Genesis 31:11-13 - "I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to Me...."

The angel of God said to me in the dream, 'Jacob.' I answered, 'Here I am.' And he said, 'Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 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.' " (Genesis 31:13)

Did God or His angel speak to Jacob?

This dream is quite confusing because as Jacob explains his dream to Rachel and Leah, he says an angel of God appeared to him and spoke within the dream.

So why did the dream end up with a statement seemingly spoken by God? There is no transition from the angel speaking to God speaking. The statement is begun by the angel and then suddenly it appears to be that God is speaking - as it appears to reference the vow that Jacob made to God in the first person.

This brings up a question of whether this text is portraying the event accurately. Why the inconsistency if this is an accurate portrayal?

Certainly there is the possibility that the angel is conveying God's statement. If that were so, the text does not clarify that.

This is not the first such inconsistency found in Genesis with regard to references to God and His angels. For example, there was the confusion of the three men who appeared outside of Abraham's tent. Although there were three men, the text seems to portray a single person - God - communicating with Abraham.

Another example was the two angels that appeared before Lot in the town of Sodom. Here again we find a confusing discussion of the angels, leading to the common yet false interpretation that the city men were demanding to see the angels in order to have homosexual sex with them.

Then we find the general differing references to God, including LORD (יְהֹוָה Yĕhovah) sometimes, and God (אֱלֹהִים 'elohiym) in other cases.

These and many other inconsistencies display a sometimes-awkward combining of oral and written history from a variety of sources. This recording of the Torah occurred during a time of strife in the Middle East. Many historians note that the scribes who recorded Genesis were exiled to Babylon just prior to recording the Torah into writing for the first time.

What about the devotion portrayed in This text?

Yet we can see clearly from these verses that Jacob enjoyed a devotional relationship with God.

"I am the God of Bethel" is reminding Jacob of his devotion to God. The Hebrew word translated to "Bethel" is בית–אל (Beyth-'El). While it has been interpreted as a location in Judea, this literally means "house of God."

A "house of God" in ancient times was a shrine or altar to God. It was a place where God is worshiped by those who were devoted to Him.

Because "Bethel" relates to the worship of God, and more specifically to a shrine of God, we know that God is simply reminding Jacob of his devotional relationship with God.

This statement is reminding Jacob of his devotion, which was cemented after Jacob awoke from a previous dream where God spoke to him:
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it." He was afraid [revered] and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven." Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. (Genesis 18:16-19)
So we see that while Bethel is being referred to by the translators as though it is the name of a city having undergone a name change, it is actually describing the devotional altar that Jacob erected for the Supreme Being - which reflects directly upon the devotional relationship between Jacob and God.

What is the vow that Jacob made to God?

In Genesis 28, we find that Jacob made a vow to God. What was that vow?
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, "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." (Genesis 28:20-23)
This "vow" from Jacob sets up an interesting challenge. Jacob is saying that "if" God takes care of him and helps him return home, then he will honor Him as God and give Him a tenth of whatever he earns.

This portrayal illustrates another contradiction, obviously created at some point through the oral transmission of this event or during its later transcription. If Jacob is devoted to the Supreme Being, he wouldn't need to set up some kind of condition. Demanding that he will only devote himself to God if God takes care of him and returns him home contradicts the very concept of devotion.

What about the tenth? Does God really need a tenth of all we earn?

The tenth of what he earns is considered in modern times as a tithing. This is not the origin of this custom, however. We find that Abraham gave a tenth of his belongings to Melchizedek:
Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, "Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand." Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:18-20)
This illustrates that Melchizedek was considered God's representative by Abraham and others. Giving the tithing to Melchizedek illustrates that Abraham considered Melchizedek his spiritual teacher.

We see from Genesis 18:16-19 that Jacob so revered God that when he awoke from his dream wherein God spoke with him, he revered the location and the stone he rested his head on - and he worshiped them. Why? Because God appeared to him there.

Just consider this is everyday life. Let's say that a wife's husband goes off to war. When he is gone, the wife will treasure simple things that remind her of her husband. Perhaps she might treasure her husband's baseball glove sitting in the closet. Or a bracelet he gave her. These things become more important to the wife when the husband is gone. This is called love in separation.

When a loving servant of God comes into contact with God there is joy. But following that contact, the loving servant wants to remember the Supreme Being - because they are in love with God.

This is the purpose of an altar to the Supreme Being. These are shrines set up by one or multiple loving servants to God.

What Jacob is doing with the vow is stating his dependence upon the Supreme Being and the fact that he will commit his life to serving God. The idea of "I will give You a tenth" has been orchestrated among ecclesiastical teachings into a ritual custom that obligates followers to give a tenth of his income as a tithing.

Giving a tenth is not necessarily be wrong, but the point is being missed. The point is that Jacob is committing that whatever he receives, he will offer it back to God - a portion of everything. This is a devotional statement. The focus here is the offering - "I will give."

The Hebrew word translated here to "vow" is נֶדֶר (neder). This means "votive offering" according to the lexicon.

Why are offerings to God important?

Offering to God is critical in establishing a relationship with Him. This is critical because in order to establish a relationship with someone, we must make an offering to them. We must reach out to them, expressing our care for them - or at least our desire to know them better.

This happens in any relationship. A man will bring a flower to a woman, for example. This is an expression of his desire to have a relationship with the woman - or to express his affection for her.

Remember this statement by David:
"I will sacrifice a freewill offering to You; I will praise your Name, LORD, for it is good." (Psalms 54:6)
David writes here that an offering to God is accompanied by praising God's Holy Name. This is the ceremonial worship of God.

Just consider what a man does when he brings the woman a flower - he invokes the woman's name and praises her. This is a result of the man's infatuation with the woman. He wants to please the woman. He wants to have a relationship with the woman.

It is no different with the Supreme Being. If we want to have a relationship with God we must offer Him something and praise His Holy Names. This is the ancient method used by the entire lineage being narrated in the Old Testament. God is a Person, and if we want to re-establish our loving relationship with Him we must reach out to Him.

An altar is not only set up for the loving servant. A loving servant will set up an altar so others can worship God. This is referred to as missionary work.

This means that Jacob was a missionary. We can see this in the fact that he built an altar to God while traveling - and we can see that the Supreme Being is directing Jacob's travels in the statement above:
"Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.'"
God is directing Jacob because Jacob has committed his life to God ("the LORD will be my God").

This is what a loving servant of God does: They follow the Supreme Being, and do what is pleasing to Him. This is loving devotion. And this is the sum and substance of the teachings of all the loving servants of God, despite any contradicting details:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Deuteronomy 6:5)