the stone pillow, he could only reflect on the terrible price he paid for the thing he wanted so much.

God had never spoken to Jacob before. For all the years of his life, God had never spoken directly to him. To his grandfather Abraham—yes. To his father Isaac—yes. But to Jacob—no. For his whole life he had lived on the borrowed faith of his father and grandfather. He was raised in their faith, was taught their faith, knew their faith, and even believed their faith, but he had never had a personal experience with the God of his father and grandfather. To Jacob it was all second-hand reality.

The amazing point is that God now speaks to Jacob at the moment of his desperation. Even his deception and trickery was used by God to bring him to this precise moment in life. Now that he is running for his life, now that he is leaving the Promised Land, now that he has disgraced himself, now that he finally reached the bottom, at that exact moment, God speaks to Jacob. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasure and shouts to us in our pain. Pain, he said, is God’s megaphone to rouse a sleeping world. Now God moves to rouse Jacob even while he sleeps.

PRESENCE

It happens in the form of a strange dream. In his dream Jacob saw a stairway (the Hebrew word is sullam. It can mean “ladder” but more typically means “stairway.”) descending from heaven to earth. The key point is that Jacob sees this stairway resting on the earth right where he happened to be.

On the stairway Jacob saw the angels of God going up and down the stairs. It’s worth noting that not many people in the Bible ever saw angels. Most people lived their lives and never once saw an angel. But here and there, at certain critical moments in history, God allowed a few people to see his angels at work. It’s as if God would draw back the curtains at a crucial moment to let someone see the angels of God at work behind the scene. Jacob is one of those lucky few.

What are the angels doing? They are taking messages from earth up to heaven and messages from heaven down to earth. They are heavenly couriers who report to God concerning the situation on the earth. They also carry out God’s will—answering prayers, giving guidance, providing protection, fighting for the people of God, fending off the attacks of Satan.

At the top of the ladder stood God himself. Just think about that. Jacob at the bottom, God at the top, a stairway filled with angels in between. What does it mean?

The message of the dream is this: “Jacob, I’m nearer to you than you think I am. Although I am in heaven and you are on earth, there’s a stairway that reaches from me to you. And my angels are constantly watching over you. They tell me what you need and I send them back to earth with my answers. I’m not very far away. In fact, I’m with you wherever you go. When you travel, my stairway travels with you. I was with you in Beersheba. I was with you when you tricked Esau. I was with you when you deceived your father. I am with you tonight. And I will be with you in Haran. Everywhere you go, I will go with you.”

PROMISES

It’s a message about the nearness of God. In order to help Jacob understand it, God reaffirmed the promise he had made to Abraham and Isaac:1. I will give you this land. (13) 2. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth. (14) 3. All peoples on the earth will be blessed through you. (14) 4. I will watch over you wherever you go. (15)5. I will bring you back to this land. (15)6. I will not leave you. (15) It becomes clear that God is meeting Jacob at the point of his personal need.

Think of all the needs that these words address: Shame: “I am the God of your father Abraham.”Betrayal: “I am the God of Isaac.” Loss of his homeland: “I will give you this land.”Insignificance: “All peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.” Loss of his family: “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth.” Fear of the future: “I am with you … wherever you go.” Fear of Failure: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Jacob now receives the very same promise God gave his grandfather and his father. In addition, God promises to be with him while he is in Haran and to bring him back someday to the Promised Land. This is exactly what Jacob needed to hear on the eve of his journey to Haran: At this point Jacob feels :Guilty about his past/Fearful of the future/Uncertain in the present.

To all of that, God simply says, “I will be with you.” It’s a total solution to guilt, fear and anxiety. Through all of this Jacob is learning the lesson that there is no place he can go where God is not already there. “Surely God is in this place”.

1. REFLECTIVE QUESTIONS

What is your predicament?

Where is God’s presence for you?

Is there a symbol that helps you like the stairway to heaven?

What promises can you take to heart and cherish?

2. REST IN SILENCE

3. PRAYER

Loving God, thank you that even in the worst of situations,

even those brought about by our own stubbornness or folly,

you do not abandon us but stay with us,

offering us your forgiveness, your unfailing love,

your kindness and your promises of hope and assurance.

Help us to embrace your kindness and to receive your newness of life.

In Jesus’ Name,

Amen.

HYMN

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St John the Evangelist, Dumfries, is a parish of the Scottish Episcopal Church also serving Methodist parishioners locally.

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