Description / Transcription
Father in heaven, help us now once again as we come to Your Word. We bow before You, not simply because we think this is how sermons begin but because we really need Your help. I need Your help if I’m to speak clearly and humbly and with power and unction from on high, and we all need Your help if we are to listen and these are to be words that fall upon good soil. So teach us just what we need to hear in these minutes together. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The book of Genesis, which we have been in for the better part of two years, and which Lord willing we’ll be bringing to a close at the early part of this summer, is essentially about God working out His promises and His providence in one very messed up family. You family has issues, this family has more issues.
Genesis is one of the longest books in the Bible, 50 chapters; only Psalms, Isaiah, and Jeremiah have more chapters. Of these 50 chapters, the first 11 of them cover creation, fall, curse, flood, the confusion of languages. By contrast, 39 chapters are needed to cover the lives of just four individuals in this family; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. After spending 11 chapters on thousands of years, then we really slow down and the microscope zeroes in on this one family across four generations. God in His wisdom apparently gave us what we needed to know in those first chapters about creation and fall, and in some ways that was a preface to the main story.
The main story is about this family. And lest we think it’s just about a family 2000 years ago, it’s our family that we are a part of by faith. This morning we come to bring the Jacob cycle to a close. Now Jacob doesn’t die, he’s very much going to appear in the Joseph story yet to come. He has an important role to play.
But this is really the passing of the baton from one generation to the next. You may recall that the book of Genesis, though we have 50 chapters, those chapters aren’t inspired. Really, a more clearly inspired delineation are these 10 toledoth sections in the book of Genesis. Toledoth is the word translated “generation.” Even though the very last one is chapter 37, verse 2, says these are the generations of Jacob, it’s actually about the generations that came from Jacob. It’s not so much the story of Jacob as it is about his sons.
So chapter 35 brings to a close this cycle of stories about Jacob, and then there’s something of an addendum in chapter 36, the toledoth of Esau, of course, his brother. What we have in chapter 35 is the tying up of loose ends and a final look at Jacob in the spotlight, and then chapter 36 summarizes Esau before we move on to this novella, this story within a story about Joseph.
I’ll refer to chapter 36 at the end, but the action is in chapter 35, and so we’re just going to read chapter 35. Hopefully, you have your Bibles open there, Genesis 35.
“God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 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. And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name Allon-bacuth.”
“God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.”
“Then they journeyed from Bethel. When they were still some distance[f] from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.” And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.”
“While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.”
“Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.”
“And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”
There are three themes in this final major section on Jacob’s life. These three themes are going to be our three points: Correction, confirmation, and completion.
So notice first in verses 1 through 8, correction. What do we mean by correction? Well, you recall in chapter 24 this horrible story of Dinah and the Shechemites as Dinah is violated and then her brothers, who have a right to vindicate her, and yet go about it in the wrong way. They should have trusted the Lord to vindicate.
Remember, because you may say to yourself, “Well, what were her brothers to do?” Jacob was passively indifferent, it seems, to this great atrocity against his daughter and against their sister Dinah. But remember, three other times in the book of Genesis one of the women of God, one of the matriarchs, was taken; taken by Pharaoh when Abraham liked, taken by Abimelech, later another Abimelech when Isaac lied. Three times, with Sarai, with Sarah, with Rebecca, three times it happened that she was taken by a foreign king and each time the Lord sovereignly intervened to rescue her.
Now we’re not told that explicitly, but surely one of the lessons to learn is that Jacob should have led his family to trust that the Lord was able to vindicate and able to rescue their sister, but as he was passively indifferent, so his sons took vengeance into their own hands. We left off in chapter 33, remember he erected the altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel and then chapter 34 has no mention of God, very deliberately, as everything seems to go off the rails.
But now, coming back on track, chapter 35 begins, arise, go up to Bethel, the house of God. Remember, Jacob had made a vow earlier when he was fleeing the Promised Land, went up to Paddan-aram to his father’s or to his mother’s household, that he would come back. He had made a vow, promised to come back to that very spot at bethel.
Well, Jacob came back to the Promised Land, but he settled there at Shechem. He wasn’t in the right place. He didn’t fulfill his vow. So God corrects him now. You came back to the Promised Land, but you didn’t do all that you had promised. So arise, this isn’t where you’re supposed to be. You made a vow to me, now come back to Bethel.
So God speaks to Jacob. Last we saw Jacob he was anxious over the troubles Simeon and Levi had caused him. He was floundering as the family leader. He had set up his camp too close to Shechem. He had neglected the vow he made 20+ years earlier when he set out from Paddan-Aram but now God holds him to his promise. The only time that God directs a patriarch to build an altar. Other times it’s a response, here God says, “No, this is to be a place of worship,” and God wants Jacob obedient and worshipful, but not on Jacob’s terms, on God’s terms. He needs a course correction, a literal course correction because he did not settle in the wrong [sic] place. He says, “Look, you made a promise, you made a commitment, now you need to come all the way back to Bethel and you need to renew and to keep this vow.” He does so.
Now notice what happens. The correction is not just for Jacob, but the correction needs to happen for his whole family. He leads them, finally Jacob is growing, and it’s a stark contrast. The leader he wasn’t in chapter 34 now he is the sort of leader God wants. Men, this is the sort of patriarch, if you can use that language, the sort of leader that God wants over His household.
Look at what Jacob does. Verse 2: He said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods.” He’s leading them in repentance. Part of being able to lead them in repentance is he first had to come to grips with his own failure. See, it’s one thing to say yes, I’ll be the leader of the household, everyone needs to repent. That’s good. I like this, you know, male headship thing, leadership thing. You all need to get your act together.
Well, Jacob first had to get his act together. He needed to show the people that he was serious. He wasn’t just calling them to a standard he wasn’t willing to live up to. He needed to repeat. He had gone to the wrong place, so once he goes to Bethel, an altar there, now he’s going to lead his people in this reversal, this repentance. I hope you realize repentance is not just feeling really bad about things. In fact, God isn’t interested in one level and you just feeling bad. The world feels bad; that’s regret. Uh, I messed up my life. Ah, now work is bad. I failed a test. My family doesn’t like me. That’s regret. You don’t the spirit of God to regret bad decisions. Non-Christians regret bad decisions all the time. Repentance realizes ah, I need to not just feel bad, I’m turning around. I’m changing. I was going this way, I need to go this way.
The Puritan Thomas Watson said repentance is a spiritual medicine made of up six ingredients: The sight of sin, sorrow for sin, confession of sin, shame for sin, hatred for sin, and turning from sin. Leave to the Puritans to say six special ingredients.
Well, it’s that last one that’s often lacking. Oh, I feel bad, I confess it, I hate it, but do you actually turn from it? I’m not doing that anymore. That’s what Jacob has to do. Turn from one place, go to Bethel, and now to his family he leads them in repentance and renewal.
Look at verses 2 and 3. He gives four commands: Get rid of the foreign gods, purify yourselves, change your clothes, and come with me, we’re going to Bethel.
Get rid of the foreign gods. We’ve seen not so subtly throughout Genesis the way that Moses, the author, inspired by God, is making fun of these gods, the sort of gods that can be covered up and can be sat on in a woman’s menstrual impurity we saw earlier. These household gods that you can steal. What kind of God can you sit on? What kind of God can you steal?
Well, do you see what’s happening here? When we come to the end here in verse 4, they give all the foreign gods and the rings. Now what’s the big deal, earrings. You’re saying, “uh, oh, Pastor, earrings.” Well, these earrings very likely would have had pagan sort of amulets. They were part of the idolatry, these earrings, so they needed to take the foreign gods, the earrings, what do they do? They give them a funeral. They bury them. They bury them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. So I want you to get rid of your foreign gods, they’re not real gods, but we’re going to give them a nice funeral. Here we are, they’re dead, they’ve always been dead, we’re going to bury them.
Get rid of the foreign gods. Purify yourself. Change your clothes. So there’s a symbolic representation, we’re starting over. We’re having a fresh start. And then he says, “Come with me to Bethel.” Verse 3. Essentially obey.
The primary requirement in the covenant is exclusive allegiance to the Lord. “I’m the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Remember at the end of Joshua, Joshua chapter 24, “Choose for yourselves whether the gods beyond the river be gods or whether Yahweh be God,” but Joshua says, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” It was never a problem to add a god. It’s never a problem. You don’t have a problem adding a god to your life. It’s never been a problem add Jesus to your life. The problem is always subtraction. To have the gods of the pagan nations, not a big deal. Everyone adds gods. You just hedge your bets. Amorites got gods, Amalekites got gods, we got gods, yeah, keep adding.
But the one true God says you’re not really adding unless you subtract every other god. That’s why idolatry is so often linked to adultery. Because when you get married, you make the vow, “And forsaking all others.” To get married as addition without subtraction, not a good marriage. Oh, I got married again and again and again and again. We see that happening in the Bible. It’s not God’s plan. It never goes well. It didn’t go well for Jacob.
So you need to subtract these gods. You need to be serious and single-minded. And notice where they’re buried – the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.
You probably don’t recall, it’s just easy to miss, but back in Genesis 12:6, the very beginning of this story of the patriarchs, when Abram is going to the Promised Land from Ur, it says “Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem to the oak of Moreh.” This is where Abraham started his journey in the Promised Land, and since then this had been a special place. So it’s fitting this terebinth tree, this special tree near Shechem, that marked out the beginning of Abram’s journeys in the Promised Land, would be the place where you are symbolically doing away with all of the gods outside of the Promised Land. Bury them.
Jacob and his family needed a big time course correction, and surely there’s a good example and a spiritual lesson for us here, because it’s really easy when we think we’ve reached our goal to suddenly become apathetic and lethargic. You know you’re driving, driving, driving, whether it’s to a certain career, a certain graduation, just a certain spiritual goal in life, and you seem to have arrived and then you let your guard down. Well, isn’t that exactly what happened? They’re on this journey back from Paddan-aram, back to the Promised Land after all of these decades, it’s a difficult journey, they have all of these flocks and herds, they’ve gone by Esau, ah, we thought we were going to die there but we didn’t. It’s easy for them to think, “Ah, we made it. We made it. We did it.” And then they let their guard down.
This happens in such subtle ways for us. It’s at the end of some hard strenuous activity or labor that you think, “Ah, I deserve a few wandering clicks over in this direction,” or “I deserve a little self-pity after all that I’ve been through.” You think that as you’re coming to the end of your, you put the hard work, the hard work behind you. It’s like the sort of people that figure that once you run a 5k, you can now eat whatever you want for the rest of the week. “Ok, I think I probably burned 30,000 calories. Let’s go for it. I did 3.1 miles.” That’s not how it works.
But here Jacob easily thought we finally made it back, here we are, and they let their guard down. But things were not right, mission not accomplished. They needed a correction. First with Jacob, and then leading his family.
So that’s the first theme, correction.
Second. Notice in the next paragraph, verses 9 through 15. There’s not only a correction, but a confirmation. Now it’s easy to get confused with this story because you may recall back in chapter 28 where he leaves the Promised Land, there he has an encounter with God, he names it Bethel, Beth-el, house of God. Here he names the place again, house of God. This is not a confusing story told twice, it’s actually two distinct episodes with the second one confirming the first. It’s very deliberate that Jacob needs to learn this lesson again.
You ever wonder, “Why am I in the same place I was before? Why does God keep teaching me the same lessons?” Well, maybe because we need to learn the same lessons. You remember that famous line from Paul? He said it’s no trouble for me to remind you of the same things again.
Once you become a Christian, and it’s really exciting and you’re learning all this stuff and, oh, I didn’t know all these names and all these terms and all these things in my Bible. Then you got to a few hundred or thousand sermons and the rest of your life is a lot of reminders. You know why we need reminders? Because we’re forgetful. We’re mentally forgetful, we’re spiritually forgetful. So God has to continually confirm things to us.
So look at verse 9: God appeared to Jacob again.
There’s a number of things going on here, and a number of parallels with other parts of Genesis. So note the basic pattern, what happens here, starting at verse 9. So we have the Lord appearing to Jacob, then in verse 10 He changes his name, He appears to him as God Almighty, He says that in verse 11, and then He tells Jacob to be fruitful and to multiply. He says nations will come from you. He says that kings shall come from you. He promises to him the land. There’s a basic pattern. The Lord appears to him, God Almighty, I change your name, be fruitful, kings will come from you, peoples will come from you, you’ll get a land.
Keep that basic pattern in mind. Go back to Genesis 17. This is the confirmation of the covenant with Abraham, and it’s the exact same pattern. Genesis 17, verse 1: The Lord appeared to Abram.
Well, what did we see in Genesis 35:9? God appeared to Jacob. And the God who appeared to Jacob announces that He is Lord Almighty.
Chapter 17: He says I am God Almighty.
What does He do here in chapter 17? Well, this is where He says you’re no longer Abram, but you’ll be called Abraham. You see that in verse 4. And then He says that I will make you exceedingly fruitful, verse 6, I will make you into nations, kings shall come from you, I’ll establish my covenant with you. Then at the end of chapter 8, all the land of Canaan shall be an everlasting possession.
It’s the same covenant confirmation pattern. The Lord appears, I’m the Lord Almighty, I change your name, be fruitful, multiply, I’ll give you the land, you’ll be a great nation. All of that to Abram in chapter 17 and now to Jacob in chapter 35. No longer Jacob, you’re Israel.
So one level of confirmation is this is the same promise that I gave to your grandpa. He says, “I’m the same God who was there with Abram. In fact, I’m doing the same thing that I did with Abram, Abraham, I’m doing with you Jacob, who will be Israel.”
Notice also there’s parallels back with the first Bethel story in chapter 28. So go to chapter 28. God’s promise to Jacob in 28:13, “I’m the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, the God of Isaac, the land in which you lie I will give to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth. You shall spread abroad, every direction. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land.” That was God’s promise.
So He reminds Jacob: Remember, I promised I would bring you back to Bethel. Now you stopped a little too soon, but I bring you back to Bethel.
Not only that, but you’re having here, in chapter 35, not only the confirmation that I gave to Abram, but you’re also inheriting the blessings that you got from Isaac.
So look at chapter 28, verse 3. This is what Isaac says to him as he leaves: “God Almighty bless you, make you fruitful and multiply you so that you may be a company of people. May He give you the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring,” verse 5, “thus Isaac sent Jacob away.”
That was the last word we heard from Isaac before we see Isaac die at the end of chapter 35. Isaac had said, “The promises of Abram now I give to you, to be fruitful and multiply.” And where did we hear that? Well, that was back in Genesis 1, of course. That was a part of the creation mandate, being made in God’s image, be fruitful and multiply. I want to make a great people for Myself.
Well, now this great people is coming from, at this point in redemptive history, this one family.
There’s one other parallel with chapter 28. If you still have your finger there, look at chapter 28, verse 18: “Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head, set it up for a pillar, poured oil on it, called the name of the place Bethel.”
Well, what happens here in chapter 35? Verse 14: Jacob set up a pillar, he poured out a drink offering, he poured oil on it, and he names the place Bethel.
God is reminding him of the very same promises. Jacob is repeating the very same act of worship, down to the stone, the pillar, the pouring out of oil. Okay, we’ve got a span of years in between here where you went, and I blessed you there with Laban, you got married, one more time than you thought, you had a bunch of kids, and now you’re back.
Sometimes you look back on your life and you think, “I had no idea why we ended up over there. Why did God move us over there? Why did we have to go through that trouble? Why did that happen?”
And some of you are in the middle of that. You’re in the middle of the 20 Laban years that don’t make a lot of sense but they’re a lot of hard work. Well, maybe at some point, whether in this life or in the next life, for sure, God shows you what He’s been doing.
Okay, Jacob is coming full circle. Even those Laban years, when you were far from the Promised Land, and it may have seemed like I had forgotten you, I hadn’t. So now here you are, Jacob. I was true to every single one of My promises. So Jacob, having this covenant confirmed once again, confirms it again.
We can read through Genesis and these various doublets seem confusing or repetitive, like, “Jacob, didn’t your name already get changed to Israel? Didn’t we already have a Bethel? And now you’re naming it Bethel again?” This is where higher critical scholars sometimes develop all these elaborate theories – Well, this was a different tradition and they pasted this on over here and this on over here and obviously they’re from different authors.
No, when you read Genesis in entirety, you see what a master stroke God is doing, very deliberately, to repeat these stories, not just saying, “Here’s the story again,” but “Here’s the story in a new episode, in a new part in Jacob’s life, because he needs to learn the same lesion again.” They tell us something very important, they tell us Jacob is back on track and just as importantly, they remind us God never left His track. God never got off track. So don’t think when your life’s off track, God had to turn and deal with Ukraine for a while and He couldn’t figure out what was going on in your life. He’s God. He can do all of it. God never gets off track. God is not confused. God doesn’t need plan B. God knows what He’s doing. Even when Jacob was off track, God was not.
Notice how Jacob has matured. At Shechem he worshiped according to his agenda, and he was not blessed nor a blessing. Now he worships at God’s command, at God’s place, and God reiterates to him, “You are blessed and you will be a blessing to the nations.” Do things God’s way.
Correction, confirmation. Here’s the final theme – Completion.
Notice in this chapter we’re in a time of transition from one generation to the next. What we find in the following paragraphs is that Jacob has to endure a series of sadnesses in his life. They all pile up one after another. Did you notice them? We just read in verse 8 his nurse, Rebekah’s nurse, Rebekah’s sort of maidservant Deborah, dies. So first Deborah dies, then Jacob’s wife dies, then Jacob’s firstborn son violates his concubine, and then Jacob’s father dies. Just think about each of those sadnesses, those griefs.
So first think about Deborah, and actually, before you think about Deborah, think about who’s not mentioned – Rebekah, his mom. Remember how close they were? Esau was really Isaac’s favorite, Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite. Rebekah was one the one who said, “You’ve to go up to my brother. You’ve got to get away from here.” And his beloved mom, there’s no record of ever seeing his mom again. Apparently she had already died by the time Jacob returned from Paddan-Aram back to Canaan. There’s no record of a joyful reunion. There’s no memorializing her death, although we’ll read in chapter 49 she does get buried in the special cave of Machpelah, which Abraham bought for Sarah.
But in the place actually where you would expect to hear about Rebekah dying, you hear about her nurse Deborah. We don’t know what happened to Rebekah. From Rebekah’s non-mention to Deborah’s death, to then Rachel. There is an irony here. Remember it was Rachel who said, “Jacob, if you do not give me a child, I will die,” and now it’s by the gift of a child that she dies. Her second son. She wants to name him Ben-oni, son of my sorrow. Jacob calls him Benjamin, son of my right hand, that is the place of strength, preeminence, good fortune.
But it tells something important. Remember, the original hearers in Moses’ day would have known, “Ah ha, with Benjamin now we have the 12 tribes. The family, the people of Israel, complete with the birth of the 12th son.”
So you have the non-mention of Rebekah, you have the death of Deborah, you have the death of Rachel, and then in verse 22 you have the sin with Reuben.
Don’t let this pass by too quickly. This is a significant episode. We can easily see the sin was sexual. Reuben should not have laid with his father’s concubine. But the sin was also familial. It’s probably no coincidence that this happens, and is recorded in this way, immediately after Rachel dies. There may have been some jockeying for position. Okay, we all knew that Rachel was the favorite wife. Well, who’s going to be wife preeminent now that Dad’s favorite wife is gone?
So it may be quite deliberate that Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, because now she’s in a place of defilement as well, and who is going to naturally rise but Leah, of course, who is not coincidentally Reuben’s mother.
It’s also probably Reuben asserting his claim as the firstborn, which backfires and leads to the rejection of blessing, we’ll find out later. So the sin was not only sexual, it was familial, and it was also political. He was almost certainly trying to usurp his father’s authority.
We see this several times during the united monarchy. Ishbosheth was disturbed when Abner slept with Saul’s concubine Rizpah because he saw that Abner’s act was a move for the throne, 2 Samuel 3. Achitophel urged Absalom to take David’s concubines because that would make clear he was moving in to take over his father’s throne. Solomon interpreted at Adonijah’s request for Abishag, the concubine, in the same way.
In other words, we see several times in the life of Saul, David, and Solomon that for a rival to take one of the concubines is not just a sin of sexual adultery and likely sexual aggression, but it was a political move. It was to say, “Ha ha, who is the chief now? Who has the real authority? What kind of man would take his father’s concubine? Well, the man that you want as king.” That’s how fallen sinful men think.
But of course it doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work out well for Reuben as the blessing and the benefit of being the firstborn, all of that is going to pass on to his brothers, to Judah in one sense and to Joseph. Not to Reuben, who is trying to usurp his aging father’s authority.
So you have Rebekah, Deborah, Reuben, and finally at the end of chapter 35, you have the death of Isaac. Last we left Isaac he was about 100 years old, the last we heard of him. Frail, weak eyesight, over 100 and now he’s lived on a long life. So we’re now many years back into the Promised Land, he’s now 180, a good old man, old, full of days. He’s given an honorable burial. He plays an important role in the unfolding of salvation history. It does appear some reconciliation, you see this in verse 29. Isn’t it the case that sometimes even the most difficult family estrangements can be brought together with a funeral. His sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him.
We saw some measure of reconciliation in chapter 33:32. Well, here years later, they both come together for his father’s death.
Isaac, given an honorable burial, plays an important role, but remember he also favored Esau. He, like his son would do, often exercised weak leadership. He had a penchant for being ruled by his stomach. So it’s not unlike many of the epithets that will later be given for the kings of Israel and Judah that so-and-so walked in the ways of his father David, yet he did not remove the high places. God looks favorably upon Isaac and he’s honored in his death, and yet he missed some very important things. It’s possible for us, too, it’s possible to live a basically faithful life and yet the Lord to say, “But you missed some things.”
Is the glass half full? The glass half empty? Well, all you can do is with the years you have remaining, and that’s why Jacob gives us such an important lesson here, as we think about the closing of Jacob in the center of the story.
Jacob’s a lot like us, isn’t he? What have we seen about Jacob? He’s sometimes strong, sometimes stupid; sometimes a very wise leader, sometimes floundering; sometimes walking with God, sometimes off doing his own thing. This is what the patriarchs and the matriarchs in Genesis are like.
But here’s the one thing that Jacob gets right, at least by the end he gets right and it’s the most important thing you can get right. He believed. He had faith. He wrestled with the angel for God to bless him. He believed God’s Word and repented and served Him and got rid of the foreign gods, and now he settles in Canaan because he has faith enough to come back to Canaan, and because of that faith, the story continues.
I don’t know if this is encouraging or discouraging, but it’s true. Sometimes the chief work we’re going to do in life is just to keep the story of God’s faithfulness continuing to the next generation. Jacob had a lot of problems. He made a lot of mistakes. He sinned in some really big ways, but when it counts most, he comes back to Canaan.
Now I said at the outset that we’d at least mention at the end chapter 36. I didn’t read it. It’s a familiar kind of chapter, genealogy, lists of all the kings and all the people that came from Esau. Typical genealogy. These are the generations of Esau. So here’s the toledoth of Esau. He had these kids, this line. So on the one hand very ordinary. And yet, on the other hand, there’s something more going on.
Why chapter 36 is between chapter 35 and chapter 37. Esau, you remember, is not the chosen line. That’s Jacob. It doesn’t memorialize his death. Two big sins in Esau’s life. One, he sold his birthright for oatmeal, bad move, and he married foreign wives. Now here it’s not just an ethnic thing, it’s all a spiritual thing, bound up at this point with an ethnic thing.
We see it again, verse 2, chapter 36: Isaac [sic] took his wives from the Canaanites.
If you were here throughout the Genesis series, you know that at various points for his mother and father, Isaac and Rebekah, it was driving them crazy that he had married the women of the land. He had married Canaanite or Hittite women. These were not, that’s why Rebekah sent Jacob away, not only to run away from Esau’s murderous revenge, but because I want you to get a wife from our family, not from these Canaanite women.
So his two sins, where in a moment of greedy desperation selling off his birthright for what could satisfy him now, and then the marrying of these foreign wives.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say his two chief sins were sex and money. Now the porridge, you don’t think of money, but it’s I want something right now and I’ll sell whatever I can get for it. Not unlike our day, the two chief sins are often the very same thing. Sex, money.
Esau, notice, though he isn’t the chosen line, he has become a great nation. Look at verse 6 of 36: Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, all the members of his household, his livestock, his beasts, his property, all that he had acquired. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob, for their possessions were too great.
Isn’t that like Abraham and Lot when they have to split? We have too many things. Esau goes away. The land of their sojournings could not support them because of their livestocks. Esau has prospered. Esau is rich, wealthy. In fact, he has become his own great nation.
If we had time to read this, you would notice how many times the author wants to tell us that the person Esau becomes the nation Edom. You see it in verse 1? There is parentheses: That is, Edom.
Look at verse 8, end of verse 8: Esau is Edom.
Go to verse 19: These are the sons of Esau (that is, Edom).
Go to the end to verse 43: These are the chiefs of Edom (that is, Esau, the father of Edom).
Obviously, we’re meant to see Esau becomes Edom. This would have been familiar, this is like saying, I can’t use a country, I can’t say Canada, I can’t say, you know, another country, because then we’re Jacob, so but it’s like another country that everyone would have heard of, Edom, ah, that’s where Edom came from. Esau becomes Edom. Esau is a nation. He settles in Seir. Now why is that so significant? Because look at the very end of chapter 36. In fact, chapter 37.
Remember the toledoths? The sections? Well, the final toledoth begins in chapter 37, verse 2: “These are the generations of Jacob.” So chapter 37, verse 1 actually goes up with the end of chapter 36. Do you see what 37:1 says? “Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojourning.” And you have to see the juxtaposition with the end of chapter 36. Esau and the chiefs of Edom, according to their dwelling places, in the land of their possession, possession. It’s actually the same word for possessing or grasping that’s used at the very beginning of the Jacob/Esau stories where Jacob grasps, or possesses, the heel of his brother.
End of chapter 36, Esau, great nation, possesses the land in which he lives. Jacob still living in the land of sojourns.
Now they have something, but it’s just a handbreadth. And we are meant to see this juxtaposition. Jacob is still a sojourner. Esau has an expanding empire. But lest you think, well, God must be Esau more than with Jacob. No, because Jacob is in the right place. Worldly greatness springs up more quickly than spiritual greatness. It’s easier to build an earthly empire, it’s easier to become great the Esau way, than the Jacob way. Esau’s fruitful, he’s strong, he’s seemingly secure, and the end of the Esau line is meant to raise the question, well, if that’s the non-chosen line, what about the chosen line?
And that’s why we’re going to get the story of Joseph and God’s providence over the family of Jacob.
Here’s the bottom line. One generation is dying off. It’s very deliberately with chapter 35. Rebekah gone, Deborah gone, Rachel gone, Isaac gone. One generation is moving off. Jacob’s turn at the center of the story is over, but the promise continues. How? Because God’s plan of redemption moves forward. The chosen people are in the chosen land.
At the end of our lives, the most important thing that might be said of us, “He lived in the land of Canaan.” Of course, for us it’s not a physical location, but spiritually, “He lived the life of faith.”
The most important thing you may ever do is some small act of believing faithfulness that continues the story of God. Just like now for this moment for Jacob, “I brought you here to do this, I’m fulfilling My promises. Now it’s time to move on. I’m going to focus on your family, but Jacob, you dwelt in the land of Canaan. You believed.”
We’re coming up to graduation season. Many of you will go to graduations. You’ll hear a commencement address. Lots of focus on the next generation and all the great things you’re going to do and most of the messages our world is interested in is pitched toward the young, the next generation. Sometimes the Church can do that as well and forget what about as our time comes to an end. That may be where some of you are.
Well, this is one of those passages for all of us, but in particular for you. If you feel like, “I’ve been to a lot of funerals,” you may think. “I’ve buried a lot of my family and friends and it does seem as if my time at the center of the story is moving on and it’s going to be the generation of my children and grandchildren.”
What does God have for you? What does God have left for you to do? Well, He does have work for you left to do. And it is chiefly the work of faith. Do our part, live by faith, pass on a legacy of faith to the next generation. If you leave this earth and your kids and your grandkids know that you loved the Lord Jesus Christ and you prayed for them in Jesus’ name, and you passed on with all your failings, because we all have failings, you passed on to your kids and their kids something of your faith in Jesus, and they saw in you what this generation could see from Jacob, namely that he made mistakes and he repented, and he dealt with it before he died and said, in a manner of speaking, “I’m sorry. I didn’t get to the right place but we’re going to make this right before my time is done.”
That may be what God has for you, as the story moves from your generation to the next generation. God is not done with you, and you are not done playing a part in God’s story. For all that Jacob got wrong, he got this right – he believed, and he brought his family to the land of Canaan. If we can do that, we will pass on to the next generation what is truly of first importance.
Let’s pray. Our Father in heaven, we thank You for loving us, and loving our families. We thank You, Jesus, lover of our souls, who despite our many failures and failings, yet when we repent You forgive, and though we are often off track, You never are, and You continue to lead and to love. So we look to You, whether we have many more years and decades in life, or whether our times will be coming to an end. We pray for Your grace and for believing hearts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.