House of God.
Genesis 35-36, Matthew 18
Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone. – Genesis 35:3 ESV
Israel has returned to the land that had been promised to Abraham and was destined to be his dwelling place. This was all part of God’s divine plan, not only for Israel, but for the future of mankind. There were three important elements to God’s promise to Abraham: a land, a seed, and a blessing. The land was just as critical to the equation as any of the other two. So it was essential that Israel return to the land because it was to play an important role in the fulfillment of God’s provision of the seed or offspring who would eventually bring the ultimate blessing to all mankind. And it was also going to be important that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Israel be a people set apart – the people of God. They were to be different and distinctive. They were to be followers of God and live in the land provided for them by God. They were to remain set apart from the people groups all around them, refusing to intermarry with them or worship their gods. This would be a lifelong challenge for Israel and his descendants.
What does this passage reveal about God?
After Israel’s own sons brutally murdered every male in the city of Shechem as payback for the rape of their sister, Dinah, Israel feared for the well-being of his family and possessions. He knew that news of this event would get out and they would be a target for every other people group occupying the land of Canaan. The sheer magnitude of what his sons had done was going to give Israel and his descendants a less-than-flattering reputation among their neighbors. But God was there, and He met with Israel in order to assure him once again of His presence and His promise. God called Israel to return to Bethel, the place where He had visited him just prior to his flight to Paddan-aram. God had some unfinished business to conduct with Israel, and Israel had a vow that needed to be kept. So as they traveled, God sovereignly protected Isaac and his family, causing a supernatural fear to fall on the nations through whose territories they had to pass. No one would lay a hand on them. In spite of what Levi and Simeon had done and the damage their actions had done to Israel’s reputation, God was with them. And God would reaffirm His covenant promise to Israel. “I am God Almighty:be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you” (Genesis 35:11-12 ESV). God was not done yet. His promises would be fulfilled. His plan would be completed, just as He had promised. He was going to make of the descendants of Israel, this sin-prone people, a great house – the house of God.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The world was a dangerous, sin-saturated place, even in the days of Israel. Chapter 36 provides a detailed lineage of the descendants of Esau, Israel’s brother. This man, a son of Isaac who had sold his birthright, was going to be prolific, filling the land with his descendants, just as Israel would. But his children would end up being in constant conflict with those of his brother. The Edomites, the descendants of Esau, would prove to be a thorn in the side of the nation of Israel for generations to come.
But this passage reveals a slow, but steady change taking place in Israel’s life. Ever since his wrestling match with God, he has been a changed man. He seems to have a new nature and outlook to go with his new name. When God calls him to return to Bethel, he immediately obeys, telling his household, “put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments” (Genesis 35:2 ESV). He realized that they were going to have to live differently as a people. Their love affair with the world was going to have to end. He was headed back to Bethel, the very place where he was going to have to fulfill the vow he had made all those years ago. It was at Bethel that God had told Israel, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15 ESV). And God had kept His end of the bargain. Now it was Israel’s turn. Because he had also made a vow that day. “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you’” (Genesis 28:20-22 ESV). It was put-up or shut-up time for Israel. God had fulfilled His part. Now it was Israel’s turn.
He was going to have to make God his God. He was going to have to worship God and Him alone. His covenant was a commitment to obedience, allegiance, faithfulness, and unwavering loyalty as God’s possession.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
I don’t know that Israel fully understood the significance of what he did that day in changing the name of the place called Luz to Bethel. He had met God face to face and received a promise from Him, so he called the place House of God. But there was far more significance to that decision than he could have ever imagined. While the place was important to Israel, it was the people who were important to God. From this flawed, faith-challenged man would come the Savior of the world. God would end up blessing the nations through Abraham through his “seed,” through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the son of David and the Son of God. And through Jesus, God would produce a people who would be His own possession. But not only that, they would be His house.
Peter tells us, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5 ESV). The apostle Paul echoes that them when he writes, “Do you not know that youare God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 ESV). As those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior, acknowledging Him as the Son of God and the only solution to their sin problem, we have been made into a house for God. We are His dwelling, where He has chosen to place His Spirit. For Israel, the house of God was a place. For God, His house is His people. He dwells among us. He protects and empowers us. He fights on behalf of us. He extends His grace, mercy and love to us. And while it is true that God dwells among all men, He has chosen to make His home within those who have placed their faith in His Son as their sin sacrifice. Jesus Christ was Immanuel, God with us. He came to dwell among us, but offered His life so that His Spirit might live in us, setting us apart as His own, imparting to us His power, and imputing to us His own righteousness so that we might be acceptable to God. We are His house. We are his people.
In Jesus’ discourse recorded in Matthew 18, we get a glimpse into His view of the Kingdom of God. It is a place marked by humility, not pride. It is a place of reconciliation and restitution, but also a place of repentance and rejection of sin. Jesus paints a picture of a new age occupied by a new kind of people, the people of God who have been transformed by the Spirit of God so that they might live in obedience to God. The church represents a place of forgiveness, restoration, repentance, grace, mercy, holiness, distinctiveness, and love. We are God’s dwelling place among men in these days. He has chosen to place His Spirit among us and in us so that we might reflect His glory and be testimonies of the life-changing reality of the Good News. We are the house of God, a spiritual house where God lives, works, ministers, and manifests His presence and power among men in our day.
Father, it is hard for me to fathom that we are Your dwelling place. I still tend to think of the church building as the house of God. But You live among and within men. You have chosen to place Your Spirit in the hearts of men, not houses made of bricks and mortar. You sent Your Son to be God among us. He lived among us and died on behalf of us, so that we might be made right with You. And He has made His home in our hearts, setting us apart as His own. Show us how to live as His possession. Give us the strength to live lives that are truly set apart and honoring as His dwelling place. Help us live as His holy temple, where His Spirit dwells. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men