Jacob Returns to Bethel
1 God told Jacob, “Return to Bethel, where I appeared to you when you were running from your brother Esau. Make your home there and build an altar for me.”
2Jacob said to his family and to everyone else who was traveling with him:
Get rid of your foreign gods! Then make yourselves acceptable to worship God and put on clean clothes. 3Afterwards, we'll go to Bethel. I will build an altar there for God, who answered my prayers when I was in trouble and who has always been at my side.
4So everyone gave Jacob their idols and their earrings, and he buried them under the oak tree near Shechem.
5While Jacob and his family were traveling through Canaan, God terrified the people in the towns so much that no one dared bother them. 6Finally, they reached Bethel, also known as Luz. 7Jacob built an altar there and called it “God of Bethel,” because that was the place where God had appeared to him when he was running from Esau. 8While they were there, Rebekah's personal servant Deborah died. They buried her under an oak tree and called it “Weeping Oak.”
God Blesses Jacob
9-11 After Jacob came back to the land of Canaan, God appeared to him again. This time he gave Jacob a new name and blessed him by saying:
I am God All-Powerful, and from now on your name will be Israel instead of Jacob. You will have many children. Your descendants will become nations, and some of the men in your family will even be kings. 12I will give you the land that I promised Abraham and Isaac, and it will belong to your family forever.
13After God had gone, 14 Jacob set up a large rock, so that he would remember what had happened there. Then he poured wine and olive oil on the rock to show that it was dedicated to God, 15and he named the place Bethel.
Significant encounters can be defining, unforgettable moments. These may occur on a park bench, a golf course, in a fishing boat or in a particular place or room in a house. They are milestones.
But time passes and we do forget. While Jacob was escaping from the wrath of his brother Esau, he had stopped for the night at a place called Bethel. Here he had a dream where he saw God at the top of a staircase reaching down to earth. In this dream God made promises to Jacob that he would prosper and increase his descendants. Thirty years passed. God was doing his part and now it was time for Jacob to return to that milestone and take a good look how his life turned out.
Like many of us, Jacob probably forgot his “God encounter” and became lazy. He knew he had disobeyed God when he allowed foreign gods and idols to infiltrate his family. But God’s promises are true and strong. God has a greater narrative at work and his plans will not be thwarted by our apathy or misdeeds. He declared to Jacob: “Your descendants will become nations, and some of the men in your family will even be kings. I will give you the land that I promised Abraham and Isaac, and it will belong to your family forever” (Genesis 35:11,12). God was doing His part; now it was time for Jacob to step it up and start being obedient to live up to his new name, “Israel” (“God Rules”).
I am so grateful that God did not give up on Jacob, and he does not give up on you and me. Our future is not dependent on our behavior or accomplishment. We can always rely on the loving, dependent promises of God.
Dear Father God,
I thank you that you have a wonderful plan and purpose for my life. I am so grateful that you are the one working out my future, and that its success is not dependent on my behavior. Thank you that you love me unconditionally. Amen.