The Altar at Bethel
Scripture reading for January 13th: Genesis 32-36
Can you imagine working for seven years for the girl you loved, only to wake up on your wedding morning with her sister? (Genesis 30:25) Can you imagine working another 7 years for the girl and your father-in-law, who changes your wages all the time? Can you imagine rivalry for a husband’s affection in a home with two wives and four concubines? Jacob turned to building altars to meet with God. Prayer was the only way to make it through the trouble!
One day after nearly 20 years in Paddan Aram, God spoke to Jacob about returning to his homeland. (Genesis 31:3) Jacob gathered up his family and set out with his flocks. Laban came after him and confronted him, but God dealt with Laban to let him go. God is so thorough with His plans that when He speaks, we can be certain that they will come to pass. After wrestling with God, Jacob successfully returned to his homeland and Esau made peace with him. In Canaan, he bought a plot of ground near Shechem and set up an altar and called it “Mighty is the God of Israel“. (Genesis 33:20) Jacob tried to honor the Lord who had so blessed and helped him.
During this stay at Shechem one of Jacob’s daughters, Dinah, was raped by one of the men of Shechem. This infuriated her brothers and two of them secretly plotted to get even. Revenge may seem sweet momentarily, but only God can repay! The murder of the townsmen by Levi and Simeon brought trouble on Jacob’s family and he became fearful. He evidently sought the Lord and God spoke to him, “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.” (Genesis 35:1) God again met Jacob and changed his name to Israel! “Israel” means “conquered by God”!
We note again the ongoing conversation and direction from the Lord that Jacob had. He was in covenant relationship with God and God was caring for him through all his troubles. Bethel became an early center of worship in Israel. Jacob learned how important it was to follow God and worship regularly. The altar was established as a place to meet with God through sacrifice.