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Tag Archives: God

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,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[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?“]

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A Legacy Of Deception

“But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister.” (Genesis 34:13)

Before Genesis 34, we are told very little about the children of Jacob. This chapter, however, records a very sad and sordid incident that will serve as the first of many blights on the family. We saw a genuine turning to God in the life of Jacob in the last two chapters, but it appears that deception and trickery are still the order of business in this household and that Jacob the Deceiver has passed this legacy on to his sons.

Sadly, although Jacob has come around and is now walking uprightly, the time spent growing up in this household and in the household of Laban have made a very unfortunate impact on his sons. Is it any surprise that these young men would conduct their affairs in the same manner as their father and Uncle Laban had? So often we do not think about the consequences in the lives of our little ones when we model less than admirable moral behavior. Even when we tell them to do better, even when our words teach them to make better choices than we have; it is our actions which prove the most convincing.

I am in no position to suggest what the best course of action would have been for Jacob’s family when confronted with the news of the sin committed against Dinah. I do not think any of us are privy to knowing what the Lord desired for them to do. We can be sure that intermarrying with the Shechemites was not God’s intention for them. But we can also be certain that He did not intend for Levi and Simeon to deceive them and then proceed to slaughter every man in the city! Nevertheless, this is what they did because this was the method of doing business that they had grown up with. When Jacob protests against what they have done (v. 30), I believe that they were genuinely surprised. Is this not something he himself (that is, the old Jacob) might have done in their position?

It is unfortunate, but it is not always possible to undo the negative impact that we have had on others, particularly our own children, which we made before we came to God. Sometimes the damage lingers. All that we can do is pray that we are able to influence them enough in our new walk with Christ and that our new nature will affect them all the more. For most of Jacob’s sons, well, we see in Genesis 50:16-17 that they were still relying on deception and trickery at the close of the book, so it may be that even after all of the uprightness they would behold in their father’s life hereafter (as well as the graciousness of their brother Joseph) that they would never fully overcome the “lessons” of their formative years.

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

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published July 21, 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.

Walking A New Way

“Then Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4)

The great preacher Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was once asked: “What does a Christian look like?” Without hesitation, he simply responded: “He walks with a limp.”

Having “wrestled” with the Lord to the point where God had broken his leg, Jacob now bore in his body the mark of God’s touch. It was not just his leg that had been broken, but his own will, his dependence on his own flesh. When many of us first meet the Lord, we suppose that we may accept Him into our lives and partake of his grace and favor, but yet continue to walk in our own strength and confidence. A true surrender to the Lord of Jesus Christ is seldom accomplished until we, like Jacob, have struggled with Him and He has broken our own flesh. Thus the mark of one truly devoted to the Lord is to walk with a limp, a token of God’s own touch upon them showing that He has touched them as He touched Jacob.

The Lord told the Apostle Paul that His strength was made perfect in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). Yet, so often we resist the part where we must be made weak. This world abhors and despises weakness, seeing it as a liability. But God declares that the more adept we are at recognizing our own weaknesses, the more apt we are to depend on His strength. Pity the one who says they are trusting in the Lord, yet sees no reason that they need to trust anyone. When we believe that we have the strength and power necessary to overcome the trials and tribulations that we face, then we are not believing that our sufficiency comes from God alone. We simply cannot put our faith in ourselves and God at the same time. Like Jacob, the time will come when we are forced to struggle with God Himself and either let go of Him entirely, or have our own strength “broken.”

There is probably nothing quite so wondrous to behold than to see the way a person begins to behave who has truly trusted the Lord. To witness the power of God at work in the lives of those for whom no other possible explanation for such an abrupt change of temperament could exist is to behold a miracle of the highest order. To safeguard us against falling into the sin of pride, God seldom allows us to accurately measure the changes occurring in our own lives; but if we remain spiritually alert, we can have the inestimable privilege of seeing  them in the lives of others. The distinctions between the Jacob of Genesis 32 and the Israel of Genesis 33 are remarkable. Gone is the boasting, the arrogance, the self-interest. In their place is humility, graciousness, and generosity. The man who had risked so much in order to wrest the birthright from his brother is now selflessly heaping lavish gifts on Esau. The man who had gone to such lengths to insure that he would be the exalted and honored son of Isaac is now yielding to the mercy of Esau. Jacob had formerly treated his brother as a buffoon and a fool, and now he calls him “My lord.” Could there be any other satisfactory explanation for this change of heart save that God had gotten a hold of Jacob’s heart?

It is amazing how many things which seemed so crucial before tend to lose any real sense of importance once we have yielded our lives to God. Our hopes, our dreams, our goals; our own desires for wealth, honor, fame, and possessions all seem to fade into the background (or else fade away entirely) once we have a genuine encounter with the majesty of Jesus Christ. All of those pursuits begin to look like little more than a waste of time in light of what we have found in Christ. Like the Apostle Paul, we begin to look at the things of this world as little more than rubbish compared to what we have received from the hand of God (Philippians 3:8). There is no doubt that Jacob’s priorities have changed. He no longer sees Esau as a rival for God’s favor, but as the brother who he is. The wrestling match at Penuel has left Jacob with a greater view of Who God is, and a lesser view of who he himself is. Is this not the same experience which we all eventually go through in our own walk with the Lord?

Personally, I wish that Genesis 33 ended with Verse 16. But it does not. Without any comment or explanation, we find Jacob journeying to Succoth after he has told Esau that they shall soon meet again in Seir. What is going on? As is so often the case in Scripture as well as our daily lives, many great spiritual victories are all too quickly followed up with spiritual defeats. The high places where we tread today stand in stark contrast to the valleys which we shall crawl through tomorrow. Lest we are tempted to conclude that life will be an unbroken parade of victory over our own flesh once we have been broken by the Lord, we see that Jacob has yet to be completely defeated by Israel. Though he now walks with a limp, Jacob is still free to limp away after his own desires. Broken flesh does not guarantee an end to rebellion. Jacob’s spiritual journey is not quite complete at this point; he still has a ways to go.

This chapter does, however, end on a high note. Jacob erects an altar and calls it El-elohe-Israel, or, God, the God of Israel (v. 20). This tells us two very important things: 1.) Jacob appropriates the name that God has given him — God has called me Israel, therefore, I am Israel and, 2.) God is his God. There is no more Then shall the Lord be my God” (Gen. 28:21), no more “The God of my father hath been with me” (Gen. 31:5). God is now his God. There is a world of difference between declaring that God is God and declaring that God is my God.

Jacob The Wrestler

“Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”(Genesis 32:24)

The life of Jacob was filled with turning points, but what happened to him at Penuel was undoubtedly the most remarkable. At the crossroads of where Jacob had started before he knew God and the place where God was bringing him stands a single dark and lonely night. It is no exaggeration to say that Jacob’s entire life could be divided by what happened before and after this solitary event.

Having just negotiated a wary treaty with Laban at Galeed (Gen. 31:47-52), he now makes his way forward toward his homeland. As he goes, he encounters a host of angels at Mahanaim. Seeing these angels must have served as a powerful reminder of the promises God had made to him during his dream of the Ladder which ascended to Heaven. Reassured that the presence of God is not far from him, Jacob sends messengers to meet Esau in order that any remaining anger from his brother could be placated before he re-enters the land. The news of the returning messengers is not the most comforting, however, as Jacob is told that Esau is on his way to meet Jacob…accompanied by 400 men!

Immediately, Jacob, true to form, springs into action and begins to formulate a plan that will keep him safe from harm. His first course of action is to divide his company into two smaller bands (Gen. 32:7). If Esau had revenge in mind, at least half of Jacob’s possessions and group would survive. Second, he separates a huge herd of his livestock to be given as gifts to Esau. He then proceeds to divide these herds into smaller caravans to be conveyed to his brother at intervals. Perhaps this would give Esau time for his wrath to cool as he is repeatedly presented with peace-offerings from the hand of Jacob during his approach. But what does all of this tell us about Jacob’s mindset as he was about to encounter his brother for the first time since he had fled from his home?

Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your relatives, and I will prosper you,’ I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with my staff only I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; for I fear him, that he will come and attack me and the mothers with the children.” (Genesis 32:9-11)

This is a very heartfelt, honest, and beautiful prayer. It is clear that Jacob has learned a great deal of humility at this point and he seems to be trusting God in a way that he has not heretofore done. Yet at the same time, he is putting into action a plan of his own. He is like the man who lays his burden at the altar and cries out to God for deliverance — only to pick his burden up again as he walks away. “Deliver me, O God; but if you don’t, I am going to take care of things myself.”

As the evening approaches, Jacob sends his wives, his concubines, and his children on ahead of him; over the River Jabbok (Gen. 32:22). And there he stays: on this side of the river. Alone. God can often reach a person when the din of their day-to-day lives has quieted, when the demands and responsibilities of all of those who continually surround them have gone away, when they are left completely alone with no other distraction. And so it is with Jacob. His plan is set into motion, he has sent his family ahead of him, he is prepared to face his brother on the morrow and for whatsoever will become of it. But he has not counted on one thing: Someone is standing between him and his objective.

How often are so many of our own most well-devised plans upset when the Lord intervenes? Jacob has carefully negotiated and calculated his strategies so that he might avoid any conflict with Laban or Esau. But now he stands face-to-face with One for Whom his diplomacy is entirely ineffective. Here is Someone Who he cannot negotiate with, he cannot appease with presents, nor can he threaten or manipulate. So he resolves himself to wrestle with Him and pits himself against Him in a raw battle of wills. But as the night wears on, Jacob sees that he is making no headway in wrestling this Man. But neither is Jacob’s tenacity being lessened by the stalemate. So the Man reaches out and breaks a joint in Jacob’s leg, weakening the foundation on which Jacob stands. Still, Jacob does not yield, but holds fast to the Man, refusing to relinquish his grasp on Him. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”, Jacob declares (Gen. 32:26).

“So Jacob named the place Peniel, for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.” (Genesis 32:30)

Who was this mysterious “Man” with Whom Jacob wrestled? Well, Jacob himself identifies Him as God. Hosea also identifies Him as God (Hosea 12:2-5). As we have looked at before, the “Angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament is very often none other than the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus Christ, and I believe that this is the One with Whom Jacob wrestled. He has wrestled with God Himself. What a picture of our own spiritual struggles with the Lord! We set our own plans in motion and set out to fulfill them, and then the Lord stands between us and our objective. But instead of yielding to Him and placing our destiny in His loving hands, we struggle against our own Lord and Master! God could have ended this “struggle” with Jacob any time that He wanted to, but He was trying to teach Jacob that it is not by struggling with God that His will is accomplished; it is by trusting Him. Finally, Jacob’s leg joint is broken. That upon which he was depending, the foundation on which he was really standing, was broken beneath him.

Until we come to a place where we have learned that we cannot struggle against God and win, until our own flesh is “broken”, we can never really be used by the Lord. God can use any of us mightily, but we must be broken first. Hosea tells us that Jacob had “wrestled with the angel and prevailed” (Hos. 12:4), but it wasn’t until his flesh was broken and he no longer had any confidence in his own abilities. All he was doing at the end was clinging to the Lord and holding fast to Him. He didn’t prevail by struggling against the Lord, he only won by not letting go of Him! In the end, it wasn’t Jacob’s plans that saved him; we see in Genesis 33 that Esau never intended him any harm nor was he particularly interested in the gifts that Jacob sent. Jacob also did not overcome by wrestling against God or pitting his own will against the Lord’s. No, his own will was eventually broken. He clung to the Lord and held on to Him. That’s what brought Jacob the blessing of God. It’s what brings us His blessing, too.

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

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published July 7, 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 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,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[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.

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