35 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.”
2 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. 3 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.” 4 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. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.
6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 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.
8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.
9 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.
(Genesis 35:1-15 NIV)
To quickly review, God called Jacob to return to Bethel, the land of his fathers. Jacob got as far as Shechem, then settled down. Jacob’s daughter is raped; Jacob’s sons kill the men of the village and loot it in revenge. Jacob finds himself in a terrible quandary:
- He can’t return to Laban and his wives’ family
- He can’t leave Shechem due to the threat of revenge from the neighboring towns
- He is paralyzed by fear, a prisoner in his own home
As we begin Chapter 35 today, God tells Jacob to return to Bethel (Genesis 31:13) where he made his vow to obey and serve the Lord (v. 1). The Lord has done His part to protect and provide for Jacob; now it’s Jacob’s part to acknowledge God and serve Him.
Jacob obeys the Lord and has a personal revival in the process. Jacob’s first action is to tell his family to gather up any and all idols so he can dispose of them. Remember that Rachel had stolen some of her father’s household idols, without Jacob’s knowledge (Genesis 31:34-35). Now Jacob knows that there are other idols in the family, and orders everyone to get rid of them.
Secondly, Jacob instructs his family to clean up physically, which is symbolic of cleaning up spiritually, for they are about to embark on a journey to worship and honor God.
Jacob disposes of all the household idols by burying them – he does not try to sell them or redeem them in any way (v. 4). Jacob’s actions are clear – the old life of sin and idol worship have to die and be buried if they are to move forward and worship God.
Jacob’s faith and boldness to obey the Lord returns, and his fears about the revenge from neighboring towns melt away as he leads his family to Bethel. The Lord went ahead of Jacob, and the terror of the Lord Himself protected Jacob and his family (v. 5) during the journey.
When Jacob and his family arrived at Bethel, he immediately built an altar and worshiped the Lord there (vv. 6-7). Jacob remembered how God had visited him in that place when he was fleeing from his brother Esau.
Verse 8 seems, at first, to be out of place, or at most, anecdotal in nature. In actuality, it is an integral part of the story. Just as Jacob buried the idols under the oak tree back in Shechem, Jacob also buries his mother’s nurse under the oak tree in Bethel. There is no record of when Rebekah died; however, with this note about the death of Rebekah’s nurse, we can safely assume that Rebekah was already dead.
The recording of Deborah’s death (Rebekah’s nurse) and Jacob burying her represented Jacob burying his sinful past of treachery and tricks to gain advantage over his brother, rather than allowing God to lead and provide. This was where Jacob came to the end of his namesake and his old ways.
Notice verses 9 – 10… Immediately after Jacob finishes burying his past (as represented by Deborah’s death and burial), God shows up. The Lord blesses Jacob, then reiterates the new name that He gave him. No longer would this man be known by his old ways, but by his new direction and name – Israel (one who strives with God). Jacob and God are now linked forever by this new name – Israel.
In verses 11 – 13, the Lord reiterates His charge to Jacob to be fruitful and multiply, as well as His promise to Jacob, his father and grandfather for a permanent home, a land to call their own.
After Jacob has this encounter with God, he spends time worshiping the Lord, and reiterates the name of the place: Bethel (house of God).
There are so many applicable life lessons for us in today’s passage; where do we start? Let’s begin by making a list of what Jacob experienced, in the form of questions for us:
- What has God called me to do, that I need to finish?
(like God calling Jacob back to Bethel, but Jacob settling in Shechem)
- What am I afraid of?
(like Jacob’s fear of everything, not able to venture out of his house in Shechem)
- What are my idols? Where am I “dirty” and need to cleanse myself (symbolically)?
(like the idols and the changing of clothes and bathing)
- What do I need to bury or die to in my old ways?
(the idols under the oak tree; Rebekah’s nurse symbolizing Jacob’s old ways)
- What new name is God giving to me? How does that name link God and me?
(like Jacob’s new name – Israel – “one who strives with God”)
- What is my response? Is it worship to the Lord?
(like Jacob did after God visited him)
May today’s study not bring anxiety such as anger, shame, or fear.
Rather, may today’s study bring hope and renewed trust in the Lord, with the full realization that we are His beloved, that He provides abundantly, and that we can safely surrender power and control of our lives to Him.