Arise, Go Up to Bethel: Down to Shechem

Genesis 35  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Genesis 35
The words which stand at the head of this paper contain in them a great practical truth to which we desire to call the reader's attention for a moment or two.
It has been well remarked by some one that "God, in His dealings with us, always keeps us up to the original terms." This is true, but some may not exactly understand it. It may, perhaps, savor of the legal element. To speak of God as keeping up to certain terms may seem to militate against that free grace in which we stand and which has reigned through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord. Many, we are aware, have a kind of horror of everything bordering in the most remote way upon the legal system; and we may say, we most fully sympathize with such horror. But, at the same time, we must take care not to carry that feeling to such an extent as would lead us to throw overboard anything that is calculated to act, in a divine way, upon the heart and conscience of the believer. We really want practical truth. There is a vast amount of what is called abstract truth in circulation among us, and we prize it, and would prize it more and more. We delight in the unfolding of truth in all its departments. But then we must remember that truth is designed to act on hearts and consciences, and that there are hearts and consciences to be acted upon. We must not cry out, "Legal! legal!" whenever some great practical truth falls upon our ears, even though that truth may come before us clothed in a garb which, at first sight, seems strange. We are called to "suffer the word of exhortation"-to listen to wholesome words—to apply our hearts diligently to everything tending to promote practical godliness and personal holiness. We know that the pure and precious doctrines of grace- those doctrines which find their living center in the Person of Christ, and their eternal foundation in His work- are the means which the Holy Ghost uses to promote holiness in the life of the Christian; but we know also that those doctrines may be held in theory, and professed with the lips, while the heart has never felt their power, and the life never exhibited their molding influence. Yes; and we frequently find that the loudest and most vehement outcry against everything that looks like legality is sure to proceed from those who, though they profess the doctrines of grace, have never felt their sanctifying influence; whereas, those who really understand the meaning of grace, and feel its power to mold and fashion, to purify and elevate, are ever ready to welcome the most pungent appeals to the heart and conscience.
Still, the pious reader may desire to know what is meant by the expression quoted above; namely, "God always keeps us up to the original terms." Well, we understand it to mean simply this, that when God calls us to any special position or path and we fall short of it or wander from it, He will recall us to it again and again. And further, when we set out in the profession of some special principle of action or standard of devotedness, and swerve from it or fall below it, He will remind us of it and bring us back to it. True, He bears with us patiently and waits on us graciously; but He "always keeps us up to the original terms."
And can we not praise Him for this? Assuredly we can. Could we endure the thought of His allowing us to fall short of His holy standard, or to wander hither and thither, without uttering a word to urge us on or call us back? We trust not. Well then, if He does speak, what must He say? He must just remind us of "the original terms." Thus it is, and thus it has ever been. When Peter was converted at the lake of Gennesaret, he forsook all and followed Jesus; and the last words that fell on his ear, from the lips of his ascending Lord, were, "Follow thou Me." This was simply keeping him to the original terms. The heart of Jesus could not be satisfied with less, and neither should the heart of His servant. By the lake of Gennesaret, Peter set out to follow Jesus. What then? Years rolled on; Peter had many a stumble; Peter denied his Lord; Peter went back to his boats and nets. What then? Peter was thoroughly restored; and, when as a restored soul he stood by the side of his loving Lord at the sea of Tiberias, he was called to listen to that one brief, pointed utterance, "Follow... Me"-an utterance embracing in its comprehensive grasp all the details of a life of active service and of patient suffering. In a word, Peter was brought back to the original terms-the terms between Christ and his soul, and between his soul and Christ. He was brought to learn that the heart of Jesus had undergone no change toward him-that the love of that heart was inextinguishable and unalterable -and because it was so, it could not tolerate any change in his heart-any decline or departure from the original terms.
Now we see the same thing precisely in the history of the patriarch Jacob. Let us just turn to it for a moment. At the close of Genesis 28 we have the record of the original terms between the Lord and Jacob. We shall quote at length.
"And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth; and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of."
Here then we have the blessed statement of what the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob undertook to do for Jacob and for his seed—a statement crowned by these memorable words, "I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." Such are the terms by which He binds Himself to Jacob, which terms, blessed be His name, have been and will be fulfilled to the letter, though earth and hell should interpose to prevent. Jacob's seed shall yet possess the whole land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance; and who shall prevent Jehovah Elohim, the Lord God Almighty, from accomplishing His promise?
Let us now hearken to Jacob. "And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el.... And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that Thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto Thee."
This much as to Beth-el and the terms entered into there. God pledged Himself to Jacob; and though heaven and earth should pass away, that pledge must be maintained in all its integrity. He revealed Himself to that poor, lonely one who lay sleeping on his stony pillow, and not only revealed Himself to him, but linked Himself with him in a bond which no power of earth or hell can ever dissolve.
And what of Jacob? Why, he dedicated himself to God and vowed that the spot where he had enjoyed such a revelation and hearkened to such exceeding great and precious promises, should be God's house. All this was deliberately uttered before the Lord and solemnly recorded by Him; and then Jacob went on his journey. Years passed—twenty long and eventful years—years of trial and exercise during which Jacob experienced many ups and downs, changes and chances; but the God of Beth-el watched over His poor servant and appeared to him in the midst of his pressure, and said to him, "I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto Me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred." God had not forgotten the original terms; neither would He let His servant forget them. Is this legality? No; it is simply the exhibition of divine love and faithfulness. God loved Jacob, and He would not suffer him to stop short of the old standard. He jealously watched over the state of His servant's heart, and lest it should by any means remain below the Bethel mark, He gently reminds him by those touching and significant words, "I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto Me." This was the sweet expression of God's unchanging love, and of the fact that He counted on Jacob's remembrance of Bethel scenes.
How amazing that the High and Mighty One who inhabits eternity should so value the love and remembrance of a poor worm of the earth! Yet so it is, and we ought to bear it more in mind. Alas! we forget it. We are ready enough to take mercies and blessings from the hand of God, and most surely He is ready enough to bestow them. But then we ought to remember that He looks for the loving devotion of our hearts to Him; and if we, in the freshness and ardor of other days, set out to follow Christ, to live for Him, and give up all for Him, can we suppose for a moment that He could coldly and indifferently forego His claims upon our hearts' affections? Should we like Him to do so? Could we endure the thought of its being a matter of indifference to Him whether we loved Him or not? God forbid! Yea it should be the joy of our hearts to think that our blessed Lord really seeks the loving devotion of our souls to Him, and that He will not be satisfied without it—that when we wander hither and thither, He calls us back to Himself in His own gentle, gracious, touching way.
"When weary of His rich repast,
I've sought alas! to rove,
He has recalled His faithless guest,
And showed His banner, love."
Yes; His banner ever floats, bearing its own inscription upon it to win back our vagrant hearts, and remind us of the original terms. He says to us in one way or another, as He said to Jacob, "I am the God of Beth-el, where thou anointedst the pillar." Thus He deals with us in the midst of all our wanderings, our haltings, and our stumblings. He makes us to know that as we cannot do without His love, so neither can He do without ours. It is truly wonderful, yet so it is. He will keep the soul up to the old terms. Hearken to those touching appeals of the Spirit of Christ to His saints in other days, "Thou halt left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works" (Rev. 2:4, 54Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. (Revelation 2:4‑5)). "Call to remembrance the former days" (Heb. 10:3232But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; (Hebrews 10:32)). "Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?" (Gal. 4:1515Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. (Galatians 4:15)).
What is all this but calling His people back to the old point from which they had declined? It may be said, They ought not to have needed this. No doubt; yet they did need it and, because they needed it, Jesus did it. It may be said, further, that tried love is better than first love. Granted; but do we not find, as a matter of fact, in our spiritual history, that upon our first setting out to follow Jesus, there is a simplicity, an earnestness, a freshness, fervor and depth of devotion which, from various reasons, we fail to keep up? We become cold and careless; the world gets in upon us and eats up our spirituality; nature gains the upper hand in one way or another and deadens our spiritual sensibility, dampens our ardor and dims our vision. Is the reader conscious of anything like this? If so, would it not be a peculiar mercy if, at this very moment, he were called back to the old terms? Doubtless! Well, then, let him be assured that the heart of Jesus is waiting and ready. His love is unchanging; and not only so, but He would remind you that He cannot be satisfied without a true response from you. Wherefore, beloved friend, whatever has drawn you away from the measure of your earliest dedication to Him, let your heart now spring up and get back at once to Him. Do not hesitate! Linger not! Cast yourself at the feet of your loving Lord, and let your heart be only for Him. This is the secret spring of all true service. If Christ has not the love of your heart, He does not want the labor of your hands. He does not say, "Son, give Me thy money, thy time, thy talents, thine energies, thy pen, thy tongue, thy head"; all these are utterly unavailing, perfectly unsatisfying to Him. What He says to you is, "My son, give Me thine heart." Where the heart is given to Jesus, all will come right. Out of the heart come all the issues of life, and if only Christ have His right place in the heart, the work and the ways, the walk and the character, will be all right.
But we must return to Jacob, and see further how our subject is illustrated in his fruitful history. At the close of Gen. 33 we find him settling down at Shechem, where he gets into all sorts of trouble and confusion. His house is dishonored, and his sons, in avenging the dishonor, endanger his life. All this Jacob feels keenly, and he says to his sons, Simeon and Levi, "Ye have troubled me... among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house." Gen. 34:3030And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house. (Genesis 34:30).
All this was most deplorable; but it does not appear to have once occurred to Jacob that he was in a wrong place. The defilement and confusion of Shechem failed to open his eyes to the fact that he was not up to the old terms. How often is this the case! We fall short of the divine standard in our practical ways; we fail in walking up to the height of the divine revelation; and although the varied fruits of our failure are produced on every side, yet our vision is so dimmed by the atmosphere around us, and our spiritual sensibilities so blunted by our associations, that we do not discern how low we are and how very far short of the proper mark.
However, in Jacob's case, we see the divine principle again and again illustrated. "And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother." Gen. 35:11And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. (Genesis 35:1).
Reader, note this. We have here a most exquisite feature in the divine method of dealing with souls. There is not one word said about Shechem, its pollutions and its confusions. There is not a word of reproof for having settled down there. Such is not God's way. He employs a far more excellent mode. Had we been dealing with Jacob, we should have come down upon him with a heavy hand, and read him a severe lecture about his folly in settling at Shechem, and about his personal and domestic habits and condition. But oh! how well it is that God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways like ours! Instead of saying to Jacob, "Why have you settled down in Shechem?" He simply says, "Arise, go up to Bethel"; and the very sound of the word sent a flood of light into Jacob's soul, by which he was enabled to judge himself and his surroundings. "Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went."
This was, assuredly, getting back to the original terms. It was the restoring of a soul and a leading in the paths of righteousness. Jacob felt that he could not bring false gods and defiled garments to Bethel; such things might pass at Shechem, but they would never do for Beth-el. "And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.... So Jacob came to Luz which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Beth-el, he and all the people that were with him. And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el; because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother."
"El-beth-el." Precious title which had God for its Alpha and its Omega! At Shechem, Jacob called his altar "El-Elohe-Israel," that is, "God the God of Israel"; but at Beth-el, the true standpoint, he called his altar "El-beth-el," that is, "God—the house of God." This was true restoration. Jacob was brought back, after all his wanderings, to the very point from which he had started. Nothing less than this could ever satisfy God in reference to His servant. He could wait patiently on him—bear with him—minister to him—care for him—look after him; but He could never rest satisfied with anything short of this: "Arise, go up to Beth-el."
Christian reader, pause here. We want to ask you a question. Are you conscious of having wandered from Jesus? Has your heart declined and grown cold? Have you lost the freshness and ardor which once marked the tone of your soul? Have you allowed the world to get in upon you? Have you, in the moral condition of your soul, got down into Shechem? Has your heart gone after idols, and have your garments become defiled? If so, let us remind you of this, that the Lord wants you back to Himself. Yes, beloved, that is what He wants, and He wants it now. He says to you, "Arise, go up to Beth-el." You will never be happy, you will never be right until you yield a full response to this blessed and soul-stirring call. 0 yield it now, we beseech you. Rise up, and fling aside every weight and every hindrance; put away the idols and change your garments and get back to the feet of your Lord, who loves you with a love which many waters cannot quench, neither can the floods drown; and who cannot be satisfied until He has you with Himself according to the original terms. Say not this is legal; it is nothing of the sort. It is the love of Jesus—His deep, glowing, earnest love—love which is jealous of every rival affection—love which gives the whole heart, and must have a whole heart in return. May God the Holy Ghost bring back every wandering heart to the true standard! May He visit with fresh power every soul that has gone down to Shechem, and give no rest until a full response has been yielded to the call, "Arise, go up to Beth-el, AND DWELL THERE."