Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Jacob's Departure from his Parents' House. - Rebekah's complaint reminded Isaac of his own call, and his consequent duty to provide for Jacob's marriage in a manner corresponding to the divine counsels of salvation.
He called Jacob, therefore, and sent him to Padan-Aram to his mother's relations, with instructions to seek a wife there, and not among the daughters of Canaan, giving him at the same time the "blessing of Abraham," i.e., the blessing of promise, which Abraham had repeatedly received from the Lord, but which is more especially recorded in Gen 17:2., and Gen 22:16-18.
When Esau heard of this blessing and the sending away of Jacob, and saw therein the displeasure of his parents at his Hittite wives, he went to Ishmael - i.e., to the family of Ishmael, for Ishmael himself had been dead fourteen years - and took as a third wife Mahalath, a daughter of Ishmael (called Bashemath in Gen 36:3, a descendant of Abraham therefore), a step by which he might no doubt ensure the approval of his parents, but in which he failed to consider that Ishmael had been separated from the house of Abraham and family of promise by the appointment of God; so that it only furnished another proof that he had no thought of the religious interests of the chosen family, and was unfit to be the recipient of divine revelation.
Jacob's Dream at Bethel. - As he was travelling from Beersheba, where Isaac was then staying (Gen 26:25), to Haran, Jacob came to a place where he was obliged to stop all night, because the sun had set. The words "he hit (lighted) upon the place," indicate the apparently accidental, yet really divinely appointed choice of this place for his night-quarters; and the definite article points it out as having become well known through the revelation of God that ensued. After making a pillow with the stones (מאשׁת, head-place, pillow), he fell asleep and had a dream, in which he saw a ladder resting upon the earth, with the top reaching to heaven; and upon it angels of God going up and down, and Jehovah Himself standing above it. The ladder was a visible symbol of the real and uninterrupted fellowship between God in heaven and His people upon earth. The angels upon it carry up the wants of men to God, and bring down the assistance and protection of God to men. The ladder stood there upon the earth, just where Jacob was lying in solitude, poor, helpless, and forsaken by men. Above in heaven stood Jehovah, and explained in words the symbol which he saw. Proclaiming Himself to Jacob as the God of his fathers, He not only confirmed to him all the promises of the fathers in their fullest extent, but promised him protection on his journey and a safe return to his home (Gen 28:13-15). But as the fulfilment of this promise to Jacob was still far off, God added the firm assurance, "I will not leave thee till I have done (carried out) what I have told thee."
Jacob gave utterance to the impression made by this vision as soon as he awoke from sleep, in the words, "Surely Jehovah is in this place, and I knew it not." Not that the omnipresence of God was unknown to him; but that Jehovah in His condescending mercy should be near to him even here, far away from his father's house and from the places consecrated to His worship-it was this which he did not know or imagine. The revelation was intended not only to stamp the blessing, with which Isaac had dismissed him from his home, with the seal of divine approval, but also to impress upon Jacob's mind the fact, that although Jehovah would be near to protect and guide him even in a foreign land, the land of promise was the holy ground on which the God of his fathers would set up the covenant of His grace. On his departure from that land, he was to carry with him a sacred awe of the gracious presence of Jehovah there. To that end the Lord proved to him that He was near, in such a way that the place appeared "dreadful," inasmuch as the nearness of the holy God makes an alarming impression upon unholy man, and the consciousness of sin grows into the fear of death. But in spite of this alarm, the place was none other than "the house of God and the gate of heaven," i.e., a place where God dwelt, and a way that opened to Him in heaven.
In the morning Jacob set up the stone at his head, as a monument (מצּבה) to commemorate the revelation he had received from God; and poured oil upon the top, to consecrate it as a memorial of the mercy that had been shown him there (visionis insigne μνημόσυνον, Calvin), not as an idol or an object or divine worship (vid., Exo 30:26.). - He then gave the place the name of Bethel, i.e., House of God, whereas (ואוּלם) the town had been called Luz before. This antithesis shows that Jacob gave the name, not to the place where the pillar was set up, but to the town, in the neighbourhood of which he had received the divine revelation. He renewed it on his return from Mesopotamia (Gen 35:15). This is confirmed by Gen 48:3, where Jacob, like the historian in Gen 35:6-7, speaks of Luz as the place of this revelation. There is nothing at variance with this in Jos 16:2; Jos 18:13; for it is not Bethel as a city, but the mountains of Bethel, that are there distinguished from Luz (see my Commentary on Jos 16:2).
(Note: The fact mentioned here has often been cited as the origin of the anointed stones (βαίτυλοι) of the heathen, and this heathen custom has been regarded as a degeneration of the patriarchal. But apart from this essential difference, that the Baetulian worship was chiefly connected with meteoric stones (cf. F. von Dalberg, @fcb. d. Meteor-cultus d. Alten), which were supposed to have come down from some god, and were looked upon as deified, this opinion is at variance with the circumstance, that Jacob himself, in consecrating the stone by pouring oil upon it, only followed a custom already established, and still more with the fact, that the name βαίτυλοι, Βαιτόλια, notwithstanding its sounding like Bethel, can hardly have arisen from the name Beth-El, Gr. Βαιθήλ, since the τ for θ would be perfectly inexplicable. Dietrich derives βαιτύλιον from בּטּל, to render inoperative, and interprets it amulet.)
Lastly, Jacob made a vow: that if God would give him the promised protection on his journey, and bring him back in safety to his father's house, Jehovah should be his God (והיה in Gen 28:21 commences the apodosis), the stone which he had set up should be a house of God, and Jehovah should receive a tenth of all that He gave to him. It is to be noticed here, that Elohim is used in the protasis instead of Jehovah, as constituting the essence of the vow: if Jehovah, who had appeared to him, proved Himself to be God by fulfilling His promise, then he would acknowledge and worship Him as his God, by making the stone thus set up into a house of God, i.e., a place of sacrifice, and by tithing all his possessions. With regard to the fulfilment of this vow, we learn from Gen 35:7 that Jacob built an altar, and probably also dedicated the tenth to God, i.e., offered it to Jehovah; or, as some have supposed, applied it partly to the erection and preservation of the altar, and partly to burnt and thank-offerings combined with sacrificial meals, according to the analogy of Deu 14:28-29 (cf. Gen 31:54; Gen 46:1).