In Genesis 35, we come across the God of Abraham giving emigration instructions to his grandson Jacob. He was at Padam Aram, which translated means field or table land of Aram (Syria). His grandfather and great grandfather had settled there when they emigrated from Ur of the Chaldees. His grandfather’s nephew was also from Padam Aram, as was his father-in-law. The point being made is that Jacob had very deep roots in Padam Aram. And he had prospered immensely there. Yet God instructed him to emigrate and become a relocatee to Bethel. He had no problem obeying God.
Our comfort and roots notwithstanding, we must be open to God’s instructions and obey him when marching orders come. Padam Aram represents a place of comfort and familiarity for Jacob, a place of roots. A place of roots is not always familial. It can be experiential. Can be pain, can be disappointment, can be sorrow. God wants us to move, to leave the Padam Aram of our past experiences for the promises of Bethel.
Sometimes our roots are the traditions we’ve held on to, the knowledge we’ve operated by for years. When new instruction and illumination come we must not hold on to ignorance. Some of us are very rooted and comfortable in our struggles. It’s all we’ve ever known – life’s difficulties. But God says it’s time to move on. It’s time to leave Padam Aram, the place of roots behind. We must always be open to divine intimations and directions. We are pilgrims on earth. Isaiah 48:17-18: “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way that you should go.” God promises abundance of peace, prosperity and righteousness if we are open to his leading and instructions: “Your peace and prosperity would (be) like a flowing river and your righteousness like the abundant waves of the sea.” It’s time to move on.
The difference between Bethel and Padam Aram is that while Padam Aram had natural history, Bethel had covenant history. It was east of Bethel that Abraham built an altar to God and called upon the name of God. After Abraham left Egypt in very similar circumstances to Jacob’s departure from Padam Aram, he returned to Bethel, to the place where he built his first altar and again invoked the name of the Lord. Abraham had left Egypt a very rich man yet he never forgot the God who gave him the power to get wealth. We must never forget the Lord our God when we prosper. Sometimes the test of faith is prosperity.
Bethel had a special place in Jacob’s life. His first distinct encounter with God was at Bethel. It was at Bethel that Jacob had the famous dream of a stairway to Heaven. It is instructive that at that time Bethel was not so named. It is recorded as a “certain place”. It was obscure. God turns obscurities into branded historical monuments. He gives significance to the obscure. Your location in life today may be obscure – say a lowly desk in the office. But God can make your desk significant. Your business may be obscure, unknown; but God can place you on the corporate map, turn you into a brand. You may be the least in your family but God can make you significant, give you a heritage.
Having appropriated his brother’s blessing by deceit, Jacob had fled to Padam Aram via Bethel. He slept overnight at Bethel. He “stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep” (Genesis 28:11). The sun had set on Jacob. He was penniless, broke, with a stone for a pillow. He was between the rock and a hard place. But by the time he returned to Bethel, he had experienced the faithfulness of God. He was now prosperous. May you know the faithfulness of God, experience his turn around, and the abundance of his mercy.
The first covenant Jacob ever made with God was at Bethel. This covenant was independent of his heritage. Some of us like Timothy come from a rich heritage of faith. His mother and grandmother were godly. Such heritage creates dependence. We tend to depend on the faith and prayers of our family in such circumstances. But God wants us to begin OUR own tradition of heritage with him, to extend the heritage to next generation. You must begin YOUR tradition with God – walk with God. You must extend the heritage of covenant. We must preserve a heritage of godliness for our children, and children’s children. In order to do that we must come to Bethel. Bethel means House of God. We must build an altar, worship the Lord.
The first covenant God made with Jacob was at Bethel: “The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be countless as the dust. And behold, I am with you and will keep watch over you with care, take notice of you wherever you may go and I will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done all of which I have told you” (Genesis 28:13-15).
And now we see why God told Jacob to go back to Bethel. It was proof of fulfillment of God’s promise made to him. “I will bring you back to this land” God had promised. He watches over his word to perform it. God is a performer.
It is also instructive that the first blessing pact Jacob made with God was at Bethel. Genesis 28:20-22: “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go and will give me food to eat and clothing to wear, so that I may come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God; And this stone which I have set up as a pillar monument shall be God’s house and of all the increase of possessions that You give me I will give the tenth to You.” Jacob, a broke man made a blessing pact with God. He came back to Bethel a prosperous man: “I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants” he later testified (Genesis 32:5). He had issued a promissory note at Bethel. He redeemed his pledge and God fulfilled his part. Simple contract.
We can make a pact of prosperity with God. But it requires a pledge. In law we call that “consideration”. No contract is binding without consideration. You can’t get something for nothing. And the consideration must be commensurate to the size of your desire. Much you sow is much you reap.
What do you want from God? How much are you willing to give in exchange?