The Making of a Man
October 16, 2011 Series: Genesis
Topic: Sancification Passage: Genesis 35:1–35:29
Open to Genesis chapter 35, Pray, Read.
We live in a feel good society (as long as what makes you feel good doesn’t make someone else feel bad-we can’t have that). I’m sure you’ve heard of political correctness-this is a term that basically means it’s unacceptable to say anything that’s seen as an offence to any group or individual such as gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, all religions, beliefs or ideologies, etc. etc. And we’ve seen the effects of this in our government. Political rhetoric has changed significantly through the 20th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century you would here polititians say something like: “These policies are right, good and true and we are committed to pursuing them”. Now we might here: “I feel good about these policies; I think this is the best way forward; and I’ll do all I can to get them passed.” Just a few words different but the shift is enormous. We’ve gone from things being right and true to feeling good about things. The most important thing in the world these days is how we feel. That’s why opinion polls are such a big deal for politicians and the media.
Sadly, this shift in rhetoric and focus on our feelings has found its way into many churches. And the purpose of preaching in these churches is not to declare the revealed word of God as truth and call the people to worship, devotion, consecration and submission to the King of Kings. No, now instead, the goal is to help people feel good about themselves and to feel good about God, feel good about the things that God is doing. But this means ripping out most of the pages.
We would have to rip this story out. How do you explain Jacob and his life to a feel good society? Without God and His truth being the absolute center we can’t. Just consider chapter 34. Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is raped and defiled; Jacobs sons devise a plan to retaliate which involves every male in the city being circumcised; even more hard to believe is that the lust of Shechem was so strong that he went along with it; then Simeon and Levi kill all the males while they’re soar and vulnerable, plunder the city and kidnap all the women and children; and the chapter ends with Jacob fearing for his life and his sons declaring their approval of what they did. It doesn’t feel good does it?
Chapter 35 may seem like a hodge-podge of events and unexplained details but in the same way that 34 accentuates the effect of life without God; this chapter is full of God and is the climax of Jacob’s story. It brings together the 2 things that God has been doing in Jacob’s life.
Total Commitment to God
The first is that God has been bringing Jacob to a place of whole hearted commitment to himself. The chapter opens with this new devotion and obedience to the Lord. 20 years ago Jacob made a promise to God; that if God would keep His word and protect him and provide for him and bring him home in peace that he would give all that he was and all that he had to God. But he didn’t do that. God kept His promise but not Jacob. There had been many times that Jacob forgot or held back from an unreserved obedience toward God. His heart was divided.
Here he is now, after 20 years he has made it almost all the way back. He’s in the promise land but he stopped 24 hours short of Bethel. And it was disastrous-chapter 34. It wasn’t that he was tired and needed to rest. Bethel meant something, Bethel meant total surrender to God and maybe he wasn’t ready. Have you ever experienced this? It could be something big or small but you know God wants you to surrender it; to give it up or give it away; to repent and turn away.
What we can do sometimes is quietly decide to give it up…soon. We just want keep it a little longer. Lord of the Rings scene: Bilbo has given ring to Froto but he wants to see it one more time and when denied lashed out in a fit of rage-a graphic depiction of our hearts. In the lingering is danger because those things that grip our hearts never remain neutral. So there is only one wise and right choice and that’s where we find Jacob. Look at what he says in verse 2: “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.” His response to God in this moment of whole hearted commitment is worth our taking note of.
Wholehearted commitment to God requires 2 things: the renouncing of all false Gods (or idols) and purifying ourselves. Let’s look at each of these.
Renounce false gods. We know where there false Gods came from. Rachel had stolen them from her father and they had acquired more when they looted Shecham and they had kept them tucked away all this time. How sad that in light of the amazing faithfulness of God and His abundant blessing upon Jacob and his family that they would still be holding on to their little gods. Like kids with their toys; just in case, just a little back up security. You know, when you’re not sure if what God is doing is going so well or when you don’t feel so good about how things are going-you have a back up. They probably weren’t even aware if the grip these false gods had on their lives but try to take it away and you’ll see. Even as they approached Bethel Jacob felt the pull.
It is very sad but the reality is that we all do it. Like when you have a bad day and your first response is to do what makes you feel good-like watch a movie, eat ice cream, just be alone. Now our culture tells us that that’s ok-in a vacuum yet. But where ever you run for refuge; whatever you turn to first for comfort, that is your god. And like Jacob, we can be inches away from whole hearted commitment and not even know that we’re missing the mark. And it’s through His word and on mornings like today when God says to us, like Jacob, Get up and go! Go to Bethel and commit yourself to me. God is not content with some of us He wants everything, He wants to be our everything.
The truth is-reality-there is no security in false gods, They only lead us away from the one true God. Position, possessions, comfort, self gratification-these idols only help us “feel good for a time and leave us high and dry. No one can serve 2 masters. Do you have anything that you’re holding on to; a “false god” that fills the gap when you don’t feel good about God? We need to renounce them all-like Jacob who buried them under a tree and left them.
But as important as this is, it’s not the only thing we must do. What Jacob says next brings balance to the Christian life and only with these together do we find the key to living victoriously and joyously in the blessings of our God. Let’s read verse 2 again:“Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments.”
Purify yourselves. This is essentially how God transforms our lives (changes us)-not only through the renouncing of false gods but also the substitution for them of new affections. If all we try to do as Christians is try to stop doing wrong things we will just become little Pharisee’s-absolutely right outwardly (maybe), but stone cold and un Christ like inwardly. That’s why Paul tells us to “put off the old AND PUT ON the new”. This is the process of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. Renounce the false god’s, embrace the one true and living God. This is symbolic of a transition from one state to another. It’s like having your citizenship changed. There is no trace, no tie, no strings, no smell. There’s no going back. There’s newness and therefore there’s now room for a new affection-for God. God is transforming us, like Jacob, into HIS likeness.
Now this feels good, doesn’t it? Finally Jacob is aligned properly with God in whole hearted commitment to Him. Surely now things will go better, God is on his side. Well there is joy and peace in this (that transcends understanding) but it’s not in the form of ease and it doesn’t mean smooth sailing for Jacob. In the rest of this story there are 3 funerals (8, 19, 29) including his wife and father, and 1 family disgrace (22). This leads us to the other work of grace that God has been doing in Jacob’s life.
Absolute Submission to God’s Sovereign Providence
God has been bringing Jacob to a place of absolute submission to His sovereign providence. There are many illustrations of this but I want us to look at one in particular. I think the most moving scene in the life of Jacob is the image of him standing beside the cold, lifeless body of his wife holding the warm child that she just died giving birth to. If you think about their entire life together, there is so much being communicated just in this image. But Jacobs actions here seem a little out of place. 18-19 “And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath.”
With her last words in her dying breath she names the boy Ben-oni (son of my sorrows, grief). And Jacob changes it. This is not death bed protocol or how last requests are normally treated. Is this the old Jacob, the heal grabber, deceiver. If it is he has reached a new low-wait till his wife is dead and then name his son what he wants. But no, it’s not. Verse 21 tells us that after Rachel was buried “Israel journeyed on”. We’ve known for a while that Jacobs name was now Israel but this is the first time he’s called Israel in the narrative-because this is the 1st time that Jacob the deceiver has actually been Israel. He’s a transformed man!
He could have sat around in agreement with Rachel’s assessment-Yes, this is the son of my sorrows, why should I go on; but not this time. This time he had the strength and faith to believe that God would use for even this deep sorrow for good and he named him “son of my right hand”. And as we’ll see in the final chapters of Genesis this name will prove to be prophetic.
He buried her and journeyed on. This could have been an excuse for another delay and distraction but Jacob had learned to willingly embrace the path God had set for him. Regardless of how he felt, in spite of the loss and the grief he was experiencing, even though I’m sure he hoped and expected that Rachel-the wife that he loved-would be with him to the end-he trusted God and he continued to obey; he continued on. Jacob trusted God’s promise and providence; he trusted God’s word and His sovereignty to carry out his promise in whatever way he saw fit.
God transformed Jacob’s life, through time and trial and consequences and blessing, and brought him to a place of total commitment and absolute submission. God made a promise to Jacob and he kept it. And Jacob made a promise to God and God made sure he kept it.
If you’re a believer of Jesus Christ, you made a commitment to God. Yes we are saved by grace and we trust in Christ for our salvation and He is the one who purified us and removed our filthy rags and clothed us in the pure white robes of His righteousness. But we committed our lives to God as our King; we are his. We committed our entire lives to Him and we promised to follow Him anywhere through anything at any cost.
We were bought with a price, we are his servants; His slaves, we owe our all to Him and He is worthy of more than we can give and so we committed our all to him. Our being, positions, lives. “Where do you want me to go, what do you want me to do, what do you want me to give away, who do you want me to help, how do you want me to suffer for you Lord-ANYTHING, I’ll do anything.” Do you remember that? Are you still in that place?
If not check your affections. Say no to the little gods, sins that have cripple your faith but then purify yourself-come back to God. Take off your old clothes-the ones that have held you back and put on clean clothes. Make room in your heart for a new affection. Embrace your God and cling to him fully. And trust Him for His promises. He said that he will never leave you or forsake you; He said that he is going to prepare a place for you-a place of rest and perfect fellowship with Him; He said that will finish the work that he began in you…the work of transforming you into His likeness. Trust his promises.
The Christian life is not about warm fuzzies and feeling good; neither should we evaluate our progress based on the same feelings. Perhaps a paradigm shift of our expectations is needed to give us the proper perspective from which to view God at work in us. I think it’s safe to say that the most progress in faith that has happened in my life has come through sadness, grief, inner struggle, discomfort and turmoil. And I bet many of you can relate. I’m not saying wear burlap, shave heads and sit in ashes. But through difficult circumstance, God works mightily in us-removing idols, drawing us closer to Himself. If you’re looking for good feelings you will despise these times. Instead, see it as the grace that it is and trust your God in them.
If you struggle to see progress in your growth as a Christian, consider Jacob. This is one of the greatest twist ending yet-did you see this kind of transformation coming as you rounded the corner reading chapter 34? No, Jacob didn’t see it either. But God did. And He knows His work in your life as well and he won’t be surprised the day that you realize that you have really changed. Trust Him.
Let's stand together. I want to close by reading a poem to you and then praying for us.
Prayer Answered by Crosses
I ask'd the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and ev'ry grace,
Might more of his salvation know,
And seek more earnestly his face.
'Twas he who taught me thus to pray,
And he, I trust has answer'd pray'r;
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hop'd that in some favour'd hour,
At once he'd answer my request:
And by his love's constraining pow'r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this. he made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow'rs of hell
Assault my soul in ev'ry part.
Yea more, with his own hand he seem'd
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Cross'd all the fair designs I schem'd,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
Lord, why is this, I trembling cry'd,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
"'Tis in this way," the Lord reply'd,
"I answer pray'r for grace and faith.
"These inward trials I employ,
"From self and pride to set thee free;
"And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
"That thou mayst seek thy all in me."