“Life in ‘Thin’ Places”
Genesis 28:10-19a; Psalm 139:1-12, 23-24, or Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19
Or Isaiah 44:6-8; Psalm 86:11-17; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Once again, the sermon notes and comments are at the top and the more technical exegetical and translational notes are at the bottom. Be sure you read through them too, and not just the commentary at the top. A lot of background and analysis of the passage are found there.
Enjoy. Be in touch if you have any comments.
Let me start off today with a technical comment that almost no one but me cares about. Source criticism (the kind of analysis that parses the words of the Pentateuch according to which ancient writer might have been the writer, divides the text this way: The Yahwist (or, "J"): 28:10-11a, 13-16, 19a; The Elohist (or "E"): 28:11b-12, 17-18, 20-21a, 22); tradition-historical criticism sees the basic narrative in vv. 10-12 and 16-19, with expansions of this core in vv. 13-15 and 20-22. The E writer has Isaac refer to God as “God Almighty,” El Shaddai, meaning God, the One of the Mountain(s). The importance of this, since Jacob is so far away from home, is that other religions in the area believed that various gods dwelt only on various mountains. The Yahwehist calls God "Yahwist," and that is the name behind much of what we will be looking at today.
Where one Prays
One of the most interesting things for me to learn (from Walter Brueggemann) about this passage is the notion that Abraham was always in constant contact with God. He prayed all the time. His son, Isaac, less so. And then Jacob, the grandson, seems to have no religion at all in his life, and ultimately needs several of these larger-than-life theophanic encounters before he comes around. Jacob ultimately becomes one of the major patriarchs, the one for whom the nation of
is named, but in the meantime, he is a greedy opportunist, a ne’re-do-well. Israel
For example, in the Lectionary reading for last week (Genesis 25:29-34), Jacob hoodwinked his brother out of his birthright. They were out in the country and Esau was hunting and Jacob was cooking (fitting into their role types). Esau came back from the field and was famished, but Jacob refused to give him any food unless Esau traded it for his birthright. Esau, never being known for his brains, agreed and signed it over for a bowl of lentil soup (I hope he enjoyed it…). Then in a passage that is not in the Lectionary, but lies between this one and last week’s, he—with the collusion of his mother—tricks his father into granting him, not Esau, the older brother, the family blessing. He does it by dressing up like his brother and then presenting himself to his aging blind father as his brother and getting Isaac to grant the birthright blessing to the wrong son. And note that he does it at his father’s death bed, just before it became a reality. (I don’t get the sense in either one of these stories that Jacob ever really understood the importance of the family blessing. He never acts like a man blessed, but instead a man cursed.)
Esau is furious about being duped a second time and swears he will kill Jacob (27:41). Specifically, he says that they are about to in a period of mourning for their ailing father, but as soon as that is over he is going to break every bone in his brother’s body (or something like that).
Rebekah, the mother, tells Jacob, he’d best be getting out of town and maybe he should run to her brother’s house for a while until Esau calms down. And she also tells Isaac that she was “weary of the Hittite women” (Esau’s wives) and she doesn’t want Jacob marrying one of them. So in the beginning of today’s chapter, she gets Isaac to send Jacob down south to Paddan-Aram (Country of Aram), Abraham’s ancestral home (24:10), to get himself a wife (“because Canaanite women did not please his father Isaac,” 28:8). (Neither one of them seemed to have much nice to say about the local women, oh well….) So, he sends Isaac off to Haran, to the home of Bethuel (Rebekah’s father) for a daughter of Laban, Bethuel’s son (and Rebekah’s brother). It might be relevant, in terms of the anger of the older brother, that Paddan-Aram is about 550 miles away.
[It’s probably unrelated to our story, but interesting to mention, that when Esau heard what his father had said to Jacob, about not wanting him to marry a Canaanite woman, Esau left home and went to Isaac’s half brother, Ishmael, and married one of his daughters, Mahalath, and added her to his other wives. (v. 9)]
Now, finally, at the beginning of our reading for today, Jacob is off running for his life. He’s all alone. Nobody is with him. Incidentally, people normally would never travel that way in the ancient world because it was too dangerous, but there he is, zooming away out by himself in the wilderness, probably because he is so very determined to get away. Going off to a place where he’d never been, to meet relatives he’s never met. Remember, as we said above, he is not at all portrayed as a religious person. Whereas Abraham prayed all the time, we never hear anything like that from Jacob…until now. This is the very first time, and it is God who comes to Jacob, not Jacob who comes to God.
So, he takes off and travels north, up what is known as the “Central Ridge Road” which goes through the hill country from Beer-sheba through Hebron, Bethel and Shechem, where it joins up with the main artery, called back in those days, the “Great Trunk Road” for all of the caravans carrying trunks that went through there, and was in Beth Shan. It was about 60 miles from Beer-Sheba to
and usually took about two days (and was 550 miles and another month to get to ).  So,
after a while he had to stop because the sun was going down. Haran
Where one meets God
The site where he stopped is thought by some commentators to be pretty random. That might indicate that God can and does meet us at random, not-necessarily-spiritual places. I like that notion. However, there are others who believe that this had been an historically special religious spot. They note that the site was one that had been sacred since the wandering days of his grandfather, Abraham.
“From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb” (Genesis 12:8-9).
Instead of “a certain place,” some ancient manuscripts have a definite article in front of “place.” Which would say, he stopped at “that certain place, which is close to the same thing, but would indicate that it was a special place, one that the writer (and presumably the reader) knew about already. Following that, these commentators argue that the author is alerting the reader that a special holy location is coming up, but that Jacob doesn’t seem aware of it.
That’s possible, but I still like the idea of it being ordinary because it is in the “ordinary” that God meets us. See the notes in the text above for the argument that where it says he “came upon” the location could just as easily be translated “stumbled upon.”
When the Sun went down, Jacob pulled a mighty boulder up and hid behind it for fear of the late night travelers. He props up a stone at his head. The nrsv and others say he put the stone under his head, and by the way, that is where “Jacob’s Pillow” the dance center out in the Berkshires, gets its name. It’s a place of rest, out in the wilderness, where there are a lot of stones. But the actual Bible text doesn’t say he put it under his head. It says he put it at his head, though historically many Bible translators have simply assumed that that meant under. But putting it under creates a problem later in v. 18, where it says that he lifted up the stone and made a “Pillar” out of it, and used it in an anointing ceremony to name the location of his vision. How likely is it that a stone small enough to put under your head to sleep on would also be mighty enough for you to lift up and make into a monument? That would make for a pretty paltry monument to God. So, it’s a little more likely, as other commentators have said, he just moved a big stone up to the head of where he was sleeping to block his view from any passersby late at night. He did, after all, have a number of enemies (one of whom was his brother), so being hidden was probably a good idea.
So, he falls asleep and witnesses one of the most truly amazing and perplexing scenes of the Bible. And this is why I wanted to preach on this story today.
The traditional translations, following the kjv, say he saw a “ladder” (hence the song, “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder,” by the way). But today most modern translations either change that word altogether or give an alternative to it in a note at the bottom of the page. It is highly unlikely that what he saw was what we think of today as a ladder. In fact, they weren’t really invented back in his day. What he probably was looking at was something more like a set of stairs. The word is sullam, from the root sll “to cast up,” perhaps better translated as “ramp.” One likely background image is a stair up to a wadi, a stream bed that is dry except during periods of rainfall. Archaeologists have dug up watering holes that show a divided stairway, divided with a line down the center to allow people going down with empty jugs to walk on one side and people with full jugs coming up to go on the other side. This is possibly the image in the back of his mind. Also possible—and not inconsistent with this—is the “Ziggurat,” which is a stair-step-looking tower that Babylonians believed people could walk up and down on to get in and out of the realm of the Gods. “It is this mythological stairway that the Babylonians sought to represent in the architecture of the Ziggurats. These had been built to provide a way for the deity to descend to the temple and the town.” The Ziggurat is probably the image behind the “
probably seen pictures of them in your world history classes as a kid. They are
kind of like a small pyramid, but with huge steps all around them going up. Tower
For Jacob, it was angels going up and down. Going in and out of heaven. Going to their tasks to be around the world, doing their work, and Jacob was blessed with being able to watch them on their journeys. Some were coming home and some going out, and Jacob could see it all. There seemed to be a crack in the wall between humans and the divine where “Angels of God” would come and go up and down the pyramid/Ziggurat/stairs/ladder. (Cf. John 1:51, Jesus talking to Nathanael, who is following him because Jesus performed a miracle of seeing him from miles away. He is astonished at that, but Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”)
These are “thin spots” of life.
They are places where you can feel the overwhelming presence of the holy. Where the boundaries between ourselves and God are a little less clear. They are “thin.” You can touch the holiness, the “God-ness” of the place. You can feel it.
Usually we get these feelings when we walk into a holy place.
Bruce Feiler, who did the book and series, “Walking the Bible,” made a comment one time after traveling to some holy spot where the bones of Moses were supposed to be buried. He said, historically it is almost impossible for Moses to be buried here. But on the other hand, after generation and generation of people coming here and praying for thousands of years, this spot has become so bathed in prayer that it feels weighted by the spirit. It may not have been a holy place because of actual literal occurrence, but it became so by people bringing their prayers there and being in love with it. But not always.
Have you ever sensed the presence of someone in the room with you even when you can’t see them?
I remember years ago walking into the bedroom one morning to turn off the radio while my little girl, Karla, was still sleeping. She woke up. I said I was sorry I made noise. She said I hadn’t made any noise, but she woke up because she could just feel me in the room.
Have you ever been sitting next to someone you truly loved a hospital bedroom and the person is out cold with the disease or surgery, and you’re sitting there quietly, and when they wake up they say, “I could feel you next to me. I knew you were there.” Your presence is palpable. When you love someone, you can feel their presence.
[A friend of mine bought a little cracker-box house years ago that was on the foot print of a large sprawling home where a domestic fight had occurred and both the husband and wife had died. Occasionally she could feel the presence of the husband in the room with her (and this was before she heard the story of the fight). (Maybe don’t use this story.)]
There are also thin times...
Not a particular place, but a time when we feel the presence of God so heavily that it sticks to you like dew in the early morning.
There’s the story of a man back in Oklahoma who was a carpenter, but lost his hand in an accident at work. So he quit work and stayed at home and let his life rot before his very eyes. Eventually his wife left him and he had nothing to live for. Then one day he saw a piece on TV about Jimmy Carter building houses for Habitat for Humanity and he got out his trailer and drove it down to Plains, Georgia, and found a way to meet Jimmy Carter. Drove up on an early Saturday morning. Just drove up to Jimmy’s home and rang the doorbell. Of all things Jimmy Carter came to the door, wearing a robe with a cup of coffee in his hand. He invited the man in and they sat at his breakfast table for over two hours, talking, sharing, praying, and in the end jimmy signed him up to work on a Habitat house. He helped out on that house, and then another, and another all across the South East US all summer long. Later he said that when he was working on one of the houses (with his one good hand!), he felt the feeling he had felt as a kid when he was praying. Swinging the hammer was prayer for him. Making a house for a family that couldn’t afford one was an act of prayer. Every time he swung the hammer he felt like an angel was guiding his hand. He could feel God with every nail. This was not an overtly pious man. He didn’t have a long, verbal, complicated prayer life, but when he worked for God and for that family up on top of a house, for him that was prayer. God was guiding his hand. And though he didn’t say it, for him, that house was one of the thin places in the world. It was a “Jacob’s Ladder” place.
Many people who have received a Habitat house have said that they felt something holy about the place while living in it and they attributed it to all of the prayers that were said over the house that they could still feel, while living in it.
One last thing:
And God is standing beside the stairway (or at the head of it, the Hebrew is not clear), and he speaks to Jacob: I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac and now you. I will give you this land, and your offspring will be as numerous as the dust of the earth. That line is very similar to the promise that God had made to Abraham. But then he adds this very important piece to the promise: “Know that I will be with you and will keep you, wherever you go, and I will bring you back home again, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (v. 15).
What I like about this story is that to the very end God promises to never leave him. We will read of many more adventures in his life. Sometimes he is noble; often times he is not. Sometimes he does good; often he does not. But every now and then he will encounter God again, still pulling on him, still pushing him, still hanging on to him, and never, ever leaving him. And that’s the everyman or every-woman story, isn’t it. Sometimes we do go, and sometimes we do not. Sometimes we’re noble, and sometimes we are not. Sometimes we are strong, and sometimes we are not. But in all of life we struggle to get the odds better, to get the number of goods to outnumber the bads, and to get the times when we were strong to outnumber the times when we were weak. And the promise that God makes to this family, from Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebekah, and now Jacob and his soon-to-be wed wife, and on and on, is that through it all, God will be with us in that struggle. No matter who you are, or what you ‘ve done, or where you are on life’s journey, God will never let up on you.
I will be with you and will keep you wherever you go.
I will bring you home again.
I will not leave you until I have finished what I promised you.
And then, the story says, “Jacob woke up, and said, ‘how awesome is this place.’” I agree.
 From the exegetical notes above: “Verse 13 is ambiguous in the Hebrew. The NRSV translates the Hebrew word ˒alayw as ‘And the Lord stood beside him’ (but with a footnote saying, ‘stood above it’), while the NIV translates, ‘There above it [the ladder] stood the Lord’ (with a footnote, ‘There beside him’). Although good arguments can be made either way, the translation ‘above it’ is to be preferred for two reasons. First, the suffixes of verse 12, ‘the top of it’ and ‘on it,’ both refer to the ladder. One would expect that the next suffix (v. 13) would refer to the same ladder: ‘above it [the ladder] stood the Lord.’ Wenham, in his commentary on Genesis 16–50, also points out that ‘the vision is described through Jacob’s eyes, so ‘over me’ might be expected, if Jacob was the referent (cf. 40:9, ‘before me’).’ Second, the context (v. 12) speaks of a ladder with its top ‘reaching to heaven,’ that is, the dwelling place of God. This tilts the translation of verse 13 to ‘there above it [the ladder] stood the Lord.’ The sovereign Lord speaks to Jacob from his heavenly throne” (Sidney Greidanus in Roger Van Harn, ed., The Lectionary Commentary : Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Texts [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001], p. 53).
James Luther Mays, Publishers Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper's Bible Commentary, Ge 28:10 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988).
 Chris Haslam (http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/)
 Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation Commentary: Genesis (Atlanta: john Knox Press, 1982).
 Brueggemann, Genesis pp. 132-134.
 Sidney Greidanus, Lectionary commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Texts, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001), p. 53.
 Victor harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000)
 Juliana Claassens, the Working Preacher (www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=968). The Complete Word Study Dictionary (Chattanooga, TN: AMG International, Inc., © 1992) translates the phrase “came upon” (pāg̱a‛) as “‘to meet,’ or “encounter.’ Sometimes with hostility, and in those instances it is usually rendered ‘to fall upon’ (Jos 2:16; Jdg 8:21; Ruth 2:22).”
 See comments in my textual notes above.
 “It is not clear whether the ‘ladder’ (Heb. sullam) indicates a ladder with rungs or a stairway up a temple tower (ziggurat, see 11:4). Whatever the case, the important point is that Jacob sees in his dream that heaven and earth are not two separated, independent worlds: a ladder links heaven and earth and God’s angels are ’ascending and descending on it’” (Roger Van Harn, The Lectionary Commentary : Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Texts (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001), p. 53.
 Matthews, Chavalas and Walton, IV Bible Background Commentary: OT.
 “Verse 13 is ambiguous in the Hebrew. The NRSV translates the Hebrew word ˒alayw as ‘And the Lord stood beside him’ (but with a footnote saying, ‘stood above it’), while the NIV translates, ‘There above it [the ladder] stood the Lord’ (with a footnote, ‘There beside him’). Although good arguments can be made either way, the translation ‘above it’ is to be preferred for two reasons. First, the suffixes of verse 12, ‘the top of it’ and ‘on it,’ both refer to the ladder. One would expect that the next suffix (v. 13) would refer to the same ladder: ‘above it [the ladder] stood the Lord.’ Wenham, in his commentary on Genesis 16–50, also points out that ‘the vision is described through Jacob’s eyes, so ‘over me’ might be expected, if Jacob was the referent (cf. 40:9, ‘before me’).’ Second, the context (v. 12) speaks of a ladder with its top ‘reaching to heaven,’ that is, the dwelling place of God. This tilts the translation of verse 13 to ‘there above it [the ladder] stood the Lord.’ The sovereign Lord speaks to Jacob from his heavenly throne” (Sidney Greidanus in Roger Van Harn, ed., The Lectionary Commentary : Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Texts [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001], p. 53).
Translation and exegetical notes
(“J” = Yahwist; “E” = Elohist)
Jacob’s Dream at Bethel
(J) 10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. (E)Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
(J) 13And the LORD stood beside him and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!” (E)17And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”18So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. (J)19He called that place Bethel; (E)but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
 “Beer-sheba.” Well of the sevenfold oath. City at the south edge of Israel. “Abraham spent much time there (Gn. 22:19). It was probably a part of Palestine without an urban population, since the seasonal nature of the pasturage would not have been conducive to settled conditions. From here he set out to offer up Isaac. Isaac was dwelling here when Jacob set out for Harran (Gn. 28:10). On his way through to Joseph in Egypt, Jacob stopped here to offer sacrifices (Gn. 46:1). In the division of the land it went to the tribe of Simeon (Jos. 19:2).” (W. J. Martin and A. R. Millard, “Beersheba,” ed. D. R. W. Wood et al., New Bible Dictionary [Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996], p. 127.)
 “Haran.” In northern Mesopotamia, the city where Abram’s father went after leaving Ur of the Chaldees (Gen 11:31-32) and where he died, and from where Abram by God’s instruction migrated to the land of Canaan (Gen 12). Isaac’s wife, Rebekah was from there (Gen 24:10). (Leander Keck, Cambridge Study Bible)
 “Came” (pāg̱a‛): To meet, or encounter. Sometimes with hostility, and in those instances it is usually rendered “to fall upon” (Jos_2:16; Jdg_8:21; Rth_2:22). Therefore, Juliana Claassens, of “Working Preacher,” translates this as “Stumble upon,” meaning he came upon this location by accident (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=968).
 “A certain place” (māqôm). “The rendering ‘a certain place’ does not preserve all the connotations of the Hebrew. The meaning is rather ‘the well-known place,’ ‘the place we are talking about,’ i.e., the sanctuary at Bethel. The word translated “place’ also has the meaning ‘sanctuary.’ The implication of the verse is thus that the place was already holy—according to Semitic ideas, a spot at which man could come into effective contact with the divine. Of this, however, Jacob knew nothing. He simply happened to stop there for the night, as Moses happened to stop at a holy place in the desert (Exod. 4:24-26).” (Cuthbert Simpson, Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis, Vol. I, 1952), p. 689. On the other hand, others believe it to mean a place that was well known to the writer, not to Isaac. The NET Bible note says “The article may indicate simply that the place is definite in the mind of the narrator.” Juliana Claassens, of “Working Preacher,” says the writer understands it not to have been special at the time, but became special because of this event. “God meets Jacob at a place of no particular significance and transforms it into the house of God” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_print.aspx?commentary_id=968).
 “Under his head.” Unlikely that he used a stone for a pillow, for it would be of insignificant size to later lift up and anoint with oil as a “pillar” to the sacred place (v. 18). More likely, and consistent with the Hebrew, he placed a much bigger stone somewhere near the top of his head. One commentator suggested that Jacob, instead of using it for a pillow, actually slid the boulder over near to where he was sleeping so that he couldn’t be seen by travelers, or his numerous enemies. “It is possible the stone served some other purpose. Jacob does not seem to have been a committed monotheist yet (see Gen_28:20-21) so he may have believed it contained some spiritual power. Note that later in the story he anticipates the stone becoming the residence of God (see Gen_28:22). Many cultures throughout the world view certain types of stones as magical and/or sacred” (NET Bible note).
 The Hebrew at this point has “look” or “behold” (hinneh), and before “ladder,” and before “the Lord.” J. P. Fokkelman points out that the particle goes with a lifted arm and an open mouth: “There, a ladder! Oh, angels! and look, the Lord himself” (Narrative Art in Genesis [SSN], 51-52. Cited in NET Bible).
 nrsv note: Or stairway or ramp The Hebrew is sullam, from the root sll ‘to cast up’, therefore more properly translated ‘ramp’. Jesus alludes to this scene in John 1:51, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
 nrsv note: Or stood above it Or stood beside it. Note that Yahweh is not portrayed as having used it, but as standing beside it (this is the proper translation of the Hebrew idiom) (Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : Old Testament [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000]). “Verse 13 is ambiguous in the Hebrew. The NRSV translates the Hebrew word ˒alayw as ‘And the Lord stood beside him’ (but with a footnote saying, ‘stood above it’), while the NIV translates, ‘There above it [the ladder] stood the Lord’ (with a footnote, ‘There beside him’). Although good arguments can be made either way, the translation ‘above it’ is to be preferred for two main reasons. First, the suffixes of verse 12, ‘the top of it’ and ‘on it,’ both refer to the ladder. One would expect that the next suffix (v. 13) would refer to the same ladder: ‘above it [the ladder] stood the Lord.’ Wenham, in his commentary on Genesis 16–50, also points out that ‘the vision is described through Jacob’s eyes, so ‘over me’ might be expected, if Jacob was the referent (cf. 40:9, ‘before me’).’ Second, the context (v. 12) speaks of a ladder with its top ‘reaching to heaven,’ that is, the dwelling place of God. This tilts the translation of verse 13 to ‘there above it [the ladder] stood the Lord.’ The sovereign Lord speaks to Jacob from his heavenly throne” (Sidney Greidanus in Roger Van Harn, ed., The Lectionary Commentary : Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Texts [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001], p. 53).
 nrsv note: Or shall bless themselves
 “Fear…Awesome” (yārē’) Verb meaning to fear, to respect, to reverence, to be afraid, to be awesome, to be feared, to make afraid, to frighten. Note that the words translated fear and awesome are both yārē’.
 “Such a stone could be used as a boundary marker, a burial stone, or as a shrine. Here the stone is intended to be a reminder of the stairway that was "erected" and on which the Lord "stood." (In Hebrew the word translated "sacred stone" is derived from the verb translated "erected" in Gen. 28:12 and "stood" in Gen. 28:13.” (NET Bible).
 Since the top of the stairway reached the heavens where the Lord stood, Jacob poured oil on the top of the stone. (NET Bible). “Sacred pillars or standing stones are well known in the religious practice of the ancient Near East predating the fourth millennium b.c.e. They are featured prominently in Canaanite cultic installations and were also used in the Israelite temple at Arad. Some were simply memorials. From basins sometimes found near the foot of such pillars, it is inferred that libations (liquid offerings) were poured over them, as Jacob did here and in 35:14. The anointing of the pillar would constitute the dedication of it.” Matthews, Chavalas and Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : Old Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
 nrsv note: That is House of God. Beth-“house of,” El-“God.” About 12 miles (19 km) north of Jerusalem.: