Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. Gen. 28:16.
When Jacob slept with the rock for a pillow and saw the ladder reaching to heaven, the plan of salvation was presented to him; not fully, but in parts as were essential to him at that time. Although his mind at once grasped a part of the revelation, its great and mysterious truths were the study of his lifetime and were unfolded to his understanding more and more.
Let's look at the story in Genesis 28:13, 14. God is telling Jacob that the promises made to Abraham were just as good for him. Verse 15 says, "Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places..., and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." Doesn't that sound like good news? And Jacob awakened and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." He was afraid. He set up a stone marker and called the place Bethel.
Verse 20 records how he slipped into something that was characteristic of his philosophy of religion at that time. "And Jacob vowed a vow." Look carefully at his vow. "If God will be with me, if He will keep me in the way I'm going and will give me food and clothing, if God will bring me back to my father's house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God." He's trying to make a deal with God. "You scratch my back and I'll scratch Yours." Is the plan of salvation based on that? It's obvious that there was some misunderstanding on Jacob's part of how God works. He makes a vow. Salvation is not based on our making vows to God, it is our accepting the vows that God has already made to us. Genuine faith continues to love and trust God regardless of what happens to us. God has promised only strength for the day, not skies always blue. If Jacob had gone hungry, genuine faith would have said, "I still love You and trust You regardless."
Jacob continued making deals with God all the way to the brook Jabbok. Finally, he was found alone. It was there that he gave up on doing it himself and surrendered totally to the control of God.