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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

July 13, 2016

Genesis 35:1:7

  1. Introduction: Jacob had vowed that he would return to Bethel, (28:20-22), and God had reminded Jacob of his vow (31:3, 13). Interestingly, in Gen 35, thirty years have passed since Jacob made that vow. Twenty of those years were spent serving his father-in-law, Laban, and ten years living in the ungodly city of Shechem, which almost destroyed his family. From a physical point of view, only 30 miles separated Jacob from God and His appointed destination of Bethel. That thirty miles had separated him from God's will for 30 years! And for the past ten years, he was near Bethel but not near to the God of Bethel. From a spiritual standpoint, Jacob might as well have been a million miles away. Jacob's condition is not that different from many Christians today. Outwardly, we may appear to be walking close to the Lord, but inwardly we have stopped short of whole-hearted devotion to Him.

  2. Verse 1. There are two commands in 35:1: “Arise” and “go up.” There is a sense of urgency. God is saying, “You've delayed so long, now you must fulfill your vow. There can be no more procrastinating. You must go to Bethel.” Why does God command Jacob to go to Bethel? It was at Bethel that Jacob had his first real encounter with God. It was at Bethel that Jacob was first told about God's plan to bless him. It was at Bethel that Jacob first built an altar of worship to the Lord. God has not spoken to Jacob since He had commanded him to leave Paddan-aram and return to Bethel (31:3, 13), some ten years earlier. Why the ten years of silence? Until now Jacob wasn’t ready to listen. Now Jacob is facing a crisis and he has “ears to hear”: Jacob's only daughter, Dinah, has been raped. Jacob's sons (Simeon and Levi) had slaughtered the men of Shechem in their vengeance. Jacob's sons had looted the city and taken the women and children as captives. As a result, the relatives and neighbors of the people of Shechem would undoubtedly launch a vicious and deadly counterattack! It's amazing how a personal crisis can improve one’s spiritual hearing. Often the bottom has to drop out before we're ready to listen to God. He has to bring us to our knees so that there is no other place to look but up. God does not, like many of us do as parents, yell and holler and fuss and fume over the disobedience of His children. He is, of course, deeply grieved by disobedience, but He will allow us to go our own way and to reap the painful price of sin (Gal 6:7-8). And then, when we have gotten our fill of sin and there is no other way to turn, He will speak to us again, reminding us of that which He has previously spoken. God calls Jacob to fulfill the vow he made when he “fled from...Esau” (27:42-45; 28:20-22). This phrase is pointed and is intended to remind Jacob that he should have headed to Bethel a long time ago. He has been wasting time, out of God's will. If you are contemplating a detour to Bethel, take this word to heart: You will never find what you're looking for. You will waste precious years that you will never be able to have back. It's not worth it! Besides, God will eventually come to you again and call you back to where you were supposed to be in the first place.

  3. Verses 2-3. This time around Jacob has learned his lesson and responds to God's command with prompt obedience. Jacob finally does right. Instead of being passive and silent, he demonstrates spiritual leadership by taking initiative and leading his family in righteousness. In 35:2, he tells his entire caravan to “put away the foreign gods.” These “foreign gods” came from Laban’s collection (31:19) and the Shechem spoils (34:27-29). Worshipping the gods of the pagan nations was always a temptation to the Israelites. Moses had to warn them about idolatry before they entered the land (Deut 7:3-6, 25-26) and Joshua had to challenge the Israelites to abandon their idols after they had conquered the land (Josh 24:14, 23-24). Even Samuel faced this problem in his day (1 Sam 7:2-4). Not to mention, the prophets after Samuel often rebuked the nation for building the high places where they served false gods. Idols aren't just little statues you bow down to. An idol is anything that takes your attention and devotion away from God, anything that competes with your worship of God, or anything that has more influence in your life than God. The second command Jacob gives is “purify yourselves and change your garments” (35:2). This sounds strange to our modern ears. Yet, we must keep in mind that most people today are accustomed to indoor plumbing, fragrant soap, and ample wardrobes, so we forget that the ancient, nomadic people in Bible lands had none of these conveniences. For that matter, our modern hygienic practices and facilities were totally unknown, even in Western civilization, during most of its history. What we call necessities would have been considered luxuries by our ancestors. Thus, in Scripture, washing the body and changing clothes is quite significant. It signifies making a new beginning. Like dirt, sin is defiling and must be washed away (Ps 51:2, 7; Isa 1:16; 2 Cor 7:1; 1 John 1:9). Our old garments typify the old life with its failures (Isa 64:6), but God in His mercy gives us “new garments” so we can make a fresh beginning (3:21; Exod 19:9-15; Isa 61:10; Zech 3:1-5; Luke 15:22; Eph 4:22-24; Rev 3:18). For some of us this will mean new behavior. We forsake immorality. For others it will mean a new wardrobe. For others it will mean a new attitude, new entertainment, new priorities, etc. It is significant that Jacob called God the One “who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone” (35:3b). That epithet serves as a fitting summary of the picture of God that has emerged from the Jacob narratives. Jacob was in constant distress; yet, in each instance, God remained faithful to His promise and delivered him. Whether you are aware of it or not, God has been with you wherever you have gone, even in your seasons of disobedience and sin. And He is the One that answers you in your day of trouble.

  4. Verse 4. How did Jacob's family and company respond to his orders? There is an immediate response of obedience. In 35:2-3, Jacob exercised spiritual leadership and the family and company followed. Before moving on, notice that the family and company gave all of their idols to Jacob and it was Jacob who hid or buried these idols. Back in 31:34, Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel's saddle and sat on them. Now here, their burial beneath the oak of Shechem ridicules these idols as worthless and pathetic items that are really no gods at all. The oak referred to here seems to have been the oak of Moreh (lit. “teacher”) where God had appeared to Abraham shortly after he had entered the land (12:6). At the same spot, possibly prompted by Jacob’s example, Joshua issued a very similar call to Israel. In Josh 24:15, Joshua commanded the people of Israel to “... choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” Later, in Josh 24:23, he said, “...put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” We must all choose.

  5. Verses 5-7. The inclusion of the phrase “the sons of Jacob” suggests that the other cities feared Jacob’s boys (cf. Deut 11:25) because of what they had done to the people of Shechem. Yet, it also seems evident that as Jacob obeyed the Lord, the Lord protected Jacob and his family by causing a great terror to fall on the surrounding cities. As a result of this terror, “Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. He built an altar there, and called the place El-Bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother” (35:6-7). Jacob faithfully fulfilled his vow to God at Luz, which he renamed Bethel (house of God, 35:15). He named the place of his altar El-Bethel (God of Bethel, 35:7) in memory of God’s first revelation to him there.

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