By Michael E. Brooks
“Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. . . . Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it, and he called the name of that place Bethel; . . . ‘And this stone which I have set up as a pillar, shall be God’s house'” (Genesis 28:10-11, 18-19a, 22a, NKJV).
I have never yet been forced to sleep with only a stone for a pillow, but I have slept on pillows almost as hard. I have also slept (or tried to) on boards, floors, beds much too short for my height, the ground, and many other less than ideal beds.
The remote villages and isolated homes where I have been privileged to travel doing evangelistic work do not often contain tourist accommodations. One sleeps where and as one can. The ability to rest adequately under such circumstances may be one sign of a “call” to missionary work.
Most who read the story of Jacob’s night in Bethel marvel at his ability to find comfort while sleeping with a stone for his pillow. That he slept and even dreamed seems unusual to us. There is no indication in the text however that this was unusual or that Jacob thought it difficult. The emphasis in the Biblical account is on the use and significance which Jacob found for his pillow the next morning.
“This stone . . . shall be God’s house.” If we take these words and apply them retroactively to the previous night, Jacob’s lodging is described as being in God’s own dwelling place. That he did not recognize it and so designate it at the time he laid down does not change the fact. Jacob slept in God’s house. Perhaps that is why he was so comfortable.
Since I travel as much as I do, both in the U.S. and abroad, I spend a lot of time deciding where I will stay. I look at comfort, convenience and most of all price as I decide between various hotels, lodges or private homes. Perhaps I should be using a different standard, however. More than anything else I must assure that I am staying where I may have access and communion with God. That is not possible just anywhere.
I do not mean to dispute God’s universality, or his power to be with me wherever I am (compare Psalm 139:7-12). The limitation on fellowship with him is more on my side. There are many circumstances in which it would be very difficult for me to be aware of God’s presence or to want to call his attention to mine. Places of doubtful morality, nonspiritual atmosphere, or relational tensions come to mind.
Paul’s statement, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:21a) applies. Some things are simply incompatible with faith, obedience or communion with God. These things and places we must avoid.
I think of another of Paul’s admonitions in this context: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It is apparent that this does not require one to live his life with head bowed and words of prayer streaming from his lips uninterrupted. Such is not possible. Rather we are encouraged to always be aware of God’s presence, constantly in fellowship with him, and perpetually ready to communicate our needs and desires.
How can we accomplish this if we deliberately choose to frequent places incompatible with his presence? How can we be always ready to pray, if we stay in places where the act of prayer would make us uncomfortable, or where we could not easily concentrate on our conversation with the Father?
Sometimes the house of God is not the most comfortable or luxurious place in which we might stay. Satan offers many five star alternatives. But the price of these is incredibly high, and their comforts are illusory. Jacob’s night at Bethel influenced and blessed him for the rest of his life. Let us seek such accommodations.
By Michael E. Brooks