SSL 7 - John 20:3-9; 1 Cor. 15:20-28
TWO WEEKS AGO: In Gen. 33:1-15, we covered Jacob's fateful reunion with his brother, Esau. The lesson revealed that Jacob was going through a phase of his life where he seemed to be conflicted by a mixture of living by the flesh and of living by faith. In many ways, the story outwardly depicted Esau as the better man, didn't it? It's a sad fact that non-Christians, who have no interest in the things of God, are sometimes nicer than people who claim to be Christians. We can only speculate that Esau brought along those 400 men just in case Jacob, true to form, was up to his old tricks. However, when he saw Jacob wasn't meeting him with any threat, he ran to Jacob and hugged and kissed him. The fact that he didn't hold a grudge over Jacob's past treachery was a truly magnificent gesture. And Esau wasn't greedy: Although he finally did accept Jacob's gift, he had said, "I already have plenty, my brother." The sad thing about Esau is that he was completely of the world, in the flesh, with no concern for the things of God. C. H. Spurgeon said it this way: "It is an awful contentment when a man can be satisfied without God." The final point was grace: At the end of the day, Jacob got better than he deserved from both God and Esau, didn't he? Like many of us, Jacob was a work in progress. I don't think God is done with me either-how about you?
Chap. 34 Summary: In the final verses of Chap. 33, we find Jacob heading away from Esau and stopping first for several years at a place called Succoth, and then, contrary to God's instructions for him to return south to the "land of his fathers" in the Hebron Valley, he 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 a preface to today's lesson, starts with the rape of Dinah, Jacob's only daughter, by Shechem, the son of Hamor, the local ruler. Shechem, offered to marry Dinah, but while Jacob was still in negotiations with Shechem's family, his sons (he has 11), infuriated by the incident, 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 this, two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, who still insisted on revenge, took advantage of the situation, killing 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 did not specifically condemn or disown them for their unspeakable acts of violence. And Simeon's and Levi's reply in v. 31, showed no regret for what they had done. This is a low point in Jacob's faith journey. God is completely absent from this 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 went there instead of where God told him to go. Now, we see God intervene, commanding Jacob to do what he should have done 10 years earlier. The term "go up" refers to elevation not direction. There had to be a departure from this place-a complete change of direction. By ordering Jacob to "make an altar," God is telling him to resume a life of worship.
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;" - Jacob has learned his lesson: unlike Chap. 34 where he was hesitant and indecisive in the face of catastrophe, Jacob assertively takes steps to purify himself and his household. First, he commands them to put away their foreign gods. Where did these come from? We skipped this, but in Chap. 31 Rachel had stolen Laban's household gods when they fled from him and undoubtedly more had been collected when the sons looted Shechem in Chap. 34. In any case, this implies that the pagan, polytheistic practices of the Shechemites had begun to influence members of Jacob's household during their stay. Second, he orders them to change their clothes. This was a rare event because people in those times had very few changes of clothes, so that Jacob's order was intended to be an outward sign of cleansing that pictured a change in 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.
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" - Fully taking charge, Jacob moves to obey God's orders to the letter with the realization that, in spite of everything that had happened, that God has been (present tense) with him every step of the way, and that he must honor Him at Bethel-and they go.
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. Earrings in and of themselves aren't necessarily bad, but in this instance, Jacob clearly intended to rid them of everything connected to pagan worship and went a step further by burying them where they could not be easily found.
TRUTH 1: Like Jacob, there are times when we need to completely change direction, get rid of all our idols, purify ourselves, and return God to the center of our lives. Have you ever felt like God has abandoned you? That's a strong indication that we need to repent, reassess the direction and circumstance of our lives, and draw near to God in prayer, Scripture reading, and Christian fellowship. When you feel withdrawn from God and empty, one of the best places you can go is the Psalms.
Read Gen. 35:5-8 - 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. 8 Now Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth.
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 the 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." In this scene we see Jacob as a far more God-centered man than 30 years before when he thought he could bargain with God as he did in Gen. 28:20.
v. 8: "Now Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth" - Deborah is thought to have come into the household one of Rebekah's maids when Abraham's servant delivered her to Isaac. Some scholars say Rebekah sent her to Jacob as part of her promise to him in Gen. 27:45 (..."I will send and bring you from there"). What's curious about this verse is that Deborah's death is memorialized while Rebekah's death is ignored. The tree named "Allon-bacuth" (Heb. = oak of weeping) was probably a well-known landmark.
TRUTH 2: Like Jacob, when the circumstances of life has beaten us down and utterly discouraged us, we should 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) re-read some of your favorite verses of Scripture; and (4) instead of dwelling on failures (whatever they may be), you need to recount and recover your spiritual victories.
Read Gen 35:9-13 - GOD SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO JACOB FOR THE LAST TIME
9 Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. 10 God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name." Thus He called him Israel. 11 God also said to him, "I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. 12 "The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you." 13 Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him.
vv. 9-10: "Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him.10 God said to him, 'Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name.' Thus He called him Israel." - Jacob has come full circle from his first encounter with God at Bethel (Chap. 28), and now back at Bethel again for his last in-person meeting with God. It's been more than 10 years since God wrestled him into submission and spoke to him at Penuel (Chap. 32). This interval has been marked by Jacob's disobedience and culminated in the tragedy at Shechem. He certainly hasn't lived up to the name Irsael (Heb. Yisrael [yis-raw-ale'] = God strives). But he obeys now, has taken charge, and built the altar, and God, in return, blesses him in a big way.
vv. 11-12: "God also said to him, "I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. 12 "The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you." - By calling Himself God Almighty (Heb. El shaddai), God emphasizes His sovereign might, His power against all foes, all pride, and all sinfulness. Then God reiterates His promise of offspring-Jacob has many sons, but God promises they will become nations and kings of nations, and reaffirms His promise of this land of Canaan to Jacob and his offspring. In effect, God is saying, "Jacob, despite your disobedience, My promises are still good. You have returned to me and you are Mine. Despite everything, I will fulfill every promise made to you."
v. 13: "Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him" - God's ascending from this place not only ends this encounter but all direct, in-person encounters between God and the patriarchs. In the rest of Genesis, God is very much in control but does not appear and speak to men but reveals Himself through dreams, visions, and circumstances. God will not again speak to a man directly until Moses encounters Him at the burning bush in Ex. 3., over 400 years later.
TRUTH 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. Sometimes, like Jacob, we have to learn this the hard way.
Read Gen. 35:14-15 - HONORING GOD
14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.
vv. 14-15: Jacob's heart of worship showed gratitude toward god with the pillar and an offering. This is the only mention of a drink (most likely wine) offering in Genesis but is seen in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. A lesson to us: remembering and reflecting on God's promises through the study of His Word is one of life's great privileges.
POSTSCRIPT--vv. 16-29: In their journey south, Rachel died in childbirth, but the child, named Benjamin, became Jacob's 12th son. During this time, Reuben, the eldest son, had an affair with Bilhah, Rachel's former servant, and though Jacob knows, he doesn't make an issue out of it then: however, it will have ramifications for Reuben later in the Genesis story. In the final verses, Jacob comes to Hebron, where Issac is still living but dies soon afterward at the age of 180, and Jacob and Esau bury him. We skip Chap. 36 altogether, which describes the descendants of Esau who ultimately became kings in the nation of Edom and later still, enemies of Israel.