'Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there....” Genesis 35:1. When Jacob returned to Canaan, he purchased a piece of land within sight of the city of Shechem for one hundred pieces of silver, and settled there. (33:19) Though he set up an altar there and dedicated it to God, (v20), it was not in accordance with the promise he had made to God when fleeing from his brother Esau two decades earlier. We can do our religious duties to the letter, even to the admiration of our peers, yet still not be fulfilling our promises or living in obedience to God. As we saw last time, the results of settling near to Shechem turned out to be devastating for the family.
Sometimes we make promises to God when we are desperate and then forget those promises the moment the threat has passed. This was the case here. When Jacob met with God in a dream in which he saw a staircase stretching between heaven and earth and angels ascending and descending, (28:12), God made incredible promises to Jacob, promising to care for him, give him the land he was in, give him uncountable offspring, telling him how he would be a blessing to the whole world through his offspring, (28:13-15). In return, Jacob promised that if he returned safely he would come back to that place, to the stone he had set up and dedicated as God's house – Bethel, and give to God a tenth of all he possessed.
It seems that by the time Jacob returned to the land of Canaan he had forgotten his vow and settled at a place of his own choosing which resulted in horrendous consequences. Yet, as we all know, God never gives up on any of us. Following that harrowing experience, Jacob was no doubt more open to what God had to say. Sometimes it takes a bad experience for us to review where we are and to listen more intently to God. Like Jacob, we all need to return, from time to time, to that place of first dedication.
'Am I what once I was?
Have I that ground maintained
Wherein I walked in power with thee,