Accompanying sermon: The Way Back
At this point it's been 30 years since Jacob vowed to return to Bethel, and 10 years since Jacob left Laban with the intent to return fulfill his vow. Talk about delayed disobedience. Ultimately, delayed disobedience is still disobedience and the consequences were severe. Dinah was raped, Jacob's sons had put the men of Shechem to death, and it was no longer safe for them to remain in that area (the families of the widows/orphans were just as likely to seek retribution against them as they had been when Dinah was attacked). These disastrous consequences seem to have finally opened Jacob's ears to once again hear the call of God.
there is a principle here for all Christians pertaining to God’s will and man’s. The Christian does have a free will in the sense of being able to choose whether or not he (or she) will obey that which God has commanded. We can resist the commands of God, but we cannot thwart His ultimate purposes. God allowed Jacob to go his own way and to reap the consequences of his disobedience. But in the final analysis we will do what God has purposed. God does not, like many of us do as parents, yell and holler, fuss and fume, over the disobedience of His children. He is, of course, deeply grieved by disobedience, but he will allow us to go our own way and to reap the painful price of sin. And then, when we have gotten our fill of sin and there is no other way to turn, He will speak to us again, reminding us of that which He has previously spoken. Then, too, we shall surely listen and obey. God’s will can be resisted for a season and at a great price, but ultimately God will create an atmosphere in which we will gladly hear and obey. And then His purposes will be realized in our lives.
His purposes will be fulfilled. It is for our own good to obey Him in the first place.
Apparently, while in Shechem, Jacob had developed an apathetic attitude towards purity - he tolerated the possession of household gods, and he was willing to undermine the purity of God's chosen people by intermarrying with the Canaanites. But when he determined to obey God, he knew he could not approach Him with impurity.
Perhaps this explains, in part, his reluctance to “go up” to Bethel before now. Following our Lord has always been costly, and men should not do so without counting that cost (cf. Luke 9:57-62). And lest you be too quick to condemn Jacob for this, let me remind you that this is precisely the case today. Many Christians are unwilling or hesitant to fully commit themselves to God for fear of what that commitment will cost them.
Contrary to Jacob's fears, they were not opposed when they left Shechem. Why not? Due to the fear of the Lord that feel upon the Shechemites.
In this experience Jacob learned a lesson which is pertinent to us as well: safety is not to be found in our own strength nor in alliances with pagans, but in the fear of God, which causes us to maintain the purity He demands.
Finally, Jacob returns to Bethel and builds an altar there.
those ten years were of little or no spiritual value. They were lost years, for they were a time of independence and disobedience on Jacob’s part. Whenever the people of God choose to go their way, they must always return to the point where they departed from the revealed will of God. While it should have taken Jacob only days to get from Paddan-aram, it took ten years. No real growth or progress in Jacob’s spiritual life could take place until he returned to Bethel.
Deffinbaugh brings up a few points I hadn't thought of in regards to Rachel's death....
Rachel’s death should be viewed from the vantage point of two previous events:
Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die” (Genesis 30:1).
Rachel demanded children of her husband out of jealousy toward her sister Leah. She said she would die if she could not bear children. In truth, she would die in the bearing of children.
A second passage is even more striking. In the context of this text, Jacob has fled from Laban, not knowing that Rachel has stolen her father’s household gods (Genesis 31:19-20). After bemoaning the fact that Jacob took his family away before he could give them a proper farewell, he got to the real bone of contention demanding the return of his gods. In response to this charge Jacob hotly retorted:
The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself (Genesis 31:32).
While the sentence may have been delayed in its execution, it is my conviction that Rachel’s death is the result, to one degree or another, of these words spoken by her husband.
When Jacob was younger, he had desired the headship of his family so much that he deceived his father and cheated his brother. Now his son, Reuben, in an attempt to assume the headship that seemed to be his as the firstborn, slept with Jacob's concubine, Bilhah. Years later, Reuben would reap the consequences of his sin, forfeiting both his double portion of inheritance and place of leadership.
From my Life Application Bible:
Sin's consequences can plague us long after the sin is committed. When we do something wrong, we may think we can escape unnoticed, only to discover later that the sin has been quietly breeding serious consequences.
I appreciated this point by Deffinbaugh:
I am deeply impressed with the importance of renewal. Christians seem to ever be seeking some new and exhilarating experience. They wish to go from one novel experience to another. In the Scriptures, however, I see little of this happening, either to Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. What Jacob did at Bethel was hardly novel, and what God said to him at His second appearance was nothing new. That should tell us something. What was really important for Jacob was that he gain a deeper and deeper appreciation of what he had already experienced but not fully grasped. He needed nothing new, but a greater grasp of that which was old.....
I believe it is precisely for this reason that our Lord has commanded believers to frequently and systematically observe the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. It is here, week after week, that we are taken back to our initial encounter with our Lord and reminded that all we are, all that we will be, and all that we will ever accomplish of any eternal value will be on the basis of that which took place on the cross of Calvary 2,000 years ago.
How do we make our way back to God if we have turned away for a time of disobedience?
Jacob’s renewal at Bethel necessitated several actions on Jacob’s part. First, he came to the point where he stopped going his own sinful way and once again obeyed that which he knew to be the will of God. There cannot be renewal without obedience. Second, there cannot be renewal without separation. Jacob put away those foreign gods which he had so long tolerated and which were so offensive to God. Finally, Jacob’s renewal involved reconciliation with those who had been injured and offended by his sins. We cannot be reconciled to God without being reconciled with men (cf. Matthew 5:23-24).
The second lesson which Christians need to learn is that even when we do renew our relationship with God, all things will not go smoothly for us. Life, even the Spirit-filled life, is full of sickness (Philippians 2:25ff.), suffering, and sorrow (II Corinthians 6:4-5; 12:7-10). Walking in the path which God has revealed to us is not strolling along some rose petal-strewn pathway, free from the adversities of life. In fact, these adversities and afflictions are the very things which draw us nearer to God and strengthen our faith (cf. James 1:2-4). Had the tragedy regarding Dinah not occurred or the slaughter of the Shechemites angered the surrounding Canaanites, I am convinced that Jacob would have been content to remain amongst the Canaanites, and worse yet, to have become one of them.
The third lesson has to do with “reaping what we have sown” (cf. Galatians 6:7). Much of the heartache which Jacob experienced in this chapter was the result of his previous sins. Now I want to be very clear that Jacob did not suffer the penalty for his sins. No Christian ever suffers the penalty for sins, for Jesus Christ has borne our sins on the cross. But while the guilt and condemnation are dealt with, the consequences of sin remain. David sought God’s forgiveness for his sin and received it (Psalm 51, 32), but the consequences for his acts were not held back (cf. II Samuel 12:9-12).
The final lesson is what we might call the certainty of sanctification. God had purposed that Jacob would someday return to Bethel and to his father. While Jacob dilly-dallied and drug his feet for ten years, he finally arrived. We cannot thwart the purposes of God for our lives. We may, of course, resist them, but we cannot prevent them.
Let us not conclude, therefore, that it matters little what we do. It matters a great deal. There was much needless heartache and sorrow in Jacob’s life because of his waywardness. Sin is never worth the price. We can be fully assured that what God has begun, He will finish (Philippians 1:6). Whether this is done the “hard way” or the “easy way” is determined by our resistance or cooperation, but God’s purposes will be achieved (Romans 8:28-30).
Monday's scripture focus: Genesis 36
Sunday's passage: Ezra 7-8
Monday's passage: Ezra 9-10, Psalm 128, 1 Corinthians 16