Introduction: For Jacob and for us, our whole duty in life finds its ultimate expression in seeking and finding the living God and worshipping Him alone at ‘The House of God’ or, as it is in the Hebrew: ‘Bethel.’ Journeying to ‘Bethel’ is the constant refrain of Jacob’s life, and it is for us too. My prayer for this week is that we also would be reminded in new ways that our highest calling is to meet with God where He chooses to reveal Himself to us. May the words of that great hymn by Philip Doddridge be true of us as we continually journey to meet with God at ‘His house.’
O God of Bethel, by whose hand
thy people still are fed;
who through this earthly pilgrimage
hast all our fathers led:
Our vows, our prayers, we now present
before thy throne of grace:
O God of Israel, be the God
of their succeeding race.
Monday: read Genesis 31:3 and 35:1. We pause in this week’s Bible notes before moving on to Jacob’s memorable encounter with the Lord in Genesis chapters 32-33 to return to our Baptism sermon text in Genesis 35, where finally, after years, Jacob brings himself and his covenant children back to Bethel, in obedience to the command given as early as Gen. 31:3. Why did it take so long for Jacob to obey? After all, it was not easy to forget such an oft-repeated and obviously important command:
– “Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you” (Gen. 31:3).
– “I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land” (Gen. 31:13).
– “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” (Gen. 35:1).
Meditate and Pray: “Lord, as we begin this new week of Bible study, we do confess that our faith, and the works of obedience which flow from it, are often like Jacob’s: sluggish and slow. Forgive and reinvigorate us, even as the Hymn writer asks you to do,”
Lord, in the fullness of my might
I would for Thee be strong;
While runneth o’er each dear delight,
To Thee should soar my song.
I would not give the world my heart,
And then profess Thy love;
I would not feel my strength depart,
And then Thy service prove.
Lord, I would not with swift winged zeal
On this world’s errands go,
And labor up the heav’nly hill
With weary feet and slow.
O not for Thee my weak desires,
My poorer, baser part!
O not for Thee my fading fires,
The ashes of my heart!
O choose me in my golden time,
In my dear joys have part!
For Thee the glory of my prime,
The fullness of my heart!
Thomas Hornblower Gill (1819-1906)
Tuesday: read Genesis 31:13; 34:1-2 and 35:1. Jacob worked fourteen years for his wives and then six years to build up his own flock. (See Gen. 30:21-30 where, after the birth of Dinah and Joseph, Jacob enters into contract for the last six years of his time with Laban: a period totaling twenty years in Gen. 31:41.) During those last years of near-slavery under Laban, God appears to Jacob in a dream in Gen. 31:13 and clearly commands him to return to the place “where he anointed the pillar” at Bethel (Gen. 28:20-22). Joseph and Dinah must have been about 7 years old when Jacob finally bids Laban goodbye (Gen. 31:55-32:2) to return to the Lord at Bethel in the Promised Land. Yet we find that Dinah has already attained marriageable age in Gen. 34 – before Jacob has ever obeyed God’s command to return to Bethel and to the place of his first commitment to God. Why such a delay of at least eight years or more until Dinah was in her teens? We will search out a detailed answer in tomorrow’s reading. But for now, let us note the great danger in delaying our obedience to the Lord. God is exceedingly patient, but we entertain to our peril the procrastinating spirit of putting off our spiritual commitments until ‘tomorrow.’
Meditate and Pray: Ask God to give us a holy fear of putting him off. This sin of spiritual sluggishness plagues many of the saints of the Old Testament and must be prayed against in our lives. Let us have the spirit of the Psalmist who says: “I will hasten and not delay to obey your commands,” (Psalm 119:60).
Wednesday: read Genesis 35:1-5 and 1 Kings 18:21. Jacob’s words in Gen. 35:2-3, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you…Then come, let us go up to Bethel,” give us the clue to explain why Jacob had so long delayed ‘coming home’ to the place of consecration and commitment at Bethel. Living all those years near Shechem as neighbors to its idol-worshipping inhabitants, (Gen. 33:18-20), Jacob and his family had succumbed to the grip of idols and to the divided loyalties which spring from such idolatry. As one Old Testament scholar, Alfred Edersheim, points out, it was impossible for Jacob to wholeheartedly return to the Lord at Bethel and offer up his devotion as long as his family was riddled with the spiritual hypocrisy of serving other gods. So too with us, we must examine ourselves before coming to the ‘House of God,’ for it is impossible for us to serve both God and the idols of our hearts.
Meditate and Pray: Elijah’s words still challenge us: “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal (or any other personal, precious idol we put in God’s place) is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). Let us pray for our families, fellow church-goers, neighbors, indeed for our nation: “Lord, save us from the compromised existence of people who fail to love the Lord their God ‘with all their heart, soul and mind.’” May the words of Hymn # 638 in our Trinity hymnal seal our commitment: “All that I am and have – thy gifts so free – ever in joy or grief, my Lord, for thee; and when thy face I see, my ransomed soul shall be, through all eternity, offered to thee.” S. Dryden Phelps (1862)
Thursday: read Genesis 31:30-32 and Genesis 35:4. The roots of this paralyzing idolatry stretch back before Shechem to Rachel herself, who stole her father’s idols. The word for these idols is ‘teraphim’ (Gen. 31:19), gods which people kept as a means of divination or guidance. In Zechariah 10:2 God exposes these “teraphim” and says that they “speak delusion.” Sadly, these infected the land of Israel so that godly king Josiah had to “put away…the household gods (teraphim) and idols, all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem…” (2 Kings 23:24). Even Michal, David’s first wife, had one of these teraphim in her house and used it to disguise David’s flight by putting it in her bed to look like her husband in 1 Samuel 19:12-13. Like Michal, Rachel corrupts the spiritual atmosphere of her home until Jacob takes charge and challenges his household to bury all their idols under the oak tree at Shechem (Gen. 35:4).
Meditate and Pray: Let us confess with all humility that idolatry infects our lives much more than we realize. As John Calvin says, our hearts are idol factories. But let us also thank God that He has the power to reconsecrate us, and rip the idols out of our hearts and reign there alone. Thank God for the way in which He brought Rachel and Jacob into spiritual unity after years of living with false gods at the heart of their home. The oak tree where Jacob buried his wife’s idols is for us a symbol of hope that God can heal the long-term alienations in our families as well. Praise His Name!
Friday: read Genesis 35:5-15. As Jacob travels, the weight on his family’s shoulders is gone with the burden of false gods they left buried under the tree at Shechem. How we should thank God that he can restore families after years of wasted wandering. The climax of this restoration comes as Jacob builds an altar in verse 7 and God subsequently appears in verses 9-10 to announce Jacob’s changed destiny: no longer will he be called Jacob ‘the usurper’ (his given name defined by Esau in Gen. 27:36), now he will be ‘Israel,’ meaning one that ‘struggles with God’ to obtain a far greater inheritance of blessing than he or Esau could ever have hoped for – see Genesis 32:28.
Meditate and Pray: May the Lord perform mighty works of restoration in our day in our lives and the lives of those for whom we pray, as Hymn # 491 (verse 2) in the Trinity Hymnal expresses it:
“Fruitless years with grief recalling, humbly I confess my sin; at thy feet, O Father, falling, to thy household take me in. Freely now to thee I proffer this relenting heart of mine; freely life and soul I offer, gift unworthy love like thine.” Ray Palmer (1864)