Genesis 35:1-7 Repentance is the beginning of God’s kingdom within
Genesis 35:1-7 Repentance is the beginning of God’s kingdom within
Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3 and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
5 As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother.
Jacob, upon crossing the Jordan river, the threshold of the Promised Land, did not proceed to Bethel as originally planned. For his soul was attracted to the prospects of earthly honour and riches that Shechem has to offer. Consequently, they encountered a series of unfortunate events that robbed Israel of its chastity and honour. A divine decree prompted Jacob to examine his conscience and purify himself before God. Jacob and his household wasted no time and repented by disposing their idols. Their departure from the city of Shechem saw the protection of the angels as the cities rose to avenge the massacre of the townsmen. Today’s devotion teaches us the importance of self-examination and repentance. Without which, there can be no regeneration leading to eternal salvation.
Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God.
The command to depart for Bethel came at the back of the tragic massacre. Jacob was explicitly instructed to make Bethel the dwelling place and to establish worship of God in the land. The verbiage of the decree carried a reminder of God’s mercy at a time of great distress: when you fled from your brother Esau.
Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments.
Jacob’s subsequent act of purifying his household did not appear to come directly from God’s expressed instructions. But it is appropriate and reflects Jacob’s contrition and spiritual awakening. Notice the urgency of Jacob’s call: Put away the foreign gods…, purify yourselves and change your garments…, lets arise and go…, I will make an altar there to God. “Change your garments” connotes the act of purifying themselves from the stains of idolatry and bloodshed. Jacob’s words: who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone, testifies to his profound faith and gratitude towards God.
Jacob’s instructions were met with prompt obedience when the household gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears. The worship of foreign gods or idols were prevalent during the time of the patriarchs. The Old Testament contains many references of idols made to Baal, Ashtoreth, Asherah, Chemosh and Molech. The worship of foreign gods is forbidden in the community of God. However, it is not surprising that the household of Jacob got their first cleansing here prior to entering Bethel. The rings are associated with idolatry, and they are summarily disposed off under the sacred oak trees.
As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them.
Apparently, Jacob’s attempt to leave Shechem triggered a combative reaction from the cities which were around them. Jacob’s fear and premonition of being attacked by the Canaanites and the Perizzites (see Genesis 34:30) at the back of Shechem’s massacre were not unfounded. However, the great terror that prevented the Canaanites and Perizzites from pursuing the Hebrews was most certainly attributed to angelic interventions, which in Jacob’s days are a commonplace. For Jacob, angelic liaison is the usual mode of operation so much so that at the blessing of Joseph he invoked the angel (see Genesis 48:16) as custodian of the blessed generation. The angel has since rescued Jacob from his uncle (see Genesis 31:42), from his brother (see Genesis 32-33) and from the Canaanites at Shechem.
The erecting of an altar at Bethel testifies to God’s faithfulness in accomplishing His promises when he fled from his brother. In the same token, it inaugurates a new phase of Jacob’s career as Israel, the possessor of the Abrahamic covenant.
Repentance is the beginning of God’s kingdom within
Compared to the one who formerly wrestled with God, who saw the angelic armies at Mahanaim, the Jacob now is a different person. Until then, he has never volunteered to purify himself or his household. God is treated as the source of blessing and protection and religion has always been the means to it. He followed the ways of God for the sake of the blessing, not for the love of God or the ways of the kingdom. The city of Shechem symbolises ambition and riches and Bethel symbolises love and truth. His residence at Shechem testifies to the condition of his heart that he is yet ready to enter the kingdom. Therefore, his worldly wonderings did not really end until he discards the idols and purifies himself. The altar he erected at Shechem is mere religious practice for his own benefit (see Genesis 33:20). But, by his act of losing the idols, changing the garments and leaving the Canaanite city, he repents and enters the kingdom of God.
What is true repentance? True repentance is when we set ourselves to do serious battle with the evil within, having resolved to truly love God and His ways. There are many who are in the church by virtue of their need for divine assistance and the promises. Their ruling love remains for their personal wellbeing and self-actualisation. And they will not think twice in sacrificing the things of God for the sake of their security, which includes their career and family. But the ruling love for the members in the kingdom is: to love God with all our heart and to love others as we love ourselves. Here, the motives of all our endeavours are traced to the love for God (or the truth, for God is truth) and love for others. Whereas for those outside the kingdom, even doing the works of charity is ultimately to secure their personal reputation, and payment. Therefore, when we set our minds to know the truth and have managed a change to our lifestyle and attitudes, we display evidences of true repentance.
Why is repentance the beginning of God’s kingdom within us? While the ruling desire in God’s kingdom is to love the truth and love others before self, the opposite is true for the kingdom of darkness. There, the ruling desire is self-love and for the things of the world (1 John 2:15-16). Therefore, repentance simply means turning from self-love to loving God and His truth. Jesus preached repentance as the requisite for entering God’s kingdom. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (see Matthew 4:17). John the Baptist also preached the same message of repentance through the ministry of baptism (Matthew 3:2) and his baptism is one of repentance (see Acts 13:24). He chose to baptise people at the river Jordan because that was symbolically the threshold through which one entered into the Promised Land.
How do we practice repentance and experience abundant living? First, we must know what the ways of righteousness are. Secondly, we must understand why we live it. Thirdly, we must recognise our ruling love, repent and live righteously. The below figure illustrates the process of repentance.
First, we must acquire the knowledge of the word through observations which we commit to memory. Then, we meditate on the word through which we obtain the truth that produces conviction. Here, we understand why God commands us to live that way and how certain actions affect others and ourselves and the consequences it bring. Lastly, we face-off with our ruling love and repent by applying the truths into our life. It is through self examination that we discover our hidden evil and repent of it. The secret motives of man are primarily two: the love to dominate everyone, the love to possess their wealth. If the hidden intentions are not discovered (through self-examination) and treated (through repentance), they will fester with uncontrollable darkness. Eventually, such will lose their salvation and fall into eternal condemnation.
Why do people fear self-examination? Many in the church do not practice self-examination because they are afraid what they may find hidden deep within their conscience. They are afraid of the grief, dread and the terror of it. This then breeds rational support for not examining themselves citing the fear of self-condemnation and possible abandoning of the faith. They absolve themselves of the responsibility of self-examination and wanted no part in cleaning up their own house. Yet there are people who, entrenched in their church’s brand of teachings that justification comes solely through faith in Christ. Thus, they convinced themselves that if they practice self-examination and repentance, some of their own darkness might spring up ruining their faith and divert their salvation from its sole focus. Hence, they are like those who experience pain in their bodies but will not have them examined for fear of what they may find. And they remain home bound while hoping that the pain may just go away.
There are some who abstain from sin for fear of divine retribution. Yet some abstain as a religious practice as opposed to a natural outflow of a pure heart. That explains why many are not truly free from their bondages even though they managed (with limited success) to keep themselves from sin. They are free for a while, but return to it and so the cycle repeats. The intention of the will, if left unexamined and untreated by the grace of God is like a tree chopped off at the trunk but continues to grow because it was not uprooted.
Nevertheless, those who understood the word but do not examine themselves are like those who worked hard to earn their wealth but hoard them and do not use them. They are indeed rich, yet they live in poverty! Likewise, though the grace of Jesus has been given, many do not use it to cleanse the toxicity in their conscience that could otherwise bring them eternal riches (see 2 Corinthians 8:9). Therefore, unrepented sins are like cancer, which spreads (if not treated in time) and inevitably takes the life of the host.
We must practice active repentance on a weekly basis by doing the following:
- Examine ourselves – our motives and intents of the heart.
- Recognise and take responsibility for our wrongdoings.
- Confess and disown the sinful inclinations before God.
- Pray to God for grace and strength.
- Begin a new living pattern.
We should not beg God for forgiveness because the very nature of God is mercy. He forgives the sins of the world and blames no one for any sin. He says, “They do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Dear Lord, as I meditate on your word, reveal to me the secrets of my heart so that I may recognise their existence. And in so doing, I may disown them and root them out. I ask for your grace to cut off these hellish passions so that I may begin to live abundantly. I desire the truth and even more to live it because I love you and want to be like you. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.