Read to Read …Again
Daily Reading: Genesis 35-37
And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
It all started about 37 years earlier in Genesis 28. Remember, Esau, Jacob’s twin brother? He was going to kill Jacob over that entire birthright and blessing business. In response Isaac, their father, told Jacob to go to Laban (Isaac’s brother, Jacob’s uncle) in Haran. On the way to Haran Jacob stopped at Luz to sleep. While sleeping Jacob had that famous dream commonly called Jacob’s ladder. He saw angels ascending and descending and at that place the Lord spoke with him from above that ladder. Upon waking, Jacob knew this was a special place; he called it Bethel (before that it was called Luz). Bethel means the place of God. At that place Jacob made a vow before God.
Now, 37 years later, God tells Jacob to go back to Bethel to build an altar. An altar is not a new thing in Genesis, upon coming out of the Ark, Noah built an altar to God in Genesis 8. Abraham built one to the Lord in Genesis 12. Isaac built an altar in Genesis 26. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob all built altars unto the Lord their God.
On Jacob’s altar, the one we read of today, something unusual happened. When Jacob was at Bethel the first time he set some stones up and poured oil on them. He then made a vow, the last commitment in that vow was that Jacob would give back, return, a tenth of all that the Lord would give him. Now, here in chapter 35, having received much from the Lord, Jacob lived up to his vow. Did he then sacrifice to God the tenth of all he had? He promised he would, nowhere else does it say he did, so if he did he probably did it here. After all, an altar is the place of sacrifice.
In this story there is something else that is a hidden nugget. In Genesis 35:1 God mentions Bethel. Yet Jacob called the place “Elbethel” (35:7) this is the only time in Scripture this is mentioned. One means the place, or house, of God, the other means the God of the house. This altar was more than a simple place to Jacob, it was the place where God communed with him, talked with him, gave him promises, and directed him.
Today we so spiritualize the idea of an altar that it seems to have lost its meaning. The writer of Hebrews reminded believers that …we have an altar… (Hebrews 13:10). An altar is a place, the place of sacrifice. The only sacrifice we have for salvation is the Lord Jesus Christ. He who should have ever lived died, so that we who should have ever died can live. He is our sacrifice for sin. However, for the Christian there are other sacrifices to be made unto him like, for example, the sacrifice of praise which is also mentioned in Hebrews 13.
There is no question that altars were prominent in the Old Testament and in the New. Every child of God should visit their altar routinely. “Back to Bethel” every morning in your place of communion with God; “back to Bethel” every church service where God speaks to you, communing with you, talking with you, giving you promises, and directing you. There, we lay those things of our lives we have promised Him, giving them for His use and to His glory. In every child of God’s life there should be an altar. A time and place where, and when, we meet the God of the place. For it is a wonderful thing to go to Bethel and there find Elbethel.
William T. Howe Ph.D.