From Genesis 35-37
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
A lot has happened recently in Jacob’s life. In today’s passage the LORD reveals himself to Jacob and assures him of his presence and his promises.
35 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” (Gen 35:1)
‘Altar’. God commands Jacob to go to Bethel and make an altar so he can worship (cf. Gen 8.20; 12.7-8; 13.4,18; 22.9; 26.25; 33.20; 35.1,3,7).
How has God made himself known to you?
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.
3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. (Gen 35:2–4)
Jacob instructs his household to do three things before they meet with the LORD.
- Put away their foreign gods,
- Purify themselves,
- Change their garments.
‘Foreign gods’. When they fled Laban, Rachel took her father’s household gods (Gen 31.19,34-35). Sadly Jacob has permitted it to continue in his household.
The LORD does not tolerate idolatry.
Jacob wisely stands removes objects of the religion and he hides them so no one else will find and use them.
‘Purify’. The household had to purify themselves from their sin of idolatry and change their garments.
‘Change clothing’. The action of changing clothes was symbolic. Their change of clothing signified putting off of the unclean lifestyle and putting on of the holy.
5 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.
6 And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother.
8 And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name Allon-bacuth. (Gen 35:5–8)
‘Terror from God’. As they travel the cities they pass are made aware of the LORD’s protection over them.
The cities are terrified.
Jacob and his household safely arrive at Bethel and he builds an altar to the LORD as commanded. He calls the place ‘El-bethel’ which means ‘The God Of The House Of God’.
9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. (Gen 35:9–10)
‘God appears’ to Jacob and he blesses him. The text does not say in what manner he was blessed. We can assume at least He blesses Jacob with his presence and his favour. He has already protected him on the way.
God reaffirms Jacob’s new name Israel. The name change indicates a new identity and expectation of behaviour.
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.
12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” (Gen 35:11–12)
God firstly repeats his command that they be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1.22,28; 8.17; 9.1,7; 17.20; 28.3; cf. Gen 47.27; 48.4). Nations and kings will come from his offspring (cf. Gen 12.1-3).
This both promise and prophecy. A future king will be of his line.
13 Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. 14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. (Gen 35:13–15)
‘Pillar’. Jacob builds a monument to the occasion and worships the LORD.
Jacob is a special character in Genesis. Made special by the LORD.
He is the grandson of Abraham and son of Isaac, who was chosen by God, despite his personal faults and shortcomings, to be the recipient of the promises made to Abraham. His name means “he grasps the heel” and figuratively, “he deceives”, an allusion to the circumstances of his birth (Ge 25:25-26).
The change of his name from “Jacob” to “Israel” (meaning “he struggles or strives with God”) confirms Jacob as the recipient of the Abrahamic blessings. (Gen 35:1-5, 9-15).
The development in names is matched by his growth in character and his desire to seek the LORD’s blessing. God changed his life for the better.
In the gospel Jesus also goes by a few names. The names given his resonate with prophetic significance. Jesus once asked his disciples who people say he is.
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 16:13–17)
People might still have called Jacob – Jacob. But his new name Israel reflects his new identity God had given him. Struggles with God.
Jesus has always been the promised Christ, but not all have recognised him as such. His resurrection from the dead demonstrates who he is (Rom 1.4; Acts 2.36).
Who do you say Jesus is?
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