Open Your Bible
Genesis 28:10-22, Genesis 31:13, Genesis 32:3-32, Genesis 33:1-11, Genesis 35:9-15, John 1:43-51
Growing up in Northern California, I spent summers along the south fork of the American River in the tiny, blink-your-eyes-and-it’s-gone town of Coloma, the heart of the gold rush valley. Summers there were sticky. Tourists from every pocket of the world came for the whitewater and left baptized by sunshine, sunscreen, and coconut frozen yogurt from the shop down the street.
Along the river, you can spot towers of smooth stones called cairns balanced one or two feet high. Although these are now little more than artistic contributions from local river folk, in ancient times, cairns served as burial monuments or ceremonial landmarks. They marked something worth remembering.
Throughout Scripture, stones symbolize many different things. After Jacob’s dream, where God promises to watch over and provide for him, he is caught off guard and uses the stone lying at his head to memorialize the moment: “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). Suddenly, that place was known as Bethel, the house of God, because the Lord had made His presence known there (v.19).
I love that Jacob was surprised by encountering God. Aren’t we always forgetting how close He is? Embedded in us is the classic tension between head and heart: we know God is with us, though sometimes it may not feel like He is. I can’t tell you often I’ve been surprised to find Him, just when I’d feared that His silence indicated His absence.
This stone was an important step in Jacob’s journey. Because of what the Lord revealed to him in a dream, he was able to carry forward the promise of returning to his “native land” with confidence (Genesis 31:13). But I admit, I’m a little confused by the plot twist.
Before Jacob makes it home, he meets and wrestles with God. Why was this the method for receiving God’s blessing? Why couldn’t Jacob have his homecoming without a disjointed hip? Despite the paradox of blessing brought from misfortune, Jacob is so moved by encountering God’s presence that he, once again, names the place to memorialize it.
Whether it’s owning a home or publishing a book or witnessing a reconciliation, my heart desires things that aren’t guaranteed. What God does promise is abundant life: new ways of thinking, of living, of being. We are no longer slaves to death. We don’t have to wait for God to inhabit a place now that His Spirit lives in us.
As we watch for the Lord together, let’s name the moment we see Him. Let’s raise a stone in remembrance. Let’s live from a place of blessing and abundance rather than scarcity, because our birthrights are no longer dependent upon our earthly lineage. Instead, we hold the heavenly birthright Christ gives us, “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).