Genesis 35:1-15 ~ 20080420 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
4/20 Genesis 35:1-15 Spiritual Housecleaning
Let's review for a moment where we are at in the life of Jacob. After deceiving his father and stealing the blessing from his older twin brother Esau, he was on the run for his life, and God appeared to him:
So God had promised him land, and offspring, and through his offspring to bless all the people of the earth. He promised to be with him and to protect him and to bring him back safely to the land. Jacob didn't yet understand grace, so he woke up and made a promise to God:
God had indeed kept all his promises to Jacob. We will see Jacob's twelfth son born in this chapter. God had blessed Jacob with offspring, and God had given Jacob great possessions. He left Paddan-Aram a wealthy man at the expense of his greedy uncle Laban. God had protected him from the wrath of Laban, and God had appeased his offended brother Esau. God had brought him safely back to the land, just as he had promised. And God had reminded him:
But Jacob had not returned to Bethel. Instead, he pitched his tents toward the Canaanite city Shechem. He did build an altar to God at Shechem, but his complacency and compromise and lack of obedience had disastrous consequences on his family. His daughter was intrigued with the pagan Canaanite culture and she ended up being raped by the prince of the city. Two of Jacob's sons in their vengeance became deceivers and mass-murderers. Their action had put the safety of the whole family in jeopardy. Jacob's family is again a mess. God again takes the initiative with Jacob:
This is the way with God. He initiates, we respond. Before he was born, God had set his love upon Jacob. God had been consistently faithful to Jacob. Jacob had made some progress, but had become complacent and compromised. And his compromise had its consequences. Now God confronts his wayward child and reorients him toward the house of God. God initiated and Jacob responded:
It's time for some spiritual housecleaning! Jacob's family had picked up some spiritual baggage along their journey, and it had not been dealt with. Rachel, when they ran from Paddan-Aram, had stolen her father's idols. Jacob had gained servants during his stay with Laban, and they probably brought their own pagan practices into the group. His sons had just plundered a Canaanite city, certainly taking much pagan idolatrous paraphernalia. Jacob is a very passive leader, and apparently allowed all this to go on under his roof. After all, it was his favorite wife that had brought idolatry into their home. Jacob, as the leader of his home, should have purged his house long before now, but better late than never. He obviously was aware of what had been going on. God had not said anything about it. He had simply told Jacob to go to Bethel. Jacob must have had a guilty conscience and knew that what his family was involved in was displeasing to God. So before heading to Bethel, he initiated a purging. And again, as Jacob steps up into his position as leader, his family responds. His preparation is threefold: Put away the foreign Gods; purify yourselves; change your garments. Then we go to God's house. He starts the cleanup with idolatry. The first commandments in Exodus 20 address the issue of idolatry:
We might feel like we can check that one off our list, because I doubt there are many of us that have carved images or statues in our houses that we bow down to and worship and serve. But idolatry can take other forms. Joshua told the people:
The question is 'what is your heart inclined toward?' Is your heart inclined toward God? Or are there other things instead of or along side of God that your heart inclines toward? That is idolatry. If we in our pursuit of happiness incline our heart toward things and people and experiences that we hope will bring us fulfillment and satisfaction, then in biblical language, we have 'gone whoring after other gods'. This is Paul's understanding in the New Testament when he equates idolatry with covetousness - wanting something we don't have:
God considers idolatry as spiritual adultery. We are giving ourselves to someone or something that is not our God. We are inclining our heart toward something that is not worthy of our affection. Whenever we allow our affections to be divided between God and something else, whenever we are not loving the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, then we are committing spiritual adultery and idolatry.
So in our spiritual house cleaning, we need to start with our heart. What is our heart inclined toward? Make sure our affections are exclusively toward God. Then he says to purify yourselves. When you play in the mud, you get dirty you need a bath. When your heart has inclined toward other things, your heart is dirty and needs to be cleaned. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they thought they could clean up their act externally but neglected their inward attitude:
But our hearts are not easy to clean:
That's where Jesus comes in:
Jesus' blood shed on the cross is what purifies our hearts and our consciences from sin.
So Jacob tells his family to put away foreign Gods; purify yourselves and change your garments. How many of you, after you've been working hard at a dirty job come home and take off your smelly sweaty grubby clothes and take a shower? You soap up, scrub yourself off, get out of the shower, dry off, and put your grubby smelly sweaty clothes back on? No! That would be gross. You change your clothes! You got rid of the sin, the idolatry in your heart, you've been washed clean by the blood of Jesus – don't put your filthy habits back on! You need a new wardrobe:
Put on love! Put on thankfulness! Put on humility! Put on forgiveness! Put on patience and kindness and compassion and the peace of Christ!
So Jacob and his family did some spiritual housecleaning. They got rid of the garbage and buried it under a tree. They all took a bath and got clean clothes on. And they headed for Bethel – the house of God. Notice how Jacob refers to God: '3...the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone' Jacob recognizes that God not only comes to his rescue when he's in trouble, but he has been with him everywhere he has gone – all the time! Jacob looks back over the last 30 some years, back over the hardships and pain and difficulties and says 'God kept his promise. God was with me. God has been faithful.'
And God again proves himself faithful to his promises. Jacob's sons had given the Canaanites a reason to retaliate and attack them and destroy them. But God again intervenes for their protection:
There is a footnote added at this point: Deborah, Jacob's mom's nurse died and was buried near Bethel. Rebekah's nurse was introduced to us in Genesis 24:59. but this is the only time her name appears. It is interesting that her death is recorded, but Rebekah's death is not recorded. In Genesis 49:31 when Jacob is blessing his children on his death bed, we find out that Rebekah was buried in the cave of Machpelah, along with Isaac and Abraham and Sarah. But her death is omitted from the record – probably because she deceived and dishonored her husband. Deborah's burial place is named 'the Oak of Weeping.
Jacob finally returns to Bethel. But he again renames the place. It used to be known as Luz, but he named it 'Bethel' – the house of God. Now he returns and expands the name. In fear he had named it 'house of God'. Now that he has come to know this God, he names it 'the God of the house of God'. Jacob's focus has shifted from the place to the person. Jacob has realized that God is not restricted to a specific locality – God is everywhere – God has been with him wherever he went. His focus shifts from the place of revelation to the one who has revealed himself. He shifts his attention from the place he worships to the one he worships. He gets his eyes off the externals and gets his eyes on God himself.
And God blesses him. God reaffirms that his name is to be Israel – one who struggles or perseveres with God. And God introduces himself as El Shaddai [ydv la] – God Almighty. This is the same way God introduced himself to Abram in chapter 17, when he changed Abram's name to Abraham and promised to make him exceedingly fruitful. He promised to make him the father of a multitude of nations with kings coming from him. He promised to give him land, and he promised to be God to him and to his offspring. Now God is reiterating those same promises to Jacob. These promises clearly point to Jesus – the king who would come from his own body – the lion of the tribe of Judah – the one who would sit on David's throne – King Jesus! And it points to what Jesus would do – a congregation or assembly of nations – a church of nations would come from him – as it says in Revelation: