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When Jacob runs away from Esau he goes to his uncle at Padam Aram.On his way he passes through the city of Luz and and has a dream at night of angels ascending and descending,God also gives him promises of the land.When he wakes up in the morning he takes a pillar,anoints it and calls the place Bethel

Genesis 28:11-19 NKJV

11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants 19 And he called the name of that place [d]Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously

Some years later when he returns from Padan Aram he passes through the same place.God appears to him at night again and gives him the same promises he had given earlier on.In the morning when he wakes up he takes a pillar ,anoints it and calls the place Bethel

Genesis 35:6-15 NKJV

6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him9 Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. 13 Then God went[d] up from him in the place where He talked with him. 14 So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. 15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel.

Why does Jacob name the place twice?

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There are several reasons for the renaming of Bethel. Here are some suggestions:

  • In the first occasion (Gen 28), Jacob was escaping for his life from his brother Esau. Jacob was alone, frightened and discouraged. When he was given the vision of angels and ladder/stairway, he named the place Bethel. However, because he was alone, probably no one knew about this. When he returned to the same place 20 years later, he was accompanied by his rapidly growing family of 4 wives, 11 or 12 children (at least), probably many servants and shepherds and huge flocks and herds. God appeared the second time (Gen 35:9) and so he recalled the name given previously and renamed the place, "Bethel" for the benefit of his large household so that they knew it as such.
  • Jacob may have partially forgotten he details of the previous experience and upon arriving at Bethel had (incorrectly) named the place "El-bethel" (Gen 35:7). However, when God appeared to Jacob, he correctly named the place, "Bethel" (Gen 35:15).
  • It appears that when Jacob named the place "Bethel" the first time (Gen 28:19) he had made a number of pious vows to God as the sole true God of heaven (Gen 28:20-22). However, with the passing of 20 years on his return, Jacobs resolve to serve YHWH had slipped and idol worship had become common in his household and so when Jacob left Paddan-Aram to return to Bethel as instructed (Gen 35:1), they decided to renew their dedication to the true God and rid themselves of idols (Gen 25:2-4). Thus, Jacob renaming the place where he meets God a second time is a place where he renews his covenant with God (or at least in preparation for going there).

The same conclusions are reached by other interpreters as well. Eg, Ellicott:

Jacob called . . . —See Genesis 28:19. The name had, of course, remained unknown and unused, as what then passed had been confined to Jacob’s own inward consciousness. He now teaches the name to his family, explains the reason why he first gave it, and requires them to employ it.

Barnes also notes:

God appears to Jacob again at Bethel, and renews the promise made to him there Genesis 28:13-14. Again. The writer here refers to the former meeting of God with Jacob at Bethel, and thereby proves himself cognizant of the fact, and of the record already made of it. "When he went out of Padan-aram." This corroborates the explanation of the clause, Genesis 35:6, "which is in the land of Kenaan." Bethel was the last point in this land that was noticed in his flight from Esau. His arrival at the same point indicates that he has now returned from Padan-aram to the land of Kenaan. "He called his name Israel." At Bethel he renews the change of name, to indicate that the meetings here were of equal moment in Jacob's spiritual life with that at Penuel. It implies also that this life had been declining in the interval between Penuel and Bethel, and had now been revived by the call of God to go to Bethel, and by the interview. The renewal of the naming aptly expresses this renewal of spiritual life.

The Pulpit commentary records:

Verse 15. - And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel. This name was first given after the dream vision of the ladder (Genesis 28:19); already on this occasion it had been changed into El-beth-el (ver. 7); now its old name is reimposed.

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The patriarchs “rename”—or, perhaps better, identify—Luz as “Beth-el” no fewer than four times (Abram once, Jacob three times). Why? Partly it is because it is much more significant that the place is a House of God (the meaning of “Beth-el”), if it is, than that pagans call it “Luz.” Indeed such a name invites repetition: it suggests a temple.

That is, we must not forget that temples and churches are often called houses of God, and that in the tabernacle and ancient Hebrew temple, the shekinah of God was said to dwell between the cherubim, above the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies—in "the house of God." And when Jacob returns to the place, he builds an altar that the Lord told him to build (35:7). Thus, this appears to be an early form of temple, complete with sacrificial altar and the nearby sanctum, duly anointed, where the priest would interface with God, as Jacob, God's anointed, did.

Very well. This still leaves unanswered the question why Jacob apparently “renamed” the place as “Beth-el” (or, once, “El-Beth-el”) three times. But first I want to ask, "Is that what he did—renaming?"

A bit of background sheds light on this. The place of Jacob’s ladder is the same Beth-el as that at which Abram first built an altar (Gen 12:8); suffice to say that there is plenty of evidence of this elsewhere, and it would be tedious to prove it. The only reason for doubting it is that the text states that Jacob “called the name of that place Beth-el” (28:19)—yet it was previously called that in the text. So, why would he name a place previously named?

The problem is reminiscent of Isaac’s re-christening Beer-sheba after Abraham had explicitly named it (see 21:31 and then 26:32-33). There the explanation is that Isaac gave the wells his men re-opened their former names (26:18), thereby reclaiming them.

So here I propose a somewhat similar explanation. While there was a city probably very close by called Luz, Jacob instead chose to call the place of his dream in Gen 28 “The House of God,” “rechristening” the spot. This was in accordance both with the dream he just had, and with the family’s traditional name for the place, which probably began with Abram. It is as if Jacob said: “This shall remain our name for the place—not the unholy Canaanite ‘Luz.’”

When Jacob returns to the spot some 30 years later, he gives it the newer variant name “El-Beth-el,” meaning “God of the House of God.” This is yet another instance of a patriarch giving the same or a similar name to a place previously named. Other instances include Abram’s original naming of Luz to Beth-el, Isaac rechristening Beer-sheba, and Jacob himself first calling the place “Beth-el” after the dream of the ladder.

But here I would like to add another conjecture: rather than rechristening the place, Jacob is reidentifying it, perhaps for the benefit of his family, as Coffman‘s commentary suggests. It is as if Jacob said, “Yes, this is indeed Beth-el, the same that I visited 30 years ago.”

Still, this leaves unanswered why he called the place by—as it were—a name of God. That is, “El-Beth-el” resembles in form “El Shaddai,” for example. Is that really how we should understand the place’s name? Perhaps; I suppose it might mean that Jacob is representing God as filling the place, so that to point to the place (maybe especially the altar) is to point to God. But it is also possible that this was just a method of adding a second “El” to “Beth,” honoring God through repetition, as in the “emphatic plural” or “plural of majesty”. I do not know whether this is actually how the emphatic plural actually works, however.

Then, as if to make the matter maximally confusing, Jacob is yet again (for a third time) shown naming Beth-el as such (35:15), though this time without the prefixed “El-”, as at 35:7. Why? As we have seen, this is no mere random place-name. As a "house of God," this place is like a temple, and thus honors the God who has just appeared to and blessed him yet again (35:9-13). And notice: this final instance must make it very clear that we must not be confused by the construction “called the name of the place”. That phrase simply does not mean “newly christened the place,” as you might think if you took the verse on its own, out of context. No, "called the name of the place" means, rather, “praised God (again) with the honorific for the place.” The honorific was traditional for the family by then, but was just now given renewed, deep meaning.

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Both incidents Jacob feared man, and God in both incidents met with Jacob to remind him of who God was and that his (Jacob's) future was dependent on God not Jacob. Even reminding him of his name change and the promises associated with it. We too forget who we are as children of God and begin to live from a place of fear instead of faith.

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