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Genesis 35





I think for a lot of us, its true that certain places can hold a special significance in our lives.  Whether it’s a place that holds family memories, significant life events happened there, or it’s just the place of our favorite vacation.  Reality is, places matter to us, whether we realize it or not, and they’re very much woven into the background of our lives.  Now, what about sacred places?  I mean, do you have a place that holds significance because that’s where you’ve heard from God before? Maybe a youth group altar or some other place comes to mind.  For me, I grew up on an island in Washington state, and having lived most of my life in Washington, my places always involved the ocean.  I had certain spots that if I really needed to process something with the Lord, I’d go there and go on a walk and talk to God and pray out loud, and no one could hear me because of the sound of the waves, and the bigness of the ocean made me and my problems feel small, which can be really helpful. 


            So why am I talking about places and sacred places?  Because in Genesis 35 we see that Jacob has such a place, Bethel. Now, the second half of the chapter holds some significant life events like the birth of Jacob’s son Benjamin, the death of his wife Rachel in childbirth, and the death of his father Isaac, but we’re going to talk about the first half of the chapter and Jacob’s return to the place called Bethel. 


            Because places have significance, anytime a place is mentioned in the Bible our ears should perk up and we should be asking “Where is this place? What happened at this place? Is this place mentioned in other parts of Scripture? Why is this place significant enough to be named and mentioned in Scripture?”  To answer some of those, Bethel is 11 miles north of Jerusalem, it sits on the crossroads of major trade routes and roads that go north to south and east to west across much of the promised land, the name Bethel means “house of God,” and Jerusalem is the only place mentioned in the Old Testament more times than Bethel.  So it’s an important place! If we think back just on this journey we’ve had so far in Genesis, we’ll remember that Bethel is the place where Abram pitched his tent in chapter 12 and offered a sacrifice to God in chapter 13. So even before Jacob, Bethel had a history and a significance with God’s people starting with Abraham.  And throughout the Old Testament, it continues to be a center of worship for Israel, a place they go to seek God in times of trouble, and even the ark of the covenant is housed there for a time. 


            But specifically in Jacob’s case, he has been here before and he has heard from God here before.  Bethel was the place where he had his dream of the stairway or the ladder to heaven in Genesis 28. The place where God spoke to him in the midst of his fleeing from Esau’s anger.  In chapter 28 verses 13-15 the Lord tells 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.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.  All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  So here at Bethel, God had already once spoken to Jacob the promises that He had given Abraham and Isaac and gave those same promises to Jacob.


            Fast forward now to Genesis 35.  Chapter 34 left off with Jacob a bit nervous that after the events of that chapter, his sons had just brought trouble to them by making them obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in the land.  So I’m sure Jacob is anticipating a life of unrest, of being on guard, and not living at peace with the people around him, not really sure how this is going to go living in this promised land, and he’s worried.  So what does God tell him? Verse 1 of chapter 35, God says, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”  God is reminding Jacob that He is the God who speaks, who reveals Himself to His people, and that He has spoken to Jacob before in a time of trouble.  And now in this time of trouble He’s calling Jacob to go back to this place of significance and this place of intimacy with the Lord.  Jacob responds not by simply physically going back to this place of intimacy, but he also clears the way for a heart of intimacy with the Lord by having his household get rid of all their idols and foreign gods and purifying themselves, really readying themselves for what God has for them.


            Along the way, we see that God protects them in their journey to Bethel and none of the people that Jacob was worried about pursued them as they went.  And reading on, we see that in verse 9 and 10 God appeared to Him again and blessed him and once again renames him Israel.  Jacob already received that name in Chapter 32, that name that means “let God prevail.” But here we see God reiterating that, reminding Jacob of who he is and more importantly, who God is.  And in verses 11-12 God once again reiterates the promise he gave to Abraham and Isaac and passed on to Jacob too saying, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.  The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”  So in Jacob’s time of trouble, God calls him back to a place of intimacy with Him, and reminds Jacob of who he is and the promises that God has for him and his descendants. 


            And I think God does the same with us.  In our most troubled times, He calls us to a place of intimacy with Him, to remind us of who we are in Him, and what His promises are.  Which brings me back to the idea of sacred places in our own lives.  Now I’m not able to just go to the ocean whenever I want to process with the Lord, though with a bit of imagination Lake Wichita can suffice.  Though the views are different here, it’s the same God speaking.  And really any place can become a sacred place for us if we set it apart as that, if we do the work like Jacob did to clear out the clutter, clear out the idols in our hearts, and ready ourselves intentionally to hear from God.  Whether that’s in your car and purposefully turning off the radio so you can pray and process with God on your commute.  Or if you’re like me, it’s the ritual of sitting in the same cozy spot - I’ve had one in every apartment or house I’ve lived in - with a warm cup of something while you read your Bible and pray or journal out your prayers.


            If you don’t have such a spot, a sacred space, where you can regularly go to to purposefully enter into God’s presence to purposefully posture yourself to listen to Him, then that’s your challenge for the rest of February.  Find your spot. Experiment a bit, see what works for you, or just decide your spot and make it be so. This might be a silly tip, but I find simply lighting a candle while you’re reading your Bible can help physically transform your space and remind you that it is a place of intimacy with God.  Go ahead, try it. Now, there’s nothing magical about having a spot to regularly pray and read your Bible, you can do that anywhere, but there is something helpfully grounding about it.  Just as God called Jacob back to a spot that would immediately remind him of meeting with God, having a spot can helpfully ground our hearts to remind us that He is a God who meets with us and speaks to us.  And in times of trouble or in great times and everywhere in between, we can continually, daily return both physically and spiritually to a place of intimacy with God where He can remind us of who we are and what His promises are through His word, just as He did for Jacob in Bethel. 



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What an amazing blessing this week in Genesis 31-35. God is Faithful, when we are NOT. God keeps His promises, when we Don’t. God restores relationships in which we break. God never deceives us like we do. And God is always with us because of His love. Thank you for another insightful week into Gods word.


Edit for biblical accuracy (I realized after filming I never made this correction I meant to!): I said in chapter 13 Abraham offered a sacrifice in the place called Bethel, but scripture doesn’t explicitly say that. It says in chapter 13 he returned to place called Bethel where he had first built an altar (which presumably involves offerings, but again that’s not stated there) and he sought the Lord there. This is also where he and Lot agreed to part ways after Abraham had sought the Lord. Nevertheless (despite my misspeak), first for Abraham and then later for Jacob Bethel was a place of seeking the Lord and hearing from Him.

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