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HYMN FOR EPIPHANY 2 We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder

Text: African American Spiritual Anonymous Tune: Anonymous

Jacob's Ladder by William Blake

 We are (we are)Climbing (climbing)

Jacob's ladder

We are (we are)Climbing (climbing)

Jacob's ladder

Soldier (soldier)of the cross

Ev'ry round goes higher higher (x2)

soldier of the cross

Sinner do you love my Jesus (x2)

soldier of the cross

If you love Him why not serve Him (x2)

soldier of the cross

Do you think I'd make a soldier (x2)

soldier of the cross

Faithful prayer will make a soldier (x2)

soldier of the cross



Jesus refers to himself in this lesson as like Jacob’s Ladder, the link between heaven and earth. Nathanael and Philip must have been stunned to hear this strange announcement from this man from Nazareth. What can come from that city? Not much, the story goes, but now this man standing before them has already shown his prophetic powers. He has told Nathanael he has seen him under the fig tree. He now promises them they will see more amazing things. Already Nathanael is convinced and announces Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel. When Jesus agrees, he adds even more: The heavens will open, and the angels of God will ascend and descend on the Son of Man. This must have send chills down his back. He knows what Jesus is saying.

Jacob's Dream by Jose de Ribera 1638

The heavens open on Jacob, Ezekiel sees it happen, as does Daniel. Furthermore, Jesus calls himself the “Son of Man,” a phrase of great moment to those who know the Old Testament, especially Daniel.


The slaves loved the story of Jacob’s ladder. For them it could be a hidden way of speaking of their liberation, crossing out of the terror of slavery into the heaven of freedom. They put it together with the imagery from Ephesians of being armed to fight evil.


All Christians need to see both that the heavens are opened and that we must fight evil here below. The two moves, horizontal and vertical are absolutely necessary. Because we have a clear sense of the victor, we can fight evil knowing that what happens here on earth is not the last word. The heavens are open to us. God in Jesus has come down to help us in our fight, at the same time rescue us from evil. The ladder is a two way ladder. My sonnet in Jesus: the Harmony sums up my argument here. Rejoice, the heavens are opened to us! And Jesus is among us. That changes everything!



Doubting Nathanael scoffed at his brother’s words,

“I’ve seen Messiah! Jesus of Nazareth!”

He knew the local gossip; he had heard

Nothing good came from it, like death

To live there, the end of the world, a two-bit town.

Filled with conventions, he is not prepared

When Jesus calls him. He hears a deeper sound:

Prophecy riding on provincial air.

He feels the truth proving away all fraud.

Pedestrian as dross, his soul awakes,

Cleansing his sight, “Rabbi! Son of God!”

His eyes open. He sees dimensions break:

Raptures of angels descending and ascending.

Jesus, Jacob’s ladder, down from heaven.

John 1:43–51; Genesis 28:10–22; Psalm 2:7  Jesus the Harmony Fortress Press 2021


As noted above this spiritual comes from time of slavery. It can be traced back to 1825, but as with most of those songs, written and tuned by anonymous, we know very little. We do know that the spiritual is among the first to become popular among whites in America and was sung both as protest songs by the slaves and then by the protest songs in the 60s. It was also sung at campfires and revivals all around the world.  Below are a variety of settings, from how it probably sounded before the Civil War to bluegrass and choral versions. It is a good song to remember on the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend.


History Boy 

Kodaly Kodály Institute

Cadet Singers

Bluegrass version/The Lewis Family


Jesus the Harmony has a poem for every day of the year and Bible references for each poem that put Jesus in what has been called "the red thread of salvation." Many have been using it for daily devotions; others in group Bible studies.








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