“Returning to your first love”
II. Vs. 1-4 Five steps in submission
By the time we get to this chapter, thirty years have elapsed between when Jacob had first vowed to God to return to Bethel in chapter 28:20; ten of those years had happened since his leaving Laban on his way to the promised land as he made his home in the Shechem. None of this would mean much to us if we did not look at a map, you see Bethel is only 30 miles from Shechem. Jacob and his family spent 10 years and 30 miles from where God had called him to be all along. By all practical purposes they were only a days walk from obedience and surrender.
we often gage our submission and obedience to the Lord on how close we are to where he wants us to be. “Hey, I’m not where God wants me to be but I’m only a days walk away!” The truer measure of our heart is not how close we are but rather how long it takes us to get there! Ten years to move 30 miles and it took the negative influence that the world had upon his family in chapter 34 to get him leave. During those 10 years he had built an altar to the Lord naming it “God, the God of Israel” and from all outward appearances one would think of Jacob as having a walk with the Lord. But no amount of naming what we do and where we are moves us any closer to where God want’s us to be. You can name where you’re at any spiritual name you want but God is not impressed with what we name the areas of our lives; His desire is that we live our lives submitted to Him. I can’t help but wonder how many years I’ve lived only a short distance from what God has for me content to call where I’m at Christian? Here is the sad truth; it is only living at the House of the Lord that we find true blessing and joy. Jacob settled in Shechem “safety” in the world when he could have experienced blessings and joy at the “House of the Lord” (Bethel).
II. Vs. 1-4 Five steps in submission
Vs. 1 There are two things that stand out in this verse that need to be answered:
- The first causes me to ask a question, “Great God, why did you wait ten years and allow Jacob to go through trials before you tell him to travel a day’s journey to where you want him?” It seems based upon this verse that God didn’t tell him he needed to leave. Now I can’t be sure but if my own life is any indicator then it was not that God wasn’t telling him to leave rather it was that Jacob hadn’t been open to listening! Ten years prior Jacob had wrestled with the Lord and was a broken man but he appears to have no since of urgency to move further in obedience. It isn’t until the trials of living in a place where God had not called him make him obnoxious to the world in which he has chosen to live (34:30) that he is open to hear from the Lord. Simply put it took 10 years for the events of living in the world apart from where God had called him to cause him to want to be separate from it. Then and only then did the “only cure for his worldliness become to separate from it!” It often takes some tragic event in our lives to drive us to where God in His love and grace has called us to dwell to begin with. How much needless heartache and sorrow Jacob might have avoided if he left Laban and went right to Bethel as God had commanded? The easy way is always to submit to God in the areas of our lives and not wait for the tragic consequences of disobedience to drive us there.
- Second, notice that God instructs Jacob to make an altar at Bethel. Why did God tell him to make another altar at Bethel when he had made one at Shechem? Listen carefully, “The altar made to the Lord in his name while we are in disobedience will only serve as a justification to remain where He has not called us.” Our religious practices made without a submitted heart are of no use to the Lord in fact they are an offence to Him. This truth is bore out time and again in scripture as we read in Isaiah 1:11-17 “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, Or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; Incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies; I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; Even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.”
Vs. 2 In the next two verses Jacob instructs his family to do five things in order to submit their relationship back to the Lord:
- SEPARATION “Put away the foreign gods that are among you”: Put away that which is wrong! There will never be any renewal or growth in our lives apart from separating from the things that are keeping us from the Lord. The question we often have in looking at Jacob’s life and then at ours is, “Where had these idols come from?” How can we who acknowledge God have anything other then him as an object of our worship? Perhaps in finding where they came from in Jacob’s life we will discover where they have come from in our lives.
- First, back in chapter 31:19 we are told that Rachel had taken her fathers idols and hadn’t told Jacob of this. These Idols were mostly used as “good luck charms” and for good reason as they represented ownership of property and possessions. When Jacob did find out about these idols he apparently did nothing about them. These house hold idols had slipped into his life through his wives. They had been apart of their upbringing and had came into the family’s life through marriage. Here’s my point: A lot of where we get our idols comes from our upbringing in the world. We learn from our fathers that the way we show love to our family is by providing for them. That is not evil but it is not the way that we are to show our love towards our family. Instead we are to treat them as Jesus treats us teaching and being the pastors of our homes. The other way produces men who demonstrate that their jobs and careers are their gods.
- Second, they had lived in “Safety” (Shechem) for ten years and they no doubt worshipped those same idols. Here’s my point when we live to close to the world we often take on what they worship instead of Who we ought to worship. The world worships entertainment and sports. Often we men can get caught up into the worship of these things as well can’t we?
- Finally, after Simeon and Levi slaughter all the men of Shechem they plunder the city and take captive the women and children to be their slaves. In so doing they invited the Canaanite culture to join them. This suggests that we think that we can control the world’s influence in our lives while having them to join us.
Thus the world’s idols come into our lives because it has:
- Always been apart of it
- We’ve lived so close to it for so long that we begin to worship what it worships
- We join with it thinking that we are its masters only to become mastered by it
- PURIFICATION “Purify yourselves”: There will be no renewal unless we are willing to submit to the Lord to become holy and pure before Him. Sin must again become sin and we need to hate it in our own lives as much as we do in others! Jacob’s words to his family were a call to rid they hearts and lives from the influence of any thing that they worshipped that was not the Lord. It is interesting to me to note that simply getting rid of the object that they worshipped was not enough, thus the call to purify themselves! Getting rid of the object is great but what about the heart that desired to begin with? Jacob was intent upon having his family hating sin again.
- PREPARATION “And change your garments”: Here we see Jacob dealing with yet another aspect of submission to the Lord and having his relationship restored and this deals with a change of habits which is both positive as well as negative. In other word’s they need to stop doing some things, “change garments” and start doing the right things “put on new clothes”. Garments through out the Bible always represent a person’s character and a person’s character is made up of: What they do and don’t do! It is interesting that in the Catholic Church a nun’s clothes are called “Habits”. Paul wrote to the Roman’s in 13:14 that we need to “clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Apart from “clothing ourselves with the Lord Jesus” Isa. 64:6 says that our righteousness is like filthy rags. The truth is that all we can do with garments that are stained through is take them off. The second part of this involves putting on something that more represents we now are in Christ clothing that has been as Rev. 7:14 tells us that “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Are we prepared to meet the Lord are we warring His robes of righteousness or our old filthy rags?
- CONSECRATION “Then let us arise and go up to Bethel”: Here we see as they had “separated themselves”, “purified their hearts” and “prepared their lives” to meet the Lord were finally ready to consecrate themselves back to the Lord. The word “consecrate” literally means to dedicate. So all the other things they had done had brought them back to a place of rededicating their lives to the Lord. Here is the picture the goal was not to get something from the Lord in doing this rather the prize; the goal, was just being nearer to Him! They were in the low lands and Bethel, though only 30 miles away, was 1,000 feet above where they were! Is that not a great picture of what rededication is? With out hesitation we arise from the muck and mire in ours lives and climbs the mountain of the Lord just to be with Him afresh. What’s cool is that all of this takes place before God ever tells them the blessings of dedication in verses 10-11.
- ADORATION “And I will make an altar there to God”: Not only is it important to have worship reestablished in our hearts and lives but the basis of it is very important as well. Look here as Jacob gives the reason for such worship as because God had, “answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way, which I have gone.” In other word’s his adoration towards the Lord had everything to do with the Lord’s faithfulness and nothing to do with his. William Temple wrote that, “Worship is to quicken the conscience by the Holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God and to devote the will to the purpose of God!” Notice that Jacob made an altar in Shechem and named after the God of Israel here he names it after the Character of God, “The Strong One”!
Vs. 4 Here we see that their action reveals that their submission was not just talk. Hey, Folks lets determine in hearts to submit to God and walk up the hill to the House of God, if we do so we need not come down from there.