Blogging Genesis 35:1-15
Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.” (Genesis 35: 1)
Chapter 34 ended with Jacob worried the Canaanites would attack his family to avenge the men of Shechem whom Jacob’s sons had all murdered. Chapter 35 begins with God telling Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.”
It seems that between the two chapters, Jacob said, “God, I gotta get out of town. Where can I go that these people won’t kill me?”
And God replied, “You can go to Bethel.”
Or, more specifically, BACK to Bethel.
Or, more specifically, BACK to Bethel.
Bethel is where Jacob stopped on his way to Syria to look for a wife and escape his brother Esau, who wanted to kill him. By the end of chapter 35, Jacob was back on his father’s land. He had retraced his steps with a great deal of repetition along the way.
Bethel used to be called Luz. His first stop there, Jacob dreamed of angels climbing a ladder to Heaven and he christened Luz with the new name Beth-el, “the house of God” (Genesis 28:18-19). On his return visit he re-renamed the spot El Beth-el which means “God of the house of God” or “God’s house of God.”
His first night in Beth-el, Jacob was running out of Canaan, away from a vengegul brother. This time he was fleeing deeper in Canaan, away from vengeful neighbors.
God made Jacob retrace his steps. And not just geographically. God wanted Jacob to retrace the spiritual and emotional steps that began his journey.
Coming out of Syria on his way to Shechem, years ago, Jacob had been afraid of meeting Esau, but his fear was unfounded. His brother never tried to harm him. Coming out of Shechem, Jacob feared the Canaanites would attack, but “they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob” (Genesis 35: 5).
His first time at Bethel, Jacob “took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it” (Genesis 28:18). This time, he repeated the ritual. “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it“ (Genesis 35:14).
Earlier, the Lord had said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” (Genesis 33:28). Now exactly two chapters and an indeterminate number of years later, God said to him AGAIN, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:28).
When you feel your life going into a skid, when the negative hypotheticals overwhelm you, when you can’t focus on the blessing for the fear and anxiety, when you’re gifted and anointed and destined and falling apart ----- retrace your steps.
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Revelation 2:4–5).
Re-reread those goals you wrote down when you first set off to change the world. Pray like you prayed when you had nothing but you believed, you KNEW God had a plan for you. Remember before you had possessions, and middle-class debt, and important relationships with influential people that you can’t afford to jeopardize by taking a stand. Remember how disciplined, and creative, and bold you were when you had nothing and therefore weren’t afraid of losing.
“So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ “ (Hebrews 13:6)
Jacob had forgotten, so God made him retrace his steps.
But the walk back requires you to leave some of your new stuff behind.
And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.
Then let us arise and go up to Bethel . . .
So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.” (Genesis 35:2-4)
Go through your emotional baggage and take out the idols you’ve collected along the way. Bury them and leave them behind. There’s no place for them in God’s house that God is building in you. Purify yourself. Put off the trappings of title and your new class. Then, retrace your steps.
Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Return to Me,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 1:3)
Go back and re-anoint the pillar of your calling. Go back and re-dedicate your life to the mission. Go back and listen to God. Listen like you listened when you were hungry in every sense of the word. Go back because maybe you don’t need a NEW solution. Maybe you need a reminder.
Go back so God can remind you who you are.
“Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel” (Genesis 33:28).
“Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:28).
---Anderson T. Graves II is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.
Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Miles Chapel CME Church in Fairfield, Alabama. He writes a blog called A Word to the Wise at www.andersontgraves.blogspot.com
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