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Overwhelming Change — Genesis Chapter 35

This blog post will cover the devotionals #149-154 for Genesis Chapter 35.

Please note that this devotional book is for sale as a physical (paperback) &/or digital (PDF) book on my website.

[149] Genesis 35:1-7

While Jacob was still struggling over his sons’ murderous violence towards the city of Shechem, God called him to return to Bethel and commune with God as he had when he fled his father’s home for fear of Esau’s rage. He wanted to go to that sacred place, but first wanted to rid his family from the corruption of idolatry. He called everyone in his camp to get rid of their idols and cleanse themselves and their clothes. They agreed and he buried their idols and earrings under an oak tree. He told the story of how God had responded to him during his great distress and accompanied him wherever he’d gone. Just by recalling all the ways that God had worked on his behalf, his own heart was greatly softened—and it didn’t stop with him. Even his children were impacted by God’s goodness toward their father. He used the most effective method to prepare his family to join him in worshipping God when they’d arrive to Bethel. When they left, God subdued the people of the surrounding cities, preventing any attack. Jacob had feared that the people of that land would kill him and his family because of what his sons had done to Shechem, but God worked (despite their sins) to encourage and protect Jacob. None came after his household. When they finally arrived to Luz (Bethel), they built an altar and named the place Elbethel. It was a consecrated spot because God had met with him there so long before when he was so afraid of Esau. This was a special place for the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)—and it was going to be kept a sacred place to remind them of God’s mercy. Isaiah 54:7, 8 shows how God appears to forsake us for a moment but will gather us with great mercy—that He hides His face from us for a moment but will have mercy on us with everlasting kindness. God never hid His face from Jacob—but he must have felt forsaken—especially with all the sin and deceit he’d committed. Then, what his children did probably discouraged him afresh. As we’ve learned before, God’s wrath isn’t Him forsaking or abandoning us, but rather, giving us the space that we demand (because He won’t force His presence where it isn't wanted). Jacob’s family had fallen into idolatry, but God still didn’t forsake them, and when Jacob called upon Him for himself and his children—God was quick to respond and gather His family back to Him.

[150] Genesis 35:8,16-20

While Jacob’s household was at Bethel, he had to endure the loss of a beloved member of his family. His mother, Rebekah, had a nurse named Deborah, who’d left Mesopotamia with her when she journeyed to Canaan to marry Isaac. This elderly woman was a comforting connection to his former life—especially when it came to his cherished mother who loved him so dearly. This was even more tragic for him, considering he never saw his mother again (she died while he was away). Deborah was buried with such mourning that the oak under which she was laid was referred to as ‘the oak of weeping’. The memory of her life of faithful service to Rebekah and her family, and the mourning of her loss, are worthy enough to be mentioned in God’s Word. Proverbs 31 discusses a virtuous woman, and verses 30, 31 really seem to describe the life of Deborah. “Favor is deceitful and beauty is vain: but a woman that fears the Lord will be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.” After they left their eventful time at Bethel and were almost to Ephrath, Jacob's beloved wife, Rachel, began giving birth and went through hard labor. In the middle of it, her midwife told her not to be afraid because she’d have her second son. As she was dying, she named him, Benoni (meaning ‘to exert oneself in vain and come to naught’ and ‘son of my sorrow’). Israel called him Benjamin (meaning ‘son of the right hand’ or ‘my strength’). I wonder if Jacob named him that because he was a joy amid the grief that Jacob was experiencing. Rachel died, and they buried her in route to Ephrath (Bethlehem). Jacob put a tombstone on her grave to serve as a memorial for her. The trip was only two days long, but it felt like years to Jacob as he grieved the death of his beloved wife. As a contrast, he’d served fourteen years to marry her, but that time only felt like mere days. His love for her was deep and lasting. When Jacob was nearing death himself, he recalled her death and burial. What makes that so significant is that he could’ve recalled so many other things from his long, difficult life before dying—but the only thing he mentioned was losing Rachel. It must have felt like a part of him died. In Genesis 2:23, 24, it says, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…therefore a man must leave his father and mother and must cleave to his wife: and they must be one flesh.” Jacob did leave his father and mother to go find his wife, and he did cling to her, and became one with her.

[151] Genesis 35:9-15

After Jacob’s worship at Bethel, and Deborah’s burial, God came back to him and reminded him of his change in name, and of His promises and commands. We saw, in devotional #144, that Jacob had wrestled with Christ in his faithful determination to overcome the character so accurately foretold by his birth name. He wrestled to overcome the sins (and their consequences) that naturally played out of a sinful character. In the end, he did overcome, and to commemorate the victory and change, Christ Himself gave Jacob a new name that represented who he’d be from there on out. Israel was the authentic man inside that young and misguided, yet sincere, Jacob—who wanted desperately to have the privilege predicted to be his—to be the patriarch, the leader of the chosen people, and the man through whom His own Redeemer would come. He wanted the spiritual blessing (that he fought so hard to obtain that night) from the time he was a child, and this time, the means he used to obtain it weren't impatience, deceit, and lies, but instead faith, repentance, and perseverance. 'Israel' means ‘prevail’ but also ‘he will rule as God’. In the Bible, the word, ‘name’, refers to ‘character’ or ‘authority’. Thus, Israel wasn’t only given a new character, but also authority of God. Revelation 2:17 says, “…I will allow him that overcomes to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except him that receives it.” When it says that he’ll receive a white stone with a new name written in it, there’s something beautiful to note. Strong’s Concordance defines 'stone’ here as ‘verdict of acquittal’ and ‘admission ticket’. The color white represents purity and innocence—so, in a sense, when Christ said that the overcomers would be given a white stone with a new name, He was saying that they’d be judged innocent of the crime they’d been charged with, their slate would be wiped clean, and their character renewed. They’d be given access to something special. ‘Manna’ means ‘what’ (in other words, ‘what is it?’). If the overcomer will be allowed to eat of the hidden manna, then it likely means he’ll be allowed to partake in the mysteries and be sustained by them.

[152] Genesis 35:21,22

Matters kept getting worse for Jacob and his family. He continued his travels and pitched his tent past the tower of Edar. While they were living there, Reuben (his firstborn) slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (who’d been Rachel’s handmaid, and whom Rachel gave to Jacob to provide him sons at her own knees), and Jacob found out about it. This dark crime denied Reuben the privileges and honors of the birthright— which would instead be broken up between Levi, Judah, and Joseph. When we look at devotional #194, we’ll see Jacob calling together his sons for a blessing (and a foretelling of the opposite)—but it’s striking to see his commentary to Reuben—so full of mixed feelings. Genesis 49:3, 4 says, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: unstable as water, you will not excel, because you went into your father’s bed, then you defiled it. He went up to my couch.” The reason this was so grievous (outside of the obvious) is that Leviticus 18:7, 8 tells us that a man shouldn’t uncover the nakedness of his father or mother, or his father’s wife (all that belongs to his father). In devotional #66, we discussed this principle with the situation between Ham and Noah. Recall that, in their culture, to reveal a person’s nakedness (especially one’s family member) was to take away their dignity—and it was a great sin. It also referred to the act of sleeping with them (having intercourse). It’s interesting, then, that Jacob referred to his son as the excellency of dignity, after having lost his own dignity to that very son. However, he was merely showing the contrast between what he could’ve been, and what he’d now be. It seems Reuben was following in the footsteps of his uncle, Esau, and yet, we’ll see (in devotional #158) an interesting contrast in how he relates to another terrible situation of proposed murder between his brethren (which also seems to be a parallel with Esau). Regardless of the things he did right (or the bad things he didn’t participate in), he’d sinned greatly, and was on a corrupt course.

[153] Genesis 35:23-26

We know that Jacob had twelve sons. Leah had Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. Rachel had Joseph and Benjamin. Bilhah had Dan and Naphtali. Zilpah had Gad and Asher. Twelve is a very significant number in Scriptures, so it should come as no surprise that the man God chose to represent His chosen people would also have correlation to the number. His sons would be the heads of twelve tribes—which the Bible speaks extensively about. The New Jerusalem will have twelve foundations with twelve gates, with the twelve names of Israel’s tribes. Twelve is looked at as a perfect number. It shows up many times in Scriptures and has to do with authority—especially in the context of government. A few other instances that appear in Scriptures include the following. Ishmael had twelve sons / tribes (who’d be important in the history of Israel). Twelve spies went to check out the land of Canaan. Twelve men carried the ark into the Jordan before the waters separated. Quantities of twelve were used for multiple things in the Old Testament sanctuary. Elisha used twelve oxen in his labors. Ezra chose twelve priests after Israel’s captivity, and Solomon chose twelve governors. The Old Testament has twelve minor prophets. Jesus was twelve when He spoke in the temple. Christ chose to have twelve close disciples. Twelve baskets full of food scraps were collected after the multitude was fed. The tree of life will bear twelve fruits (one for each month of the year). There are twelve months in a year, and twelve hours in a day (Christ refers to this in John 11:9). The Revelation number, 144,000 (those who’ll be sealed), depicts twelve thousand people from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Notice that the twelve patriarchs were representatives of the nation of Israel, and the twelve disciples were representatives of the gospel church. There will be twelve thrones from which the twelve tribes will be judged. God was setting a foundational example of His perfect government and His authority over us. He is (and always intended to be) our only Head and Ruler. The set-up of the twelve tribes of Israel was the only government that God ever set up on Earth—and furthermore—He was their King—no man filled that place for them. However, that was destroyed by man, who’d set up his own form of government, and the results of that are very clear.

[154] Genesis 35:27-29

After Deborah and Rachel died, and Reuben slept with his father’s concubine, Jacob went to meet up with his father, Isaac, in Hebron (which is where Abraham and Isaac had stayed). Isaac was 180 years old (he was sixty when Jacob and Esau were born, which made them 120 years of age when Jacob reunited with his father). This should give some context, then, of the state that Jacob was in when he separated from Laban, made his journey, and wrestled with Christ. This also means that Jacob was roughly one hundred years old (give or take the amount of time it took him to leave and return to Canaan, tarry in certain places, and return to his father) when he deceived his father and brother and then left for Laban’s house. Even if Jacob was around seventy to eighty years old (as other people suggest) when he fled from Esau out of Canaan, he was by no means a young man at all. The aged brothers again reunited at their father’s deathbed and buried him together. Esau had long looked forward to using this meeting as an opportunity to get his revenge against Jacob for what he’d done, but his feelings had changed. Jacob, the recipient of their father’s wealth, ended up giving it all to Esau. This was the only inheritance that Esau ever wanted from Isaac (he didn’t care about the spiritual aspect at all). They’d chosen different paths, and their paths only separated more and more throughout their lives. God didn’t arbitrarily keep Esau away from the spiritual blessings that were rightfully his as firstborn. Esau rejected the eternal inheritance, received the temporal one, and chose to separate from the chosen people. Likewise, God didn’t arbitrarily choose to bless Jacob. Jacob desired the spiritual blessing—and though he tried to use sinful methods to obtain it—the remorse for those very sins led to the change in his character that fit him up to receive it.

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