I. Bethel at Last (verses 1-8)
After about 10 years in Shechem, God mercifully pricks Jacob’s conscience and prods him toward Bethel. When we consider Jacob’s predicament—the rape, the passivity, the murder, the theft, the defilement, the darkness, the failure—it’s evidence of God’s kindness that He does not come to Jacob in judgment, nor does he come throwing all of Jacob’s sin in his face. Instead, He comes to Him in mercy.
Jacob responds well to the Lord’s instruction. He tells his family to put away the foreign gods (which Rachel had stolen from Laban); to purify themselves (since they were unclean due to rape, murder, and pillaging); to change their garments (which we might apply as “putting on Christ” and “laying aside the old self with its evil practices”); to go up to Bethel (where God had answered Jacob in the day of his distress). The family follows Jacob’s lead, giving up their idolatry and removing their jewelry (associated with magical powers)—anything that hinders worship of the one true God must be surrendered. During their journey to Bethel, Jacob experiences God’s protection as he walks in obedience before Him. Obedience allows for confident living before God.
- William Cowper penned the words, “The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne, and worship only Thee.” Idolatry is any and all substitution of the created for the Creator. Are you seeking to get from creation what you were only meant to get from God? Are you serving and living for created things rather than the Creator of all things? What is it that most characterizes your life’s pursuits and joys? Is it Christ?
II. Blessing Recalled (verses 9-15)
In this next encounter between God and Jacob, God gives him the new name Israel. There is a close parallel between these verses and the promises of God given to Abraham in Genesis 17. This is a covenant renewal and reminder between God and His people. Jacob was now standing in the Promised Land, as a taste of the ultimate fulfillment of the promise. Seeing the faithfulness of God stirs our hearts to hope more fully in Him.
- Identity is such an important issue. It’s important for us to realize who God says we are, to believe what He says about us, to behave like He expects us to, and to live before Him in confident hope. We need to hear these kinds of truths again and again. How wonderful it is to be reminded that because of our identity in Christ, God overlooks our sin! Because of His mercy and grace, our sin is not counted against us. What are some of the ways that the Scriptures describe our identity as those who are “in Christ”?
III. Benjamin is Born (verses 16-22a)
In her dying moments, Rachel names her son Ben-Oni (i.e. Son of my Sorrow), but Jacob renames him Benjamin (i.e. Son of my Strength). Jacob labored 14 years to have Rachel’s hand in marriage, and now she is dead and buried. In addition to his grief over Rachel’s death, Jacob also must grieve the sin of his oldest son. In an attempt to usurp his father’s position of leadership in the family, Reuben lays with his father’s concubine, similar to Absalom’s attempt to usurp David’s rule (2 Sam 16:21-23). However, Reuben’s attempt to take preeminence backfires, and he actually loses his preeminence among his brothers as a result (Genesis 49:3-4). His behavior is the exact opposite of Christ’s, who “existed in the form of God, [yet] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6). Both of these events in Jacob’s life—the death of Rachel and the rebellion of Reuben—are a sobering reminder that even when we obey, this world is not without sorrow.
IV. Burying Isaac (verses 22b-29)
The death of Isaac marks the end of an era. Though sorrow and tragedy litter our lives in this world, we know that God is faithful towards His children (Romans 8:35-39). We have been called to follow Christ, but this calling does not protect us from sorrow and from grief. However, as we see in Jacob’s life, God has promised to be with us through the trials we encounter in this life.
- Are you currently experiencing any trials in life? How are you dealing with those trials? Are you drawing strength and encouragement from the hope of the gospel? Are you resting in the certainty of God’s faithfulness?