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.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Genesis 35:1-2
Oh, what a mess of things I can make. A series of bad choices can eventually result in a train wreck. With everything in shambles, it appears as if it’s too late to have a clean start. I believe I’ve passed the point of no return.
Jacob knows how that feels. This is where he is in his family’s story. They have narrowly escaped assimilation into a pagan society. Intermarrying would have destroyed the line for the Messiah. His sons have tricked the men from Shechem and then they murdered them in cold blood. The covenant with God is certainly null and void now, right?
But God appeared to Jacob with instructions for a new beginning. His prescription for starting again is quite simple. Identify (and gather) all your foreign gods, bury them, purify yourselves, put on clean garments, and renew your vows to God in a holy place. The message for me is this ~ I can’t mess things up so badly that God can’t redeem it.
If it’s this easy, why don’t more do it? Why aren’t there more Christians at the altar bringing the shambles of their lives to Jesus? What is keeping them from the exhilaration of this new beginning?
While God’s instructions are simple, the heart has to be willing. I have to own my mistakes, consider where I went astray, and then see my choices from God’s perspective. I need to own my rebellion and not justify my sin. Owning blame is for the humble. This is where most people forfeit God’s invitation to start again. Pride that resides in over-inflated and fragile ego resists being wrong.
God continued to speak this same message throughout history. Joshua will tell God’s same chosen people, in Shechem…. “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” Joshua 24:23 How ironic. The descendants of Jacob will have to hear the exact same message again, in the same place, so that they can experience the cleansing the precedes a new beginning. Is there a limit to the number of times God offers a clean slate? No. His mercy knows no boundaries.
I want to make the practice of exposing idolatry and asking for forgiveness so familiar to me that I see all traces of rebellion disappear. Let my repentance be instinctive. Amen