There are many, many more lessons to be learned from the life of Jacob. But the one that strikes me most forcefully is the one that involves Jacob’s ladder.
Everyone knows the story.
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 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. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway [d] resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it [e] 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. 14 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. 15 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.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 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.”
Gen 28:10-18 (NIV)
But why did this happen? Why did God favor Jacob with this vision, and this promise?
Jacob had done nothing to deserve it. Indeed, he had conspired with his mother to deceive his father, had stolen a blessing that belonged to his brother, and was running for his life. Far from being a high point, morally or in his walk with God, it was one of the lowest points in his life. Jacob did not deserve such an affirmation from God.
But that’s why it’s called ‘grace.’ Grace comes from the Greek word that means ‘gift.’ The oft-quoted theological definition of grace is ‘unmerited favor.’
If there was ever a person who did not merit favor, it was the scheming, deceiving, theiving Jacob on the run from his brother’s justifiable anger. Jacob deserved many negative things, but not this tremendous vision of God’s glory and watchcare.
And notice, there are no ‘ifs’ in God’s declaration. He doesn’t say ‘if you do this,’ or ‘if you avoid that.’ He just affirms and blesses Jacob.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the notion that we must earn God’s approval. But we cannot earn it. We can only accept or reject it. And grace comes to us, as it did to Jacob, unbidden. And it comes not at a time when we deserve it, but when, like Jacob, we desperately need it.
Let that be our prayer. Not: God, I’ve been good so give me. . . .
That’s what legalism and self-righteousness is about.
Instead, we pray: God, You are good, and my need is great.
That’s what grace is all about.