Returning to Bethel

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This week we are reading Genesis 35-43. We are going to discuss chapter 35, as this is the last major discussion about Jacob (Israel) before learning about Joseph.
Remember last week we read that while Jacob was fleeing his brother Esau because his life was in danger, he stopped at a place and had a dream about God speaking above a ladder with angels ascending and descending the ladder. This was Jacob’s first encounter with God. Jacob set up a pillar and worshipped God and called the area Bethel (House of God).

20 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 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the LORD[f] will be my God 22 and[g] 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 28:20-22)

God meets Jacob during his greatest need in a dream. What happens next to Jacob? Does he stay on fire for the Lord? Unfortunately, he does not. He continues on his journey to his Uncle Lamen’s house, lives there for 20 years, gets 2 wives and their maidservants, 11 sons and 1 daughter, and became prosperous with many flocks, man and maidservants, camels and donkeys. Jacob conned his uncle in order to obtain his wealth. He had worked hard, but he was still a deceiver.
Jacob then heard from the Lord that he was to go back to his father’s land. His father in-law suspected Jacob had done something wrong in order to get all his possessions, but they were able to make a deal and Jacob left without a fight.
Jacob was fearful about meeting his brother again, because he had cheated him out of his birthright and blessing. He did obey God, and go back to the land. Esau forgave him. Prior to meeting up with Esau, Jacob wrestled with a man. During that time the man (who was really God in the form of an angel) changed Jacob’s name to Israel “because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:28).

Even after the dream and the wrestling match with God, Jacob still struggles with issues. In Genesis 34, his daughter Dinah is raped, and Jacob does nothing. His sons seek terrible revenge, and it was inappropriate, but Jacob did nothing.
Inn chapter 35, God calls Jacob back to Bethel.
“1Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.
6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel,[a] because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.[b]
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram,[c] God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob,[d] but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.[e]” So he named him Israel.
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty[f]; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.[g]”

The story of Jacob is such a good reminder that when we mess up, God opens his arms wide open and asks us to come back to Him. He wants us to get rid of the filth (foreign gods), and worship Him (build an alter). He reminds us of His promises just as He reminded Jacob. He lets us know we are no longer the same person that we were before meeting God, just like Jacob. His name was no longer Jacob (the deceiver) but Israel (people who struggle with God and man, and overcome). He went from being a liar to being an overcomer. He reminded Jacob of the nation and kings that would come of him, the land he would give to him.

God does the same for you and I as well. When we mess up, he is there, and he opens his loving arms and takes us back. He reminds us who we are in Christ. We are changed.

  1. Has life gotten so busy that you are not spending time with God?
  2. Maybe God is calling you to return to Bethel, get rid of your idols, and worship Him. Won’t you join me.

Reading next week will be Genesis 44-50:26.

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