Pay attention to the tension in your body. Let go of it and any expectations to do anything other than God’s will today. Prepare yourself to hear God’s word.
Genesis 35:1-15 (NRSV)
God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 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 clothes; then come, let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak that was near Shechem.
As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them. Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So it was called Allon-bacuth.
God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he was called Israel. God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Then God went up from him at the place where he had spoken with him. Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.
When Jacob sensed that God was commanding him to return to Bethel, the place where he’d had his life-changing encounter with the Creator, Jacob said something to his entourage that may sound strange to us: “Put away the foreign gods that are among you…” Apparently, some of his family and servants did not share the faith he had in the one true God, and were still clinging to idols, totems, family or tribal deities and the symbols associated with those deities.
We might think that devotion to “foreign gods” is a primitive practice that does not affect us today, but think again. When career, possessions, social standing, or some other such thing consumes us, and demands our complete attention and focus, taking our mind and heart away from undivided devotion to God, could we be embracing a “foreign deity”?
Is there a “Bethel” of single-hearted devotion toward which God is calling you—perhaps for the first time, or maybe to return? What “foreign gods” must you abandon in order to make that journey? Or, if not actual idols, what priorities need to be realigned?
God, look into our lives and reveal to us where our deepest loyalties are. Give us the courage to adjust them, if that is what we need to do in order to be more fully yours. We pray this in the name of your Son and our Savior. Amen.
Go with God.