A Rock for a Pillow

Ethiopian Neck Pillow

Ethiopian Neck Pillow

Genesis 28:11: When Jacob 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.

I don’t know if you think much about the sleeping arrangements that we favor. I did the other day when I was making the bed and put my pajamas under my pillow. I had a sudden thought: why did I put them there when I could have put them any place in the house? The answer is not surprising: I did this because that is what my mother taught me to do with my pajamas. Nowadays, I do it so I can find them again. They are part of a long list of possessions that I must put in the same place if I ever want to find them again. Forgetting to do so sets off a mad, anxiety-ridden search. It’s not pretty.

Sleeping customs in our country and culture are far from universal. Masai herders can sleep standing up, a custom they probably learned from some of the students I taught. The Somali tribe in Africa makes use of a carved wooden neck pillow, somewhat similar to one used in Korea, Japan and China. They sleep just fine using these implements, thank you, and there’s even a version advertised on Amazon.com! And people can sleep outside on the ground without a cover, even in the winter. So, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when Jacob uses a rock for a pillow when he has his well-known dream of a staircase stretching to heaven. (And sorry, “Jacob’s Ladder” fans: Jacob probably was dreaming of a ziggurat, a kind of terraced step pyramid found in the area where he lived and not of a Home Depot extension ladder.)

We are told in the account that when Jacob awoke, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 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.” He then took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it, using it as an altar of sacrifice to mark that place as holy.

Now, if God can lead someone to sanctify a stone, we shouldn’t be surprised that God can sanctify or make holy anything or any situation. Remember that Jacob felt that he had to leave Beersheba because he was afraid of what Esau might do after Jacob had stolen his birthright. So, here’s this man who’s running for his life who goes to sleep in the desert with a rock for a pillow, and God comes into this situation and promises him in his dream that his descendants will be a great blessing and bring salvation to humankind. God redeems what looks like an impossible circumstance, just as God does again and again in the history of salvation.

Praise God for coming into desperate, impossible circumstances and making them not only tolerable, but the best anyone could hope for—or dream of. Amen.


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