The sacred lore in Genesis chapter 28 tells us that after Jacob tricked his twin Esau out of his rightful future inheritance as the older son of Isaac and Rebecca, the enraged Esau determined to kill Jacob. Jacob then, at the recommendation of his mother and then his father, left to take refuge far away in Haran in the home of his uncle Laban, the brother of Rebecca.
Weary from a day’s travel, Jacob lay down to sleep, using a stone as a pillow. In the threatening dark — figuratively the absence of the light of Divine guidance — he must have been anxious about whether Esau was close on his heels. Not surprisingly, Jacob dreamed fitfully.
The biblical image of what Jacob envisioned in his sleep is powerful: “A ladder set up upon the earth, with the top of it reaching to heaven ... and with angels of God ascending and descending upon it.”
The scene may well have called to mind for Jacob the pyramid-shaped ziggurat, widely associated with Ur in Mesopotamia, which was the patriarchal tribes had com and to which Jacob was now fleeing for safety. It was a ladder-like structure with angelic messengers going up and down and up its broad stairs. At its top was God — the very God who, in Exodus chapter 3, would later appear to Moses in the Burning Bush was now standing beside Jacob and identifying as the God of Jacob’s forebears, the God of Promise and of covenantal relationship.
I have always thought of this ladder or ziggurat image as ancient, cultural corroboration of the relationship between God, on the one hand, and you and me on the other — all of us of God’s creation. God is higher, better, indeed perfect, but at the same time, God at the top of the ladder and we at the bottom are all connected. We are of the same phylum, every one of us, even as we are all in God’s image and likeness. (See Genesis chapters 1 and 2).
Moreover, God is always with us, in touch, personally or through the prophetic angels who guide, correct, protect, and, in a sense, report.
Think about our protesting forebears who, with their posters raised earlier on the very day — April 4, 1968 — that Martin Luther King Jr. was slain, proclaimed “I Am a Man.” We now paraphrase it as, “Black Lives Matter.”
Simply stated, to mistreat, defame, disparage, or think poorly of or injure, much less to slay, any one of us is to assault the Divinity who defines our phylum.
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., K.St.J., is Priest Scholar and Chaplain at Washington National Cathedral and previously was Bishop’s Dean and Sub-Dean and Priest in Charge in congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands (U.S. and U.K.)