“I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.” -Genesis 26:24
Twenty years earlier, while fleeing from Esau, Jacob had rested for a night near the Canaanite city of Luz where he had a dream of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that reached into heaven. In his dream, the LORD spoke to Jacob and promised to bring him back to this land that He had promised to my father Abraham and then to me. When he woke up, Jacob had built an altar there, calling the place “The House of God” and “The Gateway to Heaven.” He actually named the place Bethel, which means house of God, and that’s its name even in your time, although you spell it Beit El. Now Jacob was finally returning, just as the LORD had promised.
After the awful thing my grandsons had done to the people of Shechem, it was obvious they would have to leave the area. The LORD told Jacob to return to Bethel and stay there for a while. As they prepared to leave Shechem, Jacob had everyone in his company hand over any idols of foreign gods, purify themselves, and put on clean clothes. So his wives and their servants gave him their little statues and took the rings from their ears. Jacob buried them all under a big oak tree outside of Shechem.
Why earrings, you ask? In those days earrings were a symbol of slavery and it was forbidden for any of God’s people to be enslaved to anyone but Him. Likewise it was forbidden for any of us to cut or pierce or tattoo ourselves, or in any other way deface or degrade ourselves. We were children of the Most High God and were expected to behave accordingly.
When they had purified themselves, they started out from Shechem and the LORD struck the hearts of their neighbors with fear so that no one molested them, even after the terrible things they had done. It wasn’t the first time the LORD had arranged a miraculous escape from the midst of our enemies, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
When they arrived at Bethel in Canaan, Jacob stopped at the place where he had built the earlier altar and made another one. He called it El Bethel, God of the house of God. He recalled that the LORD had changed his name to Israel and had transferred the promises made to Abraham, and then me, to Jacob. That meant that all the land of Canaan would someday belong to Jacob’s 12 sons, and that the entire world would be blessed through them. (At the time Jacob had only 11 sons but that would soon change.)
Centuries later that promise came true. Mary, a descendent of Jacob’s 4th son Judah, gave birth to the Messiah, the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world. His death removed the barrier between man and God and made our access to Heaven possible. How’s that for a blessing? The Messiah Jesus would even claim to His disciples that He was the fulfillment of Jacob’s ladder dream (John 1:51). So Jacob’s dream was a Messianic prophecy, showing that the Messiah would one day bridge that awful chasm that existed between God and man, created by the introduction of sin into the world. Then all who looked to Him in faith would gain access to the real House of God, to dwell with Him in eternal bliss.
But Israel (as he was now called) and his people were still some distance from Rebekah and me, and so once again they packed up and headed south. As they neared Bethlehem, Rachael went into labor, and after a very difficult time requiring her last ounce of energy, gave birth to our 12th grandson. As she lay dying she named him Ben-oni meaning “son of my sorrow” but Jacob changed his name to Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” They buried Rachael beside the road into Bethlehem, and even in your time a small shrine still marks the place. Grieving the loss of the love of his life, Israel settled nearby in a canyon east of Bethlehem naming the place Migdal Eder, or Tower of the Flock.
Some time later Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, convinced Bilah, one of his father’s concubines, to have sex with him. This was presumptuous of him, since on Israel’s death Reuben would have inherited her as his own. So between this act of betrayal, and the despicable way Levi and Simeon had slaughtered the Shechemites, three of my first four grandsons had disqualified themselves from receiving the rights of the firstborn. Before they were through, all of the 10 preceding Joseph would be eliminated, leaving him as my son’s principal heir.
And so my son Israel had 12 sons, future heads of the 12 tribes of Israel, whose descendants would each be given a portion of Canaan as their homeland when Moses and Joshua brought them back from Egypt several hundred years hence. As for me, I lived to the ripe old age of 180 years, and Israel came to Hebron to visit me. When I died he and Esau buried me in the cave at Machpelah alongside my father Abraham, my mother Sarah, and my wife Rebekah.
I hope through this story you can get a grasp of my life and times. It was a lot different than yours is. Though we never lived in a house and owned no property to speak of, we were wealthier than most kings of our time. My father and I had acquired herds and people as well as gold and silver to the degree that many kings feared us, as you recall from my adventures with Abimelech. These blessings came to us, not through any merit or worthiness of ours, but because when the LORD called we listened, and trusted Him. And for that alone He blessed us. I hope I’ve made that clear to you, because there’s no other logical explanation. Sure we had our share of trouble, invariably caused by our own human weakness, but the LORD was always faithful even when we weren’t.
I think that if you were able to take only one thing from the story of my life, it’s that. His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness endures forever. Next time you’re in over your head, try to remember that. In the mean time, may He continue to bless you richly, and as you delight in Him, may He give you the desires of your heart.