Summary: Jacob was Isaac's son and Abraham's grandson. He stopped at Bethel, for the night, but some interesting things happened while he was there.
Bethel: where Jacob met the Lord
Preface: When you think of Jacob, what comes to mind? Clearly, he was one of the most colorful people in the Bible! Sometimes we think he was a shady character, such as when he “bargained” with Esau for the birthright. I still think there’s a bit of humor in that incident; “Esau” means “red”, and Jacob was making a stew or some kind of dish out of something that looked, well, red! Esau traded his birthright for a meal, but he never got it back (see the last few verses of Genesis 27 for that story).
The text begins with verse 10 of Genesis 28, from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV):
Genesis 28:10, KJV: And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; 14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. 16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. 17 And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. 18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
Why did Jacob stop at Bethel?
Remember that Jacob had lived in Beersheba for some time before he was sent away (Gen. 26:33). Without going into too much detail, Isaac had sent Jacob away to find a wife, back to the land of his mother Rebekah. Perhaps this was a reaction to Esau’s marrying two local (although foreign) women. Nothing is said of either Judith or Basemath (see Genesis 26:34-35) in regards to their faith. We don’t know if Esau was able to lead them into the knowledge of the God of Abraham and Isaac, whether they turned Esau’s heart away from his father’s God, or if he kept the faith and they didn’t. We do know that they did bring grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
We could also find a bit of irony, in that Abraham told his servant to not even think of taking Isaac back to the land of Nahor (Genesis 24:6-10), but now, Isaac is sending his own son there. There is another contrast, in that Abraham’s servant, Eliezer, had no idea whom he would find as a bride for Isaac. His prayer was answered in that Rebekah fulfilled every one of his prayer requests. Jacob, on the other hand, was sent out, with minimal guidance. He wasn’t told much more than which family to select his bride from. So, in light of the family situation, he set out on his journey.
The main reason, one could say, that Jacob stopped there, at Bethel, because he was tired! In verses 10 and following, the text states that it was dark, and that Jacob spent the night there. We also read that he took one of the stones of that place for a pillow and I have to state, I’ve never slept on an actual rock even though some pillows were about that hard!