Divine Terror

As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob” (Gen. 35:5).

- Genesis 35:5–8

When Jacob called his family to repentance in preparation for their journey from Shechem to Bethel (Gen. 35:1–3), idolatry was not the only sin that was renounced. In addition to idols, his wives and children surrendered their earrings (v. 4), which were probably part of the goods taken when Simeon and Levi led the slaughter of the Shechemites (34:25–29). Clearly, the family recognizes the wrongness of their deceit and murder, and they give up the jewelry plundered from Shechem to show their contrition.

Today’s passage demonstrates how the Lord promptly rewarded this repentance with “a terror from God” that fell upon the inhabitants of the land as Jacob’s entourage made its way to Bethel (35:5). Once again, the Almighty’s promise to be the guardian of His people is vindicated (28:15; 35:3) and the future Israelite conquest of Canaan foretold. Later on, Rahab would tell the Israelite spies that Jericho and its surrounding area feared the army led by Joshua (Josh. 2:1–14).

Ancient Israel could expect God to reward their obedience just as He blessed Jacob’s faithfulness on his way to Bethel. Among these blessings were fertility and success in battle, as well as the Lord’s pledge that Israel’s enemies would fear His people (Deut. 28:1–14). But can we who are God’s own today rightly expect such blessings as well, especially since so many believers face intense suffering?

The answer to this question is yes, as long as we remember the Lord’s fullest reward for our faithfulness will not come until the new heavens and the new earth. Old covenant Israel could expect hardships even when the people were obedient. For example, it was possible for accidents to happen and premature deaths to result even when the covenant was kept (Num. 35:22–29). Likewise, we should expect the Father to repay our service to Him by providing for us and protecting us even as we often suffer for the sake of His name (Matt. 5:11–12; 6:33; Acts 5:41–42) since the best is yet to come. Nevertheless, as Matthew Henry comments, “the way of duty is the way of safety,” since those who perseveringly serve Christ are storing up great rewards for themselves in the future (2 Peter 1:3–11).

Coram Deo

When we consider the Lord’s blessing, there are two errors we can make. Either we can expect too much in this age (perfect health, wealth, and so on) or we can think God does not reward His people at all before death. We must be careful not to fall into either extreme. If you are suffering for Christ today, know that you will be rewarded in the age to come, if not beforehand. If you are in need, know that Jesus blesses your obedience.

Passages for Further Study

1 Kings 9:1–9
Prov. 19:23
Luke 18:18–30
Col. 3:23–25

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343