Gems from Genesis: Chapter 35

After the horrific actions committed against Dinah and then by her brothers at Shechem, God knows he’s going to have to get Jacob out of this place, so chapter thirty-five begins with a word from the Lord to Jacob. He basically tells him to get on over to the place he’d told him to go to in the beginning—Bethel.

Though it will not be the end of his hardship, this chapter brings some spiritual renewal into the life of Jacob and his family.

Spiritual renewal starts with spiritual cleansing.

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.

Genesis 35:2-5 ESV

The land he’d bought in Shechem was abandoned as Jacob would recognize the precarious position he was now in with the people of the land as well as his disobedience to the Lord. Bethel was the place of encounter for Jacob, and his heart was burdened with the fact that he knew he and his family were in no position to return to this “holy ground” in their current state. The cause? Foreign gods.

Jacob, in his lax leadership as head of his family, had allowed family members and servants to pick up and bring with them foreign gods or idols. It started, if you remember, with Rachel, who had taken the household idols of her father upon their escape from Haran. Jacob was probably not aware of what she’d done, but it obviously opened the door to others feeling free to do the same. Jacob said he followed the God of Abraham and Issac, but he wasn’t teaching his family to do so.

Before they could even begin to pack, they needed to clean house of the idols that took their allegiance from the one true God. They needed to purify themselves and change their clothes. This is the outward sign of the inner change of heart required to face God. Later, Joel would reveal the importance of the inward over the outward purification of God’s people:

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God?

Joel 2:12-14

God protects and blesses those who yield to him.

The last of our verses for today reveals one result of this purification and return to God: The cities of the land did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Why? Because a “terror from God” fell on them. The Lord knew there needed to be no hindrance for Jacob to get back to the place of his choosing. He was not done with him yet, despite his faults, and so he put the literal “fear of the Lord” in the people who might want to do them harm.

Back at Bethel, Jacob builds an altar, which is the last altar we will see in the book of Genesis. There won’t be another for over four hundred years when Moses builds an altar upon their escape from Pharaoh in the desert (Exodus 17:15). Once he presents his offering to God, the Lord speaks to him, renewing the covenant and reminding him of his new name—Israel.

The relationship restored, God provides one more son to Jacob, fulfilling Rachel’s heart’s desire. Benjamin arrives, but at a cost—the death of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel. She is buried at Bethlehem, a sign of a future son to come.

Father and son reunited.

Though this chapter contains further family dysfunction and sin (Ruben has sex with Bilhah, his father’s concubine), Jacob eventually arrives back at Mamre, where his father Isaac lived. After so many years of separation, the son of blessing reunites with the son of the covenant. A generation comes full circle, and God’s covenant is passed on through Jacob.

We noted in chapter thirty-three that God’s name was not mentioned once. In this chapter, however, it’s mentioned over ten times. God has not abandoned the chosen family, messy as they are, but instead, increased their number and made a way for them to live peacefully for a time in the land of promise. Their problems will prove to be more internal than external, which is many times the case with those who claim to be followers of the One True God. We are the source of our own troubles more often than not.

If anything, this chapter is a good reminder that we need to sometimes clean house, making sure our hearts and minds and homes reveal a true allegiance to the God we claim to serve. When we do, God renews his promises and leads us forward in blessing.

Grace and Peace          

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