A Good Reason for Sunday Worship
When Jacob was running from the disaster his actions had caused within his family, he stopped to rest at a place that he would name “Bethel” (Genesis 28). On that occasion he was not prepared to surrender to God. His focus then was on the place itself rather than on the God Who had revealed Himself in that place.
Years later, having returned again to Canaan, having met God for a second time and having finally surrendered to God (Genesis 32), Jacob returns to Bethel a second time.
Bethel means “house of God” and Jacob had built an altar there after his first encounter with the Almighty. Now, as he returns again, he is conscious that he goes there with a different focus than he had once had.
One of the things Jacob had neglected to do when he returned to Canaan was to deal with the household gods that Rachel had stolen from her father, Laban (Genesis 31). He knew he couldn’t approach the Only God without dealing with the false ones. He gives instructions: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes” (Genesis 35:2, NIV).
Jacob builds another altar. This time his focus is not on the place but on the God whose place it is. God confirms Jacob’s new name, Israel, and confirms the covenant that He had made with Israel’s forefathers (35:10-13).
Something curious happens. Jacob had called this place “Bethel” after his first meeting with God. He now renames the place, calling it El Bethel, God of Bethel. The shift is significant, the emphasis not so much on the place as on the God of the place. The place is important because it was there he had met God, but Israel would never forget that before the house comes the God of the house.Sometimes the good things slip into the place in our lives reserved for the best things. It’s a good thing to return to Bethel and to renew our commitment to El Bethel: The Person Who makes the place what it is. Perhaps that part of what coming together to worship in the Lord’s house on Sunday is all about—our opportunity to put away the contamination of the world and refocus on El Bethel.