Jacob’s Dream (1639) by José de Ribera, at the Museo del Prado, Madrid


“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’” (Words of Jesus in John 8:12)

“Jacob left Beer-Sheba and went towards 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.’ — 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 the top of it. He called that place Beth-El; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.” (Genesis 28:10-19 NRSVACE)

It is a long walk from Beer-Sheba (Israel) to Haran, a city that was located in what is now modern day Turkey. Beth-El is located within the first ten percent of that journey. Here Jacob is made the inheritor of the Promised Land in lieu of his brother Edom-Esau who had forfeited his inheritance for a mere portion of stew. Esau was not a dreamer at all.

This passage of Scripture has been interpreted through the ages as a grand analogy showing the need to live an ascetic life to ascend from this our reality to the reality of God.  Jesus, leading by example,  lived such a life: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58) Not even a rock to rest his head like Jacob did — but angels are here to assist us in case weak mortal fleshlings would really need a pillow.

That evening, Jacob was ascending from Beer-Sheba to far away Haran. In time Jacob married and had children. One of them, Joseph the one that will dream how the family would be saved from extinction by seeking refuge in Egypt. Many centuries later, one of Jacob’s descendants in Bethlehem was to be named Joseph also. He was destined to be the putative father of the Messiah, the inheritor of God’s Promise. Joseph of Bethlehem was also a man who heard God in his dreams.

Many years later, a man called Nathanael was daydreaming under a tree when his brother Philip approached him.

“Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’  Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ (John 1:43-51 NRSVACE)

Jacob’s dream had long legs.

We see that the story of the Kingdom of God began with a dream, in a place Jacob later called Bet-El, house of God. In his dream he saw a ladder reaching all the way to Heaven, that is the two way ladder of grace. God provides the ladder but we have to climb. In time, St. Joseph had another dream. One angel told him about Mary’s pregnancy: “It is from God” and he married Mary to care for the baby and protect her. The Kingdom was born without fanfare. Many years earlier a Roman, Caesar Augustus had unwittingly pacified the world so the King could be born to a world in relative peace. One afternoon, Augustus saw a vision in his palace, a young woman holding a baby while a voice from Heaven informed him “He will reign forever” — Augustus order an altar, the Ara Caelis, built on that spot.

Seventeen centuries or so passed. Samuel Taylor Coleridge dreamed a poem one afternoon while taking a nap in his garden. It was a magnificent piece of poetry. The poem described the palace of the Kublai Khan at its highest glory. Coleridge woke up and hurried to his desk where he managed to write 70 stanzas of “Kubla Khan” until someone interrupted him. When he returned his attention to the poem, it had vanished from his mind. He only managed to recall a few verses.

About 70 years later, a British explorer in China uncovered a monumental wall with ancient inscriptions. The inscriptions tell the story of the palace now in ruins. It was a palace built by orders of Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, after he had seen the design of that palace in a dream.

Dreams are realities of a realm different than ours. It seems to me –after hearing of many many instances of dreams come true partially or completely– that one reality, the Kingdom of God, is entering this world and transforming it. Those dreams are the solid, inevitable future to come while the nightmares of the men that rule mankind are the unreality we presently live in.

We will be living in the Kingdom of God soon but first, we have to pass that night al fresco, like Jacob, dreaming dreams of divine grace, our heads resting on the rock of this world’s harsh conditions. We are, also like Jacob, slowly ascending towards the land where our wedding will take place. (See Revelation 19:6-10)

“And it shall come to pass after this, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy: your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28)

The palace that the Kublai dreamed ended in ruins. That Kingdom that Jacob saw in his dream so long ago — that brief glimpse of a ladder of grace uniting Heaven and Earth — has entered this world, growing slowly like a plant, like the light of dawn. The Kingdom is coming and no one can stop it. Because the ethereal dreams of God are more real than the most solid realities of men.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, detail.