Genesis 35

Genesis 35:  Jacob Returns to Bethel.

Verse 1 of this chapter starts out with God speaking to Jacob. It makes me wonder had Jacob been calling on the Lord since the slaughter of the men of Shechem by his sons. Surely given the circumstances of what had happened in Schechem, Jacob was desperate to hear from the Lord. He feared for his life and his family after what had occurred.
If you recall during the crisis of Dinah in Shechem, we did not see or hear of Jacob calling upon the Lord. His worship and time with the Lord seems to have been sporadic ever since his peaceful reunion with Esau following a night of wrestling with the Lord.
But as we are cautioned – our enemy goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Have you ever watched a cat sneak up on a bird? How quietly- sometimes stopping completely – they creep toward the object of their hunt. Jacob and his family were the enemy’s target. Just as we believers are the object of the enemy’s hunt.
When we neglect personal devotion time with the Lord in reading His word and prayer- we open the door for the enemy to slither in. Jacob had allowed some seemingly small things to happen that turned into a crisis. Unsupervised  visits by Dinah to the village of Shechem where she began a compromised relationship with the girls of the village. Lack of discipline among his sons and lack of devotional time with the Lord will add up to a crisis. A big fat mess!
We also see that during the crisis- we did not see Jacob calling upon the Lord, no altar time. Sometimes we allow things to creep into our lives and our homes thinking they are no big thing. We become lax in our worship of the Lord, devotional time, confession of sin and prayer. Then it should come as no surprise the Lord allows a crisis to wake us up.
If you have not learned this yet- take heed.  Personal devotion time is the source of personal spiritual growth. You cannot grow spiritually without  personal devotion time. As Jesus told Martha is Luke 10 regarding Mary’s choice to sit at his feet rather than help her in the kitchen.  Jesus told Martha- ‘ you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.
Both Martha and Mary loved Jesus and desired to serve Him. What Jesus said to Martha was she was so busy doing things for Jesus, she was actually neglecting Jesus.
There is another truth here we must not miss.. if you want to avoid worrying about so many things, the one thing that is needed is to spend time at the feet of Jesus hearing His Word. ( Turn your eyes upon Jesus…)
It appears that Jacob had since he was a youth been interested in spiritual things- in particular the blessing of Abraham. Jacob coveted  the spiritual blessings- the promises, the protection, the land were always important to him. Sometimes- the blessings of God become more important than God Himself.
Remember what Hebrews 11:6 tells us: “ For without faith it is impossible to please  God and those who come to Him must believe that He is and is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”  Notice the last phrase- ‘those who diligently seek Him- God Himself not the rewards and blessings of God. The child who runs to meet her father returning from a trip- hugs him and immediately ask – what did you bring me? Is not the father’s return- present enough?   This is what started the conversation between God and Satan in the book of Job. Satan held that Job was blameless and upright and reverenced God and shunned evil because God was so good to Job. God had built a hedge around Job and blessed him bountifully with flocks and herds and family. In other words, Satan says Job’s devotion to You, God, is self serving. Job is serving you because You, God reward him so richly.  In fact, Satan says- you have put a hedge of protection around him and his household.
Is it wrong to desire the blessings of God? No. But we must be sure we do not want the blessings more than we want God Himself. How must the father fill- if when he brings no gift- the child is no longer eager to be with him? How must our Heavenly Father fill when we only spend time with Him, call on Him, pray to Him- when we need something from Him?
Thus Jacob finds himself once again in a dilemma and in need of God’s direction. God says to Jacob: Go up to Bethel, and settle there ( dwell there) and build an altar there to God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.’
Let me remind you of the Bethel experience over two decades ago. Jacob has a dream at Bethel in which he saw a ladder resting on earth with its top reaching into heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending on it. There above it stood  the Lord who told Jacob- I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. I am with you and will watch over you and wherever you go I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
Jacob’s response to this dream is Jacob’s vow. Jacob vowed: “ If God will be with me, and will watch over me on this journey and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house and of that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Surely Jacob is reminded of this dream and his vow as he prepares to go back to Bethel. Bethel means the ‘House of God.’.
Jacob takes control of his family- finally. He tells his household and all( servants) with them to prepare to go to the House of God.

  1. Get rid of the foreign gods and idols.
  2. Purify yourselves.
  3. Change your clothes- your garments.


When spiritual awakening comes, when revival occurs we are to put away our idols. Remember an idol is anything that comes between you and the Lord- He must be first. These are the things of the world that have crept into our lives, seemingly small things that did not seem to matter. But they have taken hold  in our lives and we have become compromised. Burying them speaks of a funeral and the death of the old nature.
Notice what Jacob says as his attention is now turned not to the blessings of God but to God Himself. “ I will build an altar to God who answered me in the day of my distress who has been with me wherever I have gone.” *Jacob realizes the presence of God in his life is more important than the presents or gifts of God in his life.*
Second purify yourselves. Cleansing that comes from confession that goes with putting away the idols- the sins that so easily beset us and keep us from running the race. The things that Paul said to the Galatians ‘ you were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?’ I John 1: 9 tells us if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all  unrighteousness.
Then Jacob instructs them to change their garments. Putting off the old and putting on the new. We are clothed in the righteousness of God. Not our self righteousness which is described as filthy rags.
But do not miss this- they are moving. Sometimes we just have to move away. When I got saved and began the process of getting and staying sober there came a time early in the process where I realized that staying in the optical business  which I loved, and traveling and being gone over night was not the best thing for me to do. I had to leave that job- I had to move on. I would not return to the optical industry until I had three years of sobriety and  more spiritual maturity.
I was learning in the walk with the Lord that He wanted to teach me the wise thing to do. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is something He gives liberally to those who ask and do not doubt.
Here is what God has taught me and we see He is teaching Jacob about wise decisions. You see Jacob and us have something in common- we have done some really dumb things. Most of the dumb things  we have done could have been avoided if we had asked for and sought the wisdom of God that He promises to provide. Here is the best question you can ask?  What is the WISE THING TO DO-  for we are told by the Word of God – ‘ be careful how you walk(live) not as unwise men- but as wise. We are told if any man lacks wisdom he should ask God who gives liberally( generously) to all without fault and it will be given to him. But when you asks you must believe and not  doubt. Are you ready for this simple solution? The best and wisest question to ask:  What is the wise thing to do, Lord.? Then ask this question in the context of three situations:

  • What is the wise thing to do in light of my past experience?
  • What is the wise thing  to do in light of my present circumstances
  • What is the wise thing to do in light of my future goals?

Satan actually teaches us a great spiritual truth in the Book of Job. Satan and all his demons could see the spiritual hedge of God’s protection around Job. Job had a hedge of protection around him and  Satan could not take it down.  The enemy can tempt you to come outside the hedge of protection by sin but the enemy cannot take the hedge down. And did not God promise Jacob He would protect him?  And furthermore are not the spiritual promises of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob applicable to us who are in Christ? You want to walk outside the hedge of protection by disobeying God? You can- but you will reap the circumstance.s

So here in this story we see God protect Jacob and his family by causing a supernatural fear of God that fell upon the towns all around  them so that no one pursued them.
Jacob has a time of revival and renewal and God re-affirms His promises to Jacob and re-affirms his new name, Israel.
This does not mean adversity and trouble will not find  its way into our lives. Jesus told us we would have trouble. We are in a battle. Adversity comes to the righteous. In fact the attacks of the enemy can come on the heels of revival and spiritual awakening.  It  is interesting to note in today’s story that the idols were not the only things that got buried.
There will be three funerals: Deborah, Jacob’s childhood nanny; Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel will die in childbirth; and Isaac, his father will die.
Surely Deborah was an old woman and we are told that Isaac was 180 years and full of years—but Rachel was of child bearing age. It is one thing to lose a loved one who has lived a long and full life but it is entirely different to lose your spouse, especially early in his or her life.
Just as a side note- many will consider the one exception to abortion as when the mother’s life is in danger. But let us be reminded of who this child was- Benjamin. Do you know who is a direct descendant of Benjamin?  The Apostle Paul. Let us leave the matters of life and death in the hands of the God.
That will not be the only sorrow- as Reuben, his oldest son will sleep with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine.

After this chapter we will see the focus turn to Joseph. So as we  leave this chapter in Jacob’s life, now called Israel, we see him as a sadder but wiser man.
Let me return to the matter of wisdom.

The verses from Ephesians 5:15-16 are our warning for today and all our tomorrows:
“ Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.”
Making the most of your time means redeeming the time. Time lost is never regained. Add up enough misappropriated time and you will come up with a misappropriated life.
The important areas of life require small deposits all along the way.

Relationships are built on small consistent deposits of time.

Your check book and your calendar reveal what you have spent your time and money on.

Your time is your life. What is the wise thing to do?
Jesus told Martha she was troubled about “ many things. But ONE THING is needed. And Mary had chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her.” What one thing had Mary chosen? She had chosen to sit at the feet of  Jesus and hear His Word. You and I can choose to sit at His feet and hear His Word every morning when we wake and all through the day. “ Turn your eyes upon Jesus and look full into His Wonderful Face and the things of the world will grow strangely dim in the light of  His Wonder and Grace!”  The things of the world not only vie for our attention- they take away time from the Lord Jesus. Our Heavenly Father knows what we have need of even before we ask- He knows the ‘things’ we need; but His priority- the One Thing needed is to spend time with Him- to seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness.
This is another thing we all have in common with Jacob- or at least most of us do. We are slow learners.
That is why we need teachers, mentors or coaches.

Isn’t it interesting that the greatest athletes- the ones who become that small group who can compete professionally realize they can never reach or maintain their peak apart from outside input. In other words, they have a coach. They need the wisdom of experience, another set of eyes to help them and judge their performance realistically.
So let me say this- do not make decisions especially big ones without outside input. A wise counselor.
“ The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” ( Prov. 12:15)
Asking for help is not a reflection of your lack of wisdom- asking for help is evidence of your wisdom.
Wise men sought Jesus- wise men still do.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14