Stairway to Heaven
Have you ever been on your way to an appointment, a gathering of some sort, or maybe even a vacation when suddenly you’ve been inconvenienced by a Detour sign? It probably isn’t as unnerving today since most GPS systems will show these challenges in advance. But I remember times in the past before GPS or cell phone map apps, when my planned route was interrupted by those orange Detour signs. I’m not talking about familiar territory, mind you. I’m talking about drives into unfamiliar places.
I don’t know about you, but seeing those signs immediately heightened my blood pressure. Anxiety crept in as I drove into unknown territory unsure how far out of my way I would travel and how much longer it would take me to get to my destination. Signage wasn’t always good in these situations, but I always got to where I was going. The anxiety was less about the Detour itself and more about being suddenly faced with the unknown...that was outside my control. It’s a vulnerable feeling.
Please grab one of the pew Bibles and open to Genesis 28:12-16 on page 32. Jacob (Israel) is in a similar situation. Let’s set the story before reading the text. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau being the first-born, had a birthright that promised him the majority of his father’s inheritance.
But through a manipulative scheme between Jacob and his mother, they tricked Isaac (who was blind) into thinking that he was giving his blessing and birthright to Esau when in fact it was Jacob. When learning of this scheme, Esau was so angry that he wanted to kill Jacob. Needless to say, Jacob fled for his life heading to a place suggested by his parents.
Which brings us to today’s story. Jacob is traveling in the wilderness, between places where nothing is expected to happen. Whether we realize it or not, those are vulnerable places for us when we are not expecting anything (kind of like a detour). His life was chaotic, unsettled, and he lived looking over his shoulder. Let’s look at verses 12-16.
There are two points that I want to emphasize from this text. Jacob was not seeking God. He was completely engaged in saving himself from his troubles. And when he went to sleep (most vulnerable time) in the wilderness (most vulnerable place), God came to him. Jacob saw the ladder (also translated as ramp) with angels ascending and descending between earth and heaven. But even more importantly, the Lord stood next to him and provided words of promise.
This place in the middle of nowhere suddenly became an important place! We don’t always have an explanation for what happens, yet that doesn’t make the vision unimportant. Is there a secret code from the vision that has a specific meaning? I’m not sure and I don’t think it’s necessary for me to try to put a meaning on it. Let God speak through it as He will.
In a place of loneliness and fear, suddenly Jacob is encountered by God and a new alternative is permitted in his life. Where he felt alone and vulnerable, God made his presence and protection known. “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” Where else is God present and we do not know it?
There is also the promise. Not just any promise, but specifically to Jacob in his time of trouble. He had fled for his life and didn’t recognize any hope of promise. Verse 15 shares a 3 part promise: 1) God’s heavenly presence on earth and with Jacob, 2) God’s action to keep and protect him, and 3) God’s blessing with a promised homecoming. In the middle of fear and chaos, God speaks assurance and blessing. That’s a source of hope!
Finally, Jacob responds to the promise. His response isn’t part of the dream, but action taken because of God’s initiated contact. Jacob is prepared to repent and believe, abandoning his old presumptions of fear for the new realities exposed in the vision and promises of a dream.
In this place of defenseless and lonely sleep, God’s awesome power came to light. And we hear echos of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans…”For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”
Today we are reminded that no matter where we are on our journey, like Jacob we have the promise of God’s presence, action, and blessings. You are loved by your Creator. He is with you each moment of your life and he continues to bless us in ways known and unknown. Through Jesus, you are forgiven and reconciled to God for eternity. Let’s respond like Jacob and give thanks. Amen.