Monday, 22 July 2013

Reading the Bible 28: Genesis 35 – Jacob’s Twice Told Tale

Sometimes we don’t get the message the first time.  This is particularly true of the messages we get from God.  Jacob seems to need to a recapitulation of the encounter with God at Bethel.  After all he has gone through with Esau and the tragic events around Dinah God speaks to Jacob again and tells him that he must return to Bethel – that place where he wrestled with God.  HE must go through much of what he experienced the first time.  He again sets up an altar to God and consecrates it.  There is a renaming of the place as El-bethel – the God of Bethel - which seems redundant as Bethel means the house of God.  God also again renames Jacob Israel – the name he was given after striving against the messenger of God and prevailing.  Israel means the one who has striven with God.  So, why this encounter with God that seems to cover the same territory?

Well it would be nice if we only needed to get the message once and that would be enough for us to repent – to turn our lives around and go the way that God intended.  That seemed to be the case with Saul renamed Paul after his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.  However, most of us seem to need to get the message many times and in many different ways before we stumble towards our Jerusalem.  That is certainly the case with me.  There don’t seem to have been any Road to Damascus experiences is my life.  And the messages that I do get I seem to need to hear over and over again in different ways – congenital slow learner that I am. 

The journey that we are on often or usually takes the form of a labyrinth rather than the straight and narrow path.  We make progress by sometimes heading in the wrong direction and turning again towards the center.  It often feels like we are getting nowhere or even going backwards but if (now El-Bethel).   He states that Bethel was the place where God ‘had answered me in the day of my distress’.  He recognized that the trial he had gone through wrestling with the angle was a positive thing although I’m sure he did not experience it that way at the time. 

Those times where we struggle and wrestle with our demons and angels may not seem like they are sent from God.  And I don’t want to and it is not my intention to dismiss or diminish the terrible things that people face in their lives. What doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger.  However, as Jacob says God, ‘has been with me wherever I have gone’.  May we always recognize that God is with us as we continue on our journeys.


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