Jacob’s Pillars

It has been said that Abraham built altars, Isaac dug wells, and Jacob set up pillars. A pillar was a monument commemorating some important event. We shall see in this article that Jacob erected four pillars at four places that had been of great importance to him in his life.

The Pillar of Anticipation (Genesis 28:18)

Jacob dreamed, and in his dream he saw a ladder that went right up to heaven. Then God spoke to him and promised him that he would have numerous descendants that would cover the earth. The next morning, he took the stone that he had used as a pillow, set it upright and anointed it with oil, calling the name of the place Bethel, the house of God. He was so impressed by his dream that he vowed that Jehovah would be his God and that he would give a tenth of what he had to God. This is one of the first instances of tithing that we have in the Scriptures.

Does this mean that we too should tithe? The answer is no. For in the case of tithing in the Old Testament, one tenth went to God and the rest remained as the individual’s possession. In the New Testament we are reminded that we are not our own, but we have been bought with a price (1Co 6:20). All that we have and are belongs to God, and we are called to be wise stewards of what God has given to us.

The Pillar of Separation (Genesis 31:45)

In Genesis 31, we see how Jacob cheated Laban when he arranged for the stronger cattle to be his while the weaker ones were left for Laban. We are not able to explain the process to which he resorted, but it was dishonest, and at the end of the day they separated, each going his own way. But before doing so, they set up a pillar and called the name of the place Galeed. For twenty years Laban had exploited Jacob, and this pillar marked the end of this period.

Separation in some situations is necessary. In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 there is a distinct call for the Christian to separate. But this does not mean that the believer is to live cloistered up in a monastery or a convent, cut off from any contact with outsiders. As is often said, we are in the world but not of it. We are to be separated from the religious world, not associating in its practises and celebrations. What Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 is that of separation from a believer living in sin, another important pillar for the child of God.

The Pillar of Conversion (Genesis 35:14)

Once again God spoke to Jacob, this time to change his name from Jacob to Israel (Genesis 35:8-15). He was again in Bethel and Deborah had just died when God reiterated His promise that he would have an abundant posterity and the land as a possession.

The changing of his name was significant, for Jacob is a name that means a usurper and, indeed, this is what Jacob was, cheating his brother out of his inheritance. But at the pillar of Bethel, he is no longer Jacob but Israel, which means a prince with God – and that is what he became.

When a sinner is truly saved, he becomes a saint, for there is a change of his name. In the religious world, words and titles have crept in that are not found in the Bible. Notable individuals are given the title of “saint” after death. However, the New Testament has a totally different use of the word, and it refers to individual believers or to assemblies of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Only once is it used in the singular form, when in his epistle to the Philippians Paul sends his greetings to each believer in Philippi.

The Pillar of Affection (Genesis 35:20)

It was at Ephrath that Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. Jacob loved Rachel (Gen 29:18), and when she died he set up a fourth pillar at Ephrath. It was not simply a pillar of remembrance but a testimony of his love for Rachel.

Four pillars – one to anticipate the promise of numerous descendants, the second to underline the importance of separation, the third when his name was changed, a symbol of conversion, and finally, the fourth pillar reminding us of the truth that “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph 5:25 KJV).