In Three Black Swans, I suggested that the human race is destined for extinction, as symbolized by the Valenzetti Equation. Jacob wants to avoid this end but realizes the universe is too powerful for him to directly alter the fate of all humanity. He can, however, reweave fate on a more limited scale, bringing people to the Island to create a butterfly effect that indirectly changes human destiny, a process symbolized by the Tapestry.
If the notion of a higher power guiding characters to some special fate sounds familiar, it should. That theme runs through the works of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, two major influences on the show. I'm reminded of how the Overlook Hotel brings Jack Torrance and his family to serve its evil ends in the Shining, or the way the monoliths guide Dave Bowman to humanity's evolution beyond the infinite in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Really, though, no work better exemplifies this theme than the Odyssey, which Jacob's Tapestry quotes twice. The gods in Homer's epic poem often intervene in the lives of mortals to shape their destinies. There's also a specific parallel to Penelope's loom, with which she daily weaves and reweaves the funeral shroud of Laertes, delaying her impending remarriage the way Jacob delays our inevitable extinction.
The catch is that, as Jacob tells Hurley, those interwoven in the Tapestry "always have a choice" whether or not to answer destiny's call. This may be because Jacob believes in free will, or because the usual rules of course correction don't apply "when you're making the thread" yourself. Unlike the Valenzetti, therefore, the Tapestry is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like Jacob says to Jack, sometimes it takes "a little push."
Notice how the Tapestry shows an Eye of Horus with many arms reaching out to touch nine human figures. This clearly refers to scenes where Jacob makes physical contact with nine characters at pivotal moments in their lives, presumably to give them a little push. In prior posts, I've discussed the significance of the pen he gives Little Sawyer to finish the letter, but other encounters illustrate this dynamic as well.
Take Jacob's visit to Little Katie, which does more than save her from becoming Winona Ryder. Jacob also buys Kate the "New Kids on the Block" lunchbox that she and Tom Brennan use for their time capsule. Years later, Kate returns to Iowa and digs up the capsule with Tom. His death forces her to flee to Australia, where Marshall Mars catches her. Jacob's push thus ensures that Kate is a passenger on Oceanic 815.
Or consider Jacob's aforementioned visit to Jack. Their encounter takes place just after Jack has the "count to five" experience (i.e., cutting his patient's dural sac) that he relates to Kate following the crash of Oceanic 815. Not only do Jack and Kate bond over this story, they later use it as a code during her escape with Sawyer from Hydra Island. Here again, Jacob's push seems perfectly timed to effectuate events we've seen.
Jacob's fingerprints are similarly all over Jin and Sun's improbable wedding and Locke's survival of an eight-story fall. The marriage of a humble fisherman's son to the daughter of a rich tycoon is unlikely in class-conscious Korea. And I suspect Locke should have been completely paralyzed -- or even killed -- by his fall. I've explained before why these three Losties are integral to Jacob's plan, so it's no surprise he pushes them.
Jacob's intervention stops Sayid from being killed like Nadia. Or does he stop Sayid from saving Nadia? Either way, it's to push Sayid back to the Island so he can help cause the Incident. Ultimately, it takes Ilana to get Sayid on Ajira 316, but her full role in Jacob's reweaving remains unclear. Ilana's push may relate to that face bandage she's wearing when Jacob visits her in the hospital. What do you suppose happened to her scars?
Then, of course, there's Hurley. I've speculated previously that DHARMA's top chef will quantum leap to 2004, so he can plant Charlie's guitar, which is Jacob's version of the compass paradox. But I'm confident Hurley has an even more important role to play in effectuating the Tapestry. Now that Jacob is cremated, and we know Miles can't converse with ghosts, Hurley may be Jacob's only means of communicating with his people.
Nine chosen ones whose fates Jacob has rewoven with his magical Tapestry to "save us all" from Valenzetti's mathematical prophecy of extinction. Faith vs. science, free will vs. fate, Jacob vs. the Man in Black. As we head into the final season of Lost, it's the Tapestry against the Equation. Can you imagine two more fitting metaphors for the meta-conflicts of the show?