Christian Living, Church history, Culture & Society, Faith, Salvation & Justification, Worship

Going Back to Bethel

AN EXPOSITION OF GENESIS 35:1-15

“And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.

2 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:

3 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 which I went.

4 And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.

5 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.

6 So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him.

7 And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.

8 But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allon-bachuth.

9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him.

10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.

11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;

12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.

13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.

14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.

15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel.”

Jacob had a promise to keep. Thirty years had passed since he made a vow to God saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in the 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” (Gen. 28:20-21).

The Lord had honored His part of the covenant. While Jacob was in a foreign land, God had been with him. The Lord did provide Jacob bread to eat and clothing to wear. When the time came for Jacob to return home, the Lord softened the heart of Esau so that Jacob could return to his father’s house in peace. Time and distance had been good healing tools.

Esau no longer wanted to murder Jacob.
Esau was willing to tear down the walls of hostility and restore the broken relationship.
Esau was willing to love again and enter into sweet fellowship with his brother.
God’s grace had taken away the bitter anger of Esau.

In Romans 2:4 we read that the goodness of God leads the heart to repentance. Dale Carnegie has written a classic work with the title How to Win Friends and Influence People. There is the wisdom of man in this matter of how to change self and others and there is the wisdom of God. God had been good to Esau even when he did not deserve it and now his heart was softened. In the softening of the heart there was movement towards a restoration of fellowship. In return for these divine favors, Jacob had promised that the Lord would be his God. But Jacob was not keeping his promise.

Even ten years after he had returned from Mesopotamia, Jacob had neglected to perform his vows.
Jehovah was not his God alone. The wives of Jacob had continued to worship their strange gods and he had not objected. Idols were in his household.

Jacob was willing to tolerate this bad behavior in order to keep peace in the family. He did not want to make an issue out of something that pleased his wives— though an issue it was.

Jacob was willing to keep peace at any price, for he was not yet a man of great principle.
Jacob would learn that keeping silent about rival gods in the form of idols would have its own repercussions.

We cannot be too critical of Jacob because our own lives reflect the difficulty of keeping the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Today, the general charge can be leveled that modern man in the western world worships the goddess of pleasure, and the god of money. We struggle with the weekly decision of whether or not to go to the place of worship for the pressures of activities compete for our time. Jacob felt all of these pressures too.

Jacob felt other pressures too. Instead of setting the spiritual dynamics of the household, he let others set them for him. Out of consideration and respect for his wives, Jacob tolerated what he told God he would not. There were idols in his household. But God will not be mocked. God will not be put off forever. What a person promises to perform, God expects to be fulfilled. The Bible says,
“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for He hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed” (Eccl. 5:4).

In order to help Jacob become a man of integrity, the Lord said unto Jacob,

“Arise, and go up to Bethel, and dwell there.”

That is still part of the gospel call today. God is commanding Christians everywhere to

“Arise! Stand up! Go Back to Bethel!”

It was at Bethel that Jacob had first met the Lord.
It was at Bethel that Jacob had seen the majesty and the grace of God. “Go back to Bethel, Jacob.
Go back to the place of spiritual birth.”

Do you remember where you first met God?
Do you remember your first Bethel?
Do you remember how sweet the message was when you learned that there was divine forgiveness for sins to be found based upon gospel repentance?

Jacob first met God on a dusty road, one dark night, while fleeing in fear from the face of his angry brother Esau. Jacob met God when all of his selfish schemes were “dashed like waves crashing against ugly jagged rocks” (Hans Fingel).

In sovereign grace, God was calling to Jacob to do what he had promised to perform 30 years ago. Jacob was to go back to Bethel.

Once Jacob returned to the House of God, he was not to leave too soon. There was, and is a reason.
God wants us to linger in His presence. The Lord invites our fellowship, and asks us to dwell with him. The Psalmist said, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”

While at the House of God, the Lord instructed Jacob to worship. The Bible says that, “Jacob, made there an altar, unto God.” The construction of the altar was for the expressed purpose of worship. The Bible has much to say about the worship of the Lord. To begin, some worship is an abomination, as Cain discovered in anger and shame.

The Word of the Lord came to the prophet Isaiah to declare that the religious activity of the people of Israel in his day was an abomination for, “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.” The worship of the wicked is rejected.

In constraint, there is a form of worship that is acceptable to God. The worship that is acceptable to God is that which is offered in spirit and in truth.

John 4:24 declares that, “God is spirit, and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
To worship God in spirit is to involve the inner man.

It is possible to physically come to a church service and not worship the Lord because the spirit, the inner man is bored, angry, critical, pre-occupied, or asleep.

It is possible to come to a religious service with the spirit involved, but there is no truth as revealed in the Word of God.

It is possible for the spirit to become so involved with religious excitement that there is shouting, hand clapping, and jumping up and down, but the content of the message does not match up with the meaning of the Word of God.

One perversion of worship that illustrates this point is what is called the “laughing revival.” This phenomenon has been manifested in the U.S. and Canada. According to CHRISMA MAGAZINE Aug, 1994, “Many people lie on the floor giggling, sometimes for hours after having been touched on the forehead. Some of them stumble out of their church hours later, as if intoxicated.”

One minister who practices this excessive laughter declares,

“One night I was preaching on hell and [laughter] just hit the whole place. The more I told people about what hell was like, the more they laughed. When I gave an altar call, they came forward by the hundreds to be saved.”

In contrast to these laughing hyenas of Christendom, stands the preaching of the apostles. When Paul reasoned with one Roman official of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled (Acts 24:25) Gospel preaching will make men tremble. Christ did not go to Calvary laughing, and no one comes to Christ laughing. The bloody cross where Jesus died is the place of tears, and remorse, and repentance. The true worship of God demands there be spirit and truth. There is balance. In true worship there is a conscious, wholehearted ascription of homage and praise that is given to God.

Worship is not automatic, like breathing. Worship is a conscious act of the tongue, the mind, and the spirit, directed towards God. How we should worship is best illustrated in the examples of Scripture. In Revelation 7:11-12 we read of the worship of God. The Bible says: “And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces and worshipped God. Saying Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God, forever and ever. Amen.” They worshipped God with their spirits engaged, and truth was on their lips. There are pre-requisites to worship, and the first is that God must be known.

In Acts 17 we read of Paul preaching to the people of Athens from Mars Hill. The apostle began his message by pointing out that the Athenians were ignorant of God. Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars Hill, and said, “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” Those who come to God must KNOW Him. They must know that He exists and He is not silent. Jacob believed that God exists. He had heard Him speak.

The second pre-requisite for proper worship is to have spiritual insight. Spiritual insight comes by having light and sight. Spiritual light is found in the Bible according to Psalms 119:105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

Would you worship God in truth? Study the Bible. There is no true worship in any sort of religious gathering, be it large or small, which neglects the Word of God.

But there is more. A mere formal study of the Scriptures needs divine illumination. The charge that Jesus had against the Pharisees is that they studied the Bible but did not understand it. They were always learning but never coming into spiritual knowledge. There is light, but man also needs sight and spiritual sight comes to man according to the sovereign will of God. That is why the Psalmist prayed, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law. (Psa. 119:18).”

In Matthew 11:25, Jesus said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” If we are to worship God, we must know Him, and then we must have light and sight. Light from the Word of God, sight from the God of the Word.

The Bible tells us that Jacob, who knew the God of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob who had sight and light, received spiritual insight from the Lord that produced obedience. Going to his family members Jacob said. “Let us arise, and go up to Bethel.”

There was something about the way that Jacob spoke to his family which indicated he was serious.
The days of understanding about the false idols in his household were gone. With spiritual authority Jacob told his servants what he planned to do (Verse 3),“And they gave to Jacob all the strange gods.”Once more Jacob was in charge.

The practical lesson is that men have a tremendous influence over the manner in which their family will worship, or even if they will worship. In the divine economy God holds the man responsible for the spiritual welfare of the family.

When Jacob received the false idols, the Bible says that he buried the unholy objects under the oak that was by Shechem (Gen. 35:4). This was probably the very tree under which Abraham had once pitched his tent (Gen. 12:6). With this symbolic act, Jacob returned to the God of his fathers. Having buried the false idols, having cleansed himself and the hearts of his family (Gen. 35:2), having changed his garments to represent righteousness, Jacob finally came to Luz. He was back at Bethel. At Bethel, three important things took place.

First, Jacob built an altar (Gen. 35: 2). Thirty years had passed since the first altar had been erected.
A new altar was needed. Sometimes we need to construct new altars in our own hearts. We do this by rededicating our lives to Christ, and then living a life of commitment.

Second, Jacob renamed the place El-Bethel. Initially, Jacob named the place, Bethel, the House of God. Now, he knows more intimately the GOD of the House.

Third, Jacob heard the Lord speak afresh. And God had many wonderful things to tell Jacob.

First, the Lord told Jacob that he was going to get a new name (Gen. 35:10). “Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall thy name be.” The changing of a name speaks of a new relationship. Jacob’s relationship with God would be different. No longer would he be the scheming supplanting son of Isaac. He would forever become a Prince of God.

Second, the Lord promised Jacob that from his descendants would come many nations and many kings (Gen. 35:11). “And the King of all kings would come from Jacob in the person of Jesus Christ.”

Third, the Lord promised Jacob a piece of real estate. He would receive the portion of land promised to Abraham and Isaac.To commemorate the promises of God, the bible says that Jacob, “set up a pillar in the place where he talked with Him [God], even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.”

This building of an altar would serve as a visible reminder that once, and then twice, Jacob met with God.

In conclusion, for those who have neglected the place of worship, God calls out to say, “Come back to Bethel! Come back to where God can be met!”

Let there be a Bethel in your life.
Let Bethel be the place of rededication.
Let Bethel be the place where strange gods are put away.
Let Bethel be the place where family and friends are brought to worship.
Let Bethel be the place of peace.

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