Run to the House of God
July 8, 2018
All right, Genesis 34. We're going through the chapter by chapter and here we are. Last week we left Jacob after he had just left his uncle Laban after working for him for 20 years and receiving wives and children and many flocks. He came back greatly wealthy, but a broken relationship with Laban. God told him to go back to the land of his father's and that He would be with him.
He sent word to his brother, Esau, another broken relationship. In fact, when he left 20 years before, Esau had declared that he was going to kill him. Now he's coming back at the instruction of the Lord to come back to the land of his father. He sent word to his brother Esau that he was coming and his servants brought word back to him. "He is coming out to meet you and he's got 400 men with him." Which is not exactly a welcoming party.
That is an army, and so he was greatly concerned about this. It was amazing, the end result of that was a tremendous reunion. God made the way, God helped them reconcile their relationship. Now he is finally back into that land that he was called to go to, but he did not go to Bethel, which is where he should have gone. Instead, he went to Succoth, but it was in Bethel that he had that dream.
You remember that famous dream of Jacob? We call it Jacob's Ladder. Where he had this amazing spiritual insight where he saw the stairway or ladder into heaven and angels ascending and descending on it. He awakens from this and he said, "God is in this place and I didn't know it. This is an awesome place. God is in this place. This is none other than the house of God, than the gate of heaven."
He made an offering and he worshiped God there. That's where he should have gone, instead, he went to Succoth, built the house there even. Even though God called him to live in tents, like a sojourner, he said. Later he went to an area called Shechem, which was a worldly city, bought some land there even. That's when things took a turn for the worst. What had happened, it's really a tragic story.
He had a daughter named Dinah and she decided to go to Shechem and meet some of the local girls and build a relationship and connection to the local ladies. She is seen by a man, a young man named Shechem also, coincidentally. He fancies her right away, but he takes hold of her and forces himself upon her, and thus the tragedy begins. Then he goes to his father and he says, "I have to have this woman for a wife."
His father goes to Jacob saying, "What must we do? Name the price. What must we do? We must have this woman for my son for his wife." Jacob, however, had heard that the girl had been defiled, and he was furious. When the boys came back, they were out shepherding. When they came back and they heard it, they were enraged at this, but they put on a ruse and they said, "What an idea. Let's all consider marrying one another's daughter, but we can't really do that since you're uncircumcised. Why don't you get circumcised and then we can start to build a connection, and we can build a relationship and we'll all become one people?
They thought that this was a marvelous idea, and so all of the men of the city circumcised themselves on the same day. On the third day after that when they were, let's say sore, two of the brothers, Simeon and Levi, they entered into the city with weapons, and they cut down all the men. Out a fit of rage and anger and revenge took a great plunder from the city.
Jacob, when he heard about it, was greatly troubled of what they had done, and he said to Simeon and Levi, "What have you done? You have brought great trouble to me. You have made me odious to these people of this land." In other words, you have made me unpleasant to them. You have made me to stink amongst them, and they will come together as a people and they will attack us.
That's where we begin our study, on that tremendous note. See, this is an interesting thing of the flesh. The flesh thinketh. Wouldn’t it be great if we all smelled like the great outdoors? In fact, the flesh, and it's a spiritual point, the flesh “stinketh”. Why? Because it makes it so clear we need the help of God. God here speaks to Jacob and brings the help that he needs and there are lessons in this for all of us.
I. Get to the House of God
Let's look at Genesis 34, we'll begin in verse 30. Jacob then said to Simeon and Levi, "You have brought great trouble on me, made me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites, and the Perizzites. My men being few in number, they will gather together against me, and attack me. I shall be destroyed and all my household. They said, "Should he treat our sister like a harlot?"
Then God, in chapter 35, said to Jacob, "Arise, get up, and go to Bethel." Go to Bethel. In other words, that's where you should have been. Go to Bethel and live there and make an altar there to God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau. Jacob said to his household and to all who are with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Let us arise and let us go to Bethel and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, because God will answer me again." In other words, "He has been with me wherever I have gone."
There's some great words here. They gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had, which they shouldn't have had to begin with, and the rings which were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem. As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Jacob came to Luz, that is Bethel.
It used to be called used to be called Luz, which is in the land of Canaan. He and all the people who were with him and he built an altar there. This is a declaration of worship and he called the place El-bethel. God of Bethel, because there, God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. Not Deborah, Rebecca, that's his mother, Rebecca's nurse, she died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak.
It was named Allon-bacuth, which means oak of weeping. God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram and He blessed him. God said to him this, "Your name is Jacob, heal snatcher, deceiver. You will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name." This is the second time, this is a confirmation, your name is to be recognized as Israel, thus He called him Israel.
God also said to him, "I am God Almighty, I am El Shaddai. This is the great name that He revealed to Abraham. "You'll be fruitful, and you'll multiply, and the nation and the company of nation shall come forth from you. Kings shall come forth from you and the land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I give to you. Which is the land of Israel today and the claim of Israel to that land goes all the way back to Abraham.
"I give it to you, and I give the land to your descendants after you." God went up from him in the place where He had spoken to him, and Jacob set up a pillar in that place where he had spoken with Him, a pillar of stone. Then he poured out a libation on it and he poured oil on it. Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him Bethel, which means the house of God.
A. Now stay there
There's a lot of great application in these verses. Starting with this, the word that we can have applied to our lives through this story, is get to the house of God, the name Bethel. "Get up, go to the house of God, go to Bethel and live there," He said to Jacob. The place where God had revealed himself. For us in many ways is sort of like, do you remember when you first came to the Lord?
Do you remember that day? I can tell you how old I was. I can tell you who was there. I can tell you what happened. It was such a monumental day to me, and the joy that came into my heart, I absolutely rejoiced because of what had happened in my life. Do you remember like that day, that glorious day that God got ahold of you? That's kind of that idea. Remember when God spoke to you?
Remember when God got ahold of your heart? Like, go to the house of God, go to that relationship to the Lord again. Return to your first love is the idea. That place where God revealed himself. That place, it was that place, like the awe of God's presence was there, and that he would build an altar there. Now, what you notice is as we look at these verses, you go to Bethel and then he said, "Now you stay here." He can't miss that. He's absolutely vital and live there, stay there. See, we are the ones when we get far from the Lord, when we wander away from the Lord, see, it's real. It's a spiritual analogy because there are many people who find themselves wandering in life and their relationship to the Lord is less than what God wants it to be. They find their hearts less than what God wants it to be. "Stay there in the House of God. Stay there near." I love Proverbs 18:10. "The name of the Lord is a high tower and the righteous run into it and are saved."
You're troubled. Your soul is disturbed. Things that are happening in life. Troubles abound. I love that last song we sing. That is a declaration song right there. In troubles abound. Your soul is disturbed. The name of the Lord is a strong tower. You run to the house of the Lord, and the righteous are saved. Jacob had told God that he would come back to this place, when he comes back, he would go, but he didn't. 8 to 10 years he's been back in this land. He hasn't come to Bethel. He wasn't living where God wanted him to live.
He wasn't in the center of God's will. He pitched his tent in the worldly place, even bought land there, and he's getting comfortable in the wrong place. This is a great application for us. Don't be comfortable in the wrong place. It was there at Bethel that Jacob had been refreshed in the Lord. It was there that he knew that God was for me. It was there that his faith began and it was there that God wanted him to stay. Where did your faith begin? Return. Come back to the Lord. I love Psalm 34:8, where it says, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, how blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Taste and see, the Lord is good. Psalm 27:4. One thing I've asked from the Lord and that I shall seek, I'll tell you what, Psalm 27 means much to me because I remember--
One I day just had this desire to get to church early. I just loved going to church when I was young. I wanted to get the early and I just wanted to sit there and I loved the smell of the church. I loved the feel. I just loved sitting there. I opened my Bible. I'm waiting for service to start and I read Psalm 27. You've got to read Psalm 27 in its entirety. It's a beautiful declaration of faith. Verse 4 is beautiful. It says, "One thing I have asked from the Lord, and that I shall seek, that I made dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. To behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in this temple." There I was in church just reading this, and is like, "God, you're, you're just speaking words of life to me."
How beautiful. One thing I've asked, Lord, that I may see, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. You know what happened for me at that moment? It was a call to become a pastor. It's like, yes, "That's what I want, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life." I want to be part of the worship. I want to experience what you're doing, God. I want to be part of transforming lives. I want to be part of it, God. As a pastor, it is a huge privilege. I get to be part of five different worship services a week. It's like, "Yes," and I get to play on a couple of them. The Lord just begins to stir my heart.
I love being in the house of the Lord. It's like return to your first love. In another place, he said this at Jeremiah 2:2, "Go and proclaim, go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem." God says, "I remember the devotion of your youth." God says, "I remember. Do you remember? I remember. "Oh, how as a bride you loved me." He's speaking to Israel. "Oh, how I remember how you followed me through the desert. Do you remember the relationship that we once had? Remember the joy. Come back."
A. Put away the foreign gods
Then he says this, listen to this verse written. "Put away foreign gods. Put away those foreign things." It's interesting. Jacob didn't need to be told that, he didn't have those in his life. He knew that when God called him back to the House of God, that his family needed to get rid of these idols.
Verse 4 seems to suggest, Chapter 35:4 seems to suggest that there were quite a few idols in his family. How did this happen? Well, we know that when he was leaving his uncle Laban's area that Rachel, Laban's daughter, before she left, she went into her father's house and she took, which is to say she took without permission, which is a way of saying that she shouldn't have had them, which is the way of saying she stole them. She took her father's idols as they were leaving, the boys, probably, seeing that example, probably, took idols out of the city of Shechem. Now they're starting to have these idols in their lives. Do we have idols today? We do, not the same. They're different, but anything that stands in the place of our relationship to God is an idol.
Thus, it's not wise to put your heart into an idol. They don't satisfy. They cannot touch the soul. Only God can touch the soul. They cannot touch your soul. They become obstacles. See, when you chase after empty things, there's a great Scripture, when you chased after empty things, it has a result of you becoming empty. Let me give it to you. Jeremiah 2:5, "Thus says the Lord, 'What injustice did your fathers find in Me that they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and thus became empty?" That's a great verse. Don't you just love how that is said. "Thus says the Lord, 'What injustice did your fathers find in Me?" Is there something wrong with God that they went far from Me and walked after emptiness and became empty? Another question maybe they ask is, "Can an idol save in times of trouble?" No. Where's Michelob when you need him? No, he cannot save in times of trouble. In fact, would you tune in your Bibles, would you? If you got your Bibles open, would you tune to Jeremiah 2? If you do that, I want to read some of these verses at Jeremiah 2 because it speaks to this powerfully. Jeremiah 2, starting in verse 9, listen to these words.
Therefore, I will contend with you, declares the Lord, and with your sons' sons, I will contend. For cross to the coastlines of Kittim observe and see if there has ever been such a thing as this. Has a nation changed gods when they were not gods, but my people have changed their glory. That relationship that they had with me for that which doesn't profit, doesn't help them at all. Be appalled, oh, Heavens, at this shutter, be very desolate, declares the Lord, for my people. Have committed two evils. They have forsaken me. The Fountain of living waters. Isn't that just the powerful expression? They have forsaken a fountain of living waters to hue or cut out for themselves out of the rock cisterns, broken cisterns, they are broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Why would you leave the fountain of Living Water for stagnant water and even the system doesn't hold. Idols are a bad investment, you might say.
When I was 17, I remember either I bought a car that I thought was the car of all cars. It was like the-- If a 17 year old wants to have the car of all cars, it would be able to have to be in 1971 American motors javelin with a Starsky and Hutch Stripe. Does anybody know what a Starsky and Hutch Stripe is? Yes. You're a little old. It was an awesome car, glass packed mufflers, air shocks in the back, putting them up, big wide tires. The problem was I thought the girls would like me more. Which is why I bought it. Let me just say that wasn't exactly a spiritual decision. Anybody understand what I'm saying? That wasn't exactly a spiritual decision and the end result of it I found my heart going farther and farther and farther from the Lord and that was the trouble. That was the trouble right there. Eventually, it got wrecked and it is yes, a tragedy. A tragedy, it is in the junkyard.
Now dreaming of the old days, driving down country roads, listening to eight tracks. Maybe the question would be, is there a difference between our lives and the world? That's the question. If God has called us, He's asking us to bring our heart. Are we watching the same things as the world? Are we doing the same things as the world? Are we listening to the same things as the world? There's an old hymn that captures this so, so well. An old hymn. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus." Maybe some of you know this. "Look full in his wonderful face and the things of Earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace." That's a good song.
B. Purify the heart and change the garments
What is He saying? This is what He's saying, purify the heart and change the garments, verse two. Next thing Jacob said, purify your heart, purify themselves and change your garments. The point seems to be clear. Putting away the idol is the first step, but getting the idol out of the heart is the next step. See, what good is it unless the thing is out of the heart. What good is it? I was talking to someone the other day and he used the phrase. We were talking about something or other he said something about that and then the word truth came up.
He said, "And the truth will set you free." I said, "Where does that come from? That phrase that you just used. Where does that phrase come from?" He said, "I don't know. Where does that phrase come from?" I said, "That's from the Bible." Jesus said that and what He said was, "If you abide in my word you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Then I said then a few verses later He said, "He who and the son sets free is free indeed." Then he said, "What does that mean?" I said, "I'm glad you asked."
What good is it to be free temporally if you're not free eternally? Jesus said rightly that it's a question of the heart. The most important question of all Matthew 12:34,36, "The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The life is lived out of that which fills the heart. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good, but the evil man brings out of his evil treasure that which is evil." The heart is the most important part of us. Jacob told them, "Change the garments." Garments, they begin to smell, become stained by where we've been. We are changing, we are moving, change your garments.
II. Be Altared in God’s House
I remember many, many years ago and I was young, I used to work in the restaurant business and every time I would come home my clothes would smell like the restaurant. You begin to be like where you are. Wherever you are, you begin to take on those qualities of where you are. He's calling us to change, to have a spiritual change in our lives. What is he saying? He's saying, "Be altered in God's house," that's what he's saying. "Be altered in God's house."
They headed to Bethel, it's about 30 miles to the south. When they arrived, Jacob built this altar. Building an altar was an act of worship. It was a recognition of God. It was a statement that our hearts are here. "God, we're recognizing you in this place." Giving Him first place see. When you come to the altar, you come to the house of God. When you come into the presence of the Lord, we are altered, if you would. When we worship, when we bring our hearts, God is on the move. Okay, this is the key. When you come into the presence of the Lord and you open your heart, I tell you, God is on the move, and God inhabits the praises of his people. God is on the move. You open your heart, and God will begin to move in your life.
A. He has watched over you
Then he noticed the statement, he recognizes that God has watched over me. He has watched over you. See, coming back to Bethel was to come back to that place where Jacob had first encountered God. For us, it's coming back to that place where our faith was once alive. It was there that God had promised to be with him and would bless him wherever he went. Coming back to Bethel, then, meant coming back to that. Coming back to the house of God. It was clear that, indeed, God had been watching over his life. Even when Jacob's heart wasn't where it should have been, God was watching over his life.
A few years ago, Jordy and I were on a drive. I said, "Hey, would you to go for a drive, my old stomping grounds, we used to live and drive?" "Yes, that'd be fun." We took this drive around the country, we live way out. As we're coming back, it reminded me of a time when I was coming down towards the town and the neighbor boy behind me had a Mustang. He thought it was fast and he had to try to race, so I raced him. He's in the front and I came around to pass him, because my car was faster. Came around to pass him, but there was this corner, so I had to back off and come back around that hill, down that hill, around that corner and then there was a big flat.
I was telling my wife this whole story. I came out to pass him and again, now I'm just slightly ahead of him. The problem was there now was a rise coming and I thought surely he'll break, I'm slightly ahead, but he didn't, and I didn't. We both went over the rise like that. When we came over the rise, there was a sheriff's deputy there.
I'm telling my wife this story, and all of a sudden it hits me, it had never hit me before in all my life. I had told that story many times it had never hit me before. I'm telling you this story and all of a sudden it hit me, I could have killed somebody. What if there was a family with kids coming that way and I would have killed all of them. It would have been my fault. I'm telling my wife this and it's like I want to start crying. It hit me how stupid. There wasn't the car there, it was the sheriff's deputy there, but there was not a car. I'm telling my wife this and then, "Oh, God was watching over me even when I was stupid and didn't deserve it. God was watching over me. How stupid, how utterly stupid, but God was watching over me.
Have you ever sensed that? Have you ever known that? Have you ever looked back on your life and realized God was watching over you when you don't deserve it? You don't deserve it. Psalm 127:2, "It's vain to rise up early." I quoted this several times because it is so powerful. It's vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors. For it is He who gives to his beloved even while He sleeps. God is watching over you. This is what Jacob says, "God has been watching over my life, He's been with me wherever I've gone." When you look back and you see God's hand in your life, they are the good and the bad, you realize, He is worthy to be honored. He is worthy to be worshiped. There's a great difference between going through the motions of the thing and truly giving your heart to God. There's a big difference between going through the motion of the ting and truly giving your heart to God.
B. God meant what He said
Isn't that what he's calling us to? Isn't that the reminder of that? Go back, go back to that place where faith was once alive. Have you wandered? Isn't that the point? Have you wandered away from what God has called you to? Here's the point and this is the point we need to recognize, God meant what He said. God meant what He said. So interesting to see what's happened next in the story. Jacob purified their hearts, changed the garments, builds an altar, has another encounter with God where God, again, confirms and speaks like, "You name will be Israel, no longer will you be Jacob, heel snatcher, supplanter, deceiver." That's what Jacob means. "You've lived long enough with that name, you are going to go by the name with Israel." He's confirming it, in other words, God meant what He said.
God meant when He said it the first time, He's making it clear. "Go to the house of God Israel, live there, live there." God meant it when He called him Israel, be governed by God. He meant it when He said to stay in the how of God. He meant it because He knew that that was the right thing for Jacob's heart. We need to stay in the how of God. We need to stay in that place where God once ignited our faith. The center of His will and we know then that God will be with us wherever we go. Whether be times of trouble or times of suffering, times of good. The point is that we want God to be with us wherever we go.