What are the most significant events that happened in your life? Graduating school? Getting your first job? Getting married? Having children? (If you are younger, what are the big events you are looking forward to?)
In Genesis 35 Jacob goes back to Bethel and God focuses on two of the most important events in the life of Jacob, his dream, and the wrestling match.
What is the significance of these two events?
In the dream, God spoke to Jacob as he lay alone under the Middle Eastern sky. He was on the run. His brother Esau was steaming mad because his cunning little brother had snatched the blessing out of his hand by deceiving him. Esau vowed to kill him. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, feared for his life and made a plan for him to get out of town. Together with his father, Isaac, they sent him back to their homeland to find a wife and let Esau cool down. This was the context for Jacob’s dream (Gen. 28). He fell fast asleep and had this wonderful, vivid dream of a stairway to heaven. But that’s not all. In the dream, he heard a number of remarkable promises from God. Look what God says in verses 13-15.
And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.
Jacob’s response to this wonderful dream was to worship. He named the place Bethel and claimed that God was in that place! God had made great promises to him. Then back in Genesis 35, we read the same thing. God is revisiting these promises to him. He is reminding him that he is a God who keeps his word. Look! He is back in Bethel. How unlikely this is. Just like God said he would do; he brought him back to Bethel. He did not leave him nor forsake him. He did give him a wife and children.
God is telling him to keep going, because God is a God who keeps his word.
In the wrestling match, we see a different angle. You’ll notice that God tells him in verse 10 that his name shall no longer be Jacob but Israel. Israel means striving with God. This goes back to the wrestling match from chapter 32. In summary what was happening there was Jacob was scared to death of his brother Esau. He had heard that his brother was approaching with more than 400 men with him. The last he heard of his brother he was wanting to rip his head off now he is coming with 400 men?! It didn’t look good. Jacob made preparations for how to protect his family and give gifts to his brother. All the while there are these promises from chapter 28 hanging in the air (God will be with him and guard him wherever he goes, and he will bring him back to Bethel, and he will not leave or forsake until the promise is fulfilled). But, Esau’s coming.
In chapter 32:22ff we read that Jacob wrestled with God all night long. In the midst of the striving with God, he is renamed as Israel. Now, a name in that culture had everything to do with one’s identity and destiny. The fact that God had renamed Jacob indicates that these promises and plans of God were secure. God would, in fact, keep his word for him. But Jacob would have to be humbled.
When you put both of these events back to back, we can see the importance of what God is doing in chapter 35. He is showing him, as he stands in Bethel, that God did keep his word. That Jacob does have a different destiny. Here as an old man, with a lot of drama in his wake, God has been faithful.
Jacob can keep going because God keeps his word.
While I am confident that none of us has experiences that rival Jacob’s, the truth of this passage applies to us as well. You can faithfully endure hard seasons because you know God keeps his word.
God promises to forgive your sins
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
God promises to never forsake you
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
God promises to hear your prayers
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” (1 John 5:14–15, ESV)
God promises to meet all of your needs
“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31–33)
God promises to work all things for your good
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
No matter what you are going through you have to know that you can keep going because God keeps his word. Do what God has told you to do. And as you are doing it, revisit what he has promised you.
Note: this is an excerpt from a sermon preached at Emmaus Bible Church entitled: Keep Going Because God Keeps His Word)