Back to the House of God (Bethel)
In his commentary on Genesis, Kent Hughes titles chapter thirty-five ‘Residuals.’ He tells of a time he was boating on Lake Michigan’s northern bays ‘when a sparkling forty-foot yacht slipped quietly into the bay and dropped anchor, where it then sat majestically riding the gentle swells with its radar in regal rotation.’ As her stern came around, he saw her name – Residuals. He said:
“The message was instantaneous. The magnificent ship was the result of some very good investments. ‘Residuals’ – those are the kind of returns that we like! But the word is defined by its context. On the back of a yacht, it announces good fortune. But written over a jail cell, it declares the opposite.”
‘Residuals’ fits nicely as a heading over Genesis 35, because though the narrative conveys a positive change in Jacob’s life, it records the residuals of his sin – as we say, ‘the chickens coming home to roost.’ Chapter 35 is so completely different from chapter 34, Donald Grey Barnhouse describes the contrast like this:
“Chapter 34 does not mention God, and is full of lust, murder, deceit, and wretchedness – but this chapter (35) is filled with God. His name appears ten times, plus once as God Almighty, El Shaddai, plus eleven times in the names Bethel and Israel. The contrast is striking, as it always must be in the life of a believer living out of the will of God, and again when he returns to the will of God.”
Happily, chapter 35 records Jacob’s turnaround and newfound obedience, but it also chronicles the sad residuals. Yet even in this, there is hope because God had become the center of Jacob’s life.
Nonetheless, sin’s residuals were real: Jacob’s long life would have many unexpected turns – the apparent death of Joseph, his son’s trip to Egypt, the custody of his beloved Benjamin in Egypt, Jacob’s forced trip to Egypt, his death in Egypt, and the return of his embalmed remains by Joseph to Machpelah. The residuals kept coming in.
But, in God’s mercies, there was also great grace in Jacob’s life. Joseph, the son Jacob would receive back as if from the dead, would be used to effect the deliverance and salvation of his people. This Joseph, unlike his brothers, would lead a celebrated, exemplary life. In fact, some see him as a type of Christ. There in Egypt a people would be formed who would come out in glorious exodus. All would be of grace. God would say to them:
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:4-6)
In this Advent season, the coming of Jesus reminds us that grace is greater than all our sin. And Jacob’s life portrays for us that God’s grace triumphs even through sin’s residuals. ‘His mercy is more,’ as we sing. Kent Hughes summarizes the saga of Jacob’s life nicely:
“The life of Jacob is about Almighty God who delivers his sinful people and fulfills his word amidst the residuals of sin. Jacob’s life calls us to repent of our sin and obey God’s call and direction in our lives. That patriarch’s life assures us of the triumphs of grace.
“Some sins that believers commit bear lifelong residuals. An ethical sin, perhaps in business, though repented of, can bear lifelong residuals. A Christian may enter into an adulterous relationship that destroys his marriage. Though he may later repent, the family residuals will follow him to his death.
“But there is always grace. God is written large all over this culminating chapter that records Jacob’s repentance and obedience. And more, God’s grace triumphs amidst sin’s residuals and mediates their effects.”
I invite you to join us for this second Sunday of Advent as we learn that, indeed, ‘the mercies of God are more.’ God’s grace is greater than the sin of those who are in Christ. Are you in Christ? This Sunday we are going back to the house of God as we look at the conclusion of Jacob’s life in Genesis 35.
His Mercy is More,
Hope you can join us for lunch Sunday!!