Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.” Gen 35.2
‘Bethel’ means ‘the House of God’. But to Jacob it was merely a place, and nothing more. No doubt, Jacob had great respect for this place, because God had appeared to him there, when he was fleeing from home and from his brother Esau. At Bethel he had seen heaven opened and God spoke to him. Yet at that time Jacob never understood the real meaning of God’s House, and to him Bethel was merely a place of sentimental value.
Many people today regard the House of God in the same way, and they are more attached to the place itself than they are to God. They do not know what God’s House is. They might have built nice buildings in the Name of Christ; they may be taking part regularly in Christian worship services; yet it is possible that they may not be in the full enjoyment of the blessings of God’s House. Like Jacob they need to come back to Bethel, so that God may speak to them and reveal to them His plans and purposes.
Before Jacob started for Bethel, he began to search his own heart and set right all his household, Gen 35.2. He became strong in his determination and commanded his household to put away defiling things and get ready to go with him to Bethel. He also commanded his household to change their garments. In the Bible, garments stand for habits. Very often one’s character is revealed by the kind of garments one wears, and their colour, and the number of times one changes them. It is very sad to see how even good believers are attracted and deceived by the glamour of worldly clothes and worldly ways of living. Gradually they form habits and associations which bring darkness in their minds and lives. Just as Jacob cleansed his household, we also need to put away all worldly practices and friendships and become holy even in our conversation. We are told that Jacob buried the strange gods and other defiling articles under an oak tree in Shechem. In the same way all our hold habits and ways should be buried by our union with Christ in His death and burial.
Only after Jacob had buried the offending and defiling articles under the oak tree, he was able to return to Bethel. Then he began to understand fully why God had changed his name from Jacob to Israel, and why God had asked him to go to Bethel. On a previous occasion, God had spoken to him in clear words. Now, after many years, God was repeating the same message in much stronger language, and Jacob was able to comprehend its meaning. In the same way, it is possible for us also to use words without understanding their meaning fully. Many people are familiar with words like ‘Church’ and ‘House of God’, but they do not live in the truth of the words they express. So please make sure that you are not merely repeating words and phrases, but living in the value of spiritual realities. Can you truly say that you have become a part of Bethel that is God’s House? Or is there, perhaps, some strange god in your life which is hindering your spiritual growth?
A Word in Season to the Weary, May 8th