Jacob's Vow At Bethel
It was a time of family turmoil and uncertainty. To save his life from his own brother's rage, Jacob was fleeing north to take refuge with his uncle Laban:
"27:41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him [see Why Did Esau Lose The Blessing?]: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob [see Cain and Esau].
"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"
Jacob made rapid progress on his journey. The thought of not being caught and killed in the open country, away from his parents' protection (but as Jacob was soon to learn, never away from the LORD's protection) by his skillful hunter brother Esau likely gave "quiet" Jacob more than a little extra energy to run (i.e. "Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents" Genesis 25:27 KJV).
Jacob arrived at Luz (which Jacob would soon rename as Bethel) and stopped for the night (perhaps a cold, dark night because he may have realized that a campfire would provide a deadly homing beacon for Esau; if Esau had been coming after him, he would likely have taken to the highest ground possible and scanned in all directions for a campfire - and then attacked his sleeping brother out of the darkness). But Esau was not pursuing - nor would it have mattered if he was. That night, Jacob had his famous "ladder to heaven" (also known as the "stairway to heaven") dream. The LORD assured Jacob that not only would he safely go away, and return, but that the land would belong to him and his descendants.
"28:10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
When Jacob awoke, he knew that it was not just an ordinary dream (see the Fact Finder question below); the LORD really did speak to him. "And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first." In Hebrew, Beth means house; El is a Name of God.
"28:16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. 28:17 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 [see Heavens Below, Heavens Above].
Jacob then made a vow to the LORD to do two things.
"28:20 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, 28:21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 28:22 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." (Genesis 28:20-22 KJV)