If you fall off of a horse, the idea is to get right back on, right? Sounds almost easy, but I’ve actually fallen off of a horse at top-speed, and let me tell you the only reason I got back on was pride. There were people watching me, and I wanted to look tough. It’s much harder to get back on the horse when God’s the only one watching. We know he is forgiving and that he must understand. However, we must also know that he wants to see us ride again.
Jacob has certainly had some tough times and just when you think you’re seeing a glimpse of change in his life, he falls even harder than before. In fact, there is only one thing that is consistent in Jacob’s life with God…God himself. God continues to literally reveal himself to him. No matter what Jacob’s done, God’s not done. He has a purpose for Jacob’s life and it will be realized.
Jacob comes once again to this place called Bethel. Guess what? That’s not it’s real name. The real name of the city is Luz, but Jacob calls it Bethel. Why? Well, for starters, this is where God has repeatedly revealed himself to Jacob. It started during a time of shame, when Jacob had to leave his family for fear of his brother’s wrath…
Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house… – Genesis 28:18-22
The word “Bethel” means “House of God”. Notice that he starts his journey by laying a stone, which he calls a pillar. A pillar is but the start of a mighty building, and ever since then God has been building Jacob’s faith one stone at a time. Every time he fell, God was there to help him up again and each time he was adding another stone to structure he was building in Jacob. God is a careful, particular builder. He doesn’t rush, as he’s more concerned with the finished product than he is with the time it takes to get there.
Think I’m being too metaphorical? Was he really just marking a place he’d come back to later? I don’t think so. If he did, he’d come back and simply find that stone again. Instead, he lays another stone, or at least many stones to form an altar. This is what Jacob does when he meets God. He builds an altar every time to signify the very name that he gives this particular place – the House of God. What is the house of God? I would suggest this. It’s not a physical place. I say this because if Jacob had indeed found the place where God was, why would he ever leave? He did leave. He didn’t stay in “Bethel”…or did he? It is my belief that Jacob had stumbled on a truth that the Psalmist David would soon put to music in the 23rd Psalm – “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me, and I will dwell in house of God forever”.
If something follows you then you are moving. If you’re moving, you’re not dwelling anywhere, at least not in the physical sense. The House of God not a specific place, but any place where Jacob encounters God. In fact, it’s this truth that carries Jacob throughout his life and it can do the same for you. Imagine, being outside the safe walls of your church and yet having the confidence that God is ever-present wherever you are. You don’t need a building or place of worship to meet with him. The place where you stand is holy ground!
The house of God is where God is, and it’s where God does his best work in our lives. Jacob is laying stones every time he meets with God, both physically (as he builds each altar) and more importantly, spiritually. God is in effect building in Jacob his own temple or dwelling place, and he won’t stop until he’s done.
I remember a song that I used to sing when I was a child…I won’t quote it directly as I don’t want to diminish the weight of the message with children’s rhymes, but the essence of the song is this: God took just a week to make the entire universe, and yet he’s not even finished with me yet. He’s still working on me. He’s still chiseling off the rough edges, smoothing out the bumps. He’s taking his time…why? Because I’m his masterpiece. A work of art that he wants to enjoy forever.
Oh, how he loves us.