Jacob’s True Calling
“God said to Jacob ‘Arise. go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau’” (Gen. 35:1).- Genesis 35:1
When we last read about Jacob, he had settled near the city of Shechem (Gen. 33:18–20), apparently thinking that he had fulfilled his vow to worship the Lord upon his return to Canaan (28:10–22). However, as we also saw, his stay in Shechem also produced rape and slaughter (34:1–29), indicating his decision to live there was not wise. Moreover, Jacob’s anger at losing his good name and not the violation of Dinah or the ruthlessness of Simeon and Levi, showed that his foolishness affected him spiritually, clouding his knowledge of the Lord’s will, and it revealed a wavering faith (vv. 30–31).
Yet we know Jacob worshiped the one, true God. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Lord compassionately intervenes to wake him from his spiritual stupor. Picking up our study of Genesis in 35:1, the Almighty appears to Jacob in Shechem and reveals that Jacob’s vow is unfulfilled until he returns to Bethel. The Lord has a plan in which Jacob plays a part, and He will not let Jacob’s dulled spiritual senses stand in the way. We are greatly encouraged by this that “the providence of God watches for our salvation, even when it most seems to sleep,” as John Calvin comments.
Our Creator’s call to Jacob, coming as it does right near the end of his story in Genesis, leads us to view Jacob as the new Abraham. Just as Jacob’s grandfather was called to offer up a sacrifice (Gen. 22:1–19) near the end of his life, so too is Jacob commanded to go up, fulfill his vows, and worship at Bethel (35:1). Once more we see God’s good pleasure to bring His sinful people back to Himself even if they have spent years in the spiritual wilderness. Today He continues to embrace His prodigal sons and daughters, calling them to return again in faith and repentance (Luke 15:11–32).
Jacob of course has made a vow to worship the Lord at Bethel, and now he is exhorted to keep it. Promises made to God are to be kept in their proper time (Deut. 23:21), but even though Jacob has delayed, there is still opportunity for him to be obedient. Matthew Henry writes: “When we have vowed a vow to God, it is best not to defer the payment of it (Eccl. 5:4), yet better late than never.”
Matthew Henry also comments: “As many as God loves he will remind of neglected duties, one way or another, by conscience or by providences.” The Holy Spirit will not let us forget the vows we have made to serve Him. Have you left any promises unkept before the Lord? Maybe you have pledged a certain amount of money to your church? Perhaps you have children and have promised to raise them in the fear of God? Do not fail to keep your godly vows.
Passages for Further Study