Genesis 35:8-22 A ministry of fruitfulness and multiplication is given to those who serve out of goodwill
Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth.
9 Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. 10 God said to him,
“Your name is Jacob;
You shall no longer be called Jacob,
But Israel shall be your name.”
Thus He called him Israel. 11 God also said to him,
“I am God Almighty;
Be fruitful and multiply;
A nation and a company of nations shall come from you,
And kings shall come forth from you.
12 “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac,
I will give it to you,
And I will give the land to your descendants after you.”
13 Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him. 14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.
16 Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. 17 When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for now you have another son.” 18 It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.
21 Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. 22 It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
This episode sees Jacob to a climatic and successful conclusion. God’s second appearance at Bethel presents an upgraded form of Abraham’s covenant. Jacob’s change of name to Israel matches his change of attitude towards worship and the covenant. No longer does Jacob seek the honour that is promised in the covenant. But with love and goodwill, he will bring the blessing to all the families of the earth. In today’s devotion, we learn that a ministry of fruitfulness and multiplication is given only to those who serve without expecting anything in return.
You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.
It is appropriate to make a comparison between God’s promises given to Jacob at Bethel when he was fleeing Esau, and the promises made here. The context differs in that Jacob was under compulsion to come to Bethel in God’s first appearance. Here, Jacob met God again having made a free choice to obey by returning to Bethel, to the path of his calling. Recalling the promises made by God in the first appearance,
And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:13-15
Distinct to the promises made by God when Jacob was fleeing Esau. Genesis 28:13-15.
- Descendants numerous as the dust of the earth… you will spread out … all the families of the earth will be blessed.
- Behold, I am with you and will keep you…
Distinct to the promises made by God when Jacob returned from Paddan-aram. Genesis 35:10-12.
- You shall no longer be called Jacob. But Israel shall be your name.
- Be fruitful and multiply.
- A nation and a company of nations shall come from you…
- And kings shall come froth from you.
The most obvious distinction is the ratification of Jacob’s change of name to Israel which was first given at the border of Canaan (see Genesis 32:29). Israel means “God strives” with the extended meaning: for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed. Jacob, who has been striving against God and men for selfish reasons, has now been re-oriented to strive alongside with God and with men. While the name Jacob connotes self-centredness, Israel implies an overcoming of great odds to establish the vision of a company of nations.
Fruitful in a fuller sense infers righteousness and lawfulness, traits that he would bring to the nations. Multiply infers blessedness and spreading out, a result of fruitfulness.
“A nation” differs from “descendants” in that it is an organised people possessing their own social and political structure and military power. “A company of nations” will proceed from “a nation” as it multiplies. “Descendants” on the other hand is a lose collection of people that spreads out to become “descendants numerous as the dust of the earth”. It seems that God has re-worded the promise giving it a more systematic and strategic approach to multiplication as opposed to lose groups of people spreading out organically.
Similarity of the two promises.
- And I will give the land to your descendants…
The provision of land is consistent in the two promises. The covenant community will never find themselves homeless or landless.
Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him.
The act of worship here is very similar to that when God first revealed himself to Jacob at Bethel (see Genesis 28:18-19). Both acts of worship are nonetheless the same, but they are of very different heart postures.
Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor.
Spiritual elation is shortly followed by the tragic death of his favourite wife. While her labour was at its hardest, the midwife does the conventional thing to encourage: Do not fear, for now you have another son. This undoubtedly reflected a preference for boys, which in Rachel’s case fulfilled her prayers at the birth of Joseph, “May the Lord give me another son!” (Genesis 30:24). Now, she saw the fulfilment of her prayers in her dying moments. At her last breath, she named her child, Ben-Oni, “son of sorrow”. But Jacob, in wanting to honour his favourite wife, named him Benjamin, “son of the right-hand” which connotes “good fortune”.
Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it.
Reuben’s act was motivated more by the desire for supremacy than by lust. By laying with Bilhah, he made sure Bilhah being Rachel’s handmaid could not replace Leah as chief wife. In so doing, he hoped to seize Jacob’s leadership. However, his scheme backfired depriving him of leadership. Reuben had in fact gotten an anti-blessing from Jacob at his death-bed: “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.” Genesis 49:4.
A ministry of fruitfulness and multiplication is given to those who serve out of goodwill
At Shechem, Jacob worshiped God with a heart set on serving and honouring himself. As a result, God did not appear to him to ratify the Abrahamic covenant. And the days at Shechem saw no blessing, only tragedy and dishonour. At Bethel, Jacob worshiped with a heart set on serving others and becoming a blessing to all the families of the earth. And God appeared to him and promised him a company of nations. Here, we learn that believers will fulfil their greatest potential only when they serve out of love and goodwill. And a ministry of fruitfulness and multiplication on a global scale will be entrusted to them just as God did for Jacob.
What made the difference for Jacob was not the acts of worship, but rather the heart of it. At Shechem, Jacob did what was required in order that he may obtain honour and blessing. But he did not care much for the families of the earth. And worship for him was merely a means to obtain honour before men. His heart is worldly for he loves himself and the world more than God or the families of the earth. Even as the command was given him to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, his heart was not ready to embark.
At God’s second appearance at Bethel, Israel has set his heart to serve God and all the families of the earth, this time out of goodwill. In other words, Jacob was no longer fixated on personal benefits but he served out of love and gratitude expecting nothing in return. Even as promises of great honour was given him, he did not take it as something to be grasped. Worship at Bethel has become an act of love, arising out of pure freedom, reflecting God’s graciousness towards all the families of the earth. Indeed, Jacob’s change of heart matches his change of name. The name Jacob connotes self-centred worship and service. The name Israel connotes a new desire to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.
The Jewish leaders asked Jesus to show them the most important commandment so that in doing it, they may be blessed beyond measure. Jesus answered them,
“What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
The Jews saw the commandments as a means to prosper themselves instead of obeying them out of love and goodwill. Jesus teaches that the spirit of the commandments is to love God and bless others.
Some churches taught that it is acceptable and even necessary to put the interests of self before the interest of others. As members focus on enriching themselves for a time, they will eventually acquire the capacity to prosper others. Sadly, many of these members who bought into this teaching never recovered from their journey of self-centred enrichment. Jesus never taught the people to focus on themselves even for a brief moment. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
This can be illustrated by the process of building a house. While the goal of the building project is to house people and give them a living space, the first things include laying a foundation. Then, erecting the pillars, then the walls, then the electrical and plumbing structures. And lastly, the interiors and the furniture. Throughout the whole process, the goal remains to create a safe space for people to live in. Therefore, even as the first things include accummulating wealth to feed oneself to keep his body going, his heart beats for the ultimate goal: to bless people, or all the families of earth. Everything a believer does today is for the ultimate purpose of blessing others. Joshua declared to the people, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15.
As the believer sets his mind to love God, and intentionally works towards it, he will see his heart regenerating towards the perfect love of God. The believer’s first and supreme source of motivation is his sense of self or identity: a new creation according to Christ’s image. Here, all of the believer’s desires and endeavours must answer to this identity. Over time, the believer will see his heart regenerating towards the love and freedom of God.
What if your works of charity are not honoured among men… What if your hard work is not recognised or justly rewarded at your work place… Will you continue to do them? What motivates us is our love for people, our virtues of diligence, excellence and creativity. In due time, we will see the fruit of our labour as God has promised Israel: Be fruitful and multiply… a nation into a company of nations! God pays no attention to a man’s achievements. But God will reward the works done out of love and goodwill. The apostle Paul taught,
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Ephesians 6:5-8
Therefore, we strive not to achieve, but rather, with perfect love serving others out of goodwill.
Dear Lord, thank you for showing what you really desire for me; to serve out of love and goodwill. Imbue within me a pliable heart that aspires towards perfect love. Sanctify my heart and cleanse me of all bitterness, selfishness and worldly desires. Cause me to be fruitful and multiply and in due time grant me a company of nations. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.