Monday, July 11, 2005

God's Covenant Confirmed

GENESIS 35 & 36
God tells Jacob to move to Bethel, which if we look back at Chapter 34, is where he was supposed to go in the first place! So although it didn't seem like a big deal at the time, if Jacob had just gone to Bethel from the beginning his whole family would have been saved a world of pain. Good reminders for me to go the distance even when it doesn't make sense. I like the way that Catholic Scripture Study sums up Jacob's mistake and then shows what he did to get right with God. It's still blowing my mind that these Old Testament stories have such good lessons for me right here and right now.
Some of us, given the chance to intervene at this point, might choose to punish Simeon and Levi. Justice must be served, after all. But God's ways are not our ways. They will be punished in good time, but Simeon and Levi are not the root of the trouble. To punish them would be a stopgap measure at best. In the same way, destroying sinful man with the flood was not the final solution to the Fall. God planned not to destroy but to save mankind by grace, however undeserved. Wiping out "the bad guys" would leave sin in control of men's hearts, and it was sin itself that had to be dealt with. In this case, God first zeroed in on Jacob's heart, and called him to get right with Himself.

God told Jacob to return to Bethel, to settle there, and to build an altar to the God who has been so faithful to him. Doing that would do more than remove the family from the scene of the crime, where they could expect further trouble. It would put them where they should have been to begin with, and focus them back on God and on His plan
for them.

It might seem a small thing that Jacob built his altar and settled at Shechem instead of at Bethel. After all, Abraham received the promise of the land at Shechem (Gen. 12:6-7). Jacob did all the right things, just not at the right place. He followed the spirit of the law, we might say in his defense. But God has His reasons for asking particular things, and He requires obedience. Jacob did what God asked but he did it on his own terms. Not going as far as Bethel may be a small thing in and of itself, but it indicates a huge problem inside him: His way, not God's way, took first priority. By returning to Bethel, Jacob will not just obey the letter of God's law, he will humble himself to do things God's way. By settling there he will separate his family from Canaanite influence. And by building an altar and worshiping God he will have the chance to repent, to be purified, and to start again.

In Jacob's response we see that in spite of his mistakes, his heart desire is for God. He acted immediately to move his family to Bethel. In the process he did four important things:
  1. He had everyone get rid of their foreign gods. Before anything else, they had to get rid of anything that kept them from giving themselves totally to God. Jacob's family divided their allegiance between God and the household gods that were part of the culture they came from and settled in. The other gods had to go.

  2. Next Jacob had them purify themselves, and change their clothes. That external act was a sign of what they needed on the inside before they could be reconciled to God.

  3. Now they were ready to go to Bethel, the "house of God." This meant not just doing what had been left undone, it meant putting themselves physically in God's presence in a conscious way. Jacob took them to the place where God appeared to him and gave him the promises, and sought His face there.

  4. Finally, Jacob worshiped God at Bethel. When you worship, you acknowledge who God is and His greatness and your dependence on him. You accept His will. You throw yourself before Him. You pray when you worship, and as the Catechism says, "Prayer restores man to God's likeness (CCC #2572)." In prayer and in worship, Jacob got back on the road to following God and to becoming more like Him.
All quoted material is from Catholic Exchange's "Catholic Scripture Study." See the sidebar under "Bible Study: Genesis" for links to references used.

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