Genesis 35:1-3 - 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." 2So 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;3and 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." For continuity, read all of Genesis 25-35.
"Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." All too often we gulibly sing the words to this familiar Christian hymn without giving them much thought. These important words convey exactly what the Bible teaches. The secret of spiritual happiness and blessing is simply trusting and obeying the Lord. Frequently, growing Christians think that the secret of being "happy in Jesus" is found in some other method--like "spiritual experiences"! No! The divine method for happiness and blessing is full trust in God and complete obedience to His Word. Lack of faith and partial obedience not only result in unhappiness and loss of blessing, they bring serious consequences in the life of the believer. The Bible contains many passages that teach the "trust and obey for happiness" principle (see Psalm 119, for example). In addition, many character studies from the Scriptures illustrate this same truth. Jacob is one such example. Jacob was a believer who had to learn over and over again throughout his life that "half-way" trust and obedience does not bring happiness and blessing. Is it possible that some of us are experiencing "down" times because of lack of faith and partial obedience? In Genesis 31 we meet Jacob returning to Bethel. He had just spent 20 tough years away from home waiting for his brother Esau's anger to cool. Jacob had become the target of Esau's wrath because he had cheated Esau out of certain family rights and blessings (Genesis 25-27). The fact that Jacob felt he had to cheat to get these blessings may be the first indication of lack of faith on Jacob's part. God had previously promised that Esau would serve Jacob (25:23). Jacob did not have to "jump the gun" and manipulate the blessing from Esau. He could have "rested in faith" and waited on God to fulfill the promise in His own time and way. God has made many promises to us too. He has promised to give us joy and contentment in Christ and He has promised to meet all our physical needs (see Matthew 6:33 and Philippians 4:19, for example). We do not have to selfishly manipulate others or "force God's hand". Waiting for God's timing (marriage or summer jobs, for example) is often difficult but it is the best way in the long run. Near the beginning of his long sad journey away from home Jacob stopped to camp for the night (Genesis 28). At this point, of course, Jacob had no idea that he would be away from home for a long time or that he would never see his beloved mother, Rebekah, again. During the night God gave Jacob a dream--the well-known "Jacob's ladder" dream. In the dream God declared His sovereign purposes for Jacob. God emphatically stated that He would be with Jacob, keep him, bless him, give him all the land that he was on and eventually bring him back to his homeland (28:13-15). What grace! God extends His grace to us in the same way. We fail Him so often with our half-hearted faith and obedience, but He is constantly faithful to His promises. "The Lord's loving kindnesses never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness" (Lamentations 3:22-23). It is true that, like Jacob, we must reap the consequences of our lack of faith and token obedience, but God is gracious and "will complete the good work which He has begun in us" (Philippians 1:6). It is significant, in this connection, that Jacob is included in the "Hall of Faith" of Hebrews 11--but note that it is near the end of his days (Hebrews 11:21). Jacob's response to God's declaration in the dream is again indicative of the "mini-faith" he had at this time. Although Jacob shows some faith by renaming the place Bethel (28:19) which means "house of God", he hedges by vowing, "If God will be with me and keep me...and give me...and bring me back safely ...then the Lord will be my God (28:20-21). Does this sound like any of our prayers of "faith"? What kind of trust and obedience is this? Perhaps it is better called selfish bargaining with God rather that faith in God. God had stated in no uncertain terms His promises to Jacob, and yet Jacob had the audacity to hold back with an if type of faith and obedience. But let's not knock Jacob's faith and obedience before we examine our own. Can we say without reservation that we simply trust and obey, or must we confess that we selfishly bargain with God? "If You help me pass this exam, God, I'll give more time to reading Your Word." "If You let me look good in this event, Lord, I'll witness for You." "If You help me out of this jam, Father, I'll serve You more." This kind of "trusting and obeying" does not bring happiness and blessing. No wonder Jacob was not overjoyed with his experience in the presence of God. His reaction of fear and awe (28:17) does not exactly convey "happiness in Jesus"! During the next 20 years, in a land called Padanaram, God taught Jacob that happiness does not come through a selfish kind of trusting and obeying. In Genesis 31, the long years of discipline were over and Jacob was ready to come home. He had taken some hard courses in the "school of God" and the time had come for the Lord to send him back to Bethel--the place of the dream and the promises and the selfish vow (31:3, 13). Notice that in 31:13 the Lord honored even the little faith that Jacob exhibited in his selfish vow made years before. How gracious and condescending is our God! In obedience to the Lord's command Jacob left Padanaram and traveled towards Bethel--and Esau! Jacob had improved in trust and obedience! In Genesis 32, on the eve of the reconciliation with Esau, Jacob had a wrestling match with the angel of God. Here Jacob learned that he must be completely broken of self and rely fully on God for blessing. After such an experience with God we would be inclined to close the story of Jacob by writing "...and Jacob was reconciled to his brother Esau and lived happily ever after and served the Lord whole-heartedly in godly trust and obedience." But the Bible doesn't give us any such fairy tale endings because the Bible tells the life stories of real people. God's Word "tells it like it is" with real people like you and me and Jacob. Jacob had certainly learned and matured and grown in his faith and obedience as a result of the 20 years of discipline which climaxed in the wrestling match (compare Jacob's prayers in 28:20 and 32:10). But all this was no guarantee that he would never fail in faith again, and that's exactly what we see in Genesis 33. We too may pass some long tough courses in God's school of discipline. We may even experience some traumatic wrestling matches with our God. He breaks us of self in order to bless us. As a result we may make great strides forward in trust and obedience--but this does not mean we are fail-safe. Have you ever failed the Lord in the very area you thought you had just conquered and given to Him? Let us see how Jacob failed to fully trust and obey the Lord in Genesis 33. After his reconciliation with Esau, who had traveled some distance to meet him, Jacob did not continue on his way back to Bethel in full obedience to the Lord's command. Instead he went in a different direction and settled in Succoth (33:17). God had told Jacob to return home to his relatives and He would take care of him (31:3). There was no need to continue to fear Esau. But Jacob once again turned aside from the path of trust and obedience. He apparently decided to stay away from Bethel indefinitely since he built a house and barns in Succoth (33:17). As a result, Jacob experienced more years of unhappiness and loss of blessing. Living in Succoth brought many associated problems. Not too far away was the pagan city of Shechem. It was "natural" for Jacob to spend some time there with his family for "business purposes". Perhaps he erected the altar nearby to "justify" his relationship with this pagan city (33:18-20). But believers cannot play around with token trust and obedience and expect to go unscathed. Genesis 34 records the tragedy that took place in Jacob's family as a result of his not going back to Bethel. Jacob's daughter was abducted and raped, and his sons Levi and Simeon became liars and murderers. What a lesson for us! There is always bad fall-out when faith and obedience come short. And it affects others besides ourselves! God has given us many precepts and principles to guide our lives as growing Christians. His Word covers everything--control of thoughts, relation to parents, guidance in vocation, sex life, role of men and women, borrowing money, forgiving others, you name it. God does not expect us to question or change or compromise His commands--He expects us to simply trust Him and obey Him. That's "where it's at" for spiritual blessing and happiness. Jacob was finally ready to listen with both ears to God. In Genesis 35:1 God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there; and make an altar there to God..." Jacob got the message! The connections with paganism were severed and in full trust and obedience Jacob came back to Bethel (35:2-6). Here he built an altar (35:7) and hereGod blessed him (35:9). If only Jacob had come back sooner! In 10 or 15 years will you look back and say the same thing about your life? "If only I had trusted and obeyed God more--right from the start!" God continued to work in Jacob's life. God continues to work in our lives. There is no short-cut to graduation in the school of God! God wants to bless us and make us "happy in Jesus", but that cannot be unless we trust and obey.