Reflection for Trinity 6


Jacob’s ladder – possibly the most familiar, enduring and yet glaringly obvious misinterpretation of scripture there has ever been. It’s just not right. I’m sure you’ve felt it in your waters when you’ve read the story in the past.

What’s wrong, then, with Jacob’s dream? Can you put your finger on it?

What does he see? A ladder.

Who are ascending and descending this ladder? Angels.

What is the one piece of human equipment that an angel could never, ever, conceivably need?

Yes, you’ve got it… a ladder.

Not all angels have wings (only cherubs and seraphs actually, despite all the paintings of Gabriel) but they certainly don’t depend on any human form of transportation. It’s pretty much part of the definition of angels that they arrive and depart at will, anywhere in the universe. So what on earth are they doing climbing a ladder?

And why has no one (apart from me, seemingly) noticed this in the 4,000 odd years since Jacob first told someone his dream?

To be fair, the actual meaning of the dream could only have been understood since 1953, but the fact that there was something wrong should have been obvious way before that.

What Francis Crick and James Watson discovered in 1953 was the double helix structure of DNA – and that, of course, is what Jacob actually saw.

There was no word for a double helix in Jacob’s day, not even for a spiral staircase (which hadn’t been invented), so I imagine what he actually told his children was, “In my dream I saw this squiggly thing, a bit like a ladder, going up and up, out of sight into the sky.” The rest is, as they say, history.

But God’s actual words to Jacob in the dream, might have given a clue that the visual aid that went with it was something to do with God at work in the generations before Jacob, and those yet to come. “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac …. I will give you descendants as plentiful as the dust … all the nations will be blessed by your descendants … I will never forsake you until I have achieved what I have promised.” It is kind of all about God at work in Jacob’s DNA, isn’t it?

So the angels (several millions of them can dance on a pinhead, remember) are not climbing ladders, they are actually dancing through Jacob’s genetic codes, making all those minute adjustments that we call “Random Selection” and bringing about Joseph, and the tribes of Israel, and David and Solomon, and Mary any Joseph … at which point God took over in person.

We hold the vast bulk of our DNA in common with all living creatures, and because of the nature of these complex protein molecules, the potential for human life to exist was pretty much already there, in the first amoeba and bacteria, when life began. So in a sense, Jacob’s busy angels have been working since the beginning of creation to ensure that you and I exist. We live in a generation where our understanding of the miracle of creation becomes more jaw-droppingly wonderful every single year. What we do with the life that we have been given as a result of this miracle … is up to us.

There, the convincing argument for Jacob’s Not-a-Ladder.

I rest my case.