Summary: The Patriarchs Back to Bethel Genesis 35 This is the last message in our series, “The Patriarchs,”
Back to Bethel
October 9, 2016
This is the last message in our series, “The Patriarchs,” in which we have seen God’s grace triumph over human sin in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob. This week Genesis 35 ends the Jacob cycle on a high note. Genesis 35 shows us both the power of grace in the lives of God’s people mingled with the constant reminder that we live in a fallen world.
After the murderous rampage in Shechem, God calls Jacob to obey his vow and got to Bethel and make an altar to the God who appeared to him when he was running from Esau (35:1), referring to the vision of the angels going up and down the ladder (28:10-17). God is calling Jacob to spiritual renewal after drifting spiritually for years and God. He vowed to return to Bethel when he first came into the promised land but instead moved to Shechem. Maybe the trade routes offered financial security or the grazing lands for his animals were good. Yet God has not given up on him. The New Testament says it like this, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).” That good work is being conformed to the image of Christ. The book of Revelation describes a congregation who had drifted spiritually that Jesus calls back to spiritual renewal. He describes their drifting as having abandoned their first love. Do you know what it is like to abandon your first love? First, your attitude changes, then your desire wanes, until you finally just stop. Those activities you would never consider missing because you enjoyed them so much lose their appeal and you are just going through the motions. But as you continue to drift, these activities become a burden, you dislike doing them, and even resent doing them. You blame outside circumstances for the way you feel, but most generally it is an internal, heart issue. So bible reading and church attendance and hanging out with other Christ followers starts to wane. Prayer becomes forced and laborious. You start complaining and criticizing church, worship is too long, the sermons are boring, and you no longer have time to serve or help out. These activities are dull compared to other activities in your life. I know because I feel the same way at times. Scripture gives us three steps to overcome this drifting. First, remember from where you have fallen; second, repent, and third, do the works you did at first (Rev 2:5). First, recognize that you have fallen and it is not good. It is in fact dangerous. Remember from where you have fallen. Remember what it was like and what you did because you loved doing it. Then repent from abandoning Christ as your first love, recognize it as sin and turn back toward making Christ your first priority. And third, do the works you did at first. What did you do when you first came to faith? I was consumed with reading my bible, listening to worship music, reading good Christian books, going to small group, spent time with others who encouraged me spiritually, and shared the gospel. We must constantly fight against drifting by correcting our course, our direction.
This impacted Jacob so he called everyone to throw away all their idols. In his drifting, he had tolerated idolatry among his family. These idols include the ones Rachel stole from her father (31:19) and those the women and children of Shechem bought with them. He also requests that they purify themselves and change their garments, a metaphor for changing behavior. Some say this is the source of the apostle Paul’s imagery, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24). Jacob’s spiritual renewal brings about renewal in his family. They gave him all their idols and then Jacob buried them. Idolatry is anytime we are trusting or hoping in something or someone other than God. Let’s go back to Genesis 30 to see an example of this in the life of Rachel and Leah. Remember that Leah is homely, frail and delicate, while Rachel is beautiful, hearty and healthy. If we use our imaginations a bit, a homely woman puts her hope in the love and affections of a man; and a beautiful woman who gets the attention of all the men, puts all of her hope and confidence in her physical beauty and abilities. When both end up married to the same man because of Laban’s deception, Leah starts having babies and hopes that giving Jacob sons will gain his love and affection (29:32, 34). Rachel envies Leah because she is not producing children. She then blames Jacob and demands that he gives her children or she will die (30:1)! Having children has become ultimate reason for living. She is desperate, but instead of turning to God for help she turns to her servant to give her children by Jacob (30:3-6). Leah, now feeling competitive to see who can bear the most children, gives her servant to Jacob so she can have more children from him (30:9-10) to find happiness (13). That is how idolatry works in life. It is looking for ultimate happiness in the blessing or gifts of God rather than God himself. Idols could be a girlfriend, good grades, being the best, exercise, food, work, etc. John Calvin said the human heart is an idol factory pumping them out like an assembly line. But how do I overcome those things I love? Find a greater love in Jesus.