“God said to him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and become numerous. People and assemblies of people shall come from you. Kings shall come forth from your loins.” (Genesis 35:11)
Jacob was the second son of Isaac and his beloved wife, Rebekah, who lived in the land of Canaan. He had an older twin named Esau. After they had grown up, Esau carelessly sold his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. This later caused a real rift in the family, which led to Jacob having to leave to stay with his uncle Laban in Haran, where Abraham had once lived.
On the journey to Haran, he stopped for the night at a place called Bethel. There God appeared to Jacob in a vision. In the vision, he saw a ladder stretching from heaven to earth, with angels ascending and descending on it. He also saw God himself, who said to him: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you are lying shall be given to you and your descendants… All the nations of the earth shall be blessed through you and through your descendants.” (Genesis 28:10-17).
On arriving in Haran, Jacob ended up marrying two of Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel. With them, he had twelve sons in total, as well as one daughter. After twenty years, God told Jacob to return to his family in the land of Canaan. On returning, he reconciled with his brother Esau and then went to visit Bethel, where he had originally seen the vision of the heavenly ladder.
At Bethel, God appeared to him again and said to him: “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and become numerous. People and assemblies of people shall come from you. Kings shall come forth from your loins.” (Genesis 35:11) This prediction of royal descendants was the foundation for the later establishment of the new nation of Israel and its royal family. The earlier promise of worldwide blessings through his family line was also a cryptic reference to the coming of the Messiah.
This golden painting of Jacob is found on a reredos in a side chapel to the Virgin Mary in the church of the Holy Name of Jesus, Manchester. It was painted by the Gothic Revivalist Nathaniel Westlake. The Latin text refers to Jacob’s vision of the ladder stretching from heaven to earth. In Christian tradition, this came to be identified as a symbol of the Virgin Mary, as the ‘ladder’ who enabled Christ to descend to earth.
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