A PLACE TO SETTLE Genesis 33–36
“I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone” (Gen. 35:3).At last Jacob returned not only to Canaan, but home. His 20 frustrating years with Laban were over, and his feud with his brother Esau had been resolved. It was now, looking back, that Jacob realized how great a role God had played in his life.
Jacob and Esau met and were reconciled (33:1–20). The revenge Simeon and Levi took on the city of a man who raped their sister created new fears for Jacob (34:1–31). God told Jacob to return to Bethel and settle there (35:1–15). Rachel died, but Jacob found his father Isaac (vv. 16–29). The story of the twins closes with a genealogy of Esau and the Edomite nation he founded (36:1–43).
Understanding the Text
“I already have plenty” Gen. 33:1–20. The terrified Jacob was stunned when Esau welcomed him joyfully. Should we credit Esau with a generous and forgiving spirit? Not really. Esau had always been a materialist, unable to see any benefit in the spiritual. This attitude was displayed years before when Esau “despised” God’s covenant promise by trading his birthright for a bowl of stew (25:29–34). Esau had been furious at Jacob’s theft of their father’s blessing, but only because he wanted the family heritage of material wealth. When, after Jacob’s flight, Esau actually did become rich, his anger faded. To Esau it seemed that Jacob had fled penniless, with nothing but some meaningless promise from an invisible God. The statement, “I have plenty,” sums up Esau’s view. Why be angry? Jacob had gotten nothing of real value. In earthly riches Esau had everything he had ever valued or desired! How different for Jacob. Jacob expected his brother to be furious because the covenant promises of God were the most important thing in Jacob’s life! In a sense, God blessed both Esau and Jacob. Each brother received what he wanted most in life. But only Jacob’s choice had eternal value. Rape and revenge Gen. 34:1–31. Dinah’s brothers were right to be “filled with grief and fury” when she was raped. Yet when the young man of Shechem asked permission to marry Dinah, he was acting honorably according to the customs of that time. Certainly the brothers of Dinah were wrong to take revenge on an entire city for the act of one of its citizens. Jacob, whose fears had been relieved by reconciliation with Esau, now had a new worry. Would the other Canaanites attack his family because his sons had taken such bloody revenge? Like Jacob’s, our life is never completely free of stress. One anxiety is relieved only to be replaced by a new one. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). We need a peace that has a source beyond this world, a peace that is unshaken by what happens to us here. Death and reunion Gen. 35:16–29. The text only touches on highlights of the next few years of Jacob’s life. Rachel, who had wept over her childless state, died giving birth to Benjamin (vv. 16–20). Jacob’s eldest son had an affair with one of his father’s concubines (v. 22). Jacob and Esau buried their father and mourned together (vv. 27–29). Pain, anger, disappointment, reconciliation, and loss—all these are a heritage we share with Jacob as human beings. Only relationship with God and confidence in His promises can make this life, with its mingled joys and sorrows, meaningful. “The account of Esau” Gen. 36:1–43. Genealogies were especially important to God’s Old Testament people. They provided a sense of continuity, enabling each generation to understand its identity by tracing its roots. Genealogies enabled the Hebrew people to trace those roots back to Abraham, and thus validate their claim to be God’s chosen people, inheritors of His promise to that patriarch. But why trace the line of Esau so carefully? Esau is not in the promised line. He even turned his back on the promise, considering it of no value at all. Perhaps the genealogy of Esau serves as an important reminder that those outside the household of God must not be ignored or written off as unimportant. Every individual has worth and value in God’s sight, and is to be valued by us. The 91 strangers named in this genealogy are meaningless to us, but no person is unimportant to God.
“Settle There, and Build an Altar”(Gen. 35:1–15)
Jacob’s return to Bethel, the “house of God,” was special. It was there God had first spoken to him. Now Bethel was to become a refuge. Three things in the text establish Bethel as a refuge: The altar, which speaks of worship (vv. 3, 7); the repeated promise, which speaks of God’s presence (vv. 9–13); and the stone pillar, which speaks of remembrance (vv. 14–15). (1) Worship is essential if you and I are to find inner peace in a troubled world. Like Jacob, we need a time and place set aside especially to meet with God. We need to settle there—to be consistent in keeping a daily appointment with the Lord. Jacob told his family to “get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.” In worship we clear our hearts and minds of everything that competes with God for our attention, and focus completely on Him. Perhaps the best definition of worship is “expressing appreciation to God for who He by nature is.” That is, we think about God’s qualities, His attributes, His loving acts, and we praise Him for who and what He is. Our Bethel is daily worship. There we begin to experience the peace that Jacob found. (2) God’s presence is experienced as we hear His voice speaking to us. This is what Jacob experienced at Bethel (vv. 9, 11). This is what you and I experience today as we open the Scriptures and read, not for new information alone, but to hear and respond to what God has to say to us personally. In God’s Word we hear His promises, sense His guidance, find His empowering. Our Bethel is Scripture, for in the Word we sense the presence of the One who met with Jacob at Bethel so long ago. (3) Remembrance is the way we reenter the presence of God at any moment throughout the day. The stone pillar that Jacob erected at biblical Bethel is best understood as a zikkaron. In the Old Testament a zikkaron is any object or religious celebration intended to help a believer identify with God’s active presence in history. Whenever Jacob saw the stone pillar, he was carried back in memory to the fellowship with God he experienced at that place. The Bethel you and I create by worship and by reading Scripture serves as an anchor for our day. At any moment we can return in memory and find fresh strength. How important that we apply to ourselves the words God spoke to Jacob: “Go up to Bethel: and settle there.”
Select a time and place where you can meet daily with God.