October 29, 2012 by Kaleb Nyquist
Recently at youth group, we discussed the story of Jacob’s dream he had while in the middle of nowhere, found in Genesis 28:10-22.
We talked about the events leading up to this passage. See, Jacob had kind of a ridiculous family life: his grandfather was none other than Abraham, the man with whom God made a “covenantal” promise to bless, not only by turning his offspring into the “great nation” of Israel, but also that through Israel the entire world would be blessed.
Yet, right before this passage, Jacob’s life is in shambles. From birth (actually before birth), he has been in an epic sibling rivalry with his twin brother Esau. Things only get worse when their mom and dad start taking sides. Rebekah was on team Jacob, while Issac was on team Esau.
One day, while Esau was out hunting, Rebekah came up with a scheme for Jacob to steal “the father’s blessing,” which Issac intended to go to Esau. The scheme worked, but only because Issac was near-death and blind, and now Esau was angry with his brother. Not a cute sort of angry either, rather an I’m-going-to-kill-you sort of angry.
So, to save her favorite son from the revenge of his brother, Rebekah makes up some story (which probably had an element of truth in it) that Jacob was starting to get a little too close with some of the local girls whom his father did not approve of. Issac sends Jacob off to his uncle’s place in Haran, hoping it will be a better place for him.
(If you have ever seen The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the situation is kind of like that, except now Jacob has become the Fresh Prince of Haran.)
So here is Jacob: journeying through the middle of nowhere, leaving a dying father, a scheming mother, a murderous brother, and if there was actually a girl back home he liked, well, now that was over too. This is all despite the fact Jacob he is supposed to be under the same covenantal promise his grandfather was, to be blessed and to be a blessing to all nations. That promise probably felt more like a bitter tease than a true reality.
Jacob settles down for the night, using a rock as a pillow (and in case you are thinking people used rocks for pillows back then because they were comfortable think again). And then, well, I’ll let you read for yourself:
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. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring;and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know 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.’ 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.’
One of the girls in our group said she was surprised that the word “awesome” was in the Bible. How much more then was Jacob surprised when he realized that, in a place he least expected it, God was there, and that made the place awesome!
We think of God as being present in church or maybe even at camp. But how often do we think of God as being present in our everyday lives, or even the messy days of our lives? Is God at school, or the coffee shop, or McDonald’s, or the CTA station?
Things started to look up for Jacob after this moment in the middle of nowhere. He takes part in one of the Bible’s greatest love stories with one of the most obnoxiously romantic verses in all of Scripture. He also later bumped back into Esau, who instead of wanting to kill him now wanted to reconcile with him. And, most importantly of all, God gives Jacob a new name – Israel.
But part of the foundation for all those good things that happened was what Jacob did right after this dream happened. Jacob took the rock-pillow he was sleeping on, stuck in into the ground like a pillar, and turned it into a rock-altar: that is, a marker that would help Jacob remember that even in this unexpected place, God was truly and faithfully present.
I challenged our students to take one of the rocks I had brought to youth group. They weren’t big enough to use a pillows, but rather they were of a portable enough size to carry throughout the day. I challenged them to use the rocks as a continuous reminder to reflect upon what God was doing in their day-to-day routine and the promise God had for their lives, not just in church but in the most unexpected places.
I challenged them to look at each place and see if they could be knocked off their feet in wonder and say, much like Jacob, “Surely God is in this place–and I did not know it! How awesome is this place!”
Kaleb is the student ministries coordinator for Ravenswood Covenant Church. In his free time, he likes to travel, go for runs, and play Mario Kart. He also thinks that North Side Youth Collision is the neatest thing since PB&J sandwiches.