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Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” Genesis 35:1

Jacob had deceived His father Isaac and had stolen Esau’s blessing. Esau was so enraged at Jacob that he threatened to kill his brother. Their mother Rebekah was concerned that Esau was bent on killing Jacob for stealing his blessing and wanted to send Jacob afar off. Rebekah didn’t want Jacob to marry a Canaanite woman, so she convinced Isaac to send Jacob far away to her relatives. Jacob fled from Beersheba at set out for Harran.

When Jacob stopped for the night, he took a stone and put it under his head and went to sleep. Jacob dreamt of a stairway that rested on the earth and reached up to heaven with God’s angels ascending and descending upon it.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. Genesis 28:16-19

Jacob was so spiritually and emotionally impacted that, to memorialize the occasion and the place, he blessed the stone on which his head had rested, sanctified it by anointing it with oil and gave it the name “Bethel” (God’s House). Jacob took the stone that he used as a pillow and set it up for a pillar.

When God commanded Jacob to leave Harran and return to his homeland, Jacob returned to Canaan but settled in Shechem. After Jacob’s daughter Dinah had been raped, his sons Simeon and Levi took vengeance upon the Shechemites and slaughtered all of the men of the city.

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” Genesis 34:30

Jacob, fearing for his own safety, was anxious to leave the area and head out to Bethel.

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” Genesis 35:2-3

Most probably the foreign gods in Jacob’s household were part of the plunder taken from Shechem by Simeon and Levi as well as the teraphim or household idols that Rachel had stolen from her father Laban. Rachel had hidden the teraphim it in a saddle bag and sat on them when Laban searched for them. She claimed that she could not get up because she was menstruating. From this incident we can deduce that the household idols were not too large because they were easily portable.

In 1 Samuel 19, Michal helps her husband David to escape from her father Saul. She lets him out through a window, and then tricks Saul’s men into thinking that a teraphim in her bed is actually David. This suggests the size and shape of some teraphim was like that of a man.

Archeological excavations in the Near East have uncovered teraphim in profuse numbers. They were usually small human figurines, occasionally larger, often made of wood but also of clay and precious metals. Some represented male gods, but the majority were figurines of female deities. They were used as household gods or were carried on the body as protective charms. Since most of them represent nude goddesses whose sexual features are accentuated, they were probably thought to promote fertility. This may be the reason Rachel especially cherished them.

Furthermore, Josiah got rid of the mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and all the other detestable things seen in Judah and Jerusalem. This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the LORD. 2 Kings 23:24

Household gods are listed among the detestable things that Josiah disposed of in Judah and Jerusalem during his reign.

Does a statue of a Roman Catholic saint differ from a detestable teraphim? No, because they differ in name only. They both are carved images of a human likeness that a person uses in a religious ceremony by bowing before and paying homage to.

Besides getting rid of the foreign gods, Jacob’s household had to purify themselves and become ceremonially clean in preparation to offer up sacrifices to Yehovah in Bethel. The preparation included washing their bodies, changing their clothes and perhaps abstaining from marital relations. Jacob was finally ready to embrace the God of Abraham and Isaac. Jacob desired to worship the LORD God who answered him in the day of his distress when he fled from Esau and who had been with him wherever he traveled.

So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. Genesis 35:4-5

Earrings were given by Abraham’s servant to Rebekah. So a woman who wears gold rings in her is not defiled. We discovered from ancient artifacts that teraphim were sometimes carried on the body. Therefore, it is possible that the spoils taken from the inhabitants of Shechem may have included earrings that were formed in the image of their idols. These earrings along with the household gods were buried by Jacob.

In spite of Jacob’s fear that he had become a stench to the people living in the land and that they would join forces to attack him, God kept Jacob and his household safe and no one pursued them.

Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother. Genesis 35:6-7

Jacob built an altar to sacrifice to God as did Noah, Abraham and Isaac who were all in covenant relationship with the LORD.

Abram's sacrifice

When a person has the right heart attitude and offers up an acceptable sacrifice, an altar to the LORD becomes a conduit to heaven. As the smoke of a burnt offering ascends to heaven, so the presence of God descends from heaven to consume the sacrifice. This act of worship brings communion with God. An important principle throughout Scripture is that whenever the “altar of the LORD” was strong and established in the land, that’s when they saw the kingdom of God advancing and thriving. But whenever the altar of the LORD was weak, that’s when darkness increased and altars were erected to Baal and other demonic gods.

The following is an excerpt from “Altars That Transform Nations: An Interview with Mark Daniels.” Pastor Mark works with a ministry based out of Uganda that unites believers for family, church, and marketplace prayer by encouraging the building of “prayer altars.” Their work has made significant impact in both Uganda and Taiwan.

Q: Can you tell us the story of the Ugandan church?

A: The Christians in Uganda were ravaged by decades of brutal dictators and wars, including the reign of terror under Idi Amin and later the child-kidnapping, rape, and maiming of warlord Joseph Kony. During those dark times, the church learned to pray. Out of desperation, believers would gather in the swamps (the only remaining place of refuge available) to cry out to God. And deliverance followed.

The story of how God freed Uganda from the scourge of chaos and despair is an incredible story in itself. But the spiritual leaders started noticing a pattern through all these trials—as soon as an immediate crisis was relieved, they’d stop praying!

Then, the most deadly crisis yet erupted, literally threatening the life of the nation—AIDS. The epidemic was so severe that the World Health Organization visited Uganda and warned that within ten years it could become a failed state, because only the very young and the very old would be left. There seemed to be no answer!

So the spiritual leaders of the nation began praying. At first they were praying about alleviating the problem at hand, but God told them, “Stop praying about your problems, and pray about My purposes for the land.”

At that time, a Ugandan pastor started encouraging believers to build “prayer altars”—not physical altars, but rather hearts, homes, and even workplaces that were dedicated to God. Families started changing, reading the Bible together, and worshiping together as households. Husband/wife relationships changed, as they started praying for God’s purposes in their families. Behavior changed—instead of hurtful words, negativity, and bitterness, homes were cleansed. Children began developing hearts for God.

Churches started seeing massive growth. Believers started praying at work and inviting God to come change their businesses. It affected everything about the way the nation operated. Things really moved from darkness to light! They started seeing the kingdom of God advance on all levels, including in the public sphere.

Today in Uganda, it is common to see businesses with names like “My Redeemer Lives Drug Store” and “With God All Things Are Possible Laundromat,” or to hear government officials lead in heartfelt, intercessory prayer for the nation at gatherings or on television. And Uganda is now a model in Africa for dealing successfully with the AIDS epidemic.

Uganda has experienced true revival. If we are to see revival in America, we need to dedicate the altars of our hearts to the LORD and establish prayer altars in our homes, churches and businesses.

Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth. Genesis 35:8

It is probable that Deborah had accompanied Rebekah to Canaan and stayed with her awhile before returning to Haran. She would have very useful in Jacob’s large family. Although Deborah was quite old, she must have made the trip back in the hopes of seeing Rebekah one last time before she died. Allon Bakuth means “oak of weeping.”

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel. Genesis 35:9-10

Names of people in the Bible have great importance. A person’s name may reflect their character or have prophetic significance, while others reflect their faith and gratitude to God.

Jacob whose name means, “heel-grabber” or “usurper” had deceived his father and stolen his brother’s blessing. In spite of being deceived and cheated by Laban for twenty years, Jacob remained faithful to fulfill his end of their work agreement. Jacob’s struggles served to refine his character. His name change reflected his new nature. Israel means “prince of God” or “he who struggles with God.”

And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. Genesis 35:11-13

El Shaddai – אל שדי‎ is Hebrew for God Almighty. El is Hebrew for God and shaddai is Hebrew for Almighty. Shaddai It comes from the root word, shadad meaning to deal violently with, despoil, devastate, ruin, or destroy.

Shaddai also may be connected to shadayim, the Hebrew word for “breasts.” It may thus be connected to the notion of God’s gifts of fertility to the human race. Several instances in the Torah the name is connected with fruitfulness: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers…” Genesis 28:3. “By the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham]” Genesis 49:25.

God Almighty is the all powerful God that can both nurture and destroy. God Almighty confirmed His covenant promises of many descendants and the possession of the Promised Land that were made with Abraham and Isaac with Jacob.

Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel. Genesis 35:14-15

Jacob had taken the stone he had used for a pillow more than 25 years ago, erected it as a pillar and poured oil on it to memorialize the place where the LORD had spoken to him in a dream concerning a stairway to heaven. During the first encounter Jacob had with the LORD, Jacob made a vow:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” Genesis 28:20-22

After more than a quarter of a century, Jacob erects an altar to sacrifice to the LORD and again sets up a stone memorial but this time pours a drink offering on it as well as poured oil on it.

Just as prophets, priests, and kings were anointed with oil to set them aside as holy vessels to serve the LORD, anointing the stone pillar with oil served to set aside Bethel as a holy place.

Drink offerings were to be composed of “strong wine” (Numbers 28:7). The wine was to be pure, in the sense that it was not to be watered down. Wine is a symbol of joy both to God and to man according to Judges 9:13 and Psalm104:15. Jacob’s return to Bethel marked his full commitment to the God of Abraham and Isaac and brought joy to both the LORD and Jacob.

Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. Genesis 35:16-20

As she breathed her last, Rachel named her son, Ben-Oni which means “son of my sorrow.” But Jacob named his son, Binyamiyn (Benjamin) which means, “son of the right hand.” Jacob did not wish to recall the sorrowful remembrance of Rachel’s death every time he called his son by his name. Therefore he changed his name to Benjamin, the son of my right hand which is an expression for “very dear to me, set on my right hand for a blessing, the support of my old age, like the staff in my right hand.”

Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. Genesis 35:21-22a

Migdal Eder means “tower of the flock” which is a shepherd’s watchtower near Bethlehem. It was a place of pasturage located about a mile from Bethlehem to the south. Migal Eder is supposed to be the place where the shepherds were watching their flocks, when the angel reported to them the birth of Christ.

Reuben was the firstborn son and should have been Jacob’s heir. As firstborn he was entitled to the first rank among his brothers, the leadership of the tribes, and to a double share of the inheritance. But Reuben forfeited and lost these privileges because he defiled his father’s bed.   The next two brothers in line for the birthright, Simeon and Levi also forfeited their privileges because of their violence and cruelty against the inhabitants of Shechem. Jacob’s fourth son, Judah would be blessed as the spiritual heir to be in the line of Messiah, while Joseph would be blessed as the natural heir by receiving a double portion in the Land of Israel through his sons Ephraim and Manasseh.

Jacob had twelve sons: The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.

 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin.

The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali.

The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah: Gad and Asher.

These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram. Genesis 35:22b-26

The names of Jacob’s sons speak of his spiritual journey and his new name, Israel: Behold a son! The LORD has heard my plea and has joined me to praise and reward. I’ve been exalted and Yehovah has added to me a son of the right hand (support and blessing). He has judged my struggle and now I have good fortune and I am blessed.

After 20 years of deception and manipulation by his father-in-law Laban, by the grace and faithfulness of God, Jacob comes into covenant relationship with the LORD and is blessed with 12 sons and much wealth.

Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. Genesis 35:27-29

When Isaac was about 137 years old and he could no longer see, he called for his son Esau to prepare a last meal for him. Isaac was anticipating his death and wanted to bestow a blessing on Esau. Isaac’s physical blindness was symbolic of his spiritual blindness. In his haste to pronounce a blessing over Esau, Isaac failed to see the character flaws in his eldest son who despised his birthright and the necessity of God’s spiritual choice over the natural order of the firstborn by birth.

At the prompting of his mother Rebekah, Jacob deceives Isaac and steals Esau’s blessing. Esau was enraged and wanted to kill his brother Jacob. After 20 years of separation, Jacob and Esau reconcile at Jacob’s return and Jacob is finally reunited with his father Isaac in Mamre (outside Hebron). Meanwhile, Esau returns to Mt. Seir in the land of Edom. Jacob and Esau live apart for 33 years before coming together again to bury their father.