Back To Bethel (Genesis 35:1-15)

Our sermon title is “Back to Bethel.”  Chapter 35 shows Jacob returning to a place of great personal significance to him.  He has been there only once in his life, and that was well over 20 years ago.  It used to be a place called “Luz,” which means “almond tree,” but he renamed it “Bethel,” which means “house of God” (28:19).  It was here at Bethel that Jacob had his first encounter with God Almighty, and it was a powerful one indeed.  Now God commands him to return to Bethel.  As we’ll see, there’s a real sense that returning to Bethel was returning to God.  

Lets divide our time into 5 sections.  The first one is:


God commands Jacob to leave Shechem and go to Bethel.  And Jacob obeys.  Does anyone else see the application?  

APPLICATION:  When God commands us to move then let us move.  “Get up and leave Ur, Abram, and GO to the land I tell you.”  “Go therefore and make disciples!”  “Get up Paul, be baptized, wash your sins away, and then Go!”  “Go, and leave your life of sin [woman caught in adultery].”  God is constantly commanding us to get up and go.  Get up and move to the cross of Jesus to receive God’s forgiveness.  Get up from bitterness and move over to forgiveness.  Get up from lust and move over to purity.  Get up from anger and move over to patience.  Get up from greed and move over to generosity.  Get up from coveting and move over to contentment.  Get up from self pity and move over to joy.  Get up from fear and cowardice and move over to courage and “stoutheartedness.”  Get up from judgmentalness and move over towards charity.  Get up from slavery to your appetites and move over to self-control.  Get up from self-centeredness and move over to concern for others.  Get up from laziness and get to work.  Get up from pleasing others and go over to pleasing God.  

Bethel was a very important place in the life of Jacob.  It was where he first met the God of his father and grandfather.  Turn back to chapter 28 with me and follow along in verses 10-22, “….”

Summarize the dream and the importance for Jacob leaving Shechem.

Jacob was on the run from his brother, afraid for his life, and stopped at Luz to spend the night.  He had a dream of a ladder reaching from earth up to heaven.  Angels were going up and coming down – a picture of activity, busyness, work, doing God’s bidding.  Above and beyond the ladder stood a sight beyond imagination or description:  God himself.  Looking at Jacob.  Seeing him.  Speaking to him.  Promising him.  The whole picture really conveys that God is at work, not idle, working on Jacob’s behalf, sending his .  God speaks to Jacob and makes promises to him – the same promises he made to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham (17:4-8; 22:17-18; 26:3-4).  Jacob wakes up from this dream in awe.  He realizes he spent the night in a place that was  the very house of God, and so he renames it Bethel.  He acknowledges God’s promises, and he makes the promise himself to be loyal to God.  

Why go back to that place?  Why go to Bethel at this point?  Let’s let the text tell us.  First it says God wanted him to build an altar at Bethel.  So God wanted Jacob to worship him at Bethel.  Jacob was worshiping God at Shechem already (33:20).  But God wanted to be worshiped at Bethel.  Why?  Here we can see another important detail:  build an altar there at Bethel to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”  That was a time when Jacob was afraid for his life.  And here Jacob was again afraid for his life, as 34:30-31 clearly shows, “…..”  

“I want you to worship me again at Bethel.  As you come back to Bethel, I want everything that Bethel stands for in your life to come back to you.  You were afraid then, and I assured you.  You are afraid now, and I want you to experience that assurance again.”

I think we need to see that Bethel was important to God as well.  He chose it.  He chose to appear the first time there and here he is telling Jacob to go back there.

APPLICATION:  Where is our Bethel?  Where do we meet God?  Our Bethel is Calvary.  We meet God at the cross where His Son died for us.  Are you still an unbeliever who is condemned in your sins?  Meet God at the cross.  He’s there, ready and willing to forgive.  Are you a believer and you’ve strayed?  Are you wondering if you’re saved, or, if God accepts you still?  Don’t base your sense of assurance on your performance for God.  Base your assurance on what Jesus performed at the cross.  Your actual salvation is not based on what you do for God and neither is your assurance of salvation.  You are actually saved by faith in what Jesus did for you, and your assurance is based on that very same point.  Don’t get saved by trusting in what Jesus did for you only to try and feel saved by what you do for Him.

Jacob needed reminding that the God who chose him, called him, watched over him, blessed him was even still God sent Jacob back to Bethel to essentially bring Jacob “back” to God.  Bethel was a place that you could say “transformed” Jacob.  


Next we see that Jacob and his family, in preparation for going back to Bethel, purified themselves.  Read verses 2-5, “…..”

It becomes even more evident that the reason for Jacob’s return to Bethel was spiritual.  Jacob has idols in his house.  Jacob!  You vowed, “the LORD will be my God” (28:21), now here foreign gods have accumulated in your household.  

They purified themselves before they left, before they got to the place where they would meet God and worship Him.  Verses 2 and 4 say, “….”  They took whatever 

At the base of Mount Sinai, when giving the 10 commandments, God told Moses to tell the people “Prepare yourselves.  On the third day from now the Lord will come down to us.  Wash your clothes, and do not have sexual relations.” (Ex 19:10, 15)  Think of the elaborate rituals of purification the priests had to undergo and especially the high priest when he went behind the curtain into the Holy of Holies.  That guy was not thumbing his iPhone while stepping behind the curtain.  What is the point?  He was not posting a TikTok video of himself as he entered the Holy of Holies. The point is that God’s holiness is severe and we must prepare to step into His holy presence.

Here is Jacob, not just packing up his belongings, but purifying himself, to prepare for going back to Bethel.  Read verse 2 and 4 again, “….”  He is purging the idolatrous figurines that have been acquired, and the jewelry.  This jewelry obviously had religious significance and was related to the worship of foreign gods.  God would tell Jacob’s descendents, “You shall have no other gods besides me.”  There is the story in Acts 19 I want you to see.  Turn to Acts 19:18-20 with me and follow along, “….”  The value of those burned scrolls was around a million dollars.  They didn’t resell them or donate them.  They burned them.  Jacob didn’t sell the jewelry and idols to make money.  He buried them.  He “rid the earth” of them so they could not be used for pagan purposes again.  That sacrifice is true devotion to God.

APPLICATION:  Purify yourself by purging the idols in your life.  

In other words, he was renouncing any reliance on any other gods and making the true God the one God that he worshiped.    

APPLICATION:  How do we come to worship the living God at church?  That’s why we prepare ourselves for meeting with God and worshiping Him.  We purify ourselves before we come into his presence. “Therefore, since we have these promises,” 2 Corinthians 7:1 tells us, “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”  All of this is also why when we come to Communion we set some moments aside to reflect and confess before we take the bread and cup.  I’ve heard people balk over the years over how serious we take communion, and how we exhort you to examine yourselves.  “C’mon pastor.  You’re coming off too serious.  Its sorta judgmental.”  The Scriptures tell us that we should not take Communion in an unworthy manner, meaning we don’t walk in sin, being selfish and disregarding God, causing division, ruining fellowship at home or in the church, and than get in line and come up and take Communion – a ritual that symbolizes our unity as the Body of Christ and our repentance from sin – and act like we’re not sinning.  That is not preparing to “meet” the Lord.  

Then notice that God went to work on Jacob’s behalf AFTER this preparation.  Verse 5 says, “….”  God affected the perspective that all the other towns had of Jacob.  They were terrified of Jacob.  

APPLICATION:  Purity will bring God’s blessing.  Whatever we think that idol or that sin in our life is getting for us we are forfeiting God’s blessing in it.  


Jacob arrives at the same Bethel, and we see he receives the same promises again.  Verses 8-13….

After a quick note about the death of Rebekah’s nurse, lets notice two things here in these verses:  what is promised and why its important.

Its worth comparing what God told Jacob in chapter 28 with what he told him here in chapter 35.  The reason is because God reiterates his promises to Jacob here in the same place He originally made those promises to Jacob.  In other words, God didn’t reiterate these promises when Jacob was in Paddan Aram or in Shechem.  As far as God was concerned, He wants Jacob in a particular place when He wants to speak to him about these matters – and that place is Bethel.  

So what is similar and what is different between chapter 28 and chapter 35?  And why might it matter?  What God promised Jacob in chapter 28 forms a base you could say on which He makes more detailed promises here.  In chapter 28 God promises Jacob many descendents and the whole land of Canaan.  Here in chapter 35 God promises those things again:  “be fruitful and increase in number” is in reference to many descendents, just like the land promise is repeated in verse 12.  (The Messianic promises in chapter 28 were not repeated here, but of course they are still in effect.)  What is added here in chapter 35 though is Jacob’s official name change to Israel, that one nation would come from him, that a community of nations would come from him, and he would have kings as his descendents.  All that was not in chapter 28.  It is interesting that those additions are identical to God’s promises to Abraham in chapter 17.  In chapter 17, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and informed him that a nation and many nations would come from him and that kings would be his descendents.  

The importance here needs to be noted.  God was bringing Jacob back to that place where He first spoke to him and imprinted on his mind that he would never be alone and he would always be watched over.  The reason Jacob could say to Laban, who was cheating him all those years, “I’ve served you faithfully, even though you meant to harm me, but the LORD has watched over me” is because before Jacob met Laban he met God.  Before Jacob got to Harran he went to Bethel.  Before Jacob saw his father in law cheating him he saw God standing over all the earth.  All throughout Jacob’s trouble and distress God was with him just like he promised – from Esau, to Laban, and now the Canaanites.  Jacob was panicked that the surrounding cities would join together to hunt him down and wipe him out the way his boys wiped out the Shechemites.  “Jacob,” God said, “Go back to Bethel.”  It was more than returning to a place.  It was returning to the promises.  Bethel wasn’t just a place, you could say for Jacob it was a perspective.  Getting to Bethel was getting to the very spot that God Almighty spoke to him and completely changed his outlook on himself and his life.  “You need to be RE-assured, Jacob.  So get to Bethel.”


Jacob is at Bethel again, and he meets God again, and he hears the promises again.  And now he worships, again.  Read verses 14-15.  


What is our “Bethel?”  Our Bethel is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Have you noticed a common pattern in the lives of the Patriarchs?  Every time God tells them to get up and move they get up and move.  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Did you know God is telling you to get up and move?  Get up from your sin and move to the cross of Jesus Christ.  

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