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.

The Gospel for the CIty in Genesis 31-33

Genesis 31-33 tell the story of Jacob’s return to the land of promise. In the midst of his losing favor with his father-in-law, he becomes more aware of the favor that the Lord has shown Him. Yahweh speaks to him again and reminds Jacob of his oath at Bethel to serve Yahweh and to honor Him as Lord in giving Him one tenth of all that he has. Jacob is told to return to the land of promise.

The return to the land is fraught with misgivings especially in regard to the existing rift between Jacob and Esau. Also, without Jacob’s knowledge, his wife Rachel has stolen the idol images that belonged to her father, and Jacob, as well, tricks his father-in-law by leaving secretly. Despite his and Rachel’s deceptions, the Lord in mercy preserves them and give them grace and a covenant of peace with Laban.

While on the way to Esau, Jacob stops at “the camp of God” and learns of Esau’s approach with a small army. In the midst of his fear, he finds assurance in remembering that the promise to Abraham is now his promise. That night he wrestles with a divine being and refuses to let go until the divine being blesses him. In the midst of Jacob’s struggle with God, Jacob is transformed as is indicated in his name change form Jacob (supplanter) to Israel (prince of God).  Furthermore, to both break Jacob’s hold on the divine being and to give him a lasting reminder of this life-changing encounter with God, the divine being dislocates Jacob’s hip. As Jacob’s limps away, every step reminds him of this night of powerful transformation.

Now as a changed man, he reconciles with his brother, purchases property in the land of promise, and builds an altar to worship the God of Israel.

Jacob’s journey here is a journey of grace.  The Lord meets him in his fear and his deceit. The Lord comes to him, breaks him, transforms him, and renews his promise to him. This is the good news of the gospel.

Living in a restless and oppressive city, we often find ourselves in Jacob’s situation. The promise of rest in Christ often seems elusive so we tend to make our own way in life, employing means of self-protection, sometimes deceit, and tormented with the memory and fears of broken relationships. Yet, God persists in working in the midst of our troubles, allowing our waywardness to hurt us but not destroy us, and often working in our behalf though we do not recognize or deserve it.  His call is always to come back to the place of promise and rest.

Matthew 11:28   28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

On our journey He wants to bring us all to the place where we finally realize that our struggle with life and people comes from our struggle with God and our need is to be broken and transformed by the power of God. Like Jacob, we need to see ‘the face of God” in Jesus Christ and limp away never forgetting the powerful grace of God that transforms sinners.