When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Genesis 28: 16
Do you remember the first time that God truly revealed Himself to you? The first time you felt as if you really felt His presence and His love for you, and you made the decision to put your trust completely in Him? Do you remember the pure and genuine devotion you felt and how you knew you would never be the same?
Many refer to such a time as our “Bethel” moment – that defining moment when we knew God was with us and we vowed to be His. The title came about because of the story of Jacob and his encounter with God.
Just like Jacob, much has happened in our lives in between those first memories of such love and commitment for God and the place we are today. Like Jacob, we may have drifted away from our loving Father from time to time and needed to return to our “Bethel” to remember the vow we made to be faithful to Him. What places He may sometimes take us to get us where He wants us to be.
You remember the story of Jacob with all its twists and turns. He is probably remembered most for deceitfully cheating his brother Esau out of his birthright from his father, Isaac, fleeing his home because his mother told him Esau was plotting to kill him, and going to the land of his mother’s brother, Laban, to take a wife.
But on the way, he stopped for the night and slept on a stone under the stars. He had a dream in which he saw a ladder stretching up to heaven with angels ascending and descending. God appeared before Him and confirmed that He had chosen Jacob before his birth to continue the covenant He had made with His grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac, to give him the land He had promised and to bless him and his offspring.
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it. . . This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’. . . and He called that place Bethel,” which means “the house of God.”
Jacob had more than a personal encounter with God at Bethel. He became transformed. It was here that he made an altar to God, and vowed to be faithful to Him. He understood that regardless of His circumstances, God would always care for him, guide him, and keep His promises.
But just as we often fail to keep near to God, Jacob drifted away, as well. As the years went by, he became pre-occupied with prosperity and security and forgot his vow to be faithful to God. He allowed things in his life that kept him from being the person God wanted Him to be.
After 30 years had passed, he returned home. He and his brother, Esau, spoke and Esau forgave him. But Jacob was not at peace for his sins were still on his heart. It was then that God called him to return to Bethel, to the place where he first made his promises to God, and where he first felt God reveal His presence to him. He renewed his promises to Him, and from that day forward, he lived a life of faithful service to God.
How many times are we so like Jacob – we have been to the place where we felt God’s nearness to us in time of need, and we made a vow to Him that by helping us with a certain situation we would live for Him forever. Then our circumstances changed and we forgot our promise to Him. We may have even drifted away as Jacob did. But God wants us to know that no matter how far we may wander from Him, we can always return to those “Bethel” moments and be reminded of the peace, comfort and love we can find in Him.
How grateful I am that I can always return to that time, that memory – to that place where I found I could trust God with anything and everything, and I knew He would give me the strength and assurance I needed. And when I do return, I always find Him ready and willing to accept me back into His loving presence.
Our most gracious God, forgive us for those times when we stray from you and become so occupied with life. But how grateful we are for your faithfulness to accept us back into your loving presence with your mercy and grace. Amen