Timeless stories capture our attention and we return to them again and again. My daughter recently asked me and my husband what we thought about this phenomenon. “Why do people like stories so much?” We all took a stab at the answer. I think what we decided in the end is that human beings like the feeling of believing that they are part of a great story – greater even than life as we know it.
The story of Jacob’s Ladder has enamored me for years. Before I professed, or ever thought I would profess any faith in God, I knew the song “Stairway to Heaven.” (I grew up in the 1970’s – didn’t we all know that song?) The idea of heaven touching earth, or mortals reaching through this reality into a greater, eternal reality is the stuff of myth, legend, and all manner of literature, right? And guess what? It’s right there in the Bible, too.
The story of the ladder, which Jacob saw in a dream, reaching into heaven is more than the text might first reveal. When Jesus showed up on the scene thousands of years later, He says something amazing about the ladder – only He does not say, “Jacob’s ladder.” He merely describes the same image, with Himself as the ladder. In the book of John, Jesus was talking to Nathanael, and told him that he would see great things, including, “angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Son of Man was a way Jesus referred to Himself.)
Jacob had a really interesting life. He is known for “tricking” his older twin brother, Esau, out of his birthright. He deceived his blind father so that his father would give him the blessing of the firstborn. But, a few years ago, I attended a conference in which the story of Jacob was examined carefully. Until that time, I had not realized the lengthy period of disappointment and discouragement that Jacob lived through, though it’s right there in plain sight. It was not until the end of his long life – the last few years – that Jacob was able to see God’s long-term
plan for his life, and how He had not only spared his son, Joseph, from death, but had placed him in such a way that he brought about “a great deliverance” for Jacob’s whole family, and they were all reunited.
Why did God give the young Jacob a vision of Jesus as the Stairway to Heaven? Did it help Jacob persevere through the many years of suffering that came after? Or was it just a way of showing us, all this time in the future, that He had it planned all along? I am fascinated by the story, and I really don’t have the answers to my own questions. But, in any case, I’ve painted the subject of Jacob’s Ladder at least 8 times. For me, it’s a way of reflecting on the idea that we are still longing for that connection with Heaven, and God is still reaching out toward us. One day, He will bust on through undeniably, and no one will wonder why.