Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place… Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’(Geneis 28:10-11, 16-17)
The above verses stood out to me this morning in my devotions. Jacob, a con man, is on his way to find a wife back in his native land. Maybe he’s also still trying to get away from this brother Esau of who he cheated out of blessing and birthright. Family can do some pretty terrible things to one another, can’t they? Even the first family – Adam and Eve – well, Cain kills his brother Abel. Maybe Jacob didn’t kill Esau, but he sure hurt him. Betrayal is a kind of death, is it not?
Anyway, Jacob sets up camp. He apparently isn’t much into camping. I mean, he’s not prepared. He has no pillow or anything except a rock on which to rest his head. Now maybe it was that rock pillow that caused this strange dream he had! Sometimes my old pillow feels like a rock, too, and it doesn’t help the quality of my dreams either. But the dream Jacob had was pretty special. Maybe I should try an actual rock for a pillow tonight.
Jacob sees a ladder connecting earth and heaven. On it angels are descending and ascending. It’s this story that inspired the hymn, “We Are Climbing Jacobs Ladder.” We’re not told whatelse the angels were doing. Was this just some angelic aerobics? Presumable they were going about being divine messengers. But it’s God’s voice Jacob hears. Basically what God says to this old con man is an re-affirmation of the promise made to his father and gandfather. These words especially must have been greatly encouraging to him after his very bad behavior:
15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
No wonder then that Jacob blesses this place. It becomes a sacred spot for him, a temple, the very house of God – and it had no roof! No architect had designed it, expect the Great Architect. It would forever be a high and holy place for Jacob.
The tendency has been to hold up biblical characters as larger-than-life persons. In some ways, I suppose, this is true. But if you take an honest look at their lives, they were very ordinary persons through whom God did extraordinary things. In fact, almost each one of them has flaws, very human, and sometimes very great. Jacob certainly does. Both his father and grandfather out of fear for their lives even made their wife pretend to be a sister when entering another land! They were terrifed that the rulers would kill them for their wife! They were not exactly model husbands. Even in the New Testament, the great apostle Peter, if you read the whole story, has flaws galore. So whenever I hear a sermon or read something that tells me I need to be more like (except Jesus, of course), my reponse is, “But my problem is I’m already too much like them!” But this is precisely why we can so relate to them. They are a lot like us. Sometimes they can be examples for us, but also warnings. If God could love and use them, flaws and all, then God loves and has work for me and you, too.
But what all of this says to me is this: God does not give up on us. God made us. God knows we have flaws, character and otherwise. Yet, God sticks with us, just like Jacob and Peter and most everyone else in the Bible. God does not just see who we are, but who we can be. God saw an “Israel” in Jacob. God saw a “Peter,” a rock, in Simon. God sees someone in you, too, someone God believes in and works to help bring out. God has not given up on you. Hopefully it won’t take a dream from sleeping on a rock to convince you of that. But just in case, you might want to go out and find one. Amen.