10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 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[c] 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.[d] 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,[e] 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 household, then the Lord[f] will be my God 22 and[g] 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.” (Gen. 28:10-22)
He felt all alone in that desert. He was exhausted from the journey. He was miserable. He trusted God but part of him was beginning to doubt. His weary body collapsed on the ground and all he desired was a good night’s sleep. But how well can you sleep when you have a stone for a pillow?! He drifted off to sleep with many desperate thoughts swirling in his mind: “Where is God in this hellish desert?” “If only I could be released from this hell, to go be with God in a better place.” “I feel all alone in this dark place.”
But in his dream he his physical sight was eclipsed by a heavenly glimpse into the invisible spiritual realm. He realized that he was not alone. God was not “somewhere else up there” with me down here. Rather, he was surrounded by God’s angels coming up and down, ministering in unseen ways, waging war in the heavenlies, doing God’s bidding and watching over him. God reminded him of his promises, and assured him that he would remain faithful. His tired soul heard the words he most needed to hear: “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go…I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (v. 15).
He awoke with not nearly enough sleep. His body sore and his neck in knots — again, stones don’t make good pillows. He dragged himself to his feet, and turned his eyes toward the rising sun, and said the words he didn’t think he would ever say of this hellhole of a desert: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Yes, he still felt alone. He still saw only desert on all sides. He was still weary and weak. But he resolved to put one foot in front of the other and would now face the heat of day with a renewed awareness that “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” God seems to enjoy meeting people in the desert more than any other place.
Interestingly, the very thing that kept him awake all night and caused him great discomfort — that is, that miserable stone under his head — he transformed into a pillar to remind him of God’s faithfulness and anointed it with oil. What source of pain and discomfort do we have in our life that we can anoint with oil and transform into an altar to the living God?
Dear God, open my spiritual eyes to see your angels all around, and remind me that even this awful desert is still permeated with your presence. Grant me rest, but even if sleep is slow to come, transform this “stone under my head” keeping me awake into an altar and a reminder of your faithfulness. Amen.