Onward and upward!
Genesis 35 10/13/19
With souls that thirst for God, look with me to the fountain head of His truth in Genesis 35.
I’ve entitled the message “Onward and Upward.”
For whatever detours and disappointments you have hit on the journey of life, God wants you to know this- you need not linger there.
There’s no point reliving your failures of the past and missing out on what God has for you in the present and future.
All of us lived far from Christ before He saved us.
Some even as believers have made sinful choices that have lead to great regret.
And thoughts can easily bombard the mind like: “If only I hadn’t…” or “I wish I could undo this in my life…” or “How did I ever fall into… and you complete the sentence.
And your left thinking, “the best years of my life are already behind me.”
Well, Jacob could have spent much of his life like that. For he miserably failed as a son, as a husband, and as a father.
Just last week we witnessed how he goes passive and fails to stand up for his daughter Dinah after Shechem had violated her.
And because he doesn’t help his sons deal with what had happened, two of them annihilate the men of Shechem.
To add insult to injury, Jacob’s big concern then was whether other peoples of the land would come to take revenge.
Jacob’s been a spineless father and selfish husband.
He must have been thinking, “After all that, I’m not sure how God can forgive me. And I don’t know if he will ever use me again.”
Well, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and our God, friends, is the God of the second chance.
Watch how God meets Jacob at his point of need and calls him to
1. Consecration 1-8 We see in verse 1:
Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
At a time when Jacob desperately needs to hear a word from God, God takes the initiative and speaks to him.
And He tells him exactly what he needed to hear: “Get up and go!”
In other words, don’t linger any longer there in the sinful Shechem. Instead, you must to go to Bethel.
Now it’s been going on 30 years since Jacob had been there in Bethel.
Remember, Bethel, that’s the place God met Jacob in a real-to-life dream when Jacob was running for his life from furious Esau.
And that’s when God promised him (28:15), “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
Well, now it’s clear God had fulfilled every word of that promise to Jacob.
Yet Jacob had not yet kept the vow he made God on his first visit to Bethel.
God keeps His word and calls Jacob to keep his word
How? By making a mizbeach. That’s an altar, a place of sacrifice.
By the way, Genesis 34 resembled a God-forsaken desert- it doesn’t mention God’s name once. Yet here in chapter 35, God is mentioned at least 10 times!
God, tells Jacob to make an altar to God, to Himself. How wonderful. For God in the greatness of His glory must be worshipped by His people. That’s the point of the altar.
And that’s what Noah, Abraham and his father Isaac had built to God.
Friends, this is a call to consecration. To worship God!
And don’t forget. That’s the one thing Christ tells the woman at the well God seeks- those who will be His worshippers. John 4:23
Now watch Jacob move into action. 2nd verse:
So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, -“Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3 and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
Jacob can’t wait to obey God this time. And he calls his entire family to obedience.
For he knows making an altar to God would only be acceptable if he and his family were right with God.
And that meant they had to deal with their sin, namely turn away from their small “g” gods.
Why? Because God will tolerate no rivals. He will not give His glory on another. And therefore all that would compete for the affection of God’s people must go.
It’s a call to repentance. Jacob here calls his entire household to rid themselves of their idols which they possessed.
Wait a minute. Could these grandchildren of Abraham really have idols?
Absolutely. And they and Jacob knew it.
Remember Rachel stole the teraphim household idols from her father before they left Haran.
And her sons would have had plenty of silver images and idols when they sacked Shechem.
Listen, God’s people have a proneness to idolatry.
Before venturing into the Promised Land, Joshua gathers God’s people and tells them,
Joshua 24:14,23 “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 23 “Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.”
Later in I Samuel 7:3-4 the prophet Samuel speaks to the house of Israel, saying, “If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from
among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the sons of Israel removed the Baals and the Ashtaroth and served the LORD alone.
Now don’t let yourself to think you are immune to the sin of idolatry. You and I are no less prone to accumulate and tolerate gods of our own making and imaginations that steal our affections from God.
Did you notice what Jacob includes with the call to put away the foreign gods? They were also to purify themselves and change their clothes.
Why? Because bathing and then removing soiled clothes and putting on clean clothes, that pictured God purifying their hearts.
There’s a beautiful illustration of this in Zechariah 3:3–5. It’s the consecration of Joshua the high priest:
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments and standing before the angel. 4 He spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” 5 Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of the LORD was standing by.
So that symbolizes submitting to God’s purifying work.
Jacob now shows spiritual leadership in his family. He lays it on the line and calls them to forsake their false gods. And they do!
Verse 4: So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
Don’t miss that word “all.” They ditched every one of their idols that they had accumulated. And the sense is, there were many of them!
So Jacob digs a big hole into which Jacob throws the foreign gods.
By the way, he’s not hiding them hoping to come back. No, he’s burying those dead gods, and they are there to stay!
Did you notice those people gave Jacob not only all their idols but also their earrings?
Those would have been amulets connected to the worship of pagan gods.
Now you might be thinking you are a long way from worshipping false gods. You don’t have gold Buddahs or Krishnas in your homes that you bow down to and worship.
No, but we have other idols that draw our hearts from god.
Those things that subtly steal the affections God has placed in us for himself. What are some of these?
It could be a slavish craving to stay up on current events or in indulging yourself in prolonged recreation and entertainment.
Being preoccupied with financial stability and wanting to be free from sickness and pain, even a relationship you have with a spouse or a relationship you wish you had, even these can disguise themselves as unseen idols.
You see, when anything consumes your thoughts and time and leaves God in a distant 2nd, then they are foreign gods lodged in your heart.
Many Christians who lament they don’t have time for daily reading of God’s Word and unhurried prayer spend hours before the T.V or computer screen. And then there’s the constant lure of social media to catch up with so and so or post a new picture of self.
So many forms of idolatry that can subtly take root in our lives. And they woo us from God.
Well, God tells us to treat these like the plague and be on guard against all of these.
I John 5:21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
God calls us to take stock of our lives and jettison any vestige of idolatry we may be cherishing. How can we recognize idols in our lives?
Complete the following statements in your mind that may help you identify idols of your heart:
“If only I had…”
“In my free moments of contemplation, what my thoughts gravitate to most is…”
“My greatest comfort when all goes bad is…”
“What causes me to feel most fulfilled and happy is…”
Well, if your answer to any of those statements is anything but God Himself, well then you likely need to deal with idols of your heart.
Just as Jacob’s family got rid of all their foreign gods, so God calls you to radical action.
Repent before God that your heart has embraced these idols and then rid yourself of them.
You might be thinking. “Well that might cost me if I get rid of certain things in my life that I had to pay for.”
Well, you need to remember the infinite value Christ, the pearl of great price is. Everything in comparison is worth parting with to get that great treasure.
In Acts 19:18–19 the Apostle Paul declared the gospel to the people in Ephesus. And we are told that,
“Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. 19 And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.”
That’s an astonishing sum of money. The modern equivalent based on an average annual income of $60,000, that would work out to be over 8 million dollars that those new believers burnt up in getting rid of their idols.
Early in his marriage, a relative of mine spent many hours playing online games on his X box.
One day he called me on the phone and shared how video game playing on that machine had become far too important to him. He knew the Lord would have him get rid of that idol of his heart.
Even though a friend offered him $300 for his Xbox, he decided to rid himself of it otherwise.
He placed the electronic box on an asphalt driveway, raised a large railroad pick, and drove it right through the center of that devise. And he never used that X box again!
Friends, take inventory of your life. Anything or anyone that keeps you from enjoying Christ as the first love of your life, it’s an idol. And you need to give it up- even if it might cost you! In the early 1700’s that Gerhard Tersteegen wrote the lyrics to the hymn “Thou Hidden Love of God.” The third verse is a passionate prayer to God: Is there a thing beneath the sun That strives with thee my heart to share? Ah! tear it thence, and reign alone, The Lord of ev’ry motion there; Then shall my heart from earth be free, When it hath found repose in thee.
Well, that day Jacob’s entire family jettisoned ALL their idols must have been one of the most joyful days in Israel’s history.
Because in chucking their idols, they relinquished sin to which they had been enslaved for years. And now they enjoy God’s favor on their purified lives.
Would you look at how God blesses them? V. 5: As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.
How marvelous! What was the threat from those cities?
After they heard what Jacob’s sons did in massacring the Shechemites, we do well to suspect these cities intended murderous revenge!
Jacob and his family were vulnerable. So to protect His people, God supernaturally inspires fear in the people of the cities.
What were they so afraid of that kept them from making a murderous move against Jacob’s clan?
The original Hebrew tells us that had an overwhelming sense of terror of God!
They wouldn’t dare raise a sword or point an arrow against Israel because God made them realize God was on Jacob’s side!
After God delivered His people from the advancing Egyptians by opening up the Red Sea, Moses composed a song. He shows what God did to His enemies:
“Exodus 15:16 “Terror and dread fall upon them; by the greatness of Your arm they are motionless as stone; Until Your people pass
over, O LORD, Until the people pass over whom You have purchased.
Well, Jacob and his clan made it to the place of consecration: V. 6: “So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother.”
Imagine the great delight that must have filled Jacob’s memory as he came to Bethel. For that’s where God first captured His heart. And now God is going to further consecrate his heart.
And this time, his entire family is there to experience it with him.
Before their eyes Jacob builds an altar of worship to God. It may have been a sanctuary that contained the altar as he had vowed to God he would build him a house (28:22). If so, that would have taken Jacob weeks to build.
We do know Bethel was just 20 miles further to the south of Shechem and 1,000 feet higher in elevation.
So too, Jacob’s high point spiritually was not only in the past but by the grace of God is continuing in the present!
Well, it’s at this point Moses reports the first of three deaths in this chapter. We are told (v. 8),
“Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth.”
This is not Deborah who lived much later during the time of the judges. The Deborah who dies at Bethel had been the nurse for Jacob’s mom, Rebekah. She was the nurse we saw in Genesis 24:59 that went with Rebekah from Haran as Abraham’s servant lead them to Canaan
We aren’t told how this Deborah ended up in Jacob’s family. That’s puzzling.
But this mention of her death and the big oak tree under which she was buried, named “oak of weeping”- all that shows honor.
But there’s someone whose death is not mentioned- Rebekah’s.
According to Jewish tradition, while Jacob was mourning for Deborah, word of his own mother’s death reached him.
Yet the Spirit of God chooses not to make any mention of Rebekah’s death in Scripture. Why?
This is no oversight. Rebekah deceived her husband Isaac which was dishonorable. That may relate to why she is not honored with any mention of her death.
Jacob and his family met with God that day at Bethel, the house of God. And their lives would never be the same following that consecration.
The consecration leads to the
2. Commitment 9-15
As Moses narrates Jacob’s life, he pictures him still in the process of returning from Mesopotamia. He wants us to see through the glasses of Jacob still being in process as God leads Him.
We read in verse 9, “Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him.”
“God appeared”- we best take that as God taking the physical form of a man (theophany) that was visible to Jacob.
Why did he appear? To give his blessing to Jacob. “Blessed” (barak), that’s far from an empty word.
It’s God showing His smile on Jacob’s lives in what he says to him and does for him.
And both of those are combined in God’s blessing bestowed on his servant here.
Follow as we trace this beginning in verse 10. And as we do, watch for 3 wonderful ways God blesses JACOB: his name, nations, and a native land.
First, a new name. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name. Thus He called him Israel.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “Didn’t God already change Jacob’s name in Genesis 32:28? Yes, and that’s the first time he reveals that to Jacob
That was when Jacob feared Esau. Yet here he’s following God in faith.
Here’s why God reminds him of this new name: He had been acting like the old Jacob and needed a timely reminder!
So God in meeting now with Jacob the second time at Bethel impresses on him the new man he had designed him to be.
His new name showed how he was to live up to the new calling on his life.
Christian, God has also called you to live up to your name.
The story goes that on one of his campaigns, Alexander the Great received word that one of his soldiers had been seriously misbehaving and shedding bad light on all the Greek troops.
And what made matters worse, this soldier’s name was also Alexander.
So the commander sent word that he wanted to talk to that soldier in person. When the young man entered the tent of Alexander the Great, the commander asked him, “What is your name?”, “Alexander, sir” the man replied.
The commander looked him in the eye and said “Soldier, either change your behavior or change your name!
Well, God had given Jacob a new name Israel (meaning striver with God), and he was called to live that way.
Watch how the blessing is not only in a new name but in nations. Verse 11:
God further says to him, “I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply….”
This is spectacular. El Shaddai, the most powerful One says what is usually only spoken to O.T. couples who don’t have children: “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1).
Though Jacob already has 11 children, God’s plan is to give him innumerable descendants.
So clear right here, God impresses on Jacob that the great covenant He made with Abraham extends to him!
For in Gen. 12:2 God gave his word to Abraham: “And I will make you a great nation” and then in 17:5 “And I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you.”
That could have been understood to be just two or three nations.
But God tells Jacob (v. 11), “a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you.”
That’s a vast multitude of nations!
We must think carefully here as Bible students. For some well-meaning Christians will say, “Look, God’s original covenant with Abraham has become bigger and morphed into something different. And they extrapolate and say, “So when we come to the N.T. it will become so big that the church will replace Israel and receive all her blessings.
No, God’s covenants do not change. For God does not change (Mal. 3:6).
It’s only that God shows His people more of the beauty they had not yet seen in the Abrahamic covenant.
Blessing to Jacob a name, many nations, and now a native land.
V. 12 “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.”
God is talking about the land of Promise. Not some imaginary land but a real land with definite borders outlined in the book of Joshua.
And God fully intends to keep His promise here and give His people Israel all that land.
For they have never yet possessed it.
It still awaits a future fulfillment which God will accomplish in the millennium.
There are dozens of Scriptures that show God will keep the promise of land made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for His people Israel.
Let me show you just one:
Ezekiel 37:12 “Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. 14 “I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then
you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.’ ”
21 “Say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land;
24 “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. 25 “They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. 26 “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. 27 “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 28 “And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.” ’ ”
This spectacularly describes Christ’s future reign in Jerusalem on the throne of David.
God said it and God will do that- give all the land of Promise to his people among whom He will dwell forever.
Well, we see from verse 13: “Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him.”
Jacob must have been overwhelmed with spiritual elation. For he can’t wait to worship God:
V. 14: Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.
The drink offering- that was the fruit of the vine poured out in worship to God.
And the oil (which Jacob would have had as a staple for his family and flocks), that marked his life being poured out to God.
That’s the way the Apostle Paul compared his outpoured life to God as he writes his final
epistle: II Timothy 4:6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
Church, God has given us in His precious and magnificent promises. He has blessed us with the long awaited Messiah.
So too must we present our lives before Him as a living sacrifice.
It’s the call of Romans 12:1- “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”
God committed himself to blessing Jacob and his descendants.
Yet that did not immunize him from heartache and disappointment.
For he experiences great 3. Chagrin 16-22
Let’s follow the story line that shows us that beginning in verse 16: Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor.
Jacob is trying to make it to Hebron (about 30 miles further south) before the baby is born. Yet two days more riding a camel doesn’t help.
V. 17 When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for now you have another son.” 18 It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni (that means son of my sorrow); but his father called him Benjamin (the Hebrew meaning is son of the right hand and speaks of honor). 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).
What a shocker. The joy of Benjamin being born in answer to prayer (30:24) yet the pain of Rachel dying in the process.
Here so clearly, the curse of sin in the pain of childbirth leads to her untimely death.
This continues in our day. Do you realize that some 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications?
Benjamin was the final child born to Jacob completing the total of 12 sons. 12 sons that give us the 12 tribes of Israel.
The last birth is so different than the previous ones. For there’s no hint of competition between Rachel and Leah anymore.
Strangely, Jacob’s words to Laban years before when Rachel had stolen his idols came to pass: “The one with whom you find your gods shall not live….” Gen. 31:32 And now it is, Rachel dies.
So, v. 20 “Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.
With the woman of his dreams no longer with him, Jacob must press on.
By the way, the current mosque looking monument seen today in Bethlehem. That’s quite likely not the place she was buried.
Because I Samuel 10:2, when Samuel tells Saul where to go after he was anointed: “When you go from me today, then you will find two men close to Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah…”
So Jacob would have buried Rachel further north in the territory of Benjamin where there was a second town called Bethlehem.
After burying Rachel, verse 21, “Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.”
That was likely a watchtower used by shepherds. It was there more heartache follows:
22 It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
Following the loss of Rachel we see the lust of Reuben.
Bilhah was Rachel’s maid with whom Reuben the oldest commits a most shameful act.
Why does he do this?
He may be trying to keep Bilhah from taking the place of his mom Rachel as Jacob’s favorite wife.
Before Jacob died, he told Reuben the consequences of his sin.
Genesis 49:3–4 “Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.
Many years later, Ezra would bring up the ignominious evil of Reuben.
I Chronicles 5:1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright.
Though Reuben was the oldest, because of his sin, God caused the birthright to go to Benjamin (Levi and Simeon were also bypassed because they slaughtered the men of Shechem).
Yes, sin is an awful taskmaster. Through God graciously grants forgiveness when we repent, there are often ongoing consequences from our sinful choices.
That’s why, men, women, and yes children, we must guard our hearts.
Missionary son and singer Steve Green pleads: Guard your heart The human heart is easily swayed And often betrayed at the hand of emotion You dare not leave the outcome to chance You must choose in advance Or live with the agony Such needless tragedy Guard your heart, guard your heart Don’t trade it for treasure, don’t give it away Guard your heart, guard your heart As a payment for pleasure, it’s high price to pay.
From the Consecration, Commitment and Chagrin we now briefly see the:
4. Continuation 23-29
We are told: “Now there were twelve sons of Jacob— 23 the sons of Leah: Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, then Simeon and Levi and Judah and Issachar and Zebulun; 24 the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin; 25 and the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali; 26 and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher.
These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.”
The order is significant. It starts with Leah the oldest wife and then Rachel followed by their maids.
None of these sons are perfect- far from that. And yet God chose them and would magnify His grace to the world through them.
Well, you and I Christian, will one day see this list of the 12 sons of Jacob once again. It will be in the new Jerusalem. For Revelation 21:12 tells us that there will be 12 gates “and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel.”
Well, Jacob, in the 27th verse, “came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned.” 28 Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. 29 Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”
Jacob’s pilgrimage has come full circle.
Almost 30 years before, his father Isaac was already blind and looking near death.
He didn’t expect he would live so long.
Friend, you might expect you will live a long life, or you could expect a short life.
There’s no point giving lots of thought to that.
Only God knows and only God determines.
Before being speared to death on Palm Beach Ecuador, Him Elliot had written in his journal a prayer to the Lord: ‘I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you Lord Jesus.’ That friends should be the lesson we learn this morning. Philippians 3:13–14 “but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Child of God, your job is to live onward and upward and bring maximum glory to Christ today and every day until He brings you Home.
Onward and upward!
Hope In Christ Bible Church 10/13/19
1. Consecration 1-8
Josh. 24:14, 23
I Sam. 7:3-4
2. Commitment 9-15
Gen. 1:28; 9:1
Gen. 12:2; 17:5
Ezek. 37:12, 14, 21, 24-28
II Tim. 4:6
3. Chagrin 16-22
I Sam. 10:2
I Chron. 5:1
4. Continuation 23-29
As a doer of the Word, how would God call me to turn from idols of my heart and walk in full consecration to God?
Onward and upward!