Bible Reading: Genesis 35:1-15
I love the Old Testament. I love Genesis. I love the stories of the men and women whom God used to begin His work in this world. In Genesis 35, we see the return of Jacob to Bethel, and this is a huge moment in Jacob’s story. Back in Genesis 28, Jacob has a vision of a ladder reaching up into heaven, and God stands at the top of the ladder and speaks to Jacob. It is a passing of the torch, if you will, to Jacob from Isaac and Abraham. Jacob receives the covenant promises from God, but Jacob responds rather arrogantly. If God goes with Jacob, blesses him greatly, and then brings Jacob back to his homeland, then Jacob will call the Lord his God. In Genesis 35, Jacob returns to the place of that vision, Bethel, and God has done all that Jacob challenged Him to do.
That is what makes Genesis 35 so powerful. Did you notice the strangeness of God’s words in verse 1? “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.” It is fitting because Jacob allowed his wives to bring the idols of their father, Laban, with them on the return to Jacob’s home country. Who is the God that blessed Jacob and brought him back? Who will the altar be dedicated to?
Jacob instructs his wives to gather all of their idols and anything that was devoted to them, such as jewelry, and Jacob buries all of it beneath a terebinth tree in Shechem. We learn two things from this. First, Jacob would know and remember where the idols were buried. It was not a random spot because someone may come along one day to dig and accidentally discover them. He buried them under a marker, the terebinth tree, so that throughout history his family would know where the idols were so they could avoid stumbling upon them. Secondly, after the burial, Jacob leads his family away to follow God.
Application: This story is a powerful lesson to all Christians. When we first come to God as His children, we brought our former ways of life with us. We had to unlearn some sinful ways, or to parallel the story, we had to decide to bury our idols. This should not be done flippantly, but we should know where they are buried so that we are sure not to return to them. Once they are buried, we must turn our backs to them and travel along the narrow path of following Christ. Who is the God who rescued you from sin and death? Who is the God who has shown you love, mercy and grace, and filled your life with hope and peace? Honor the one, true God, Jesus Christ, with your life, and bury your sins and idols deep beneath the terebinth tree. Leave them all behind, and follow Jesus.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise you and thank you for saving us from our sins. If we were not careful to know where we buried our sins, help us to bury them in the place where they are marked and easily avoided, and help us to live for you alone. May we never return to the burial place, but go into all the places you alone lead us. We love you, Father. Amen.