Introduction: Jacob’s return to ‘the House of God,’ (Bethel) in Genesis 35 should make us sing aloud for joy with a song in defiance of all the discouragements which arise from the sin which so easily entangles us and our loved ones. If God can enable Jacob to confront his family’s deeply-dyed sins with such remarkable success, producing in them such sweet repentance, is there any doubt He can work in the most intractable of hearts and situations? May these notes encourage us and increase our faith in God’s powerful work of repentance.
Monday: read Genesis 35:1-3. Let’s begin this week’s notes with the first two verses of Philip Doddridge’s (1737) hymn celebrating God’s faithful recalling of us from our errant ways, bringing us back repeatedly to His ‘House’:
“O God of Bethel, by Whose hand
Thy people still are fed,
Who through this weary pilgrimage
Hast all our fathers led.”
“Our vows, our prayers, we now present
Before Thy throne of grace;
God of our fathers, be the God
Of their succeeding race.”
Notice especially how this hymn reminds us of the purpose for which God calls Jacob to Bethel: “Our vows, our prayers, we now present before Thy throne of grace…” Such a Divine invitation to ‘Go up to Bethel’ to intercede for his family and their future is the reason why Jacob left Shechem and moved with all his family and possessions to Bethel: “God of our fathers, be the God of our succeeding race” was his heart-cry!
Meditate and Pray: Ask God to help you keep praying for your own and other lost children who need desperately to be brought to the ‘House of God.’ Use the words of Lamentations 2:19: “Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street.”
Tuesday: read Genesis 35:1-5. There is a very comforting note in God’s invitation to Jacob to return to Bethel in Gen. 35:1. God says to him: “Go up to Bethel and settle there. God marks Jacob’s calendar not with a short trip down memory lane back to the day when he first met God at Bethel (Gen. 28:19) – but with a permanent new address at ‘The House of God! How marvelous that the worship of God imbues our life with permanence! No wonder Satan shakes in his boots when one saint falls on his knees!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that in His Presence – especially in worship at ‘The House of God’ to which we and Jacob are called – is our safety from all temptation and trial. Thank God that, because we are His worshipping people, He commits Himself to our protection – even if He must send the ‘terror of the Lord’ upon surrounding nations (Gen. 35:5). Isaac Watts’ words in hymn # 345 always ring true:
“Glorious Things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God; He whose word cannot be broken formed thee for his own abode; on the Rock of Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose? With salvation’s walls surrounded, thou may’st smile at all thy foes.”
Wednesday: read Genesis 35:2-5. Behold the new courage which Jacob found to deal with the longstanding problem of idolatry within his family. His command is that they should ‘get rid of the foreign gods’ among them in Gen. 35:2. Moved by a spirit of repentance which we have not seen before, “they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oaks of Shechem.”
Two things to note: first, that word ‘foreign’ in verse 2 reminds us that these ‘gods’ should never have been among Jacob’s covenant kin. They were ‘strange’ gods – of the foreign nations that surrounded them, just as all sin results in our alienation from our family blessings in the Lord. Second, the word for these ‘gods’ is the same that denotes Rachel’s cherished household gods which she stole from her father Laban in Gen. 31:30 & 34. Along with the idols plundered from Shechem, it may well be that Rachel’s idols had also infected the whole spirituality of her family.
Meditate and Pray: Having just passed Father’s Day, please pray for the young husbands and wives in your church family. Pray that no hidden sin will so infect our families as Rachel’s devotion to her idols infected her loved ones. Pray for the ‘sober-mindedness and self-control’ of godly older women to be passed on to the younger even as Titus 2:4-5 commands.
Thursday: read Genesis 35:4-13. One further comment about those ‘foreign gods’ which Jacob’s family handed over in Gen. 35:4 to be buried under a sacred oak tree as a memorial to the reconsecration of the family of Jacob: the Hebrew word is ‘teraphim,’ and denotes the pagan practice of divination or foretelling the future. (It was one of these ‘teraphim’ – shaped as a human head or face as a symbol that the god was able to talk and foretell the future – that Michal used to deceive Saul’s men by using it as a fake head for David in bed in 1 Samuel 19:16.) How sad that even among Jacob’s family there was the persistent desire to seek wisdom and counsel from other places, not the one, true God.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that, when He finally appeared to Jacob at Bethel in Gen. 35:9-13, all fears of an unknown future were erased as God confidently predicted that from Jacob would issue nothing less than ‘a community of nations’ (Gen. 35:11) with a sure inheritance of the Promised Land. May God keep us from the worldly obsession of trying to predict the future, and deliver us like Jacob from all temptations to consult the powers of this world instead of the Lord. “If any of us lacks wisdom, he should ask of God” (James 1:5).
Friday: read Genesis 35:16-20. The darkness of death comes over Jacob’s family as Jacob’s first love Rachel passes away. In her grief she names the child born from her fatal birth pangs, ‘Son of My Sorrow.’ Jacob by faith changes the name to ‘Son of My Right Hand.’ Thankfully, we may have some confidence that Jacob’s insight of faith also prevailed in Rachel – despite her being overwhelmed by sorrow and pain at her death. She had, after all, repented of her idolatry in Gen. 35:4. Moreover, in the book of Jeremiah, Rachel is taken up as a symbol of believing Israel. In Jeremiah 31:15-16 God declares that He will comfort mourning Rachel with these beautiful words:
“Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your future,” declares the Lord. “Your children will return to their own land.”
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the hope in God’s promises, and the experience of God’s comfort, which does not fail to come into the midst of even the most tragic deaths of one of God’s own. Treasure the following words of a poem included in the preface of H.C.G. Moule’s commentary on 2 Timothy:
“Light after darkness, gain after loss,
Strength after suffering, crown after cross,
Sweet after bitter, song after sigh,
Home after wandering, praise after cry;
Sheaves after sowing, sun after rain,
Sight after mystery, peace after pain,
Joy after sorrow, calm after blast,
Rest after weariness, sweet rest at last.”