Tag Archives: Faith

Jacob Returns To Bethel

“And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.” (Genesis 35:1)

Few things are as moving and touching as seeing a person surrender themselves to God for the very first time. To make a decision once and for all that they are going to put their faith in the Living God Who loves them and making Him their Lord. In that moment of pure and genuine devotion, we behold the end of one way of life and the beginning of a new. That person is born again in a moment of time and they become a new creation who has never before lived.

Yet those of us who have at one time stood in their shoes know that this is not the end of God’s work in their life, only the beginning. We know that the journey is just starting out and that a lifetime of growth, sometimes very painful growth, awaits them. We are overjoyed by the heartfelt words of a new child of God: declaring and vowing what wondrous things they will do for their newfound Savior. Such powerful zeal and emotion touches us deeply and inspires excitement in our own hearts toward the service of our Heavenly Father. But with this excitement comes the memories of what things we experienced between that moment of first commitment and the place where we now stand.

Few of us have any real understanding whatsoever when we become saved of just how much our commitment to Jesus Christ will cost us. The expression Death To Self seems to be more of a pious axiom than an actual process which God will require us to undergo. Not that we would hesitate for an instant to agree to even the harshest terms of surrender to the Lord at the moment of our re-birth; so great is the power of God’s Spirit upon our hearts at that time. But it is the very rare Christian who can accurately see exactly what things stand between where he is and where God wants him in that blissful hour he first believes.

Jacob, or rather Israel, walked now as a broken man. Since that fateful night beside the Brook Jabbok, where he wrestled with the Lord until daybreak, he had learned to trust in God’s strength rather than his own. Without a doubt, he walked away from that place the next morning a changed man. But there remained some things in Jacob’s life and things which he tolerated in the lives of those in his household which kept him from the fellowship and walk with God that the Lord intended. They were things which were keeping him from being the person God had called him to be. So the Lord called to him again telling him to return to Bethel; to return to where he had first encountered God. Jacob and his family put aside those things that were standing between them and God and went to where the Lord was telling them to go.

God calls all of His children back to Bethel at one point or another. But we, like Jacob, must leave some things behind when we answer that call. When the Lord calls each of us into a closer fellowship with Him, when He calls us to walk nearer to Him, when He draws us into a deeper communion with Himself, we, too, must respond as Jacob did. Let’s take a closer look at what he did:

Going Back To The Beginning

“And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.” (Genesis 35:1)

It is significant that God is calling Jacob back to where he first encountered Him. Go back to the beginning, He is telling him. So often we feel that we must press ever forward; to go to new places and try new techniques, new programs in order to come closer to God. But God desires a purity of faith and a contrition of heart, a “childlike faith” like we had when we first met Him. Jacob vowed a vow that first morning in Bethel, so many years ago, after his dream of the ladder (Gen. 28:20-21). The Lord shall be my God, he promised, if He takes care of me. Well, God had certainly taken care of Jacob. The time had come for Jacob to make God his Lord indeed.

Putting Away The Strange Gods

“Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:” (Genesis 35:2)

Jacob himself does not seem to have been indulging in the worship of idols, but he tolerated it in his household. We know that Rachel had brought her father Laban’s idols with her when they left Haran (Gen. 31:19) and, judging by what Jacob says here, it seems that he found out about it eventually. Why did he allow the idols to stay? The first step in coming closer to God is the laying aside of everything which competes with Him for our affection. We may not worship “images” like Jacob’s household did, but what things do we tolerate in our own lives which compete for the love and devotion which rightfully belongs to God alone? What strange gods do we bow our own knees to? Possessions, money, lust? We can never walk in the place where God wants us until we lay those “gods” aside.

Being Clean

The next step is being washed clean from the sins which ensnare us. Jacob tells his company after instructing them to rid themselves of their foreign idols to be clean. James tells us in the same context of submitting to God and drawing near to Him to: Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded (James 4:8). We simply cannot come closer to God without being cleansed from sin. We cannot walk nearer to Him and continue to walk in sin. We must be clean before we can enjoy fellowship with God.

Changing Our Garments

Be clean and change your garments, Jacob instructs his household. Our garments, our clothes, refer to our daily practices and our way of life. Our clothes identify who we are and what we do. There are some things we are doing that must change before we can come closer to God. Our habits, routines, and day-to-day activities must be conformed to what pleases Him. There are some things that we must stop doing and other things we must start doing if we are going to live a life truly pleasing to God. Not only must we ourselves be clean, but our clothes must be too.

Recognizing And Honoring God

“And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.” (Genesis 35:3)

Jacob is giving glory to God and making plans to build an altar honoring Him. We cannot walk near the Lord until we learn to recognize Him for Who He is and honor Him accordingly. Jacob did not complain about the 20 wasted years in Haran and how mean Uncle Laban was to him. He did not talk about his regrets over the misfortunes of his life, no, he praised the God Who was “with me in the way which I went.” To be able to recognize that we have never taken a step which God did not have His hand upon us is to give the Lord the glory that He deserves. We are not going to fellowship with Him if we are not praising Him.

Burying The Earrings

“And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.” (Genesis 35:4)

Earrings in the Bible symbolize idolatry, but they also symbolize slavery. Deuteronomy 15, speaking of master/slave relationships under the Law of Moses, gives a stipulation whereby a slave who loves their master may indenture themselves voluntarily to them forever (Deut. 15:16-17). A slave volunteering to remain with his master was to be marked in his ear and this earring would be a sign of whom he belonged to. When the members of Jacob’s household relinquished their earrings to him, they were declaring that they were no longer beholden to the false idols they had been serving. They were changing their allegiance from the “gods” they served to the living God. They would belong to God alone henceforth.

So must we do in order to walk in fellowship with the Lord. We cannot wear the earring of another “master” and walk in service to God. The household of Jacob did not just put their idols and earrings in their back pocket, nor did they pack them away in their luggage before the trip. They let go of them and they were buried away out of their sight. The break was clean and, for all intents and purposes, irreversible. The time had come when they must choose who they would serve and which god they would worship. Just as the children of Israel would be compelled to do hundreds of years later at the word of Elijah (1 Kings 18:21), the household of Jacob could not stride the fence any longer: they had to decide who would be their god.

God is calling all of those who belong to Him to walk with Him and fellowship with Him. But we must put away our own strange gods, be clean, change our garments, honor and recognize God for Who He is, and bury the earrings which marked us as slaves to another. When we do this, we can return to Bethel like Jacob did and meet God in that spiritual place where we first encountered Him.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,


[This post was originally published July 29, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]


Jacob Departs From Laban

“Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3)

Genesis 29-31 is absolutely riddled with acts of deceit, trickery, and dishonesty. Some of the worst attributes of humanity are on full display: pride, envy, jealousy, greed, and selfishness. But something else is going on behind-the-scenes, almost imperceptibly, in the life of Jacob. While Leah and Rachel start a sort of “arms race” to see which sister can most rapidly populate the town of Haran; and while Uncle Laban seeks to further exploit Jacob, turning him into practically a slave laborer; Jacob is learning about himself and about God.

When we consider the Jacob of before: the Jacob who took advantage of Esau and purchased the rights of the First-born son for a bowl of soup, the Jacob who pretended to be Esau in order to trick his own father into passing the blessing on to him rather than his older brother, we cannot help but notice that something is very different. Something has changed in Jacob. Now, we must realize that God is not done with him yet, he still has a ways to go, but we see Jacob begin to trust in God and His provision rather than in his own strength, abilities, and ingenuity.

“But Laban said to him, “If now it pleases you, stay with me; I have divined that the Lord has blessed me on your account.” (Genesis 30:27)

The fact that God was active in the life of Jacob, that God was blessing Jacob, was indisputable. Even Laban, a pagan, recognized that not only was God’s hand upon Jacob but that His favor spilled over onto Laban’s own enterprises. Laban was “blessed by proxy” for the sake of Jacob. Although most do not ever seem to, some non-believers will recognize that something is different when they have in their employ a genuine child of God. God’s unmistakable blessing will pour over onto their business as the Lord prospers the efforts of His own servant who works for them. What a powerful testimony to the goodness of God before a lost world! Such was the case of Laban who knew that it was not upon his own treacherous heart that God was bestowing His graciousness. This candid confession from the lips of Uncle Laban was an additional confirmation to Jacob that God was with him.

“And said to them, “I see your father’s attitude, that it is not friendly toward me as formerly, but the God of my father has been with me.” (Genesis 31:5)

About the same time that the sons of Laban begin to make accusations that Jacob has defrauded their father, God appears to Jacob, calling him back to his homeland. Jacob’s response was not to confront his accusers, nor to seek to defend himself. Jacob simply called his wives to him and laid out his case for leaving. Jacob knew that Laban was angry at him and that it was within Laban’s power to kill him (see Gen. 31:29), but Jacob also knew that God was with him. He believed that God would protect him and take care of him.

“Thus God has taken away your father’s livestock and given them to me.” (Genesis 31:9)

At first glance, it appears that Jacob’s plan to divide the livestock of Laban (Gen. 30:32-33) might have been yet another attempt by Jacob to get the upper hand and take control of matters himself. But Jacob takes no credit for this whatsoever. He announces to Leah and Rachel that God was the One Who instructed him to do what he did (Gen. 31:9-12).  There was really no deception in what Jacob did, nothing dishonorable — though Laban’s sons seemed to think there was! In fact, Laban had agreed to the terms of the contract beforehand (Gen. 30:34). This time Jacob left things to God, and he ended up acting without guile.

After all this, however, we see Jacob flee from Laban much as he had fled from Esau (Gen. 31:20-21). He was trusting God, but maybe he wasn’t quite as faith-filled as he could have been! But Jacob would soon learn that he could no more run from this problem than he could from his brother — soon he would be confronted head-on with both. It seems in Jacob’s case (much as it is in our own) that taking confidence away from the flesh and putting it on God is not something that is resolutely accomplished in one day. It is a process. “He must increase, but I must decrease”, the words of John the Baptist go (John 3:30). And so we, too, must esteem the Lord in our own eyes as we rely more on Him and less on ourselves.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,


[This post was originally published June 25, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

Jacob And Laban

“So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?””(Genesis 29:25)

Some call it Karma. Some call it poetic justice. Others use expressions like the chickens have come home to roost; what comes around, goes around; just desserts; or, as my grandma used to say: Gettin’ your comeuppance. Whatever name you want to call it, it’s something that seems to happen far too often to ourselves and far too seldom to those who have wronged us. Yet in God’s program, it is something that we are assured will happen to all of us eventually. Sooner or later, we all must pay the piper.

Far, far too many Christians go about their lives with the unspoken, underlying belief that since our sins have been covered by the Blood of Jesus Christ, then our sins carry with them no consequence. Nobody ever really comes right out and says this, but it is not hard to see that a great many professing Christians believe this by the way they live. Since the fear of Hell is alleviated by the promises of God’s Word, many believers conclude that no other penalty worth mentioning awaits further sin and that they are now free to transgress the commandments of God with complete impunity. But God’s Word assures us all that our misdeeds have a nasty way of coming back to bite us later:

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

“Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Back when we were in Genesis 3 in this study, we talked about the Ironic Nature of God’s Judgments; how the holy judgments of the Lord seem to always be filled with poetic justice and “comeuppance.” This is a lesson that Jacob learned under the apt tutelage of his Uncle Laban. Not only was the self-styled master of deceit himself hoodwinked, the pure irony of it all had to leave him with the heartsick realization that he was, in fact, getting exactly what he deserved. Not so long ago Jacob, the younger sibling, had posed as his elder brother; sneaking into the tent of his father pretending to be Esau (Genesis 27). Now, the elder sibling of his beloved Rachel comes into his tent; posing as her younger sister (Genesis 29:23). The wedding veil concealed from Jacob what the blindness of old-age had hidden from the sight of his father Isaac. Jacob’s own words of protest had to have lacked any real conviction, even as he spoke them (Gen. 29:25), for Laban had done no differently to him than he and Rebekah had done to Isaac.

Jacob’ sin of deceiving his father and taking advantage of his brother Esau did not cause him to cease to be a child of God. He did not earn himself a spot in Hell through his actions. But I believe if we were to ask him he would say that his conduct was hardly without consequence. In fact, he would likely tell us that the judgment that came on him was in direct proportion and in the very same manner to what he had done. The punishment fit the crime, as it were. A lot of Christians learn this same lesson long after it becomes too late to stop the chain of events that they themselves have put into motion. Though their sins are forgiven and their relationship to God is unchanged, they learn that the Lord does indeed “chasteneth those whom He loves” (Hebrews 12:6 KJV).

But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:31-32)

Praise God that there is hope that we can escape some of the consequences which our sinfulness earns for us. If we judge our own sins, confessing them to the Lord and turning from them, then we can avoid many of God’s judgments on our lives. When we “judge ourselves”, then it is not necessary for the Lord to bring our sins to our attention. Yes, we may still have to deal with the other consequences of our actions, but the Lord’s chastening hand will not be one of them.

May we all live before the Lord in such a way that we shall rejoice in the fact that we will reap what we have sown — not despair of it.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,


[This post was originally published June 17, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

Jacob In Haran

“And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother.” (Genesis 29:10)

Genesis 29 opens up on the same high note which Genesis 28 closed with. “Jacob went on his journey”, the King James Version tells us. The Hebrew literally reads that he “lifted up his feet“, conveying the idea that Jacob is refreshed now and filled with a newness of strength and purpose. His direct encounter with the Lord God Who visited him through his dream the night before has definitely made a powerful impression on Jacob. He is not timid and lonely anymore, but seems to proceed with a fresh spring in his step; the heaviness of the fear of Esau now giving way to the encouragement that can only come from the confidence that God’s mercy rests upon him.

In some ways, I wish that Genesis 29 was but a single verse in length because things go downhill from there. How many people have we known who have left a Sunday church service with a renewed zeal and purpose, their faces glowing with a revitalized passion for the things of God, only to return to business, as usual, come Monday morning? Even worse, the pricking of their own conscience and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit are now muffled by the illusion that all is well within them. For many, there is little doubt that the former state is preferable to the latter; since a solitary feasting at a banquet does little more for the starving man than satiate him for a short time, all the while further callousing his sensitivity to the hunger pangs by which he perishes.

But we are convinced of better things concerning Jacob. For God will call Jacob back to Bethel and will revive the wayward prodigal to Himself. But for now, unfortunately, Jacob must pass through some difficulties resultant of his reliance on self rather than trusting in the provision of God. Verse 2 of Genesis 29 begins to paint a familiar, yet somewhat dissimilar scene to one we read about in Genesis 24. A meeting at a well, a beautiful young girl, a man in search of a bride. But something is strangely absent this time, something is different. The humility and quiet determination of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, has been replaced by the headstrong recklessness of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. The observance of polite etiquette which Eliezer demonstrated stands in stark contrast to Jacob’s brashness. Jacob presumptuously refers to strangers as “my brethren” (v.4), and then proceeds to instruct them in how they ought to be conducting their business affairs (v. 7). To top it all off, Jacob takes it upon himself to move the stone guarding the well without being bidden or permitted to do so (v. 10)!

I am sure that more than a few of the onlookers were a little shocked when this stranger threw himself upon Rachel and began to loudly sob (v. 11). It is obvious that Jacob was very enthusiastic and emotional about having arrived at his destination, but there seems to be more than mere social impropriety during Jacob’s encounter with Rachel that set it in great variance to Eliezer’s encounter with Rebekah years before:

“And [Eliezer] said O LORD God of my master Abraham, I pray thee, send me good speed this day, and shew kindness unto my master Abraham…And [Eliezer] bowed down his head, and worshipped the LORD.” (Genesis 24:12, 26)

Now, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that it was God’s will for Jacob to marry Rachel, but I wonder if things might have ended a little more pleasantly for Jacob if he had been trusting more in God and less in his own abilities? Perhaps Jacob was relying on the direction of the Lord more than we are told in the narrative, but it sure doesn’t look like it. God led Jacob to the exact spot where he ended up at the exact time he ended up there, but it doesn’t appear that Jacob was fully understanding just how much God was directing things. Even Jacob’s vow back in Genesis 28:20-21 seems a little “wishy-washy.” “If God will do this, if God will take care of me, if God will bring me back to my father’s house…” God had already promised that He would do these things (Gen. 28:15)!

So, Jacob comes to the well where Rachel was bringing her father’s herds filled with confidence and determination, but it sure doesn’t seem to be a humble determination in God like Eliezer had. It looks a lot more like self-assuredness than a firm faith in God. But have we not all been guilty of such from time to time? We reach a spiritual mountaintop and have a very intimate encounter with our Lord, and then we come down from that mountaintop fully energized to face the trials of our lives. That is, face them in our own strength! God never told Jacob “I will be with you so that you can do what I have spoken to you”, no, He said “Behold I am with thee…I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Gen. 28:15 emphasis added). God doesn’t tell us that He is going to strengthen us to accomplish His will in our lives, He tells us that He is going to accomplish His will in our lives. God did not appear to Jacob just so that Jacob would become a little more confident in his own abilities, to have a little greater trust in his own ingenuity. God appeared to Jacob in order that Jacob would be confident in the Lord’s abilities and not continue to trust in his own. He does the same with us.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,


[This post was originally published June 10, 2010]

All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) of the Holy Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

Isaac, Digger Of Wells

“Then Isaac dug again the wells of water which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham, for the Philistines had stopped them up after the death of Abraham; and he gave them the same names which his father had given them.”(Genesis 26:18)

Isaac is a very unique figure in the Book of Genesis. A full 14 chapters are devoted to the life of Abraham. Ten chapters chronicle Jacob and 12 feature Joseph as the most prominent person. As for Isaac, Chapter 26 is pretty much it. Sure, he is spoken of as early as Chapter 12 when God promises his father Abraham that he will become a “great nation.” In fact, Isaac’s impending birth is a key subject throughout the life of Abraham. But what are we told once Isaac finally arrives? Remarkably little.

The details given to us in Chapter 26 of the prime of Isaac’s life (the following chapter opens up with Isaac in his old age) are at first glance quite mundane. But what we are shown are truly the highlights that are of the greatest importance. Unlike his father Abraham, there are no great journeys undertaken, no wars waged. His life is not portrayed as his son Jacob’s: filled with intrigue, deception, and family struggles that would rival the most riveting of soap opera plots. But the events of Chapter 26 are precisely the things which God finds important. These are the things that really matter.

God’s Covenant Is Confirmed

In Verses 1-5, and then again in Verse 24, God appears to Isaac and confirms His promises that He had originally made to Abraham. I am with you, I will bless you, I will multiply your descendants. God does not actually appear to very many people in the Bible, Isaac was one of the few. If we were told no more than this, it would serve to fix Isaac’s as one of the most extraordinary lives ever lived.

Like Father, Like Son

“The Lord appeared to him and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; stay in the land of which I shall tell you.” (Genesis 26:2)

There are several uncanny similarities between the events in Isaac’s life and Abraham’s. So much so that some have questioned whether or not the details were maybe muddled over time and confused before they were written down. Famines, kings called Abimilech, army commanders named Phichol, lies about wives really being no more than sisters. As baseball great Yogi Berra said: “It’s déjà vu all over again!”

But it seems that the names Abimilech and Phichol were more likely titles given to men in those positions (such as “Commander-in-chief” or “Pharaoh”). Famines were definitely a common occurrence, and we are specifically told that this famine was in addition to the first famine in the days of Abraham (Verse 1). When famine strikes in the land this time, Isaac’s first instinct is to do what his father had done and go down into Egypt. But the Lord restrains him from doing so. When he arrives in the land of Gerar, he also emulates Abraham’s actions and tells the locals that Rebekah is his sister. Isaac not only learned the noble and commendable traits of his father, he learned the sinful and baser tendencies, as well. We learn here that Isaac was not a perfect man, and we are reminded of the importance of modeling godly behavior in front of our own children.

Patience And Meekness

 Now all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines stopped up by filling them with earth.” (Genesis 26:15)

We glean two very exceptional (and very rare) attributes of Isaac when we read of how he patiently re-dug the wells of Abraham which the Philistines had covered. They are the virtues of patience and meekness. No sooner does he strike flowing water beneath the valley floor than the local herdsmen run him off and claim the well as their own. He does not threaten, he does not retaliate (compare 1 Peter 2:23); he simply moves on. He digs a second well, and the same thing happens again. But patiently and peacefully Isaac moves to yet another spot. There, at the Well of Rehoboth, Isaac praises God that He has provided a place in the land for him.

Busy Digging Wells

Finally, the whole tone of this chapter, indeed of Isaac’s whole life, is that he busies himself with the digging of wells. In the face of opposition, in the face of strife, in the face of trouble and turmoil: Isaac digs wells. Though there are those who would fill his wells with earth, though there are those who would try to steal the precious, life-giving water found beneath them: Isaac continues to dig wells. In good times and bad: Isaac digs wells.

When we consider that we have a Well ourselves, a Well that is the Lord Jesus Christ, filled with living waters (John 4:10), waters that we may drink of and never thirst again; we realize that our lives, too, are best spent with the patient digging into this Well. Digging deeper into the Well of His Word, coming to know Him better. Even when others would seek to steal the life-giving water that we find in Him (though no man can), even when others strive with us as we press on — digging ever deeper.

The digging of wells may not seem to be the most exciting of undertakings, in fact, we know that it takes a great deal of persistent effort. It can be back-breaking, exhausting, and downright heartbreaking when we have dug and dug and still failed to strike water. But Isaac is perhaps best known as a digger of wells. May we all be.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,


[This post was originally published May 13, 2010]

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

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