Reading: Genesis 28: 16-19a
Verse 18: Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it.
During the night, Jacob has an amazing encounter with God. When he wakes up the next morning, he reflects back on this encounter. His first thought is of surprise – he did not expect God to be in this place. It was simply where Jacob stopped because it was getting dark out. As he lay his head down on his rock, sleep was all he expected. Jacob’s comment, “I was not aware” reveals his surprise. On the one hand, we think God is everywhere all the time. But on the other hand, it surprises us when God shows up in a big and unexpected way at a random place.
Once Jacob realized that God was very present, he shifts for a moment to fear. The text reads “he was afraid” so it is not a healthy fear or a reverence for God. If God were to speak to me in an audible, direct way, true fear would also be part of my reaction. When our omnipresent God becomes direct and personal, one reaction would be fear. God is talking to me? Gulp.
Jacob quickly moves past fear and into celebration. He says aloud, “How awesome is this place”! Here God has chosen Jacob as being worthy of direct conversation. Jacob is excited that God spoke to him here. It is a place he always wants to remember, so “Jacob took the stone… and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it”. It will always be a place of remembrance for Jacob. It is where God spoke to him. He builds an altar, using the rock that was his pillow, and he consecrates it with oil. The altar will also help others to know and remember.
When we have significant personal encounters with God, how do we remember them? At a meaningful and powerful remembrance of baptism service, I was given a small stone. I carry it daily in my pocket as a reminder of when God drew especially close to me. In your next powerful encounter with God, seek a physical way to remember the experience. It will be a tangible reminder that will lead you to rejoice and give thanks for God’s hand at work in your life.