Genesis 35:1–29: The Conquest of Jacob
Sanctification is a lifelong process. As we have studied the life of Jacob, we have seen the long, slow process God has used to transform a selfish, deceitful, manipulative person into a man who lives by faith. This does not mean, however, that Jacob’s sanctification is already complete. In Genesis 34, we saw how far short Jacob still falls from the virtues of godly courage, righteous zeal, and loving compassion. Jacob has come a long way—both geographically and spiritually—but God must bring Jacob yet a little farther to Bethel in order to bring Jacob yet a little further in his sanctification.
In Genesis 35, God fulfills his promises at Bethel in Genesis 28. As God purifies and re-renames Jacob as Israel, God is bringing Jacob’s story to its climax and resolution. In part, God is demonstrating his absolute faithfulness to Jacob. More than that, God is finalizing his work with Jacob in order to continue his mission in the next generation after Jacob. God’s blessings toward Jacob have not been because of Jacob’s merit, and neither have those blessings been for Jacob’s exclusive benefit. Rather, through Jacob, God has been working toward blessing the whole world through Jacob’s offspring. In Genesis 35, many storylines from Jacob’s life come to their conclusion precisely so that the next parts of God’s mission in this world may move forward. Here, we see that God decreases Jacob in order to increase Israel (cf. John 3:30).
1. Just as Abraham did, Jacob walks the path Israel will take during the conquest (Gen. 12:6–9; Josh. 8; 10). What might change if you walked entirely by faith in God’s work beyond your lifetime? How does our hope in the future resurrection give us confidence for today (1 Cor. 15:58)? What short-term sacrifices might we make in this life for the sake of the kingdom?
2. Before Jacob goes to Bethel, he and his household purify themselves (Gen. 35:2–4). Have you been purified by the blood of Jesus Christ, through repentance and faith? What sins do you allow to remain in your life, like the idols that lingered in Jacob’s household? What aspects of your righteousness in Christ do you need to wear, like the clean garments of Jacob’s household?
3. Jacob must put away his old identity as Jacob in order to embrace his call to be Israel (Gen. 35:10–15). What aspects of your old, rebellious identity must you put away in order to embrace your new identity in Christ? God promised Israel that he would be fruitful (Gen. 35:11); what kind of fruit does Jesus promise that all those who abide in him will bear (John 15:5)?
4. Jacob must decrease in order for God to continue his work in the next generation, as Judah and Joseph take center stage in redemptive history (Gen. 35:22–26; 37–49). What does it mean for you to decrease in order for Christ, who is true Israel, may increase (cf. John 3:30)? What does it mean for you to decrease by seeking to raise up the next generation of believers?