REVIVAL LESSON 1 - Gen. 35:1-7 - Get Rid of Your Idols
INTRODUCTION: Today's lesson in Gen. 35:1-7 will focus on spiritual revival within the family of God, in this case the family of the patriarch Jacob, which ultimately grew into the 12 tribes of Israel. The chief theme of today's lesson is getting rid of our idols, which, in the Christian context can include anything that interferes with or goes against our relationship with God. Jesus summed it up this way: "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other." Mt. 6:24.
BACKGROUND: Before we get into the text of today's lesson, we need to review the events in Jacob's life that led up to it, which are reported in the previous two chapters. In the final verses of Chap. 33, we find Jacob heading away from the fateful meeting with his brother Esau and stopping first for several years at a place called Succoth, and then, against God's instructions for him to return south to the "land of his fathers" in the Hebron Valley, he instead relocated westward to Shechem in Canaan, which is about 41 miles north of the future site of Jerusalem. The people around Shechem were not followers of God but idol-worshiping pagans. Chapter 34, which forms the backdrop for today's lesson, starts with the rape of Dinah, Jacob's only daughter, by Shechem, the son of Hamor, the local ruler. Afterward, Shechem (the son), offered to marry Dinah, but while Jacob was still in negotiations with Shechem's family, his sons (remember he has 11), are so infuriated by the incident the they take over and demand that all of the men of the town be circumcised according to God's covenant before Dinah could marry into that family. Amazingly, Hamor agreed and all the men were thereafter circumcised. But while the men of the town were recovering from their mass surgery, two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, who were bent on taking further revenge, took advantage of the situation and killed not only Hamor and Shechem, but all of the men of the town and afterward, took the women and looted the entire place. When Jacob, learned of this, he rebuked his sons, saying, "you have brought troubles on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land," but he didn't go as far as reject or disown them for their unspeakable acts of violence. And Simeon's and Levi's reply as indicated in v. 31, showed no real regret for what they had done. This episode marks the low point in Jacob's faith journey. None of this had been approved by God; in fact, any mention of God is completely absent from this whole sordid chapter.
Read Gen. 35:1-5 - PREPARING TO RETURN TO BETHEL
1 Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau." 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3 and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
v. 1: "Then God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau'" - The whole Shechem tragedy happened because Jacob had done things his own way instead of going where God told him to go. Now, we see God intervene, commanding Jacob to do what he should have done 10 years earlier. Bethel, the place where God tells Jacob to go, is about 30 miles south. We need to see that It took a situation like this to force Jacob to his knees and finally take decisive action as the leader of his family. There had to be a departure from this place-a complete change of direction in life. When God orders Jacob to "make an altar," God ism in effect, commanding him to resume a life of worship and calling him to repentance and spiritual revival.
v. 2: "So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, 'Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments;" - From this statement, there can be little doubt that Jacob realized that the spiritual decline and contamination of his family could be directly traced to the idols-false gods-in their midst. The point we need to see here is that there can be no meaningful spiritual revival of the family until the idols are taken away. The next point we need to see is that the same truth applies to 21st Century Christians like us. Noted OT scholar and theologian Walter Kaiser explained it this way: "Nothing can have first place along with the Lord: not my job, my hobbies, my personal goals, my organizations, my leisure time, my recreation, my family, and-yes-even my church! If any of these things are allowed to be first or even share first place with my commitment to the Lord, then I have slipped into idolatry!" Makes you think, yes? I have a few images I'd like to show you that that represent some but not all things that could be classified as 21st Century idols. These things aren't in and of themselves evil, but they certainly can be when we elevate them to a status that competes against our relationship with God.
In the lesson text, it's important for us to see Jacob, as the leader of this family, take complete control at this point-taking forceful actions not only to cleanse himself (personal confession and repentance) but to cleanse his entire family. First, he commands them to put away their foreign gods-the idols. Notice that God didn't command Jacob to do this but he took it upon himself. Then he even goes a step further by ordering them to change clothes. This was pretty radical because people in those times owned very few articles of clothing. Jacob insisted that they change everything down to the smallest detail so it would signify an outward cleansing that pictured a spiritual transformation of the inner person. You might recall Paul's analogy in Gal. 3:27 that "putting on Christ" was like a change of clothes that outwardly reflected a change in the inner person. Same idea here.
v. 3: "and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone" - After fully taking charge of his family, we see Jacob change location with a sense of urgency-"let us rise up"-to obey God's orders to the letter with the realization that, in spite of the catastrophe He's just experienced with his family, Jacob realized that God has been (present tense) with him every step of the way, and that he must honor Him at Bethel-and without hesitation or looking back, they go! And just like Jacob, if we have allowed idols (in the broad sense I depicted them) into our lives, God is still there waiting for us with open arms to put away our idols, to repent, and to return to Him. He will revive you.
v. 4: "So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem" - The text doesn't make it clear whether the earrings were worn by the people or the idols. Like the things I showed you above, earrings in and of themselves aren't necessarily evil, but in this instance, Jacob clearly intended to rid them of every single solitary item that could possibly be connected with pagan worship, and even went a step further by burying them where they could not be found. Whether you need to bury your family's idols out of sight is, of course, a judgment call. But if it's something that would tempt you (or someone in your family) every time you see it, well, I think that pretty much answers itself. Amen? I recently looked up a statistic which reported that the average American spends about 30-percent of his or her waking life watching TV. What if you re-prioritized your life to spend at least 10-percent of your waking time in prayer, Bible study, and/or serving in a ministry that supports God's work? You might categorize this as "storing treasures in heaven," which isn't such a bad idea. Yes?
Read Gen. 35:5-7 - GOD PROTECTS JACOB; HE COMES TO BETHEL
5 As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother.
v. 5: "As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob" - In the previous chapter, because of the their slaughter in Shechem, Jacob had told Simeon and Levi that the other tribes of this region were probably going to band together to attack and kill every one in their household. But we see God's grace intervene, putting a hedge of protection around Jacob's people by inciting fear into the hearts of these Canaanites.
vv. 6-7: So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother." - Luz is the original name of the place Jacob re-named Bethel (Heb. House of God) after his first encounter with God in Gen. 28:19. As God commanded him, he built a new altar there and re-named the place El-bethel, which literally translates to "God of the House of God." And notice that it included "all the people who were with him." In this scene we see Jacob as a spiritually revived man, far more resolute and God-centered than the one 30 years before that time who thought he could bargain with God (see Gen. 28:20).
So what does this ancient story about a Patriarch and his family say to us about revival today?
1. Like Jacob, in order to experience spiritual revival, both personally and in our families, there are times in life when we need to get rid of all our idols, purify ourselves (repentance), and return God to the center of our lives. Have you ever felt like God has abandoned you? If any of you have, it's a strong indication that you need get rid of your idols (whatever they may be), purify yourself (repent), realign the direction of your life, and draw near to God in prayer, Scripture reading, and Christian fellowship. When you feel withdrawn from God and empty, remember that He hasn't abandoned you; you've abandoned Him-but remember that He's waiting for you to return with open arms.
2: Like Jacob, when the circumstances of life has beaten us down and utterly discouraged us, we need to return to the place of past blessing. This could be many things: (1) the day you met Jesus Christ and how He changed your life; (2) compare who you are today-with God's grace-to the person you used to be; (3) pray to re-commit your life to serving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior; (4) re-read and meditate on some of your favorite verses of Scripture; and (5) instead of dwelling on failures (whatever they may be), commit to regain your focus on God as the center of your life and recover your spiritual victories.
3. Like Jacob, when we can't count on anything else, we can always count on God to keep His promises. The prophet Jeremiah, who had one of the most frustrating and discouraging jobs of any person in the Bible, said it this way: For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jer. 29:11 NIV. And sometimes, like Jacob in today's lesson, we have to learn this the hard way.
PRAYER: LORD GOD, our Father and Creator of all things, we come to your throne this day to thank and praise You for the love, mercy, and undeserved grace your constantly show toward us. We thank and praise You for the many blessings you give to us each day of our lives, but we thank You most of all that You loved us enough to send Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for us so that we may be forgiven and spend eternity in heaven with You. We also thank You for this good church and the body of believers who make it up. I pray God that you protect that You will protect all of us from this coronavirus and guard the health of those who are unable to attend. I pray, Dear God, that all of those who watch this Facebook video program are being strengthened and encouraged by hearing the power and truth of your World. As we begin this study of revival, Lord, I ask that You will open our hearts and minds to the reality of how You bring revival. Today, in our study of Jacob in Genesis 35, we learned that getting rid of our idols is an essential step of seeking revival. Lord, every one of us needs to seriously evaluate our lives so we can remove anything that keeps you from being first. Father, I ask this for myself, for all the people of my church, and for any who are listening to this video. I pray that you will convict us of whatever action steps we need to take to bury these idols that interfere with serving you faithfully. We need revival personally, in our families, and our church. And Lord, if You will hear our prayer, we will give You the credit and praise. In the name of Jesus Christ, my blessed redeemer, I ask this. AMEN.