God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your clothes; then come, let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak that was near Shechem.
As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them. Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So it was called Allon-bacuth.
God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he was called Israel. God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Then God went up from him at the place where he had spoken with him. Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the place where God had spoken with him Bethel. Genesis 35:1-15 NRSV
One of the requirements to be ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a working knowledge of biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek). I studied both languages in college and seminary, and can still identify some words. One Hebrew that jumps out at me is the word for God that we render in English translations as “Elohim”’ or “El”. (I had to chuckle when I thought that the major Israeli commercial airline goes by the name “El Al” (literally God’s Airline?)
In the story that is told of Jacob in Genesis 35, we find a couple key references to “El”. As Jacob’s journey of faith and life continues, he returns to a place where God had been revealed to him. Some people knew the place as Luz, but Jacob was instructed to call it Bethel (The Hebrew word play here is Beth – “House of” and El – God. As he moved forward in faith by recalling some significant past events, Jacob returned to the House of God. And there, in that place, the age-old promise that God had made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that God would bless them and make of their descendants a mighty nation, was one step closer to coming true. God talked to the third man in the line of promise keepers, and God renamed Jacob. What name did he give him? What was the new name for the descendants of these faithful followers of God? Israel.
God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.”
So he was called Israel. God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a
company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. The land that I gave to Abraham
and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Genesis 35:10-12 NRSV
Your name will be Isra-el. It seems that there at Beth-El, the house of God, the man and the people of God are given a name that has a hint of God’s presence within it.
How does this story speak to us in our journey of faith? Do we return to the house of God regularly to be reminded of God’s promises? And as we trust those promises as Christians, do we cultivate that name and the hint of God’s presence within us?
Call me by name, Dear Lord of my life, and let my daily walk and my being reflect that I am a child of Your promises. In Jesus’ name I live and pray. Amen.