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“Israel at Home in God’s House - at Last”

July 31, 2011 Genesis 35:1-15


We’ve been studying the life of Jacob, whose name means ‘deceiver’; Jacob, the ‘con man’ who swindled his brother out of his birthright and tricked his own father into giving him, not the elder twin, the blessing reserved for the firstborn son. Jacob started out as a cheat and a thief; but God taught him, largely through contact with his even more deceitful uncle Laban, the pain and hardship that results from deception.

    This week I received an email from the IT department at Wingham hospital warning employees not to fall for a ‘phone scam’ that has become widespread in English-speaking countries. In a press release this June, Microsoft reported results of a survey it conducted of internet users in Canada, USA, Ireland, and the UK. Some 15% of users had received some type of scam phone call which invited them to log on to their computer to resolve some kind of problem. The caller seemed to be authentic, from a well-known company, and identified the user by name (probably with the help of phone directories). Of those who’d been called, some 22% (nearly a quarter) proceeded to comply with the caller’s suggestions, and as a result had passwords, banking information, and funds stolen from accounts as a result. The average amount of money stolen was US$ 875. Not only that, but the average cost to get the computer repaired at a shop after the attack averaged about $1730! (source: http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/press/2011/jun11/06-16MSPhoneScamPR.mspx)

    The con artists are out there, with dangerous tactics - well-honed and smooth techniques that both deceive and thieve.

    Deceit is an easy pit to fall into, especially if we’re trying to protect ourself or get some advantage. Sam Levenson offers this example in his book You Don’t Have to Be in Who’s Who to Know What’s What: “While parking late at night, you slightly scrape the side of a Porsche.You are certain no one else is aware of what happened. The damage is minor and would be covered by insurance. Would you leave a note? I read not long ago about a fellow who really did that, except people were watching. And he took out a piece of paper and he wrote on it, “A number of people around me think I’m leaving you a note that includes my name and address, but I’m not.” (!)

    As we saw last week, God had used Jacob’s deceitful uncle Laban to work in Jacob’s life, sculpting away the rough conning corners. As a result of Laban’s trickery with Jacob’s wife and wages, he got some of his own medicine. Over the twenty years in Haran, Jacob seems to have matured, become responsible, willing to accept a loss in order to keep his end of a bargain. But one more episode underscored for Jacob how evil and deadly deceit can be.

    Genesis 34 tells the sad tale of Jacob’s daughter Dinah and her brothers Simeon and Levi. After Jacob re-entered Canaan from Haran with his flocks, herds, and family, instead of continuing on to his father’s area as God commanded (31:3), or even to Bethel, Jacob bought land near the city of Shechem. He stopped just short of obedience. Dinah his daughter had gone out ‘to visit the women of the land’ (34:1). The local Hivite chief’s son saw her, lusted afte her, and violated her, then begged his father to get her for his wife. Sort of a ‘you want it, you take it’ approach - perhaps like Jacob’s grabbiness coming out of the womb and seizing what should have been Esau’s?

    When they heard about it, 34:7, Jacob’s sons “were filled with grief and fury” because this man whose name was Shechem “had done a disgraceful thing” by lying with their sister forcibly; v31, they protest, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” Like vigilantes, they take matters into their own hands and hatch a murderous scheme. Note closely v13: “Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied DECEITFULLY as they spoke to Shechem...” Deceit USED to be Jacob’s ‘middle name’; now, here it is, carrying on in the next generation! They say they would agree to letting him marry her if all the males in town are circumcised. The local men decide this sounds like a good idea if it means they’ll be able to benefit from trading and intermarrying with Jacob’s clan. But 3 days after the males are circumcised, Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi attack the unsuspecting city and kill every male. Mass genocide. Then - remember how cheating and thievery may go together? - v27, Jacob’s other sons come and loot the city, seize the flocks and herds etc, carry off all the wealth, women and children. Jacob rebukes them, saying they’ve made him a stench in the nostrils of the other people of the land, and fears he’ll be attacked and his household destroyed.

    Again, Jacob has been tutored at the school of hard knocks: the very art of deception he once used himself has rebounded hard, bringing him face to face with the disastrous consequences of relying upon sinful means to ‘get ahead’.


And so we come to Genesis 35, in which we see some closure to the adventure that began when God first appeared to Jacob the fugitive at Bethel some 7 chapters earlier (28:13). We come full circle back to where he started - and there’s a renewal of the covenant he made with the Lord; this time it’s not conditional, bargaining, as if he can keep God in his back pocket like some kind of good-luck charm to be pulled out in emergency, at Jacob’s beck and call, kept in reserve. This time Jacob is ‘all in’. Some steps remain in getting Jacob there.

    First is God’s command to RELOCATE. 35:1, “Then God said to Jacob, "Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau."” In other words, get away from associating so closely with these pagans who want to intermarry with your offspring and drag you into their idolatry; complete your vow, fulfill your promise to return to your father’s house and that then “the LORD (YHWH) will be my God” (28:21).

    Relocate: discipleship involves new boundaries, a new frame of reference, distancing yourself from the practices of those who don’t know God. Holiness involves consecration, being ‘set apart’ for God’s purposes: that means you are different from the rest of fallen humankind. In the Old Testament, the law of Moses set limits beyond which the Israelites dared not trespass. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit teaches us self-control, keeping in step with the Spirit, following Jesus in the attitude of the Sermon on the Mount and His radical Kingdom-focus. New priorities founded in love for God and others, taking up one’s cross daily, crucifying the sinful desires of the flesh. Christians should be identifiably different in behaviour from those who don’t know God. Church is important in this regard as a place we gather weekly, regularly, to reinforce and encourage one another in living as God’s holy people, discovering fulfilment in the disciplines tested by Christian heroes through the ages.

So the ‘heroes of faith’ chapter, Hebrews 11(13), speaks of them admitting “that they were strangers and aliens on earth.” And Peter wrote, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” (1Pet 2:11) RELOCATE!

    Next comes the challenge to REPENT OF OLD IDOLS. 35:2,4, “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes...So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.” Get rid of foreign gods, NLT ‘pagan idols’. Remember how Rachel had, without Jacob’s knowledge, stolen Laban’s household gods then sat upon them when he accused Jacob of thievery and searched for them? (31:19,34) Besides this, Jacob had acquired servants in Haran who doubtless practiced pagan customs they’d grown up with (30:43).

    It does mention “rings in their ears”: commentators say these weren’t merely for ornamentation, but worn as amulets or charms - there was some superstitious or false religious connotation, like a horseshoe or ‘lucky rabbit’s foot’. They buried all these things, and even bathed themselves and changed their clothes - a complete re-do.

    What false gods do YOU need to repent of? Are you still buying lottery tickets or wagering at the horse races? Are there vestiges of superstition or freemasonry passed on by your ancestors you find it hard to let go of? Are your make-up and earrings that people see on the outside more important than the condition of your heart that God sees? Are your ‘foreign gods’ modern ones - shiny expensive ones that fit in your pocket, and threaten to take over your life or at least steal time and attention from God’s priorities? Is your retirement savings account a golden idol you bow before while millions of people in East Africa hover on the brink of starvation? As the text says, “Purify yourselves...” That has a New Testament ring to it! 2Cor 7(1), “...let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” And Titus 2:14, “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” Are you eager for what’s good – your heart’s desires pure as a result of revering God?

    And the third step Jacob takes in his journey back to be ‘at home with God’ is to REDEDICATE himself. V7, upon arriving at Bethel, “there he built an altar”; v14, “Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it.” An altar is a symbol of offering a sacrifice, giving something of your own to the Lord. In a way he also makes the stone pillar an altar of sorts, pouring out a drink offering, and precious oil. Are you ascribing worth and honour and value to the Lord? Does he guide and inform your spending, or do you try to partition off your finances from the ‘religious’ compartment? How about your time, even on holiday - does God rate your attention, your study? When you pack to go camping, do you bother to take a Bible, or find a spot and undistracted time to read it? Does your heart and voice become an altar offering up spiritual songs and praise to God, even if you’re afraid your music doesn’t compare with the birds? Try it sometime, and find a blessing - even in whistling or humming! Start small - God will still hear it, and the birds won’t fall off their branches!


The LORD God responds to Jacob’s obedience in a variety of ways. First, as He has preserved Jacob over the many hundreds of miles all the way to Haran and back again, God continues to RESCUE him from danger. V5, after they bury their foreign idols near Shechem, “Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.” Jacob had realistically noted at the end of chapter 34(30b), “We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” With so few people and so many flocks and herds, now bloated by the plunder from the city of Shechem, they would be ‘easy pickings’ for bandits and enemies. But God caused a real fear, a ‘terror’ from Him to enshroud the adjacent peoples so Jacob’s family was protected.

    When in the book of Acts Peter was arrested by King Herodand put in prison, God sent an angel to release him so he might continue to spread the Good News (Acts 12:11). When recently-converted Saul (or Paul) was watched for by his enemies at the city gates of Damascus, he got away by being lowered in a basket through an opening in the wall; not to mention later beatings and shipwrecks from which his life was miraculously spared (Acts 9:25). God has His ways of rescuing and preserving those for which He still has a job to do. My co-leader of the Bible story time this week at VBS was sharing how she lost all her hair during a bout with cancer 11 years ago, but now the cancer has all gone, so she doesn’t even need to go for check-ups any more!

    Second, God RECOGNIZES Jacob: here I don’t mean in the sense of being able to pick him out of a crowd, but officially naming and honouring him for the person he is by God’s grace becoming. Vv9-10, “After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him.God said to him, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." So he named him Israel.” Mr ‘he-grasps-the-heal’, Mr Trickster, gets a new and better label: Mr ‘wrestles-with-God’.

    The Lord sees deep inside us; He sees, not only the truth about the fallen sinner we have been, but also the reality that He is creating within us as we are born afresh in Christ. He recognizes and calls forth the person we are becoming as His Holy Spirit shapes us from within. In the book of Revelation (3:17) Jesus says He will give to those who overcome “a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” Are you more than a bit curious to find out what the new name is Jesus has for you? It will fit, in a unique way! God knows us deep on the inside, at our core, and loves us for the person we are in His Son. “Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son...” (Rom 8:29)

    One of our activities in the Bible Story time at VBS this week had to do with John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son...” We told the children to say it again, this time substituting their very own name for ‘the world’: “God so loved <your name> that He gave His only Son...” God knows you personally and sent Jesus for you!

    Third, God RESOURCES His people. V11, “And God said to him, "I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body.” Won’t this just blow your socks off! “I am God Almighty” - El Shaddai...The root meaning is uncertain, but in general it seems to have the sense of “almighty”, all-powerful, God of awe or even terror who can destroy. The Greek translation (Septuagint) translates it “all-powerful”; that fits well here in context - “I am God Almighty [SO] be fruitful and increase in number” - I have the power to make it happen; I will supply you, resource you, nurture you. So much so that not only will a nation come from you, Jacob, but ‘a community of nations’ - and kings will be among your descendants. Particularly, as we know in retrospect, David and Solomon and the long line of Judean kings, culminating in Jesus, the Ruler from the princely tribe of Judah. “You’re royalty, Jacob - and you didn’t even know it!”

    Fourth and last, God REMINDS His people. V12, “The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” Not much new here - we’ve been hearing God repeat this from Abraham on down for the last 20 chapters (Gen 15:7). In Jacob’s dream decades before at this very spot, the Lord at the top of the ‘stairway to heaven’ had promised, “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.” (28:13) And as God had brought Jacob safely back from his long journey, demonstrating His faithfulness and power to bring about His will, He was re-iterating it in case Jacob had any doubts. “Do you get it yet? What I commit to, I bring about. I am YHWH, God of all being, bringing new things into being. Remember My promise, for I will do it.”

    Cheaters, deceivers, tricksters and con artists cannot be trusted. Phone scammers may sound reliable and official but they’re thieves. God, by contrast, is faithful: He can be trusted. You can bank on His promises. The very fact that He brought Jacob safely back and saved him from the murderous threat of his brother Esau ‘sealed the deal’ in Jacob’s mind.

    So, we need REMINDING of God’s faithfulness. Pressures come and temptations happen and accidents arise in daily life that may prompt us to question if God really knows what He’s doing. But part of the role of corporate worship is to remind us of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Take communion, for instance. What did the Lord Jesus say about the symbols of the bread and cup? “Do this IN REMEMBRANCE of me.” (1Cor 11:24f) We need reminding.


Robert Dick Wilson taught Hebrew at Princeton Theological Seminary and one of his students was Donald Barnhouse. Barnhouse tells of his going back to the seminary to preach after having graduated from there twelve years earlier. Dr Wilson came into Miller Chapel and sat down near the front. There is something rather intimidating about going back to the school where you were trained and you teach the Scriptures to those who taught you.

    At the close of the meeting Dr. Wilson came up to Donald Barnhouse and said, “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.” Barnhouse asked him to explain.

    “Well, some men have a little God and they are always in trouble with Him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of His people. They have a little God and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show Himself strong on behalf of them that fear Him. You, Donald, have a great God; and He will bless your ministry.’ He paused a moment, smiled, said, “God bless you,” and walked out. Let’s pray.