IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Going Home

Date: Oct. 28, 2018

Author: Bob Henkins

Genesis 35:1-29

Key Verse: Genesis 35:15

Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

For most people, home has a special meaning in their hearts. That’s why we have many idioms and expressions about home like; home sweet home, home is where the heart is, a man’s home is his castle, a woman’s place is in the home, there’s no place like home, love begins at home, home field advantage. Home is a place where you are welcomed and loved, comfortable and safe, a place where your loved ones are. Even though I am 52 years old whenever I go to my parent’s house, my mom still treats me as if a little kid asking me if I want anything. Someone once said, “If we go anywhere, even paradise, eventually you will miss your home.” And I think it’s true, because even if we’ve been on a nice vacation, it’s still nice to come home. And so, I titled this message “Going Home,” because Jacob had been away from home for the last 20 years and now he was finally going home.

At the end of last week’s passage, we find Jacob anxious, and worried, as he rebukes his sons Simeon and Levi after they had just massacred, and plundered, a whole town. They had overstepped their bounds and became judge, jury and executioners. And now Jacob was worried about retaliation from the people in the surrounding towns. After all, they were in Canaan and they killed some Canaanites why wouldn’t other Canaanites come looking for them. Jacob thought he had escaped destruction from Esau only now he’ll fall to another people.

However, once again God steps into the picture take a look at verse 1. “Then God said to Jacob, “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.”” Through this verse we can see how God gently kicks Jacob in the behind to get going because he hadn’t finished his journey yet. After Jacob had parted ways with his brother Esau, he said that he would meet up with him but Jacob deceived his brother and went to Shechem instead. So now, God was telling Jacob to go back to Bethel, an area that had a special place in his heart, and to settle there. Bethel was in the highlands, uphill from Shechem and about thirty miles south. It wasn’t that far away, but it was far enough. For at Bethel, Jacob would not only be released from the painful atmosphere of what happened in Shechem, but he could revive the most awe-inspiring visions from his memory. Visions of heaven opening and angels going up and coming down, the place where God first spoke to him. The pleasure of revisiting it, however, was not without its own issues. And once there, Jacob was instructed to build an altar.

When God speaks, everyone listens. This is a special moment for Jacob, especially after he has been so stressed out by his children. In verse one, we see how God reminded Jacob of his past troubles with Esau and how God had saved him from it. When Jacob saw Esau, he said it was like seeing the face of God, because he realized for the first time, deep down in his heart, how much God had protected him and blessed him. And seeing Esau, was the climax of God’s promise to him. It was the moment when it all came together. Also, in this verse we see how, by mentioning Bethel and the altar, God’s gently reminding Jacob of the vow he made. I’ll paraphrase, back in chapter 28, Jacob said, “If God is going to watch over me, give me food and clothes, and bring me home, then he’ll be my God.” As God spoke to Jacob, this MUST have sparked his memory and what he experienced in Bethel. The AWESOME scene with all the angels going up and down and God above them all, was forever ETCHED into his mind. He is so inspired that he immediately jumps into action. Take a look at verses 2-4. “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.” That memory of what happened in Bethel, stirred something inside of him. The holiness of the place, and the image of God, made him want to purify himself. Seeing what he saw, he couldn’t go to God as he was. It’s not that God was demanding him to purify himself, this was coming from his internal desire, something he WANTED to do. He wanted to show his respect for God, he wasn’t playing around, he was serious so he addressed everyone in his household. “Get rid of all your idols,” Jacob said, as he glanced over toward Rachel, remembering how she had stolen her father’s idols and lied to Laban about it. Idols had no place here now.

Idolatry can be a black spot on our heart. We can’t serve two gods. It just doesn’t work. Our heart is divided and we can’t give our whole heart to God. We can’t come before God with idols in our heart, because we get mixed up and confused. Many years ago, when I was still trying to find my way as a young Christian. I struggled with this issue. You see at the time, I was living a pretty wild lifestyle, our apartment was called party central. And I enjoyed it a lot. But I was also studying the Bible and God’s word really caught hold of my heart and it would actually change my moods. So here I was stuck in the middle. On the one hand, I had my exciting WILD life and on the other hand, I had the source of ETERNAL life and I couldn’t decide which I wanted more. In fact, I wanted BOTH of them. I VALUED both of them. So, I TRIED to live with both of them but it didn’t work. Do you what happened? My heart started to get torn in two and after awhile I couldn’t enjoy either of them. When I was out with my friends partying it up, I couldn’t enjoy it and felt guilty inside. And then when I was going to church and following God, I also couldn’t enjoy it, because I was always wondering what my friends were up to. So instead of enjoying both things, I couldn’t enjoy either. My heart was divided. God created us, with enough room in our hearts for one thing, and the only thing that can truly satisfy us is God alone. Idolatry is giving something or someone the place in one’s heart that should be reserved for God alone. Be it in ancient form or contemporary, nothing can have first place along with God in our life. Not our job, our hobby, our goals, our organizations, our leisure time, our recreation, our marriage, our family or even our church. Idols don’t have to be physical objects, they can be thoughts or desires. Like Jacob, we have to get rid of anything that could stand between us and God. But unlike Jacob, we shouldn’t wait till tragedy forces us to do so. That’s why I pray and ask God every week before worship service to clear our hearts of all things so that we can unite and be one with God.

Jacob had a sense of his uncleanliness, so he wanted everyone to purify himself and all those with him. He needed a clean heart (getting rid of his idols) now he needed to be clean outside, so that the inside and outside matched. So, he told everyone to clean up and put on new clothes. He wanted everyone to be prepare for when the met God. So, they gathered up all their idols, even giving up their earrings which at the time were worn as a pagan religious custom and they buried all of them at Shechem under an oak tree, maybe the “great tree” mentioned in chapter 12.

Then Jacob glorifies God to those in his household by proclaiming that how God had heard him when he was alone, scared and fearing for his life. How God answered him when he cried out in prayer. How God saved him when he was in trouble and how God has been with him ever since. Jacob had struggled with people his whole life. It started in the womb as he grabbed his brother’s ankle. Eventually he took his brothers birthright and blessing, deceived his father, ran off to Laban, struggled with his father in law, ran away from him, met up with Esau, and had his struggles with the people of Shechem. Jacob was the kind of person that didn’t deserve God’s blessing, but this passage really shows just how gracious God is. And for once in his life, Jacob sings the praise of God to his family.

Lastly, he seems to be on a mission to meet and serve God. Jacob sets out to build an altar to God. The problem was, now they had to go through all those towns that were friends with Shechem. Will they be attacked on the road while they had no protection? Where was Easu’s 400 men when he needed them? Let’s see what happened, in verses 5-8. “Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.” After what Jacob’s sons did to the town of Shechem, he was afraid of what the people in the land (Canaanites) would do to them. Maybe they might want revenge and avenge Hamor’s death. But Jacob learns that God is our protector when we’re in danger. God told him to go, and then God protected him along the way. God wouldn’t tell him to go and then abandon him to destruction. What we see through this part is God’s terror has two sides, to his people it is for their protection and to God’s enemies, it’s just plain terror. No one went near Jacob and his family and thus they make it to Bethel safely. Jacob fulfilled his end and builds an altar. While he was there, Jacob’s mother’s nurse dies and they bury here under an oak tree there. They rename the tree to “Oak of weeping” which shows how much Deborah was loved. I’m not sure how Rebecca’s nurse gets to Jacob, when his mother isn’t mentioned at all, but we can only assume if her nurse is here, Rebecca must have died as well. But this is only my speculation.

We humans are such stubborn beings. It seems like only God can change us. Take a look at verses v9-15. “After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty]; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. 14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it.15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.” In these verses we see how God appeared to Jacob again. Most people never get to see God, but Jacob had the privilege to see Him multiple times and to be blessed by Him. During their conversation, God remined Jacob of his new name Israel. Even though Jacob had received a new name before, he didn’t pay that much attention to it. It kind of came and went. Maybe Jacob thought that God wasn’t serious about his name change, like it was a suggestion or something. (God: “How do you feel about the name Israel Jacob? I was thinking you might like to use it from now on.”) But God was serious about it the verse says, “So he named him Israel”. Israel was to be his name FROM NOW ON, no more Jacob. And just to make sure he was serious, God reminded Jacob of who he is, he is God Almighty. So take him seriously. Then God gives him the blessing to be fruitful, which reminds us of the blessing to Adam, &others down through history. Then Jacob learns that not only will he become the father of a nation, but a community of nations, plural, more than one, AND even nobility will come from him. Jacob’s line will bear future kings. This is an amazing revelation to him, that he will be the father of kings. God then gave him the promise of the land of his forefathers, even though they actually didn’t own any land. When you think about it, that interesting concept to be given a promise of something your forefathers didn’t own. But this promise from God gave Jacob, I mean Israel, comfort, a sense of belonging, ownership, stewardship for the land. In response, Jacob sets up an altar, and sacrifices an offering, thus accepting God’s blessing as his. Indeed, this was a very special place to Jacob, which is why he gave it a special name.

Jacob just had this wonderful moment with God but the next several events seem like several punches in the gut to him. First there was the death of Rachel. Look at verses 16-20. “16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.” Rachel gave birth to her second son and then she dies from childbirth. Jacob was heartbroken. The love of his life, the one he worked so hard for is gone. He would never get over this and it would affect how he treated his whole family. He loved the sons Rachel bore to him more than the others and that would cause a rift in his family. Jacob renames his son Benjamin, his son couldn’t live with the old name, that would have been too painful for him and his son.

Next Jacob’s son Reuben suddenly goes rogue and offends his father. Verses 21& 22 tell us, “21 Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. 22 While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it...”

Jacob’s oldest son sleeps with one of his father’s concubines, which are clearly identified as concubine in this verse to show the seriousness of it. Jacob found out about it but didn’t do anything yet, later he would remove the right of the first born from Reuben. With the event that happened at Shechem and now this, it feels as if Jacob is starting to lose control of his family.

“…Jacob had twelve sons: 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram.” After this Jacob loses his father when Isaac dies. Take a look at verses 27-29. “27 Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba(that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. 28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.” This chapter seems bittersweet to Jacob after having a wonderful experience with God and then losing his wife and father and his son being rebellious.

So far, God's relationship with Jacob has been completely one-sided. All Jacob did was take take take, while God gave gave gave. A couple of chapters before this one, we found out that God had given Jacob his new name Israel, but he hadn’t fully accepted it and didn’t use it. He has to STOP BEING JACOB AND BECOME ISRAEL. Jacob meant deceiver and he couldn’t go on being a deceiver, he had to finally become the man God intended him to be. Also, Rachel had to die, I know that sounds cruel, and I don’t mean that God had her knocked off, like a mob hit, but the promise of God was not going through Rachel’s line, but rather Leah’s. In Rachel, there was deception (lied to her father) and idol worship (she stole her father’s idols). In a sense, Jacob’s love for Rachel was holding him back. In the end, Rachel is buried alone, while Leah is buried with Jacob. Also, Isaac had to die as well. This was the end of an era. These were the last big ties to Jacob. They had to end to conclude his story and make a transition.

In the end here, we see that Jacob is FINALLY accepting God’s calling for him. He STARTS TO BELIEVE that God is with him and so he ACCEPTS the name Israel. This is the PINNACLE of his life of faith but now God’s story has to continue on. God’s history, his lineage, is like a marathon and the baton must be passed along. If you remember, this also happened with Abraham as well. The story follows the history of God’s people as the torch is passed from one generation to the next. And now, Jacob’s time as the lead character in God’s history has come to an end. But before it can end, there must be reconciliation. Jacob’s relationship with his father, Isaac and his brother Esau are reconciled. And we see here Isaac die in peace at a good old age. Reuben also gets the sense that his father’s time is ending, so he exerts his position as the first born and tries to take his father’s place.

In this passage we see 4 burials, 4 memorials (Altars, Oak of weeping, Tomb of Rachel, and pillars). We see 5 things pass away but in the MIDDLE of it all there IS HOPE in God’s PROMISE. And fittingly Bethel means “the house of God” because God was calling Jacob home. Eventually the land that God gave Jacob would be called “Israel” as he fulfills God’s promise and becomes a nation as his sons form the tribes of Israel. Just like our hymn mentioned this morning, God was softly and tenderly calling Jacob home, likewise Jesus is softly and tenderly calling all of us, “Oh sinner come home.” Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon, Pardon for you and for me! Come home! You who are weary, come home! Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home! God, like any loving parent, desires for all of his children to come home when our life on earth is over. To come home, where our loved ones are, where Jesus is waiting for us. Jesus has loved us from the beginning until now, so much so, that he willingly gave up his life for us. Then after he was raised to life, Jesus returned to heaven so that he could prepare a place for each one of us. Jesus said that in his father’s house there are many rooms and he invites us in for that is our original home. Home is a place where you are welcomed and loved, comfortable and safe, a place where your loved ones are. Where Jesus is waiting to welcome us.

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