35 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the 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 that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” Genesis 35:1-3 (ESV)
Jacob’s eyes have been opened and he now sees and appreciates the presence and power of God in his life. Like Jacob, many of us have spent a good portion of our own lives chasing after false gods. We yearn for and pursue things beyond the good gifts the Lord has blessed us with, seeking more wealth, attention, romance, comfort, fame, pleasure or praise than He intends for us. That desire for ever more is part of our fallen nature, and can take us far beyond the healthy pursuits of a holy lifestyle. Of course, in the end, these journeys will often lead us into dark places. We then wonder how we ever got into such a mess and, most of all, how can we get out.
When we are ready, God will reach out to help us in one way or another. He has been calling to us all along, but only when we are ready will we surrender to His love and care. He will ask us to put away whatever false gods we have embraced, to purify ourselves in Him through prayer and repentance, and to “arise and go” to a place where we can heal in His presence. In Jacob’s case, that place was Bethel. The false gods God mentioned were stolen from Laban and we’re in the possession of Jacob’s wife, Rachel, but Jacob had chased after a few of his own, as well.
Jacob listened and obeyed God’s call, following His instructions and escaping from the dangers presented by his father-in-law, Laban. Sometimes God’s warnings and instructions can go unheeded by us, and we end up tumbling further into a distressed lifestyle. This lifestyle can result in the loss of the things most precious to us, including family, health, friends, finances or even our lives. But the lure of false gods is powerful, and they are often difficult to put down without the loving intervention and power of God.
I volunteer assisting people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, many in incarceration. It is a privilege to see them clear minded and sober, as they are often delightful people when free from debilitating substances. Often they are open, honest and quite pleasant to be around. The big question is, when they are released from incarceration, will they earnestly seek God’s help to stay away from their addiction to escape the downward spiral of destruction that drug and alcohol abuse brings? It is not so easy to put away these false gods. But God is more powerful than any addiction and will help us, if He is sought.
As for Jacob, he listened to and obeyed the Lord, moving his family out towards Bethel. We, too, must move away from danger when we face these temptations. We move away to the best of our abilities, trusting God to lead us as He shows the way and provides a path to safety.
5 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Genesis 35:9 (ESV)
God made a hedge of protection around Jacob and his family. If we remain faithful, He will place a hedge of protection around us, as well. We may face hardship and persecution, but He will be there with us and for us.
9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So, he called his name Israel. 11 And God 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 from your own body.” Genesis 35: 9-11 (ESV)
God had chosen Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, to be his representative to start a royal line leading to the eternal King of Kings, Jesus Christ. Jacob continued this line, leading a very adventurous life along the way. He began life as somewhat of a schemer and a scoundrel, but grew in maturity as the Lord God took hold of his life and brought out his tender, faithful heart. God even wrestled with Jacob to help bring out a spirit of humility, surrender, and reliance upon Him.
Jerusalem would be chosen by God to be the heart of His kingdom on earth and His temple, but there is also something special about Bethel. Located about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, God repeatedly appeared there in the scriptures to give messages of hope, love and encouragement to His people. Abraham settled there for awhile and had built an altar to the Lord there. Jacob had his first encounter with God in Bethel and later was led by God to return there. It is a special, spiritual place for refreshment and spiritual recharge in the presence of God. Perhaps the Lord has selected a special Bethel for you to experience Him, as well.
Can you see a thread of God’s work in your life? It is sometimes easier to see Him in the joyful and happy events, but the hand of God is also at work in our times of pain, grief, or sorrow, as well. It may take time, but God will bring us through these to a place of comfort and restoration in His loving presence.
Is there a “Bethel” in your life, a place where you have had a special encounter with the Lord? Perhaps it is a geographical location or a physical setting, like a location in the scenic outdoors or at a spiritual retreat center. Many people have encountered God simply in the shower! The Lord has a special place to meet with many of us – a “God Spot” where He showed Himself real and had fellowship with us.
Lord, lead us to our own Bethel where we can encounter You and shed the grip of false gods or addictions in our own lives. Comfort us in seasons of pain, and return us to a joy and a peace in Your presence. May Your holy name be blessed and praised forever. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.