Updated: Jan 30
In 1974 I had an accident where I had some compression fractures in three vertebrae of my upper back. The required healing process meant I had to learn to sleep on my back or side. Prior to that, I preferred sleeping on my stomach, and sleeping on my back did not feel right. I could not sleep on my stomach and have my vertebrae grow properly, so I learned to sleep on my side; but I had to make sure I would not roll onto my stomach during sleep. To assist me in that, I began hugging a pillow when I went to bed.
In 2010 I had hip replacement surgery; and the doctor told me I needed to sleep with a pillow between my legs, due to the artificial hip joint. The leg for that hip could not cross my other leg, and it could not even lean against the other leg while sleeping. As a result, I now sleep with three pillows: one under my head, one between my legs, and one “huggie pillow” that keeps me from sleeping on my stomach. It is okay for me to sleep on my stomach now, but I have simply grown accustomed to holding a pillow while I sleep that I can’t give up.
According to Wikipedia, pillows date back to 7,000 BC. However, the article reports that a long time passed when, “only the wealthy and more fortunate people of the world were the ones who used pillows.”
The article also said, “Pillows have always been produced around the world in order to help solve the old, reoccurring problem of neck, back, and shoulder pain while sleeping. The pillow was also used in order to keep bugs and insects out of people’s hair, mouth, nose, and ears while sleeping.”
It goes on to tell about the Egyptian development of pillows, saying, “Ancient Egyptian pillows were wooden or stone headrests.” Adding, “These pillows were mostly used by placing them under the heads of the deceased because the head of a human was considered to be the essence of life and sacred.”
I remember watching a television show that showed what the homes of Pompeii revealed. The beds found in rooms of villas owned by wealthy people looked like they were carved in stone, with a stone bump at the head of the bed, like a stone pillow-roll. It was like a marble chaise lounge.
I remember thinking, “Surely, they put some blankets or straw on that, in order to get comfortable enough to fall asleep.”
When the Jews dine for the Passover Seder meal, they practice a ritual called “leaning.” They lay on their sides, on pillows, while eating. This is a symbol of the luxury of freedom. It is explained by them learning, “it was the custom of noble men to eat while reclining on a sofa or on cushions.”
When we see how only the wealthy had pillows back in Biblical times, it is easier to see how natural it would be for Jacob to look for a stone to use as a pillow, when it came time for him to sleep.
It may be that Jacob was used to soft pillows to rest his head on, since he was the son of a priest, and maybe because he was not strong like Esau, and having been a little pampered by his mother. Whatever the case, because he was traveling fast and lite, he obviously didn’t take a pillow with him.
Sometimes, when I travel and stay in hotels, they only provide two pillows … not my usual three. I never plan on traveling with a pillow, but when I find out I am one short, I always wish I had brought one with me.
I can tell you right now, if I had to use a rock as a pillow, I would not get any sleep at all. I am sure I am not the only one who would say that.
Maybe that is a curse of the luxury of freedom in this country? Perhaps we have grown too soft to sleep under the stars with our heads resting on stones?
Jacob was fleeing Beersheba, because Rebekah overheard Esau threaten to kill Jacob. Esau was mad over Jacob receiving Isaac’s blessing, leaving him with nothing. She sent Jacob to travel to Haran, where her brother Laban lived. Haran was where Turkey and Syria meet today, using modern country names.
Jacob had traveled roughly 50 miles when the sun set and it was time to get some rest. Jacob slept under the stars that night, using a rock for his pillow. There had to have been some thought as to why Jacob chose that specific location.
There probably was a well nearby, as Jacob slept at a place named Luz. Named placed mean people live there, so water was necessary. The name chosen comes from a Hebrew verb, one that in the feminine can mean, “Almond wood.” However, in the masculine, as “luz” is, it means, “Turn aside.”
The masculine verb meaning is said to have a negative connotation, as: an indication of turning away from wisdom; or a trait of deviation or crookedness in someone or something. Some think that meaning might indicate there was a crooked Almond tree near where Jacob stayed, in Luz.
Regardless of that name’s meaning, we know that Jacob did not stay in an inn or at someone’s house. If Esau sent people looking for him, he could have been identified by having made such contacts. So, Jacob was “on the lam.”
The night that Jacob slept in the open, with his head on a stone, in the place known as “Turn aside,” he dreamed of a stairway to heaven. He dreamed he stood beside God and heard his voice. He dreamed he saw angels moving up and down steps connecting Heaven and earth.
When the dream was over it was the next morning. Jacob arose and stood the stone on one end. He then anointed the top of the stone with oil. That was a priestly function, where Jacob set a holy marker, a monument recognizing a place of spiritual significance.
And, from that act of recognition, we can begin to connect the story of Jacob’s ladder to the parable told by Jesus, of the “Good Sower.”
You see, Jacob was from good seed, not weeds. He was the son of Isaac, a descendant of Adam … a true child of God. He was a priest to the One God, and the birthright he received from Esau (regardless how) brought that distinction upon Jacob. The blessing of Isaac upon Jacob meant Jacob was seed that had been sown into the world’s field.
Jacob and Esau were the seed of Isaac; but the holy lineage of Adam had come to a split in the road. Who would continue the tradition of righteousness? It would either be Esau, the first born, or it would be Jacob. Both were from good seed, but both were amid weeds sown by an enemy to God.
Jacob had deceived both his brother and his father. He had unjustly stolen his brother’s blessing. He had put on the mantle of priesthood, gladly welcoming all the “things” that came with that; but he had acted in a “weedly” fashion, not like a “righteous dude.”
When God stood beside Jacob at that place named “Turn aside,” He told Jacob, “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” God would seal that deal of birthright and all the possessions the birthright entailed. Nothing would transpire because Jacob stole from his brother, such that possession could be challenged in some court. After all, Esau knew he was not of priestly cloth. He loved the games of the world … he loved lying in the weeds.
God then said to Jacob, “Your offspring will 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 by your offspring.” That meant the children that were still to be born to Jacob would spread around the world, in all directions, beyond the boundaries of Canaan.
Finally, God said to Jacob, “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.” That meant more than leaving Canaan and returning to Canaan, that land, or the much later nation that would take on the names: Israel … Judea … Palestine … Israel. It meant God would bring Jacob back to this place where his head was then being supported by a stone, as he slept where there was a gateway to Heaven.
Jesus said that his parable included a field, which was the world. The field represents earth, dust, and land. The land of Canaan, no matter what name it would be called, was no more than a plot of field to be planted.
When Jesus said, “The good seed are the children of the kingdom,” he did not mean everyone in the world is a child of God. They are not. Abraham sent Laban to Ur to find a wife for Isaac, so Isaac would not marry a Canaanite woman. The “children of the kingdom” are the priests dedicated to the LORD; and Jacob was “good seed.”
At that time in his life, Jacob was just surrounded by too many weeds of influence, weeds of opportunity that seemed to offer things too good to let pass. He was running with the children of the evil one, who were the weeds representing a speedy life, too busy with selfish concerns to have hope for something unseen. Weeds do not require patience to reap, as do wheat fields.
God does not take up his good wheat because it is surrounded by evil weeds. That would destroy the good wheat along with the weeds. Instead, God lets everything grow to maturity, until when it is time for harvesting. Jacob was a young sprout of wheat, caught up in trying to compete with the weeds surrounding him. For a while, he must have thought like a weed, and acted like one of those sown by the evil one.
But, then Jacob had an epiphany. He slept and dreamed of God talking to him, promising him the world, through his children, those all that were still some time away. Jacob began a transformation at that time; turning into the good seed and the good purpose he was sown to grow into, to become what he was meant to be … a child of the kingdom of Heaven … a priest for the One God.
When Jacob rested his head on that stone and dreamed of a ladder to Heaven, he was troubled in heart and mind. He was fearful about the many things going on in his life, which was not the first or last time troubled sleep has occurred. Jacob worries then are no different than those anyone has ever had, based on current troubles and fears. We all are Jacob, in that sense, at some crossroad in life.
Paul wrote to the Christians of Rome, saying, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” Paul was writing to good seed, those who had transformed through Christ and become good seed, no longer distracted by the weeds surrounding them.
Those Christians were initially Jews, representing the children of Jacob, who would fulfill God’s promise and go in all directions around the world. We are the good seed that has been spread from their wheat. The Christians of Paul’s day, just like the followers of Jesus, and just like Jacob, all were mixed with evil bad seed, which was sown by the devil for the purpose of choking out the yield of the good seed. We are no different today; and by understanding that, we should see how Paul is also speaking to us in his letter.
Paul wrote, “All creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” That means we are simply plants in a field, with no control over what grows beside us. All we can do is grow into what we were sown to become. Once the body has served its purpose, the hope is that the soul will return to God.
This is the “up and down” of the ladder Jacob saw. We come from Heaven, with the purpose being to return. The place of that ladder was named “Turn aside,” where we are influenced to turn away from that return route, so that it is up to us to turn away from that distracting us.
Jacob renamed that place Beth-el, meaning “the House of God.” It is about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, which was then known as Salem. The King of Salem was Melchizedek, who is believed (according to the Midrash) to have given Abram the robes of Adam.
Think about that for a moment. Melchizedek, who was neither born nor died, ruled over a holy city just a few miles south of where a ladder goes to and from Heaven, named “Turn aside.” How did Melchizedek come into possession of Adam’s robes?
Was the place Jacob slept the same place where God turned aside Adam and Eve? Did Jacob choose to sleep where the portal to Heaven is? Was Salem the Holy City outside the gate to heaven? Was Melchizedek the physical embodiment of a Cherub, free to go up and down the ladder to Heaven at will?
Jacob awoke from his dream, saying, “Surely the LORD is in this place – and I did not know it!” It is a real stairway, but one that can only be seen through divine guidance.
That gate, guarded by cherubim and a flashing sword, is where good seed is gathered and taken to find their hope rewarded. That is where their souls will be laid in the barn of the master, while the weeds will be bound in bundles and burned at the end of an age.
We have to see how Christ is our rock, upon whom we lay our head. We give to Jesus our minds and our thoughts. Christ provides needed support, but that might not be soft, fluffy, and easily molded to fit our big heads. Our dreams should not be of “the American dream,” where visions of wealth, power, and the illusion of freedom are what we pray to see through wake-state eyes. Instead, we should desire the “Good Seed Dream,” where we transform from a downward lean, towards weeds, and begin to stand tall and strong golden grains of wheat.
This dream can only be realized through the fulfillment of our prayers: that we will be adopted by the Holy Spirit. Once adopted, we become the children of God, His good seed, one with God and unable to ever change that arrangement. Christ is the mediator of those prayers, who takes our petitions, judges our hearts, and rules fairly on who will receive the Spirit. Adoption is not a speedy course. That dream must be our hope, and our hope can only be for an unseen reward.
We must wait for it with patience, just as a seed must rise towards the sun over a full season of growth. We must rise above the weeds and prove our worth.
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