5. Return to Bethel.

Jacob’s encounter with God at Peniel should have marked the end of his wanderings and the beginning of his spiritual journey into God, but it was not ! He had come a long way since he first met God at Bethel, when he fled from home, twenty years ago. But after his transformation into ‘Israel’ ( which was an Old testament shadow of the born again experience ), a new spiritual standard was set by God, that he had to live upto, for the rest of his life ! He reconciled with his estranged brother Esau, ( that story should remind us what is expected from us who have been born again ) and with that his past was effectively put behind him ; so he thought ! He settled in Succoth and there he made a place for himself and shelters for his livestock ( Genesis 33 : 17 ). But Jacob seemed to be oblivious of the vow he made to God at Bethel, twenty years back, when he fled from his brother.
If God will be with me and will watch over me … so that I return safely to my father’s house, … this stone that I set up as a pillar will be God’s house …” ( Genesis 28 : 20 – 22 )
Then trouble began to brew around him ! His daughter Dinah was violated by Shechem the Hivite. In fury, her two brothers, Simeon and Levi, put all the males in the city of Shechem to the sword. Jacob feared an attack by the Canaanites and Perizzites and realized he would be vulnerable, if they join forces against him and attack him (Genesis 34 : 25 – 30). So he decided to leave Succoth immediately.
‘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.” ( Genesis 35 : 1 )
So Jacob said to his household, “Get rid of your foreign gods … and purify yourselves … then come, let us go up to Bethel …” (Genesis 35 : 2 – 3 )
Then they set out and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.’ ( Genesis 35 : 5 )
Then they moved on from Bethel.’ ( Gen 35 : 16 )
But before long, he suffered a heartbreak ! Rachel, the love of his life, died while giving birth to Benjamin and was buried on the way to Ephrath. ( Genesis 35 : 17 – 20 )
Israel moved on again …’ (Genesis 35 : 21 )
Then the unthinkable happened ! ‘While Israel was living in that region he heard of the incest Reuben had committed. ( Genesis 35 : 22 )
Tragedies struck him one after another ! But why were these incidents happening to ‘Israel’, the man transformed by God ?
The answer seems to be obvious ! He left Bethel, in violation of God’s command and became vulnerable outside the will of God.
Have we wandered from ‘Bethel’, the place of our first consecration ? Have we fallen below the spiritual standard set by the Holy Spirit, that day at ‘Peniel’, when our lives were transformed ? Are we now struggling to make the promise work ?
After beginning with the Spirit, are we now trying to attain our GOAL by human effort?’ ( Galatians 3 : 3 )
Let’s return to Bethel and spare ourselves needless heartbreaks ! The promise is not attained by striving but by yielding to the Holy Spirit, just as we first did, the day we were born again. Amen.

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