Mark The Way
July 28, 2017
Darren M. McClellan
Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran… (Gen. 28:10).
No matter how simple the idea may look on paper, or how prepared we believe ourselves to be, moving successfully from point A to point B is often no small task. This is true in our physical lives as well as in the geography of the heart, mind, and spirit. In reality, our travels are often marked by unexpected crisis, a moment of decision that exposes our utter dependence upon something or someone beyond our individual capacity. This is a frustrating dilemma for many of us, if for no other reason than it strikes a prophetic blow to our ego and to the myth of our self-sufficiency.
Our ancestor Jacob, for instance, who was not without self-confidence and who was known to grab life by the heel for the sake of his own advantage, was sure he knew the way to Haran. Even so, it was what happened in between—on the way, if you will—that shaped his journey in a fresh and surprising fashion. Having already capitalized on the favoritism of his mother, stolen the blessing of his father, and all but demolished any relationship he might have had with his brother, he was all too happy to escape the clutches of his family dynamic. And yet, there was no escape from an encounter with God.
The Lord comes to Jacob in his sleep; when he is most vulnerable, when his guard his down and he is actually still long enough to listen and to see. Suddenly, there is an inexplicable dream. Granted in the vision of a ladder, there is the reminder: Jacob is not left to his own resources or designs. There is traffic between heaven and earth. There is access and accompaniment, presence and protection, a promise kept by the loving grace of God!
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 (Gen. 28:15).
Jacob assumed that he was traveling alone, and that his only purpose was survival. How many people today believe the same? No wonder they think God is irrelevant. When awake, Jacob’s world is filled with loneliness and manipulation. But this dream! Jacob’s response the next morning was indicative of the depth of his discovery:
Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar… (Gen. 28:16-18).
I’m so glad he left that stone. Now let me tell you why.
Recently, my family and I had the pleasure of hiking through parts of Arches and Canyonlands National Park in Utah. The terrain is a startling departure from the lush wetlands of the Gulf Coast, but is breathtaking in its own regard (due in part to the elevation and my limited fitness). There is dry rock everywhere with temperatures well over 100 in late June. At times I even missed the humidity (believe it or not) and in my imagination it gave me a new appreciation for the wandering of the early Israelites.
I also realized rather quickly that when traversing miles of rock formation, there are often no footprints to be found. There I was, hiking with 3 generations of my family; my in-laws, Kristi and her two sisters, brother-in-law, our three boys, their three girls…the only thing missing was the sheep and the cattle…and after brief trek I wondered “how does one follow when you can’t find the trail?”
Imagine my delight at seeing the presence of what is known as a “cairn” (Scottish Gaelic) or “inukshuk” (Greenlandic/Artic). They are small piles of rocks left along the trail. And when you are hiking with 3 generations of your family and you’re carrying the backup water for all, these cairns are extremely valuable! They serve a purpose as a natural sign.
Every time I saw one the message was plain: hear the good news! Someone has been here before! Hear the good news! You are on the right path! Hear the good news! And with much gratitude, you realize that somebody had to care enough to build it and leave it there so that you could find it. In the midst of the heat and uncertainty, those little piles of rocks are a Godsend. I wondered who the first hiker on the trail might have been, and what it was about that particular path that made it so special from the beginning. I imagine it had something to do with the destination.
Then I remember Jacob. What does he do? In response to theophany, he builds a cairn! An inukshuk! He took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar…He leaves us a pile of rocks!
What a blessing, right? Why? So that his children…and his children’s children…will have something that reminds them…you don’t have to wander aimlessly anymore. You don’t have to die in the heat of the wilderness without hope of living water. There is a way. The journey is not over, but the destination is worth it. Somebody’s been down this road before. There is a communion of saints who want nothing more than to get where you are going.
This was his journey. This is our journey. Jesus, the Messiah, is our destination.
What will your cairn be?
Use what you have. Use what you have been given (Gen. 28:22).
Let us mark the way.
Darren M. McClellan