16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. 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. 18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.
“The house of God,” was what Jacob called this place of holy visitation, and he was in a reverential fear of the place! This idea of a house for God will reoccur many times throughout the Bible. Initially the house of God was in the mountains, far and removed from the places of man. Later God instituted the tabernacle through Moses, a specially dedicated place for Him to come and abide while the children of Israel wandered through the desert. Next, God commissioned King Solomon to build him a permanent edifice: the temple. Of course, that temple was eventually destroyed, twice, and where the house of God is today is disputed by the different branches of theology.
I love the detail in verse 18 about Jacob making his altar from the stones he had laid out for his pillow. A common pattern among the “houses of God” is that they are formed through the sacrifice of His people. Here Jacob is in a place of extreme poverty, lacking even the most basic of comforts, yet he gives what very little he has to build a foundation for his God. By surrendering his all to God, he is becoming clay that the Master can form into whatever He wishes.