The covenant with God in Bethel
So many are the covenants made between God and man, among which was that with Jacob, where God said to him, "Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth … and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land." (Gen 28: 13- 15)
On the part of Jacob, he made a conditional vow, saying, "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You." (Gen 28: 20, 21)
Although God gave Jacob unconditional promises, Jacob made a conditional vow to Him. The reason may be that Jacob had not yet attained deep faith, but was still in the beginning of his personal relationship with God. He therefore wanted to be sure of God's promises to him!
God says to him, "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go," and Jacob says, "If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going". God says, "I … will bring you back to this land", and Jacob says, "If … I come back to my father’s house in peace"!
Nevertheless, Jacob's vow was the first vow recorded in the Holy Scripture.
It was indeed the first time we read about a vow, and it was a threefold vow: the Lord shall be his God; he shall set a house for God; he shall give a tenth of whatever God gives him.
"The Lord shall be my God", these words were said in a pagan age, so they meant that God would be his God in practical life, not by inherited faith, and meant likewise true worship. So, we read that afterwards, when he returned in peace to Shechem in the land of Canaan, "He bought the parcel of land … Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel." (Gen 33: 19, 20)
Jacob was the first to use the expression "house of God".
On that occasion, he said it twice: first when he woke up and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!" The second time was when he made a vow, saying, "This stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house." (Gen 28: 17, 22) It is good indeed that the first vow a man of God makes be building a house for God!
Our father Jacob also was the first to consecrate a place for God.
He used oil for consecrating it, for the Scripture says, "Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel." (Gen 28: 18, 19) The word "Bethel" means "house of God". That is why we read this chapter of the Scripture when we set the foundation of a new church, and in the liturgy of consecrating churches and altars.
Believe me I wonder how did our father Jacob get the idea of consecrating a house for God using oil for that purpose?!
In the days of Moses the Prophet, some hundreds of years after Jacob had consecrated Bethel, the Lord God commanded Moses to make holy anointing oil, and to anoint and make holy with it the tabernacle of meeting and the altars and their utensils, and Aaron and his sons, so that they might minister to Him as priests. (Ex 30: 22- 30)
Undoubtedly, our father Jacob knew this ceremony by divine inspiration as a man of God, and was a pledge for God's gifts to him.
It is worth noting that Bethel mentioned by Moses the Prophet where our father Abraham built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him, and from where he moved to the mountain east of Bethel and pitched his tent (Gen 12: 7, 8), was a city known in his days by that name. Before our father Jacob its name had been Luz previously, and it was he who called it Bethel (Gen 28: 19).
In brief, God was first in many things, including the following:
• He was the first to make a vow to the Lord
• He was the first to give the name Bethel to that city
• He was the first to consecrate a place to the Lord using oil for that
God prepared to Jacob the vision of the ladder connecting between earth and heaven, and the vision of the angel, besides the divine promise. All that was for two reasons: one related to the present, to comfort him in his fear and fleeing, and to establish a personal relationship with him. the other relates to the future, so that he might have such faith that would not be influenced by the worship of the idols that were in his uncle Laban's house.
The Scripture mentions that on fleeing from Laban's house to return to his father's house, it happened that "Rachel had stolen the household idols that were her father’s." (Gen 31: 19). Jacob did not know that (Gen 31: 32), and Laban pursued Jacob and asked him why had he stolen his gods (Gen 31: 30)
Here we can distinguish three types of people with respect to worship:
• The first type worships God alone, like our fathers Abraham and Isaac in the days of our father Jacob, and before those in the days of our father Noah and the series of patriarchs stated in (Gen 5), such as Adam, Sheth, Enosh, Enoch, and Mathosalah ??????
• Another type is those who were completely away from God, worshipping idols, like the nations of the earth, such as Canaanites, the Hettites, Adomites, and others????
• A third type is that who worshipped the true God, yet influenced by the worship of idols. Those worshipped God with other gods, an example of whom was Laban.
Laban therefore made an agreement with Jacob when separated from him, and said, "The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor, and the God of their father judge between us." (Gen 31: 53) Solomon the son of David probably fell under this type in his old age, "For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites." (1 Kgs 11: 4, 5)
Therefore, God, appearing to Jacob and speaking to him, wanted to protect him against the deviating worship that had been in Laban's house, by which Rachel also was influenced, being Laban's daughter.
Whatever the case may be, the Lord was pleased with Jacob's vow, with his consecration of that pillar, and with his calling the place Bethel.
Then when God permitted Jacob to leave Laban and return to his father's house, He said to him, "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family." (Gen 31:13)
Therefore, the appearance of the Lord to Jacob in a dram, and the covenant between them in Bethel, were a main turning point in the life of Jacob and his offspring, encouraging him,
"So Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the East." (Gen 29: 1)
This time he went with a strong faith, and God prepared the way before him and made his ways easy. God prepared for him a way to meet Rachel and her father Laban, in a similar way to that which God did to Elizar of Damascus the servant of our father Abraham on going to choose a wife for his son Isaac. He chose her from the same house of Bethuel and Laban. Abraham had said to him, "The Lord, before whom I walk, will send His angel with you and prosper your way." (Gen 24: 40) He is the same angel who the Lord sent afterwards to guide Jacob to the house of his uncle Laban. This Jacob remembered when blessing Ephraim and as Manasseh (Gen 48: 16)
At the well Jacob met Rachel, as Elizar had met Rebekah Jacob's mother before.
There Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice and wept. Then he told her that he was her father’s relative, Rebekah’s son (Gen 29:11, 12).
More about that will be in next week's article, God willing.