Text: Genesis 35
Proposition: Just as we have memory physically so we have memory spiritually that we would do those things which God has prepared for us to do.
Introduction: Isn’t memory a funny thing? If someone were to ask you, ‘What’s seven times eight’, you automatically say fifty six. All those days in grade five when you were memorizing your times tables are still in there. That’s factual memory, but what about that saying that goes, “It’s like riding a bike, once you’ve done it you never forget. That’s all about muscle memory, the sensation of balance and timing and movement. Talk to any good golfer and they’ll say it’s more about muscle memory when it comes to a good consistent swing. There is yet another kind of memory, there is spiritual memory, the memory our soul has, like remembering what hope feels like. God invites us to remember as a way of growing in faith and relationship with Him. More than 140 times the Scripture talks about remembering… “Remember Lot’s wife”, Jesus caution for how to respond in the last days, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”, the third commandment God gave to Moses to direct holy lives. Then there are the words of Jesus in Revelation 3:3, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” God prompts us to remember Him by reminding us of where we are, of who we are and how short our lives on this earth are. Turn with me to Genesis 35.
I. Remember Where You Are, Sometimes It’s Not Where We Should Be.
Jacob is sitting in Shechem, he’d bought land here, he’d planned to live here, he’d been here for months and it was starting to feel comfortable. Then out of the blue Dinah tells him she has slept with this Hivite, Shechem. Her brothers are incensed and they murder all the men of Shechem after deceiving them into being circumcised. All the women and children of Shechem who remain are now in Jacob’s camp, his sons brought them there as part of the plunder. The fields and town of Shechem stand eerily empty and silent. Word around the camp is that this was an honor killing but Jacob knows the motives were vane greed and an anger fuelled by pride. As the patriarch of this mess he looks over all the tents and people realizing that though he is richer than ever, he is more worried than ever. Months before he had been afraid for his life as Esau rode towards him with 400 horsemen, now again he is afraid that the other cities will gather together attack and leave an even greater ruin. Do you remember that passage in the creation account where God comes looking for Adam in the cool of the evening just after Adam and Eve had sinned and disobeyed God? “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ ”, (Genesis 3:9). It wasn’t that God didn’t know where Adam was, it was so that Adam could see where he was, it was where he shouldn’t be. Genesis 35 starts like that, God comes and tells Jacob where he shouldn’t be, in Shechem. God tells him to go up to Bethel, dwell there and make an altar there. Bethel was where Jacob had first met God when he fled from home twenty years ago, it was where Jacob had this dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven, he saw the Lord standing at the top of the ladder. He heard God promise to give him this land, to always be with him. It was where Jacob vowed that if God would bring him back safely to his father’s house in peace then the Lord would be his God (28:21). God was saying, ‘Remember Bethel’. So what did it mean for Jacob to remember Bethel? Several things:
1. Repent. Jacob tells all his family and all the newly arrived to put away their idols, their foreign gods. It was a call to stop trusting in these imitations of God. So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods and even the earrings that were like lucky charms. To repent is to turn from the way of believing in imitations, to turn from ways that are all about you and to turn to the Living God. More than all this, repentance is really a call to remember God.
2. Purify. This has the image of washing ourselves, like a priest in the Temple would wash before performing the sacrifices. It would prepare not only his body but also his mind. Coaches call it, ‘Getting your head into the game.’ How do we purify ourselves today? Ephesians 5:25- 27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word…”. Repent, yes, then get into the word of God more! Remember God.
3. Clothe yourselves. The command was to put on garments that would rightly honor God as they go to worship Him. For some they thought that this meant getting dressed in their best clothes in order to die as the Canaanites attacked. What Jacob intended they do was to demonstrate their faith by trusting absolutely in God. They would not dress for battle or for work or play, they would dress for faith, they would leave the walls of Shechem and travel openly to Bethel. If they would make it to Bethel it would be because God had made it so. To clothe ourselves as the church today is put on the righteousness of Christ, He alone is our protection, our portion and our promise. In His righteousness alone do we trust. It says in verse 5 that as they journeyed in this way, “the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.” To repent, to purify, to clothe are all calls for us to remember the cross, remember the Lord’s death and all it purchased, remember God.
II. Remember Who You Are Is Not Who You Were.
This is such a simple truth yet it can be elusive. People can be trapped in the past, believing that who they once were is something they can never leave behind. Some have seen the pattern of their failures so many times that they feel they can never change, and they are absolutely right! They can never change but God can and will change them from the inside out if they will surrender completely to Him. Do you think that Jacob was aware of his deceitful nature, do you think he was troubled by the failure his life had become? If we will be even minimally faithful in seeking God He will be faithful to the maximum and do what we can’t, He will make us new. Jacob does arrive at Bethel, he builds an altar there and worships God and he stays there, perhaps for months. He waits at Bethel for God’s next step and months later it comes. Verse 9 says that God again appeared to Jacob and again told him what he heard before. He tells Jacob that he is not who he used to be, he is no longer Jacob the deceiver and manipulator. Now his name is Israel, this is the truth of who he is… he’s no longer who he was! What did that look like?
1. He was no longer on the run. For his whole life Jacob had either been running to catch up to Esau or running from something or someone. No more, he is now Israel whose eyes are on God not man.
2. He was no longer empty. Jacob had been empty so many times, empty of hope, empty of wealth, empty of family and empty of integrity. No more, he is now Israel who has been filled by God. He is filled with the hope and promise of the blessing to be fruitful and multiply. It was a command that God ordained upon him, God would be the One who makes it come to be, Israel will be the one God uses. Can you think of anything better than to be filled when you are empty? That’s what God still does in peoples lives through the Lord Jesus Christ. That great emptiness He fills with His deep, deep love and even His Holy Spirit.
3. He was no longer alone. “A nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you”, that’s how God put it. “The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, I give to you and your descendents after you.” Soon Jacob would be very alone in grief but was now being girded with the truth that the promise of God guarantees the presence of God. How can God give land and people to Israel unless He is also there to give it? Israel is never alone again and he worships God because of that.
III. Remember How Short Your Life Is.
There are three funerals in this chapter. Deborah, the nurse for Israel’s mother dies. His mother had passed away years earlier but the nurse was with Isaac so at some point Israel travelled to Mamre and brought her to stay with him. She was perhaps like a mother to him and there is deep sorrow over her death. Perhaps months later Israel breaks camp and moves to Mamre but on the way his wife Rachel goes into labor just outside Bethlehem and dies in labor but the son she bears lives, Benjamin, ‘the son of my right hand’, lives. As Israel arrives and sets up camp in Mamre his father Isaac at the age of 180 years, dies. God has a way of using death to cause us to remember Him. We remember His grace to us, we remember His discipline towards us, we remember His love through love. Remember where we are, remember who we are, remember how soon we are gone and by these remember God, remember His Word, remember the Lord’s death until He comes.