Genesis 35:1-15 ~ 20080420 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

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:

Genesis 28:12 And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. 14 Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, 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 promised you.”

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:

Genesis 28:20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, 21 so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, 22 and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

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:

Genesis 31:13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me. Now arise, go out from this land and return to the land of your kindred.”’

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:

Genesis 35:1 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”

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:

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.

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:

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God,

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:

Joshua 24:23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.”

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:

Ephesians 5:5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

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:

Luke 11:39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?

But our hearts are not easy to clean:

Jeremiah 2:22 Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord GOD.

That's where Jesus comes in:

1 John 1:7 ... the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Ephesians 5:25-27 ... Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

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:

Colossians 3:9-17 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. ...

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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:

5 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El–bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother.

8 And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name Allon–bacuth. 9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan–aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” 13 Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. 14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.

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:

Revelation 5:9-10 were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”