Genesis 35 February 22, 2015
Sermon Series: “Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families” Today: “In My Last 30 Years”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
If you are at least 40 years old, I’d like you to think back on your last 30 years. And if you are younger than that, think back on your last 10 or 20 years. Suppose you are at a high school or college reunion, and an old friend asks you, “What’s happened with you over the last 30 years?”
Or maybe you are at a wedding or a funeral, and a cousin that you haven’t seen in decades asks you, “What have you been doing with yourself since I last saw you?” How would you answer that question?
Most of us might tell of any weddings, births, and deaths in the family, as well as changes in employment. But how many of us have actually used that question to think deeply about what we’ve learned and how we have grown through all the experiences of our last 30 years?
Allow me to use Jacob’s life in Genesis 35 as a framework for dealing with this matter for us.
We read in Gen. 35:27 that “Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed.”
Put yourself in the sandals of Jacob here. You’ve been away from your home and your family of origin for 30 years. You’ve traveled over 1,000 miles, been married, had children, faced death, wrestled with God, and met up with your twin brother. So much has happened and so much has changed. But here you are, back at this familiar tent, seeing your father’s face again, and wondering what’s the same, and what’s different.
His father Isaac wants to know what has the Lord been teaching Jacob, these 30 years, since he last saw him. So I imagine Isaac asking Jacob a number of questions, questions that we should ask ourselves; questions we should ask each other.
Isaac begins with the obvious: “Tell me about your family!”
Jacob answers: “I got married – twice – to two sisters! It’s complicated.
And I have a daughter and 12 handsome sons – from four different women. That’s a long story, too, dad.
You know, it’s amazing to have so many sons… given how hard it was for you and mom to conceive, and for our grandparents to conceive…so I am really blessed. But there’s some intense rivalry between the sons of the different mothers, and some are really headstrong. Two of them have already caused me major trouble… so major that we all had to leave town! And the oldest son. Reuben… well, he’s disgraced himself recently. It’s hard, dad.
But the toughest thing is that one of my wives- Rachel, the one I loved the most – she died giving birth to our youngest son, Benjamin! I miss her so much, dad.”
Isaac listens and then says, “Sounds like a typical dysfunctional family, Jacob! But the good news is that God is faithful, and He gives us divine hope, when everything seems dark.”
Isaac then asks another question: “Jacob, what important events stand out in your memory? Are there any milestones for you in those 30 years?”
Jacob ponders for a bit and then says, “You know, dad, with raising all those sons and with living with two wives and with slaving at work for my father-in-law, Laban….well, all those years just seem like a blur to me. I was always busy. There were always crises and hard times and relationship issues, so that the time just blew by me!
And yet, at the same time, there were some milestones along the way. There were some key events that have enabled me to see God’s hand on my life, through the good times and the hard times.”
Isaac waits and then says, “Give me an example, son!”
Jacob replied: “Dad, one of those milestones was the places I buried people. I’ve seen people die, and I’ve helped dig a number of graves. And while death is never a happy time, one of those burials was actually a celebration of sorts!”
Isaac said, “Go ahead… I’m all ears!”
Jacob continued: “Well, when God told me to go to Bethel and build an altar there, to worship Him and give thanks for all his faithfulness to me, I knew I had to repent of my sins, and I had to lead my family and my household in putting off our sins and getting right with God. So I commanded all of them to get rid of their idols, their foreign gods that they had with them.
And dad, do you know what I did with all those idols made of silver and gold? I buried them, dad! I buried them under that big oak tree at Shechem! I had all these valuables in my hands, I had a small fortune right there… and I buried it all. I got rid of them. Do you know why I buried those idols? I wanted to make sure that we would never go back to them again. I wanted to make sure that we would be single-minded to God, and devoted in our hearts only to the Lord.”
Isaac asked, “Why them did you bury them in a place that was clearly marked, that oak tree?”
Jacob answered, “I wanted that burial place to be a marker, dad; I wanted that place to be a tomb where we died to ourselves and our idols. I wanted that oak tree to be a reminder that we had repented of our trust in all idols, and would only be trusting in the true God from then on.”
Editorial note: It was at this very spot that God appeared to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham.
See Genesis 12:6-7 “Abram traveled through the land16 as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh17 at Shechem.18 At that time the Canaanites19 were in the land.
The LORD appeared to Abram20 and said, “To your offspringa I will give this land.21“22 So he built an altar there to the LORD,23 who had appeared to him.”
Then, at the same spot, 500 years later, Joshua would issue a similar call.
Joshua 24:23-27 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods65 that are among you and yield your hearts66 to the LORD, the God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.”67 On that day Joshua made a covenant68 for the people, and there at Shechem69 he drew up for them decrees and laws.70 And Joshua recorded71 these things in the Book of the Law of God.72 Then he took a large stone73 and set it up there under the oak74 near the holy place of the LORD…”78
Pastoral note: If you’ve been baptized upon profession of your faith in Jesus Christ, then your water baptism can serve as such a marker, with your going under the water as a symbol of your death to self and sin and idols.
Jacob continued telling his dad about the milestone markers in his last 30 years:
“And then there was the pillar I set up over Rachel’s tomb, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Rachel had a tough life. She wasn’t able to conceive for a number of years. There was such jealousy between Leah and her; and she carried scars from how her father, Laban, never gave her the love and attention she wanted from him. So in the last 30 years I’ve set up very different pillars. The pillar and altar at Bethel, for the Lord, commemorated God’s goodness and mercy in life, while the one for Rachel witnessed to death, and to how fleeting and painful life can be… but you know what? God is sovereign over all of it. He is the Lord of life and death.”
“So even though these 30 years have passed so quickly, these burial places and pillars are reminders of God’s hand in all of life. They speak of His faithfulness, and call me to believe Him for the next steps in my life.”
Isaac says to his son, “It’s good to have some markers, some sacred signs, in our lives. They help point us to God and His Hand on our lives, when we are busy and forgetful. Now, tell me more about the pillar and altar at Bethel, my son, 30 years apart.”
Jacob tells him, “On my way here, God told me to build an altar at Bethel. 30 years ago I had already erected a pillar to God at Bethel, on my way out of here. But now I was coming full circle. I was coming back to Bethel. Dad, I was in the same place; the same person doing the same thing, but this time it was different! Do you know why? Because God seemed so much “bigger” now, than before. Does that make sense? Now I could see how God’s character and promises are so much deeper and richer than 30 years ago.”
30 years ago, when God met me at Bethel, I was afraid and running for my life. I was all alone and I felt that I had really blown my chances at making it. I had lived a devious life, deceiving others, and grabbing at things with my own strength. My life was a mess. But God met me there. He reminded me about the covenant of grace and blessing He had established with you and with Grandpa Abraham, and God promised He would continue that relationship with me.
But then for much of the next 30 years, I lived as if my relationship with God depended on me, and not on His grace. I gave lip service to the God of Abraham and Isaac, but in my heart I did what I wanted to, and the results in my dysfunctional life and family aren’t pretty.
But now, 30 years later, on the way back, God again met me at Bethel. This time I had my whole family with me, and instead of running way, I was obeying God in coming back here.
It was the same place, and God said some of the same great covenant promised to me, but now it’s so much richer and deeper and more meaningful now… now that the Lord has put me through all those experiences, both the good and the hard times. God even had to give me this permanent limp to remind me of my inabilities and His grace and strength. God showed amazing and unexpected grace to me when Esau hugged me and didn’t kill me, after all I did to him.
I guess you could say that the Lord broke me in those 30 years… so He could use me and make me see the wonders of what He would do next.
Dad, I think that the Lord has brought me back here, after all He’s done in me, so that I might be able to watch what He’s going to do… in my next 30 years!
Isaac spoke: “Sounds like God has been working in you, these last 30 years”
Jacob answered: “I’ve grown to realize how faithful and forgiving God is. Dad, I’ve been an idiot and done lots of stupid and sinful things since I was with you, but I’m learning that God is patient and merciful with me, and that He really is true to his covenant promises.
So even though I am back here at the same place where I started, 30 years ago, I’m not the same person. God has been slowly but surely at work in me, accomplishing His good purposes.”
I still know that I’m not a spiritual giant; I still have many faults and sins. But it’s clear that God has passed the baton to me, from grandpa and from you, and given it to me, so that I can pass it onto the next generation. I believe that if God can mercifully work through me, then surely God will work out more of His covenant promises through my sons, your grandsons… even though they act so foolishly and sinfully at times!
So in coming back home, it’s not just that I’ve come full circle; it’s more like God has moved me upward on a spiral that’s moving toward His amazing purposes.
Isaac smiled and said quietly, “God works in decades and in centuries, my son.”
Genesis 35 gives us two things. First, it shows us what God can do with a sinner over 30 years, so that we might be encouraged. It calls us to look back on our life and see the spiritual milestones and markers that God has given us. Some will be painful, others joyous. But all should point us to God’s amazing grace and patience with us, in Christ!
Second, Gen. 35 is a pivot point in God’s work of redemption. In Jacob coming home and Isaac’s death, we have a pivot point, a transition shift, for how God would move the action from Jacob to Jacob’s sons. The work of God would now focus on Joseph and his brother, to bring about the physical salvation of the world, based out of Egypt. From there God’s covenantal action would pivot to using Moses and Joshua to bring about the redemption of His people, Israel… and eventually, God would pivot from Israel in order to bring about the salvation of the world, in the deepest sense, through Jacob’s distant descendant, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as Lord and Savior!
Therefore, ponder what the Lord has been doing in you over the last 10, 20, or 30 years.
Have you “decreased,” while Christ has “increased”? (John 3:30)
Has God humbled and broken you? Do you know more of His grace and mercy and wonder? God is faithful, and He will work in you.