More Lessons To Be Learned In Genesis… Jacob Returns to Bethel

Altar

(FreeImages.com/DianeJabi)

During this school year, I have been doing an in-depth Bible study on the book of Genesis with my CBS group.  Though I have read it many times throughout my life, I never cease to learn new things with each additional reading.  Once again, I was not disappointed.

In Genesis 35, we find the account of Jacob returning back to Bethel.  Returning to Bethel is significant because this is the location where Jacob first encountered God. 

Before Jacob and his family returned to Bethel, he first gave several very specific commands to his family.  Each of these directives has a significant correlating spiritual analogy.

1. First, Jacob tells his children to “Put away the strange gods from among you.”

Surrender your idols.

What “idols” or lies (anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God) do I need to surrender to God in order to move into a place of greater intimacy and encounter with God? 

Idols are anything that agitate my trust in God and divert my devotion from God.  They can be a relationship, a circumstance, a diagnosis, a conflict, a trial, a tragedy, a loss, a goal, an occupation, a comfort, something or someone that I love more than God, etc…

2. Second, Jacob tells his household to purify themselves.

Purify yourselves.

This is speaking of repentance and cleansing.  The Word cleanses us.  Repentance is required though for the cleansing to occur.  Without repentance, it’s like standing next to a shower but not actually getting in and using the soap and shampoo.  Holy Spirit is like the water, and the Word is like the soap and shampoo.  Not perfect analogies, but you get the point.

Ephesians 5:26

26 that He might [a]sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,

Hebrews 10:22

22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Acts 3:19

19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

James 4:8

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

3. Third, Jacob tells his family to change their clothes.

Change your “garments.”

There is so much significance to this!!!  The old garments of sinful behavior, shame, guilt, and condemnation need to be cast aside so you can put on the garments of His righteousness.  

You cannot wear His righteousness when you are trying to wear your own faux imitations.

Isaiah 61:10

10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Zechariah 3:4

Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

Ephesians 6:14

14 Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

 

After Jacob’s household had followed his instructions, they proceeded to Bethel.  Bethel is the place where Jacob had previously encountered God.  See the following passage that speaks of this first encounter:

Genesis 28:10-22

Jacob’s Vow at Bethel

10 Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. 12 Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: “I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. 14 Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep[a] you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”

16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

18 Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place [b]Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, 21 so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. 22 And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a [c]tenth to You.”

Genesis 31:13

13 am the God of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.’ ”

Before returning to see his father, Jacob traveled to the place of his initial encounter with God.  He moved/positioned himself where God would appear.  Bethel means “House of God.”

The spiritual application is, Are you positioned (do you intentionally put yourself) where God’s Presence is?  Do you regularly spend time in the “house of God”?  Does this “house” have the tangible Presence of God that is welcomed?  Does it reveal Him, and lead you into a deeper, more intimate relationship with God?

Not all houses “house” the Presence of God.  Some are empty tombs, enshrining the past but not bringing His life into your present experience.  Jesus lived thousands of years ago, but He still is very much alive today!

As soon as they arrived in Bethel, Jacob and his family did something very symbolic.  They built an altar.

Altars speak of sacrifice, yielding, and worship.

The following verses highlight the concept of sacrifice:

Titus 2:14

14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

Romans 6:13

13 And do not present your members as[a]instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Jonah 2:9

But I will sacrifice to You
With the voice of thanksgiving;
I will pay what I have vowed.
Salvation is of the Lord.”

Hebrews 9:14

14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without [a]spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Luke 9:23 Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross[a]daily, and follow Me.

(Note: This passage is not talking about a literal cross, typically, but it is referring to the daily ways we must choose to die to our wills and our flesh in order to serve God and others.)

Philippians 3:8

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

John 12:24

24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much[a]grain.

(Note: This is again referring to “dying” to our flesh.)

Matthew 16:24

Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

1 John 3:16

The Outworking of Love

16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Philippians 2:17

17 Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

Philippians 2:5

The Humbled and Exalted Christ

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,

The implication is that yieldedness is the place where God loves to meet us.

He met His people at the altar.  He still does today, except we are called His “temples.”  We are the dwelling place where “altars” or sacrifices to Him are to be made.  This does not mean empty rituals of religious repetition out of obligation.  This is referring to heart-felt yieldedness to God, knowing Who He is and knowing how much He loves us.

Sincere and passionate devotion is what should inspire us rather than religious obligation. 

The question is, “Are our temples merely empty tombs, enshrining the past, or are they a place where God’s Presence is welcomed and where daily sacrifices are being made — sacrifices of yieldedness and allowing Him to purify us?”

 

The place of sacrifice was on the altar within the temple.  We are God’s “temples,” and the altar is the inner “sanctuary” of our hearts.  Our hearts are the place where we yield a pleasing “sacrifice” to God.  This is where we choose to yield to God, to sacrifice our fleshly/sinful desires, and where we pour out our devotion before God.  True, authentic devotion always starts within the heart of a person.

In the Biblical account, we find that as soon as Jacob and his family make their offerings, God’s Presence appears.

As soon as God appears, He does the following actions:

  • He blesses Jacob.
  • He calls Jacob by his new name, Israel, which means “Prince.”
  • He confirms the promises that He had given to Jacob/Israel in the past and to his forefathers.

As we see throughout Genesis, God is always faithful to keep His promises.  He is faithful because He is faithful.  

God’s encounter with Jacob is not fearful, hateful, or condemning.  Instead, it is a time of restoration, blessing, calling Jacob into his true identity, and confirmation of God’s character and His faithfulness to oversee the fulfillment of His promises to His people.

God calling Jacob by his new name is significant.  Names represented a person’s identity and purpose.

What names has God called you in the Bible and personally?  Those names are to reveal your true identity and true calling.  They are your prophetic destiny.

Jacob’s new name means “Prince.”  God also tells us that we shall reign with Him as co-heirs with Christ.

Romans 8:17

17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

1 Peter 1:4

To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,

Revelation 2:26

26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:

Revelation 3:21

21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.

It is so interesting to note that God calls Jacob/Israel by His prophetic name and into his destiny after Jacob seeks and then encounters God.

If you are needing greater clarity concerning a situation or relationship, there is encouragement in this lesson to seek God, to put aside “idols” and lies in your life, to remove off the old works of the flesh or your own attempts at “righteousness” apart from God, to enter into his House, to yield yourself to God, and to wait on Him.  God responds to those who seek Him and yield to Him.

God then gave Jacob renewed confirmation that clarified Jacob’s identity and purpose and then poured out blessings to provide and protect Jacob on his journey.  Remember, that what God speaks actually begins to happen.  His Words are creative in nature.  God’s blessings were actually speaking the blessings into existence.

In Genesis 1, God spoke, and it happened.  We see this same occurrence throughout Scripture.  When God says something, it isn’t just a “maybe” or “if then…”  It’s a promise that has creative power attached to it.  When the Creator speaks, matter and energy respond to His voice.

 

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