Genesis | Chapter 35

Genesis 35:1-4

 “Returning to your first love”

  1. Intro.
  2. 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).

Vs. 1-4 Five steps in submission

Vs. 1 There are two things that stand out in this verse that need to be answered:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. SEPARATIONPut 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
  1. PURIFICATIONPurify 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.
  2. PREPARATIONAnd 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 calledHabits”. 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?
  3. CONSECRATIONThen 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.
  4. ADORATIONAnd 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.

Genesis 35:5-29

 “Doing the first works”

  1. Intro.
  2. Vs. 5-15 A journey down memory lane
  3. Vs. 16-29 So this is living


The focus of the first four verses of chapter 35 was upon personal renewal in the life of Jacob. There are five parts to having our relationship with Him restored:

  1. Separation: Putting away attitudes and activities in our lives that are apart from God and His word.
  2. Purification: A desire to be pure which means that we will again hate sin in our lives as much as we hate it in others.
  3. Preparation: There will be a change in our habits in which we will put off old ones and put on new ones.
  4. Consecration: We will rededicate our lives to God and we will have a renewed desire to draw near to God, He will again become the focus of our lives.
  5. Adoration: When restoration is complete we will have a new since of worship as He will be greater then ever before and we will want to just spend time with Him.

Knowing these five truths will not make you have a renewed relationship with God you still have to get up and go! Further more even upon getting up and going, applying these truths doesn’t mean that everything will start going smoothly in your life. Even a life that is lived in total surrender to the Lord doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be sick, suffer or sorrow. A life lived in surrender to the Lord is never about ease and comfort in this life, it is all about becoming more like Jesus!

Vs. 5-15 A journey down memory lane

Vs. 5 The land in which Jacob and his family must return through to get to Bethel is where the families of the men that Levi and Simeon had killed. We often have to walk through areas of our lives where sin has destroyed. Because of this we often allow the guilt and fear of our past keep us where we are instead of moving to where God wants us to be. God would have been just in giving Jacob and his family their own medicine for their disobedience but instead He put the fear of Himself in those cites that Jacob needed to pass through. Notice that it was not the fear of Jacob but rather the fear of the Lord that struck the hearts of those cities. In spite of their rebellion God fulfills the promise he made with Jacob 30 years earlier in 28:15 saying; “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 spoken to you.” It dangerous for Jacob to travel the 30 miles through their sin and failure, but it was far more safe then staying in the land of disobedience! The safest place to live and dwell is always in obedience God’s word.

Vs. 6-7 These verses answer what most Christians want to know concerning God’s will for their lives. “How do I get where God wants me to be, I’ve been praying and seeking His direction but nothing happens.” You only get to Bethel (The house of God) by obeying His word in your life. There is no short cut, no elevator only simple obedience. Jacob had said that he would give his heart to the Lord and now by building this altar we see that he begins to do so. Hey, wait a minute didn’t he build an altar in Shechem (safety) in the world? Yes, but here we see that Jacob realizes that the place where God blesses is not what he names where he is at but rather only the place of a heart that obeys.

He calls the altar that he builds, “God, of the house of God”! There has been growth as Jacob is more interested in the God then the place! The God who met him where he was at 30 years earlier is the same God who meets him where he is at now! What has changed is not the Lord but Jacob’s understanding of the Lord!

Vs. 8 We don’t know much about Deborah other than that she came with Rebekah when she left to marry Isaac. With all those faithful years of service she must have been more then just a servant and was seen as part of the family. The place where they bury her is called the “Oak of weeping”. She must of pretty old as Jacob is 110 and she came with his mother from Haran so that puts her at 170. This is the first of three losses that Jacob will face when he is where God wants him to be. The “C” on Christianity often stands for “crisis”.

Vs. 9 In the 31st chapter God appeared to Jacob and told him to return to the land of promise and now here again God appears as if he was still on that journey home. Those ten years living in “safety” with the world did not happen as far as God was concerned. When you and I refuse to obey the Lord in areas of our life we just don’t go anywhere and so when we return we start right where we strayed off. When we awake to the reality that we are not growing we need not look any further then to the areas where we refused to obey. That can take a few day or a lifetime it’s up to us!

Vs. 10-12 The blessing that is pronounced upon him by the Lord is not new, as they are the same words that the Lord spoke to his Grandfather Abraham and the same that was spoken to him 30 years earlier. God reminds Jacob of how He saw him and not how Jacob saw himself. “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” So He called his name Israel.” Yes, he had acted more like the “heal catcher” than a man “ruled by God”. But God reveals to Jacob a powerful truth that we often live as we think of ourselves instead of living based upon how God sees us. Jacob had a glorious encounter with the Lord but it faded and with it the reality of whom he was in God’s eyes and his behavior reflected what he saw. He moves and dwells in places hoping to recapture the experience he once felt with the Lord only to find himself moving further away. But when he responds in obedience to following the Lord the Lord reminds him of who he is. Jacob didn’t need something new; no all he needed was to be reminded a fresh of what was already true and encouraged to cling to the Lord again. Jesus said something remarkably similar to the Church at Ephesus; “You have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works”. The first works are Love and Trust!

God tells Jacob that He is the God almighty “El-Shaddai” the infinite supplier of all Jacob needs and will ever need, from whom all grace flows! He is the same God that spoke the same things to his father and Grandfather, all that He had promised them He promises Jacob. “But I’ve failed to live up to what my name means (Ruled by God)”! When we are in the “beloved”, seated in heavenly place in Christ Jesus, it is our failure to realize this that often leads to our wondering.

Vs. 13-15 God goes up from Jacobs presence at Bethel as Jacob watches. Jacob then makes a pillar, pours out a drink offering and then an offering of oil as acts of worship to the God who knows his name. Wine is a symbol of joy and oil of refreshment thus Jacob has fullness of joy and refreshed which is always what lies behind true worship. All to often instead of this we act as if God has robbed us of what we wanted instead grateful of what He has so richly blessed us with.

Vs. 16-29 So this is living

Vs. 16-20 We are not told how long Jacob stayed at Bethel but we are told that they left and that some where between Bethel and Bethlehem Rachel goes into labor. This is her second child and her prayer was to give her a child or she would die, so she fulfills her own prophecy. Jacob told Laban that the one that stole the idols would not live and she doesn’t.

Rachael names the child “Son of my sorrow” and Jacob renames him “Son of my right hand”. Her death parallels her life, she was robbed of the sole love of her husband, in competition with her sister she dies at getting what she wanted but at the price of her own life. How tragic life is when it is lived by the world’s standards, always seeking after what the world values at a price we can’t afford! Jacob loved her to the end but perhaps now he realized he did her no favors when he loved her above the Lord!

Vs. 21-22a Here is another painful event in Jacob’s life as the death of Rachael opens the door for Leah’s first son Ruben to sleep with Bilhah Rachael’s handmaid. It seems as though this was not about a romantic interest but rather a power struggle to claim what was already his, the rights of the first born. This no doubt was because he witnessed dad just naming Rachel’s last son “son of my right hand”. Three of Leah’s six boys have disqualified themselves as being the child of promise so now the lot will fall upon Judah.

Vs. 22b-26 The list of the 12 sons is no all-star team to say the least as they fit what we would call dysfunctional thus the choice of this family is that of grace and not merit. As Stephen rightly said before the Sanhedrin “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?”

Vs. 27-29 The last tragic event in this chapter to happen to Jacob is the death of his father. Thirty years had passed since when Isaac thought he was going to die and Jacob deceived him for the birthright that already was his. It would have been interesting to see this meeting between the son whom the father ignored and father whom the son disappointed. Was their sorrow for the past and repentance together before the Lord? We will have to wait to find out but I pray that you and I make sure that we do so before the Lord returns for us!

After viewing this chapter one might ask what good does it do to get right with God? “Three deaths a powers struggle with your oldest son!” Why I thought if we were obedient to God and followed Him in total surrender comfort and ease would follow us? Hey, Christian peace with God does not mean ease with God. If you think that obedience will lead to ease you might try looking at a furniture store for a lazy-boy? The point of obedience and surrender is not ease and smooth sailing it is to be more like Jesus and what our Lord lay on was not as Lazy-Boy but rather a cross!