Jacob: coming home [part 2]

Jacob left home a 40-year old virgin and now he returns with two wives, twelve children, and countless wealth. Jacob is content settle in Schechem, but God speaks to Jacob and says, “Get up, go to Bethel and live there.” And like Abraham [cf. Genesis 12:4], he obeyed. God not only wants Jacob to leave his place of comfort, but also to cleanse his home of impurities. God point out that their home was filled with spiritual lethargy and idolatry. Jacob surprisingly responds with obedience.

This is the first time we see Jacob rise up and become the spiritual leader of his home. After cleansing his household Jacob worships God.[1] In response to his faithfulness God protects Jacob’s family as they pass through the land. When Jacob enters his homeland God blesses him and reminds him of his new name [Israel, cf. 32:28], His creation mandate [35:11; cf. 1:28], and the covenant promises of land and lineage given through his father and grandfather.

Why does God repeatedly ask Abraham [12:1-3], Isaac [17:4-6], and Jacob to “be fruitful and multiply”? Does God simply love babies and enjoy the families? Yes, but there is more to it than that. God begins with a promise, “I am God Almighty” [El Shaddai, 17:1] and ends with the command to fill the earth. He is not God Almighty merely in general, but Almighty in relation to Israel. His Almightiness is there for Him and His children. The promise enables the command, “You can be fruitful and multiply because I am God Almighty. I am the covenant God of Abraham and Isaac. My Godness and my Almightiness are covenant Godness and covenant Almightiness. And if you will trust me as God Almighty, you can and you will be fruitful and multiply. And companies of nations and kings will come from you.”

The promise God mentions here, Paul the Apostle later extends to the Gentiles. Through Jesus Christ the Gentile Christ followers inherit the blessings of their father Abraham [cf. Romans 4:16-18; Galatians 3:6-8,16,29]. This is the very same logic that Jesus uses in Matthew 28:18–19 when He says, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” In other words, “I am Christ Almighty; go and be fruitful and multiply my disciples.” Our confidence to share the message of Christ comes from the authority and the Almightiness of Christ.

As Jacob’s life comes to his final refrain we are now seeing a rhythm of regular worship and intimacy with God that was lacking in his life. This new foundation of faith would be tested as his beloved wife, Rachel, dies giving birth to his son Benjamin, and as his youngest son Reuben has an affair with his stepmother [Bilhah]. This great sin against his father cost him his position as the firstborn son [Genesis 49:3-4; 1 Chronicles 5:1]. In God’s sovereignty He uses this sin of Rueben to open His promised line through the line of Judah.

Finally, after at least twenty long years away from home Jacob alas returns to see his father Isaac. Jacob’s sons got to meet their grandfather just before he dies at the age of 180 years old [35:28-29]. His two reconciled sons Esau and Jacob bury him. And the genealogy listed at the end of Genesis 35 through chapter 36 illustrates that God will keep what He promised to Jacob. The names of Jacob’s 12 sons roll off our lips with ease [Ch.35], but the sons of Esau are unfamiliar to our ears [Ch.36]. God is faithful to follow though and bless those He calls. Bank on it, if He is your God He will do all that He says He will do.

Jacob Comes Home and God Comes through Just as He Had Said.

[1] Note: Jacob builds an altar in Schechem to honor the God who appeared to him, he builds an altar after God cleanses his home, and he builds an altar and pillar at Bethel because God has provided, protected, and fulfilled all His promises. Jacob once a wanderer is now a worshiper.

Jacob: coming home [part 1]

Have you ever been away from home for more than a few months? Or long enough that you miss home sweet home? I have. I remember going to college in West Virginia and being a long way from my family in Wisconsin. I did not get home other than Christmas or summer breaks. After final exams, I would hop into my car and sometimes drive through the night to get home. The last hour always seemed the longest. I was so close, but not there yet.

Jacob must have felt the same way. He had just met his brother on his way home. He reconciled their relationship, which was mangled by lies and deceit. Now after 20 years away from home he can almost see it. He can taste in his mind his mothers home cooked meals. He can smell the farm. He can hear the breeze that carries his father’s voice. Jacob was so close, but not home yet. He decided to settle in Schechem. However, his decision to stay there was as devastating as Lots decision to stay in Sodom rather than traveling on to Bethel [cf. Genesis 13-14].

Jacob’s journey of faith has not ended. The last hours before coming home are still yielding lessons of faith. It is a reminder to all that God is not done with you until He is done with you.

Jacob’s faith has dramatically changed [cf. Genesis 32–33], but his son’s faith would remain nonexistent [Genesis 34]. They were deceitful [34:8–24], murderous [34:25–26], greedy [34:27–29], and proud [34:31]. There were probably characteristics passed down from their parents. However, despite Jacob’s new faith, new name, and found distress over his son’s bad behavior [34:30], Israel could not change his boys. God would have to bring them to a crisis of their own, as we will see later.

Jacob had eleven sons and only one daughter named Dinah. One day Dinah went out to visit other women in the region her parents lived. While out and about the son of the man who ruled that area saw her. He wanted her, but could not have her legitimately. Therefore he raped or seduced her. His act defiled and took her virginity dishonorably. To make matters more complicated he was pagan and he desired to marry her. Intermarriage between believers and unbelievers is condemned throughout Scripture.[1]

Jacob kept the situation a secret until Dinah’s brothers came home. Like protective brothers, they were grieved, disgusted, and furious over the vile action done by an idolatrous man. Dinah’s brothers devised a plan to seek revenge by creatively using the covenant of circumcision [cf. Genesis 17]. Like father like sons these boys learned to be tricksters. They told the men of Schechem a strategic lie, “You can happily intermarry our women and share our great wealth, but you will need to be circumcised.” The men were determined to get beautiful foreign women as brides that after three days all were circumcised.

Two of Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, were perturbed by men’s swift response. They were certain they would not buy into their plan. So out or rage and intensified revenge they strapped their swords to their sides and entered Schechem to slaughter every man and deliver their sister home safely all the while they looted the entire city, taking all the women and animals. Seeing what his sons had done, Jacob rebuked them for putting his family in danger of attack from the surrounding Schechemite allies. However, the brothers replied praising their heroics and took sides with their sister saying, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Why didn’t Jacob do anything? Is he a passive father? First, it is clear that Jacob hated his wife Leah, and Dinah was the daughter of Leah [30:19-21]. Jacob’s silence and indifference during her defilement indicates that he was not much of a loving father. Second, Jacob’s leadership was filled by the devious plans of his sons. Third, Jacob’s response to his son’s question has a selfish overtone that states on only “me” and he makes no mention of his poor daughter. Like his forefathers we see his imperfection after transformation—we see yet another mini-fall not unlike Adam, Noah, and Abraham. However, in God’s gracious sovereignty He uses Jacob’s sin for His purposes and preserves the line of the covenant family from intermarriage with the Schechemites through the murderous actions of Simeon and Levi.

Faith is not inherited paternally, but only through a decision personally.

Also, this is a reminder that faith—unlike the temporary blessings that passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, and then to Jacob’s sons—is not passed down genetically. You cannot be born a Christian. Even though you may have godly parents, be part of a great church, and have good Christian friends you still have to encounter Jesus yourself. God encounters people individually, and people must place their faith in Him individually. Like their father, Jacob’s sons committed their own sins and like Jacob they would have to make God their own God. You cannot inherit faith; you must get it from God. There is no other way.

This journey home for Jacob is a rough road that paves the way for a future of faith in God’s promises. He is not there yet. Likewise God is not finish with you either. The pressures of life and family struggles are opportunities for you to trust in the promises of God. Next week we will see more about how God keeps His word and journey with Jacob to his home sweet home.

[1] Abraham was worried that Isaac would marry outside of the covenant as Ishmael had (Genesis 21:21, 24:3-4), and Esau’s intermarriage with the unbelieving Hittites which was a source of great trouble (Genesis 26:34-35, 27:46, 28:8).