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Return to Bethel

Genesis 35

We are looking at some of the characters who are in the godly line of the people of Israel. The Bible says that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Tonight I want to look again at the life of Jacob-- in particular at Genesis 35 and the return to Bethel.

Maybe this evening you need to return to Bethel.  Sometimes after we have had a deep experience with the Lord we think that all of our problems from that point on are solved. But we discover from the life of Jacob that even a totally committed Christian will still have sorrows and heartaches and will still make mistakes. Not only is that true in the life of Jacob, but that is true in our own heart and life. There comes those times in our lives when God calls us back to Bethel. God says to us that it is time for us to return to Bethel.

Notice verse 1 God said to him, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there." Bethel was a word that had great meaning. When the Lord said, Bethel, to Jacob it struck a familiar chord in his heart. It was a word that was filled with fond memories. It was there that Jacob came to know the Lord in a personal kind of way. Bethel means the house of God. Bethel is the place where Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder connecting heaven and earth. It was there that Jacob became a new person.

Imagine how it must have been when the Lord said to Jacob, "Arise and go up to Bethel." It must have moved his heart in a very special way.

Is there some special place where you met the Lord or where you had an unusual experience with God?  For some of you that special place may have been at a youth camp you attended. There around the campfire one evening you had an experience with God and your life was changed. Maybe it was on a college campus that you came to know the Lord as your Savior and just the mention of that place or to see that place again brings back many fond spiritual memories to your heart and life.

It may be a church. Many of you have come to know Jesus in this building. It will forever be a sacred place to you. Just to mention Towering Oaks Baptist Church, will touch your heart and remind you of spiritual experiences you have had with the Lord.

There is a place in a little country town of Denham Springs, Louisiana, which is sacred to me. Of course the town is no longer little or in the country.  The place is Amite Baptist Church. When I was a seven-year-old boy I was sitting down on the second row. That night as Dad began to preach, I don't remember a great deal of what he had to say, but I remember how God spoke to my heart and let me know that I was a sinner. He let me know that Jesus loved me so very much that He died on the cross for my sins. That night when the invitation hymn was given, I walked down from that second row and I gave my hand to the preacher and I gave my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a Bethel experience in my life and just the mention of that name does something to me.

There must be a place like that in your life if you know the Lord.

Notice what the Lord said to Jacob in verse 1. "Go to Bethel and dwell THERE." He says it again, "And make THERE an altar to the Lord." He says it again in verse 3. "Let us rise up and go to Bethel and I will make THERE an altar unto the Lord." THERE is the place of God's will for his life.

It reminds you somewhat of what happened to Elijah. When God was leading and preparing Elijah for that great experience he would have on Mount Carmel, the Lord said to him, "Go to the brook Cherith, I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there." Then the Lord said to him, "Go to Zeraphath. I have commanded a widow to sustain thee there." THERE was the place of God's will. THERE was God's intention for his life.

God may be saying to some of you. Come back to Bethel. Come back there. Come back to the center of God's will for your life. Come to the place of total surrender of your life.

I want to talk about a return to Bethel.

I. The Return to Bethel.

This is laid before us in the opening verses of this chapter. Genesis 34 is not a very pleasant chapter. There are certain sections of 34 I wouldn't even read in public.  It is a story of mistakes and broken vows.  It is a story of heartache and sorrow in the family of Jacob. We are told about his daughter Dinah. As sometimes happens to people of God's children, Dinah began to hang out with the wrong crowd. Before it was over she was raped and her brothers were so infuriated that they vowed revenge against those who had done it. You have a slaughter in Genesis 34 that would make the gang fights in America look like a Sunday School picnic in comparison. It is not a happy chapter.

When we come to chapter 35 we read about this journey back to Bethel.  Actually we read earlier that the Lord had already told him to go back to Bethel. We learn in chapter 33, verse 18 that Jacob had tarried in the city of Shechem. As best we understand he stayed there for about 10 years. From Shechem to Bethel is a mere 30 miles; yet for 10 years Jacob prolonged his journey there. For 10 years he waited and did not fully surrender in response to the Lord. Now, God speaks to his heart again.

Sometimes God has to speak a little louder, doesn't He? Sometimes God has to give His message a little bit stronger to us, doesn't He?  Evidently that is what God did for him right now. The Lord said, it is time for you, Jacob, to go back to Bethel.

In verse 2 we read that, "Jacob said unto his household..." He gathers his household together and announces what they are going to do. He doesn't ask them what they would like to do. He doesn't ask them if they think it would be a good idea to go back to Bethel. He doesn't check to see if it's going to frustrate junior. He just announces to his family, "We are going back to Bethel."

I wonder if there are not some Dads who need to make that decision for your family. Maybe you have wandered away from the Lord and your family has gone a long way from the Lord.  Maybe it is time for you, as the head of your home, to make the announcement, "We are headed back to the things of God. We are headed back to Bethel. We are headed back to total surrender to the Lord."

We need more fathers like Jacob who will say, "We are going back to God's house." I may be speaking to some man whose family has wandered from the Lord and you are the reason. Your family is away from the things of God and it's because of you. Let me challenge you, sir, to have the courage of Jacob and gather your family and say to them, "We are gong back to church today. We are going to stop this spiritual wandering. We know Christ as our personal Savior. We have gotten away from the Lord." I want to challenge you to say what Joshua did. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Wouldn't that be a good decision for some families to make tonight?

Now, there has to be some preparation in going back to Bethel. In verse 2 he says three things. "Put away the strange gods that are among you and be clean, and change your garments." Those are the three things that he says they had to do in order to return to Bethel.

First of all, put away the strange gods which are among you. We know that Rachel is the first one who started the strange gods. These strange gods were little figurines, representatives of God. It was Rachel who stole her dad's household gods. It is Rachel who started this whole thing, but notice how it has spread. It started with mom but it has spread to the family. Household gods have become a part of the family.

Are there some household gods that you need to get rid of? Have some of you made a God out of your house? Have some of you made a God out of your business? Have some of you made a God of material things? It is time to put away strange gods. It is time to get rid of some of those things that we worship instead of the Lord Jesus Christ.

First John 5:21, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

In verse 4 the Bible says they took these strange gods and Jacob hid them under the oak by Shechem.  Vance Havner, one of my favorite preachers, made this comment about the fact that Jacob buried these strange gods under the oak. "If the American people did this all of the national forest of America would be filled with gods." That's probably true, don't you guess? But it is time for us to get rid of the strange gods.

Not only that, but it is time for us to be clean. That means to confess known sin in your life. Is there some known sin in your life? Is there something right now that is un-confessed in your life and it's keeping you from returning totally to the Lord.

One of the greatest verses in the Bible is First John 1:9. It is the most used verse in my Bible. It says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Do you need to be clean? Is there some sin in your life that you need to come to the Lord and confess it and ask God to cleanse you from that sin?

The third thing he said was, change your garments. The changed garments, in the Bible, had spiritual significance. When there was a time of return to the Lord and new commitment to the Lord, people would change their garments. We find the same terminology in the New Testament. In Ephesians 4, verses 22 and 24 say this. "That you put off concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lust. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."

To take off garments is a symbol of getting rid of some old things. Putting on new garments was a symbol a new lifestyle. Do you need to change some garments?

·         Are there some habits that need to be changed in your life?

·         Are there some things that have attached themselves to you like a corrupted coat?

·         Are there some friends you need to get away from? They are corrupting you and causing you not to be what God wants you to be.

The Lord says if you want to return to Bethel, then you have to change your garments. Get rid of the old garments of self-righteousness. Get rid of the gray garments of compromise. Put on the new garments of total surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. That's what it takes to return to Bethel.

        In verse 5 Jacob and his family have made preparation. God sends them on this protected journey. We are told in verse 5 that as they journeyed the terror of God was upon the cities. All around them, God put a supernatural dread. All around them, God put a corridor of protection.

If you will surrender your life totally to the Lord and if you will make up your mind that you are going to return to the Lord and be what God wants you to be, God will take care of you. God will bless you. God will help you through all of the conflicts and the difficulties of your life.

There is the return to Bethel.

II. The Revelation at Bethel.

God is going to give a revelation of Himself to Jacob when he returns. Look at verse 6. They have now returned to Bethel and God is going to reveal Himself.

God is going to, first of all, give him a revelation of His person. He now calls Bethel not just Bethel, but El-Bethel. That means not just the house of God, but the God of the house of God. What is happening here? Why the change in name? Jacob is growing in his spiritual experience. He is growing in his understanding of the life of a believer. He now comes to understand that there is something more important than the house of God. It is the God of the house of God! He has moved up to a new level of understanding.

I have talked about how special spiritual places are. I have talked about how special this place right here is for many of you. But something even more important than this house of God is the God of this house of God.

Jesus put it this way. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." It is wonderful when you come to the place that you understand that far beyond just a location is the God who promises to meet us and to bless us in that location.

"Once earthly joy I craved. Sought peace and rest.

Now thee alone I seek, give what is best."


I want to encourage you to have an encounter with God. I want to encourage you to open up your heart and life to the Lord. God will speak to you if you will allow Him to. God will be real in this place this evening if you will just open up the windows of your soul and let Him come in. God's person is revealed.

Look at verse 8. This is an interesting thing to happen. Jacob has returned to the Lord. He has come back to Bethel. He has grown in his understanding of who God is. Yet, in that setting, it tells us that Deborah, an old family servant dies. She was the nurse of his mother, Rebekah. Evidently, she assisted Rebekah in bringing up Jacob and Esau when they were little boys. He had known Deborah all of his life. When he was a little boy with his broken toys, he could go to Deborah. When he was a little boy with his bruised knees, he could go to Deborah. That dear, sweet servant was right there to assist him. Yet, now she dies. A trusted servant in the family dies.

Deborah is a link with Jacob's past life. God is gently breaking those connections with the past and preparing Jacob for the future.

If you live long enough that's exactly what life will do for you. Some of you are aware that your generation is passing away. You are turning your attention to a new generation that is ahead. Mom and dad are already in heaven. The friends of the past are becoming more and more frequently citizens of heaven. If you live long enough there will be a shift in the population. You will discover that you know more people over there than you know down here. That's one of God's ways of getting us ready to go to heaven. God breaks those ties with the past and turns our attention toward our children and grandchildren. God turns our attention toward the things of God.

I think about the words of In The Sweet Bye and Bye.

"There's a land that is fairer than day.

And by faith we can see it afar.

For the Father waits over the way

to prepare us a dwelling place there.

n the sweet bye and bye

we shall meet on that beautiful shore.

In the sweet bye and bye

we'll meet on that beautiful shore."


God is getting Jacob ready for the future. Deborah dies and they bury her under the oak of weeping. This is really the first of three funerals in this chapter.

One man said, "I spend most of my time now going to funerals of my friends." That's what is happening to Jacob.  At Bethel he has a revelation of God's person. You ask the question, why these kinds of things come right after you have made your commitment to the Lord. You would think that after you have made a new commitment to the Lord that bad or sorrowful things don't happen. No. That's not the way it works. The way it works is, you come back to the Lord, and having come back to the Lord, He helps you and gives you comfort when these kinds of sorrows and heartaches come.

A revelation of God's power in verse 10. "Thy name is Jacob, thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name." Hasn't that already happened? Yes, it has. It happened ten years ago. It happened in that experience we studied about last Sunday morning when the Lord wrestled with Jacob. Jacob said, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." The Lord touched Jacob and said to Jacob, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, a heel catcher and schemer, now it will be Israel, a prince with God."

Now, God reiterates that promise to him. God underscores his new name again. God is saying this to him. "Jacob, I've given you my power and I have symbolized that power by the new name. You are a prince with God.  You are a prince with me. He is just simply calling him up to the level of his new standing with God.

If you know Christ as your Savior, then you have a new name. You have a new nature. You have a new family. If you know Christ you are in the family of God. If you know Christ you have a brand new nature. You are a born again child of God. You are a Christian. You are a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. That name has power in it. You and I need to appropriate the name of Jesus and the power that is available to us as God's children. We don't have to go through this world as powerless beings. We have Christ in our life. The Holy Spirit dwells in our heart. We need to claim God's power in our Bethel experience.

Not only God's power, not only God's person, but in verse 11 a revelation of God’s Plan.  God said, "I am God Almighty, be fruitful and multiply, a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins. And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land."

God is saying, "Jacob, I have a plan for your life. I have made a promise to you and I'm going to keep my promise to you."

It's interesting how the Holy Spirit puts things together. The Bible says, "Faithful is he who has called you who will also bring it to pass. God has a plan for your life. You are not an accident. You are not just floating through this world with no reason, no rhyme, no purpose, no meaning to your life. God has a plan for you. God has promises for your life. Claim the promises of God.

We have the return to Bethel. We have the revelation at Bethel.

III. The Results of Bethel.

What happens when you come back to Bethel? This is so interesting to me. It says in verse 13. "And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone, and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon."

He sets up this altar. This is the result. He is now preparing himself for coming service. He is getting ready to serve the Lord.

All of these pictures are pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The pillar of stone is Christ, our Rock of Ages. 

The drink offering poured upon it is the sacrifice of our Savior as He poured Himself out on Calvary for us. He poured oil thereon. That's the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Lord as he sacrificed Himself on Calvary. Now, we have a picture of Jacob's service on the basis of what Christ did for him.

God wants you to get ready for coming service. God has some work He wants you to do. God has called you to do a job for Him. Romans 12:1, "I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice..." on the basis of what Christ has done. On the basis of the mercies of God for you and me, the least we can do is serve the Lord Jesus.

Surely now that he has laid himself out to serve the Lord, there won't be any more problems. Look at verse 16. "And the journeyed from Bethel and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath, and Rachel (his beloved wife) travailed, and she had hard labor."

They came out and said to Jacob, "Jacob, she is having a hard time in delivery." Rachel already has one son, Joseph. We'll study about him in the messages to follow. Now there is another son going to be born. Things don't look too good for Rachel. Don't you imagine Jacob prayed about the condition of his wife? Yet, look at verse 17. "And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said unto her, fear not, thou shalt have this son also." The boy is going to be born. Verse 18, "And it came to pass as her soul was in departing, (for she died)." Didn't Jacob turn his life over to the Lord?  Yes!  Hadn't Jacob totally surrendered and committed himself to the Lord? Yes! Right in the midst of that Rachel dies.

Listen to me. Total commitment to the Lord is no guarantee that sorrow and heartache will not come. But let me tell you why you need to come back to the Lord regardless. When the sorrows come, you want to be as close to God as you can possibly be. When the hard times come and when the losses in your life come, you want to be close to Jesus.

If a heartache hits your life tonight, are you right with God? Can you call on God to help you in that time of need?

As Rachel dies she names that son Benoni which means son of my sorrow. Think about a boy all of his life being known as son of my sorrow. Jacob gently changes the name. His father called him Benjamin which means son of my right hand. "And Rachel died and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem."

I've been right by Rachel's tomb. Right on the edge of Bethlehem. Do you think in that moment of sorrow that God gave Jacob a little glimpse of his coming Savior? Do you think maybe God said to him, just as you have had a son of sorrow who you now call son of my right hand, I'm going to have a son of sorrow one day? Do you think maybe Jacob got a glimpse of his coming Savior the Lord Jesus Christ? Hundreds and thousands of years in the future, in the little village of Bethlehem there was a baby born and the Bible says thou shalt call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins. Jesus is our Benoni, the son of sorrow who died for us on the cross. But he is also our Benjamin. He is the Son of God's right hand. God was pointing Jacob to his coming Savior.

What we need tonight is to get ready for the coming of the Savior. Be prepared for the coming of our Lord. Every one of you needs a Savior from sin. The hard times come. The tragedies are going to come. Don't let them come without a Savior. Don't let them come without being right with God.

Let's bow our head in prayer.

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