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Nov 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

November 10, 2013 – Genesis 35-36

Snapshots of the Spiritual Journey

Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to 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 which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to 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 which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem. Genesis 35::1-4

INTRO: A half-century ago, Daniel Boorstin wrote The Image

He argued that we (North Americans) have used wealth and literacy to fabricate an unreal world
– we have moved from the experience of reality to images of reality
– he devotes one chapter to describing how we’ve gone from travelers to tourists

Boorstin, “The traveler, then was working at something; the tourist was a pleasure-seeker. The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.’ . . . He expects everything to be done to him and for him.”

• travel went from being a dangerous challenge to a commodity
○ tour companies “insulate” tourists from the real worlds they visit
• he referred to a flight he took from the States to Amsterdam in the climate-controlled cabin, not as movement through space (the scenery did not change the entire flight), but through time

Boorstin, “The tourist gets there without the experience of having gone. For him it is all the same; going to one place or to another.”

I think this is how a lot of people approach spirituality
– we want the benefits without the hard experience of reality
– we find this to be the case with many Christians
• they want the benefits that come from the spiritual journey without the travail

In Jacob’s story we see the rigors and epiphanies of the spiritual journey

Chapter 35, Jacob moves three times and each move ends in death

This is why we would rather be tourists
– an open heart receives many wounds
• yet pain is a powerful incentive for education and motive for transformation
– God works in and through our losses
• we have to go through the pain of grief
• if we try to dodge it–deny, repress, or use substances to “escape it”–we sabotage our growth or become malformed
– the spiritual journey isn’t about keeping the faith (guarding a fragile belief)
• it’s about growing in faith

I always return to the example of going through pain of grief that Jesus gave us in Gethsemane
– he knew soul-crushing grief, and he would have been pleased had God spared him
– Jesus is our companion in grief
• he reassures us, “I know this road and will walk with you. Trust Me, we will get through this.”

The first move: from Shechem to Bethel (vv. 1-15)

God told Jacob to return to Bethel – the place of encounter
– that’s when Jacob first became aware of God for the first time and it left him breathless
• but the energy of those experiences wears off
○ that’s why we have to return
○ the first time he came here, God surprised him; now goes intentionally

Christian Wiman (My Bright Abyss), “When I was young, there was a notion among the believers I knew–and I didn’t know anyone who wasn’t a believer–that to feel the presence of God required that one seek God constantly, that one’s spiritual instincts demanded the same sort of regular exercise as the muscles of one’s body. The great fear was not that God would withdraw, but that one’s capacity to perceive him would atrophy. I think of this when I hear people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, or when I hear believers, or would-be believers, express a sadness and frustration that they have never been absolutely overpowered by God. I always want to respond: Really? You have never felt overwhelmed by, and in some way inadequate to, an experience in your life, have never felt something in yourself staking a claim beyond your self, some wordless mystery straining through words to reach you? Never? Religion is not made of these moments; religion is the means of making these moments part of your life rather than merely radical intrusions so foreign and perhaps even fearsome that you can’t even acknowledge their existence afterward. Religion is what you do with these moments of over-mastery in your life, these rare times in which you are utterly innocent. It is a means of preserving and honoring something that, ultimately, transcends the elements of whatever specific religion you practice.

– God calls Jacob back to that place of the overpowering encounter, “Arise, go . . .”
• make an altar . . .”–that is, create something sacred – a symbol of your connection with God
• the act of making an altar is prayer

Jacob’s family had to prepare themselves for this trip
– “foreign gods” – that which we treat as God, but is not
– “change your clothes” – treat this move as a special journey, with reverence

They’re going to the place Jacob’s spiritual journey began
– to honor God, who “has been with me wherever I have gone”
– there is no better way to think of spiritual journey!
• we usually think of it as a “quest”
○ but it’s no more or less than the lives we lead
○ it’s whatever progress we make in God
• it’s “spiritual” because God is with us
○ he gives our lives an overall objective and meaning
– being a Christian isn’t an achievement–it’s a process

Verse 8 seems like a strange place in the story to insert this footnote
– it is more than the recognition of a local landmark
• Rebekah was Jacob’s mother and neither she nor her nurse figure into the current story
– but the landmark serves to introduce the theme of death

God reiterated his work in Jacob’s life and his promise to Jacob (9-12)
– notice how Jacob’s identity (name) is linked to God’s identity: “Your name shall no longer be Jacob . . . I am God Almighty”
• Jacob is becoming something new
○ but the change happens only when he is oriented toward God
– we miss point if turn “Almighty” into doctrine instead of identity
•  the “God who had revealed Himself to him” (v. 7)
○ God’s identity is what forms Jacob’s new identity

The second move: from Bethel to Bethlehem

Rachel, the wife Jacob had cherished, died in childbirth
– here the message regarding death in this chapter becomes the most clear
• that it is not just an “end,” but also a beginning
• something is lost, but something is gained

We have seen how stones mark pivotal moments in Jacob’s life
– for example, the two (sacred) stone pillars he set up at Bethel when leaving and returning
– then, when he first met Rachel, a stone covered the mouth of well
• now a stone pillar is raised over her grave
• a memorial – so she would not be forgotten

The third move: from Bethlehem to Mamre

We now come to two genealogies: Jacob’s and Esau’s
– but between the genealogies is the report of their father’s death
– Isaac’s death brings the two brothers back together again
• and therefore, brings Esau back into the story
• but it also brings this stage of Jacob’s life to an end

Esau’s genealogy in chapter 36 serves as a transition

It answers two questions: What happened to Esau?
– and What was the origin of Edom?

Here is another long and boring list of foreign names
– but one interesting detail emerges from the genealogy – a short story in verse 24
• finding this verse in a genealogy is like finding water in the desert
– each name was a person, with dreams, hopes, challenges, and a brief lifespan on earth
• each person is known to God

CONC: So what have we learned about the spiritual journey?

It is about:

  1. Lifelong earning – and especially, learning to know Jesus better (Ep. 1:17; Php. 3:7-10)
  2. Remembering – those moments when God has surprised us with his nearness
    – not just bringing those moments to mind, but bringing the focus of our mind to the God of those moments
    – Christian mystics referred to this as “recollecting” ourselves
    • we re-collect the fragmented pieces of our soul into this one moment and concentrate them on God
  3. Discovery – we discover whatever God wishes to reveal
  4. Creativity – we make memorials and sacred art (pillars and altars)
  5. Conscious living – Where are we? Who are we? What important thing is happening right now?
  6. Changing – through death into life — “every end is a new beginning”
  7. Being – being with God in the here and now

We come here to pray and listen to scripture together
– but it is also important that you hear God address you personally
• you are this particular link in the chain of your genealogy
• God speaks a word only you are able to hear
○ he answers a question or meets a need met
– you are not abandoned

You have an identity and your spiritual journey is taking you to your destiny


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  1. Chris Evans / Nov 16 2013

    Very Powerful and compelling—- Thank you.

  2. Linda / Nov 22 2013

    Thank you.

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