Jacob was right to recognize that God was there... but he may not have realized that God is everywhere.
as told by Deborah
As he made his way through the desert, fleeing from his brother Esau, Jacob stopped to spend the night along the way. Using a stone for a pillow, he lay down to sleep, and he dreamed….
In his dream he saw a ladder stretching from the earth up into the heavens, and the holy angels were were traveling up and down it. And God stood next to him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, your father and the God of Isaac. I am going to give you this land where you’re sleeping; I will give it to you and to your children; and your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, spreading across the planet; and all people, everywhere, will be blessed in you and in your offspring.
“Know that I am with you and will keep you safe wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; I will not leave you until my promises are fulfilled.”
When Jacob woke up, he said, “Wow! God is right here — and I didn’t realize it!”
And it freaked him out. He said, “This is terrific and terrifying! This is nothing less than God’s house — and I’ve been sleeping beside the gate of heaven!”
So Jacob got up early that morning and took the stone that he had used as a pillow and set it up as an altar and poured oil on the top of it.
He called that place Beth-el (which means "House of God"); but before that the city had been known as Luz (which means "Light").
Jacob’s first encounter with the living God occurs when he’s on the run. Fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau, he stops to rest only because the sun has set and the road ahead is cloaked in darkness.
His departure was unplanned and unorganized. In his rush to escape he apparently neglected to bring any supplies; Jacob doesn’t set up camp, but flops down by the side of the road, using a rock as a pillow for his head. Sounds like the definition of “roughing it.”
Out in the middle of nowhere, far from the comforts of home, did Jacob yearn for all that he had left behind; for all that was predictable and familiar? Did he hunger for the pots of lentil stew, was he longing for the security of Rachel’s apron strings? Was the threat of death preferable to the fear of the unknown?
It reminds me of the story of the Exodus: when God’s people were escaping from the pains and dangers of life in Egypt and the murderous intent of Pharaoh. As they fled they were beset by panic and doubt: should they follow the Mystery — leading who knew where, or turn back; to seek safety in servitude and the weight of heavy chains?
And here is Jacob (who will later be renamed “Israel”), resting uneasily amid the stones and scrub brush, heading toward an unknown future. Should he face what lies ahead — or return to what he knows?
Standing here at this safe and well-informed distance, we may think his decision to be an easy one: “Yes, go on, go for it!” But, when we think of the choices that we are called to make, it becomes clear that no decision is ever simple. There is no such thing as a “sure thing.”
Whatever we choose may lead us to harm, or to happiness. And, almost without exception, every decision leads, in time, to both. That is the fearful terror and the joyful possibility of life: we do not know for certain “what will happen next.”
We make our choices, based on what we think is best. Sometimes we’re wrong, sometimes we’re right, and sometimes unexpected situations arise, disasters occur and our world is suddenly turned upside down. Sometimes, even if we’ve investigated all of the possibilities, weighed the risks, assessed the advantages, and made all of the arrangements, what we thought would happen, doesn’t. Despite our best laid plans, we don’t always end up where we thought we would: instead we find ourselves out in the cold, like Jacob.
You cannot step twice into the same river.
~ Heraclitus, 5th century BC
As tempting as it can be to want to “go back and start over,” to reset the clock, to return to the way things were before — it cannot be done. The Israelites may have wanted to go back to Egypt, but the way was closed; Jacob might have longed to return to his childhood home, but that place no longer existed: choices — his and those of others — had changed it beyond all recognition. There was no way to go, but forward.
And so it is with all of us.
There is no going back; what is done is done, we can only go forward. The choice is not whether we shall face what lies ahead, but how we will face it.
Like Jacob at his rocky rest stop, we do not know “what will happen next” on the path that we are traveling. There may be great dangers, there may be great pleasures; chances are there will be both, and much more, besides. And, despite it all, despite the risks and the uncertainty, we are challenged to go forth with courage and conviction — because there is one thing that we do know; the one certainty that was revealed to Jacob during his dark night of the soul: God is with us.
In places we’d never expect to find any trace of hope or holiness, God is with us. In the middle of a forlorn and rock-strewn desert, God is with us. In the midst of chaos and confusion, in our moments of greatest delights and our hour of deepest despair, God is with us. Wherever we are, whatever we have done or left undone, God is with us.
It is as if we are connected to the Beloved by a ladder stretching between us and heaven, constantly watched over by angels. Nothing can separate us from God’s faithful love and lasting presence. Nothing.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Take time throughout the day to be truly present and mindful of the reality that God is with you, right now and right here.
If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, You are there. If I float away into the ether, if I sink into the depths of the sea, even there You will guide me, even there You will hold on to me.
~ Psalm 139:8-10