“Go up to Bethel!”
Today’s message is about the importance of entering into a covenantal relationship with God and how should we prepare for worship. In order to understand more clearly our text today, we need to know some backgrounds of the text.
The immediate background in chapter 34 is that Dinah, a daughter Leah bore to Jacob, was raped by Shechem, a prince of the region, and her angry brothers, Simeon and Levi, killed all the males of Shechem, who were recovering from the circumcision they went through with the hope of becoming one people with Jacob’s family. By killing all the males with deception by talking Shechemites into being circumcised, Jacob’s sons put the whole family, their lives and wealth, in danger. Jacob was terrified at the prospect of what might happen to them if the neighboring people of Shechemites mobilized out of vengeance against him and his family.
Then, God commanded him to “go up to Bethel”. Why Bethel? If we recall from Genesis chapter 28: 13-15, God appeared to Jacob in his dream and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God offered a covenantal relationship to Jacob as God had with Abraham and Isaac. To that, Jacob responded, however, in Vss. 20-22, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
We can see from here that Jacob did not immediately enter into a covenantal relationship with God by saying, ‘Yes, Lord, you are my God!’. he said, instead, if you do this and that for me (give me food to eat, clothes to wear and bring me safely back home, then, you will be my God, this stone I set up will be the house of God, and I will give a tenth for all you give).
At this point, we have to examine whether God had kept his promises to Jacob for what Jacob wanted God to do for him. Did God give him food to eat and clothes to wear? Yes, God gave Jacob much more than just “food and clothes”; God made him very rich against all the trickeries Laban, his uncle, played against Jacob, -who exploited Jacob’s labor at no cost to him. Laban tricked Jacob into marrying his first daughter Leah. As a result, Jacob had to work 14 years for free for him, to marry the woman he really wanted, Rachel. Not only that, during the six years of working for Laban for a wage Laban changed Jacob’s wage ten times. In short, as Jacob testified against Laban in chapter 31, Laban might have sent away Jacob with empty-handed if it weren’t for God’s intervention for Jacob. God protected and blessed Jacob as God promised. God made him very rich. The reason the people of Shechem agreed to be circumcised was, they coveted Jacob’s possession. If we read Genesis 34: 21-23, “…We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. Won’t their livestock, their property, and all their other animals become ours? So, let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.”
How about did God bring Jacob safely back home? Yes, God did. If we recall, God kept Jacob and his family safely even from the hands of Essau who initially came to wage war against Jacob, paying back for stealing his blessings. Esau came to meet Jacob with 400 men. Why would anyone bring 400 men other than with the intention of harming somebody or group? When Abraham went to rescue his nephew Lot from the hands of Kedorlaomer and his allies, he brought 318 men with him to engage in a war. It was obvious that Essau wanted to harm Jacob by bringing 400 men, whose numbers were far exceeded than the 318 men their grandfather, Abraham, brought to fight. God brought Jacob safely back home!
How about Jacob? Did he keep his promises to God? Did he enter into a covenantal relationship with God as he said he would if God fulfills his promises to him? No, he did not. Jacob safely came back home, but he did not go to Bethel. Instead, he settled in the land of Shechem. From Shechem to Bethel is only 20 miles away. He did not go up to Bethel to fulfill his promises; To Jacob, God was still the God of his father, not his God, if we read Genesis 31:42,” If the God of my father, the God of Abraham…, had not been with me, ….”
What can we learn from our text? Jacob acknowledged that it was God who blessed him. He recognized that if it weren’t for God, he could not have survived or owned anything. Yet, he did not have a covenantal relationship with God. God was not his God; God was the God of his father. There are many people saying that they know that God loves them and that God has blessed them, yet they are not interested in committing their lives to God. They do not have a relationship with God, worshipping God in the house of God, or giving a tenth of what God gives them to God. The tithe is a recognition that God is our God, and God is the one who gives everything we have, and owned, –a confession coming out of a committed relationship with God.
Instead of going to Bethel, Jacob settled in Shechem; Dinah, his daughter was raped, and he found himself being surrounded by the enemies who can attack them anytime. Many people complained to God when harms come to them, ‘why, Why God, why did you not protect me or our family from such evils?’ In Jacob’s case and in many people’s cases, the sure protection of God is not promised to those who are not in the covenantal relationship with God, making God as their haven, being under the shadow of the Almighty Wings. They should not be out in the world where the arrows of the enemies, of the satan, are flying all directions, in the first place. If anyone is in the area where the enemies shooting guns from all directions, then, that person would be bound to get shot, wouldn’t it? Shechem is the world where satanic deadly arrows are flying everywhere, and Jacob was living in Shechem, instead of being in Bethel where God is. Only God’s people who made God as their God, worshipping God wholeheartedly committed to Him are under the sure protection of God. That is why it is important to enter into a covenantal relationship with God, instead of just knowing God.
God told Jacob to go to Bethel, urging him to fulfill his promises, entering into a covenant with God, ‘Be my God, Lord, as I am yours.’ At this point, those people who worship God regularly and giving a tenth to God might say, ‘Well, I guess I am o.k. since I am doing all those.’
Let’s think about what it means to worship God, going to Bethel. When Jacob decided to go to Bethel. He summoned all his households and ordered them to in vs. 2, 1) get rid of all foreign gods they have with them, 2) purify themselves, 3) change their clothes.
First, in order to worship God truly, we have to get rid of foreign gods, idols, foreign elements that do not belong to God. Some people regard some organizations they belong to as important as God, if not more. Some people consult with psychics, practicing sorcery, black magic, tarot cards, astrology, -reading the positions of stars-, all these idols, false gods should be removed before going up to Bethel.
Second, one has to purify oneself by repenting of one’s sins. Being sorry for what one has done, being in a contrite and broken spirit asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Without repentance, no matter how hard one tries to worship, it cannot be accepted.
Third, one has to take off the old person and put on the new person washed by the blood of Christ. One has to take off the old person steeped in sin and wear, instead, the garment of righteousness provided by the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our King, and Lord!
Going up to Bethel, being in a committed, covenantal relationship with God takes preparation. May God bless those people who want to take refuge under the shadow of the Almighty Wings! Amen!!!
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