Belatedly Jacob ordered his family to put away their idols. He knew all along that the members of his family had them and were worshipping them. And we may assume that if his sons had not made it necessary for him to move away from Shechem because of their murder, and had God not ordered him to return to Bethel, he would not have commanded this putting away of the idols and of worshipping the gods represented by them.
Jacob certainly reveals himself here as a spiritually weak covenant father; and it was only the grace of God that realized in his family a God-fearing people in later years. It is an inviolable rule that what one sows one reaps. He who plants the seed of wheat is of that seed going to get wheat and not thistles. And he who sows thistles must not expect to get wheat but thistles for his crop. Rachel sowed idolatry in the family and reaped a family of idol worshippers. Jacob sowed the seeds of unconcern about this idolatry and reaped children who adopted idolatry as their way of life. Instead of a strong sermon against this idolatry of which he was aware, Jacob now merely hides the idols. And instead of smashing the idols to pieces, he makes it possible for his family and others to dig them up and use them again in the future. The earrings which they also gave up had some connection with use of these idols, and had symbolism for the idolatry, so that separation from them also must be made. And these very earrings again are proof that Jacob knew of the idolatry. It was before his eyes whenever he saw his family.
What is to be seen of Jacob here, we must see in ourselves. It was written and preserved so that we might learn from this part of history’s light. And we take note of the fact that God called him to return to Bethel; and it is with a view to this fact that Jacob orders the putting away—not the destroying—of the idols. For Bethel was the place where God had appeared to Jacob during his flight from Esau and unto his uncle Laban. Here was God’s face. Here Jacob saw God. In fact, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place” (Genesis 28:16). That being the case, Jacob realized that these idols had to go. And are we not that way, so that there are times when we think that we can let down the bars, times when it does not make too much difference what we do, and again times when we have to be very careful of our walk of life? Are there times and places in our lives when we behave as though idolatry is in order? There are times when we are sure that we ought not curse and swear, and speak filthy language; but there are also times in our sinful judgment that these can come from our lips. How silly we can get! Before and with the world we will take God’s name in vain, but let an elder, a minister of the Word, or our parents be within hearing distance and we stop. I have often told my congregation that I am not God, and if they dare to take God’s name in vain when I am not around, God is there, and they must give account to Him, not to me. When you live in Shechem you must walk as uprightly as in Bethel; and in the shop or office as well as in the church building, before and after the services as, well as during them. And it means that at work as well as in church we must sing that which glorifies God. If we are not afraid to do these things while God is watching from out of heaven, we are foolish to be afraid of men. It was Jesus Who said, “Fear not them which kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him Which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
One truth that ought to grip us as we trace the life of Jacob is the unchangeable grace and unfailing mercy of God. That grace and mercy not only moved Jacob to build an altar and thereby display before his idolatrous family his own trust in God, but these also explain the fact that God repeats and reinforces the same promise that He gave to Jacob at Bethel some thirty years before this moment. All the evil Jacob committed, all his, failings and unfaithfulness before God cannot change God and make Him unfaithful. We are saved by grace and in mercy. Let us see that clearly and never deny it. Let us also see that it is because God sees His people in Christ, and imputes to them Christ’s works of righteousness, that our sins and shortcomings do not keep us from the promises of the gospel. And all these failings and weaknesses on Jacob’s part are recorded here to show us this great faithfulness of God. It is not written simply, or in, the first place, to show us Jacob’s sins but God’s covenant faithfulness.
God does not withdraw the smallest part of the promise that He gave Jacob thirty years ago. Returning now to Bethel God does not say to Jacob, “Well, Jacob, it took you so long to get here, and you have in so many ways and at so many times turned away from Me, and brought up an idol-worshipping family, I will have to amend My promise. I will have to qualify matters.” Instead God gave him the same promise and now more richly.
God reconfirmed the change of his name from Jacob to Israel. Every bit of the land promised to Abraham and Isaac He now again promises to Jacob, not expecting any part of it. He promised faithfulness and through it the bringing forth of a nation and a company of nations” and that “kings shall come out of thy loins.” And Jacob responded with the setting up of a pillar and with, calling the place Bethel, that is, “House of God.”
In this Chapter; Genesis 35, two other incidents are recorded, and both of these events brought deep sorrow in Jacob’s soul. Deborah, his mother’s nurse, died, and Rachel his most beloved wife also died. One of these deaths is mentioned before God appeared with the confirmation of the promise. The other is recorded after this word of comfort from God. The sweet is between the two bitter experiences. The gospel is given on a background of death and sorrow. The good news is set forth between the two incidents of sad news and deep misery.
Now Deborah’s death comes somewhat as a surprise, but not because her death was unexpected or unusual. She was a very aged woman, having served Rebekah faithfully for many years. The unusual element is that she died at, Bethel where Jacob was now living. Sometime in the past she must have left Isaac’s home to live with Jacob. This happened most likely while Jacob spent those ten years in and around Shechem. As Rebekah’s nurse whose life with Rebekah was also closely interwoven with Jacob’s for she cared for both Esau and Jacob all through their childhood she was strongly attracted to Jacob. Rebekah’s love for Jacob spilled over onto her and into her soul, for she also loved Rebekah dearly. It was however Jacob’s faith that endeared him to her above Esau, who had also been her care and concern in those childhood days. And this was so because Jacob displayed faith in God, while Esau did not. Jacob committed many sins and had his evil nature. But little sparks of faith did manifest themselves, while in Esau there were never any such manifestations. And hearing—most likely through Esau after he had returned from meeting Jacob—that Jacob was again in the land, she must have made the wearisome journey to spend the last few years of her life with the beloved son of her beloved mistress.
We may believe that it was a blow to Jacob when she died. The name that he gave to the place of her burial, namely, Allon-bachuth, which means,. “Oak of Weeping,” reveals this. And God brought Jacob on that sorrowful background that reaffirmation of the promise.
We ought not, however, quickly brush aside this little note of Deborah’s death. Ai a child of God, and as a faithful nurse, she has not only her name recorded in Holy Writ, but also a note of her death. From Genesis 35:27we learn that Jacob at last came to his father Isaac in Hebron. But not one word is mentioned about Rebekah, his mother. Not because her death is not worthy of being recorded, or that she had not the strong faith of Deborah, but because she was not living anymore and had died while Jacob was in Padan-Aram. And as a faithful servant of Rebekah, Deborah sought, after Rebekah’s death, to be of service yet in the covenant line, in the church of God. Isaac did not need her. Esau had married heathen wives and displayed no interest in God’s kingdom. But in Jacob’s family there were children being brought up in the fear of God’s name. And as a nurse, as one who had spent her life caring for children, she is eager to spend her last few years doing what she can for the children of God.
Such faithfulness is worthy of note and presents an example for us today. Our churches may be thankful that our ministers are granted emeritation and not retirement, and that God still arranges work for them to do in our churches. What an example Deborah sets for us in these days of early forced retirement while we are yet able to do so much with the minds and bodies which God gave us wherewith to serve Him. Surely there are many kingdom causes wherein the retired; who are still strong of limb and in relatively good health, can serve those who are not given such strength of body and clarity of mind. Instead of idleness and empty sports, does God not call us to visit the aged and feeble in their moments of loneliness in the nursing homes? Does not the Word of God say that herein is true religion and undefiled before God that one visits the fatherless and widows in their affliction (James 1:27)? We who still have good eyesight, are we not given this to read for those who can no longer read and who want to be edified by good Christian literature?
The world takes care of its blind and senior citizens with failing eyesight. Should the church be behind, or lead the way? The blind and those with failing eyesight can get cassette recordings of many of the magazines the world produces. Should not the able bodied among the retired who have good, clear voices read ourStandard Bearer, Beacon Lights, Theological Journal, and other worthwhile material on cassette tape, remembering that inasmuch as we do this to the least of our brethren; we do it to Christ Himself? And those not so gifted—and we do have men and women who are retired who can do this reading and recording—can certainly help in the preparing of and recording of the cassettes, the mailing out and receiving back, keeping record of where they go, and of who has heard this or that tape, or even to deliver them personally. If it is too much to serve the other members of the body of Christ here below, are we ready and willing to go into the new Jerusalem where this will be our joyful work?
Remember Lot’s wife as a warning, but remember Deborah as an example. My Bible says, “Six days shalt thou labour” not, “you may work six days, if you want to do so.” Does there not come with life a calling to be busy with the things of God’s kingdom here below? With the gift of life, is there not always the calling to use it before God’s face? Must we readMatthew 6:33 to say, “Seek ye in the first part of your life the kingdom of God and its righteousness”? Or is that seeking the kingdom first a calling to make seeking the kingdom a priority until the last breath of earthly life? With the gift of life to the child of God comes the calling to look for opportunities to serve the rest of the body of Christ.
Serve one another, live for one another now, and you will have the assurance of the promise to live together in the heavenly Canaan, with all the pleasure of being members of the body of Christ, and that yours is a pure religion and undefiled.