Archive for July 12th, 2011

Genesis 28:10-22

I guess there’s always been traffic between heaven and earth.  At least in Near-Eastern mythology there has been.  The Mesopotamians built their ziggurats in step-like fashion so that the priests could climb up to offer their sacrifices, their fertility rites, and the like, and so that the gods could climb down to walk on the earth and to make their presence known.  Many of the stories tell of bargains being made between god and human.  To the gods’ credit, they weren’t always impressed with what the humans had to offer.

Jacob dreamed of one of these ladders / staircases / ramps.  The heavenly beings were going to and fro.  But there’s a surprising difference in this story.  God speaks without the mediation of the beings.  God speaks without Jacob invoking God’s presence.  God speaks without the offer of a sacrifice or the performance of a ritual.  God speaks as sheer grace in the form of an unconditional promise.

Jacob is awestruck. But Jacob, the bargainer that he is, can’t quite shake his ‘stairway to heaven’ mindset. He decides that this must be the gate of the heavens.  He’s ready to raise a pillar and build a house. And, more tragically, he’s ready to set out the terms of this new covenant between God and himself.  God’s act of sheer grace is transmuted into Jacob’s articulation of a conditional agreement.  “IF God will be with me, and guard me, and guide me and clothe me and keep me safe, THEN I will be faithful and worship and tithe.”

O that we could quit bargaining and bartering with God; quit building our staircases to God and our houses for God; quit making God into the great wish-fulfiller in the sky and see that God is sheer grace.  God is presence and promise.  God is vision and hope.

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