Sermon: “The Establishment of Israel” (Gen. 35:1–29)
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).