What is Jacob’s Ladder?—The Symbol, The Story, The Scope, The Song

The Symbol

The symbol you see below is a stylized representation of Jacob’s Ladder. (If you find a scholarly source that confirms this, please contact me.)

Here’s how I make sense of that: A circle can represent the eternities of heaven, and the posts extending down from it are like a pathway (or ladder)—a pathway to heaven leading from earth below to eternity above. In the logo, the two posts are short, to make it compact. When you find it in the architecture though, the posts tend to be much taller, which suggests more strongly the form of a pathway.

You see it as a motif in the architecture of many modern LDS temples, the Timpanogos Temple in particular (see pictures below). And it’s a reminder of the divine inheritance that we all have, if we’re willing to enter into a covenant (and keep that covenant) with the Lord.

The Story

Jacob’s ladder is an important story, too, by the way. We read about it in Genesis 28:

Jacob was in the wilderness, on his way to Beer-sheba, so he camped out, resting on a stone. He dreamed of a ladder that touched the earth and stretched all the way up to heaven. Then he saw the Lord above, who spoke to him, promising to grant him the same blessings given to Abraham—he made Jacob a joint heir—and added, “I will not leave thee.” When Jacob awoke, he knew he’d seen “the gate of heaven”—the gate of heaven! Isn’t that a cool way to describe it? And he was so struck by this vision that he got straight up and built a monument of stones, saying, “This stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house.” So he had built God’s house—a temple—so that he could remember the things he’d been taught by God.

The Scope

President Marion G. Romney said, “Jacob realized that the covenants he made with the Lord there were the rungs on the ladder that he himself would have to climb in order to obtain the promised blessings—blessings that would entitle him to enter heaven and associate with the Lord” (Old Testament Student Manual 86). I love that phase “entitle him to enter heaven.” This is the same path we have to take—the mortal path leading to the eternal heavens.

In The Divine Comedy, Dante, walking through the afterlife, sees this same ladder—Jacob’s ladder—and as he peers upward, it’s so high he can’t see the top! This is a brilliant metaphor. It reminds me how little we know about the divinity that stretches above us. We can see the part that is just within our grasp, but mortals can’t imagine just how high it goes (“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” 1 Cor. 2:9).

Joseph Smith said, “When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith 348).

The Song

Finally, this story of Jacob’s Ladder is retold in one of my favorite hymns—“Nearer, My God, to Thee” (Text: Sarah F. Adams, hymn 100). The temple teaches us how to get nearer to our God. I love this. It teaches us the path to get to him. Here are the complete lyrics (read them carefully):

1. Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee!
E’en though it be a cross That raiseth me.
Still all my song shall be Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee!

2. Though like the wanderer, The sun gone down,
Darkness be over me, My rest a stone,
Yet in my dreams I’d be Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee!

3. There let the way appear, Steps unto heav’n;
All that thou sendest me, In mercy giv’n;
Angels to beckon me Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee!

4. Then with my waking thoughts Bright with thy praise,
Out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
So by my woes to be Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee!

5. Or if, on joyful wing Cleaving the sky,
Sun, moon, and stars forgot, Upward I fly,
Still all my song shall be Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer, my God, to thee, Nearer to thee!

Thanks for reading. Looking forward to your comments.

2 thoughts to “What is Jacob’s Ladder?—The Symbol, The Story, The Scope, The Song”

  1. Beautiful!!!!! Thank you so much for posting this. It helps me visualize the prophets encouragement to stay on the covenant path.

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