Genesis – First, God
I’m going to take us back in time to the 1950’s and give you a glimpse of life in Oklahoma City with my family. I was a little girl with long dark hair who loved being outside playing ball, tag, red rover, and riding my bike with the kids, mostly boys, in the neighborhood. We loved building tents over the clothes line. In our make believe world the garage became a general store, a school house with a blackboard, (I was the teacher, imagine that!), or a jail for robbers. We took turns being the robbers and the sheriffs. Our bikes were horses with reins of ropes tied to the handle bars. Risky? Yea, but you don’t think about that when you are a kid.
My hair was slicked back and tamed every day by my mother who stretched every hair into a ponytail until my eyes slanted on my face. I ran barefoot outside, playing in the sun until I was called inside to eat meals. When it got dark we chased fireflies until our parents called us in to get ready for bed. As I write this I am smiling at how simple life seemed to be…until Saturday night.
Saturday night meant getting prepared for church. While dad was preparing his Sunday School lesson, mom made us take our thoroughly cleansing Saturday night baths. Every hair on our heads were scrubbed until they squeaked. While my brother soaked, my hair was then put into curlers. I did not like this part. Being the perfectionist, mom made sure every hair on my head was tightly woven inside those torturous curling cylinders. I sat on the floor watching Gunsmoke while mom preformed this Saturday night ritual.
Did this ritual make us closer to God? No, but mom and dad taught me the importance of preparing for Sunday worship of the God they loved. They didn’t miss the mark in that lesson. It wasn’t about taking a bath, it was more about watching them model for me how important it was to get up, clean up, stop the regular routine of the work week and give all your attention to God and his people so they can live for him the rest of the week.
Don’t misunderstand. We didn’t just think of God on Sunday. In my world, at that time, prayers and praises were lived out every day but there was something special about preparing to worship on Sunday morning with other people who loved Jesus and wanted to follow him, too. We prayed unceasingly for the lost. We truly rejoiced when a soul came to Jesus. We helped each other when times were bad. We were happy when others did well.
I am so glad I am attending and serving a church that is very modern in methods but our theology is devoted to helping people find and follow Jesus. Simply that. Just like how I was raised. We are not perfect because no one is, only Jesus, but we are perfectly forgiven and strive to help others know the Forgiver.
Jacob, in his delayed disobedience, is now told by God to “Go back to Bethel.” Why? Because that is where God revealed Himself to Jacob in his flight from Esau. “Return to worship Me”, God seems to be telling Jacob. Return to Me. Return to Who loves you most. Get rid of everything else that keeps you from Me.
Jacob responds and gets his family ready to go to church (Bethel) to meet with God. Jacob tells his family, “Take a good bath and put on clean clothes, we’re going to Bethel”. (Church)
Is this where my parents got this notion of being perfectly cleaned and curled for church?
Genesis 35, The Message
God spoke to Jacob: “Go back to Bethel. Stay there and build an altar to the God who revealed himself to you when you were running for your life from your brother Esau.”
2-3 Jacob told his family and all those who lived with him, “Throw out all the alien gods which you have, take a good bath and put on clean clothes, we’re going to Bethel. I’m going to build an altar there to the God who answered me when I was in trouble and has stuck with me everywhere I’ve gone since.”
4-5 They turned over to Jacob all the alien gods they’d been holding on to, along with their lucky-charm earrings. Jacob buried them under the oak tree in Shechem. Then they set out. A paralyzing fear descended on all the surrounding villages so that they were unable to pursue the sons of Jacob.
6-7 Jacob and his company arrived at Luz, that is, Bethel, in the land of Canaan. He built an altar there and named it El-Bethel (God-of-Bethel) because that’s where God revealed himself to him when he was running from his brother.
8 And that’s when Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah, died. She was buried just below Bethel under the oak tree. It was named Allon-Bacuth (Weeping-Oak).
9-10 God revealed himself once again to Jacob, after he had come back from Paddan Aram and blessed him: “Your name is Jacob (Heel); but that’s your name no longer. From now on your name is Israel (God-Wrestler).”
11-12 God continued,
I am The Strong God.
Have children! Flourish!
A nation—a whole company of nations!—
will come from you.
Kings will come from your loins;
the land I gave Abraham and Isaac
I now give to you,
and pass it on to your descendants.
13 And then God was gone, ascended from the place where he had spoken with him.
14-15 Jacob set up a stone pillar on the spot where God had spoken with him. He poured a drink offering on it and anointed it with oil. Jacob dedicated the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel (God’s-House).
16-17 They left Bethel. They were still quite a ways from Ephrath when Rachel went into labor—hard, hard labor. When her labor pains were at their worst, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid—you have another boy.”
18 With her last breath, for she was now dying, she named him Ben-oni (Son-of-My-Pain), but his father named him Ben-jamin (Son-of-Good-Fortune).
19-20 Rachel died and was buried on the road to Ephrath, that is, Bethlehem. Jacob set up a pillar to mark her grave. It is still there today, “Rachel’s Grave Stone.”
21-22 Israel kept on his way and set up camp at Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went and slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. And Israel heard of what he did.
22-26 There were twelve sons of Jacob.
The sons by Leah:
Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn
The sons by Rachel:
The sons by Bilhah, Rachel’s maid:
The sons by Zilpah, Leah’s maid:
These were Jacob’s sons, born to him in Paddan Aram.
27-29 Finally, Jacob made it back home to his father Isaac at Mamre in Kiriath Arba, present-day Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac had lived. Isaac was now 180 years old. Isaac breathed his last and died—an old man full of years. He was buried with his family by his sons Esau and Jacob.
THINK ABOUT IT…
The good news of the gospel is that we don’t have to stay the way we are. No matter how many times we’ve failed the Lord, we can go home again if we truly repent and obey. It happened to Abraham (13:1-4), Isaac (26:17), David (2 Sam. 12), Jonah (Jonah 3:1-3), and Peter (John 21:15-19), and now it’s happening to Jacob.
For several years, Jacob had lingered thirty miles away from Bethel and had paid dearly for his disobedience. But now the Lord spoke to him and told him to move to Bethel and settle down there. Jacob already knew that Bethel was God’s appointed place for him and his family, but he had been slow to obey.
Many of the problems in the Christian life and in local churches result from incomplete obedience. We know what the Lord wants us to do, we start to do it, and then we stop. When we don’t continue to obey God and accomplish His will, even what we’ve done starts to die.
It’s refreshing to see Jacob take command of the situation and boldly bear witness to what God said to him and what God did for him. These instructions applied not only to Jacob’s wives and children but also to the servants he had employed in Padan Aram.
Jacob called for a time of cleansing for everybody, and the first thing they had to do was get rid of their idols. Rachel had stolen her father’s household idols (31:19, 34-35), and Jacob knew that other false gods were hidden in the camp.
The second instruction was “purify yourselves and change your clothes” (Gen. 35:2 niv). In Scripture, washing the body and changing clothes symbolize making a new beginning. Just as dirt defiles the body, sin defiles the heart and must be washed away (Isa. 1:16; 2 Cor. 7:1; 1 John 1:9). Our old garments typify the old life with its failures (Isa. 64:6), but God in His mercy gives us “new garments” so we can make a fresh beginning (Gen. 3:21; Isa. 61:10; Zech. 3:1-5; Luke 15:22; Rev. 3:18). Before God gave the law at Mount Sinai, He ordered the people to wash and change clothes, for they were about to enter into a solemn covenant with God (Ex. 19:9-15).
God had promised to bring Jacob safely back to Bethel (28:15), and He kept His promise, as He always does (Josh. 21:45; 23:14; 1 Kings 8:56). Jacob kept his part of the agreement by building an altar and leading his household in worshiping the Lord.
Jacob’s restoration was now complete. He was back in the place of God’s choosing; he had offered himself and his sacrifices to the Lord; the Lord had spoken to him; and the covenant promises had been reaffirmed. He had come from the house of Laban to the house of God, and though he still had much to learn about his walk with the Lord, Jacob was starting to be “Israel” and live like a prince instead of a pauper.
Let us get up, clean up and go the the house of God!
“I rejoiced with those who said to me,
‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Psalm 122
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for a rich, faithful family experience. Thank you for saving my soul. Thank you for a place to go with others to find you, follow you, hear from you with others and praise you in unity of Spirit. Thank you for being with us on our daily walk with You. Help us to obey quickly when you speak to us. Keep us focused on You.
In Jesus Name, Amen