Cleaning house

Jacob shook off the disturbing images of his sons’ bloodlust and prayed for some clear direction. God told Jacob to go back to Bethel and settle there. “Make an altar to me,” God said, “at the place where I appeared when you fled from Esau.”

Jacob knew he needed to set his house right before proceeding further. He made a blanket announcement to all who lived in his camp. “Sons, daughters, wives, servants, gather up all your foreign gods, cleanse yourselves with water from the spring, and change into clean clothes. We’re going to Bethel to build an altar to the God who’s had my back since I fled from my brother so long ago.”

For the next few days, everyone brought Jacob their idols. They removed the earrings they wore as symbols of wealth and substance, and they washed in the brook. Jacob took all the objects of false worship, the gods and the jewelry, and he buried them underneath an oak tree near Shechem.

When they left for Bethel, God inflicted a collective paranoia on all the villages surrounding the people of Israel so that no one dared to venture out from their own house to attack Jacob’s caravan.

They arrived safely at Bethel, and Jacob built his altar. God came to him and said, “Your name is Jacob, but from this moment you’ll be called Israel. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac will be yours, and it’ll belong to your children after you.”

Israel brushed off the old altar of stone he’d erected so many years before, and he named the place “El-Bethel,” The God of God’s House.

Soon afterward, Israel left Bethel and traveled toward Ephrath. Along the way, Rachel struggled through the birth of her son.

“Don’t be scared,” her midwife tried to soothe her. “You’re going to have a son.”

But Rachel’s dying words were, “He will be called ‘Benoni’ Son Of My Pain.

Israel buried his wife Rachel in a tomb and marked it with a boulder somewhere along the road. There, he renamed his newborn child Benjamin. Journeying on, he pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder near Ephrath, also called Bethlehem.

While living there near Bethlehem, Reuben slept with Bilhah, his mother’s servant, and father’s concubine. Israel heard this troubling news, but he would need to think carefully about a suitable punishment for him.

Israel and Esau came to Mamre Oaks at Hebron to bury their father Isaac, who was a hundred and eighty years old when he died. From there, Israel and his family went and settled in Bethel. Altogether, Israel’s sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin.

Inspiration: Genesis 35

Jacob’s ladder

Jacob traveled from Beersheba toward Haran, and as evening approached one night, he settled in a clearing near the city of Luz. Using a stone for a pillow, he slept like a rock.

He dreamed that a ladder rose up from the ground and into the sky, and angels moved up and down its rungs. God stood next to him and said, “I’m the God of Abraham and Isaac. This land will be yours, and your descendants will spread to the north, south, east, and west, like dust on the wind. Every family on earth will be blessed by you and your descendants. I’m with you wherever you go and won’t leave you until I’ve fully paved the way of my promise, bringing you back to this land.”

Jacob woke suddenly, saying, “God is here, and I didn’t even know it.” Then, a surge of fear came over him. “I’m in awe here in God’s house, facing heaven’s gate itself.”

In the morning, Jacob got up early, fashioned a marker from the stone he had slept on, and he poured wine and oil on it. He named that place “Bethel,” House of God.

“If God stays with me, feeds and clothes me, and protects me against my angry brother until I return to my father’s house,” he said, raising his hands to the heavens, “then God will be my Master, this stone will mark the place of his residence, and I will give back to him one-tenth of all I own.”

Inspiration: Genesis 28