I’m really starting to lose track of things right now. I’ve been so busy with work and with this and with life… I’m sort of behind a day, technically, as this post should have gone up about 5 or 6 hours ago. But I’m awake at 4:00 am doing yesterday’s paperwork, so I might as well play catch-up here too.
Even though it be difficult, every day that I commit to this I get better. Every day I commit to writing, I improve. Let my struggle be a lesson and inspiration. That might sound cocky, but I’m just going to leave it there anyway. It is so important that we strive for more in life, and right now as I sit here tired, sunburnt, and hungry, I am striving for excellence. I am seeking to improve, and I will not stop.
Having blessed his son Jacob and listened to his wife, Isaac sends Jacob away to take a wife from the house of Bethuel in Padan Aram. Once gain, they’re keeping it all in the family, as Jacob will be seeking a wife from “the daughters of Laban [his] mother’s brother” (Genesis 28:2). In other words, his first cousin.
Isaac sends his son away with a new blessing, one that confers upon him all the blessings given to Abraham, and the destiny and promise contained therein.
Esau hears about this whole business and realizes that the wives that he has chosen are not to his parents’ liking. He takes a new wife, one of the daughters of Abraham’s firstborn son Ishmael. It seems that Esau is trying to make up for some lost favor, seeking to please his parents. This is noble, but I have a feeling his time would have been better spent connecting with God.
Jacob travels north toward Haran, and one night, while he is resting…
“he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
— Genesis 28:12
God is atop the ladder and speaks to Jacob, blessing him with the blessing of Abraham, reiterating the promise of the Seed by which “all the families of the earth shall be saved” (Genesis 28:14). Long story short, Jacob accepts the Lord’s blessing and vows that if the Lord is providing for him, then the Lord he shall serve.
But I’m not concerned about the details, here. I want to talk about the ladder.
Jacob’s Ladder has been referenced in many forms and depicted in numerous works of art. It was Jacob’s introduction to the divine, and by this vision he understood and welcomed God into his life.
There are numerous interpretations of the ladder, most of which revolve around the fact that the ladder is described as reaching from Earth to heaven, and thus depict it as being a metaphor for the path of the righteous man (Tarantino 25:17). But seriously.
One interpretation from the Torah states that the angels represent the exiles of the Jewish people, with each “step” of the ladder essentially marking a year.¹
Philo Judaeus, a Biblical philosopher born c. 50 A.D., gives a handful of his own possible interpretations:
- The angels represent souls descending to and ascending from bodies (some consider this to be Philo’s clearest reference to the doctrine of reincarnation).
- In the second interpretation the ladder is the human soul and the angels are God’s logoi, pulling the soul up in distress and descending in compassion.
- In the third view the dream depicts the ups and downs of the life of the “practiser” (of virtue vs. sin).
- Finally the angels represent the continually changing affairs of men.¹
Wikipedia makes note that these “allegorical interpretations” are “not mutually exclusive.”
Also from the Wikipedia article on the topic:
“Jesus can be seen as being the ladder, in that Christ bridges the gap between Heaven and Earth. Jesus presents himself as the reality to which the ladder points; as Jacob saw in a dream the reunion of Heaven and Earth, Jesus brought this reunion, metaphorically the ladder, into reality. Adam Clarke, an early 19th-century Methodist theologian and Bible scholar, elaborates:
‘That by the angels of God ascending and descending, is to be understood, that a perpetual intercourse should now be opened between heaven and earth, through the medium of Christ, who was God manifested in the flesh. Our blessed Lord is represented in his mediatorial capacity as the ambassador of God to men; and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, is a metaphor taken from the custom of dispatching couriers or messengers from the prince to his ambassador in a foreign court, and from the ambassador back to the prince.'”¹
This too, seems to be a fair assumption. Angels moving up and down a ladder; the ascending and descending, especially the descending, is what gets me about this story. I can see the interpretation of the angels representing or being a reference to messengers, as that always made sense to me as a reason why they would be going to Earth from heaven and vice versa.
Now is as good a time as any to bring up the fact that sometimes crepuscular rays (pictured below) are apparently sometimes referred to as Jacob’s Ladder. It is interesting that when viewed from above, they are actually parallel rays, but staring at them, they appear to be diverging from the sun. Ah, the relativity of truth…
I think this is interesting because to me, even as a young child, I can remember that these rays of light are how I conceived of God. I remember being out on our back patio and watching the beams of sunshine that caught every particle in the air. “Rays of God,” I called them.
I am also reminded of one of the early lines from The Four Agreements, where Don Miguel Ruiz writes that
“light is the messenger of life, because it is alive and contains all information.”
These beams of sunlight that shine down upon us carry life. You can consider this a metaphor if you like, but in a literal sense it is true: the energy that comes from the sun is the energy for plants is the energy for animals and so on.
But let us discuss angels: we have angels ascending and descending, and let’s play with the idea of Jacob’s Ladder as light. Perhaps the angels are metaphors for photons, then? By ascending and descending, these angel-particles are gaining or losing energy, or perhaps transferring it. Photons travel within a beam of light and give energy to the world, carrying it from an infinite timeless domain of God.
I realize this is a stretch, but I like to think that it is a beautiful-sounding idea nonetheless. Or the angels could be electrons, which ascend and descend from different energy levels and emit light. See, we’re stumbling upon a whole new domain here of angelic physics. Angelectromagnetism? It’s like how moving a magnet near a copper coil generates current, moving angels up and down a ladder generates… who knows what.
But let’s get serious and finish this with a beautiful quote I found while researching Jacob’s Ladder. Apparently in Islam, Jacob’s Ladder is considered a symbol of God, emphasizing the “straight path” of Islam.¹ Martin Lings, a 20th-Century British scholar who converted to Islam gave a mystical interpretation of the ladder:
“The ladder of the created Universe is the ladder which appeared in a dream to Jacob, who saw it stretching from Heaven to earth, with Angels going up and down upon it; and it is also the ‘straight path’, for indeed the way of religion is none other than the way of creation itself retraced from its end back to its Beginning.”
What an intriguing statement. I like it because the Beginning is God, and we are returning there, if “there” can even be conceived. It is not a place but a state of mind, in my opinion. Obviously we cannot turn back the clock and return to the moment of creation, but we can seek God and know God by doing and by loving.
Science tells us about the Big Bang, whatever that may have looked like, but at the heart of that explanation is still the idea of one central point, one infinite Unity that had contained within it all the matter and all the information that would spread and unfold and change to become… now. Returning to that connectedness, that unity, that Beginning… that is knowing and accepting and loving. It is how we find all the virtues that we commonly attribute to God.
We are split and distant and separated, we have our own bodies and our own minds and our own experiences. I am sitting at a desk in a room and I am separate physically from these objects but some part of me, especially right now in this moment can recognize the shifting, shaping light of God that underlies all form and substance.
We are separate and we are not separate. As Carl Sagan said,
“We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
Peace be upon you.