Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven has inspired architecture and art, exercise machines and farming equipment, literature, film, music – classical and pop, and even the naming of tourist attractions; but for Jacob, the original ladder opened up a ‘thin space’ between a troubled man cast out from his family, and the God who loves him. Read it here.
Jacob, the second born twin, had been so desirous of the blessings and birthrights of the elder that he had schemed and plotted util he had finally outwitted his brother into handing them over. Now having received the blessing that should have belonged to Esau, he is on the run; stuck between a rock and a hard place, he chooses a stone for a pillow and falls asleep.
As he sleeps, heaven opens and Jacob receives the blessing he had so longed for: not a stolen blessing, not a hand me down blessing, but one direct from God,
all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring
Genesis 28: 14
Everything has changed for the twin brothers. Esau, bereft of his blessing and inheritance turns his back on his father and all that his father stands for – as his blessing stealing brother is charged to go and find a wife from good stock, Esau heads out in the opposite direction and seeks his wife amongst the Canaanites of whom his father disapproves, and so ends up marrying the daughter of Ishmael. Ishmael, the cast out son of Abraham, thus grows his kingdom of firstborn cast outs. Read Esau’s story here.
Many years later, Jesus is to tell a farming parable
The disciples struggle to understand, after all, this story is about farming and the disciples are fishermen, tax collectors and zealots…
Jesus explains that just as weeds grow up among the wheat, so in humanity the godly and ungodly grow side by side. Esau and Jacob were twins – sharing the same upbringing, and yet they couldn’t be more unalike. As they mature and time goes by, it becomes clear that these two boys have hearts that yearn in different directions, and yet they needed each other when they were young, perhaps more than even they realised. At this point in the story they share only enmity, but in the future they will become reconciled, before going separate ways once more. Just as two brothers before them had grown together before being separated in anger, Ishmael and Isaac. Read the parable here.
The farmer has to show patience with his crops. How frustrating it must be to water and feed the soil that both wheat and weeds will feed from, knowing that only the wheat will provide a harvest of value, yet the sun shines on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. So too in life. When evil seems so persistent and acts of terror and horror are committed without God seeming to bat an eyelid, our hearts cry out at the injustice of it all. Does God not care? Send down your justice ‘Oh Lord’, we cry.
The psalmists would offer laments of despair calling for enemies to be destroyed in the most hideous of ways, ‘smite them, Oh Lord’, they cried. Perhaps the zealots among the disciples would have understood this parable the most – they after all, were all for direct action to rid their nation of the oppressive occupation of the Romans.
But Jesus speaks patience. Time will come when it is right to harvest both the wheat and the weeds. To do so too soon would risk uprooting the good and wholesome wheat needed to feed and provide for God’s people. Once it is harvested, then is the time to cleanse the wholesome from the unwholesome, the evil from the good.
When we look around us at our fractured world, we see those who seem at ferocious enmity with the rest of humanity, those who care only about the wealthy and shun the poor, those who value others only for what they can give. All will be weeded out, but in God’s time.
When Jacob woke from his dream, he took his ‘pillow’, anointed it with oil and set it up as a pillar – a marker, a reminder that in this place he had met with God. A reminder that even when life looked desperate God was still in control. Even when he feared the anger of his brother, God’s blessing was upon him.
Something to think about:
- Have you been to a place named after Jacob’s ladder dream? Do your experiences match Jacob’s?
- Have you experienced a ‘thin place’ where it feels as though there is no distance between heaven and earth?
- How do you think Jacob would have described his experiences of the ‘thin place’ he named Bethel ‘House of God?
- Who do you think was the wheat, and who the weed in the relationship between Jacob and Esau?
- What would have happened if the two had been separate at birth to prevent them from fighting?
- Do we need weeds in our lives?
Something to watch: