Bible study: Jacob's faith is renewed at Bethel

Genesis 35:1–15


I became a Christian at the age of 16 through the witness of my girlfriend, who has now been my wife for 47 years. Not only do we renew our commitment to each other as a couple every day, but we as individuals renew our commitment to God every day.

Jacob renewed his commitment to God at a city that had spiritual reminders and implications for him. Bethel was the location at which Jacob renewed his commitment.

In Genesis 28:18–21, the city of Bethel is the place where Jacob renews his faith. In Genesis 35:1, God commands Jacob, “Get up! Go to Bethel and settle there. Build an altar.” Like Jacob, we need spiritual renewal.

Get up! (1–4)

Sometimes the way forward is back. Bethel was an important location in Jacob’s life. When God promised Jacob that his offspring would be like the dust of the earth, Jacob called the place “Bethel,” meaning “house of God.”

Now God commands Jacob to settle in Bethel and build an altar to God there. Meeting with God may require preparation on our part. Jacob commands his household to put away all foreign gods, purify themselves and change their garments.

In an act of repentance, Jacob’s fellow travelers give him the images of their foreign gods and their earrings.

Jacob hides them underneath a tree so that others cannot find them. His resolve is a permanent commitment.

Build (4–8)

God supernaturally protects Jacob and his fellow travelers by creating an overwhelming terror within the local populations. As a result, the locals do not pursue Jacob and his entourage.

Jacob’s first act when he arrives with his fellow travelers is to build an altar.

He names the worship location “El-bethel,” meaning “the God of Bethel.” When Rebekah’s nurse Deborah dies, Jacob calls Bethel “Allon-bacuth,” a term meaning “oak of weeping.”

Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary points out that in the Bible, oaks marked graves.

For a servant like Deborah to be mourned in such fashion points to the important role she had in Jacob’s larger family.

Renewed (9–15)

In the Bible, for the most part, the names of individuals are important, especially when God is the one who gifts an individual with a name.

In Genesis 32:28, God had changed Jacob’s name to “Israel.” “Israel” means “one who strives with God.”

To Jacob, God repeats the command He gave to Adam and Eve as well as to Noah: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Jacob’s new name points to a change in the character of the patriarch. Collectively, the descendants of Jacob’s sons become the 12 tribes or the sons of Israel.

From the descendants of Jacob would come “a nation [and] an assembly of nations.” God’s promises to Jacob are in line with the promises God gave to Abraham — a nation, a company of nations, kingly descendants and the land of promise.

In response to God’s renewal of His promises, Jacob pours wine on a pillar and repeats the new location name: Bethel, the “house of God.”


This lesson was written by Mark Rathel, professor at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville, Fla., and originally published by The Baptist Paper. This study is based on the Explore the Bible curriculum from Lifeway Christian Resources.