Jacob the schemer, the conniver, the supplanter spent most of his life orchestrating events in order to assure himself of God’s blessing. He didn’t trust God to do those things for him. Up until his return to the Promised Land, he’d spent his whole life working to make life work. Eventually, his way of living life found its way into the lives of his children and the actions of two of his sons, Simon and Levi, would unravel a set of circumstances that not even Jacob could fix.
Like Father, Like Sons
In Genesis 34, Simeon and Levi using deceit and cunning, not unlike Jacob’s, wiped out an entire city of the Hivites because the prince of that city had defiled their sister Dinah. When he learned what his two sons had done, Jacob lamented and said to them:
“…Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house” (Genesis 34:30b).
Like their father, Simeon and Levi considered their cause just and asked: “Should he [the Hivite prince] deal with our sister as with an harlot?” (34:31b) Perhaps you could argue that their cause was just, but their actions were not, and Jacob had good reason to be concerned about the fallout.
Back to Bethel
At the end of himself in despair, God stepped in:
“And God said unto Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.’” (Genesis 35:1)
The first thing God did was to send Jacob back the place God had first met him, the place that Jacob went after the first time he’d messed things up. The best thing we can do in any circumstance is to go back to God. In His address to the church of Ephesus, a church that had lost its first love, Jesus exhorted them to “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works” (Revelation 2:5). Many of our crises are self-inflicted because somewhere along the way, we forgot God and like Jacob, we try to run the show. So, God has to remind us to be still and know that He is God.
When they arrived at Bethel, Jacob instructed his household to ger rid of all the strange gods (idols) in their possession (Genesis 35:4). Jacob and his house would no longer trust to superstition or their own cunning to work things out. He was determined to make the God of his fathers his own God.
GOD is God
So, more than arriving at a significant place on a map, Bethel, Jacob arrived at a significant place in his heart, repentance, and trust in God. So, what was the one thing that God could say about Himself to set the heart of Jacob the Supplanter at ease? The same thing He tells us when we see our plans unraveling:
“I am God Almighty [El-Shaddai]” (Genesis 35:11).
That was all Jacob needed to know about his God at that point in his life. He served an almighty God who did not need his help or his schemes to work things out. Returning him to Bethel was God’s way of making Jacob rehearse the events of his life and recall how God had been with him the whole time, even when he was not aware of God’s presence.
When we find ourselves in crisis, either self-inflicted or through circumstances not our making, the advice is the same: remember that the God we serve is almighty.