Good evening, and welcome to EBible Fellowship’s Bible study in the book of Genesis. Tonight is study #1 of Genesis 35, and we will read Genesis 35:1-5:
And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.
I will stop reading there. We are moving on in our study in the book of Genesis, and they have come from the slaughter of the men of Shechem, and Jacob is fearful of the surrounding people of the Canaanites and the Perizzites that might come after them for the wrong they did to the men of Shechem. But he was wrong, and the people did not pursue after them.
Then God spoke to Jacob. He broke the barrier of the supernatural, and He would do that before the Bible was completed, and He often did so, as recorded in Scriptures. God spoke to Jacob, and He said, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there.”
Bethel is a transliteration of a Hebrew word that means “house of God.” The word “bah'-yith” means “house,” and “'êl,” (“ale”) is the word for “God.” So they were to go up to the house of God and dwell there.
We are living at the time after the end of the church age, and the churches are identified with the house of God, according to 1Peter 4:17 where the statement is made, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God,” so the command to go up to the house of God and dwell there makes us very interested right away.
And we should be aware that there is no possibility that it is a command for God’s elect that came out of the churches to go back to the churches, but it could mean a couple of things. First, there is a “spiritual house of God,” and it can be referred to as “up there” because the spiritual kingdom of God is in heaven. To arise and go up to that house could be the spiritual significance of worshipping God and following the truths of the Bible, making sure we are part of the living stones that have been added to that house. Or it could mean that the spiritual picture is now changing in this “portrait gallery,” as sometimes as we go from chapter to chapter, we find a different “portrait.” So not everything is chronological in the book of Genesis, or in the Bible, because there is a very big Old Testament, and in Genesis we have already seen where God gave spiritual insight regarding the end of the world with the flood account, and with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He gave spiritual insight of the atonement in the offering up of Isaac, and so forth. So the pictures vary from chapter to chapter, and sometimes even from passage to passage, or from verse to verse.
So this statement could refer to the church age, saying, “Go up to the house of God and dwell there.” And God’s elect people did dwell in that house of God for almost two thousand years. Actually, even before that, Israel was the outward representation of God’s kingdom on the earth, and depending on what starting point we use, that lasted for about two thousand years. So let us just leave that for now, and we are not going to make any conclusion about what returning to Bethel represents. We will leave that open for now, and as we go through the chapter, we may see what picture God is painting.
So, again, it says in Genesis 35:1:
… Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God…
We can understand the altar to identify with Christ. Remember that verse in Revelation 6 that tells us about the souls that were slain. It says in Revelation 6:9-10:
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
They are the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, so they are God’s true elect children, and they are “under the altar.” And the altar points to Christ because the altar was where the sacrificial animal would be sacrificed. It would be killed, and the blood would be shed upon the altar. I mentioned Isaac earlier, and we know Abraham went up to mount Moriah at God’s command, and he laid his son Isaac upon the altar. He was ready to plunge the knife down to slay him, and in that historical parable Isaac is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ, and Abraham is a type of God the Father who gave His only begotten son. So it is very clear that the altar identifies with atonement, the altar of sacrifice, and that identifies fully with the Lord Jesus.
Again, it said, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God.” Again, and again, we find God commanding His people to do this. He commanded Abraham to do this early on when he came out of Ur of the Chaldees. For example, it says in Genesis 12:7-8:
And JEHOVAH appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto JEHOVAH, who appeared unto him. And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto JEHOVAH, and called upon the name of JEHOVAH.
So that is another reference to Bethel and the building of an altar. Especially when God speaks of Bethel, the house of God, the “altar” is never far behind because the spiritual house of God has a foundation, and that foundation is Christ. And it was upon Christ’s death, as signified by an altar, that salvation was made possible, and all that were to be saved were saved, and they could be added as living stones to form the spiritual house.
So it really is a command, and as far as how it works out spiritually, it would establish the Gospel because the altar identifies with Christ, and Christ identifies with the Word of God. So they were to go up to the house of God, and they were to dwell there, and to make there an altar unto God. That is, they were to establish the Gospel, and proclaim the truth of the Word of God. And that would have everything to do with Christ’s atonement performed at the foundation of the world, His death on behalf of His people, and the resulting “spiritual building” that would take shape. Again, it says in Genesis 35:1:
…and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
This reminds us of when Jacob had to flee the land of Canaan after he had received the blessing instead of Esau. Esau was determined to kill him to comfort himself over the loss of the blessing. It was after Jacob left to flee to Haran that God came to him in a dream and showed him the angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder. Then it says in Genesis 28:16-22:
And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely JEHOVAH is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, So that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall JEHOVAH be my God: And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
And now Jacob is to return at the command of God to the place the Lord had appeared to him when he fled from Esau. Then it says in Genesis 35:2-3:
Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments
: And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
He heard the Word of God to arise, go to Bethel, and make an altar, and that is exactly what he told his household. Keep in mind that his household was comprised of more than his sons. He had many servants. And consider that there were the women and children that were taken from Shechem. Even before that, Jacob had many servants, and they would have had wives and children. So it was a fairly large company of people, probably several hundred. For example, remember that earlier Abraham went to battle with his trained servants in order to rescue Lot. Let us turn back there to Genesis 14:13-14:
And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.
There were also some other men with them, and the total number was 322, and that number breaks down to “2 x 17 x 23,” and they are very significant numbers. But the point is that this happened a long while before, and Abraham had 318 trained servants. He had a small army, not to mention their wives and children. And now Jacob had gone to Haran, and he had all his children, and he also had servants of his own. Let me just give another example that is right here in Genesis 35:8:
But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel…
So Rebekah had a nurse that died around that time, and other of the children would have had various servants, the handmaids, or concubine wives. So there was a whole host of people with Jacob, so that is why it says: “Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.” So these people could have worshipped any number of gods. They had just collected a number of people from Shechem, and those women probably would not have been able to take much when they were rushed as captives out of their city, but they could have grabbed some idols. We know that Rachel had idols she took from her father Laban’s house, and when Laban pursued and caught up to Jacob, one of the main points he emphasized was that someone had stolen his household gods. And it was Rachel who had hidden them under a saddle that she sat upon, and when her father came to search her tent she said, “I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me.” So from everything we can gather, those false gods were never turned over or destroyed, and Rachel held onto them. So now Jacob is saying this to everyone in his household. That would include his own children, his wives, the servants, and their wives. He told everyone, “Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.”
This is a similar command to what God tells us in the New Testament, in 2Corinthians 6:16:
And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God…
Keep in mind that Bethel means “house of God,” and “house of God” and “the temple” are often synonymous; if you went to the temple to worship, you went to the house of God. Again, it says in 2Corinthians 6:16: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God.” And God does tell us that we are the house: “But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we,” as it says in Hebrews 3:6. So that is the point God is making spiritually. We are the temple of the living God, and there should be no involvement with idols. It goes on to say in 2Corinthians 6:16-18:
…as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.
Certainly, that would mean to put away all idols, and more than just those made of wood and stone. Idolatry is any sin we lust over. God even tells us that “to covet” is idolatry, and that was the problem with Achan after the fall of Jericho. He saw a “goodly Babylonish garment,” and some silver and gold, and he coveted them. He was involved with idolatry of the heart, and that led to the “troubling of Israel,” and to God’s judgment on Achan.
Remember how the last chapter ended in Genesis 34:30:
And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land…
This is just as Achan had troubled Israel with his idolatry. So it is time for Jacob to put forth to his house to “clean the house,” because they had been called to go up to the house of God. You know, when we think about it, this does fit with our present circumstances now at the time of the end. God commands, “Come out of her, my people,” in Revelation 18. We are to come “out of Babylon,” and 2Corinthians 6:16-17 is a commentary on just how we can “come out of her.” We are to be “separate.” We are to put away the false gods, the idols, and be clean from this world and the idolatrous practices of this world that are so evil, and that, perhaps, we have been engaging in. And certainly in times past we have done so, but maybe we are still connected to these things in some ways. It is time to put away the “strange gods” that have lead us away from the worship of the true God, and the only One deserving of our worship, the God of the Bible.