Back to Bethel

Genesis 35:1-7

Jacob played an important role in history as a patriarch of Israel but, earlier in his life, he deceived his brother Esau and their father Isaac (Genesis 25-27) and then escaped to Canaan.

Sin had driven Jacob away from his home and family. Even today, sin always drives us away.

On his way to Canaan, Jacob met God and had an incredible experience. The ladder he saw between earth and heaven reminds us that God provides the means to connect with Him.

Because Jacob met God there, he named the place “Bethel,” which means the house of God. Let’s look at this meeting with God (Gen. 28:10-22):

  • Jacob had stopped to rest while running away from trouble.
  • He heard God speak to him.
  • He saw heaven and earth joined.
  • God promised to be with him.

When Jacob heard God, he said: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” (Gen. 28:16). Are you aware that God is in this place, right where you are?

Finally, Jacob was ready to make his commitment to God and vowed:

1. “The Lord will be my God” (v. 21)

2. “ The stone, that I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house” (v. 22) and

3. “Of all that you give me, I will give you a tenth.” (v. 22)

However, the wandering, backsliding, troubled Jacob needed to return to Bethel when, 30 years later, He found himself in trouble again. Jacob had made a good life for himself but the Lord told him: “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” (Gen. 35:1)

God calls those who have wandered away to return. He calls us back to our places of dedication! He calls us to return to Him. Hosea 12:6 says, “But you must return to your God.”

In Genesis 34:30 we read: “Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.’”

Jacob had forgotten his commitment to God and had been living comfortably with unbelievers. Now He was convicted and reminded of Bethel, the place he had made his commitment to God.

Jacob had to put away his idols. He had built altars to God, but he had also tolerated the false worship of idols. He had developed a philosophy of worship that embraced or at least tolerated the world while trying to maintain a relationship with God. It didn’t work with Jacob, and it won’t work for us!

Jacob had to clean up and make a change. That is what repentance is all about. Many people want to get near God without cleansing themselves from the filth of this world. But Jacob responded to God and his conviction brought action.

He said to his household and to all who were with him: Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you! Purify yourselves! James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Let us go up to Bethel, too! Like Jacob’s foreign or “strange” gods, there are many “strange” things in the lives of believers today, such as:

*  Strange plans …

*  Strange attitudes …

*  Strange lifestyles …

*  Strange words …

*  Strange goals …

What about you? Are you convicted, like Jacob, about the strange things in your life? Jacob was convicted of his sinful way of life and he repented and returned to Bethel. He said: “Come, let us go up to Bethel.”

Jacob remembered that God had answered his prayer. He also remembered that God had been with him. Now Jacob was consecrated, set apart for God. He built an altar, and worshipped God faithfully!

What was the impact of Jacob’s return to Bethel? Genesis 35:5 tells us: “Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.”

God is calling you back to your “Bethel.” You, your family, and your loved ones will be blessed when you return to your Bethel. But if you ignore God’s call the consequences will be awful… and even deadly.

Pastor Joseph Hovsepian