Now the Sons of Jacob Were Twelve

It was Thursday. It was the same, but different kind of Thursday. Like every Thursday, there is my Bible opened to the book of Genesis. Like every Thursday, there is my notebook and a black fine point gel pen. Like every Thursday, music plays; a playlist called thinking music. It is strictly instruments, no singing except maybe my own. And like every Thursday, I write. I think through every verse in the text for Sunday, from the first verse to the last verse and just write out every thought, every observation, every connection. It is all done in seeking the big idea of the text. And it is called wrestling. I find myself wrestling with the text and it is exhausting. But this was a different kind of Thursday. I was frustrated and at a loss. I just could not get it. In fact, I wrote in my notes more than once and in big letters – I DO NOT GET IT. So, I took a walk.

I had never walked this walk before. But I knew that in order to get back to where I started, four right turns were needed. It was after the second right turn that all did not seem right. The third right turn was not appearing. So, I kept walking and looking and hoping. Before long, and it seemed long, the third right turn appeared. But there was a slight problem. At the third right turn I realized that I was no longer in North Olmsted. This was the Giant Eagle parking lot in Fairview Park. All I really knew to do was to make the third right turn. And the fourth right turn was nowhere in sight. This walk, planned to be just ten minutes, took just a bit longer.

It was, perhaps, the same, but different kind of Thursday. But out of desperation he took a walk, a walk he had never walked before. All that would be needed though are four right turns. He was about my age – 40 years old – when his walk began. This is Genesis 28 and his name is Jacob. This walk, planned to be just ten minutes, took just a bit longer.

Genesis 35:1-29 is the fourth right turn. And at the fourth right turn, Jacob is nearly 70 years old.

But Jacob Finished the Journey

The big idea of Genesis 35:1-29 is that Jacob, this 70 year old man on a walk that took just a bit longer than anticipated, finished the journey. His journey was to find a wife and come home. It sounded simple enough. But Jacob not only found a wife, he found two wives. It would be twenty years before Jacob would make the third right turn to head home. And on that third right turn, he stopped. Then he started to walk and stopped again. And then he was delayed. And delayed again – his leg was injured. On that injured leg, he walked again, but delayed some more. He soon started walking again and then he stopped. He built a house and some barns. And after a while, he started to walk again. But then he stopped again. He put up a tent, bought some land and stayed for quite some time.

It seemed innocent enough to stay some time. The Bible says that Jacob was enjoying some peace, the first in a really long time. His injured leg was a bother and a city was in view. When is the last time that Jacob saw a city? So he stopped just far enough to keep the city in view but also have some space and peace (Genesis 33:18-20). But regardless, the point is that he stopped. God had commanded him to go, to go home, but he stopped and made a home.

Decisions have consequences. Jacob’s particular decision has been called partial obedience which is always disobedience. And Jacob’s particular decision would affect his daughter. Jacob’s particular decision would affect his sons. Jacob’s particular decision would affect an entire city (Genesis 34). And as these consequences unfold before Jacob’s very eyes, he remained relatively silent. What was he thinking?

We would agree that in Genesis 34, Jacob does not look good. He was rather disappointing and shamefully so. He had disobeyed God and the effect on his family seems from our viewpoint so irreparable! What does a man do? And this is not just any man, this is God’s man. This is a man that knows the personal touch of God. He has seen God. He has experienced God and through weakness discovered how much it is that he needs God. And in Genesis 34, just to be completely blunt, he looks like a total failure. But God had told him that he was to go home. It may have been a long time ago, but God had told him to go home.
The big idea is that Jacob finished the journey. In all that we have seen, and it seems like we have seen it all, Jacob’s life is so transparent before us, he finished the journey. The big question then is, why? Why did Jacob finish the journey?

The Struggle in Finishing the Journey

Again, Genesis 35 is the final leg, the fourth turn of the journey. And what is so incredible is that even in the final turn there is still a struggle in finishing the journey. The struggle in finishing is real. It was real for Jacob.

Listen to verse one. “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.” Pause here for a moment. At this particular point, Jacob is only about 20 miles or a day’s journey from Bethel. He was at the city formerly known as Shechem. And he had been there for maybe ten years. Genesis 35:1 tells us that when Jacob began this journey back home, the target stop before getting all the way to the home of his parents was Bethel. Apparently, in all that time, those maybe ten years, Jacob never made it to Bethel. Bethel is where Jacob heard God say, declaratively and clearly, “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). And it at the very least gives some indication to the struggle in finishing the journey. How though did Jacob initially struggle in finishing the journey? Could it be that the words of Genesis 28, some thirty years prior, grew strangely dim? At the time, Jacob was really excited about these words. At their sound, he put together a stone pillar, poured oil all over it, called the place awesome; that it was God’s place, God’s house and the entrance to heaven. He even made a vow. He said that if God would do all these things for him, then God would indeed be his God.

And I just wondered, how often for me, does God’s Word grow strangely dim? And how do I let it happen? It is an attitude of “what have you done for me lately, God?” It is a dangerous attitude. So, how do I undo that attitude? Listen to how Jacob finishes the journey.

So, this first verse gives an indication to the struggle in finishing the journey. And God told Jacob to get up to Bethel, which geographically is down, and dwell there and make an altar there. God reminds him “I appeared to you there. Remember that? You saw me there.” And Jacob will get to Bethel. And he will build an altar there at Bethel. And he will worship there at Bethel. And he will put up another pillar there, like the first and maybe the first is gone or maybe it is there, it would be neat if it was there as Jacob put up this second pillar. He will pour oil and wine over the second pillar (Genesis 35:5-15). And perhaps Jacob, in not doing the same thing as years before by pouring wine or a drink offering over the pillar, is saying this moment is a moment of renewal. It is not like the first. It stands on its own.

But once Jacob got to Bethel there was a death. This too indicates the struggle in finishing the journey. It is the things we do not see coming. He did not anticipate this and either do we. Her name was Deborah. It is her first mention by name in Genesis. She was Rebekah’s nurse. Rebekah was Jacob’s mom. What is Deborah doing here? How did she get here? It is reasonable to assume that Rebekah had died and when she died Deborah was sent to meet up with Jacob. He was not there when his mom died. He left home with the thinking that he would soon see her. He never would. And when Deborah died, he buried her here at Bethel and called the burial place, “the oak of weeping.” It hurt his heart when she died.

Jacob and his family would soon continue from Bethel. The journey was not over. And as they journeyed, they stop. They stop about two hours from a little town called Bethlehem. And surprise! Rachel goes into labor. Rachel was pregnant?! Who knew?! The reader, us, do not know until now. It was a hard labor. She gave birth to Jacob’s last and youngest son. She called him son of her sorrow. Jacob changed his name almost right away. He loved this boy. He named him son of honor or Benjamin. Rachel then died. Another funeral. He would build a pillar over her tomb, near Bethlehem (cf. Matthew 2:18; Micah 5:2; Jeremiah 31:15). He loved Rachel. He always loved Rachel. She was his first love and now she was gone. This too is the struggle in finishing the journey (Genesis 35:20).

But Jacob presses on. He is finishing the journey. Then his oldest son does something dumb and wrong and immoral. He slept with a woman not his wife. It was Rachel’s servant and a woman who was also the mother of two of Jacob’s sons. It seems Reuben did this so as to remove an honor from Bilhah of becoming the favored woman of the house over Reuben’s mother Leah. This too is the struggle in finishing the journey (Genesis 35:22).

Now the Sons of Jacob Were Twelve

It leads to a transition (Genesis 35:22b). The birth of Benjamin and this sinful act of Reuben leads to a transition. “Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.” There is this short record of Jacob’s family given, not in birth order, but according to motherhood (35:23-26). These twelve sons will later be called the twelve tribes of Israel or in Acts 7, the twelve patriarchs. It is very interesting. And of the twelve patriarchs, three so far – Simeon, Levi, and Reuben – have all earned disfavor from their dad due to their actions (cf. Gen. 49:3-7). Reuben, Simeon and Levi are all full brothers (have the same mom). Their fourth brother Judah will become, along with Joseph, a major focal point of Genesis and the unfolding redemption story of the Bible.

Still a Struggle in Finishing the Journey

In Genesis 35:27, Jacob will get home. He will finish the journey. And after he finishes the journey, his dad, who he longed to see (cf. Genesis 28:20-21) will die. A third funeral. It is here that he sees his brother Esau again.

However, it is still a struggle in finishing the journey. It is my struggle. I struggled with this chapter more than I struggled with Genesis 34 and it was not until I saw the big idea that I realized why. I think about quitting more than I think about finishing. And the Bible has a lot more to say about finishing than it does quitting (cf. Colossians 4:17; Revelation 14:12; Philippians 3:13-14; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1-3).

So, how do you finish the journey? Look back at Genesis 35:1-3; 10-12. Why did Jacob finish the journey? It was because God told him to. And after God told him to finish the journey, Jacob exhorted his entire household, including himself, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments” (35:2). The New Testament says it like this, “assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24).

So, how do you finish the journey? It is never too late to finish the journey or to think about how to finish the journey. How did Jacob finish the journey? It is Genesis 35:10-12. It was by the help of God himself. All God did was remind Jacob of his promises, his old, steadfast promises. And God called himself God Almighty or El Shaddai – the God who makes things happen by his power and might.

By the way, God is never mentioned in Genesis 34, but Genesis 35 is filled with him. His name is mentioned some 23 times. And it is all in finishing the journey. Finishing the journey begins and ends with him. His call to you is to get up, go and finish. Being faithful because he is faithful. And as the journey progresses and gets longer than anticipated and has more disappointments or frustrations or stress than needed, be renewed by his promises, his old, steadfast promises.

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