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 lives chasing after false gods. We yearn for and pursue things beyond the good gifts the Lord has blessed us with, seeking more and more wealth, attention, romance, comfort, fame, pleasure or praise. That is part of our fallen nature, and it can take us far beyond the healthy pursuits of a holy lifestyle. Of course, in the end, these journeys will often lead us to a dark place. We wonder how we ever got into such a mess and, most of all, how we can get out.
When we are ready, we will see God reaching out to help us in one way or another. He has been reaching out 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, 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 in question were in the possession of his wife, Rachel, but Jacob had chased after a few of his own, as well.
Jacob listened to 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 go unheeded, and we tumble 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 to assist people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, including 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. Usually 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 addictions and to escape from the downward spiral of destruction that drug and alcohol abuse brings? It is not easy to put away false gods, especially when addiction is involved. But God is more powerful than addiction and will help us. if He is sought.
As for Jacob, he listened to and obeyed the Lord, and moved his family out towards Bethel. We, too, must move away from danger when we face temptation. We move away from it to the best of our abilities, trusting God to lead 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.
God made a hedge of protection around Jacob. If we remain and abide with Jesus Christ, he will place a hedge of protection around us, as well. We may face hardship and persecution, but He will be there with 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 35:5, 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 but grew in maturity as the Lord God took a hold of his life and brought out a tender, faithful heart. God wrestled with Jacob to ultimately bring out a spirit of humility and dependence upon Him.
Jerusalem was chosen by God to be the heart of His kingdom on earth, the place of His temple, but there is also something special about Bethel. Located about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, God repeatedly appeared there to give messages of hope, love and encouragement to His people. Abraham had settled there for awhile and had built an altar to the Lord there. Jacob had his first encounter with God there, and later was led by God to return there. It is a special, spiritual place. God has a Bethel for you, as well.
Can you see the thread of God’s work in your life? It is sometimes easier to see in the joyful and happy events, but the hand of God is also at work in our times of pain and grief, as well. He brings healing and restoration as we turn to Him in our sorrow. It may take time, but God will indeed bring us comfort through His loving presence.
Is there a place you have had a special encounter with the Lord? Perhaps it is a geographical location or a physical setting, like the scenic outdoors or a spiritual retreat center. Many people encounter God in the shower. The Lord has His special places with us. I once heard someone refer to this place as a “God Spot”. Where does the Lord show Himself real and have fellowship with you?
While always present with us, sometimes God chooses to make his Holy Spirit’s presence more tangible to us. When believers gather in praise and worship, the Lord will often “inhabit” those praises, sometimes even with a sensible presence. Or He may lift us up during a solitary encounter, often when we least expect it. There are many ways He may do this, as many as the infinite number of creative attributes of the Lord himself.
How did your spiritual walk begin? What were the factors and who were the people that God used to draw you to Him?
Where is your spiritual walk you headed today? What is your heart’s desire for walking with God? As you serve God today, what do you need Him to do for you?