Gleanings In Genesis
36. Jacob At Bethel Again
In our last chapter we closed with Jacob parting from Esau and failing to keep his word and rejoin his brother at Seir. We pass over the sad record of the intervening chapter, asking our readers to turn to it for themselves. After passing through the grievous experiences narrated in Genesis 34, we might well have supposed that Jacob had been in a hurry to leave Shechem—yet, whither would he flee! Laban he had no desire to meet again. Esau he wished to avoid. And now from the Shechemites also he was anxious to get away. But whither should he go? Poor Jacob! He must have been in a grand quandary. Ah, but man’s extremities are God’s opportunities, and so it was shown to be here. Once more God appeared to him, and said, "Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fledest from the face of Esau thy brother" (Gen. 35:1).
In studying the above passage we have arrived at the conclusion that God’s word to Jacob on this occasion was one of admonition. The reference to him "fleeing" from the face of Esau, takes us back, of course, to the time when Jacob first fled from home fearful of his brother’s anger at the deception practiced on him in winning from their father the coveted blessing. On the first night out the Lord had appeared to our patriarch in a dream in which He promised to keep him in all places whither he went, and to bring him again into the land and unto his kindred. When Jacob awoke he said, "Surely the Lord is in this place" (Gen. 28:16), and rising up early in the morning he took the stone on which his head had rested during the night and set it up for a pillar, pouring oil on the top of it, and calling the name of the place Bethel, which means "House of God." And there, we are told, "And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house" (Gen. 28:20-22).
Probably thirty years at least had passed since Jacob had had that vision of the" ladder," and now God reminds him of the pledge which our patriarch had failed to redeem. God here addressed Himself to Jacob’s conscience, with respect to his neglect in performing his vow. God had performed His part, but Jacob had failed. God had preserved him whithersoever he had journeyed, and had brought him back safely to the land of Canaan; but now that Jacob had been in the land at least seven years (for in less time than this Simeon and Levi could not have reached man’s estate—Genesis 34:25), yet, he had not gone up to Bethel.
That God’s word to Jacob recorded in Genesis 35:1, was a reproof is further evidenced by the immediate effect which it had upon him. Not only had Jacob failed to go to Bethel, but, what was worse, while Jehovah had been his personal God, his household was defiled by idols. Rebekah’s stolen "teraphim" had proven a snare to the family. At the time Laban overtook them Jacob seems to have known nothing about these gods; later, however, he was evidently aware of their presence, but not until aroused by the Lord appearing to him did he exert his parental authority and have them put away. It is striking to note that though God Himself said nothing, directly, about the "teraphim" yet, the immediate effect of His words was to stir Jacob’s conscience about them "Then Jacob said unto his household and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments" (Gen. 35:2). These words show that Jacob was aware of the corrupt practices of his family, and had only too long connived at them.
There is good reason to believe that the troubles into which Jacob fell at Shechem were due immediately to his failure in this very particular, and had he gone directly to Bethel his household had been purged the more promptly of the "strange gods" that were in it, and his children had escaped the taint which these of necessity must impart. Furthermore, had he gone sooner to Bethel his children would have been kept out of the way of temptation (Gen. 34:1), and then the impure and bloody conduct of which they were guilty had been prevented. Mark, too, how this second verse of Genesis 35 illustrates the awful spread of the leprosy of sin. At first the teraphim were hidden by Rachel. and none of the family except her seem to have known of them: but now Jacob had to command his" household" and "all that were with him" to "put away the strange gods" which were among them. The moral is evident: spiritual neglect and trifling with temptation can issue only in evil and disaster. Let us not neglect God’s House, nor delay to keep His commandments.
"And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way that I went" (Gen. 35:3). Jacob not only commands his household to put away their idols, but seeks to impress them with his own sentiments, and urges them all to accompany him to Bethel. His reciting to them how that God had "answered him in the day of his distress" not only argued the propriety of the step he was urging upon them, but would excite a hope that God might disperse the cloud which now hung on them on account of the late lamentable transactions in Shechem.
"And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their ear-rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem" (Gen. 35:4). It is pleasing to observe the readiness with which his family acceded to Jacob’s command. They not only gave up their "gods" but their "ear-rings" also. These, too, were frequently converted to the use of idolatrous practices, as is evident not only from the example of Aaron who made the calf out of the "golden ear-rings" (Ex. 32:2), but from Hosea 2:13 as well—"And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and she decked herself with her ear-rings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat Me, saith the Lord." That Jacob buried the teraphim and ear-rings, instead of attempting to convert them to a more honorable use, teaches us that the things of Satan must not be employed in the service of God, and that we need to forsake even the appearance of evil. There can be no doubt that in the readiness with which the family acted in response to Jacob’s command we are to see the hand of the Lord. In fact the power of God is evident at every point in this incident: the immediate effect of God’s word to Jacob to go to Bethel (the effect on his conscience, evidenced by the prompt purging of his household); the unanimous response of his family; and further, what we read of in verse 5 all demonstrate this—"and they journeyed; and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob."
In the scripture last quoted we find a striking illustration of the sovereign control which God exercises over and upon men, even upon those who are not His people. Evidently the Shechemites were so enraged against Jacob and his family that had not God put forth His power they had promptly avenged the wrong done them. But not a hand can be raised against any of the Lord’s people without His direct permission, and even when our enemies are incensed against us, all God does is to put His "terror" upon them and they are impotent. How true it is that "the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prov. 21:1). And God is still the same: living, ruling, almighty. There is no doubt in the writer’s mind that in the authenticated reports of "the Angels at Mons" we see in the terror which caused the German cavalry to turn about and flee from the outnumbered English a modern example of what we read of in Genesis 35:5—"And the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob."
"So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. And he built there an altar, and called the place El-Bethel; because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother" (Gen. 35:6, 7). It is significant that Bethel is here first called by its original name, "Luz" which means "departure." From God Jacob had departed for (as previously pointed out) Jacob built no "altar" during all the years he sojourned in Padan-Aram, and only now does he return to God, to the "house of God," to the altar of God, and in order to do this he must needs retrace his steps and return to the place from which he had "departed." So it was with Abraham before him, for after he left Egypt (whither he had gone in unbelief) we read, "And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai; unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first" (Gen. 13:3, 4). And so it has to be with us.
"But Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak, and the name of it was called Allon-Bachuth. And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-Aram and blessed him" (Gen. 35:8, 9). In principle these two verses are inseparably connected. No mention is made of Deborah in the sacred narrative from the time Jacob left his father’s house until the time when he had now returned to Bethel. The departure and the return of Jacob are thus linked together for us by the mention of Deborah "Rebekah’s nurse." The same thing is seen again in the verse which follows. "And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-Aram." God had appeared to him just before he entered Padan-Aram, and He now appeared "again" when he came out of Padan-Aram. All the years spent with Laban were lost, as were also those lived in Succoth and Shechem. The twenty years he served with his father-in-law were so much "wood, hay and stubble." We find another illustration of this same sad principle in Hebrew 11:29-30, where we read, first, "by faith Israel passed through the Red Sea," and the next thing we read is, "by faith the walls of Jericho fell down." The forty years wandering in the wilderness in unbelief is passed over! Nothing of "faith" was to be found in that period of Israel’s history. The forty years was so much lost time! Ah, my reader, when our records are reviewed at the Judgment-seat of Christ methinks there will be similar tragic blanks in most, possibly all, of our lives.
The sequel of Jacob’s return to Bethel is very beautiful, but we cannot here dwell much upon the details. God appeared unto Jacob again, reaffirmed that he should be called by his new name Israel, revealed Himself as the "Almighty" or "All-Sufficient One," bade him to be "fruitful and multiply," assuring him that "a nation and a company of nations should be of him, and kings should come out of his loins;" and, finally, ratifying the gift of the land unto his fathers, unto himself, and unto his sons (Gen. 35:11, 12). That Jacob was now fully restored to communion with God is seen from the fact that he now once more "set up a pillar" in the place where he had talked with God and poured oil thereon (Gen. 35:14, and cf. Genesis 28:18).
Next, we are told "And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath." How significant and how beautiful is the moral order here: Ephrath is Bethlehem (verse 19), and Bethlehem signifies "House of Bread." Note carefully the words, "There is but a little way (i.e. from Bethel) to come to Ephrath." Yes, it is but a short distance from the place where the soul is restored to communion with God to the place where nourishment and satisfaction of heart are to be found!
"And Rachael died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem" (Gen. 35:19). Thus the leading link of Jacob’s life at Padan-Aram was now severed! The "teraphim" had been "hid under the oak" (verse 4), Deborah (the link with his old unregenerate life) had also been "buried under an oak" (verse 8), and now Rachael is "buried." Death is written large across this scene. And we too must have "the sentence of death" written on our members if we would walk in full communion with God and dwell in the house of bread. And is it not lovely to mark that from the dying Rachael there came forth Benjamin ‘‘the Son of the right hand!"
Having considered some of the moral lessons which the 35th chapter of Genesis inculcates, we would in closing point out how that once again we have here another of those marvelous typical pictures in which this first book of Scripture abounds; this time a dispensational foreshadowment of the coming restoration of Israel.
1. Just as Jacob left the house of God (Bethel—Genesis 28) for the land of exile, so has the Nation which had descended from him. 2. Just as God said to Jacob "Arise, go up to Bethel," return to the place of Divine communion and privilege, so will He yet call to Israel. 3. Just as the immediate effect upon Jacob of God’s "call" was to purge his house from idolatry and to issue in a change of his ways (emblematized by "changing of garments"—Genesis 35:2), so the Nation will yet be purged from their final idolatry (in connection with Antichrist) and be changed in their ways and walk. 4. Just as Jacob acknowledged that God had "answered him in the day of his distress" (Gen. 35:3), so will Israel when He responds to their cry in the great Tribulation. 5. Just as the "terror of God" fell upon the Shechemites (Gen. 35:5), so will His terror fall once more upon the Gentiles when He resumes His dealings with His covenant people. 6. Just as when Jacob returned to Bethel he built another "altar," so will Israel once more worship God acceptably when they are restored to His favor. 7. Just as now the link with Jacob’s past was severed (the death of Rebekah—Genesis 35:8), so will Israel die to their past life. 8. Just as God now appeared unto Jacob "again," so will He, in the coming day, manifest Himself to Israel as of old. 9. Just as God then said "Thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name" (Gen. 35:10), so his descendants shall no more be called Jews, but as Israel shall they be known. 10. Just as God now for the first time discovered unto Jacob his name "Almighty," so on Israel’s restoration will the Messiah be revealed as "the wonderful Counselor, the mighty God." 11. Just as national prosperity was here assured unto Jacob—"be fruitful and multiply, a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee" Genesis 35:11—so shall the prosperity and blessings promised through the prophets become theirs. 12. Just as God here said unto Jacob "the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee will I give it and to thy seed after thee" (Gen. 35:12), so will He say to the restored nation. 13. Just as Jacob poured oil on the pillar he erected at Bethel, so will God pour the Holy Spirit upon Israel and upon all flesh. 14. Just as Jacob found Bethel to be but a little way from Bethlehem, so shall Israel at last find the Bread of Life once they have had their second Bethel. 15. Just as Benjamin now took his place in Jacob’s household, so will the true Benjamin—"Son of his mother’s sorrow, but also of his father’s right hand"—take His rightful place among redeemed Israel. There are other points in this typical picture which we leave for the reader to search out for himself. Surely as the Christian ponders the wondrous and blessed future which yet awaits the Israel of God he cannot do less than heed that earnest word—"Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, until He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth" (Isa. 62:6, 7)!