Jacob’s ladder – 11 October 2021

This is a painting about a dream, Jacob’s dream. Along the bottom there lies the figure of a man (red), on his back with his face upwards. Above him the heavens are divided. Dark dashes of colour depict the night sky, while in the centre a ladder of light emerges, and there are intimations of figures ascending and descending.

Jacob’s dream captures his desire to find the connection between earth and heaven, the thin place, where his needs, present and eternal, will be met.

The picture is by Yoram Raanan, a painted reflection on the passage from Genesis 28:11-17

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 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.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

The artist says this about the painting:

‘The midrash describes how man, adam, was created from adamah, earth. Adam (man), adamah (earth), and adom (red) all come from the same Hebrew root word.

Notice how Jacob’s body is one with the red earth upon which he lies. His face, however, looks heavenward, mirroring the way mankind is created in the image of G‑d, blessed with the gift of imagination (adameh—“I will imagine”), and the capacity for prophetic vision.

The contrast between the earthy reds and spiritual blues reflects both the physical and spiritual blessings Jacob received in his dream. The white ladder with the movement of angels symbolizes Jacob’s ability to ascend, step by step, and attain a deep understanding of the divine.’

The ancient Hebrew text is reworked by Jesus, when he says to Nathaniel,

“Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

The ladder is no longer in a dream, or located in a certain place (real or imagined), but is found in the person of Jesus.

 

A fugitive and exile, Jacob slept,
A man of clay, his head upon a stone
And even in his sleep his spirit wept
He lay down lonely and would wake alone.
But in the night he dreamt the Heavens parted
And glimpsed, in glory, as from Heaven’s core,
A ladder set for all the broken-hearted
And earth herself becoming Heaven’s door.

And when the nameless Angel named him Israel
He kept this gift, whose depth he never knew;
The promise of an end to all our exile,
For now a child of Israel finds it true,
And sees the One who heals the deep heart’s aching
As Jacob’s dream becomes Nathanael’s waking.

Malcolm Guite, Nathaniel’s Epiphany