Go up to Bethel
Today’s Text: Genesis 35:1-3
READ TODAY’S EXTENDED TEXT: GENESIS 35:1-15
Jacob had been living in Shechem for almost a decade when God commanded him to move to Bethel (Beit El). Jacob’s preparation for the 15-mile journey underscored its significance as a turning point in the life of his large family:
Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.”
And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone.”
Bethel was an extraordinarily meaningful location for Jacob. There he had vowed to serve the One-true God following his dream about the ladder to heaven (v. 20-22). (1)
Before returning to Bethel, Jacob commanded his household, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments” (v. 2). All the idols and good luck charms were removed from the camp and buried under the terebinth tree in Shechem.
Following the purge of pagan paraphernalia, Jacob’s household bathed and donned clean clothes in preparation for his meeting with God in Bethel (35:2). These observable acts not only signified personal purification from the defilement of idols, but were a critical first step for the future nation of Israel that would be characterized by a monotheistic worldview and worship of YHWH alone—the One-true God.
At Bethel, God not only confirmed His name change of Jacob to Israel (Heb. יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל, Yisrael: Prince with God), but also reiterated and connected the covenantal blessing to all of Jacob’s descendants—“the children of Israel”(Gen. 35:10-12).
In obedience to God’s command, Jacob-Israel built an altar to YHWH naming it El Bethel—literally, “God of the House of God”. Having met him at this very spot almost three decades earlier, God had been faithful to His promise (v. 7).
Jacob chose to serve God alone; and, for 30 years God had protected, prospered, directed and blessed his life (Gen. 28:20-21). By building the altar as God commanded, Jacob-Israel reaffirmed his commitment to the One-true God and to serve Him alone.
Like Jacob-Israel, our determination to serve God requires that we evaluate our lives periodically to identify competing gods. Make today a turning point by identifying and decisively renouncing anything that has insidiously made its way into your life. Then, decisively choose to serve God alone.
God will bless you for your unswerving commitment to Him. And, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel, your choice to serve Him has the potential to impact eternity!
Charles E. McCracken is an international Bible teacher, long-time friend of Israel and advocate for the Jewish people. Known for authenticity in communicating biblical truth, Rev. McCracken’s presentations have relevance for those seeking to understand the significance of Israel and the church. He staunchly supports the nation of Israel and the Jewish people’s right to exist and live in peace.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, devotional comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. (Emphasis added.)
(1) Jacob had named the place Bethel (Heb. Beit El, literally, “House of God”) after God appeared to him on the night he fled from Esau (Gen. 28:19).
(2) The imperative to remove false gods was repeated at Shechem a little over 400 years later after the children of Israel re-entered the Land of Promise (Josh. 24:23).
1) Bible opened to Isaiah. By Ken Horn, [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios
2) Avraham Ohavi Synagogue in Beit El. By יעקב (Own work) [GFDL: By 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons – Enhancement: MKM Portfolios