These chapters talk about completion (God's promises to Jacob are fulfilled), complacency (Jacob settled in Shechem and did not keep his vow) and correction (God calls Jacob to keep his vow and worship him back in the Promised Land).
Completion/Complacency – God kept His promise to Jacob and blessed him with children and wealth and protection. Yet Jacob settled down with his "stuff" instead of keeping the vow he had made to the Lord (Genesis 28:20-22) to go back to the land and worship Him. Later God reminded His people of how prosperity may cause them to become spiritually complacent and forget Him: "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today."(See Deut 8:10-18)
Change/Growth in Christ -God is the ultimate change agent calling us to grow more and more like His Son (Rom. 8:29) and like Paul we must admit we fall short but press on and grow til we die. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:12-14)
Death, sin and worldly prosperity can hinder our growth but we need to move on with God (grow and change) by keeping an eternal perspective when facing life's tragedies and traps.
DEATH -There are three deaths recorded in this one chapter: Jacob's beloved Rachel and his father Isaac as well as his mother's nurse Deborah and even her death was probably painful because she was so close to his mother whom Jacob never saw again. There is a contrast of the pillars/markers of death (vv. 8, 20) and the pillar of the Living God (v.14) Jesus defeated death and we can worship God in the midst of human tragedy because His goodness and mercy is everlasting. "For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations." (Psalm 100:5) Jacob showed both wisdom and his trust in God's redemption as he changed the name Rachel gave her son, Ben-Oni – meaning "son of trouble" due to her painful and fatal delivery of the child – to Benjamin – meaning "the son of my right hand." Otherwise Benjamin's name would have been a constant reminder to him of his mother's struggle and death. The Father refers to Jesus as the Son of His right hand (Psalm 110:1; Mark 16:19). But Jesus became a Man of Sorrows so we could become children of God. (Isa. 53:3)
DISOBEDIENCE -SIN – It seems Reuben was trying to usurp his father's authority by sleeping with Bilhah (his deceased wife's maidservant) even as Absalom did to his father David. (2 Sam.16:21-22) Jacob had to deal with both the pain of his son's rejection and his rebellion against him and the Lord. It hurt him deeply and later cost Reuben his birthright. (Gen. 49:3-4)
DYNASTIES-WORLDLY PROSPERITY – "These were the chiefs descended from Esau, by name, according to their clans and regions: Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel and Iram. These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their settlements in the land they occupied. This was Esau the father of the Edomites. Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan." (36:40-37:1) Chapter 36 is, in essence, a picture of Esau's dynasty; kings and chiefs and lands none of which Jacob had to show for his faithfulness to God. "Jacob was a sojourner. Secular, worldly greatness often comes swifter than spiritual greatness. A promised spiritual blessing demands patience and faith. Waiting while others prosper is a test of one's faithfulness and perseverance." (Delitzsch – a New Commentary on Genesis) Note: Read Psalm 49 and 73 in light of this.
In his book Ordering Your Private World Gordon MacDonald contrasts driven people like Esau (and King Saul) to called people like Jacob and (John the Baptist). Here are the symptoms of being a driven person: 1) only gratified by accomplishments – results more important than relationships; 2) is preoccupied with symbols of success – (heed Prov. 27:21); 3) is caught up in the uncontrolled pursuit of expansion – the bigger is better philosophy; 4) has a limited regard for integrity; 5) has limited or undeveloped people skills; 6) are highly competitive; 7) possess a volcanic force of anger; 8) are abnormally busy and proud of it. The called person 1) understands life as a stewardship of all God has given him and does not feel he owns anything even his own life; 2) knows who he is and knows it is not based on what he does – he can separate his roles from his person; 3) he possesses an unwavering sense of purpose to glorify God; 4) he understands commitment and especially commitment to Christ. Remember the devil drives us but Jesus leads us. "He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness." (Psalm 23:2)
God told Jacob and tells us to get rid of sin and idols and worship Him with all our hearts "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." 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." (Gen 35:2-4)
Discipline in a Long-Distance Race – "Do you see what this means-all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running-and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed-that exhilarating finish in and with God-he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Heb 12:1-3 – The Message)
Discussion Questions FOR APPLICATION OF GOD'S WORD
What did the Lord say to you through this message?
Spiritual complacency, tragedy (death of loved ones, etc.), idols, sinful pleasures, rebellion, worldly prosperity, all work against our faith. We see them all here in these chapters. Which of these concern you the most and why?
Have any of these hindrances thwarted your spiritual growth in the past and what have you learned from this?
Have you ever seen any of the eight symptoms of a driven person in your life? What has or can change you into being called versus driven?
Circle the words or phrases that really speak to you in this passage below and talk about it.
Scripture memory verse: "Do you see what this means-all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running-and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed-that exhilarating finish in and with God-he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! (Heb 12:1-3 – The Message)