In Genesis 27, Jacob obeyed his mother, deceived his father, and defrauded his brother. As a consequence, Esau was ready to take him out, and Jacob was instructed to hit the road and run for his life. Jacob found himself separated from his father, brother, mother, friends and servants. He was in danger. He was without food, shelter, friends and job. His sinful conniving had cost him dearly. Jacob found himself in a desperate condition. It would take more than the power of positive thinking to nurture his soul.
While in this despairing state, God met his prodigal son. Jacob had a dream, and in it he saw a ladder connecting heaven and earth. Angels ascended and descended, and God stood above the ladder. God then spoke tender and promising words to his rebellious son:
… I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (Genesis 28:13-15)
God was not going to slay Jacob. God was not going to leave Jacob alone. God was going to dwell with and bless him as he did Abraham and Isaac. God swore an oath; he who does not lie promised to keep his word.
When Jacob awoke, he responded to God’s presence and promise. He was filled with reverence and awe, for this was the place of God. He worshiped and made a vow to follow the Lord. Then he renamed the place “Bethel,” which means “House of God.”
Jacob was no hypocritical charlatan. He meant what he said, but ultimately he did not do what he said. Jacob proves to be a double-minded, inconsistent, foolishly pragmatic worshiper. Like many others, Jacob was quite happy to have God as his savior, provider, and defender, but there were many daily struggles over who would be lord and master of Jacob’s life. More than once, Jacob took the reins and became his own spiritual counselor. As a result, turmoil and trouble surrounded him. He found himself having unresolved issues with his father, brother, uncle, four wives and neighbors. Additionally, he found that he had raised and was now suffering the consequences of having horribly rebellious children and idol-worshiping wives and servants.
What happened? Had he not been elected, predestined, or chosen from the womb? Was he not a circumcised child of the covenant? Had he not been raised to understand the holy faith by his Grandpa Abe and his father, Isaac? Was he not one sovereignly pursued and convicted? Had he not heard God’s voice and repented? In chapter 28 he walked the aisle, bent the knee, and gave his heart to God. He was one who had received abundant earthly blessings. In addition, God had given him unconditional, heavenly promises. Jacob was eternally secure. On one occasion, he had wrestled with God, and on numerous occasions he worshiped and gave tithes and offerings. However, at this point in his life, Jacob was not singing, “Everyday with Jesus, is sweeter than the day before.” It would have been hard for him to honestly say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” His life was filled with sinful chaos, and his external testimony was not radiant. Jacob was a spiritual disappointment to his God, to his fathers, and to himself. Once again, Jacob found himself in a despairing condition. Perhaps he felt like David following his interview with Nathan, or like Peter following his denial of his best friend and savior. Had God abandoned this backslidden and rebellious son? Had God revoked his promises? Was the candlestick of Jacob about to be snuffed out?
Then comes the beautiful words found in Genesis 35:1:
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
Jacob was to go to the “House of God” and he was to dwell at the “House of God.” There he was to listen. There he was to worship. There he was to be revived. Despite his backslidden, less than stellar walk with God, he was invited and commanded to return. God was not done with his servant. God was not abandoning his promises. God was seeking and saving the lost, and bringing him safely back into the fold.
Jacob then responded positively to the altar call of God. First, he went throughout the tents of his family and servants and commanded them to put away the foreign gods which they still possessed. They would be collected and buried once and for all. Second, he and his household were to purify themselves. They were to be baptized and put on fresh garments. This they did, and when they arrived at the “House of God” for worship, God spoke to Jacob. God gave him a new name (Israel), and he repeated his blessings to Jacob and his household. Then, in response to God’s presence and revelation, Jacob and his household worshiped. An altar was built and utilized; many prayers of confession, adoration, thanksgiving and supplication ascended before the throne of God above.
Friends, do we need a Bethel experience? I believe many of us can sympathize with Jacob. We have been sought out by him, and we have proclaimed him to be our Lord and Savior. However, when we look at the chaos around us, much of which we are responsible for, we find ourselves severely disappointed with our faith. So what ought we to do?
1. Hear God’s voice through this devotional. He is using a minister to write words of truth to you. He sovereignly had you get to this point in your day. You are not reading this by accident. Perhaps God is calling your name.
2. Respond by going to the “House of God.” That should not be difficult for the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts or all who are believers. You are the Temple of the Most High God. You can hear his voice and respond with worship in your house, office or automobile. Listen to him speak to you through Scripture, and then talk back to him in prayer.
3. Bury your idols. Find that which competes with God’s leadership and get rid of it. Do not put it aside; ruin it! Seek to cast it from your presence forever.
4. Respond by going to one of many “Houses of God.” You will be encouraged to live properly and victoriously when you find yourself surrounded by Christians using their various spiritual gifts. Within the “House of God” believers are found ready to teach, fellowship, encourage, disciple, discipline and support you. Additionally, within the “House of God” there are many believers who need what you have to offer; they need your help, accountability and support. So come in from the wilderness. Be no longer isolated. Bethel or the “House of God” is where all struggling Christians need to dwell.