Community Group Study “Genesis: Responding to the Pursuit of God”
Read Genesis 35:1-29
Genesis 34 ended with the family of God in shambles from the effects of sin. Jacob half way obeyed God by going back to the promise land, but he settled his family next to a Canaanite city, instead of making his way to the place of his father. His daughter Dinah left the family to go among the women of the land and she was abused by a powerful man and held hostage. In response, Jacob passively waits and his sons commit genocide as they kill all the men of the city. At the end of the narrative Jacob is fearful of how the Canaanites may retaliate and the sons of Jacob are left wondering how their father can be clueless to the injustice committed against their sister (Genesis 34:31).
How do the people of God pick up the pieces of sinful and broken situation like this one and move towards holiness and faith in God?
What we learn in Genesis 35:1 is that God remains faithful to Jacob and his family line. It was never about how much Jacob had earned or deserved the grace of God. His life stands as an example that God chooses the weak and foolish things of the world to show his glory and power. God pursue Jacob by telling him to go back to the place that he should have gone to in the first place: Bethel. While at Bethel he would make an altar and worship God and we later see that God will meet him there to reaffirm his covenant promise with Jacob (Genesis 35:9-15).
Jacob’s response to God’s call gives us a good example of how the people of God can respond to the grace of God. The Christian life begins with repentance and faith, and we grow in the Christian life through ongoing repentance and faith. Jacob responds to God’s loving pursuit by leading his family spiritually for the first time. He gives them three directives. First, they are to put away their idols. This is the language of repentance; they are to turn from their idols and turn towards God. They gather all the things they had been worshipping and bury them under a tree in Shechem. Next they are to purify themselves and symbolically cleanse themselves from the sin they’ve been living in. Finally they are to put on new clothing. We do not know if they have been wearing the clothing of the canaanites or it could be that this is just symbolic of a new direction towards God in their life. These three actions lead them out of the life they had been living and towards God’s faithful promise.
While at Bethel, Jacob builds an altar and worships the LORD there. God makes a covenant with him that reminds us of Genesis 17, where God made a covenant with Abraham (which included changing Abraham’s name from Abram). Likewise, it reminds us of God’s earlier promises to Jacob in Genesis 28, where God promised to be with him and to keep him from harm. This covenant serves as an example of God’s grace and a reminder of Jacob’s new identity given from God. God changes his name for a second time, Jacob would no longer be called “heel grabber” or “deceiver” but Israel which meant “the one who strives with God”. What is interesting about this, is that God had already changed his name back in Genesis 32, so why change his name a second time? It is likely that God is doing something more than just formalizing the name change, God is reminding him of who God is and who he has called Jacob to be.
Jacob’s response to God gives us an Old Testament example of what we learn in the New Testament about the process of growing in holiness and fighting sin. Growth in following Christ will happen as we name our idols and put them away, remember who we are in Christ and strive to put on godliness in every day life (Ephesians 4:22-24). Jacob’s life does not instantaneously transform, but it does show us a heart that is soft and open to God’s pursuit.
The rest of Genesis 35 and 36 bring a close to the focus on Jacob’s life through 4 events. First, Jacob’s 12th son is born and in the midst of his birth Rachel dies. This event completes Jacob’s family with his twelve son Benjamin, but is tragic because of the loss of Rachel. Next Rueben tries to usurp control of the family from his father by laying with Rachel’s servant/Jacob’s concubine Bilhah. This may just seem like an administrative detail but it is important to the Genesis story because it explains to us why Rueben does not receive the blessing and the promise of God in Genesis 49. Jacob passes over Rueben for this event and he passes over Simeon and Levi because of their rage filled rampage in Genesis 34. The promise and blessing goes to Judah. Next, Jacob and Esau come together to bury their father Isaac. Jacob’s story begins in conflict with Esau as they wrestled in Rebekah’s womb, but here we see that the peace that God forged in Genesis 33 lasts and their story ends in unity. Finally, Genesis 36 is a long genealogy of Esau’s family line showing us that God builds out Esau’s family. This genealogy also shows us that the story is going to transition to a new focus. Jacob will continue on, but his story is closed and now the focus will shift to Joseph. This gives us opportunity to reflect and see that God brings Jacob’s story to a close by focusing on God’s grace in Jacob’s life and once again showing us that God is faithful to accomplish his purposes in his people.
Main idea: God remains faithful to his covenant people and they grow as they respond to God’s grace through repentance, remembering their new identity and pursuing holy and righteous actions.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Genesis 35:1-15
How does God shows us his loving faithfulness to Jacob in this passage? Look for 3-4 examples as a group.
What three things does Jacob tell his family to do in response to God’s call (Look at Genesis 35:1-4). Where did the idols come from and why would it be essential for them to remove the idols from their family to go and worship God?
The New Testament uses clothing language to talk about walking in righteousness. Likewise these passages refer back to our identity in Christ and show us how idols and sinful actions not only need to be put away, but replaced with something new. This language is seen in the words “put off” and “put on”. Read Ephesians 4:22-32.
How does this passage speak to identity in Christ and compare that with how God reminds Jacob of who he is in Genesis 35:9-15.
Look at each action the people of God are told to “put off” in Ephesians 4. Which action are they told to “clothe themselves in”? Why is it that we need to not just turn away from an idol or sin, but we need to replace it with worship of God and holiness?
Fighting sin and responding to God’s grace is a normal part of the Christian life. What strategies or methods do we learn from these passages and this sermon to help us fight sin and walk in holiness?