Jacob’s Ladder

I would like us to focus today on the image of Jacob’s ladder which can be found in Genesis 28:10-12. There we find Jacob travelling to Laban’s house to find a wife. Laban is Jacob’s uncle on his mother’s side. The back story is interesting in that he was sent there by his father Isaac, who was persuaded by Rebecka, his wife and the mother of Jacob, that it would be better for Jacob to marry one of their own rather than to marry a Canaanite from the surrounding district. However, there was a more pressing reason to get Jacob away from the family home which had to do with the fact that Rebecka and Jacob were complicit in deceiving Isaac so that he would bestow on Jacob the birthright belonging to his older twin brother Esau. Now, Rebecka, aware of Esau’s anger toward his brother, feared for Jacob’s life so she worked on Isaac and persuaded him to send Jacob to Laban to acquire a wife for himself.

And so, we come to the point in the story where Jacob takes rest for the night on his way to Laban and we are told that Jacob dreams a dream, so reading Genesis 28:10-12 we have…

And forth is Jacob faring from Beer-sheba, and going toward Charan. And coming is he upon a place and is lodging there, for the sun has set. And taking is he one of the stones of the place, and is placing it for his pillow, and lying down is he in that place. And dreaming is he, and behold! A ladder-way set up earthward, with its head touching the heavens. And behold! Angels of God are ascending and descending on it.

We also come across a reference to this ladder upon which the angels of God are ascending and descending in the Gospel of John where Jesus has the following exchange with Nathanael…

Jesus perceived Nathanael coming toward Him, and is saying concerning him, “Lo! truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile!” Nathanael is saying to Him, “Whence do you know me? Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip summons you, when you are under the fig tree, I perceived you.” Nathanael answered and is saying to Him, “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God! Thou art the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Seeing that I said to you that ‘I perceived you underneath the fig tree,’ are you believing? Greater things than these should you be seeing!” And He is saying to him, “Verily, verily, I am saying to you, henceforth you shall be seeing heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:47-51)

The general idea to get hold of here is that there is this ladder that connects what is called “heaven” with what is called “earth” and that it allows for the ascending and descending movement of what are called “angels”.

So, what this image presents us with is an image of an unfolding psychological or spiritual process for this is what dreams concern themselves with, and that Jacob’s dream illustrates a connection between different levels of mind. The levels of mind are presented in the relationship of “heaven” to “earth”. Heaven is above and earth is below, so psychologically, heaven represents what is of a higher or finer quality of mind and life while earth refers to what is of a lower or coarser quality of mind and life. These terms refer to two different modes of consciousness. Another way of thinking about this idea of higher and lower is think in terms of what is interior and exterior. Things of an interior nature have to do with the interior aspects of our mental life or spirit. These are things concerned with eternal realities such as the well-being of our soul, while those of an exterior nature have to do with temporal things or those aspects of our mental life that are more focused on the well-being of our body and life in the external world.

When we start out on the journey to wholeness our level of consciousness is basically confined to the lower or “earth” level of being. In this stage of development our mental life revolves around a sense of self that is completely immersed in what the physical senses offer as a picture of reality. In this sense of self we find our identity within a psychological matrix that is centred on the belief that how things appear to the senses is how things actually are. At its core is the belief that the feeling of life we sense within ourselves is something intrinsic to us; in other words we believe that we have life in ourselves. The power of this feeling is so convincing, so pervasive, that it is impossible for us to separate our identity or sense of self from it. This is the basis of the love of self. We love this sense of self as our self, so much so, that anything that calls its legitimacy as “our self” into question is fiercely resisted. It needs to be pointed out here, in case it’s not obvious, that everything that flows into our mind from the Lord and heaven calls the legitimacy of this belief into question. So, to the degree that our identity is woven into this earth born self then to that degree we will be in a state of life that is opposed to, and resistant of what is from the Lord. Consider the following from the work, Divine Providence 158 where Swedenborg testifies saying…

I have been fully convinced that nothing I will and think is from myself but that it only appears as from myself; and it has also been granted to me to will and love this.

then in Divine Providence 176 it states

…everything a man wills, thinks, speaks and does should appear to him to be from himself…[for] without that appearance no man would have anything of his own… he would have no proprium… in a word he would not be a man.

Divine revelation teaches that this feeling that we have life in ourselves is actually an appearance, that contrary to how we experience the feeling of life in willing and thinking from our self, our life is something that flows into us from the One and Only life and source, namely the Lord. I don’t know how this idea that everything you experience as your mental life is not actually from you sits, but I’ll hazard a guess that everything in that self we identify with taken from external life finds it offensive whether we are conscious of that or not. Until we see the truth of this, not just intellectually but emotionally, we will remain in the belief that we have life in our self regardless of what we profess we believe with our lips. You see what we profess to believe and what our responses to life reveal to be the beliefs we actually hold and live from, don’t necessarily align. But anyone can, with a little reflection, see what that difference might be for them. Until this is seen we essentially hold that our self is ‘life itself’ and because this belief is opposed to the truth of how things actually are, that the Lord alone is life, it can only produce what is evil and false.

People often take issue with the idea that the Word states that human beings as to their proprium or sense of self, are nothing but evil and falsity. But what else can a sense of self formed around what is diametrically opposed to the good and truth of the Lord’s inflowing life be, but evil and false. The idea that this sense of self is infernal isn’t a personal judgement we need to get defensive about, it’s just a statement of fact that needs to be accepted. Once accepted the possibility to be reborn or regenerated moves that much closer because we move from a belief that is opposed to the essential nature of the life flowing in, to one that is aligned with it. This first sense of self that we come into as a form of “life”is opposed to what real life is, and it is actually what is meant in the Word by those who are dead in the following,

Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22)

What is meant by “the dead” can be seen in the work Apocalypse Explained 694 where it states that…

…death, when spoken of man, means a lack of ability to understand truth and perceive good… and this defect exists when the internal spiritual man has not been formed, for this is formed by means of truths from good. In this internal man resides the faculty of understanding truth and of perceiving good, for this man is in heaven and in the light thereof, and he who is in the light of heaven is a living man. But when the natural man only has been formed, and not at the same time the spiritual, then there is no faculty of understanding and perceiving the truths and goods of heaven and of the church, because such a man has no light from heaven; for this reason, such a man is called dead.

The key idea to hold onto here is that the terms “dead” and “living” from a spiritual perspective hang solely on the ability to understand truth and perceive what is good. A natural man, or mind, that is formed apart from a spiritual mind is said to be dead, which really means dead to what is good and true.

The implications of this are significant, for it means that there is nothing in an unregenerate mind, in and of itself, that can lift the sense of self out of the evil and falsity that forms the matrix of its identity. Something of a different quality and order altogether is needed if the sense of self is to be extracted from the hellish prison of its identification with evil and falsity born of the loves of self and the world as its life. That something, is divine revelation from out of “heaven”, or ideas of a higher order – what is called the Word of God or the Logos. This is that which comes down from heaven and so can enter back into heaven taking with it all that are willing to receive it as the basis for a new sense of self. This is why salvation is not possible apart from Divine revelation and the reception of truths from the Word. These truths shine their light into the psychological darkness of every mind whose sense of self is steeped in evil and falsity, opening the way for a new sense of self, a new mind, to be conceived and born. This is what is means to be born again.

The formation of a spiritual mind, or a spiritual man, can only take place through the integration of the Word into a person’s life through the practice of its truths as the basis for self-examination and repentance. It is the practice of the Word that is the good that gives rise to the truths that constitute the spiritual man, or mind. It involves the transfer of the sense of self out of the loves of self and the world and into love of the Lord and one’s neighbour. The Gospels clearly teach that the sense of self formed of the earth must die before a new sense of self, formed in the natural from the spiritual, can be born. And, as was stated from the work the Apocalypse Revealed, this new mind or man is formed by means of “truths from good”, i.e., truths born of the practice of the Word. It can be seen that, psychologically or spiritual speaking, there is a very practical aspect to this often vaguely understood idea of what it means to be born again, or to be born from above.

Let’s circle back now to the idea that our sense of self exists within a psychological matrix. Being psychological in nature we can think of this matrix as an organised mental structure or an organic form through which we experience being conscious or have the experience of possessing a sense of self. It is composed of every affection every thought, every belief, value, delight, every memory, every experience and all the associations we make in relation to all this being drawn together and organised into a form receptive of life. As life inflows into this form, it animates it into an expression of the image and likeness of the core love that sits at its centre. So, whatever makes up the centre sets the pattern for everything else organised around it. The implication of this is that the centre governs the form of the whole so that the form of the whole reinforces and supports the centre. This is captured in a statement from the small work Brief Exposition of the Doctrine of the New Jerusalem 40 as follows…

For …the inmost, constitutes the very essence of the sequences; and the essence, as a soul, forms them into a body after its own image;

it then goes on to say…

and then when in its descent it lights upon truths, it infects them also with its own blemish and error.

So long as the belief of having life in oneself holds sway at the core of our sense of self then, even if there are truths present in the natural mind, they are organised in a way that supports this false belief and so the mind remains in a disordered state. It needs to be understood that this belief is so fundamental to the sense of self we have acquired from believing the appearances of the senses to be real that nothing feels more true or more right to us, so much so, that anything that challenges it is viewed with deep suspicion. When speaking of the unregenerate natural (carnal) mind Paul in his letter to the Romans (8:7) states that;

…the carnal mind is hostile to God; for it will not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.

In Arcana Coelestia 5650 this resistant state of the natural mind to the very spiritual laws that make up the inflowing life of the Lord is described as follows…

…the natural man apart from the spiritual man…loves his concupiscences because he loves himself and the world. Hence he becomes anxious [when thinking about having to give these up], and supposes that if these were got rid of he would have no life left, for he invests everything in the natural or external man… When the natural man on being left to himself is in this state, he draws back and resists.

We see then, that the default state of the natural that our sense of self is invested in, prior to being awakened to spiritual life, is hostile towards the Lord and so those things belonging to heavenly and spiritual life i.e what is good and true. This sense of self or proprium can produce nothing but evil and falsity because everything it produces flows forth from loving above all else the feeling that it has life in itself as something intrinsic to itself. This love and the belief that flows forth from it amounts to a belief that one is divine. It can’t avoid falling into this belief despite how much it might deny it. To claim to have life in oneself is to attribute what is divine to oneself and thus to deny the Lord who is the Only Life. The structure of the mind that forms around this love can only be in form an image of hell. In fact, in Arcana Coelestia 1064{3} it states that “…everyone in hell wishes to be a god.” So, to be in hell is to be in the belief that the feeling of being a self is real and not an appearance granted by the Lord who is the only Self.

Clearly, what is a form of hell can’t receive what is heavenly into itself. If our sense of self is a form receptive of hell then if we are to receive what is heavenly, a new form of mind is needed. To be able to receive heaven requires a new sense of self that is in the form of heaven. To enter into the experience of heaven is only possible if our sense of self, and so our mind, has been formed from what is of heaven and so is receptive of what is heavenly. If our sense of self is opposed to what is good and true then the only experience open to us in that state or to that form of mind is what’s produced through receiving the opposite of what makes heaven, namely what is evil and false. This sense of self is referred to in the following from the work Arcana Coelestia by the term “Own”.

The state of man when in his Own, or when he supposes that he lives from himself, is compared to “deep sleep” and indeed by the ancients was called deep sleep; and in the Word it is said of such that they have “poured out upon them the spirit of deep sleep” (Isa. 29:10), and that they sleep a sleep (Jer. 51:57). That man’s Own is in itself dead, and that no one has any life from himself, has been shown so clearly in the world of spirits, that evil spirits who love nothing but their Own, and obstinately insist that they live from themselves, were convinced by sensible experience, and were forced to confess that they do not live from themselves. For a number of years I have been permitted in an especial manner to know how the case is with what is man’s own, and it has been granted to me to perceive clearly that I could think nothing from myself, but that every idea of thought flows in, and sometimes I could perceive how and whence it flowed in. The man who supposes that he lives from himself is therefore in what is false, and by believing that he lives from himself appropriates to himself everything evil and false, which he would never do if his belief were in accordance with the real truth of the case. (Arcana Coelestia 150)

Nothing evil and false is ever possible which is not man’s Own, and from man’s Own, for the Own of man is evil itself, and consequently man is nothing but evil and falsity. (Arcana Coelestia 154)

If “man is nothing but evil and falsity” there is nothing in him, or able to be produced by him, that can raise him out of that state. Without outside help it is impossible for the sense of self born of the loves of self and the world to find its way out of the hell it is in. This state is dire, and the natural man is totally unaware of the predicament it is in. He is unaware of the abject terror of the situation. Salvation is only possible through the rebirth into a new sense of self. It needs to be born from above, from what is higher. But for that to happen what is higher must be able to penetrate into the dark chaotic void of the unregenerate mind. There is a need for a ladder that connects heaven and earth so that higher spiritual things might be able to exert their influence to birth a new heavenly sense of self.

This rebirth from what is higher takes place through instruction in spiritual things. The ladder that sets up a link between heaven and earth upon which the angels of God can be seen ascending and descending is formed from the teachings offered through doctrines for Spiritual Christianity. For, as has already been pointed out, the unregenerate natural mind is incapable of generating what’s needed to extract our sense of self from its identification with the evils and falsities that form the basis for our life. So, we have the statement from the Lord in the Gospels that…

…no one has ascended into heaven except the One descending from out of the midst of heaven: the Son of Man who is existing within the midst of heaven. (John 3:1)

If you recall by the “Son of Man” is meant the Word or more specifically our understanding of the Word. The Word or Logos is that One that has descended from out of the midst of heaven, and having done so is the only One that is able to ascend back into the midst of heaven. Of course, spiritually speaking the Logos is continually descending and ascending from out of and into the midst of heaven. From a Logopraxis perspective, the Sacred Scriptures and doctrines for Spiritual Christianity are the Logos or Word in a form accessible to us as Sacred Text. The Word itself is what conjoins interior or the heavenly and the exterior or earthly levels of mind when applied to life. The Logos descends and clothes itself with the ideas found within heavenly and earthly states of consciousness that form the human mind. The understanding of the Word a person has is called the Son of Man. It is specifically the doctrine or spiritual teachings drawn from the Word, the Logos, that relate to the matters of redemption, salvation, reformation and regeneration (Doctrine of the Lord 22)

It is doctrine or the Logos that opens the human mind to what is higher and so is able to elevate the sense of self out of its identification with evil and falsity into what is good and true (see Arcana Coelestia 9424{2-3}). The Lord is doctrine Itself (see Arcana Coelestia 5321{1}) and this doctrine when accommodated to angelic and human capacities is the ladder set up upon the earth having its head in the heavens. As we know, the Word as it descends through the heavens (comes forth into angelic awareness) clothes itself with what is in their minds and so in this way the Word is adapted to each degree of angelic perception. Then when it descends or is projected more exteriorly into natural human minds, it is clothed with those natural states of mind found there so as to be adapted to the level of what is of the earth, to be finally ultimated in the form of Sacred Texts. Each level of adaptation serves as a rung on the ladder providing truths that can lift the mind from its sensual base into ever increasing degrees of spiritual perception. Upon these rungs, as a support, angels are said to ascend and descend. In the Apocalypse Revealed it states that…

…”angels,” in an abstract sense, signify Divine truths from the Lord… (see also Last Judgement 28).

Now these “angels” that are seen ascending and descending upon the Son of Man when heaven is opened, offer a symbolic image of the process by which the spiritual mind (what is called heaven) is opened. Angels represent interior truths or an understanding of the Word in terms of its application to psychological states or the life of mind. It is this understanding that makes possible the regeneration of the human mind. They are said to be ascending and descending on the Son of Man because “the Son of Man” is the Word that contains these interior truths that can elevate the mind or, our sense of self, from out of an earthly or natural state into a spiritual or heavenly state.

That “the Son of man” signifies the Lord in respect to the Word, was the reason why the prophets also were called sons of man. The reason why the prophets were called sons of man, was that they represented the Lord in respect to the Word, and consequently signified the doctrine of the church from the Word. In heaven nothing else is understood by “prophets” as mentioned in the Word; for the spiritual signification of “prophet,” as well as of “son of man,” is the doctrine of the church from the Word; and, when predicated of the Lord, “prophet” means the Word itself. (Doctrine of the Lord 28)

The ascending angels speak to the application of truths to the life of the mind in an effort to identify evils and falsities so that they can be removed from the centre of the mind to its periphery. The descending angels speaks to those truths that flow forth from good after ascending truths have been integrated into the life, giving birth to a new sense of self in which the Lord alone is acknowledged to be the Only Life. This is where the feeling of life in oneself is seen to be the appearance it is. To be in the life of this state of acknowledgement is what is means to be being born again or born from above.

Arcana Coelestia 940. And said, Behold the blood of the covenant. That this signifies the conjunction of the Lord in respect to the Divine Human with heaven and with earth, is evident from the signification of “blood,” as being the Divine truth that proceeds from the Divine Human of the Lord (of which above, n. 9393, 9399); and from the signification of “the covenant,” as being conjunction (of which also above, n. 9396). That the conjunction with heaven and with earth is signified, is because the Divine truth that proceeds from the Divine Human of the Lord passes through the heavens down to man, and on the way is accommodated to each heaven, and lastly to man himself. Divine truth on our earth is the Word (n. 9350-9362), which is of such a character that in respect to each and all things it has an internal sense which is for the heavens; and finally an external sense, which is the sense of the letter, and which is for man. From this it is evident that through the Word there is conjunction of the Lord with the heavens and with the world (n. 2143, 7153, 7381, 8920, 9094, 9212, 9216, 9357, 9396).

[2] A sure conclusion from this is that without the Word on this earth there would be no conjunction of heaven, thus no conjunction of the Lord, with man; and if there were no conjunction, the human race on this earth would utterly perish. For that which makes the interior life of man is the influx of truth Divine from the Lord, because this truth Divine is the very light that lights up the sight of the internal man; that is, his understanding; and it is the heavenly heat within this light, which is love, that enkindles and vivifies the will of the internal man. And therefore without this light and heat the internal of man would become blind and cold, and would die, just as the external of man would die if deprived of the heat and light of the sun of the world. But this will appear as a paradox to those who do not believe that the Word is of such a nature; and also to those who believe that life is in man as his own, and does not continually flow in through heaven from the Lord.


1. Jehovah God sent Himself into the world whereby He assumed the Human.

2. This Human, conceived from Jehovah God, is called “the Son of God, which was sent into the world.”

3. This Human is called “the Son of God,” and “the Son of Man”; “the Son of God,” from the Divine Truth and the Divine Good in Him, which is the Word; and “the Son of Man,” from the Divine Truth and the Divine Good from Him, which is the doctrine of the church from the Word.

Doctrine of the Lord 27. That the Lord is called “the Son of man” when Redemption, Salvation, Reformation, and Regeneration are treated of

Arcana Coelestia 5650 … before the natural man is conjoined with the spiritual, or the external with the internal, he is left to think whether he desires to get rid of the concupiscences arising from the love of self and of the world, together with the things by which he has defended them, and to yield the command to the spiritual or internal man. He is left to think this in order that he may be free to choose what he will. When the natural man apart from the spiritual thinks about this, he rejects it; for he loves his concupiscences because he loves himself and the world. Hence he becomes anxious, and supposes that if these were got rid of he would have no life left, for he vests everything in the natural or external man; or supposes that afterward he could do nothing of himself, and all that he would think, will, and do, would flow in through heaven, thus that he would not be his own master any longer. When the natural man on being left to himself is in this state, he draws back and resists. But when some light flows into his natural through heaven from the Lord, he begins to thinks differently, namely, that it is better for the spiritual man to have the supremacy, because thereby he can think and will what is good, and so can come into heaven, but not if the natural man were to rule. And when he reflects that all the angels in the universal heaven are of this character, and that they are consequently in unspeakable joy, he then fights with the natural man, and at last desires it to be subordinated to the spiritual man. In this state is the man placed who is to be regenerated, in order that he may be in freedom to turn whither he will; and so far as he turns to this in freedom, so far he is being regenerated.

Arcana Coelestia 3321 [2] Hence it is that man’s rational can be accommodated to truths and receive them before his natural, as may be plainly seen from the fact that with one who is to be regenerated the rational man battles much with the natural; or what is the same, the internal man with the external. For as also is known, the internal man can see truths and also will them, but the external refuses assent and resists; for in the natural man there are memory-knowledges which are in a great measure derived from the fallacies of the senses, and which notwithstanding their being false the man believes to be true; there are also things innumerable which the natural man does not apprehend; for he is relatively in shade and thick darkness, and that which he does not apprehend, he believes either not to exist, or not to be so; there are likewise cupidities which are of the love of self and of the world, and all things that favor these he calls truths; and when the man yields to these the dominion, all things that result are contrary to spiritual truths. There are also in the natural man reasonings that are grounded in falsities impressed from infancy. Moreover, man apprehends by manifest sense what is in his natural man, but not so what is in his rational, until he has put off the body. This also causes him to believe the body to be everything; and all that does not fall into the natural sense, he scarcely believes to be anything.

Arcana Coelestia 6097. All temptations appear evil, for the reason that they are interior anxieties and griefs, and as it were damnations; for the man is then let into the state of his evils, consequently among evil spirits, who accuse him, and thus torment the conscience; nevertheless the angels defend him, that is, the Lord through angels, for the Lord keeps him in hope and trust, which are the forces of combat from within whereby he resists. Especially is the natural let into temptations when it is receiving the spiritual, because in the natural reside evils of life and falsities of doctrine

Divine Providence 86. As the evil man as well as the good man has rationality and liberty, so the evil man as well as the good man is able to understand truth and do good; but while the good man is able to do this from freedom in accordance with reason, the evil man is not; because the evil man is in the enjoyment of the love of evil, while the good man is in the enjoyment of the love of good. Consequently the truth that the evil man understands and the good that he does are not appropriated to him, while to the good man good and truth are appropriated, and without appropriation as one’s own there is no reformation nor regeneration. For in the wicked, evils with falsities are as it were in the center, while goods with truths are in the circumferences; but in the good, goods with truths are in the center and evils with falsities are in the circumferences; and in both cases that which is at the center flows out even to the circumferences, as heat from a central fire, or as cold from a central frigidity. Thus in the evil the goods in the circumferences are defiled by the evils at the center; while in the good, the evils in the circumferences are moderated by the goods at the center. This is why evils do not damn the regenerate man, and goods do not save the unregenerate man.

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