Genesis 28 v 22
“and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”
Jacob concludes his vow before the Lord. Previous verses, he has declared that if God does all He has said He would do for Jacob, then Jacob would make the Lord his God (Genesis 28:20–21). In addition, he now says that the stone he has set up for a commemorative pillar will become God’s house. This stone was the very same one on which Jacob rested his head while sleeping in the wilderness (Genesis 28:16–18). In other words, Jacob would return to this place to worship the Lord.
Jacob renamed the place “Bethel,” meaning “house of God.” Bethel would continue to be a significant meeting place with God for Israel far into the future.
Jacob completes his vow with a promise to give to God a tenth of all God gives to him. Previously, Jacob’s grandfather Abraham gave to God’s priest Melchizedek such a tithe (Genesis 14:20). Jacob volunteers to worship the Lord in this financial way as well. Giving to God specific tithes and offerings was one of the ways Israel would later demonstrate their obedience to and dependence on the Lord.
Genesis 28 v 21
“so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God,”
The Lord in a dream appeared to Jacob and promised to be with him and bring him back to the land of promise. Now awake, Jacob responds to that promise. If the Lord will really be with him, and keep me safe, and provide food and clothing, and, bring him back to his father’s household in peace, then the Lord will be his God.
When we think of Jacob’s situation, his emphasis on these things makes sense. Jacob was literally running away from his home to spare his life from his brother’s fury (Genesis 27:41). He is apparently alone in the wilderness, traveling to find a wife among his mother’s relatives (Genesis 28:1–2). Before this visit from the Lord, his future was murky and his path was dangerous. Now, because of God, Jacob has hope that he will be provided for, kept safe, and be able to return home.
It is interesting to note that God has already promised Jacob that He will be with him. The Lord has already made Jacob His man. Jacob doesn’t declare the Lord to be his God in hopes that the Lord will take care of him. Jacob makes that declaration in response to God’s promises and care. His worship and commitment follows God’s gifts of grace, just as our does (Ephesians 2:8–10).
Genesis 28 v 20
Then Jacob made 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 clothing to wear,”
After commemorating the holiness of the place where the Lord visited him in a dream (Genesis 28:12–13), Jacob now acknowledges the content of what the Lord said to him. He does this in the form of a conditional vow, declaring that if the Lord will do these things, Jacob will respond with actions of his own.
Jacob’s vow should be seen not as a testing of the Lord so much as a prayer of faith. Jacob seems to be saying that since the Lord can do these things, and has said He will do these things, Jacob is willing to trust and obey. Specifically, Jacob mentions God being with him and keeping him safe. He also adds two things God did not say explicitly: providing for him bread and clothing. In the following verses, he will mention one more condition and then the commitments he is binding himself to fulfill for God.
Genesis 28 v 19
He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
While travelling from his homeland in Canaan to Mesopotamia (Genesis 28:1–2), Jacob spends the night sleeping with his head resting on a rock (Genesis 28:10–11). As he sleeps, God appears in a vision of a heavenly staircase, or ladder, filled with angels. In this vision, God passes along to Jacob all of the promises given to Abraham, along with reassurances that God will be with Jacob wherever he goes (Genesis 28:12–18).
Jacob is so convinced of the holiness of the place where the Lord visited him that he decides to rename it. Previously called Luz, the place will now be known as Bethel. The word Bethel means “house of God.” Jacob also sets up the rock on which he slept as a marker, anointing it with oil in some kind of ceremony. This spot will continue to be meaningful well into Israel’s future, as a place where God meets His people.