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.


4. From Jacob to Israel.

Twenty years had passed by since Jacob had his first encounter with God at Bethel in a dream, as he was fleeing from his brother (Genesis 28 : 12 – 17 ) and then he had this strange night time encounter with God at Jabbok, on his way back home. He wrestled with God till daybreak and was told, “Your name will no longer be Jacob ( his name in Hebrew meant ‘he grasps the heel’ or figuratively, ‘he deceives’ ) but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.” ( Genesis 32 : 24 – 28 )
Jacob had been scheming all his life to appropriate the blessings of God. He had cheated his brother and deceived his father to inherit the blessing. And in doing so, he had incurred the wrath of his brother and had to flee for his life. But after his first encounter with God, he strived to be an honest person, while working for his Uncle Laban, who cheated him ten times by playing on his love for Rachel. ( Genesis 31 : 38 – 42 ) He ran off with his family and possessions, only to be caught up by Laban with whom he made a treaty at Mizpah. But soon after Jacob made peace with Laban, the news came that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. In great fear and distress, Jacob prayed to God, but found no comfort. (Genesis 32 : 6 – 12 )
He had once played on the love his brother had for food and cheated him of his birth right. Then when he realized that his father still wanted to bless the elder, he deceived his father and swindled the blessing from his brother. But now his past was soon catching up with him ! He thought of pacifying his brother with gifts and making restitution for his sin. But not assured of forgiveness, he sent his family across the ford of Jabbok and spent the night alone, wrestling with God and emerged as a ‘new man’ at daybreak! Herein you see the travail of a man to become a ‘new creation’.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation ; the old is gone, the new has come! ( 2 Corinthians 5 : 17 )
( Just as it takes nine months for a woman to conceive and deliver a new born, so also the process of rebirth takes time. )
Speaking of his travails, Paul said, “My dear children, I am again in the pains of Childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” ( Galatians 4 : 19 )
God had planted the incorruptible seed of his word in Jacob’s heart when he was told at Bethel, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” ( Genesis 28 : 15 )
Even so, ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Philippians 1 : 6 )
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1Peter 1 : 23 )
Just as it took twenty years for Jacob to become Israel; to go from ‘Bethel’ ( which means ‘the house of God’ ) to seeing ‘Peniel’ ( which means ‘the face of God’ ), so also every man will go through the process of rebirth, before Christ is formed in them. Amen.

2. Understanding the Abrahamic covenant.

God’s covenant with Abraham was founded on the seven promises stated in Gen 12 : 1 – 3. Of the many promises, the first promise was about a land that God later showed him ( Gen 13 : 14 -17 ) and even marked out the boundaries for him.
On that day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land from the river of Egypt (Wadi) to the great river, the Euphrates.” (Gen 15 : 18)
I will confirm my covenant between you and me … the whole land of Cannan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you … My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.” (Gen 17 : 2, 8, 13 )
And then when God confirmed his covenant with Abraham, he swore by himself saying :
1) “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.
2) Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,
3) and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed , because you obeyed me.”
(Gen 22 : 17 – 18 )
When the time came to possess the land, under the leadership of Joshua, the Lord marked out the borders of the promised land : “Your territory will extend from the desert ( Negev ) to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates to the Great Sea (Mediterranean ) in the west.” ( Joshua 1: 4 )

God’s covenant with Abraham is an everlasting covenant while the Mosaic covenant with the children of Israel was until the Seed to whom the promise referred to had come’ ( Gal 3 : 16 – 19). So the ‘written code with its regulations stands cancelled’ ( Col 2 : 14 ) but the Abrahamic covenant still stands. Just as ‘the law introduced 430 years later, did not set aside the covenant previously established by God’ ( Gal 3 : 17 ), the new covenant in the blood of Jesus did not ‘do away with the promise’ made to Abraham.

In fact the gospel is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. When ‘those who believe are children of Abraham’ (Gal 3 : 7 ) and are ‘blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith’ ( Gal 3 : 9 ), God’s promise to Abraham to give him ‘descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as sand on the seashore’ is being fulfilled among the Jews as well as the Gentiles.

And when ‘this gospel of the Kingdom is preached in the whole world’ ( Mt 24 :14 ), God’s promise to Abraham that ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed through you‘ ( Gen 12 : 3 ) is being fulfilled. Yet one promise remains unfulfilled and it concerns the land!
It was once fulfilled during the reign of Solomon, the son of David : ‘Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River ( Euphrates ) to the land of the Philistines, as far as the border of Egypt.’ ( 1 Ki 4 : 21 )
It will once again be fulfilled during the Millennial reign of Christ, when he sits on the ‘throne of his father David’ ( Lk 1 : 32 ). Until then, there will be claims by the Jews and counterclaims by the Arabs but it will be settled in favour of Abraham, with whom God had cut a covenant and confirmed it with an oath ( Hb 6 :13 – 17 ), and also had confirmed it with Issac ( Gen 26 : 3 ) and with Jacob ( Gen 35 : 12 ), thus fulfilling the promise : “Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies.” ( Gen 22 : 17)

In those days and at that time ( Millennium ), when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgement against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land … Then you will know that I, the LORD your God, dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem will be holy ; never again will foreigners invade her.” ( Joel 3 : 1 – 2, 17 ) Amen.