Game Night…probably everyone we know will attend or host a Game Night at some point in their lives. Now whether you love a good board game or not, most everyone will agree it's not so much the game we enjoy most, but the company that surrounds us. The laughter, the strategies, the competition; you can really get to know a lot about a person if you simply observe them playing a game for a few hours. Many of us have cabinets full of our most cherished games, but have you ever considered the origin of the games you play; how they were developed and who designed them?
Reading through Genesis 28:10-22, which covers the story of Jacob’s ladder, my mind wandered into other areas of my life where stories of ladders stood out and I immediately thought of one of America’s most beloved games, “Chutes and Ladders.” So, thinking about this game I decided to do a little research… here’s what I found:
Chutes and Ladders is actually an ancient Indian dice game. It was developed in order to teach Indian families how the moral man can attain salvation by good deeds and suffer hardship when he chooses bad deeds. To play the game you start from square one. The goal is to simply work yourself up the board to win, hoping to gain quicker access to the top by ladders (good deeds) and to avoid the chutes (bad deeds) which will send you backward.
Over time, the basic concept of the game has not changed, but became quite Americanized in the 1940s when Milton Bradley brought the game to the states. The first thing the company did was change the game’s name from “Snakes and Ladders” to “Chutes and Ladders.” The original Indian version of the game had more chutes to remind the players that life is difficult, but for us Milton Bradley decided fairness and easily attainable achievements were key, so they evened out the number of chutes and ladders. Finally, they removed the traditional portraits of gods, angels, and snakes, and replaced those images with little smiling children and a brightly colored board.
Now although this particular game was developed in India hundreds of years ago, the concept of man striving for his own glory is as ancient as man himself. Under the most pristine circumstances, when God walked with man in paradise, the desire to achieve godlike status slithered into the history of mankind (Gen. 2-3).
The Tower of Babel gives us a clear example of how God obliterates manmade pillars of self-righteousness and pride; for He will confuse the works of man and dismantle the notion that His creation will ever be greater than their Creator (Genesis 11:1-9).
Now, let me take you back to Genesis 28. Many of you know the story well, Jacob the Deceiver is fleeing from his brother’s wrath; fearful and alone he settles in for the night. He has a dream in which he sees angels ascending and descending on a ladder. The ladder is set on land and reaches the heavens, and God is speaking above it. In his dream God reaffirms the promise He made to Jacob’s forefather, Abraham, and promises to be with Jacob and care for him.
Let’s jump ahead now into the New Testament, specifically the book of John. There we step into another story about another Hebrew man, who unlike Jacob, was known for his integrity. In John 1:43-51, Nathanael is confronted by Jesus, who declares that Nathanael is a man without deceit. Confused, Nathanael asks how Jesus could possibly know him. Jesus then tells Nathanael he saw him under a fig tree. Astounded, Nathanael professes that Jesus is King and Messiah. Here is Jesus’ response, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree; do you believe? You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Unlike Jacob’s dream, the vision of a ladder is no longer needed. It is clear when we look at these two stories what Jesus is saying to Nathanael, “I am the ladder; I am what connects heaven to man.” The Son of Man, being fully man and fully God, is the stairway between heaven and humanity. Unlike the Tower of Babel, in which man stretches his hands toward the sky in pride and frustration, Our Lord, in pure love and compassion, condescends toward us.
So, what can we learn from the chutes and ladders of these stories? First, the Tower of Babel is a great depiction of a temptation we will often confront; the pitfall of thinking we know best. When God commanded the people to disperse and fill the earth, they chose to do the exact opposite. Does this resonate with anyone right now? Is God asking you to do something that will impact your comfort, your safety, your finances? In the Book of 1 Samuel, the young boy Samuel was awoken by God and this was his response after some discerning advice from Eli the priest: “Speak for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:1-21). When God calls we must listen and move in the direction He is leading, even if it’s painful and costly.
Let’s look now at how Jacob responded when God spoke; after awakening from His dream he immediately in reverence acknowledges the sacredness of his vision. With the revelation of God still resonating in his heart, Jacob in faith, builds an alter and commits to God his best. Trusting God as a Promise Keeper, the deceiver has become the worshipper.
Now, let’s look to Nathanael, who clearly had doubts about meeting a man from Nazareth. Yet once he encountered Jesus, it changed the course of his life. He has met His Messiah and King, the great connection between God and man and he will never be the same. Trusting God at His word, the doubter has become the believer.
Scripture chronicles numerous stories of average men and women encountering God and the transformation that takes place when Christ resides at the throne of their hearts and minds. As believers we benefit when we heed the voice of God, when we submit to His authority, when we stop working for ourselves and begin living in the fullness of the gospel.
Hebrews 10:19-25, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
God doesn’t call us to become Christians and then hibernate till His return, He commands us to step out, reach out, speak out, to care for those in need. As His ambassadors we are privileged to introduce people to His message of hope (2 Cor. 5:18-10). Through Christ we have peace with God, knowing whatever pitfalls may come our salvation is assured (Romans 5:1-2). Because of this, our placement on the board of life is inconsequential. This means we don’t have to compete or compare with one another, we have the freedom and assurance that all our needs are met in Christ, so we love, so we bend, so we forgive, so we press on, so we learn, so we pray, so we wait. Finally, we should walk through life in a state of thanksgiving and praise, for regardless the ladders we climb or the chutes we slide down, Christ has won the game of life, our enemy is defeated, and our mighty, great King has turned the tragedy of sin to victory on the cross.