Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jacob's Ladder

The term Jacob’s Ladder has been applied to several contexts, including film, literature, music, botany and even an electrical device; however, it is originally from the bible in the book of Genesis Chapter 28 verse 10-22, which is where Jacob is fleeing from his brother, Esau’s rage after having stolen his father’s blessing and birth-right. This is translated in the New International Version of the bible as follows:

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway [a] resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it [b] stood the LORD, and he said: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." 17 He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven."

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, [c] though the city used to be called Luz.

20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD [d] will be my God 22 and [e] this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth."

[a] Genesis 28:12 Or ladder
[b] Genesis 28:13 Or There beside him
[c] Genesis 28:19 Bethel means house of God.
[d] Genesis 28:21 Or Since God the father's house, the LORD
[e] Genesis 28:22 Or house, and the LORD will be my God, 22 then

In general terms, Jacob’s Ladder is a connection between Heaven and Earth; however, there have been a number of interpretations of the meaning of Jacob’s Ladder based on both the Christian and Jewish teachings. Some of the interpretations are as follows:

  • The angels on the ladder were said to climb to certain rungs and fall down representing the exiles that the Jewish people would be subjected to before the coming of the Messiah.
  • The angels on the ladder were Jacob’s constant companions, with the ascending angels being those who were assigned to the Holy Land and were returning to Heaven as Jacob had reached the border of Canaan, which was to later become Israel, and the descending angels being those who were assigned to other lands and were returning to earth to continue on with Jacob.
  • The place where Jacob had been given the dream of the ladder (or stairway) was where the Temple in Jerusalem would later be built, which was seen as a connection to Heaven through the prayers and sacrifices that were offered there.
  • The dream has also been interpreted as a reference to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, another connection between Heaven and earth. Jewish scholars note that the word ‘sulam’, which is the Hebrew word for ladder, and the word ‘Sinai’ have the same numerical letter value, known as gematria.
  • Subscribers to the idea of reincarnation believe that the angels represent souls descending to bodies when the physical body is born unto the earth and ascending to Heaven when the person dies.
  • The dream reflects the highs and lows of life with the angels descending to earth to help those in need in times of despair and suffering and pulling those souls upwards when needed.
  • The stairway in Jacob’s dream refers to Jesus. This is further reinforced in John 1:51, which uses the same imagery of the angels but refers to Jesus, a descendant of Jacob, as the Son of Man in place of the ladder. This supports the bible’s message that through the sacrifice Jesus made at his crucifixion, his death opened the path to Heaven. This verse reads as follows:
He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
  • The stairway can also been seen as the church itself and was referred to in this way as early as the 2nd Century by Saint Irenaeus.
  • The stairway is the path that the soul takes after death in order to get to Heaven.
  • The rungs on the ladder represent virtues that a person should aspire to in order for their soul to be able to ascend into the Kingdom of Heaven when they die.
  • The dream reinforces the idea that only God can provide the path to Heaven. This idea is often juxtaposed with the story in Genesis 11: 1-9 where the people of Babel attempted to build a tower to Heaven by their own means and not through a true connection with God. In this story, God punishes the people of Babel by confusing their language and scattering all over the earth.
  • The angels were carrying messages and prayers to and from Heaven and the earth.
Jacob’s Ladder is also used as a symbolic connection between the physical and spiritual existence, particularly in many Hermetic concepts. In some Hermetic texts, the ladder was depicted as a chain, with each link in the chain representing different spheres of consciousness and also the representation of how man on the physical plan is connected with God at the highest level. In other Hermetic texts, the ladder was used as another representation of the tree of life, which is the basis of the Kabalah. Sometimes the ladder was shown as a circle, thereby representing the continuous cycle of life and death. In alchemy, the ladder symbolised the transformation that took place between base substances and those of the greatest worth, both physically and spiritually. It has also been used as a meditation visualisation for ascension towards transformation and the Divine light.


broomstick wanderer said...

very interesting! i've only seen the movie and it scared me to bits...granted, i was young then and it was at night. but it was crazzzy.