Jacob to Israel

Genesis 35:1-15

1Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” 2So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.

6Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

8Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.

9After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11And God said to him, “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. 12The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. 14Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

Senior High School Prophecy

Have you heard about Senior High School Prophecy? This prophecy is revealed during senior high school graduation predicting what could be a career a graduate may pursue or become. During our class graduation, it was predicted that I become a civil engineer in New York because I was the best in Math.

And, I studied engineering because I wished to be called an engineer. My parents wanted me to be an engineer. My friends and classmates expected me to be an engineer. But deep in my heart, I desired to be a servant of God.

Most of our decisions are influenced by other people who are valuable to us. But as God’s children, we need more clearly to hear the Lord’s instruction of what He wanted us to do and to become. As starting point to know the will of God, pray that the Spirit of Christ in you will reveal very clearly His plan for you.

Pertaining to Christ, it says in Ephesians 1:11-12, 11In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

We often found ourselves struggling with God because we insist on doing things we wish to become instead of what He wants us to be. God allows us to do what we wish to do for us to compare that His will is the best lifestyle for us.

Jacob was supposed to go to Bethel, where God appeared to him when he was escaping from the wrath of his brother. Yet, he lingered a little bit near the city of Shechem, maybe, because it was very suitable for his livestock. After his sons destroyed Shechem, Jacob was scared of a possible attack from the Canaanites, so he obeyed God’s command for him to go up to Bethel.

1. Command

1Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” 

Previously, the Lord told Jacob to go back to Canaan. He knew all along that he should be going to Bethel but he waited for clear order from the Lord. He did not want to speculate. Jacob was the kind of believer of God who knew that it would be favorable to him and his family to obey the Lord’s command.

When Jacob sensed fear in his heart of possible Canaanite attack, he knew that something was wrong and not favorable to him. He knew exactly that he needed to get right with God. When his sons ransacked and took plunder from the city of Shechem, they also took foreign idols and tried to wear foreign clothes.

2So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.

Jacob obeyed the Lord’s command to go up to Bethel. He built an altar in Bethel just as the Lord had instructed him. Why did God want Jacob to go to Bethel? What was it so significant to Jacob worshiping God in Bethel?

The name “Bethel” is a combination of two Hebrew words “Bayith or Beth” which means “House” plus “El” which means “God.” So, “Bethel” means “House of God.” Bethel was the same place where God first appeared to Jacob when he was distressed escaping from Esau, and where God promised to be with him, watch over him, and provide for his needs, which God fulfilled.

That distressful moment he endured when he was running away from his brother, Jacob felt similar distressful feeling of possible attack of enemies that may put his household into trouble, and he needed God’s comfort again. He was comforted from the fear of his brother when he reconciled with his brother.

The distressful moments of Jacob illustrates a reality that believers may experience and how we may overcome it. What was the worst distressful time you have? How did you overcome it? Everyone, new and matured believers are potential candidates of distress anytime at different magnitude of problems.

And best place to find comfort and rest is Christ our Lord. Christ invites us to find rest in Him. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, 28Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

As king of Israel, David must have been in a lot of distress administering peace, order and justice. He had problem with his relatives who were also leader and commanders, and with his family. He had self-inflicted problems too. The Lord as his Shepherd, how did David found solace, comfort or rest in God?

He said in Psalm 84:10, 10Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

And in Psalm 27:4, 4One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

Such personal experience of King David practically explains why Jacob had readily obeyed when the Lord told him to go up to Bethel and build an altar. Jacob found peace in God when he was in distress escaping from his brother. Going back to Bethel was his best decision to discover God’s peace again.

In our generation, how can we practically find rest in Christ? The temple is no more, and we don’t need to go to Bethel in Israel right? We find rest in Christ by carrying His yoke. The yoke of Christ is His teaching that guides our lifestyle, and obeying His instruction is a practical application of carrying His yoke.

Here’s an instruction from the Lord in Roman 12:14-19, 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 

By God’s grace with the help of Christ’s Spirit, we can obey His instruction with gladness. Gladness and rest are products of obeying God. We’ve been taught that only when Christ’s Spirit produces fruit in us that we can obey Him.

Subsequently, the sons of Jacob destroyed the city of Shechem to avenge what happened to their sister. They can’t forgive Shechem. And because of that, Jacob was distressed and scared of possible enemy attack. But when the Lord commanded him to build an altar and worship God in Bethel, he complied.

2. Comply

5Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. 6Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. 8Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.

          Observe: When Jacob complied and obeyed the command of God to go up to Bethel to build an altar, no one attacks them. An altar represents worship. Those, who heard what happened to Shechem, were all scared. God spread fear in the towns nearby. Jacob had nothing else to worry about, and he had peace.

          It narrates in Luke 2:13-14, 13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The Lord Jesus offered rest to all who come to Him. In Him we can find peace and solace. The angels proclaimed the peace of God they experienced.

When the Lord told Jacob to go to Bethel, Jacob obeyed because he practically experienced firsthand that obedience to the Lord brought him peace from the distress he had when he was scared of possible enemy attack.

Do you believe that the Lord who gave Jacob peace in Bethel was the same Lord who comforted the Apostles? He said in John 14:27, 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Problems disturb and scare us of possible undesirable results. This is why we need to keep in mind that we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit always.

The Spirit of Christ produces peace in us. He empowers us to obey Him. Cheerful obedience to Christ is a product of God’s peace. His peace empowers.

The crowd observed peace in Him when the Lord Jesus was punished and crucified. It was prophesied in Isaiah 53:3-7, 3He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

4Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

6We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

          Christ exemplified a lifestyle of God’s children. To be punished to death is the worst problem we can ever imagine yet Christ had peace. He felt the pain but never complained. How did He do that? Can we have peace when persecuted?

When filled with Christ’s Spirit, we can have peace that comes from God so that even when persecuted, despised or rejected we sense joy from the Lord.

Many times we struggle in life because others make our life difficult and tough. It’s hard to forgive people who frequently bring you trouble. Unforgiving heart makes our life even more terrible than we can logically reason out, why?

It says in Colossians 3:13, 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

To forgive despite of persecution is a practical proof that we have received forgiveness from God. When you forgive, try to evaluate yourself if you sense peace. Don’t deceive yourself and your offender by saying, “I forgive you!” if you don’t mean it. It sure looks noble but you’ll only make your situation worst, why? If you did not forgive from the heart, you sensed no peace. If you lied about you true feeling, you lied to yourself, to God and to the offender. That’s three lies!

The sons of Jacob destroyed Shechem because they just cannot forgive Shechem for what he did to their sister. The result? It made Jacob afraid of possible problem. Jacob obeyed the Lord, went to Bethel and discovered peace.

When the Lord appeared to Jacob and told him that his name will be changed from Jacob to Israel, it confirmed that he found favor in God’s eyes.

3. Confirm

9After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

The Hebrew name “Jacob” literally means “heel-catcher” or “grasp the heel.” He was named Jacob because he was grasping or holding by the heel of his brother Esau when they were born. Figuratively, “Jacob” means “deceiver.” Indeed, Jacob deceived his brother twice, his father Isaac, and his father-in-law.

The Hebrew name “Israel” means “God strives” or “Wrestle with God.” On the eastern side of the Jordan River, in Penuel where Jacob wrestled with God in human form, it was the first time the Lord told that his name will be changed to Israel. Another meaning of “Israel” is “He will rule as God.”

Did the Lord change Jacob’s name from “deceiver” to “Rule as God” as confirmation to His promises about what would happen to his descendants?

11And God said to him, “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. 12The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.”

Even before it happened, the Lord declared that Israel will become a nation, and Israel will have kings among his descendants. It did happen as the Lord declared. Canaan became Israel’s nation. Although, it did not happen in Jacob’s lifetime, he believed the Lord’s promises and worshiped God in Bethel.

13Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. 14Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.

This is not the first time Jacob named the place Bethel. It was in the same place where he rested and had a dream of a stairway resting on earth that reaches up to heaven, and he saw angel descending and ascending on it. It was also in Bethel where God introduced himself to him. Talking with God is worship.

          It says in Genesis 28:18-19, 18Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

When God speaks, he makes it sure that we understand His message.

He would repeat His message to confirm it. God speaks to us when we worship Him. For Jacob, God changed his name to Israel to help him remember that God wants Israel to rule like God. How does God rule? Psalm 9:7-8, say, 7The Lord reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment. 8He rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.

God is righteous. His commandments are guidelines of righteousness that He wanted to prevail. Jacob could have stayed in Shechem and built an altar there, yet, he preferred to obey the Lord’s instruction. He went up to Bethel where he worshiped the Lord. Jacob exemplified a lifestyle of believers to worship God according to the Lord’s prescription and not how or what we wish.

It’s not amusing but pitiful when others say that they worship God wherever they prefer to worship. God has designated a rightful place for his people. God’s children obey the Lord because God’s Spirit produces faithfulness, cheerfulness, and willingness to do things according to His prescription.

Not all local church is appropriate for every believer. Although the universal church of the Lord is one, each local church has a character suitable for church members. Such is one reason we offer church membership classes for anyone whom the Lord has given the desire to be more involved in this local church.

So if you sense in your heart that God wants you be more involved in the ministry through this church, don’t hesitate to attend membership class for you to understand what it means to be a member of this church. Don’t be forced or pressured. Let God’s peace be your basis to join as member if this church.

As active member of this church, your faith in Christ will be more confirmed as you together with other members participate in the ministry with gladness. Gladness in serving the Lord confirms that Christ is truly at work in your life. By faith, Christ’s Spirit produces faithfulness in us to be consistent in serving Him.

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