Returning to Bethel: The House of God

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Image of Jacob at Bethel, where he dreams of a stairway leading to heaven
Image source: Sweet Publishing

In today’s Bible reading, Jacob (now named Israel) returns to Luz, which he had named Bethel (Bethel means House of God). You may remember that previously (Genesis 28), Jacob/Israel had an encounter with God and dreamed of a stairway to heaven with God’s angels ascending and descending the stairway. Jacob/Israel was so moved by this encounter with God, he named the city of Luz, Bethel.

Yesterday (Genesis 31:13), we read about Jacob/Isaac having a dream where God told him to return to his homeland. Again, Bethel is mentioned as God reminds him that He is the God of the House of God.

Now, in today’s reading (Genesis 35), God tells Jacob/Israel to return specifically to Bethel and live there. But this isn’t just a command to return to a city. It’s an invitationi to return to God Himself. Notice that Jacob wakes up from the dream and tells his family to destroy their idols. (Genesis 35:2–3)

Something has changed. Jacob/Israel recognizes that going back to Bethel means going back to where he had a major encounter with God. That had been a turning point when he was running from his twin brother Esau. And Jacob/Israel knows that if he returns now, he must return to the God he encountered way back then. Returning to the God Who had been with him through the years. And returning to God would require getting rid of the pagan influences he had allowed or adopted in his life.

Application

If you are a Believer, you may have drifted from where you first met God or from some other major encounter with God. You may have drifted in and out of your relationship with Him. It happens to many of us.

Today’s scheduled reading reminds us that we can always return to God. And like with Jacob/Israel, returning to God may mean that we need to lay aside things that we have allowed or adopted in our lives that don’t line up with Him and His ways.

Not everything we allow and adopt is necessarily bad. The author of Hebrews encourages us to, “lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 CSB) The author notes the difference between hindrances and sin. And so should we.

The Hebrews passage reminds us that we can’t just change our behavior; we must look to Jesus. Yes, behavioral change is important, but it follows an encounter with God. And if you are a Believer, you need the transforming power of Jesus operating in your life to make any lasting change in your life and behavior.

Take a few minutes today to ask God what areas of your life you need to change if you are to walk closer with Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to make those life changes — and behavioral changes — that you need to in order to follow God more closely and more intimately.