In the midst of Genesis’ generational saga of love, dysfunction, and turmoil, condensing decades into chapters, we encounter a section of scripture that has oft been poured over. Jacob, who by all counts has been cunning in his acquisition of both the birthright and blessing both intended for his elder brother Esau, is now fleeing for his life. With the blessing of both his parents he heads to find refuge and a wife at his Uncle Laban's house.
As he prepares himself for sleep we wonder if he anticipated a good night's rest, what with a stone for a pillow and the concerned anticipation of his brother’s plans. Surprisingly or perhaps not, our weary protagonist slumbers, dreaming not of safety or of a world where he was the firstborn, but rather a stunning cinematic-like scene of a “ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God…ascending and descending on it.” (Gen. 28:12, NIV)
And then beside him, God begins to speak. But the words that Jacob hears are not the disapproving rebuke we might have expected. Rather, God bestows upon him the (now famous) blessing of generational land ownership and a promise to fulfil His word despite the hardships and difficulties that would arise. And then to top off the extraordinary encounter, God finishes with a personal blessing, a little “P.S. I love you and will watch out for you:”
“Know that 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.” (Gen. 28:15, NIV)
God gave him something that he could not take, or steal or trade. He gave him the promise of His love. Knowing full well all that had transpired in Jacob’s life, He offers him one of the only things in this world you cannot take. Jacob didn’t have to search for, or make, or bargain for that ladder that reached into the heavens. It was brought to him. He didn’t have to climb that ladder to reach God. Instead, God reached down to him. The ladder’s powerful usage of symbolism is later expounded upon in John: "Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on' the Son of Man.'" (John 1:51, NIV)
The son of man, Yeshua, is our ladder to God. No amount of cunningness or human effort can transform you into that ladder. No trade or deed well done can be exchanged or traded for the ladder. His love, intersession, and presence in our lives is a gift, one that we decide to either reject or accept through faith.
The power of a gift freely given is often overlooked. A transaction involves the exchange of items of equal value. Currency, items, or services in exchange for something we want or need. It’s a simple process. And once complete both parties are even. Even steven, in fact. But a gift removes the questions of worth or of merit. And for that I am grateful. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9, NIV)