PATRIARCHS AND PROPHETS # 19
The Return to Canaan
Crossing the Jordan, "Jacob came in peace to the city of Shechem, which is in
the land of Canaan." Genesis 33:18, R.V. Thus the patriarch's prayer at
Bethel, that God would bring him again in peace to his own land, had been
granted. For a time he dwelt in the vale of Shechem.
was here that Abraham, more than a hundred years before, had made his first
encampment and erected his first altar in the Land of Promise. Here Jacob
"bought the parcel of ground where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the
children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for a hundred pieces of money. And he
erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel" (verses 19, 20)--"God,
the God of Israel." Like Abraham, Jacob set up beside his tent an altar unto
the Lord, calling the members of his household to the morning and the evening
sacrifice. It was here also that he dug the well to which, seventeen centuries
later, came Jacob's Son and Saviour, and beside which, resting during the
noontide heat, He told His wondering hearers of that "well of water springing
up into everlasting life." John 4:14.
tarry of Jacob and his sons at Shechem ended in violence and bloodshed. The
one daughter of the household had been brought to shame and sorrow, two
brothers were involved in the guilt of murder, a whole city had been given to
ruin and slaughter, in retaliation for the lawless deed of one rash youth. The
beginning that led to results so terrible was the act of Jacob's daughter, who
"went out to see the daughters of the land," thus venturing into association
with the ungodly. He who seeks pleasure among those that fear not God is
placing himself on Satan's ground and inviting his temptations.
treacherous cruelty of Simeon and Levi was not unprovoked; yet in their course
toward the Shechemites they committed a grievous sin. They had carefully
concealed from Jacob their intentions, and the tidings of their revenge filled
him with horror. Heartsick at the deceit and violence of his sons, he only
said, "Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the
land: . . . and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together
against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house." But the
grief and abhorrence with which he regarded their bloody deed is shown by the
words in which, nearly fifty years later, he referred to it, as he lay upon
his deathbed in Egypt: "Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty
are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto
their assembly, mine honor, be not thou united. . . . Cursed be their anger,
for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel." Genesis 49:5-7.
Jacob felt that there was cause for deep humiliation. Cruelty and falsehood
were manifest in the character of his sons. There were false gods in the camp,
and idolatry had to some extent gained a foothold even in his household.
Should the Lord deal with them according to their deserts, would He not leave
them to the vengeance of the surrounding nations?
While Jacob was thus bowed down with trouble, the Lord directed him to journey
southward to Bethel.
thought of this place reminded the patriarch not only of his vision of the
angels and of God's promises of mercy, but also of the vow which he had made
there, that the Lord should be his God. He determined that before going to
this sacred spot his household should be freed from the defilement of
idolatry. He therefore gave direction to all in the encampment, "Put away the
strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: and
let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God,
who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I
deep emotion Jacob repeated the story of his first visit to Bethel, when he
left his father's tent a lonely wanderer, fleeing for his life, and how the
Lord had appeared to him in the night vision. As he reviewed the wonderful
dealings of God with him, his own heart was softened, his children also were
touched by a subduing power; he had taken the most effectual way to prepare
them to join in the worship of God when they should arrive at Bethel. "And
they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all
their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak
which was by Shechem."
caused a fear to rest upon the inhabitants of the land, so that they made no
attempt to avenge the slaughter at Shechem. The travelers reached Bethel
unmolested. Here the Lord again appeared to Jacob and renewed to him the
covenant promise. "And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with
him, even a pillar of stone."
Bethel, Jacob was called to mourn the loss of one who had long been an honored
member of his father's family--Rebekah's nurse, Deborah, who had accompanied
her mistress from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan. The presence of this aged
woman had been to Jacob a precious tie that bound him to his early life, and
especially to the mother whose love for him had been so strong and tender.
Deborah was buried with expressions of so great sorrow that the oak under
which her grave was made, was called "the oak of weeping." It should not be
passed unnoticed that the memory of her life of faithful service and of the
mourning over this household friend has been accounted worthy to be preserved
in the word of God.
Bethel it was only a two days' journey to Hebron, but it brought to Jacob a
heavy grief in the death of Rachel. Twice seven years' service he had rendered
for her sake, and his love had made the toil but light. How deep and abiding
that love had been, was shown when long afterward, as Jacob in Egypt lay near
his death, Joseph came to visit his father, and the aged patriarch, glancing
back upon his own life, said, "As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died
by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to
come unto Ephrath: and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath." Genesis
48:7. In the family history of his long and troubled life the loss of Rachel
was alone recalled.
Before her death Rachel gave birth to a second son. With her parting breath
she named the child Benoni, "son of my sorrow." But his father called him
Benjamin, "son of my right hand," or "my strength." Rachel was buried where
she died, and a pillar was raised upon the spot to perpetuate her memory.
the way to Ephrath another dark crime stained the family of Jacob, causing
Reuben, the first-born son, to be denied the privileges and honors of the