In obedience to Isaac, his father, Jacob left Beersheba and set out on the 550 mile journey to Haran, the land of his ancestry, in order to find a wife for himself. By night fall he took a rock for a pillow and prepared to bed down near Luz, a city in Canaan. It was too dark to travel. As he slept, Jacob began to dream that he was at the foot of a stairway reaching up to heaven. This place represented the gateway on earth were God’s messengers entered and exited God’s temple. What matters most is the purpose of this place. It provided a bridge between heaven and earth, revealing that God was committed to making the earth His dwelling place. As yet Jacob had not committed to the covenant relationship with the God of Abraham (his grandfather) and Isaac (his father).
In Jacob’s dream God stood on earth with him and renewed the promise first given to Abraham, then extended to Isaac. Now God renewed the same promise to him. God promised to be with and to establish him as a nation through which all the families of the earth would be blessed. When Jacob awoke he realized the significance of this place and of the dream. Although he had met with God (in a dream) Jacob was not ready to fully commit to their covenant relationship as indicated by the conditional nature of his vow.
Jacob vowed to serve God on the condition that God provide for and protect him. He vowed: “If God will be with me … , then the Lord shall be my God.” What Jacob did next revealed his ambivalence toward a commitment to God, his ignorance of the practices that pleased Him, and the extent to which he was immersed in pagan worship. Jacob took the stone used for a pillow and consecrated (poured oil on) it, then set it up as a pillar. Covenants with God were ratified by sacrifices offered on newly constructed alters. The practice of setting up pillars was common in Canaanite worship, a practice prohibited in the law (cf. Deuteronomy 16:22). Years later, after his faith-transforming encounter with God at Penuel (Gen. 32:22–32), Jacob returned to Bethel in order to construct an altar (35:1–7).
Jacob renamed the place were God stood with him “Bethel”, which is translated “House of God.” Jacob promises that he would construct a sanctuary for God, the consecrated stone being the first part of the process. Temple building becomes an important part of the duties undertaken by the royal line descended from Jacob. “I will give a full tenth to you.” Centuries later, Israelite worshipers give a tenth of their income to God as an expression of their commitment to him; this is regularly referred to as a tithe.
God demonstrated His presence and purpose to Jacob before he was ready to commit to their relationship. Likewise, God demonstrated His love and commitment to you prior to your conversion (cf. Romans 5:8). God established the bridge between heaven and earth first in a dream to Jacob, but in reality by sending His Son to die on the cross, a newly constructed alter for the sacrifice which ratified our covenant relationship. This bridge signifies that God is still committed to making His dwelling with men (cf. Deut. 31:6,8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5). Jacob vowed to pay God a full tenth of his income as an expression of his commitment, a practice that continues to this day.
The covenant between God and mankind has been established and ratified through the sacrificial offering of His One and only Son, Jesus Christ. God promises never to leave nor disown those who enter the covenant relationship by giving them His Spirit. What remains is your expression of commitment. How have you committed to honor the Lord’s presence in your life?