"The Life Of Jacob"
13 - Jacob Goes Back To Bethel
RODGERS BAPTIST CHURCH
801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040
Text: Genesis 35:1-15."And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. 2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: 3 And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. 4 And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. 5 And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. 7 And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother. 8 But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth (al-lone' baw-kooth'). 9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. 10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. 11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; 12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. 13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him. 14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. 15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel."
Introduction: Is there a time in your life when you were closer to God than you are now? As believers in Jesus Christ, we all have a personal walk with God. This is something entirely different from our corporate or church affiliation, relationship, and responsibility. We can be very involved in church service and activities, yet not have a close fellowship with Jesus Christ. This is the difference between doing and being. Indeed, church service and activity can become a substitute for a personal walk with God. It is equally true, however that if we are walking close to God, we will be connected with His house of worship, His church.
In our text, Jacob goes back to Bethel. As he does we are reminded of his previous vow made at Bethel, back in Genesis 28:20-22. "And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If (or since) God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee." We wonder why Jacob did not come straight here to Bethel when he left the house of Laban, since it was in his heart to come back to Bethel in the first place. For whatever reason, Jacob has payed a price for not returning to Bethel. His detour to Shechem has cost him dearly. His daughter Dinah has been defiled and the conduct of his sons has brought reproach upon him in Canaan.
What a lesson! We always pay a price when we sacrifice the eternal on the alter of the temporal. When we fail to keep our hearts in tune with God, our lives quickly fall into discord and disarray.
The name "Bethel" means house of God. To Abraham and Jacob, Bethel was a specific place or location on the map of Canaan. It was located about thirty miles south of Shechem and five miles north of Jerusalem. Bethel was 1,010 feet higher than Shechem and situated on the road that led to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron.
To us, Bethel represents a right relationship with God. It was so in the life of Abraham, it is so in the life of Jacob, and so it is in our lives as well. Our Bethel is located in our hearts. This means that we can leave Bethel never once changing our geographic location and we can go back to Bethel at anytime and from anywhere!
As we view Jacob returning to Bethel and a right relationship with the God of Bethel, we can make some important observations for our own lives.
Observation One: The journey back to Bethel begins when we once again hear and obey the voice of God. Notice verse 1. "And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother." Way back in the house of Laban, in Genesis 31:3, the Lord spoke to Jacob and said, "Return unto the land of thy fathers, and to thy kindred; and I will be with thee." It was not that God hadn't spoken to Jacob. God had spoken, but somewhere along the way, Jacob either stopped hearing and heeding the voice of God, or he became distracted! Now he hears the voice of God. Why? The Lord got his attention! The trouble at Shechem brought him to his knees and unplugged his ears.
Someone has said that God never makes us do the right thing, but He sure knows how to motivate us, to make us willing. C. S. Lewis said, "God whispers to us in our pleasure, and shouts in our pain." Do we hear the voice of God calling us back to Bethel? Are we going to ignore God until we find ourselves in trouble?
Observation Two: The journey back to Bethel begins when we are ready to deal with our sin and purify our hearts and lives. Notice verse 2. "Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments." Immediately Jacob knows that he cannot return to Bethel in his present state. There are some things in his life and his household that are in the way! No one needs to tell him what they are and what to do with them! What did Jacob need to cleanse, change, and put away?
There were idols. Here is more evidence that Jacob was raising a semi-pagan family! These were "strange gods," those belonging to the stranger or the strange land. These without doubt included the teraphim, which Rachel had stolen from her father Laban. We can also safely assume that they adopted some of the gods of the people of Shechem.
What is an idol? It is anything that usurps, takes the place of, or displaces God. In Matthew 6:21, the Lord Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Our treasures are the things for which we make time and room in our lives. These are the things that ultimately rule from the throne of our hearts! Treasures come in two varieties, earthly or heavenly!
There were entanglements. Notice verse 4. "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem." What were these "earrings?" These were not just adornments, they were earrings which were worn as amulets or charms. They were connected with idolatry. Earrings of various forms, sizes, and materials, were universally worn in the East, and were connected with incantation and idolatry. Some of those earrings, were used as talismans or amulets, which were objects engraved with figures supposed to possess occult powers, worn as charms.
How many things do we allow in our lives that send a mixed message to a lost world? How many things do we allow in our lives that actually war with our soul? How many times do we do things, wear things, without even once thinking about their influence and identity?
There was indifference. In verse 2b, Jacob told his family to "cleanse themselves" and "change their garments." This outward cleansing of the body and changing of clothes was symbolic of inward cleansing as they were to approach a thrice holy God. It was a gesture of respect and reverence.
It seems to me that people today are dumbing down and dressing down, even when it comes to God and His house. The principal in the Word of God is clear, our God deserves our best. As a society, we have lost our respect and reverence for God as well as the house of God. We have created a lesser God, One who is created in our image, One who is less holy, and less demanding, One who is happy with the crumbs of our lives that we throw at Him.
Jacob took the things that stood in the way of his returning to Bethel, and hid them under an oak or towering tree. These trees were remarkable for their longevity, therefore they served as a reminder to them and future generations. This oak became a consecrated tree, bearing testimony to their repentance and return to God.
Sometimes it is good for us to make a public act of repentance and rededication! It becomes in effect an oak, a memorial to ourselves and to others of our commitment to follow Christ!
Hospital-acquired infections are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. These infections are either the direct or indirect cause of 80,000 fatalities a year. As many as one third of these deaths could be prevented if health care workers strictly followed infection control procedures. Of those precautionary measures, "hand washing may be the single most important tool of infection prevention." Studies suggest that health care workers wash their hands less than half as often as they should. Dr. Robert Haley, director of epidemiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas said, "Patients come into the hospitals to be made better, and they actually, in many cases, are made worse."
Churches are frequently compared to a hospital. People are looking for a safe haven to find God, but sometimes our churches send them home with a greater illness. This could be prevented if we would but heed the words of James 4:8, "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded." Daily heart washing at the basin of prayer and God's Word, will purify us, protect us, as well as prevent us from spreading the deadly germs of sin to the lives of others.
Observation Three: Our journey back to Bethel has a great impact on others around us. Notice verse 6. "So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him." Jacob is the head of a large household. He is responsible for his household. As he goes, so goes everyone else! When he went back to Bethel, he brought them with him! Compare Jacob's actions and attitude towards God and sin as a father, with the previous chapter! He is now decisive and outspoken! What a difference Bethel makes in parenting!
William Arthur Ward said, "Every person has the power to make others happy. One does it simply by entering a room; another by leaving the room." Our lives have an impact upon others, either positive or negative. This is why we must make sure we are in touch and in tune with God. Someone is looking at us. Someone is following us!
Observation Four: When we go back to Bethel, we can be assured of God's presence and protection. Notice verse 5. "And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob." Jacob was afraid of the consequences of his son's actions. He feared what the Canaanites would do to him as the news of the Shechem massacre spread. As it turned out, his fear pushed him in the right direction!
So many times, believers who have walked away from God, fear their journey back. Fear pushes them in the wrong direction. Why? They fear what others will say or do. They fear as to whether they will be able to maintain that place or position, that they will backslide again!
Isn't it interesting that instead of Jacob needing to be afraid of his neighbors, his neighbors became afraid of him when he put away his idols, cleansed his heart, and went back to Bethel. We ought to never fear man, but rather to fear God. Returning to the Lord brings boldness and confidence!
Observation Five: Bethel is a place of revival and restoration. Notice verse 7. "And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother." Here we get a sense that something is rekindled at Bethel. Jacob builds an alter. He is keeping his vow. He is now obedient to the commandments of God. He names that place, "Elbethel," or the mighty God of the house of God!
How often do we need to get a new glimpse of God? How often do we need to renew our commitment to building and maintaining our alters, to making and keeping our vows?
Observation Six: Bethel is a place of reconciliation with God's people. Verse 8. "But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth (al-lone' baw-kooth')" This is a bit strange. Suddenly the name of Deborah, Rebekah's nurse appears. This could suggest that there may have been some contact, a reunion of sorts, between Jacob and his father's house at this time.
Bethel, the house of God, is synonymous with the people of God. The Lord's church is more an assembly of people than it is a place, location, or building. Coming back to Bethel is coming back into fellowship with the people of God! When we are out of sorts with God, we are out of sorts with others.
Observation Seven: Bethel is a place of reconnecting with God's purpose. In verse 9-13, the Lord restates His covenant promise with Jacob. He reminds him of his new name as well. "And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. 10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. 11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; 12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. 13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him." Here Jacob is reminded once again that the covenant promise is still in effect and he has a role to play in fleshing out that promise.
A man once stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world. "Dear God," he cried out, "look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world. Why don't you send help?" God responded, "I did send help. I sent you." We need to remember that we are the sent ones. Jesus tells us today, "as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." Going back to Bethel reminds us of this!
So, are we dwelling at Bethel? If not, now is the time to hear the voice of God, calling us back to Bethel.