August 15, 2021 Service
Building a People of God With Unusual Characters: Jacob, Part 4: Back to Bethel, the Father of a Nation
- Building a People of God With Unusual CharactersI have enjoyed going through these stories of some of the main characters in Genesis. Just to have the recap, like most serials I watch, we started with Noah, who found favor in the eyes of the Lord and saved humanity from the waters of the great flood. Then we jumped ahead several generations to begin our lessons on Abraham, the father of the faithful as he responded to God’s call on his life.After a couple weeks of his story, with the amazing and wonderful birth of Isaac by Sarah at about 90 years old, I used Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, as the focus because of how she practiced deceit against her husband Isaac in order to promote Jacob over Esau. In her defense, Rebekah was working to carry through the word from God that came to her when she prayed desperately when she was still pregnant and getting kicked to pieces by the developing twins.Jacob, the one of God’s choice, then became the focus as we spoke of his adventures and misadventures after he got away from an angry Esau. He had googly eyes for Rachel, Rebekah’s niece. We needed to fill in part of the lessons that we needed to learn with Leah and Rachel, those mandrakes and their servants as Jacob ended up with 11 sons. Then, on God’s orders, he gathered his family and flocks and left the area of Haran, the birthplace of Rebekah, Laban, Leah and Rachel. And there was something about those household idols.Jacob had to escape from Laban, and in the process God gave him a new name, first through the man of God that Jacob wrestled all night. It would take him a while to grow into that name, “Israel” the one whose struggle is with God, instead of Jacob, the deceiver.Then he faced Esau, who chose to be a friend rather than a foe after these 20 years had passed, no longer living under the grudge of what Jacob had cheated him out of. Jacob did not follow Esau into his land, instead he bought land and settled for a while at Shechem, but that is not where God told him to go. We’re going to skip the mess about Dinah, Leah’s daughter, and the revenge her brothers took in chapter 34.>>>So where we are now is with our continuation of Jacob’s story, as God intrudes on his sense of being settled in Shechem and starts to move Jacob along asGod Pokes Jacob: Follow InstructionsI don’t know if you have noticed, but Jacob has really not been the model man of God in his life. He started with his mother’s favor and his father’s indifference. So he chose the one who payed him the most affection, and whatever Momma Bekka said, Jacob did, all the way to getting his wives in Paddan-aram.God started with telling him how to grow his herds, then to leave Paddan-aram, then showed him his army of protection. The orders in Haran were clear: Go to Bethel. Jacob didn’t.>>>He kept taking detours. No more:1 God said to Jacob, “Get up! Go to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”Oh. That God. Talking to me again. Even though I don’t talk to you much. Well, maybe that’s what Jacob thought. Even though he marked a couple spots with a stone or a new name, there isn’t much in the record about Jacob asking for God’s help, except to survive Esau, but there is a lot in the record about God taking care of Jacob.>>>Now, get going! . . . And Jacob follows the instructions this time:2 So Jacob said to his family and all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you. Purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 We must get up and go to Bethel. I will build an altar there to the God who answered me in my day of distress. He has been with me everywhere I have gone.”Jacob was starting to get a grip on the holiness of God. He was starting to figure out that God would not deal well with those who didn’t deal humbly with him.Get rid of the junk that is taking your focus off the one God who know you and knows where you are and has a plan for you. Not because you are in his territory, because you can’t get out of God’s territory. But sometimes God wants you in a special place for his own reasons.Jacob got the message. And he got his tribe ready. And he told them about God’s answer when he did cry out to him. And the amazing realization that“He has been with me everywhere I have gone.”>>>Now it was time for Jacob’s entourage to make ready. And they will discover that. . .God Is Ready To Protect His OwnJust as God had protected Noah, and Abraham, and even Isaac and Esau and Jacob, he is ready to protect all who are his own:4 Then they gave Jacob all their foreign gods and their earrings, and Jacob hid them under the oak near Shechem. 5 When they set out, a terror from God came over the cities around them, and they did not pursue Jacob’s sons.This God who was with Jacob everywhere now proved to all who were with Jacob that he was with them. After they were obedient about their idols and their jewelry — that really marked what god they were subject to, the Fear of the True God was laid on every town and city and roadway where they went, and no rear guard was even needed.Finally, Jacob is back to the place where God had revealed his active involvement in the world, when Jacob had seen the stairway reaching up to heaven and God’s messengers going up and down, to and from earth, constantly.>>>The place that 20 years before, Jacob namedBethel, The House of GodIn those 20 years, the name the nomad on his way from Canaan to Haran gave the place didn’t stick. Everyone still knew the place by its ancestral name; but Jacob knew exactly where God wanted him to be.6 So Jacob and all who were with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 Jacob built an altar there and called the place El-bethel because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.Luz, so the locals thought it was called, is really “Bethel” for Jacob and his family and his servants.Jacob was still following instructions, so he built an altar there. An altar is different than a place of memorial, like a stone or pile of stones set up. An altar is about a place to worship, not just a place to remember. Jacob had become a worshiper of God, not just a participant in God’s plans.Jacob gave the place an even more emphatic name, for now it was “El-Bethel” which we might say as “God’s House of God.”Momma Deborah DiesWe get a little insert into our story of Jacob’s sojourns here. His mother Rebekah’s wet-nurse dies. She was given to go with Rebekah when she left Haran with Abraham’s servant for Isaac’s marriage. The Momma who raised her and went to Canaan with her, died.>>>Jacob was probably around 75 years old when. . .8 Deborah, the one who had nursed and raised Rebekah, died and was buried under the oak south of Bethel. So Jacob named it Allon-bacuth.She would have been a very old woman, maybe as many as 180 years old, the age of Isaac at his death later in the story. She was the only maternal grandmother Jacob had ever known; one of the people who meant stability and care to Jacob. We don’t know if she connected with Jacob on the way back from Haran, or if she had gone home to Haran while Jacob was still there.That was a possibility if Rebekah had died in the past 30 years, which is likely. But we have no record of Rebekah’s death. No mention of Jacob or Esau mourning her. No note even of Isaac mourning her.Jacob’s mother Rebekah, who deceived her husband, gets no more press after Jacob was sent off to her brother Laban’s household.So we don’t have any record of Rebekah’s time or place of death. But we have her Momma Deborah’s death noted. We don’t hear anything about the woman who deceived her husband Isaac to steal his blessing from Esau and place it on Jacob until, on his deathbed, Jacob mentions that he is to buried at the same place in Mamre, the cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah are buried.So when Deborah died, Jacob honored his mother’s nurse and caretaker with a grave under the great oak that was nearby. He gave that oak and ground a new name which means “Oak of Weeping,” for it was a sad day for Jacob to have to say goodbye to her; perhaps a sadder day than when he heard of his own mother’s death.>>>Of course, this is not the end of our story. Because. . .God is Not Done With JacobWe don’t leave our story of Jacob with the simple idea that he finally followed God’s instructions to come to Bethel. Remember, the altar he built there symbolizes Jacob’s new heart of worship, with a place of worship.>>>And since he was in the place where God wanted him to be in Canaan,9 God appeared to Jacob again after he returned from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; you will no longer be named Jacob, but your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.This is the third time we have Jacob’s new name, given by God. He appears to Jacob again, with a blessing; then the new name of Israel that was unknown to his own family was bestowed on him once again.Jacob’s Bequest from El-Shadai11 God also said to him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation, indeed an assembly of nations, will come from you, and kings will descend from you. 12 I will give to you the land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac. And I will give the land to your future descendants.”All the important parts are there.The new name. The order to multiply; the description of what is and what kind of legacy he will leave.From deceiver of his Father Isaac to the founder of the 12 tribes we would know of more 400 years after this. The 12 sons, whose clans that multipied in Egypt would become the nation we know of as Israel.13 Then God withdrew from him at the place where he had spoken to him. 14 Jacob set up a marker at the place where he had spoken to him—a stone marker. He poured a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. 15 Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.Benjamin’s Birth and Rachel’s Death16 They set out from Bethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth, and her labor was difficult. 17 During her difficult labor, the midwife said to her, “Don’t be afraid, for you have another son.” 18 With her last breath—for she was dying—she named him Ben-oni, but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Jacob set up a marker on her grave; it is the marker at Rachel’s grave still today.To Hebron With 12 Sons21 Israel set out again and pitched his tent beyond the Tower of Eder. 22 While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard about it. Jacob had twelve sons: 23 Leah’s sons were Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 Rachel’s sons were Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Rachel’s slave Bilhah were Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Leah’s slave Zilpah were Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan-aram.1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.Jacob’s story is a story of God at work behind the scenes of a family that God would grow into a nation, through the fruit of Jacob’s children.Abraham had only Isaac as the issue of his wife Sarah; Isaac had only Esau and Jacob, and Esau sold his birthright cheaply, and missed his father’s blessing.And finally, Jacob begins to birth the multitude of the descendants of Abraham, fulfilling the promise to Abraham, then to Isaac, and finally to Jacob, then to his sons.Jacob remained a nomad in the land of Canaan, even though he bought a few acres here and there. He was reliant on the fact that God was his protector in the Promised Land of Canaan.God Is At Work In Your Life Too
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