GOING BACK TO GO FORWARD
Gracious God, I need You. Pardon my sin, realign my life with Your will, restore me with counsel from Your Word.
Read GENESIS 35:1–15
Jacob Returns to Bethel
35 Then God said to Jacob, “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.”
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.
6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel,[a] because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.[b]
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram,[c] God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob,[d] but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.[e]” So he named him Israel.
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty[f]; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.[g]
- Genesis 35:7 El Bethel means God of Bethel.
- Genesis 35:8 Allon Bakuth means oak of weeping.
- Genesis 35:9 That is, Northwest Mesopotamia; also in verse 26
- Genesis 35:10 Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he deceives.
- Genesis 35:10 Israel probably means he struggles with God.
- Genesis 35:11 Hebrew El-Shaddai
- Genesis 35:15 Bethel means house of God.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Francis of Assisi aimed ‘to live in obedience, in chastity, and without property, following the teaching and footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Turn your own aim into prayer.
‘Never go back’ is a mantra much loved among sportspeople. If you’ve played for or managed a team and then moved on, it’s a retrograde step to return. Sometimes, however, tracing our path back to where we started gets us back on track. It reminds us who we really are and what is truly important to us. That seems to be God’s reason for calling Jacob to return to Bethel, the scene of his original encounter with God. The context is Jacob fleeing from his brother (1,7). That is his predicament when God appears to him (1), answers his distress (3) and reveals Himself (7). We Christians are called back by the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Martin Luther took huge encouragement from continually reminding himself: ‘I am baptized’. Taking bread and wine reminds us that Jesus has appeared, revealed God to us, and rescued us in our distress.
Moving provides an ideal opportunity for decluttering: to rid ourselves of all our accumulated junk. The return to Bethel provokes a spiritual decluttering. Jacob could not return to the spot where he met Almighty God with tinpot idols in train. This was a fresh chance to eradicate the syncretism still embedded in his family. We might wonder why he has not faced up to the issue already, but he seizes this opportune moment to call his family to ‘tear it [our dearest idol] from Thy throne and worship only Thee’.1 This statement of single-minded devotion, accompanied by Jacob’s new name (10) and the Lord’s repetition of the covenant promise of a people and a place (11,12), connotes a deep spiritual renewal. We too need to take stock, removing anything that is drawing our hearts away from God, warming our hearts with His promises.
When can you set aside time for extended reflection, perhaps in a group, asking what may have crept onto God’s throne in your life?
Lord, I very much need and want to declutter my spiritual life. Help me root out the resentments, pettiness, and muddled priorities, and release them to Your forgiving grace.
1 William Cowper, 1731–1800, ‘O for a closer walk with God’