Three Stone Pillars of Jacob
By Pastor Lin Zhihua
Bible Verse Reading: Genesis 31:23, 40-46, 35: 13-15, 19-20
Ancient Jews set up a stone pillar as a memento when anything important happened. Sometimes some designs and words were carved on the pillar. Archaeologists could confirm what happened in the ancient times according to what have remained. According to the Bible, Jacob set up four stone pillars in three places in his life: one on the hill country of Gilead, two in Bethel and the fourth in Bethlehem. The last three pillars were the three milestones in his life.
1. The stone pillar in Gilead.
The moment Jacob was born, he was well cared by God. The name Jacob means "gripping". He was good at "gripping". He took his brother by the heel when he was born. As he grew up, he took over his brother's birthright and blessings. Later, when he went to his uncle Laban's home, he gripped many things like flocks of sheep and oxen. But God wanted him to know that it was useless depending on his ability to grip. If it were not God, he could not have dealt with sly Laban, nor could he confront with strong Esau. Genesis 31: 21-24 recorded that Jacob took his wife and property when he left his uncle's home and he thought that he could manage to escape depending on his own ability. He didn't know that though Laban found it out three days later, he managed to catch up with him in only three days, which means Laban's speed was faster than his, and ability better than his. Hence Laban said to Jacob, "It is in my power to do you harm." But just the day before Laban caught up with Jacob, God spoke to Laban in his dream, "Take heed that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad."(Ref. Genesis 31: 29) Laban told Jacob what God spoke to him. Jacob was very grateful for God's care for him. He made a covenant with Laban on the hill country of Gilead. Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar, which was a memento of God's care for him.
We are all God' chosen people and it is not that we are more capable or better than non-Christians, but that God's grace falls on us. We experience God's care all through our life, so we should also set up a pillar to commemorate the grace of God. God knows what we don't know when there is dispute, trap or danger in our life and He guides us to the road of peace and safety. We should offer to Him a thanksgiving sacrifice. (Ref. Psalms 116: 17)
2. The stone pillar in Bethel.
Twenty years before Jacob set up a pillar in Gilead, he had set up one in Bethel. Genesis 28: 10-12 records that Jacob went toward Haran to hide himself from Esau. One the way, he took a stone and put it under his head and slept. God showed him His grace and made him see the vision. Having woken up, he set the stone up for a pillar and made a vow, saying, "…so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God's house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you." Jacob at that time did not really know God and thought that his relationship with God was like that between buyers and sellers. God, however, still cared for him. Twenty years later, when Jacob safely returned the city of Shechem in Canaan from Paddan-aram, he purchased the land and settled down. But he forgot his first covenant in Bethel. Afterwards, his daughter was defiled by Shechem. With tricks, his two sons killed many people in the city of Shechem. They got in big trouble. Jacob was facing a difficult situation. And again, God revealed to him. Only then did he come before God and remember the vow he had made. God showed him that he should go to Bethel. Obviously, on this second visit to Bethel, Jacob was to seek the LORD, to fulfil what he had promised before. He set up another pillar in Bethel, which was the second milestone in his life.
Many of us are like Jacob who has the first pillar of thanksgiving and making a vow, but without the second pillar of fulfilling the vow. We do not dedicate ourselves to God if we do not fulfil the vow we have made.
3. The stone pillar in Bethlehem.
God prepared Leah as Jacob's wife, but Jacob did not like her. He liked Rachel. Rachel was Jacob's personal choice, which led him to serving Laban for fourteen years. Rachel died when she gave birth to Jacob's second son, Benjamin. This was God's arrangement. According to Genesis 35: 20, after Rachel died, Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel's tomb, which is there to this day.
Jacob's marrying Rachel was not blessed by God. Therefore, after having been well cared by God and having fulfilled his vow in Bethel, Jacob lost his wife Rachel, who died of hard labor. Jacob set up a pillar at her grave, a memento for the death of his "personal will".
Every Christian should respect God as the great and obey his will completely. What God likes is our likes; what God dislikes is our dislikes. But many of us have our personal will. For example, Samson's "Rachel" was his covetousness of pretty women, Balaam's "Rachel" was his greed for money and we also have our own "Rachel". We ought to make all these "Rachels" die and make a pillar, not to let them come to life again.
The place where Rachel died is only 200 meters from Bethlehem, in which our LORD Jesus was born. "Rachel" must die when "Benjamin" is to be born. Benjamin in the Old Testament is a sign of Jesus Christ. Our old self and our "Rachel" must die before Jesus Christ live in us. The pillar at Rachel's grave was set up on the way to the place where Jesus was born. The pillar reminds us that we should make our "old self" die in order to have Christ.
Today we share "Jacob's three pillars": the one in Gilead represents our thanksgiving before God, the one in Bethel is for our fulfilling our vows and the one in Bethlehem symbolizes the death of our old self and the establishment of new life. May that we encourage each other with "the three pillars".