‘Past put behind us, for the future take us; Lord of our lives,to live for Christ alone’
After his reconciliation with Esau, instead of heading directly for Bethel, Jacob settled in Shechem and must have been there a number of years; and it’s the shocking events of chapter 34, along with the repeated command from God, that seem to have been the final stimulus to his return there. Bethel was a holy place. Commentators suggest that this journey was in the nature of a pilgrimage: note the use of the phrase ‘go up’ and the need for them to be purified ceremonially first. This is signified by the change of clothes, but more importantly by the burial of anything that was a connection to or symbol of the worship of foreign gods. Adornments also had to be left-elsewhere they too are associated with idolatrous imagery, and it was after making these preparations that they set out for Bethel, with God clearly preventing any interference from anyone around.
At Bethel, Jacob commemorate the place where he first met God for himself by building another altar, and is again named ‘Israel’ by God.The repetition of events can be explained by the eventual editor of Genesis drawing on various strands of tradition,oral or scholarship, whilst acknowledging this approach, focuses more on a thematic view of how the stories were compiled.
Leaving this aside, we see Jacob making a final definitive severance between himself and his family on the one hand, and any lingering connection with worship or affiliation to other gods on the other, and receiving God’s promise again. He is doing what the writer to the Hebrews exhorts all of us to do–throwing off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, so that we may follow Christ with determination and single-mindedness
Today, pray for those who have difficulty leaving the past behind, or whose lives are still affected by past traumatic events.