************ Sermon on Genesis 35:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 15, 2014
The year 1968 was not a good year for our country. That year saw race riots in many inner-city ghettos, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, opposition to the Viet Nam war across university campuses, and anti-war protestors at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In the midst of all this turmoil, Richard Nixon's message of "law and order" propelled him into the White House. However, the message came back to haunt him as he and his officials were caught up in Watergate and other moral lapses.
There is no doubt that Jacob and his family also needed law and order. Or, to use a more Biblical word, they needed to purify themselves; they needed a change of heart. When we last looked at Jacob, he had settled near the city of Shechem where he built an altar and worshiped God (Gen 33:18-20). However, as I noted before, Jacob was being only partly obedient because he had promised to return to Bethel to worship God (Gen 28:20-22). By the time of our Bible reading ten or even fifteen years have passed since Jacob returned to the Promised Land and reconciled with Esau. Yet, he still had not returned to Bethel and fulfilled his vow to God.
Furthermore, as we learned last time, Jacob's stay in Shechem was a disaster as it resulted in the rape of his daughter Dinah and the murder of the men of Shechem (Gen 33).
We also saw Jacob's failure as a father. First, he was not angry about the rape of Dinah. Compare this to how he later treated Joseph and Benjamin. We see that Jacob favored Rachel and her children and was blind to the needs of Leah and her children. In due time this favoritism will produce even greater strife in Jacob's family. Second, he was not angry about the murderous ruthlessness of Simeon and Levi in killing all the men of Shechem. Rather, he was angry at losing his good name (Gen 33:30). He was angry that their actions might hurt him.
I God's Intervention
A Humanly speaking, the rape and murder at Shechem could have been the end of Jacob and his family. They were heavily outnumbered by the surrounding inhabitants of the land. If the Canaanites and Perizzites had come seeking vengeance, then the whole family could easily have been massacred. But we read of no attempt to exact revenge. Why not? Scripture tells us "the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them" (Gen 35:5). Remember, God did the same thing when Laban pursued Jacob (Gen 31:24). God caused a holy fear to fall so that His people were kept safe from their enemies.
As an aside, we desperately need that same restraining fear of God today. I was sent an article this past week about religious bias on secular college campuses. Christian groups on campus are being denied recognition if they exclude gays or require leaders to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Think of what this means: Christian groups on campus can end up with leaders who are atheists, Jews, or practicing Muslims.
Wednesday, in the Visalia Times Delta, I read an article entitled, "War about gay marriage is over." The article argues that the Bible has been misused against Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders. The author writes, "The Bible has been misinterpreted for centuries in this regard, just as it has been to support slavery and discrimination against women."
And, as you know, Christians in the Middle-East find themselves under constant attack from extreme Muslim neighbors.
A holy fear of God, a restraining fear of God, is needed as the people of God and the Word of God are being attacked.
B Now, in the midst of this, notice what happens: "Then God said to Jacob ..." (Gen 35:1). Jacob had blown it, again. But in the midst of his personal and family chaos, God graciously spoke to Jacob. Telling us what? Telling us that Jacob is restored into a living relationship with the Almighty only when God
take the necessary steps to call and bring Jacob back.
(Gen 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."We see that the Lord intervenes to wake Jacob from his spiritual lethargy. The Lord has a plan in which Jacob plays a part, and He will not let Jacob's spiritual laziness stand in the way. Here we see that human frailty and human sin does not thwart God's plan to bless and to save. Here we see that the providence of God watches over our salvation. Here we see that the Holy Spirit will not let us forget the vows we have made.
I am always comforted by this. Because we see God is true to His Word even when His people sin. Because we see that it is all of grace and not of works. Because we see that God uses sinful men; God uses fallen men; God uses men like Jacob and Isaac and Abraham – sinners all; God uses sinners like you and me too.
C Change, real change, happens only when God intervenes. The first step in spiritual renewal always comes from God. Left to ourselves, our hearts are cold as ice towards God. We rapidly slide into compromise and embrace the attractions of false gods and idols. Our natural inclination is disorder rather than God's order. But God, our God, will not abandon those whom He has chosen, those with whom He has made a covenant. So He comes to us, just as He came to Jacob, and calls us back to Him, to renew our walk with Him, to change our hearts.
What is more, we see that God is endlessly patient with His people. This is not the first time God has intervened in Jacob's life in this way. We saw the same thing in Genesis 30. At that time Jacob was comfortable in the employ of Laban, seemingly forgetting about God's promises and the Promised Land. At that time, too, God had to restore Jacob to a living relationship with the Almighty:
(Gen 31:3) Then the LORD said to Jacob, "Go back to the land of your fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you."
Is there a similar pattern in your life? Too easily, congregation, we slip away from the pursuit of God into the pursuit of other things. We become comfortable with being lukewarm in the faith and lazy with our spiritual exercises. God needs to intervene through trials and failed temptations to call us back to Himself. God needs to intervene so we are purified and changed and again become passionate about Him and His Kingdom.
II The Call to Purity
A So, what happened? What is the result of God's intervention? Jacob heard the call of God and extended it to his household:
(Gen 35:2-3) 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. (3) 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."After all the defilement of Genesis 34, the time has come for law and order. Or – as the Bible puts it – a change of heart, purification, and worship.
The same call to purity that Jacob issued to his family is extended to each of us in Psalm 24:
(Ps 24:3-6) Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? (4) He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. (5) He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Savior. (6) Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
There are a couple of connections between Psalm 24 and our Bible reading. First, did you catch the name for God? He is called the "God of Jacob" (Ps 24:6). Second, the psalm talks of falsehood or deceit (Ps 24:4). I am sure you remember that falsehood and deceit are key elements in Jacob's story: we see deceit when Jacob stole the birthright (Gen 27:35); we see deceit in Jacob's marriage to Leah (Gen 29:25); we see deceit in Jacob's manipulation of genetics so his share of the flock increase in number (Gen 30); we see deceit in how Jacob left Laban (Gen 31); we see deceit in Jacob's meeting with Esau (Gen 33); we see deceit in how Jacob's sons dealt with the men of Shechem (Gen 34).
This psalm tells us that the man or woman who seeks the God of Jacob cannot be full of deceit. The man or woman who seeks the God of Jacob must be righteous. The man or woman who seeks God must be like the man into which Jacob was being transformed by the grace and Spirit of God.
Now get this: we are as impure as Jacob and his family. We are as broken. We are as sinful. We are as deceitful. We, too, are in need of purification. We, too, need to be transformed by the grace and Spirit of God. We, too, need a heart that is changed.
But, like Jacob, we cannot change ourselves. Like Jacob, we have no righteousness of our own. Like Jacob, we need the righteousness of another – namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.
B It is within this context that Jacob extended the call of God to his family:
(Gen 35:2) Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Do you hear the broader message here? The broader message is that changed hearts necessarily leads to changed lives. Those who receive God's grace need to put aside the things that pollute and destroy. Those who receive God's grace need to put aside the things that so easily distract. Those who receive God's grace need to pursue purity. Those who receive God's grace need to love God and neighbor.
C Now, notice what they had to do: the first thing they had to do was bury their idols; they had to bury their former ways of living and thinking. There is a reason the Ten Commandments start with no other gods and no idols. Idolatry, you see, is the first and main temptation. Our hearts are idol factories and we are more than capable of turning anything and everything into an idol that we bow before and worship and love and adore in place of the one only true God. Here is a reminder that God's people of every age need to make sure that their devotion is to God alone.
Now look at the surprising result of Jacob's call: "So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem" (Gen 35:4). This is the family of Jacob we are talking about. The family of the patriarch. The chosen race. The seed of the woman. A holy nation. A kingdom of priests. They are supposed to be free of such things. Jacob's household, of all households, should have been fully devoted to the Lord. They are supposed to be above such things. Yet, they had a host of idols. Remember the idols that Rachel stole from Laban? She finally surrendered them to Jacob at Shechem. Other family members had idols as well.
I have no doubt that Jacob, in spite of his sins and faults, worshiped the one, true God. But this was not the case with his family and household. Here is a reminder that our work of discipleship never ends. We cannot assume that our children and grandchildren are Christians just because they go to church each Sunday. Again and again we all must bury our idols and serve God first and serve God alone.
A pure heart begins with the true worship of the living God and cannot be separated from it. This is the mistake made by Richard Nixon and his advisors. They assumed people could adopt law and order, purity and righteousness, without the foundation of the Gospel. Law and order may hinder sin, it may cause sin to go into hiding for a while, but eventually it comes out of hiding and continues its wicked deeds. True purity of heart flows out of the life-changing power of Christ and His Spirit. Then, and only then, are we able to worship God in Christ. Then, and only then, do we make a beginning in putting aside our idols and the sin that so easily entangles.
D Now, notice the second thing required of Jacob and his family. They needed to change their clothes. All of us have closets full of clothes. We also have washing machines and running water and laundry-mats and dry-cleaners. So we don't think twice about a change of clothing. Some days I change my clothes 3 or 4 times depending on what I am doing. But that was not an option for most people in the Ancient World. Most people, back then, owned only one or two outfits. And, they didn't have the convenience of our laundry services.
"Change your clothes." Their clothing was spotted with the blood of Shechem. Their dirty clothing was symbolic of their life of sin and deceit. So, "Change your clothes." Take off the robes of sin and put on the robes of righteousness.
I hope you all recognize this. This symbolic act of changing clothes is used by Paul to describe the changed life of the Ephesian Christians. They have put off the old self with its evil desires and put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24).
"Change your clothes." So, take off the garments of sin. Put off falsehood and put on truth. Put off anger and put on peace. Put off theft and put on labor. Put off unwholesome talk and put on encouragement. Put off bitterness, rage, brawling, slander, malice and put on kindness, compassion, forgiveness. "Change your clothes."
It begins with the work of Christ and His Spirit. Our heart needs to be changed. Our spirit needs to be purified. But it continues with us consciously and deliberately living a life of holiness.
E Notice, finally, where it ends. It ends with worship. God calls and hearts are renewed. Idols are removed. Clothing is changed. And, finally, we are fit for worship.
But it is all part of one package. God has no use for those in worship who skip a few steps. God has no use for those in worship who want to keep their idols and their garments of sin. Go back to the words of Psalm 24:
(Ps 24:3-4) Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? (4) He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.Or, consider the words of Psalm 15:
(Ps 15:1-3) LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? (2) He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart (3) and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,
Those who worship God, like you and I worship God this morning, must not turn our worship into a lie. Those who worship God on Sunday must also worship God on Monday with their lives. It is the prophet Amos who spoke to people whose lives made a lie of their worship. During the week they perverted justice, trampled on the poor, oppressed the righteous, and took bribes while on the Sabbath they presented offerings and songs. So God said,
(Amos 5:21-23) "I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. (22) Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. (23) Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.Do you hear what God is saying? "I want nothing to do with you and your worship if you don't live for me throughout the week."
Like Jacob, like Jacob's family, we are unclean. We need a change of heart. We need law and order. We need purity and righteousness.
The answer, the only answer, is the call of God, the intervention of God. Then our hearts are changed and we are like God in true righteousness and holiness.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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