Covenant: Jacob’s Ladder or Jacob Named Israel


Last week, we left off with the story of God’s promise to Abraham that he would make from him and Sarah a people as numerous as the stars in the sky. God did just that. Abraham and Sarah have a son named Issac. That son, has twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob is a funny little character. We have a lot of stories about him and he is generally pretty tricky. With the help of his mother Rebecca, Jacob tricks his older brother out of his inheritance, and then runs away from all of his problems.

This week there are two possible stories on which you may wish to focus.  They are both interesting with a lot of fun directions and potential conversations, so I leave the selection up to you. Below you will find a couple of reflections about each of the stories and some suggestions for activities, as usual.

The story commonly known as “Jacob’s ladder” in which Jacob has a dream, hear’s God’s promises, and makes an altar to the Lord : Genesis 28: 10-22 In this story, Jacob finds himself sleeping under the stars after fleeing from his brother, Esau. Remember, those stars are pretty important to this family. They were God’s reminder that the family would become a great people as numerous as the stars in the sky. Anyway, Jacob finds himself, out in the middle of nowhere, sleeping under these stars. As he sleeps, he dreams that there is a ladder on the earth, which reaches to the sky. Angels of God ascend and descend the ladder. The Lord “stood beside [Jacob] and said ‘ I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth [….] Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you Go.” Notice that Jacob receives a similar promise to the one given to Abraham–I will make from you a numerous people. Sand is surely numerous, especially in the desert. When Jacob awakes from his dream, her renames the place Bethel and builds an altar with his rock pillow.

In our second story( Genesis 32:22-32), Jacob is older and wiser. He is on his way back home to reconcile with his brother when in the middle of the night (when he is out on his own), Jacob wrestles all night with a man. During the night Jacob is injured on the hip. In the morning, he refuses to let the man go until he offers Jacob a blessing. Then, the man renames him: “you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Jacob names the place Peniel, saying, “for I have seen God face to face, and have lived.”

Both of these stories are about covenant promises, both are about naming, and both are about how God continues to select particular people to become God’s people.

Hear the Word

Share one of the above stories with the children in your class by reading to story together (older children) or telling the story in your own words. Both of these stories are common in our children’s Bibles and you may wish to share it from that. You

Respond to the Word

Jacob’s Ladder Responses

(1). Altar rocks: Isn’t it interesting that so many of God’s encounters with people (whether in dreams or in some personified form) end in altar building? In our story, Jacob builds an altar, names the place at which he is staying, and makes a vow to God. Collect round rocks from outside, or find smooth stones in the supply closet. Then, use acrylic paints to decorate the rocks. Ask your students to decorate their rocks with a word or image from the story. The rocks may be left laying out on the table (on a paper towel) to dry. I will put them in a basket to be kept in your classroom to revisit throughout the year. Remember to write their names in sharpie on the bottom of the rocks before they get started.

 (2). Ladders: Take assorted materials from the supply closet and give your students an opportunity to make an image of Jacob’s dream. Popsicle sticks make wonderful ladders. Yellow and white paint would make a wonderful night sky and glorious light from heaven if used on dark blue paper.

(3.) The Meaning of Dreams Journal or Conversation: Reflect on the significance of Jacob’s dream. Why is there a ladder? Why are angels of God ascending and descending? Is this how they get to and from earth or is something else going on? The Biblical text says that God is standing with Jacob (presumably watching the angels ascend and descend). It’s really a strange picture. Why doesn’t Jacob’s dream just involve God telling him being as numerous as the dust of the earth (why add the whole angel/ladder/heaven thing)? What is really going on this dream?

(4). Play Jacob’s Ladder Game: For this game you will want to go outside and you will need chalk. You can find the directions here.

(5.) Sand Games: Go outside to the sandbox in the playground as you listen to the story about God’s promise to make the people like the dust of the earth (sometimes we heard it said “more numerous than the sands.” Allow the children to play in the sand. Make guesses about how many grains of sand are on our playground, than imagine that this sand is all you can see for miles and miles and miles and miles…….See if your students can imagine numbers big enough. Each child can use sidewalk chalk to record their guesses about grains of sand.

Jacob Renamed Israel Responses

(1). Covenant Nameplates: Like Sarai/Sarah and Abram/Abraham before him, Jacob becomes the recipient of a new name at the moment he receives God’s promise. Discuss together the significance of names. Give your students an opportunity to talk about why they think God may have given each of these individuals a new name, how it changed their their identity, and what it meant for becoming God’s new people. Each of us is also named by the church as belonging to God at our baptism.

Give each child a half sheet of card stock and markers. Have them write their names on the cardstock and decorate with images that remind them of God’s covenant with the people from some of our stories (so far, we have signs and symbols from our Noah, Abraham, and Jacob stories. Since our children know a lot of other stories, they may also want to choose other symbols of covenant, including water). Leave these nameplates in your classroom and as we work on putting together our new Sunday School rooms in the coming weeks, we can put the name plates up on the bulletin board (perhaps under a banner that says, “I am part of the people of God”).

Older children may  like to have a conversation about names more generally. How are our names significant and what do they signify to others? Is there ever a time when we take on a new name (perhaps a nickname, a title, or a new name at baptism)?

(2). Arm wrestling: Divide your students in to pairs and have them arm wrestle with one another. The winner from each pair is paired again, until you reach the top two players. The winner from the last match is called Jacob. Discuss Jacob’s wrestling with God/angel/other human (the text isn’t clear). Who did Jacob wrestle with? What does it mean that “he prevailed”? Why does he ask for a blessing? And, why does the wrestling stranger give him a new name?

Close with a feast and prayer


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