Summary: Jacob had stopped at Bethel on his way to his uncle's property. He didn't have much with him when he got there but he was able to become wealthy. Now it was time to for him to leave--and he stopped again at Bethel.

Back to Bethel

Based on a message preached several years ago (not an exact transcription)

Preface: Some people I’ve known have talked about “going back to Bethel”, and I really didn’t understand all they were talking about at the time. There are even some songs which mention this. In fact, one of my favorite groups had a rather brief song called “Let Us Go Back To Bethel”. It took me some time to figure out just what they meant but when the Lord opened my eyes, spiritually speaking, it was something that has spoken to my heart ever since.

Jacob had already had a Bethel experience, as recorded in Genesis 28, twenty or so years before the events in this chapter and this text. God had promised to return Jacob to his homeland, and now God is fulfilling that promise.

The text is Genesis 35, verses 1-15. I’m reading from the New American Standard Version:

[Gen 35:1-15 NASB] 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. 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. 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. 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.

Why did Jacob return to Bethel?

There have been a number of changes in Jacob’s life between the first time he was at Bethel (see Genesis 28) and this time, about twenty years later. Chapters 29 through 34 of Genesis give us the biography of Jacob during that time, as the Lord wanted us to see.

He had married Leah, and her sister Rachel. Later he married the servant girls (Bilhah and Zilpah) of each sister. By now, he has fathered 11 sons and at least one daughter (Dinah, see Genesis 30:21). He left with little, as he himself told Laban, but now he had camels, flocks, herds, and servants (Genesis 32:16). Best of all, he had God’s explicit promise that He would be with Jacob always and would bless him. There is a lesson for us, too, in the “Back to Bethel” experience that Jacob had.

Let’s take a moment to see how things had changed since the first time Jacob stopped at Bethel. When he left home, in Genesis 28, he didn’t have much except his staff—in fact, he commented on that very thing, as we’ve noticed. Now he’s coming back as a very wealthy man indeed. He had left his home in fear for his life (Esau wanted to kill him!) but now he’s coming back to Bethel in peace. When he left, he may not have thought he would ever return, but now he’s coming back with a view towards settling down.

One other thing that some people, including me, have missed at first glance is that Jacob had left a home centered around the worship of One True God, then had gone into a land that, at least in Laban’s case, was lapsing into idol worship. Laban had asked one of the most pathetic questions in the entire Bible, when he asked (demanded of?) Jacob, “Why did you steal my gods?” (see Genesis 31:30) Now, Jacob is returning to the land of promise, a land where the true and the living God was worshipped.

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