The Gospel for the City in Genesis 36:1 – 37:1

Genesis 36:1-37:1 record the descendants of the rejected line of Esau. The prosperity of both Jacob and Esau makes it difficult for them to share the land of Canaan so Esau chooses the higher elevation of what is later called Edom. Esau takes multiple wives one of whom is a descendant of Ishmael, perhaps an attempt to bring some unity to the two lines that were not heirs of the Abrahamic promise. The Edomites create their own alien kingdom to the kingdom of God in establishing themselves in a fortress like land and having a monarchy long before Israel would. 37:1 sets Jacob in contrast to the Edomites, for he dwells in the land of his father, Isaac’s sojourning, i.e. the land of promise.

Our immediate text only implies that there is a rivalry between the two kingdoms. The future history of Israel would reveal the innate resentment in the Edomites toward Israel. This came to its culmination at the fall of Jerusalem in 586BC when the Edomites sacked the First Temple. Later under John Hyrcanus the Edomites were forcibly converted and largely subsumed into Israel. One of the most notable Edomites was King Herod who enlarged and embellished the Second Temple.

In the gracious providence of God, there were some from Edom (Idumea) who followed Jesus during his earthly ministry (Mk 3:7-8). An irony of redemptive history is that many of the chosen line rejected Jesus while many of the rejected line followed Jesus. The election of Israel and the rejection of Edom served God’s purposes in redemptive history in giving Israel the privilege and opportunity to bring the blessing of Abraham to the nations, even to Edom. While Israel failed in that responsibility, Israelites, Edomites, and other Gentiles are being recreated as a new unified humanity in Jesus Christ.

While ministering among diverse people groups in the city it is natural to view some groups as more privileged and others as disadvantaged. There exists a great disparity of wealth and education and opportunity. Often this divide is along racial lines, yet prosperity and poverty are at times oblivious to race.  In cities we have the ‘Israels’ and ‘Edoms’ which on the surface may appear to be favored or disfavored by God. Yet, we are often surprised by the indiscriminate work of the Spirit who convicts both the favored and disfavored of sin and righteousness and judgment.

Another disadvantage exists in economically and educationally depressed neighborhoods, i.e. the semblance of Christianity that remains, though often sincere, most often has a low view of Scripture, a false gospel of health wealth and prosperity, and a dependence on political and social action rather than the preaching of the gospel. 

Every city neighborhood needs a church that has a high view of Scriptural authority and a clear understanding of the gospel (see

The Gospel for the City in Genesis 35

In chapter 35, the Lord instructs Jacob to return to the place where Abraham had built and altar and where he had made a vow to the Lord after he had been assured by the Lord that the promise to Abraham belonged to him and his descendants.  Jacob returns with a serious commitment to shun idolatry and to worship the Lord. He is keeping the vow he made at Bethel that if the Lord brought him back in peace, then the Lord would be his God and he would honor Him as Lord by giving one tenth of all he possesses.

Once again, the Lord reaffirms the Abrahamic covenant with Jacob, blesses him, and changes his name to Israel – the prince of God. Jacob consecrates a memorial at Bethel to mark this occasion.

He moves on as the bearer of the covenant promise. Yet he does so in the midst of the vicissitudes of life. One of Rachel’s nurses dies. His beloved wife also Rachel dies while giving birth to Benjamin. He experiences the joy of being reunited with his father and brother, but soon experiences sorrow in the death of his father, Isaac.

God is faithful to his promise to Abraham that He would bless his offspring and bring them to the land of promises. Yet, the story reminds us that every bearer of the promise eventually dies. We are left looking for One who will bear the promise and never die. Surprising when he finally comes, he does die, but in a grand reversal, He rises from the dead so that the promise to Abraham will live on forever.

New communities of covenant believers in urban centers often become Bethel-like experiences to many who have been running from God, chasing the wind, seeking to satisfy the idols of their hearts. Here you find many young people from Christian backgrounds who, like Jacob, seek to make their own way in life with only a marginal recognition of God. They come to cities lured by the hope that the emptiness of their souls can be filled by the many promises of urban life.

Often there is an initial encounter with the call of Christ, interrupted by the difficult challenges of life, and then followed by a renewed call to return to a place of renewed allegiance, forsaking idolatry and worshipping Christ alone. 

For many who have struggled on their spiritual journey through broken relationships, disappointments, and betrayals, these gospel-centered city churches become their ‘Bethel,’ the place where they grasp the gospel, meet the Lord, and choose to worship and serve Him. Though they continue to struggle through the vicissitudes of life, they do so as those who now are recipients of God’s gracious promise in Christ.