Jacob’s life to date has been a journey, both emotional and physical. Through his own actions he had become estranged from his family, sent away by his father to avoid the wrath of his brother and to find a wife. Now he has made peace with his brother and is returning home with his family and his possessions.
Bible Reading: Genesis 35:1-2,4,6-7,9-12
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." So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." So he named him Israel. And God said to him, "I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number.
I think there are places in all of our lives that bring back special memories. Bradgate Park in Leicestershire, part of Charnwood Forest, is one such place for me, reminding me of picnics in the summer and sledging down ‘Old John’ in the winter.
There are also places with a special spiritual significance; it may be a church or a cathedral, it may be a beach or somewhere out in the countryside where we have met with God. For me it is a conference centre where I have worshipped for may years with thousands of others at a Christian family camp. Going back to these places can have a significant effect on re-focussing us on God, bringing us back to an awareness of God’s presence, maybe after times of wandering away.
This was the case for Jacob. After years of estrangement and travelling, God brought him back to Bethel, the place where he met with him in his vision of the ladder up to heaven, reminding Jacob of his promise to bless him with land and with descendants. It is as if God was saying to him, ‘I know all about you, I know the journey you have been on. The past is behind you now, you can start again. Do you remember the promises I made to you? My plans for you haven’t changed!’
Do you have a Bethel, a place or a time that has been special to you in your spiritual journey, a place or time when you have felt particularly close to God? What was special about that time or place? Having returned to Bethel Jacob built an altar and worshipped God. Can you do the same?
Can you go back to that time, in your mind if not physically? Do you remember what you said to God, or what he said to you? Can you hear again God's promise to you and his call on your life? The grace of God always allows for new beginnings, his promises to bless us never change.
Thank you, Father God that, wherever I go and whatever I experience, you are always drawing me back to you,
your promises never fail, and your blessings are new each day.
The heart of worship