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Sunday, March 8, 2020

posted Mar 9, 2020, 12:01 AM by Site Administrator



Genesis 33:17-36:43

Key Verse 35:10


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.


First, "Go up to Bethel and settle there and build an altar there to God" (33:17-35:5). Look at chapter 33, verse 17. After their joyful encounter, Esau went back to Seir; however, Jacob went to Succoth and settled there. He built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. He bought the plot of ground for a hundred pieces of silver, pitched his tent there, showing that he was going to stay there permanently. He also built an altar and called it, “El Elohe Israel,” which means, “God, the God of Israel.” He was very happy and thankful to God who had set him free from his cursed nature of Jacob and changed him to a different person, Israel. Outwardly, things looked okay – he solved his life problem, he was changed, and now he was worshiping God, expressing his thanks to God. But his destination was Bethel; he was going to Bethel, but on the way, he stopped his journey and tried to settle in Succoth.


After meeting God, he was released from the tight grip of his inborn nature of grasping. Now he wouldn’t fight with people any longer. Instead, he wanted to live a peaceful life. In verse 18, the expression, “he camped within sight of the city,” showed that he wanted to live among people there. Now this time, since he would not fight with people any longer, he was confident that he would get along with them very well and enjoy a happy life. When God showed his grace upon Jacob and set him free from his cursed nature of Jacob and gave him the new nature of Israel, God had a clear vision for him; God wanted him to be his covenant person, the father of many nations so that God would bring great blessing to all peoples on earth through him. But Jacob just wanted to use God's blessing for himself - he just wanted to enjoy a peaceful and comfortable life among the people in Succoth.


God’s salvation or God’s grace has a purpose; it has a redemptive purpose, meaning, God saves us from our life problems so that through us, many others can be saved also. But many people ignore this will of God. Once their terrible life problem is solved by God’s grace, they just want to enjoy this new life for themselves - all problems are gone, and they have no ill intention against anyone, but just want to enjoy a peaceful and comfortable life, of course, going to church, marrying a faithful person, having several children, and supporting their family well - just they want to enjoy a small citizen's happiness. So instead of making their journey all the way back to Bethel, instead of accepting God's will for their life and living according to God's great vision for them, they try to settle in Succoth, pursuing a small citizen's life. At that time, since they are not going to do anything bad or harmful, they expect that their life would go well and that they would enjoy a good citizen’s life. But things do not go that way. In John 15, Jesus told his disciples to remain in him because, otherwise, they would be like branches that were cut off. Such branches wither and are thrown away, worthless and good for nothing but fire. Succoth is the trap, which many people of God fall into and are destroyed. So, watch out!


When Jacob tried to settle in Succoth, things did not go as he had expected. Something terrible happened. His daughter was violated by Shechem son of Hamor, the ruler of the area. It was something that should not happen to Jacob’s family, the family of God’s covenant. Jacob was troubled; he was confused; he didn’t know how to deal with this matter. It seemed that Jacob still wanted to deal with it quietly so that he would stay there continuously. But Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, had a different plan. They were really angry with the people in Shechem. They tricked the townspeople, and while the townspeople were in pain because of circumcision, they attacked them with the sword, killed all of the males and plundered the town. Things got really terrible, and Jacob was in big trouble. Then, God gave Jacob a clear direction. Look at 35:1. Let’s read this verse together:


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."


God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God.” It was not God’s will for Jacob to settle in Succoth. Even though Jacob intended good, even worshiped God, building an altar and calling it, "El Elohe Israel," God was not pleased with him. That's not the right place for Jacob to worship God. Many people conveniently think and say that, since God is everywhere, it does not matter where they worship God. They think that, as long as they build an altar and call it, "El Elohe Israel," they are worshiping God. So, they conveniently include Sunday to their trip plan and say, "Don't worry. When I go to San Francisco, I will find a church there and attend worship service." They are so immature and blind. God has a specific place and a specific mission for each person, and God wants them to accept His calling and worship God in that specific place, pursuing God's will there. "Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God."


Here, God reminded Jacob of his grace, by saying, "who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau." It was the most difficult time in Jacob's life, when he was fleeing from Esau. At that time, God appeared to him, comforted him and gave him new strength to continue his journey. God wanted him to remember this grace of God, and by remembering it, he might obey God's direction, and go to Bethel. When we remember God's grace upon us, we are willing and happy to follow God's guidance and do what God wants us to do. Remembering God's grace upon us is like the foundation of our Christian life. Because he has been so good to me, because he has loved me first, so I am happy to love him back and do what He wants me to do. Remember how God appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau, and by remembering it, accept God's will and obey God's command out of thanks.


At this, how did Jacob respond? Look at chapter 35, verse 2. Let's read this verse together:


2  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. 


          Jacob accepted God's direction; now he would go to Bethel. But when he was going to obey God and do what God wanted him to do, when he was really serious about serving God's will, he realized that he and his family were not ready to meet God and serve Him. A certain preparation was necessary. So, he gave the direction to his household to get rid of all the foreign gods they had with them, purify themselves and change their clothes. It is really shocking that his family members had many foreign gods. Outwardly, everything seemed okay. Jacob was thankful to God for his grace, and worshiped God, building an altar and calling it, "El Elohe Israel." But inwardly, his whole family was rotting. Jacob was the leader, but he compromised, then, his whole family compromised, and they worshiped many foreign gods; indeed, a lot of problems were going on; it was not good.


This is the real picture of many Christians in our country. Outwardly, they look great; they are thankful to God, they come to worship service regularly, they have good intention toward others, helping the homeless people, and making donations for the needy people in the world; they are kind and gentle. But inwardly, as they just want to settle in Succoth, just pursuing a small citizen's dream, just trying to be nice to others, a lot of problems are going on in their lives and in the lives of their family members. They go to church, but what they really pursue and worship is not God, but some foreign gods such as money or pleasures. Instead of dedicating themselves to God’s will and purpose, they focus on enjoying their life – they want to make a lot of money quickly, retire by the age of 40, and then, travel a lot worldwide. People become idol worshipers of money and pleasures, even when they attend church. Then, they are vulnerable to many terrible things – broken families, diseases, and sins. Many of their children become party-animals and homo-sexuals. Outwardly, they look good, building an altar to God and calling it, “El Elohe Israel,” but inwardly, they are rotting. This is the result of trying to settle down in Succoth. This is how many Christians wither like cut branches; such branches are gathered together, thrown into fire and burned. We must make our journey all the way back to Bethel. Don't try to settle down in the middle of this journey; don't just pursue a happy and comfortable life in the world. Instead, live as God’s covenant people; live as holy pilgrims to the end. So, what should we do? We must get rid of all foreign gods from our life and heart; we must purify ourselves by changing our clothes, changing our deeds. Get rid of all those video games; cancel Netflix membership.


Look at verse 3. Let’s read this verse together:


3  Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone."


          Here, Jacob describes God as “God who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” This was Jacob’s life testimony. When he described God as “God who answered me in the day of my distress,” he showed his deep thanks to God’s marvelous grace upon him. “God who answered me in the day of my distress,…” Isn’t this our testimony also? Yes. God is the One who answered me in the day of my distress. In deep distress, we shouted, “Help me.” Our future looked so gloomy, hopeless. In pains and despair, we were perishing; there was no way out. Yet, God heard our feeble cry and came to rescue us. It seemed that there was nothing meaningful, nothing worthy of our life’s devotion, so there was nothing we really wanted to do. Everything was meaningless, utterly meaningless. In such deep darkness, without knowing what to do and where to go, we shouted, “Show me the way!” “What must I do with my life?” No one could help us, but God heard our cry and He showed us the way to go. Indeed, God is the One who answered us in the day of our distress.


          God is also the One who has been with us wherever we have gone. He is the One who went to Afghanistan to protect Pedro from an IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) that blew the side of his tank 100 yards away. He is the One who helped us in our jobs and businesses so that we can build our career successfully. He is the One who helped our families so that they would recognize us as God’s servants and support us. Let us build an altar to God who answered us in the day of our distress and who has been with us wherever we have gone.


Jacob collected all the foreign gods from his family and buried them under the oak at Shechem. Look at verse 5. It reads: Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. This verse talks about how God protected Jacob from dangers. Even if he had made many enemies around him, still no one attacked him, because God was protecting him. There is a great contrast between Genesis 34, which talks about Dinah being raped, something that should not have happened to God’s covenant family, and Genesis 35:5, which talks about God protecting Jacob as he was struggling to live according to God’s will. When God called Abraham to be his covenant person, his protection was a part of the terms and conditions of his covenant. Life comes with a lot of dangers – the danger of car-accident, the danger of diseases, the danger of viruses and bacteria, the danger of natural disasters, the danger of humans, the danger of demons, and so on. All people are exposed to various kinds of dangers all the days of their lives. That’s why people live in constant fear. But when we live as God’s covenant people, struggling to live according to God’s will and purpose, God’s protection is there in our lives. But when people compromise, when people live according to their own way, instead of living as God’s covenant people, simply, God’s hand of protection is lifted and thereby, many bad things can occur in their lives. That’s what we have heard about in regard to many Christians’ painful lives. In this very dangerous world, living as God’s covenant people may be the best health insurance, life insurance, fire insurance and earthquake insurance.


Second, “No longer Jacob, but Israel” (35:6-36:43). Look at verses 6 and 7. Let’s read these verses together:


Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan.  7  There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.


          Jacob came to Bethel. There, he built an altar to the Lord, and called the place, “El Bethel,” which means, “God of Bethel.” How come he changed the name of the place? He did so because he saw something differently. Long time ago, he named that place, “Bethel,” which means, “house of God,” and promised that, if God helped him, the LORD would be his God, he would come to that place and serve God and bring one tenth offering to God. It was from his own decision – he would do those things. But when he came back to Bethel 20 years later, he could see that the God of Bethel had done all things: not that Jacob he came back with his own decision, but that God had brought him back to Bethel. On his own, as a selfish person, even as a compromising person, he would have never come back to Bethel. But God wrestled with him and changed him, and God had brought him back to Bethel. When Jacob saw this, he was very amazed and thankful. So, he called that place, “El Bethel,” which means, “the God of Bethel.” In this way, when he obeyed God’s direction decisively by coming to Bethel, his eyes were opened to see what God had done for him more clearly; through his obedience to God’s direction, he came to know God’s grace upon his life more, and thereby, he was growing as a God-centered person. Long time ago, a few months after my marriage, I was chosen to serve a message at the conference. I wrote a testimony, and before bringing it to my shepherd, I asked my wife, missionary Grace to check it out, because she was spiritually far senior to me. After hearing my testimony, she suggested me to change the subject from “I” to “God,” saying that it was burdensome to hear when I said, “I did this,” “I did that” in my testimony. So, I changed many sentences, saying, “God helped me do this,” or “God blessed me to do that.” Then, even in my ears, my testimony sounded much better. Now as we look back, we can see that it was indeed God who has done everything; indeed, on our own, we would never turn to God, because we were selfish, worldly and even sinful. But God wrestled with us, and thanks to his struggle, today, we live as his covenant people, doing what He wants us to do. The God of Bethel has done everything for us so that today, we can live as God’s people. Praise the God of Bethel.


Look at verses 10 to 12. Let’s read these verses together:


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.  11  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.  12  The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you."


After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him with two blessings. God first confirmed his blessing of changing his name from Jacob to Israel, saying, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." Actually, this name change was mentioned at the Jabbok River in chapter 32. But when we check out Genesis 33, 34, and 35, we see that, until he made his journey back to Bethel, the Bible does not call him, "Israel," but “Jacob,” because he was not living as Israel according to God's will and purpose. As long as he tried to settle down in Succoth, he could not serve God's will and could not live as Israel. But now as he returned to Bethel in obedience to God’s direction, God confirmed his name change. From this point on, Genesis calls him, "Israel." And God also confirmed with Jacob his covenant blessings - the land and his descendants. At this, 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. Jacob's response showed that he accepted God's blessings on him - his name change and God's covenant. 20 years ago, in Bethel, when God mentioned about his covenant blessing, Jacob just ignored it; he didn't mention about it. But this time, he responded, accepting it, and making his heart's determination that he would live as God's covenant person, Israel, who struggled with God. Jacob became God's covenant person, after his father Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham. When Jacob lived as Jacob, he was a blessing collector; he struggled with men, competing with them, and grasped blessings with his never-give up spirit and hardworking spirit, but at the same time, making people angry with him wherever he went. But when he lived as Israel, struggling with God, instead of struggling with men, he became a blessing distributor – he blessed Pharaoh, Joseph’s two sons, and all of his sons one by one. Through him, God established the 12 tribes of Israel.


          Genesis chapter 35 also talks about the death of Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse (v.8), and the death of Rachel in childbirth in Bethlehem (v.19), and Isaac’s death at the age of 180, thus, concluding the life of Isaac (vs.28,29). Also this chapter mentions about how Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son defiled his father’s bed by sleeping Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah. Genesis chapter 36 talks about Esau’s descendants; Esau was really fruitful, establishing kingship that went on generation after generation. Everyone who was related to God’s covenant family was greatly blessed.


In conclusion, only thanks to God’s struggle with Jacob even to the point of wrestling with him physically, Jacob could be released from the tight grip of his cursed grasping nature, and became Israel, a spiritual person. The God of Israel is the God who frees us from our cursed nature and gives us a new personality of struggling with God. We were trouble makers like Jacob because of our cursed nature. But now God frees us from our cursed nature and gives us a spiritual nature of Israel so that we can live as a blessing distributor. We praise the God of Israel for wrestling with us and freeing us from the bondage of our cursed nature.  The God of Israel wants all of us now to live as God’s covenant people.


One Word:   Your Name Will No Longer Be Jacob, But Israel.