“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Get ready and move to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother, Esau.’” – Genesis 35:1
During the early years of Jacob’s life, he lived up to his name, which means “grabber.” He stormed through life, grabbing every desire that lured his greedy heart. He grabbed Esau’s heel at birth, and by the time he fled from home, he had also grabbed his brother’s birthright and blessing.
When we see Jacob again, as a young man returning to his homeland in the prime of his life, he had accumulated not one wife but two and a stockpile of wealth, servants, and animals. Soon, however, Jacob was grabbing again. This time, by the Jordan River, he grabbed on to God and would not let go. He realized his dependence was on the God who had continued to bless him. No longer known as Jacob, who ambitiously adhered to his possessions, he became Israel—the one who clings to God.
Contrary to contemporary wisdom, the one who grabs the most toys in this life does not come out the winner. All of a person’s assets become liabilities if he or she has not gained the single most important possession: a relationship with the living God.
Jacob’s story doesn’t end though. After Jacob’s meeting with God, his sons continued in his grabbing ways by a deceptive and vengeful act against Shechem, the son of Hamor (see Genesis 34). They slaughtered the entire male population of Shechem, seized their possessions, and took captive the women and children.
Jacob’s testimony was ruined. He needed a new start. God spoke to Jacob and instructed him to return to Bethel—the place he had first met God. Imbedded in His instructions were four commands:
- “get ready” – It is an absolute necessity that we prepare our heart to start over. Confession of sin and restitution of action are essential to a fresh start.
- “move” – We can’t stay where we are and ever hope to start over again. Most people want a change without ever making a change.
- “settle” – A commitment of all we are and all we have is key. We can’t “leave some stuff in storage” in case things don’t work out. To “settle” in this case is to bring everything before God with the idea that this is a permanent act.
- “build an altar” – The first and foremost act of Jacob was to be that of worship. This altar was all about a renewal of his relationship with God. It was to also be a reminder of the commitment he was making to the One he depended on.
Does God ever allow us to start over? The answer is yes! Our problem is that when we mess things up, we think that there is no going back. We don’t realize that the lives of those found in the Bible are replete with examples of starting over. God is the God of the second chance.
Has your life been ruined? God can renew it! He can take the mess of your life and make it a message.