BACKGROUND NOTES (& OTHER NEAT INFO)
JACOB & ESAU (GEN 25:24)
Here Jacob is introduced. He's one of the twin boys born to Rebekah and Isaac. Esau is born first. Jacob comes second. A
Bible with good footnotes should have lots of detail on how the name Esau has roots in Hebrew words for 'red' and 'hairy.'
And the name Jacob has lots of connections to the Hebrew word for 'heel.'
Here's a link to a neat sculpture that provides a great visual for the idea of Jacob as the heel-grasping younger brother.
Click here, then click on thumbnail for 'Birth of Jacob and Esau.'
FUTURE FATHER OF A NATION
(Later of course Jacob gets a name change after he wrestles with an angel many years later on his way back to meet up with
his brother. At Gen 32.28, he receives the name Israel, meaning "one who strives with God," (don't we all!), and becomes
the father of a nation.)
[Just for fun. A few yrs ago, I wrote a little essay on Jacob as father. To read it, click here.]
WHEN THE BOYS GREW UP...(GEN. 25: 27)
This short section about Jacob tricking Esau out of his birthright sets the scene for the uneven relationship between the
two brothers, and gives some sense of why Jacob in our main story is camping out under the stars with a rock for a pillow.
JACOB'S LADDER (GEN 28:10)
In this part of the story, Jacob is en route to his new future in the land of his mother's people when he has a strange dream
of angels going up and down on a ladder. This dream leads him to believe that he's in an awesome or "dreadful" (KJV) place,
a place where God dwells. So he takes "the stone that he had put under his head" (NRSV), created an altar and renamed the
place 'Bethel,' meaning "house of God."
Footnotes here in the New Oxford Annotated Bible explain that "the earliest version of this oracle described angels ascending
and descending on a stairway (a better translation than the NRSV's ladder ) to heaven."
Here's Marc Chagall
This page shows another Ratner sculpture that includes the pillow rock and everything. (Click on thumbnail for 'Jacob's Ladder.'
And here's He Qi.
POWERFUL SYMBOLIC SIGNIFICANCE OF JACOB'S LADDER
Canadian writer and scholar Northrop Frye provides enormous detail on Jacob's ladder as a key symbol in Western art in the
chapter, "First Variation: the Mountain," in his book Words with Power. The whole chapter is absolutely excellent and well-worth
reading. However here are a few key citations concerning our present topic.
STAIRCASE FROM HEAVEN
Frye notes that Jacob's ladder forms a central image in the family of symbols describing the "axis mundi, a vertical line
running from the top to the bottom of the cosmos."
These symbols describe a "verbal universe," where images of ascent are connected with the intensifying on consciousness..."
The ladder of Jacob's dream, Frye points out, "was a ladder from heaven rather than to it: it was not a human construction
but an image of the divine will to reach man. Further, if angels were going both up and down on it, it was really a staircase
not a ladder."
Frye connects the dots for us between Jacob's ladder and another key Biblical symbol: "one is the world-tree rooted in the
world below with its upper branches in the world above, which appears somewhat vestigially, in the reference to the tree of
life in Eden." (For a neat visual, go to Phillip Ratner's Genesis page and click on thumbnail for Tree of Life.)
IT ALL COMES BACK TO THE WORD
Moreover, "Jacob's vision was of angels ascending and descending: angels are messengers of God, and messages are normally
verbal... With the Incarnation, or descent of the Word in flesh, the symbolic apparatus of ladders and the like becomes entirely
verbal. Ladders, temples, mountains, world-trees, are now all images of a verbal revelation in which descent is the only projected
LADDER OF WISDOM
Frye wraps all this up so nicely near this end of this chapter, why bother trying to improve on it: "The concern mainly informing
the present [set of symbols] is freedom of movement... We soon come to see that the ultimate sources of hampered movement
are time and space as we normally experience them, and at the top of the ladder of wisdom these elements in time and space
Two matchless verse fragments from modern poets come to mind on this topic. One is from WB Yeats' "Sailing to Byzantium."
It's breathtaking how he compresses so many elements of this symbolism in so few sharp evocative lines:
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upom a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sialed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
(To see all four verses of this poem, click here.
The other incredible verse comes from TS Eliot in The Four Quartets, the opening poem called "Burnt Norton:"
Garlic and sapphires in the mud
Clot the bedded axle-tree...
We move above the moving tree
In light upon the figured leaf
and hear upon the sodden floor
Below, the boarhound and the boar
Pursue their pattern as before
But reconciled among the stars.
To see the full text of Burnt Norton, click here.
Who can't hum the tune to the classic spiritual 'We are climbing Jacob's ladder.' For my money, the most recent, definitive
version of this song, featuring vocals by Bernice Johnson Reagon, can be heard on the sound track to Ken Burns' The Civil
War film series. See if you can find it at your local library.
I found a sample on the web of another Jacob song I really like. It's from Canadian singer/songwriter Jane Siberry's version
of Mendelssohn's, "A Star shall rise up out of Jacob," on her CD Shushan the Palace. Here's the link to Jane's media player. Scroll down to Shushan album, click player beside the song. (The title for this song comes from Numbers 24: 17.)
While you're on Jane's page, scroll down to next album Hush, and click play beside her version of Jacob's Ladder. This is a shorter (sadly) sample but
will be enough to remind you of the tune!
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Have you ever felt you needed to "get away from it all" to figure out how to deal with a tough, stressful situation with
someone you actually quite like.
2. Can you describe that situation.
3. Can you describe how you managed to "get away" and collect your thoughts.
4. Did you come up with a solution right away . Or did it take time?
5. Did or how did God seem to fit into the big picture.
6. Does your situation seem to have any parallel in situations in the world today where people are striving for or need to
achieve peace, or at least a détente.
7. Can you name other songs, movies or artworks that have a ladder or stairs in them.
8. How about songs, movies or artworks that have trees in them.
9. Or that have mountains in them. Do mountains, trees or ladders seem to have special significance in these works of art.
10. Describe how language or communication [like phone calls, letters, cards, email, visits] can be a ladder or bridge between
11. Describe where the bridge or ladder starts. Describe where it ends. Which do you think is more important?
12. What does freedom of movement mean to you.
13. Have you ever felt something got in the way of your freedom of movement.
14. What was the obstacle?
15. How major or upsetting was it?
16. How did you remove that obstacle?
Please find below suggested workshops for this unit. For each one, when you are in real time with the children:
1. Quickly review or recap the story with them before starting activity. Each week, see how much more detail each group of
kids can supply on the story they've been studying.
2. Link or explain your activity to the current story.
Arts 1 -- sticky note picture
Why. This artwork will reinforce the image of the ladder with angels going up and down.
Materials: oversize papers, fine tip pens or markers, lots of sticky note pads.
To get ideas, look over the artwork suggestions above.
On big sheets of paper, sketch Jacob dreaming, with staircase in dream bubble over his head.
Have them make it a wide staircase so that can fit 2 rows of angels on it.
Have the kids draw a set of angels going 1 direction or up, and a set going the other direction for down.
You can try a few different colours of sticky note pads for this
Arts 2 -- foil models. Give students large sheets of tin foil. Suggest they form sculpture of part of the story in foil, ie
sleeping man, ladder, angels, etc.
Arts 3 -- rock sculptures. This could work for older kids. Collect rocks or gravel. Try forming sculptures or 2d rock pictures
of the scene, either with glue of without.
KITCHEN -- raisin pillows; rock cookies.
Why. To help remember key images from this story.
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. raisins
1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
10 sheets filo pastry, frozen type
Peel, core and slice apples. Add lemon juice, nuts and raisins. Cool in refrigerator. Take 8 to 10 filo sheets. Place on damp
cloth. Dab each one with butter. Be careful for they are thin and delicate. Put the cooled filling on the filo sheets. Spread
evenly. Roll up with the towel carefully. (Do not roll the towel in the filo sheets. The towel is merely used to assist in
Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Put slits on top with a knife about every inch. P Put in oven for 30
minutes. Every 10 minutes dot with butter. Top with powdered sugar.
Butter – ˝ cup (at room temperature)
Sugar – ˝ cup
Flour – 1-1/2 cups
Egg - 1
Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
Vanilla – 1 teaspoon
Raisins – 10-15 (optional), lightly fried in ghee
Cinnamon - 1/2-inch piece stick (optional), powdered
Salt – ˝ teaspoon
Method: Cream butter, sugar, and egg in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Mix in the flour, salt, vanilla essence, baking
powder, raisins, and cinnamon powder. Refrigerate the mix for few minutes if needed to make it firm. Preheat oven to 320
degrees. Shape into lime-sized balls, sprinkle some sugar on the top, press down slightly, and place on a lightly greased
pizza tray or cookie sheet allowing enough room for spreading. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 320 degrees or till the edges become
(Click here for a nice photo of the cookies from this recipe.)
Divide group into voices for 4 parts.
Brainstorm sound effects, phrase and/or actions to go with 4 elements of story.
Practice all doing each part.
Then each group does its part, coming in like a round.
Suggestions for 4 parts:
1. Loud yawn, stretch out arms as if tired
2. Find something lumpy. Set down, pat top, saying, 'Nice soft pillow, nice soft pillow.'
3. Make stair climbing motion, saying, Angels climbing up, angels climbing down.
4. Action of suddenly waking up, saying, God is in this place.
MUSIC -- teach "We are climbing Jacob's ladder."
Here is one set of lyrics for this song:
l. We are climbing Jacob's ladder (3x)
Soldiers of the cross (brothers, sisters all)
2. Every round goes higher,higher
3. Sinners do you love your Jesus?
4. If you love him, why not serve him?
5. Rise, shine, give God the glory.
6. We are climbing higher, higher
COMPUTER -- Cal & Marty's scripture game from Sunday Software.
Since this story is more subjective, with less drama than some others, it might be fun to commit some verses to memory using
the above game.
Review, Activities from Jacob 1
Arts -- Jacob's ladder pioneer toy
Kitchen -- ladder shaped pretzels
Game -- snakes and ladders game
Computer -- Jacob, from Awesome Bible Stories, Sunday Software.com
Movie -- Veggie Tales, God wants me to forgive them?