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
A series of bad choices result in a train wreck. With life in shambles, it appears as if it’s too late for a clean start. Jacob knows how that feels. His family has narrowly escaped assimilation into a pagan society. He knows that if they had intermarried, they would have destroyed the line for the Messiah. How his heart must have ached when he discovered that his sons had tricked the men from Shechem and murdered them in cold blood. Maybe he wondered if the covenant with God was now null and void.
But God was gracious yet again. He appeared to Jacob with instructions for how to pick up and start fresh. He was to gather all the foreign gods within his household, bury them, and tell his family to purify themselves by putting on clean garments. They were to renew their vows to God in a holy place.
The message for us is this ~ we can’t mess things up so badly that God can’t redeem waste places on the other side of repentance. If beginning again is possible, why aren’t there more of us at the altar bringing the shambles of our lives to Jesus? Probably because we must own our mistakes, consider why we went astray, and then look at our choices from God’s perspective. It’s hard to own rebellion and not justify our actions. Inflated and fragile egos resist being wrong. It’s easier to forfeit God’s invitation to start again.
God continued to speak this same message throughout Israel’s history. Joshua will tell God’s chosen people, “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 their parents heard, in the very same place, so that they can experience the cleansing that precedes another needed beginning. Is there a limit to the number of times God offers a clean slate? No. Not then. Not now. His mercy knows no boundaries.
I want to make the practice of exposing idolatry and asking for forgiveness so familiar that it’s instinctive. Amen