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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Genesis 35:1-8: Days of darkness

“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.’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. 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.’ 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. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel,because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.” NIV

‘’…God, who answered me in the day of my distress…’’ (3)

I’m sure you have noticed that we have only moved one square on the board from the past couple of days. But verse 8 introduces a new theme – that of bereavement. Before this chapter is over, Jacob will have experienced three significant losses.

Note: getting right with God; sorting things out at home; taking care of spiritual business, is not necessarily a route into an easy life. The hymn-writer could say, ‘Days of darkness still come o’er me, sorrows path I often tread…’ I began to read the book of Job this morning in my daily Bible readings. Although not every believer will suffer as intensely as Job, or lose so much, some certainly do. What we can say with full Biblical authority is this: being a believer does not grant you immunity from suffering and loss.

In days of darkness, however:

…we can remember how God answered prayer in past difficulties (3) – how He has never abandoned us;

…we should seek to hold on to everything God has ‘’revealed’’ of Himself to us in times gone by (verses 1,7). Someone said, ‘Never doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the daylight.’

‘Days of darkness still come o’er me, sorrows paths I often tread, but the Saviour still is with me, by His Hand I’m safely led’’.

PRAYER: Thank you Lord that you will be with us wherever we go (3).

Genesis 35:1-7:Go and Do

“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.’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. 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.’ 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. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel,because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.”NIV

It is the sheer mercy of God that He would speak to Jacob again, and give him guidance, after the mess of chapter 34.

One or two things stand out to me as I read this passage:

  • Go where God tells you to go. If God lays a particular place on your heart you will know it. (I don’t mean simply somewhere you enjoyed while on holiday and you took a passing fancy to living there! Not, of course, to say that God will never call people to live in their favourite holiday destinations. But I suppose you always have to check your motives);
  • Do what God tells you to do. In Jacob’s case this was to ‘’build an altar’’. But Jacob knew that before he built that altar there were things that needed to be dealt with in his ‘’household’’ (2). He called for deep repentance and purification. ‘’Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar…’’(3). ‘Let’s deal with what we need to deal with first’, said Jacob. What has God been telling you to do? Perhaps He’s been speaking to you for a long time? Why the delay? Do it today – if you can, and if you know it’s the right and wise thing to do.

In this story look what they did – Jacob and his family. They dealt with their idolatry and pursued holiness (2, 4). There is a time for ‘getting rid’ of things which are holding us back and blocking the flow of God’s power, and ‘burying’ them. This we do in the light of that great altar of the Cross;

But look also at what God did (5). There was a manifestation of His power.

Yet what came first?

Genesis 35:1-6: Get back to where you once belonged!

“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.’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. 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.’ 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. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan.”NIV

‘’Go up to Bethel…’’ (1,3,7)

For all of us, there are times when we need to go back in order to go forward. We have to return to times and places where God met us personally and powerfully. We may do this in memory. Or maybe it is by diary. For years I have kept a diary/journal. One year later, I try to, week by week, review what was happening, what I was experiencing, what I was reading or writing, ‘this time last year’. Mostly it’s mundane. But more often than you might imagine, I find myself going ‘’up to Bethel’’. Something previously recorded impacts me now. I re-live a meeting with God and its implications.

We may return to ‘Bethel’ by memory, diary, or even by geography. For some people, a kind of pilgrimage to a particular place becomes important. I knew a dear, godly, elderly gentleman, who, as a special anniversary of his conversion approached, said, ‘I would like to go and just sit in the little chapel where I was converted and give thanks to the Lord for saving and keeping me all through the years.’ How God worked that out for him is a remarkable story in itself. Suffice it to say for now that it didn’t seem likely to happen.

Today, I need to remember the little boy of 7/8 years, sitting on his bed and just feeling the intense joy and reality of Jesus. I still am that little boy before God. The passing years, and the burdens we carry can swamp us, and cause us to forget the sheer joy and wonder of knowing God.

What do you need to remember?

Genesis 34:8-31: What’s that smell?

But Hamor said to them, ‘My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.’11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, ‘Let me find favour in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.’13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 They said to them, ‘We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15 We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.’18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honoured of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city. 21 ‘These men are friendly towards us,’ they said. ‘Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22 But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. 23 Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.’24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.’31 But they replied, ‘Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?’”NIV

‘’You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land’’ (30).

‘The Shechemites submitted to the sacred rite, only to serve a turn, to please their prince, and to enrich themselves, and it was just with God to bring punishment upon them. As nothing secures us better than true religion, so nothing exposes us more than religion only pretended to. But Simeon and Levi were most unrighteous. Those who act wickedly, under the pretext of religion, are the worst enemies of the truth, and harden the hearts of many to destruction. The crimes of others form no excuse for us. Alas! how one sin leads on to another, and, like flames of fire, spread desolation in every direction.’ Matthew Henry.

Sadly, it seems Simeon and Levi had learned much from watching their often deceitful dad.(There was a double-deception being attempted by the way. Hamor was attempting to trick Jacob and his sons too. But that’s another story).

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3,4a:

‘’For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.’’

 Sadly, this was not true of Simeon and Levi, and even on his death bed, Jacob still had the bitter memories of what these boys had done (Genesis 49:5-7). As Tom Hale points out, children cannot blame their parents for their own sins. Jacob surely had some responsibility for the way his children turned out, but on their father’s death-bed, Simeon and Levi were faced with their personal responsibility for what they’d done.

Christians are meant to smell of Jesus – to carry the ‘’aroma’’, the fragrance of Christ into the world (2 Corinthians 2:15,16). Someone has spoken of ‘our unconscious influence, impregnated with the fragrance of Christ.’ It is sad, even tragic, if by our worldly ways we tarnish our witness and leave only a nasty ‘’stench’’ behind. We are called to higher things and better ways in Christ.

PRAYER: Teach us Lord to live honourably in this world, not resorting to deceit or trickery. Help us to live in a straightforward way so that we gain a good reputation, and by so doing glorify your Name. May our witness be sound.

Genesis 34:1-7: Just a further thought…

“Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, ‘Get me this girl as my wife.’When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter – a thing that should not be done.”NIV

…and this ‘further thought’ on yesterday’s passage comes from the wonderful devotional writer F.B. Meyer:

‘Jacob was tempted by the fat pastures of Shechem, without care or thought of the character of its people, and he lived to bitterly rue his choice. How many religious parents have made the same mistake! They first encamp near the world, pitching their tent doors in that direction; then they buy a parcel of land, and finally their children contract alliances that end in shame and disaster. He who came of a pilgrim race, and to whom the whole land had been given by promise, bought real estate right next to Shechem, one of the worst cities in the country.

Like Lot, Jacob bid high for wealth and worldly advancement, risked the highest for the lowest, and was saved as by fire. Poor Dinah! Yet she was more sinned against than sinning. Jacob had put her in jeopardy by his selfish policy…’ ‘Devotional Commentary’, pp.27,28.

Meyer perhaps reads slightly more into the text than I might be prepared to say, but there is such an important principle in his words: our choices have consequences – yes, for ourselves, but also for our families. If we parents do not model for our children the priorities of the kingdom – seeking it first, prizing it above all other interests and treasures, we should not be surprised if our worldliness rubs off on them.

Genesis 34:1-7: Enough is enough

Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. And Shechem said to his father Hamor, ‘Get me this girl as my wife.’When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in[a] Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter – a thing that should not be done.”NIV

‘’They were filled with grief and fury, because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel…’’ (7a).

 ‘We are not told why Jacob chose to stay near Shechem rather than moving on. However, as the next chapter will show, his lingering in Shechem was to bring him and his family a great deal of trouble.’ Tom Hale: ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.180.

‘Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom and lost his daughters (19:30ff.), and Jacob moved too close to Shechem and lost Dinah. She was the daughter of Leah (30:21); which explains why Simeon and Levi became so angry (35:23).’ Warren W. Wiersbe: ‘With the Word’, p.39.

This is a sad, shameful and strange passage. It is sad and shameful because it involves the terrible violence of rape. (Maybe because he was son of the local ruler, Shechem thought he could have anything – even any woman – he wanted. Perhaps he was a ‘spoiled’ boy.) It is strange because it appears that in Shechem’s case lust turned to genuine love. In Biblical times, marriages were arranged by the parents. (They still are in many places). So Shechem asked his dad to tie up the deal (4,6).

Jacob remained strangely tight-lipped initially (5), but when his sons found out, they were incandescent with rage over this violation of their sister. Even though Shechem now wanted to marry Dinah, this didn’t make up for what he had done. Sex before marriage was considered wrong (it is condemned throughout the Bible) and rape was even worse. Their sister had been defiled; the family’s honour had been tainted.

One of the ancients said, ‘Anger is one of the sinews of the soul, and he who lacks it hath a maimed mind.’ There are things that should bring us tears and move us to wrath. But as someone wisely observed, ‘Anyone can be angry. But to be angry with the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way – this is not easy.’

Genesis 33:12-20: Reverting to type

“12 Then Esau said, ‘Let us be on our way; I’ll accompany you.’13 But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young. If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die. 14 So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the flocks and herds before me and the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.’15 Esau said, ‘Then let me leave some of my men with you.’‘But why do that?’ Jacob asked. ‘Just let me find favour in the eyes of my lord.’16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.”NIV

‘’So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock’’ (16,17a).

 What was that again? ‘Faith is living without scheming.’ But here is Jacob, the man of faith, acting once more like someone without it. He had seen God’s goodness; prayer had been answered; his brother had welcomed him. Yet still he was afraid and suspicious, and here he reverted to type.

My thoughts this morning run along these lines: what did he miss out on by distancing himself from his brother? Indeed, what did he cause his family to miss also? In what ways was he robbing his brother?

However, Jacob had been told by God to return to Canaan. So he had no intention of going with his brother to Seir. But he should have been straightforward and honest about his intentions, not returning to his old deceptive ways. Why didn’t he just say so? Couldn’t they still have had a relationship?

Some patterns are deeply ingrained in the human psyche. They are stubborn and do not die easily. I cannot point the finger. If I do, I know I will have three pointing back at me. But that is not to excuse Jacob’s conduct. As we read this story we should heed the warning embedded in it, and with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit endeavour to walk the high road in our relationships. At the same time, remember: ‘Like Jacob, none of us becomes perfect in this life; we all have a tendency to slip back into our old nature from time to time.’ Tom Hale: ‘Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.180.

Genesis 33: 5-11: ‘As long as I live in the same street…’

“5 Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. ‘Who are these with you?’ he asked.Jacob answered, ‘They are the children God has graciously given your servant.’Then the female servants and their children approached and bowed down. Next, Leah and her children came and bowed down. Last of all came Joseph and Rachel, and they too bowed down.Esau asked, ‘What’s the meaning of all these flocks and herds I met?’‘To find favour in your eyes, my lord,’ he said.But Esau said, ‘I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.’10 ‘No, please!’ said Jacob. ‘If I have found favour in your eyes, accept this gift from me. For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.’ And because Jacob insisted, Esau accepted it.” NIV

‘’…to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably’’ (10)

 This verse reminds me of a story told about the famous author, Edgar Wallace. He had a neighbour who was a Christian. Wallace apparently said, ‘As long as I live in the same street as that old man, I cannot doubt that there is a God.’

 There is something of God-likeness in the welcoming of another, and in showing them kindness – whether or not they deserve it. This is what God is like. He is gracious. Grace is undeserved favour. God welcomes all who trust in Jesus, whatever they have been or done.

As we have previously noted, Esau did not require Jacob’s lavish gifts (8,9). He was accepting of him anyway. Similarly, our attempts to ‘buy-off’ God are futile and unnecessary. He accepts us on the basis of Jesus’ sacrificial death alone – not on our attempts to earn his approval.

That said, it is right to acknowledge God’s bountiful blessings to us (5b), and to want to generously share what we have been given. But Esau’s acceptance could not be bought; and neither can God’s.

PRAYER: Lord God, may I be so filled with your Spirit that other people see you in me. Make my life compelling evidence for your reality, I pray

 

Genesis 33: 1-4: In the firing line

“Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” NIV

‘’He himself went on ahead…’’ (3a)

For a number of years I was part of a creative writing group in the village where I live. One principle I learned was: ‘Show, don’t tell.’ For example if, in penning a story, you paint a vivid picture of Mr. So and So, we, the readers, will see his anger. You don’t necessarily have to say, ‘He got angry.’ If you use your writing ‘brushes’ with sufficient skill we’ll get the picture. We’ll see the steam coming out of his ears, and, if it’s exceptional writing, we may even find ourselves hiding behind the sofa!

What does verse 2 ‘show’ in terms of who Jacob loved the most?! (I was thinking, however, that in the end Jacob couldn’t protect Joseph. For years he thought he was dead. He wasn’t, of course. But he was in a lot of trouble. Nevertheless, the Lord was with him – even in prison – and did more for him than Jacob ever could. There is a limit to how far we can go in protecting those we love, but they are always under God’s ever-watchful eye).

Regardless of how Jacob positioned his servants and family members, he himself went out in front (3a). That’s what leaders do. If he was afraid, he wasn’t a coward. He put himself in the firing line. Leadership is self-sacrificial.

Notice also the respect he showed Esau (3b) – even though he had every reason to believe his brother regarded him as an enemy. There is a form of courtesy we owe to all people, no matter what they believe or how they regard or treat us. Let us learn to honour all those made in the image of God.

Anyway, ‘Nothing to see here’!!(4). Nothing, that is, apart from an emotional family reunion. All Esau’s fears failed to materialise, and we can feel the relief. Verse 4 is reminiscent of the return of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20). In this case it was the prodigal brother.

‘Many things, like this meeting with Esau, are worse in anticipation than in actuality.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.27.

Tom Hale (like Meyer) sees the change of atmosphere as being definitely due to answered prayer (32:11)

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