Our lesson today is the account of Jacob's vision, as he journeyed to Haran. Jacob's vision of the staircase, or ladder, set between heaven and earth is one of the well-known and beautiful stories of the Old Testament.
Jacob's vision of the angels ascending and descending not only is a nice story, but contains a wonderful and important message. Here we have a vision that teaches that there is a means by which we can communicate with and be conjoined to the Lord and His kingdom.
The letter of the Word provides a graphic picture that children and adults alike can envision. We readily understand the use of steps or a ladder as a means of connection between something higher and something lower, in this case the means of connection between haven and earth. In our age of modern technology, the vision would probably have included an elevator. The illustration of a ladder is use of real correspondential language. We know that heaven is not up in the sky somewhere, or in outer space, even though we often say heaven is up there. The spiritual world or heaven, as the Lord teaches, is within our being. We speak of having higher or lower thoughts. It is our thoughts of the Lord, the church and heavenly living, that are referred to as our higher thoughts, while the thoughts of self and worldly living are compared to our lower.
This life is important but so is heavenly eternal life. We need then a means of connecting the two which gives relevance to both. The ladder or stairway is none other than the divine truths of the Word, the Hoy Scriptures, in their internal sense, but accommodated to our understanding.
Jacob's vision occurred at a particular time of transition in his life. He was traveling from Canaan to Haran, to the home of his uncle Laban. There he was to find a wife. Like his father, Isaac, Jacob was to be the next chosen leader of his people. Because of this, he was not to enter into marriage with the women of the people who inhabited the land of Canaan.
Swedenborg says of this chapter that in the supreme sense it treats of the Lord Jesus Christ and His life in the world. Now isn't that an interesting thought. Jesus was not to be born into the world for nearly eighteen hundred years, and we have Scriptures that help us to understand the development of His life. Actually it deals with the process of His glorification of how He made His human the divine itself. Remember how He revealed to the disciples on the road to Emmaus the Scriptures and how they taught of His life? The Gospels were not yet written and so He was referring to none other than the Word of Moses and the prophets. What actually is revealed here is how the Lord began to make His natural Divine, as to both truth and good on the natural level. In what we call the representative sense, which is the sense that involves our regeneration, it treats of how the Lord makes new our natural as to truth and good.
This story needs some explanation because the literal story might lead us to think that we obtain spiritual life in less than honorable ways. Jacob became the chosen leader by what appears to be less than an honorable way. He was the second-born after his twin Esau and according to Jewish law the birthright and blessing that Jacob received legally belonged to Esau. Jacob shrewdly conned Esau into selling his birthright for some food, and then pretending to to be Esau, obtained Isaac's blessing, which once given could not be retracted. Without the internal sense [inner meaning] this portion of Scripture would be difficult to accept as Holy. I don't see how we could possibly see how it involved the Lord's life, let alone our own. But internally it does make sense.
The twins, Esau and Jacob, represent our own will and understanding or good and truth on the lowest level, the natural. Esau here is the natural good and Jacob is the natural truth before regeneration begins. You see, before regeneration our lives are predominantly motivated by the natural desires. Without some guidance our natural desires can be easily led astray. These natural desires are often more dominating than our understanding or knowledge of what is best.
The stealing of the blessing is the realization that even though we are meant to live good by our loves, we must first learn what real good is. Our will on the natural level is often self-centered, "me first." Before it can really take its proper lead, then, there has to be a temporary inversion of order For a time, truth must be of primary importance. It is though our knowledge and living by the truths of the Word that a new will can be developed. From our understanding of truth we can compel ourselves to go against our selfish desires. Here also again is where temptation and difficulties arise.
Like Jacob, with truth in the lead, we set out on a journey to learn how to live spiritual life, but like Jacob, we tire in our quest, we must seek rest. We come to a certain place, a stopping point in our pursuit, and tarry for the night. Night or darkness corresponds to a period of uncertainty. Isn't it so true that in our pursuit to learn how we can best live spiritual life we have times when we are not sure that we are doing the right thing - often in these periods of uncertainty we can become confused as to our direction. Where am I going? What am I doing, anyway? How do I know?
At this time, Jacob's vision of the stairs is also of particular significance as a means of connection by which we can ascend from the lower to the higher. Notice it is not an immediate jump from bottom to top. It is a series of steps leading gradually higher and higher. This same relationship applies to our understanding of the Word, and to our regeneration. There is no sudden conversion from bad to good, and no instantaneous salvation. The Lord has so provided that His Word is accommodated to each person's understanding and willingness to receive. The Word is in both heaven and the world. The World, the Holy Scriptures, is the ladder, the means by which we in this world communicate and associate with those in the spiritual world, and the means by which those in the spiritual world communicate and associate with us in the natural world.
The angels, or messengers, seen
by Jacob ascending and descending are the thoughts of our minds. When we read
and study the Word it is our thoughts that ascend the ladder to higher spiritual
realities, and then return to us bringing the affection to live according to the
truths that we have learned. It is through this experience that we discover once
more the true joy of heaven, a life of unselfish living and giving. With Jacob,
we say, "Surely the Lord is in this place. This is none other than the
house of God, and here is the gate of heaven."
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 is 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 I 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."
So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. 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.
Reading from Swedenborg:
"And he dreamed," signifies foresight: "and behold a ladder set on the earth," signifies the communication of the lowest truth and its derivative good; "and its head reaching to heaven," signifies with the Divine: "and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it," signifies infinite and eternal communication, and the consequent conjunction; and that from what is lowest there is as it were an ascent, and afterwards when the order is inverted, a descent; "and behold Jehovah standing upon it." signifies the Lord in the highest; "and He said, I am Jehovah the God of Abraham thy father," signifies the Lord, that from Him that good comes; "and the God of Isaac," signifies the Lord as to the Divine Human; "The land where on thou liest, to thee will I give it," signifies the good in which He was, that it was from what was His own; "and to thy seed," signifies that so also was the truth; "and they seed shall be as the dust of the earth," signifies that Divine truth natural would be as natural good; "and thou shalt break forth to the seas, and to the east," signifies the infinite extension of good; "and to the north, and to the south," signifies the infinite extension of truth; thus all states of good and truth; "and in thee shall all the families of the ground be blessed." signifies that all truths of the good of doctrine will be conjoined with good; "and in thy seed," signifies and with truth; "and behold I am with thee," signifies the Divine; "and will keep thee whithersoever thou guest," signifies the Divine Providence; "and will bring thee back to this ground," signifies conjunction with Divine doctrine; "for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee," signifies that nothing would be wanting to prevent its having effect.
Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) #3697