On the opposite end of the spectrum, no one would think to use a stone as a way of achieving a good night’s sleep or a place to rest one’s head. But it is the image portrayed in Gen. 28: 10-22. Jacob has cheated his brother Esau out of his birth right and his blessing from their father Isaac. He has left the easy grazing and water supply at Be’er Sheva and is on his way to seek refuge at Uncle Laban’s in Haran. It’s not an easy trek by any means but with the threat of a hot-headed brother bent on revenge it is one that Jacob is making quickly. Jacob exhausted and at a safe distance from Esau, decides to rest for the night. Although most artistic depictions of this scene have Jacob resting his head on “My Stony Pillow” in reality he probably placed several stones around his head. When you’re sleeping on the ground in the desert it’s safe to say there are a few creepy crawlies who are out and about at night that you don’t want crawling on top of your head! Stones are a good deterrent. What follows is a heavenly vision which prompts Jacob to proclaim the area sacred and to set up a “standing stone” in remembrance of the event.
Jacob is not the only person in Scripture who while on the run finds rest and an encounter with God. Elijah is fleeing the angry and vindictive Jezebel after his amazing showdown on Mount Carmel against her false prophets (1 Kin. 19:1-18) and after some rest, he too encounters God. Jesus also valued rest and promised to give it to His disciples (Mt. 11:28-30). This wonderful promise follows on the heels of a declaration of judgment against three popular and industrious cities in the time of Jesus: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Mt. 11:20-24). In each of these cases, whether an individual who is on the run, or a city whose industry makes for a comfortable life, it would appear that the activity will result in rest. Persecution will cease (as soon as I escape). I’ll be able to take a vacation (when the work is done). But Jesus claims neither of these things will bring rest. On a deeper, spiritual level, there is only one way to find rest.
The author of Hebrews continued this train of thought when he approached the subject of rest in chapter 4 (Heb. 4:1-16). The believers he wrote to were still worshipping in the Temple and following the sacrificial system as prescribed in the Mosaic Covenant. Apparently they assumed that this system was THE way to “rest” before the Lord. But there is nothing permanent in the sacrificial system. Each offering, each sacrifice only supplies rest on a limited basis. Simply put, there are not enough sacrifices to pay for the penalty of sin. The writer uses two examples to illustrate this principal. First he recalls the incident at Meribah where the Israelites argued about water with Moses and tried God’s patience (Ex. 17:1-7). The second illustration also draws from Israel’s history as Joshua leads the people into the Promised Land but must conquer it before they can “rest” (Jos. 23:1-13). Each one of these illustrations involves work in order to accomplish the goal but the “work” involving the removal of sin is far more difficult. In fact, it is impossible in human terms to completely remove it. But, echoing the words of Christ Himself, the author points out there is a permanent, lasting, and perpetually superior way into the presence of God- Jesus Christ (vv. 14-16).
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can work long enough or hard enough to earn rest. After all most of us have jobs with paid vacations that reinforce this, right? We can approach our faith the same way. “If I’m good enough, put a tithe in the offering plate, say grace before meals, go to a Bible Study, watch my language, be nice to other people…”, the list goes on. None of these actions will bring us the rest being spoken of here. Like the believers who were basing their relationship with the Lord on the sacrificial system, we think our behavior allows us access to God’s ear and we’ll find rest. If that’s what you’re doing my friend, then you are resting your head on the wrong pillow (Heb. 4:9-10).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre