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1125 Savile Lane
McLean, VA 22101

Praying the Fine Print: May It Be So

Genesis 28: 20-22

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.”


God be with me and keep me. God give me bread, water, and clothing. God bring me home in peace.

That’s quite a prayer. Jacob makes this vow after his ladder vision—after seeing angels ascending and descending and hearing God speak in a dream.

When we read Jacob’s words above by themselves, he seems to be making a list of demands to God. But Jacob is really repeating what God has already said. Earlier in his dream, Jacob hears God speak: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28: 15).

Jacob is so reassured by God’s voice and the heavenly vision that he makes the vow above. But even in his moment of great assurance, Jacob pushes God just a little further.

God’s promise in Jacob’s dream focused on the land, the offspring, and the future generations. But here, in Jacob’s prayer, Jacob gets specific. He asks for the most basic and intimate of things: water, bread, clothing, and peace.

Jacob’s demands seem secondary in importance. God’s vision is firstly for the wellbeing of an entire nation. But Jacob, here, asks for specific things for himself. He reminds God that a nation’s wellbeing consists not only of a great lineage, but also of the basic material needs of its people.

Jacob becomes the patron saint of reading the fine print in our pericope today. He isn’t leaving anything to chance with God. But he is also an inspiring example of a prayer life unafraid of the specifics. I hope that I, too, can embody that ethic in my prayers for others and myself: sharing my vulnerability; leaving the comfort of vague prayers behind; jumping fully into the intimacy of a specific, detail-oriented relationship with the Divine.


Here’s a prayer for today: God, be with me and keep me. God, give me bread, water, and clothing. God, bring me home in peace. Amen.

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