Jacob Returns To Bethel
The good news of the Gospel is that we don’t have to stay the way we are. No matter how many times we’ve failed the Lord, we can go home again if we truly repent and obey. It happened to
- Abraham (Gen 13:1-4),
- Isaac (Gen 26:17),
- David (2 Sam. 12),
- Jonah (Jonah 3:1-3),
- Peter (John 21:15-19);
- And now it’s happening to Jacob.
Genesis is filled with moral failures and ethical dilemmas, the kinds of things that happen in real life.
Abraham’s children are not perfect people; they—like the rest of us—are deeply flawed and conflicted over the tough moral choices we all have to make.
After Dinah is forcibly raped, what are her brothers to do to protect her and restore their family honor?
How is justice to be done?
How can they make things right?
These are important questions. The desire to protect those you love and to make things right is a noble impulse, but ignoble deeds follow. Skilled in deception, her brothers use circumcision—their covenant obligation—to temporarily disable the men and make them vulnerable to attack. After the carnage, Jacob, the older, wiser head of the family, knows the score: actions like these have consequences. Violence only breeds more violence. If they are to survive, they must leave . . . soon.
God (to Jacob): Get up, go back to Bethel, and settle there. Build an altar to Me, to the God who appeared to you when you ran away from your brother, Esau.
Genesis 35:1 (VOICE)
For several years, Jacob had lingered thirty miles away from Bethel and had paid dearly for his disobedience. But now the Lord spoke to him and told him to move to Bethel and settle down there. Jacob already knew that Bethel was God’s appointed place for him and his family (Gen 31:13), but he had been slow to obey.
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5).
Jacob had built an altar on the property he had bought near Shechem and had called it “God the God of Israel” (Gen. 33:20). But God wasn’t pleased with this altar because He wanted him worshiping back at Bethel, “the house of God.” The Lord reminded Jacob of his desperate situation over twenty years ago and how He had delivered him and blessed him. At Bethel, Jacob had made some vows to the Lord; and now it was time to fulfill them.
Many of the problems in the Christian life and in local churches result from incomplete obedience. We know what the Lord wants us to do, we start to do it, and then we stop. When we don’t continue to obey God and accomplish His will, even what we’ve done starts to die. What Jesus said to the church in Sardis, He says to us, “Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God.“ (Rev. 3:2).
So Jacob told everyone in his household, “Get rid of all your pagan idols, purify yourselves, and put on clean clothing. We are now going to Bethel, where I will build an altar to the God who answered my prayers when I was in distress. He has been with me wherever I have gone.”
Genesis 35:2-3 (NLT)
Why did the people have these idols?
Jacob ordered his household to get rid of their idols. Unless we, too, remove idols from our lives, they can ruin our faith.
What idols do we have?
An idol is anything we put before God. Idols don’t have to be physical objects; they can be thoughts or desires. Like Jacob, we should get rid of anything that could stand between God and us.
So they gave Jacob all their pagan idols and earrings, and he buried them under the great tree near Shechem. As they set out, a terror from God spread over the people in all the towns of that area, so no one attacked Jacob’s family.
Genesis 35:4-5 (NLT)
Why did the people give Jacob their earrings?
Jewelry in itself was not evil, but in Jacob’s day earrings were often worn as good luck charms to ward off evil. The people in his family had to cleanse themselves of all pagan influences, including reminders of foreign gods.
It’s amazing that the men of the surrounding cities didn’t destroy Jacob and his sons. It can only be explained that it was the fear of God that prevented them from taking this action. Jacob’s sons were in the wrong, yet God protected them. They were now the blessed of the Lord, and God dealt with them according to the covenant of Genesis 12:3, not their actions.
Eventually, Jacob and his household arrived at Luz (also called Bethel) in Canaan. Jacob built an altar there and named the place El-bethel (which means “God of Bethel”), because God had appeared to him there when he was fleeing from his brother, Esau.
Genesis 35:6-7 (NLT)
God had promised to bring Jacob safely back to Bethel (28:15), and He kept His promise, as He always does (Josh. 21:45; 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56). Jacob kept his part of the agreement by building an altar and leading his household in worshiping the Lord. Once again, Jacob gave a new name to an old place. “Luz” he had renamed “Bethel, the house of God” (28:19); and now “Bethel” he expanded to become “the God of Bethel.” It wasn’t the place that was important but the God of the place and what He had done for Jacob.
Soon after this, Rebekah’s old nurse, Deborah, died. She was buried beneath the oak tree in the valley below Bethel. Ever since, the tree has been called Allon-bacuth (which means “oak of weeping”).
Genesis 35:8 (NLT)
We don’t know when Rebekah’s maid Deborah (24:59) became a part of Jacob’s household, but her presence in the camp suggests that Jacob’s mother was now dead. Deborah had stayed with Isaac until Jacob drew near to Hebron, and then she went to be with the boy she had helped to raise years before.
Was she the one who broke the news to Jacob that Rebekah was dead?
Jacob’s tender treatment of this elderly servant is an example for all of us to follow.
Now that Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel. God blessed him, saying, “Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel.” So God renamed him Israel.
Genesis 35:9-10 (NLT)
God reminded Jacob of his new name, Israel which means “one who struggles with God.” Although Jacob’s life was littered with difficulties and trials, his new name was a tribute to his desire to stay close to God despite life’s disappointments.
Many people believe that Christianity should offer a problem free life. Consequently, as life gets tough, they drawback disappointed. Instead, they should determine to prevail with God through life’s storms. Problems and difficulties are painful but inevitable; you might as well see them as opportunities for growth. You can’t prevail with God unless you have troubles to prevail over.
Then God said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and your descendants after you.” Then God went up from the place where he had spoken to Jacob.
Genesis 35:11-13 (NLT)
Each of the twelve tribes of Israel was like a nation, so the twelve tribes together were like a company of nations.
Notice that the Lord spoke of the land already being given unto Abraham and Isaac. In the natural, this didn’t look like it was so. All they possessed was the land Abraham bought to bury Sarah (Genesis 23:3-9) and the land Israel had bought from the men of Shechem (Genesis 33:18-19). But in the sight of God–the only sight that really counts–it was already done. God calls things that aren’t as though they are (Romans 4:17).
Israel saw some visible manifestation of God go up after He was through talking with him.
Jacob set up a stone pillar to mark the place where God had spoken to him. Then he poured wine over it as an offering to God and anointed the pillar with olive oil. And Jacob named the place Bethel (which means “house of God”), because God had spoken to him there.
Genesis 35:14-15 (NLT)
The oil used to anoint the pillar was olive oil of the finest grade of purity. It was expensive, so using it showed the high value placed on the anointed object. Jacob was showing the greatest respect for the place where he had met with God.
Jacob’s restoration was now complete. He was back in the place of God’s choosing; he had offered himself and his sacrifices to the Lord; the Lord had spoken to him; and the covenant promises had been reaffirmed. He had come from the house of Laban to the house of God; and though he still had much to learn about his walk with the Lord, Jacob was starting to be “Israel” and live like a prince instead of a pauper.