Yesterday we used Jacob's arrival at his ordained destination (Bethel, Gen. 35:1–15) as a metaphor for the security we have in knowing that the Lord will grant us success in our journey of sanctification. Yet this patriarch of Israel first chose to reside in Shechem. As we will see, this choice had tragic consequences.
It was at Bethel that Jacob vowed he would return to the land of his fathers and worship Yahweh after He prospered him (28:18–22). This is our first indication that God wanted Jacob to complete his vow at Bethel when He told Isaac's son to leave Laban's country (31:1–3). Furthermore Israel, that is, Jacob, calls the Almighty "the God of Bethel" when he confers with his wives about this journey (v. 13). If anything, this constitutes evidence Israel was aware that God wanted him to keep his oath at Bethel. The disaster that befalls Dinah in chapter 34 is another hint, after the fact, that Bethel was to be Jacob’s proper home. Finally, the Lord's intent for Jacob is made clear in 35:1–15, but this is probably only a direct confirmation of what Isaac’s son already knew to be God's will.
However, Jacob does not go all the way to Bethel, but, as we have said, stops on the way and settles in Shechem, about a day's journey from his appointed destination (33:18–19). Shechem's location, in the Promised Land, at the crossroads of trade, made it a convenient choice, helping Jacob to believe he was making his home in a good place (v. 18). Moreover, Jacob gets along with its citizens, at least at first. He easily negotiates the purchase of land for a favorable price and builds his residence (v. 19). Nevertheless, tragic interactions between Jacob's family and the Shechemites later show Isaac's son his mistake in remaining there (chap. 34).
Yet, his altar to El-Elohe-Israel, or, "the God of Israel" (v. 20) is a testimony to his loyalty and service to the one, true God. It is also no coincidence that this altar was erected where Abraham built his first altar in the Promised Land (12:6–7). Jacob shows us, Matthew Henry writes, that "where we have a tent God must have an altar, where we have a house he must have a church in it."
Jacob has many faults, but he is committed to serving the Lord. He does set up a place of worship as soon as he enters Canaan, thereby showing his commitment to make God the center of his home. It is also wise today to erect an “altar” of worship and prayer in our homes. If you have a family, be sure to set aside time for devotions with your spouse and children. Whether married or not, make time for private study and praise.