Scripture: “Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Genesis 35:3-5 ESV
Observation: In this next chapter, the author chronicles the last leg of Jacob’s family’s journey to their designated settlement in Canaan: Bethel (meaning “house of God”). In anticipation of their arrival, Jacob announces to his clan his intent to build an altar to worship God, who has remained present with him and has faithfully protected him (verse 3 above). Wisely, before setting out, Jacob instructs his household to purify themselves by outwardly changing their appearance (removing foreign garments and earrings) and inwardly purging themselves (burying idols of pagan gods), verse 4 above. Then we are told that as they journey to their destination, Yahweh faithfully extends his hand of protection over Jacob’s entourage by invoking terror in the hearts and minds of surrounding native tribes (verse 5 above).
Takeaway: Our Bible records multiple instances where God calls his people to leave home and settle elsewhere to continue the mission. And in each story, our Lord extends his hand of protection. Whether it be Abraham and his covenantal heirs, Moses leading the nation to the Promised Land, Joshua leading Israel into the Promised Land, or even the Exile and repatriation, God works through allies and foes of Israel to preserve his chosen people. But none of these historical events measure up to our Father extending his hand of protection over his adopted children at Calvary (delivering us from the deathly penalty of sin) and Pentecost (empowering us to rise above the debilitating power of sin).
So what does this mean for you and me? Like Jacob, we need to do our part. We need to put away the idols that compete for our affections and put on our armor of spiritual warfare: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, and a renewed mind transformed by Scripture and prayer that rests in the certainty of our salvation (Ephesians 6:10-20). And as the Son of God promised us, he will be with us to the end of our journeys (Matthew 28:20).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for sending us your Son who has delivered us from the Enemy and who continues to intercede for us. And we thank you for your Holy Spirit, who guides and comforts us in our life journeys. Would you please help us to do our part in setting aside idols that compete for our affections and then arm ourselves with renewed minds that wholeheartedly trust in your presence and protection? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling