Return to Bethel

The other day I happened to read a simple article about a child who quite efficiently managed to stay in the rule and also got to do what he wanted. The parents kept a rule, no iPad in the kitchen and no food in the living room, thinking he will not eat food watching the TV or iPad. But the child invented something big, he stayed in the kitchen with his food on the margin between the kitchen floor and living room floor and the iPad just 2 inches away from him in the living room floor; he managed to achieve what he wanted, but without breaking any rules!  When God gives us rules and asks us to follow them, most of the times, we also do the same…we find ways to enjoy both…God’s and the world. Just like the child’s parents who wanted him to eat his food, knowing what is going in his mouth, knowing the quantity he is taking and have it without other distractions, for the sake of his nourishment and cultivating good habits… God also wants His children to grow and be nourished through Him…He wants us to be enjoying His presence with healthy practices that help us focus on Him, by removing all the hindrances from our life that takes away our focus from Him…but we always find interesting explanations to argue and fight back with God. We find ways by which we satisfy our desires to stay in the world and also meet our spirituality as demanded by the hour. But does that please God? Is that what God intends when we ask our obedience to His word? Are we able to prioritize God’s ways over our ways?

In the Bible, we see Jacob’s life was messed up many times …He entered into this world grabbing his brother’s foot, and he left his home after deceiving his brother and obtaining his birth rights. All through his life we see he always had the right intentions but the way he attained it was through deception. No matter what, eventually God’s faithfulness brought Jacob to the kind of submission and separation, God desired out of Jacob from the pagan world. Each time he encountered God, Jacob’s life changed drastically…from deception, he came to the realization of God and to the purpose of his life… from selfish faith and desire to serve God, he was brought to experience God with submission. God grabbed Jacobs’s life and his desires and He explicitly brings to our attention…the progression of faith…throughout his life. As we see towards the end of his life…we see him as a man perfected in faith, in submission…overcoming many conflicts and a changed personality.

God appeared to Jacob, many times in his life and gave direction for his life…I was particularly inspired to write about one such instance we see in Genesis 35: 1, “Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

Bethel was a very important place in the life of Jacob, while Jacob was fleeing from his brother almost 30 years back, on his way to Harran (the house of Laban), he reached a strange place and wanted to stay there for that night, and he took a stone and made it as a pillow and slept there. In the night he saw a dream, in which he saw a staircase to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descanting and he saw the Lord…who revealed to Him, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac” and blessed Him, “I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28. In the morning Jacob woke up, he took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel. For Jacob, Bethel was a place of personal experience with God …it is where God became His own God…all these years he knew God as the God of his fathers, but now he experienced the beauty of God and he is marveled at it. He makes his vows to God that if God be faithful during his journey…he will return and make the stone that he used as pillar for the night, as God’s house. But when we read the rest of the story of Jacob, we see that God was faithful to Jacob in everything…and answered all his prayers and was with him and gave courage throughout his journey, after 20 years he returned to Canaan with his wives and the riches God blessed him with….he met Esau and they departed peacefully, but Jacob did not return to Bethel as he promised to God. He chose a place closely named Shechem…he was not ready to go back to Bethel…Bethel is where God wanted Jacob to be, but we see Jacob dwelled in Shechem for almost another 10 years, until he was distressed in the land and calls onto God and God says, return to Bethel and dwell there, Genesis 35:1.

What does this passage got to do with us…Bethel, means the house of God…it is the place of worship, it’s the place of experiencing God personally….If we have stumbled back from our promises to God, God is asking us Arise and go to Bethel, it’s not  a place of compromised faith, but a place of total submission…God is not asking us to go to Bethel and then return to the place you like to be…no…he is asking to dwell in Bethel…. Dwell means “to remain, abide, stay; to make one’s abode.”  Bethel is not a temporary place to stay…but a permanent place to settle down…He wants us to remain in the Bethel experience…God wants us to build an altar at Bethel and worship Him. Bethel is where God changed the name of Jacob into Israel, it is where our name is added to the household of God.

This command from God bought some response in the life of Jacob.

“So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where 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.” Genesis 35: 2-3

He got rid of all the idols, he purified himself, they set themselves apart for God to worship Him, and serve Him, without any distractions…to worship Him …to give him the highest place in their life…to obey him and dwell with Him…cutting them off from every kind of bondage to the pagan culture they were once part of…deciding to totally surrender to God.

Where is our Bethel? How far and how long have we been moved out of our Bethel?  We might be thinking that we are in a place close to Bethel…understand it’s not Bethel…Bethel is where God wants you to be…it’s the place of worshipping Him in truth and spirit…it’s the place of total obedience…it’s the place of experiencing God’s presence every day of our life…it’s a place of constant stay… It is a place of holiness… it’s the house of God. How far are we from it? God is calling us back…to His presence and to His love. With holiness and purity and submission, let us return to Bethel.

God Bless!

Smitha Thomas.


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