Jacob's Recall to Bethel

Genesis 35:1‑16  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In the four chief biographies of Genesis, we have unfolded and illustrated four great principles of God's dealing with His people in grace; besides the individuals themselves being in many instances distinct types.
In Abram is presented God's principle of election and grace-" I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy," -the foundation of everything in His ways to poor sinners. In Isaac, Sonship and Heirship,-" if Children then Heirs." In Jacob, discipline,-" What Son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?" In Joseph, suffering and glory,- " if we suffer we shall also reign with Him." Other truths have their place in each; but this is the leading thought. It is interesting to look at Bethel in connection both with Abraham and Jacob, the man of faith, and the man of experience. Bethel, and the God of Bethel, are the same; but there is an aspect peculiar to each. Bethel was Abram's meeting-place with God, as well as Jacob's, and the place of his altar too (Gen. 12:7,87And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him. 8And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord. (Genesis 12:7‑8))-but he had known him as the "God of glory" before this in Ur of the Chaldees; and this was the foundation of the call which the man of faith had obeyed. Faith had brought Abram as a stranger and a pilgrim to Bethel: circumstances first brought Jacob there; and accordingly, after declension in Abram as the man of faith, there is a much speedier restoration to Bethel than Jacob found (Gen. 13:3,43And he went on his journeys from the south even to Beth-el, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Beth-el and Hai; 4Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. (Genesis 13:3‑4)). But Jacob is our subject. In Gen. 28:10,2210And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. (Genesis 28:10)
22And 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. (Genesis 28:22)
, we learn the circumstances in which Jacob first became acquainted with Bethel. His subtlety in seeking to obtain the blessing which was his, according to the sure promise of God, " the elder shall serve the younger " (Gen. 25:2323And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23)), but which his natural character, could not leave in the hands of the Lord to accomplish, had now made him an exile from his father's house, and a fugitive from an injured brother's rage. He was a supplanter; and the natural character in Jacob presented no traits of loveliness, while in Esau there were the characteristics of a generous spirit. But Jacob, with all his obliquities and feebleness of character, was connected with God, while Esau was " a profane man who despised his birthright;" and with every trait of generous frankness, was but the man of sense, and seeking nothing beyond this world.
It was to this " worm Jacob," when he was a homeless pilgrim, a wandering forlorn man, with the heavens only for his canopy, and a staff for his companion, and the stone for his pillow, that the God of Bethel appeared.; and there, from the top of the "ladder that reached to heavers," and on which the " angels of God were ascending and descending," He reveals Himself as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac, and enters into an unchangeable relationship and connection with Jacob.
Jacob never had a fuller revelation of God as the God of promise and grace, nor blessings larger and fuller sealed to him, nor a surer pledge of God's watchful care over him, than Bethel presented, and that too when every external circumstance was most contrary. Grace penetrates his heart, while the vision of it is fresh before him, and he " 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 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." But this is not the strong grasp of faith-staggering not at the promise through unbelief, but the feeble hesitancy of the soul, that must, through many sorrows, learn its own weakness, before it will take God only for its strength. But God is the God of Bethel; and under the power of this revelation of himself to Jacob, did he call upon him to walk and act in the scenes that lay before him. His subsequent history, before we hear again of Bethel, is marked by the unprincipled retributive conduct of Laban, and by the hard and unrewarded service with which he made him serve. And it seems that Jacob's bearing under this rigorous service, and changing of wages, was but little in accordance with the suited character of one who had known the revelations and the sure presence with Him, and help of the God of Bethel. But in the midst of this scene of trial, God recalls his mind to Bethel, and the vow he had made there in other days. If Jacob, in the midst of worldly scenes, had forgotten his purpose of faithful profession of Jehovah for his God, and the service he had vowed to render, God had not forgotten the promise of His grace, " Behold I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou guest, and will briny thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of." And now He says (Chapter 31:13) "I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out of this land and return unto thy kindred."
This fresh call of " the God of Bethel " breaks the link of Jacob's bondage in Padan Aram, and puts the "Syrian [that was], ready to perish," again with his "staff" to recross the Jordan with his " two bands." But, pilgrim as he is again, and on his journey back under the hand of God, there is many an exercise of heart in the presence of God yet lies between him and Bethel. There are the seven days' hot pursuit of Laban, after the man that had " stolen away unawares," though he left at the bidding, and under the protection, of the God of Bethel! But there is God's pillar between Jacob and Laban, as there was afterward between the trembling Israelites and Pharaoh's pursuing hosts. But another trial awaits him, which brings to remembrance the sins of other days, and leads to deeper exercises before the God of Bethel still. "Deliver me" (says the trembling man) " from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, lest he come and smite me, and the mother with the children, And Thou saidst, I will surely do thee good [this was the remembrance of Bethel], and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitudes." And now comes the last effort of his wisdom in his arrangements to meet the trying hour; and then he is "left alone" with God! Apart from every circumstance, and every tie, he [is " left alone" with God. But it is not in the calm worship by the altar of Bethel, but to know a night of wrestling with Him, who, because He meant to bless, must needs resist the ways and cripple the energy that had neither been subdued by the presence of grace, nor subjected to God by the power of faith! " There wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint." His flesh was touched 1 [I speak only morally of this scene, and not of its typical bearing on Israel's history in a future day]. " He had power over the angel and prevailed;" but it was with the distress of the wrestler-dreading lest the blessing should escape-" that he wept and made supplication to Him." He had found God and obtained the blessing; but "Peniel" is not " Bethel." The poor crippled man lets us into the secret of his thoughts through that night of weeping and wrestling, when he calls " the " name of the place Peniel; for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved 1" But this is not worshipping by the anointed pillar, under the opened heavens, with the bright visions of glory, and in the sweet confidence of an eternal connection with the God of Bethel. It is God at Peniel; and, in the strength that was given there, he meets his brother Esau, and he finds how God, to whom he cried, had bowed his brother's heart, without the presents that were meant by poor Jacob to bribe his love! " Esau said, I have enough, my brother, keep that thou hast unto thyself." " And Jacob came to Shalem (Gen. 33:1818And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan-aram; and pitched his tent before the city. (Genesis 33:18)), a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan... And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Timor Shechem's father, for an hundred pieces of money. And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel." He is now a worshipper of " God the God of Israel;" his " altar," with its inscription, tells whose worshipper lie is. But God in " Shechem " is not God at " Bethel," as Jacob has to learn. Why does he linger here, and purchase the piece of ground, as if he would have a possession among the Canaanites, when God had called him to Bethel, and showed him there his title to all the land as his inheritance? Alas! this fresh attempt of the pilgrim-man to stop a little short. of the place to which God had called him, ministers still further to his experience. But experience is a sad teacher, unless it be when faith points her lessons, and God is the subject of her study. If her father has purchased a possession here, why may not Dinah his daughter " go out to see the daughters of the land?" Alas, her corruption follows, as the fruit of this; and Simeon and Levi's treachery and terrible revenge, soon destroy the poor pilgrim's " green spot in the desert;" and all that he can say in the bitterness of his heart is, " Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land.... and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, and my house. And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?" Small comfort to allay his agony and distress! But God appears (what grace I) -to call him forth again, that from the midst of these circumstances, he should know him fully as the God of Bethel. " 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. And Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away th strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and f 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. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands, and all their ear-rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob." God made them feel in all the wretched circumstances of this man and his family-though their hatred burned against him-and his own fears could picture nothing but destruction, until God had reminded him again of Beth-el,-that they must not intermeddle with them, because God was in a living connection with them!
But what had Jacob's experience, in all his vicissitudes, taught him of God, beyond what was revealed to his faith-if he had had the faith to receive it-in the very outset of his course at Bethel? It is no fresh revelation of God that now puts him upon seeking a moral conformity to the character and relationship in which he stands toward him. The answer of his heart, when he first met " the God of Beth-el," was, " Jehovah shall be my God; and this stone which I have set for a pillar shall be God's house." But there had been little remembrance of this "vow" at a distance from the scenes in which the wondrous revelations of grace and glory first drew it forth. But God remembered His part, and was with him in all places whither he went (though little regarded), for he had said I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of "! But when Bethel is again reached or journeyed toward under God's last call, after all this trial, then suddenly and for the first time, breaks upon Jacob's thought, that the things of idolatry, and the ornaments of the flesh, that had gathered around him in Padan Aram, must not be associated with a return to Bethel, where as a houseless pilgrim, with nothing but a staff in his hand, " a Syrian ready to perish "-he first found the God of Bethel, in all His grace, and took Him in the gladness of His heart, and in the solemn vow of His lips, to be his God-his full, his blessed, his only portion! The false gods, and the ear-rings, and the filthy garments may remain without rebuke in Syria under Laban's hard service; nay, they may still be untouched, when God at Peniel is striving with us and when we have seen Him face to face and our life has been preserved; nay, they may be connected with the altar at Shechem; and all the terror of the presence of an adversary that none but God can deliver us from, may fail to lead us to an inquisition for what so divides the confidence of the heart with God, and is so unfit for His presence! But when the God of Bethel-the God of the poor pilgrim-recalls us to the brightness of His grace, and the unchangeable connection in which that grace has set us with Himself, then the " false gods," the gods of the heart, can no longer be retained; " the ear-rings," the ornaments of the flesh which go along with a divided heart, must be put away; and the stained garments of the world can no longer be borne. In the thought of "Bethel," the gods and the earrings must find their place under the oak at Shechem. Perhaps the "purchased field," which promised a little rest and enjoyment at a distance from Bethel, is only used as furnishing a hole of burial for the things that cannot remain a moment in the presence of the grace and the God of Bethel. But Jacob at length is back again in blessed fellowship with Bethel and the God of Bethel; and how freely does the fountain of grace, and love, and faithfulness, pour forth its streams to refresh his weary heart! It is the God of Bethel still, in spite of all his forgetfulness and wanderings. " And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Beth-el."
Such, and so different, is the effect of the truth of God, known and believed, it may be, as a revelation; and the same truth held in living fellowship with God and in moral conformity to him whose revelation it is!
How shall JACOB supplant and become ISRAEL, a Prince with God?
With Saint-for what can human means avail?
His God unowned, resources always fail:
Dependent supplicants alone prevail.-Ed.