Today’s study was on Genesis 35. The narrative begins with God coming and speaking to Jacob. He tells Jacob to go to Bethel and to build an altar there to Him. Jacob responds by requiring that all of the “foreign gods” be thrown away by those in his household, and that they purify themselves. He buried the idols under a tree in Shechem, and he and his household traveled to Bethel. The passage says that no one attacked them on their way because the “terror of God fell upon the towns all around them.” When they got to Bethel, Jacob built the altar, and God spoke to him again. God told him again that He gave Jacob and his descendants the land that he was on, the same land he promised to Abraham and to Isaac. God also told Jacob that his name would now be Israel. Jacob responded to this meeting by pouring out a drink offering on the stone pillar, and pouring oil on the pillar. The story continues with Jacob moving on towards where Isaac was living. Along the way, before they reached Ephrath (which v. 19 says is the same town as Bethlehem – see the map below), Rachel dies giving birth to their son Benjamin. They bury her and continue to Hebron where Isaac is living. A short side story emerges as it tells of how Reuben sleeps with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah (I think this becomes important later). The chapter ends with a listing of all 12 of Jacob’s sons, and tells how Isaac dies and is buried by Esau and Jacob.
There are many good things that can be taken from this chapter. My study points out that, as God spoke to Jacob, Jacob responded every time in ways that, I believe, were very pleasing to God. For one, when God told Jacob to go to Bethel and build an altar to Him there, Jacob not only did so, but he prepared himself and his household first by throwing away the foreign gods and purifying themselves (I would assume ceremonially and physically). I believe that this extra concern about coming before God in purity was pleasing to God. Fortunately, because of Christ we no longer have to purify ourselves to come before God – Jesus has done that for us. A second example of Jacob’s response to God was when God spoke to him after he built the altar. God reminded Jacob of his promise to give him that land, and He changed Jacob’s name to Isreal (which he says in ch. 32 is because he “struggled with God and with men and have overcome”). Jacob responded to God’s blessing with worship, which is always the proper response to God’s blessings.
I think that I often read about Jacob and I only see his faults – the fact that he was a deceiver (to both Esau and to his father Isaac). He also played favorites with his wives and sons, which comes to a head later in the story. But Jacob was actually a good man, the type of man that truly attempted to please God. He worshiped God, he tried to follow God’s commands, and wanted to please God – these are things that couldn’t be said of Esau or many other people of that time. I think he took very seriously the religious heritage of his family, and it definitely shows in this chapter.
One other thing that I hope remember from this chapter is how, when Jacob and his family were traveling from Shechem to Bethel, it says that the “terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.” I just think this is awesome! And it tells us that when God has ordained something to occur, He takes care of the outside details that affect whether or not it will get done. Jacob was scared that the surrounding towns would attack them because of how Simeon and Levi and his other sons had treated the Shechemites. But God, who gave the orders to go to Bethel, didn’t allow that to happen. It’s comforting to me to think that when I have a fear, my God is bigger and badder (in a good way) than anything that might have a desire to attack me.