We first read of Bethel (Hebrew for “House of God”) in the Bible right after being introduced to Abram, whom God called to leave his land and trust God on a journey. Abram stops at Bethel to build an altar and call on the name of the Lord (Gen. 12:8). He then continues on to Egypt to survive the famine in the land, but returns to Bethel soon after, where again, as the Bible records, “Abram called on the name of the Lord.” (Gen. 13:3-4)
Years pass but this distinct location appears to maintain its importance in the history of the chosen people from generation to generation. Abram’s grandson Jacob left his family’s abode out of fear of his brother Esau. He spent a night at Bethel, where God gives him an extraordinary dream about a connection between heaven and earth (Gen. 28). In the dream Jacob saw a ladder, or in some translations a staircase, that was stretched between heaven and earth. It was crowded with angels and at the top Jacob saw God.
The vision is significant, because Jacob’s idea of God is not just spiritual and abstract anymore, but it connects to his physical, earthly reality. God draws a picture that connects two dimensions. Jacob sees angels, the heavenly beings, descending upon earth, the habitation of humans. Jacob is in fact the person that names the place Bethel, House of God, because he realized that God was there, touching His creation. Heaven didn’t seem so distant after all.
After waking up, Jacob was stirred to mark this remarkable place. It was the setting for his supernatural experience, so using the rocks he had slept on Jacob built a memorial to the Lord. The vision and his encounter with the Lord were so impactful that Jacob made a vow at Bethel:
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Gen.28:20-22)
As humans, we tend to forget the vows we make in our moments of exhilaration. Most likely Jacob did as well. He met his future bride, started working for his father-in-law, and many years had passed. But God remembers our commitments and holds us to our word. Not only that, He also reminds us of it, so He can lead us into our destiny and bless us! God had great plans for Jacob and the encounter at Bethel was just the beginning.
“I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.” (Gen 31:13) God reminded Jacob of the supernatural encounter he had at Bethel, because God had a divine purpose for his life. As we move on from places of divine encounters, let us take note of assurances given to us and vows we make. God is committed to fulfill His promises – may we also remain true to our words!