Fellowship at Cross Creek
Intro… Where do you go to meet with God? Have you ever had a close encounter with God? A Bethel…a seeming doorway to heaven? The house of God? A place where God speaks to you? Where God speaks his love and promises to you? Where God promises to take care of you, see you through, bring you home, bless you etc.? This is Bethel. Do you have a Bethel? Have you had a Bethel? If not, you need to find one…have one…experience one?
The Bible’s very first word is the Hebrew word Bərēšīṯ, which means “in [the] beginning.” “Genesis” is actually the Greek word for “beginnings” or “origins,” and thus the origin for both the Latin and English transliteration: Genesis.
So what’s our goal? Just to explore. Like an archaeologist exploring ancient ruins, we are going back to the Scripture’s beginnings to do a little Spiritual digging and poking around to see what was God doing before God’s Son was Spiritually conceived in his mother Mary’s womb? What were the world, people and life like from the very beginning?
Summary of Recent Explorations…
• The Creation: The Creator Creates His Creation and its Caretakers (Adam and Eve). Gen. 1-2.
• The Fall: But a Crafty Adversary Emerges, Infecting the Creator’s Caretakers with a Virulent Strain of Deceptive Evil (non-beneficial actions). Gen. 3-4.
• The Flood: The story of the righteous Servant and a devastating Flood. In order to Save his Creation from a self-destructive and merciless evil, the Creator Must radically purge or cleanse his Creation Gen. 5-7.
• Creation’s New Beginning…Gen. 8-11.
• Creation’s New Caretaker: The Creator Raises up, Chooses and Greatly Blesses a righteous and trusting Caretaker named Abraham. Gen. 12-25.
• The Torch of the Creator’s Trusting Caretaking Now Passes to Succeeding Generations (Abraham’s son Isaac and then Isaac’s younger son Jacob)…Gen. 25:1ff.
• Abraham’s son Isaac is blessed with twin sons; as prophesied when the twins where in their mother’s womb, the older, Esau, is about to serve the younger, Jacob. Gen. 25:19ff.
• Despite harsh times and stiff opposition, God sustains his servant Isaac within both his and his father’s Promised Lands…Gen. 26:1ff.
• Aided by his mother, the younger Jacob deceives his elderly, blind father Isaac into giving Jacob his blessing instead of his older brother Esau. Gen. 27:1ff.
• God reveals to a fleeing Jacob in a dream as he leaves the Covenant’s Promise Land that indeed God intends to make good on his father’s blessing. Jacob will return to this land, and his many descendants, as well as, the entire earth will be blessed by their presence in this land. Gen. 28:1ff.
• In the land of his mother’s people, Jacob is blessed and grows a very large family of eleven sons and one daughter. Gen. 29:1ff.
• Having blessed Jacob with a large family, God prepares Jacob to return to his promised homeland by blessing him with massive herds of sheep, goats and other livestock. Gen. 30:25ff.
• As he returns home, Jacob enters into a peace treaty with his father-in-law Laban. Gen. 31:22ff.
• After wrestling with God all night and surviving, as his blessing, Jacob receives a new name from God, Israel…one who strives with God. Gen. 32:1ff.
• The two brothers, Jacob and Esau, have a very emotional and satisfying reunion. Gen. 33:1ff.
• Jacob’s sons exact their revenge when their sister, Dinah, is first raped and then asked for in marriage by village chief’s son. Gen. 34:1ff
Pray; read three times (perhaps just twice) and ask questions…
35:1 Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.”
A return to where it all began, many years before, when Jacob lay his head on a rock and had a dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven. Thus he called this place the doorway to heaven…the house of God…Bethel. Here is the summary from that moment seven chapters earlier in Genesis…
As Jacob is forced to flee for his safety the land promised by God to his grandfather and father, God reveals to Jacob in a dream that the Promise or covenant that God made to Jacob’s grandfather and father, also extends to him, and that someday, Jacob will return to this land, and from him, eventually will come many descendants and the entire earth will somehow be blessed by his presence in this land—the Abrahamic Covenant. Gen. 28:1ff.
Now Jacob or Israel…One Who Contends with God…will return to that special place and build an altar or place of worship to commemorate God’s unique faithfulness or loyalty to his people and decrees. In other words, this altar, built on faith and obedience, cries out that if God was true to this point in the journey, everything else God said about the land, many descendants and being a blessing to the world will come true to…just over a much longer period of time. And the supernatural irony to all of this is four thousand years later, though not complete, there are certainly enough aspects of this prophesy or blessing that have come true, that has to make one think that this is NOT just a man-made myth.
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments;
This is an altar to Yah or Yahweh…I AM…and as he will incorporate into the Law’s first ten commandments, Yah will not share his worship with any other gods. You might have snuck them through for a time, as Rachel, Jacob’s beloved when they fled her father, but now is the time to be exclusive in one’s dedication to Yahweh. Now how might they have purified themselves beyond getting rid of foreign idols and changing clothes…perhaps taking a ritual bath?
3 and 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 wherever I have gone.”
Will it be an altar of stones? How elaborate will it be constructed? And certainly, Jacob understands its significance…1) God answered me in my time of distress and 2) has been with me wherever…pretty significant stuff…
4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
Why get rid of the idols in this way? Will they unbury them later? Is this so that no one will use them, thus the reason for not selling them to pagans? Thus they are “devoted” or belong wholly to God?
5 As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.
Much like a processional coronation so to speak? Can you sense the fear, horror and dread that the surrounding cities and villages must have felt as these special people…the people of Yahweh God…passed by their city?
6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him.
7 He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother.
God, the House of God…and thus the Yah’s flagpole had been officially planted in this land. This was God’s land. His promised Land to his people, set aside or apart for God’s purposes…to be sovereignly brought about in time by God himself. God, the House of God!
8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth.
In light of all the other significant events to have been recorded in Genesis, this is certainly an interesting, perhaps even odd thing to include…the Oak of Weeping. Was Deborah that special to Rebekah, or was it merely because she was Rebekah’s nurse that made her special? Because it was Bilnah, not Deborah who had born the surrogate sons to Jacob, Dan and Naphtali, on Rachel’s behalf. Or was it just the place…Deborah dies at Bethel, so the oak is given a special name?
9 Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him.
10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob,
but Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel.
A reconfirmation of the promise that God had made to Jacob at the conclusion of their all-night wrestling match in Gen. 32:28?
11 God also 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 forth from you.
A new name and kings and a company of nations descending from you…not bad.
12 “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac,
I will give it to you,
And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”
And land…so a new name, royal descendants and territory…three elements also given to his grandfather Abram.
13 Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him.
What does this mean…”God went up from him”?
14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it.
Israel consecrated…set apart…by christening or anointing this special pile of rocks with the drink offering and oil.
15 So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.
God speaks at his house…in his home. What a wonderful experience. The Creator of the Universe makes his presence known to his Creation…his Caretaker…and speaks to him, much as he did with his original Caretaker Adam in the Garden…
Who? God, Jacob…Israel, your brother Esau, his household, all who were with him, they…the cities, sons of Jacob, Deborah…Rebekah’s nurse, a company of nations, Abraham, Isaac, your descendants…
Where? Bethel, there, away, wherever I have gone, in their ears, under the oak which was near Shechem, the cities which were around them, Luz, in the land of Canaan, El-Bethel, under the oak, Allon-bacuth, from Paddan-aram, from you, the land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him, in the place where he had spoken with him, on it, where God had spoken with him…Bethel.
• God commands Jacob to return to Bethel to live there and make an altar of worship there to God—because this was the place that God had appeared to Jacob in a dream when Jacob was running from his brother Esau.
• In preparation for the journey, Jacob commands his entire family to purify themselves by doing away with any foreign idols they had in their possession.
• All those who were with Jacob do as he says, and Jacob buries the idols under an oak at Shechem.
• As they make their way to Bethel, out of fear, none of the cities that they pass through dare to attack them.
• When they arrive, Jacob constructs an altar there, calling the place El-bethel.
• Then Rebekah’s nurse dies, so they bury her there under an oak.
• God once again appears to Jacob and blesses him, telling him that 1) his name will not longer be Jacob, but Israel; 2) that, like Adam and Noah before him, he is to be fruitful and multiply because God will bless him with nations and kings and 3) the land that he gave to his father and grandfather before him, he is also giving to Jacob.
• Then God disappears and Jacob builds an altar, pouring a drink offering and oil over the rock and naming the place where God spoke to him, Bethel (house of God).
Summary: God commands Jacob to return to Bethel and make an altar to him; in preparation Jacob first rids his family of any false attempts at worship; none of the surrounding cities threaten Jacob and his family on their journey; Jacob builds an altar; Rebekah’s nurse dies; God speaks to Jacob, giving him a new name and promising him royal descendants and land; Jacob then builds a pile of stones, anoints them and calls the place Bethel…house of God.
Summary of Summary…At God’s command, Jacob returns to the place where God spoke to him many years before promising to take care of him and return him to this land safely. At God’s command, Jacob rids his family of any false worship, returns to Bethel, builds an altar, anoints the rocks and renames the place Bethel…house of God.
Bottom line…God commands Jacob to return to the place they first met years ago so that Jacob can build an altar of worship to God there and God can then reconfirm his original Covenant promises to Jacob.
Why did God include this event in his record or what would we not know–about God, life, myself, others, etc.–if this story were not in the Bible?
• God is faithful; God is sovereign; what he has promised, he will bring about; his divine decrees are divine, established, constant, firm. God is God; he is trustworthy; he cares for his own; he will see his own through…God is absolutely trustworthy…he is tom…righteous; he is a God of integrity; what he says…he does; his words and actions are the same.
• God is a wonderful teacher. By taking Jacob back to where they first met and where God had promised to take care of him, God, in essence, was reminding Jacob that his success and return to the Land was no accident. Much like the ancient Royal Grant Treaty or Covenant, God, as the gracious monarch, had unilaterally orchestrated and blessed Jacob with grace, love and mercy during his long sojourn to Paddan-aram and back. Thus God is anchoring this truth…this connection. That is was God who delivered Jacob and brought him home.
• In preparation to meet God, Jacob is wise to have gotten rid of anything non-God, or any symbols of false religious worship. God will not share his worship. He is exclusive in worship, and this only makes sense. Any compromise is a compromise of the truth and ultimately doomed to fail. Only God and his truth; any compromise is like introducing a virus to a healthy system, and thus compromising the entire body. How does this apply to us today? Introspection before worship. Take a look. Do a spiritual inventory. Be honest with yourself and get rid of some stuff, particularly the bad…the sin…the evil etc. Get clean before God…before worship.
• God seems to have no problem with reinforcing or reconfirming his promises. Perhaps there is something more going on here. Perhaps as humans the need for reinforcement is an important part of who we are. It’s okay to reassure people. Reconfirm promises, covenants, agreements etc.
• Names are important: from Jacob (heel) to Israel (one who contends with God); El-bethel (God…house of God); Allon-bacuth (oak of weeping). As handles, they seem to aptly described important moments, peoples and places. I have noticed that now, not just hurricanes are being named, but all storm systems. Names function like handles; they are easier recall. Nothing has really changed in four thousand years.
• This place…this house of God…this doorway to heaven…Bethel…seems to be very critical place or moment in meeting with and encountering or hearing God. God spoke to Jacob here, and that means everything. Where has God spoken to you at? That is a special place…your house of God. Your Bethel.
Praise…Some good visits…truth, counseling, prayer…despite it being the holidays and school break. Life still goes on. People have struggles. The problems, struggles and hurts just don’t magically go away despite it being the holiday.
Struggle… Staying focused and prepared with another winter storm approaching which could change everything, including a memorial I am helping with that is scheduled for this Sunday at Fellowship. It’s easy to sit by the fire, watch football and NOT prepare, especially with another snow storm approaching. In addition, getting back to writing.
Truth…Obediently, constructing moments and altars of worship and Spiritual remembrance, as well as, properly preparing or getting clean in order to truly worship.
Application… Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4 that we now worship God in Spirit and truth, as opposed to temples of stone altars. I think it is important that wherever we are we can worship God…we can wrestle with God…we can demand God for a blessing. I think…know…believe God seeks this in us. Wrestle with me. Battle with me. Seek me. Challenge me, and I will meet you where you are at. I will wrestle. I will struggle. We are all Israel, and Israel worships at Bethel because Bethel represents where we first met Go and where we go to meet him again because he has been with us, he has delivered us, he has been faithful and loyal to his promises, because he does love us…
God is with me now. I am at Bethel. I am at the doorway to heaven, if I want it to be…if my heart is prepared, cleaned, open, truthful, laid bare, honest…honest with my struggle…my distractions, my lack of focus. Set my heart afire, Lord. Set my heart afire.
Biggest Struggle at the moment:
How does what happen here relate to you?
Biggest Struggles (Imagine these or several–put yourself in their shoes–walk through a day with them at school, at home. What might they encounter?)
Now how does what happen here possibly relate/ (Remember this is only to give you a feel or an introductory hook or a reinforcing took; in there looking, they may come up with something entirely different.)
Remember to have fun, sense the Spirit’s leading and develop a love for these kids.
As always, thanks!
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org).