Introduction: Jacob wasted thirty years in rebellion. After he deceived his father and brother, he spent 20 years as an exile in Haran. Out of mercy and grace, God then called upon Jacob to return to Bethel. In faith, Jacob responded. On his way back to the Promised Land, he met a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. Jesus blessed him and protected him from the wrath of his brother Esau. Yet, out of complacency, Jacob then backslid in his walk. He settled in Shechem for 10 years and forgot about his promises to God. Living outside of God’s protection, his daughter Dinah was raped. His sons then committed acts of mass murder, theft, and kidnapping. Jacob’s family then faced extermination from the wrathful Hivites in the area. They deserved this fate. Yet, God again showed mercy and grace. He called Jacob home to Bethel. Jacob responded with obedience, and God transformed him. Every person at times backslides in their walk. Here, God reveals seven lessons from Jacob on renewing yourself spiritually after you sin.
First, after God called Jacob’s family back to Bethel, Jacob led his family to repent, purify themselves of their pagan idols, and return to God’s house. From this, God reveals that renewal begins with repentance, purification, and returning to Him. Second, after Jacob and his family renewed themselves, God placed a hedge of protection over the entire family as they returned to Bethel. From this, God reveals that renewal brings the blessings of His protection from your enemies. Third, in Bethel, God confirmed His Covenant with Jacob. His Covenant included many blessings. This included Jacob’s transformation into Israel. From this, He reveals renewal allows you to walk into a Covenant relationship with Him where He will bless and transform you. Fourth, out of gratitude, Israel built an altar for worship and praise in Bethel. From this, God reveals that renewal should include your joyful praise and gratitude for His mercy and grace. Fifth, Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin. She was under Jacob’s curse for stealing Laban’s idol after the family fled for the Promised Land. Jacob loved her for her external beauty. She symbolized his old life that he would finally leave behind as a transformed man. From this, God reveals that renewal requires that you die to your old ways of the flesh. Sixth, out of jealousy caused by Israel’s favoritism towards Rachel’s sons, Reuben, the firstborn son, slept with Bilhah, Israel’s concubine and Rachel’s former maidservant. From this, God reveals that your renewal may bless your children. Yet, by itself, it will not transform them. Reuben and his other brothers would still need to work through their jealousy and their other sins of the flesh. Their transformation was still many years away. Finally, God blessed Isaac with a long life until he died at age 180. Isaac had a faith that led to his obedience. From this, God reveals that your renewal through faith and obedience brings the blessings of a longer life here on Earth and eternal life in heaven. You may not live to be old. Yet, He will prolong your life.
Jacob’s call for his family to repent, purify themselves, and return to God’s house. Although Jacob had backslidden in his walk, he promptly responded to God’s call by telling his family to dispose of their pagan idols, cleanse themselves, and return to God: “1 Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’ 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3 and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’ 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.” (Gen. 35:1-4). Everyone in Jacob’s family had sinned. While Jacob was in Bethel, God promised: “15 Behold, I . . . will bring you back to this land; . . ..’” (Gen. 28:13-15). In Haran, He told Jacob to return to the “land of your fathers.” (Gen. 31:3). At that time, his father Isaac lived near Bethel in Mamre (Gen. 35:27). Moreover, when God told Jacob to return, He identified Himself as “the God of Bethel” (Gen. 31:13). Jacob sinned by buying land and settling in Succoth instead of Bethel (Gen. 33:18-19). Rachel sinned by stealing one of Laban’s idols and by seeking to bring it with her (Gen. 31:34). Simeon and Levi sinned by misusing God’s circumcision covenant to commit mass murder. All of his sons then committed acts of theft and kidnapping (Gen. 34:13-29). By telling his family to put away their idols, the context implies that the family kept all of the idols of the Hivite gods. By their actions, Jacob’s family was living outside of God’s protections. Now, Jacob’s family faced the retaliation of the Hivites. They needed God’s protection. Yet, their sins had separated each person from Him. Each person needed to repent and turn back to Him.
If you repent of your idols and turn back to God, He will deliver you. Centuries later the Jews also felt fear in the face of a Philistine army. Like Jacob, Joshua later told the Jews to bury their idols at the same oak tree: “Now therefore, put away the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (Josh. 24:23). Long after that, “Samuel advised the Jews that they could receive God’s deliverance if they repented of their idols: “Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to the LORD with all your heart, remove the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your hearts to the LORD and serve Him alone; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.’” (1 Sam. 7:3). Josiah also purged the idols that had become part of the Jews’ system of worship: “Moreover, Josiah removed the mediums and the spiritists and the teraphim and the idols and all the abominations that were seen in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, that he might confirm the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD.” (2 Kgs. 23:24). Today, the idols that most frequently bind you are addictions to the idols of the flesh. God makes the same offer of protection to you. If you will repent of your idols and turn to Him, He will deliver you. Yet, you must first remove any idols from your life: “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matt. 5:30; Mk. 9:43). Have you purged the idols in your life?
Purify yourself by washing in the Word and by inviting the Spirit to renew your mind. In addition to telling his family to put away their idols, Jacob told his family to “and purify yourselves and change your garments;” (Gen. 35:2). Before God gave the Ten Commandments to the Jews, He told them that they first had to “consecrate” themselves by washing their clothes: “The LORD also said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments;”’ (Ex. 19:10; 30:19; 40:31; Lev. 8:6; Is. 52:11). God’s call for His people to “consecrate” themselves by being holy is repeated throughout the Bible: ‘“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.”’ (Lev. 11:44). ‘“Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”’ (Lev. 19:2). “You are to be my holy people.” (Ex. 22:31). These instructions also apply to Christians: “for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:16). “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1). “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48). “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17). God will not withhold any good thing when you walk with Him (Ps. 84:11). Is there any part of your walk that you need to clean up?
Wash in the Word to expose your hidden sins. Jacob’s family washed in water. By contrast, a believer today washes by reading the Word. This allows the Holy Spirit to expose your sins: “so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word . . .” (Eph. 5:26). Once the Spirit reveals to you, you must then repent of your sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). Are you regularly reading the Word to expose your sins? Do you repent of the sins that Holy Spirit reveals?
Return to God’s house with prompt obedience. Jacob had backslidden in his walk. His spiritual renewal required that he leave behind his old life in the world to dwell in God’s house. God later rewarded Jacob with protection because he and his family left with prompt obedience (Gen. 35:1-4). A believer can repent of their sins at any time. Yet, if you remain in an unholy environment, you are likely to return to your sins. Thus, when you repent, you must also flee from the places or people that are likely to cause you to return to your sins. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” (1 Cor. 15:33). Are you hanging out in the wrong places or with the wrong people?
God’s hedge of protection over Jacob’s family as they returned to Bethel. Because Jacob’s family repented and acted with obedience, God placed a hedge of protection around them as they journeyed to Bethel: “5 As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother. 8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth.” (Gen. 35:5-8). By bringing Jacob back to Bethel, God showed that He was faithful to keep His promise to Jacob before he fled for Haran (Gen. 28:13-15). Jacob’s altar showed his gratitude for God’s deliverance. The inclusion of Deborah in this account shows that the blessings that God offers are available to all who believe.
Cling to Jesus and He will bless you with protection. Here, God placed a “great terror” over the Hivite cities that surrounded Shechem. When you are faithful and obedient, God promises to cause your enemies to fear you. After God crushed the Egyptians at the Red Sea, Moses celebrated God’s: “Terror and dread fall upon them . . ..” (Ex. 15:16(a)). As the Jews journeyed to the Promised Land, God repeatedly promised to deliver the Jews through a “terror” that He would place upon their enemies: “I will send My terror ahead of you, and throw into confusion all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” (Ex. 23:27). “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7; 2:25; Lev. 26:7-8; Num. 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). Joshua also promised the Jews that those who cling to God would see their enemies flee (Josh. 23:10). For those who are obedient and take refuge in Him, He promises to be a shield against the enemy’s fiery darts: “He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5(b); 2 Sam. 22:31). He used Gideon’s small army of 300 soldiers to kill 120,000 enemy Midianites (Jdgs. 7:16-22; 8:10). With His help, Jonathon killed 20 enemy soldiers (1 Sam. 14:14). Likewise, it was He who allowed David to kill Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50-58). Are you clinging to Jesus when you need protection?
God will rescue you when you call upon Him in your time of trouble. Like Jacob, God will also rescue you when you call to Him in faith: “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Ps. 50:15). “Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises.” (Ja. 5:13). “But as for me, I would seek God, and I would place my cause before God;” (Job 5:8). “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Ps. 50:15). “Rescue me and deliver me out of the hand of aliens, whose mouth speaks deceit and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” (Ps. 114:11). These protections are also available to you as well. If you are trapped in despair, fear, or addiction, have you called upon Him in faith to help you?
God’s confirmation of Jacob’s transformation into Israel. Jacob’s sins caused him to feel unworthy of God’s blessings. Out of mercy and grace, “El Shaddai” (translated as “God Almighty”) confirmed both His Covenant and His new name of “Israel” for Jacob: “9 Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. 10 God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ Thus He called him Israel. 11 God also said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you. 12 ‘The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.’” (Gen. 35:9-12). God also revealed Himself as El Shaddai to Abraham when He affirmed His Covenant with Him (Gen. 17:1). This name also applied to Isaac and the three patriarchs collectively (Ex. 6:2–3). Here, God confirmed that all of the blessings that He extended to Abraham and Isaac applied to him as well. A pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus previously renamed Jacob as Israel: “27 So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28 He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed.’” (Gen. 32:27-28). God reconfirmed Jacob’s changed name because Jacob doubted that God’s promises still applied after Jacob backslid. Jacob’s old name meant “heal grabber” or “supplanter.” This reflected his old nature of seeking to deceive and manipulate his brother, his father, his father-in-law, and others. His new name Israel meant “struggle with God”. Like every transformed person, Jacob’s walk would include struggles with God as he at times returned to his old ways of the flesh. The nation of Israel would also at times walk with God. At other times in its history, it would also struggle with God as it returned to its old ways of the flesh. Throughout the Bible, Israel would be referred to by both names to reflect its dual nature. You are also a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 6:17). Yet, you also have a dual nature. Your old flesh still contends with God: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Gal. 5:17). When your flesh causes you to sin, give thanks that He remains faithful to you: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). Yet, sin will cause you to fall out of communion. When you renew yourself spiritually, you can walk in a covenant relationship with Him.
Your faith should be evidenced through your obedience. Jacob could not be transformed until he acted in faith to seek out God’s blessings: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6). Yet, His renewal and his completed transformation required a faith that was alive and responsive to God. His obedience in completing his return to Bethel showed that his faith was alive. “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” (Ja. 2:17). Is your faith evidenced in your obedience to God?
Live a life worthy of God’s new name for you. God changed a person’s name to reflect that person’s transformation. He changed the name Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of many”) (Gen. 17:4-5). He named Isaac before his birth (Gen. 17:19). Here, He confirmed the new name of Israel for Jacob (Gen. 32:28). He also changed Hoshea (“deliverance”) (Nu. 13:8) to Joshua (“the Lord is deliverance”) (Nu. 13:16). Jesus likewise changed Simon (“God has heard”) to Peter (“stone”) (John 1:42). Peter was a failure while Christ was alive. Yet, He heard God’s calling and became an important “stone” in God’s church after Jesus died. Jesus was the Rock upon which his stone rested. Jesus saw him for the man of faith that he would become, not the failure he was while Jesus lived. These examples reveal that God sees you for who you will become, not the failures you made in your past. No matter how much you have failed in the past, those failures are forgotten when you accept Christ in faith (Heb. 8:12). All believers in Christ will one day receive a new name in heaven (Rev. 2:17). Just as Adam named the animals to show his dominion over them (Gen. 2:20), God will name you to assert His dominion over you. “Everyone who is called by My name . . . I have created for My glory.” (Is. 43:7). Are you living a life worthy of your new name in heaven?
Live a life worthy of your calling to become part of Christ’s royal priesthood. Here, God expanded upon His earlier blessings for Israel in a way that includes you. Thirty years earlier, Isaac blessed Jacob and urged that El Shaddai make Jacob both fruitful and a nation: “3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.” (Gen. 28:3). God’s first command in the Bible was for Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28 (a)). After the Flood, He repeated this command to Noah (Gen. 9:1; 9:7). He later repeated this blessing to Abraham, yet without stating it as a command (Gen. 17:6; 12:2; 15:5; 22:17; Heb. 11:12). By contrast, with Israel, He made it a command that the nation fulfill and multiply (Gen. 35:11). God’s blessing also expanded upon His prior blessings to include all believers. Isaac prophetically called for a nation to arise from Jacob as a “company of peoples.” (Gen. 28:3). This foreshadowed the future nation of Israel. Here, El Shaddai expanded upon this blessing by prophetically calling for a “company of nations” to come from his line (Gen. 35:11). This foreshadows the future united reign when the Messiah returns. “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will worship before You.” (Ps. 22:27). “And let all kings bow down before him, all nations serve him.” (Ps. 72:11). “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name.” (Ps. 86:9). “And it will come about in the last days that the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, and the peoples will stream to it.” (Micah 4:1). “Even those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” (Is. 56:7). Many will be blessed to serve during Christ’s reign as priests: “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” (Rev. 20:6). By becoming a believer in Christ, you are eligible to become one of His royal priests: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (1 Pet. 2:9). Are you living a life worthy of being part of His “royal priesthood”?
Inherit the blessings of the patriarchs through faith in Christ. God promised Abraham that, through him, “all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3; 17:4; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; Josh. 24:3; Is. 51:2). Christ later fulfilled the promise to extend this blessing to believers throughout the world: “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” (Gal. 3:29). “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the Earth shall be blessed.’” (Acts 3:25). “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the nations will be blessed in you.’” (Gal. 3:8). “For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,” (Ro. 4:16). Have you given thanks for your undeserved right to share in this blessing?
Jacob’s altar of worship and thanks in Bethel. After returning to Bethel, Jacob faithfully built an altar of worship at the same location where God spoke to him as he fled to Haran 30 years earlier: “13 Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him. 14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.” Jacob repeated many of the steps that he followed when he first encountered God. In both accounts, his altars include stone and oil. These things symbolized both Christ and the Spirit. Yet, here he also included a “drink offering”. This symbolized his joyful witness in response to God’s mercy and grace.
The altars of gratitude. This was the eighth altar of gratitude built by the patriarchs. It was the ninth altar in the book of Genesis. Amongst the patriarchs, Abraham built a first altar of gratitude after first being shown the Promised Land (Gen. 12:8). After God’s deliverance from his sins in Egypt, Abraham built a second altar for repentance (Gen. 13:3-4). Abraham then built a third altar of thanks (Gen. 13:18). Abraham later built a fourth altar for the sacrifice of Isaac and then the substitute ram (Gen. 22:9). Isaac built a fifth altar of gratitude to Yahweh (Gen. 26:25). After God spoke to Jacob at Bethel, he built a sixth altar of gratitude (Gen. 28:16-18). Near Shechem, Jacob built the seventh altar of gratitude (Gen. 33:20). Upon his return to Bethel, Jacob built the patriarch’s eighth altar of gratitude. Eight is a number of new beginnings. Jacob was grateful for his many new beginnings. Including Noah’s altar after the Flood, (Gen. 8:20) this was the ninth altar in the book of Genesis. In the Bible, the number nine symbolizes the fruit of the Spirit (Gen. 5:22-23). As a transformed man, God blessed Jacob with all the blessings of the Spirit. He does this for you as well.
Let your praise and worship be led by the Spirit. As he did previously, Jacob poured oil on top of the altar of gratitude (Gen. 28:18; 35:14). In the Bible, oil is a symbol of the Spirit (1 Sam. 16:13). Believers must be led by the Spirit in all that they do: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Ro. 8:14). If you are led by your flesh, your worship is about yourself. Is your praise and worship Spirit-led?
Let your life be a joyful drink offering of gratitude. Israel’s drink offering was the symbol of his gratitude to God (Nu. 28:31; Lev. 23:13). Jesus is the vine of life that you drink (John 6:53). Your life should be in communion with Christ. What you do should also always honor Him. Your drink offering should further be filled with joy for others to see. This is what Paul meant when he said: “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” (Philip. 2:17). Is your joy a light for others to see? (Matt. 5:14).
The importance of praise and gratitude in avoiding sin. If you have backslidden like Jacob, having gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice for you on the cross is an important way to keep yourself free from returning to your sin. If you don’t care about His sacrifice or if you don’t internalize the price He paid for you, you are more likely to backslide again. One way to remain grateful is to constantly thank Christ for His sacrifice: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). As an example to follow, David regularly thanked God through songs of praise (e.g., Ps. 18:49; 26:7; 30:4, 12; 50:14; 69:30; 75:1; 79:13; 92:1; 95:2; 97:12; 100:4; 106:1; 107:1, 8; 116:17; 118:1, 119:62; 140:13; 147:7). Another way to be thankful is to offer your life as a living sacrifice of gratitude: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:1-2). Do you sing songs of gratitude? Is your life a living sacrifice of gratitude?
Rachel’s death while giving birth to Benjamin. God renewed and transformed Israel to prepare him for the many tragedies that were still to come. The first was the mixed blessing of his twelfth son while simultaneously losing his wife Rachel: “16 Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. 17 When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for now you have another son.’ 18 It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. 21 Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.” (Gen. 35:16-21). Out of jealousy, Rachel once proclaimed: “Give me children, or else I die.” (Gen. 30:1). When God finally gave her Joseph, she showed that she was not fully content with His gift. Her name for Joseph meant “Yahweh will increase or add.” It was her plea for God to give her another child. Yet, she was not fully trusting in God to give her another child. Thus, before fleeing for the Promised Land, she stole Laban’s idol (Gen. 31:19). Her name for Benjamin “Ben-oni” reflect her life of sorrow. His name means “son of my sorrow, or pain.” Although she made it to the Promised Land, she never really changed. Jacob fell in love with her because of her looks. “And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.” (Gen. 29:7). Her death symbolized the death of Jacob’s flesh and his old ways of thinking. He would now walk by the Spirit.
Rachel’s judgment under the law. After Laban confronted Jacob about his stolen idols, Jacob pronounced a death sentence upon the thief: “32 The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself.’ For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.” (Gen. 31:32-35). Like Lot’s wife, Rachel failed to leave the idols of her old life behind when God called her: “Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Lk. 17:32-33; Matt. 10:39; Mk. 8:35; Jo. 12:25). Rachel violated God’s Second Commandment against worshiping idols: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” (Ex. 20:4-6, 23; 34:17; Dt. 5:8; Lev. 19:4; 26:1). She also violated the Eighth Commandment against theft (Ex. 20:15; Dt. 5:19; Eph. 4:28). She further violated the Tenth Commandment by coveting idols (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21). Because she would not let go of her idols, she was also cursed under the law. ‘“Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’” (Dt. 27:15). Her death after giving birth to Benjamin was the fulfillment of her curse (Gen. 35:18-19). The Jews’ later act of building the golden calf also resulted in 3,000 deaths (Ex. 32:27). Hundreds of years later, King Jeroboam was also cursed when he created graven images for the people to worship (1 Kgs. 14:9). Jesus, however, paid the price for your acts of idolatry, theft, coveting, and lies. How are you thanking Him for the price He paid for you? (Ro. 12:1-2). If you are returning to the idols of the flesh, how grateful can you claim to be?
Die to your old ways of the flesh. Just as Jacob lost the part of his life that symbolized his flesh with his transformation, your transformation should also cause your old ways to die or fade away: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Ro. 6:4). “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:24). Have you cut out the parts of your life that your flesh controls?
Don’t be double minded between the world and God. Jesus also warns not to be double minded between this world and Him. A person like Rachel who longs for the things of the world over what He offers is not fit for His Kingdom: “But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Lk. 9:62). “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,” (Phil. 3:13). “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Jam. 4:4). A double minded person is also unstable, filled with doubt and will not have his or her prayers heard: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Ja. 1:6-8). Are you torn between the world and Him?
God is slow to judge and quick to forgive. Rachel deserved to be struck down for her idolatry. Yet, God allowed her to live long enough to give birth to Benjamin. He delayed her punishment to give her time to repent (Ps. 103:8). If God has withheld punishment for your sins, have you used that as an opportunity to repent? (1 Jo. 1:9).
The foreshadow of the birth pains leading to Jews’ return. Rachel’s birth pains and the two names for Benjamin also foreshadow the end times and the two appearances of Jesus. “The name Ben-oni foreshadows Messiah in His first coming [and His pain]. The name Benjamin foreshadows Messiah in His second coming. . . . When He returns, the nation of Israel will recognize Yeshua as the One seated at the right hand of the Father.” (First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Vol. 2, Shadows of the Messiah, Vayishlach (2016) 166).
Reuben’s defilement of his father’s concubine. After losing his wife Rachel, the transformed Israel suffered his second tragedy. His first-born son Reuben slept with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine and Rachel’s maidservant: “22 It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it. “Now there were twelve sons of Jacob— 23 the sons of Leah: Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, then Simeon and Levi and Judah and Issachar and Zebulun; 24 the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin; 25 and the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali; 26 and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.” (Gen. 35:22-26). Jacob’s new name for his last son most likely triggered this jealousy. The name Benjamin means “son of my right hand.” The right hand symbolized strength and honor. Thus, the name reflects that Benjamin was the “son of my strength and honor.” (David Guzik on Gen. 35). (citing, Ex. 15:6; Ps. 16:8; 63:8; 138:7; Col. 3:1). This was too much for the firstborn Rueben to handle. He took Bilhah to demonstrate his perceived right as the firstborn to rule over the family (cf, 2 Sam. 12:11; 16:21). Israel’s detached role in the matter is reflected in the fact that he merely “heard about it.” (Gen. 35:22). He took no immediate action. His rebuke would come later. While Reuben and the 12 tribes received the blessings that came from Israel’s renewed faith, his faith did not transform his children. Their transformation would come years later. They all still needed to hit rock bottom.
Reuben’s forfeiture of his firstborn status. Under God’s law, it was unlawful for Reuben to sleep with Bilhah: “A man shall not take his father’s wife so that he will not uncover his father’s skirt.” (Dt. 22:30; 27:20). These bizarre immoral acts continued in Corinth and were also condemned by Paul (1 Cor. 5:1). Under the law, the penalty for Reuben’s defilement of Bilhah was death. “If there is a man who lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death, their blood guiltiness is upon them.” (Lev. 20:11; 18:8). Yet, out of grace, God instead removed his firstborn status (Gen. 49:3-4; 1 Chr. 5:1-2). The generations that followed paid for their father’s sins. They forever lost their firstborn status. If you are engaging in sexual sins while married, you also risk bringing curses upon your children.
God’s grace in later restoring Reuben. Jacob later rebuked Reuben for sleeping with Bilhah: “3 Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. 4 Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.” (Gen. 49:3-4). Yet, Reuben and his descendants still had not hit rock bottom. While in the wilderness, this tribe failed to learn from Israel’s rebuke. Leaders from the tribe of Rueben later joined in Korah’s rebellion against Moses, possibly to regain their pre-eminent role (Nu. 16:1). Yet, those who desire to be first in power will be last in God’s kingdom (Mk. 10:31). Like unstable water, Reuben’s tribe declined as it gave into various sins in the wilderness. While in the wilderness, the tribe decreased in size for its sins from 46,500 to 43,730 fighting men (Nu. 1:22; 26:7). Yet, Moses later blessed the tribe of Reuben. Moses blessed it so that it might live and grown in number: “6 May Reuben live and not die, nor his men be few.” (Dt. 33:6). The message in Moses’ blessing for believers is that God is a God of grace. He does not want any to perish (2 Pet. 3:9). Believers in turn should follow the example that God set through Moses’ blessing. Are you using your second chances to change your ways?
God’s grace in selecting Jacob’s family to be the 12 tribes of Israel. God’s first naming of the 12 tribes of Israel comes immediately after Reuben’s defilement of Bilhah. This is no accident. God showed that He did not select the Jews to be His people because of their merit. Instead, He selected them out of mercy and grace. He also did not select you because of your righteousness. Instead, He selected you out of mercy and grace.
Guide your children in their development. As a transformed man, Israel should have also focused on his children’s growth in the Lord. “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6). Reuben’s rebellion was evidence of his neglect. Are you training up your children to follow after Jesus?
God’s blessing of a long life for Isaac. The transformed Israel then suffered his third tragedy. After only briefly being reunited with his father, Isaac passed away. Yet, God had blessed Jacob with a long life. His death also united Jacob and Esau in peace: “27 Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. 28 Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. 29 Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.” (Gen. 35:27-29). Isaac lived five years longer than Abraham, who lived to age 175 (Gen. 25:7-8). Isaac, like Abraham, shared God’s blessing of a long life: “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age.” (Gen. 15:15). Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all blessed to have God identify Himself by their names: “He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Ex. 3:6).
When your faith leads to obedience, God will also prolong your life. Those who honor their earthly father and mother and their eternal Father will be blessed with a prolonged life: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Ex. 20:12; Dt. 5:16; Eph. 6:2-3). Those who keep God’s Ten Commandments out of love (and not obligation) will also be blessed with a prolonged life: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep My commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” (Prov. 3:1-2). “. . . keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged.” (Dt. 6:2). “so that you may prolong your days on the land . . .” (Dt. 11:9). This does not mean that God promises that you will live until you are old. You could die at any moment. Yet, God proses to “prolong” your life when your transformation leads to obedience. You may have a minute, a week, a year, a decade, or some other increment of time added to your life time. Only when you get to heaven will you learn of the amount of time that God has added to your life. Are living obediently to receive these blessings?
Your transformation also leads to the blessing of eternal life. Finally, the greatest blessing of your transformation in Christ is the promise of eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jo. 3:16, 36). Thankfully, backsliding like Jacob will not cause you to lose your eternal inheritance. If you are grateful for your eternal salvation, live as a transformed believer by renewing your mind each day: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom. 12:1-2). Is your life a living sacrifice of gratitude? Do you renew your mind each day for Him?