I have done enough camping and sleeping outdoors to know that rocks are not what you want to place your head on when settling in for the night.
Yet in Genesis 28:11, we read that Jacob, while traveling from Beersheba to Haran, stopped for the night and put a stone under his head for a pillow. How could this be? Why not use something softer? Even the ground would be more comfortable to place one’s head than a rock.
Is something more profound being communicated here? Yes – spiritual symbolism!
Rocks and stones symbolize the ideas or principles we use as the foundation or basis for our thinking (just as the mineral kingdom supports the plant kingdom). To lay one’s head on a stone or rock further represents a concept that the mind (head) can find comfort and rest upon (we cannot rest our minds or find tranquility on troublesome ideas). This is supported by the fact that Jacob handpicked and chose the particular stone. The rock represented his idea of what constituted truth.
Putting one’s head down on a rock also symbolizes a meeting, connection and communication between higher and lower things, such as spirit and earth. This symbolism of communication between higher and lower things is continued into Jacob’s dream of viewing angels going up and down a stairway (or ladder) between earth and heaven. At the top of the ladder, God communicates to Jacob below.
God tells Jacob that he will receive the land that he was laying on. The land in this case represents spiritual real estate—that Jacob would be given the Lord’s kingdom. Why? The truth (rock) that Jacob rested his head on represented that he had picked the proper spiritual principle that would allow for communication with God. Such communication requires that one’s mind rests on the right principles in order that its activity and life can properly be oriented (from top to bottom) to God’s heavenly order and tenets.
When Jacob decides to use the rock for a religious pillar and puts oil all over it, he is acting out a metaphor demonstrating that proper worship to God must have its basis in well-chosen principles that represent true religious doctrine. Pouring oil on the stone signifies that love also has to be combined with the intellectual aspect of choosing the proper ideas of faith—so that it becomes living faith.
Therefore the story of Jacob’s dream is more than a mere historical account of a traveler nodding-out and having a divine vision that good things lie ahead. It symbolizes the spiritual journey and process each one of us must experience in order to inherit the Lord God’s heavenly kingdom (represented by the land of Canaan).
We all play a role in the stories of Scripture. In fact, each of us is the main character!