Summary: Jacob's night with a stone for a pillow teaches us that God uses loneliness and isolation to speak to us in ways that would otherwise be missed.
I have a very special pillowcase that might tempt you to make fun of me. It is my “Where’s Waldo” pillowcase. Actually, it belonged to one of our children, but I use it as my pillowcase when I go camping in the wilderness. My wilderness gear consists of leftovers from around the house. There’s no point in taking anything too nice into the woods. This particular pillowcase serves a very important purpose. An empty pillowcase is the lightest, most compact way to have a comfortable pillow at night. I simply stuff the pillowcase with come clean clothes, and I’m ready for a comfortable night’s sleep. There are many things that I sacrifice when I go camping, but a comfortable pillow is NOT one of them.
That’s one of the memorable pictures from this story from Genesis 28. We find Jacob fleeing his home and resting his head on a stone! As someone who’s spent many nights out of doors, I can tell you that Jacob had a miserable night’s sleep!
A night without a pillow can be difficult.
A night with a painful pillow is completely unbearable.
I’ve learned that a soft pillow is essential for sleep while you are camping. Jacob’s pillow of stone shouts out to us that he is unprepared, alone and miserable.
We find this story in Genesis 28:10-22
Jacob’s Dream at Bethel
10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
A. Ross notes the importance of our passage, showing “how a place became a shrine, a stone became an altar, and a fugitive became a pilgrim—God in His grace revealed Himself to Jacob in that place. Quoted by K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27–50:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005), 442.
Jacob is in a lonely place. His lessons teach us about the lonely places in our lives. The main goal of this message from Genesis 28 is to encourage us that God uses the times of loneliness and isolation to speak to us in profound ways that would otherwise be missed.
First, notice that God Brought Jacob to a Lonely Place. 28:10-11
I know that we see Jacob traveling here on his own, but don’t miss the fact that God’s sovereignty is in focus in what transpires in this passage.
Jacob was living with his father Isaac and mother Rebekah in Beersheba, in the central Negev dessert, south of Jerusalem. His conflict with Esau has forced him to leave home and his broiling wrath. Rebekah has convinced Isaac to send Jacob back to their family in Haran, about 1,000 miles away in the area of modern day Syria. This must have been devastating for Jacob. Don’t forget, he was the one who “dwelt near the tents” (Genesis 25:27).