It was no good. He had failed – utterly and totally failed – and all his dreams and plans tasted like choking desert dust in his throat. All his life he had resented being second son, second best, and the one who stood outside the straight line of blessing. Why should he matter less to God because, in the final tussle to leave the womb, he had been born moments after his brother?
And he had tried so hard, done everything he humanly could to get the blessing for himself, even got it, by force of trickery, and it was all for nothing. Instead of gaining favour, he had lost it, had lost everything, and, at his beloved mother’s advice, was fleeing for his life. Everything he had striven for had come to nothing, and now he was a homeless wanderer. What use was a father’s blessing that was only given freely in the act of sending him away from home – a home he could never safely return to as long as his brother was alive?
He was tired, horribly, heavily tired, and the weight of his disappointment made every step a dragging effort. Surely tonight, despite all his discomforts, and the lurking fear that even now Esau might be pursuing him with murderous intent, he would be able to sleep? He must, it was a long, long journey to Haran, and he must conserve his strength. So, as the daylight died, he found a comparatively level place on the ground, selected a smooth rock to serve as a pillow, wrapped himself in his cloak and composed himself to sleep.
It took him a while to settle. The desert night was chilly, the ground was hard and the deep misery inside him was even colder and harder. But exhaustion won out, and he slept, and, as the night folded in on its darkness, he dreamt. In his dream he was still in the same place, nothing had changed about him and his position; and yet, at the same time, everything that really mattered had changed utterly, as if the whole universe had changed around him while he remained cowering in his desert of mind and body.
There was a stairway, a ladder, an endless succession of steps rising from the very earth beside him into the far reaches of heaven beyond the limits of mortal sight, or rather, perhaps more accurately coming all the way down from heaven to touch at the miserable spot where he lay. They were not empty stairs either, the very angels of God were constantly ascending and descending. And then, or so it seemed, as Jacob dared to raise his eyes, he saw that the Lord himself was standing at the summit of the stairs – the very God whose blessing he had tried to finagle for himself. Even in his sleep he trembled, fearing he was about to be cut off from God, as well as his family. But then the Lord spoke.
It was not the message Jacob had expected to hear. The very blessing that he had tried to steal was what God was freely giving him! The God of his forefathers was declaring him to be in the line of the promise given to Abraham, that he would be the father of many, and the one through blessing would come to all the peoples of the world. That was miracle enough, but it was not all, for the Lord also promised his own presence. Yes, Jacob was going into exile, but he was not going alone, for the God of all gods would be with him, and would bring him back safely, one day, to the very place he was fleeing from now. Wherever he went he would never be outside the blessing of God.
He awoke overwhelmed, with tears in his eyes. All the time while he had been wandering in despair God had not let go. He had been there the whole time; it was Jacob who had been blind to his holy presence.