September 18, 2015

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe




Topic #E:  JACOB'S RESIDENCE AT SHECHEM, BETH-EL AND HEBRON. (Gen. 33:18-36:43.)                



Lesson III.E.1: He Settles at Shechem. (Genesis 33:18-20).




Genesis 33:18-20 (KJV)


18 And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.

19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for an hundred pieces of money.

20 And he erected there an altar, and called it El-Elohe-Israel.






The prior lesson—Lesson III.D.9: The Meeting with Esau (Genesis 33:1-17)— stated that Jacob took four steps backward after leaving Peniel. “Why,” you ask?  “Because he went back from the attitude, opinions, and views which he held at that time.  Sadly, he degenerated.  He declined spiritually, and went back to his old ways of conniving and scheming; the fourth step.”  God’s command was that Jacob return to Bethel—“I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred” (31:13)—and then to his home where Isaac still lived, which was Hebron—“And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned” (35:27). Still he did not go to Bethel, but on to the city of Shechem.  Then he bought property there and was quite close to the Canaanites, a nearness which brought untold trouble.  The “altar” was really a mockery.  DEVOTION CANNOT MAKE UP FOR DISOBEDIENCE.






18 And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.


The patriarchs were all wealthy men, but with Abraham and Isaac and with Jacob (up until this point) the pilgrim character was never lost.  The pilgrim character was symbolized by a tent and an altar, a tent that manifested a pilgrim walk in a wicked world, and an altar that manifested pure worship amidst so much religious corruption.  As Pilgrims, the patriarchs were men on the move ever willing and able to obey the call of God. It is that aspect of testimony that now broke down in Jacob’s life.


We followed Jacob first to “Succoth” (The word “Succoth” means “booths.”).  There we see Jacob building: “And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him an house, and made booths for his cattle: therefore the name of the place is called Succoth” (33:17).  He built a house and made shelters for his cattle, signifying that he was going to settle down, tired of the pilgrim life, tired of being forever on the move.  Everybody else had a house, why shouldn’t he have one?  He could certainly afford one, a big one—a mansion, if he so desired.  For the moment he had lost sight of the mansion being prepared for him in Glory in order to settle for a house at “Succoth” on the east side of the Jordon, in the valley just south of the Jabbok.  Jacob had stopped just short of the Promised Land after all.  Jacob is sometimes criticized because he stopped here at “Succoth” and at “Shechem” and did not proceed on to Bethel.  Actually, we ought not to expect too much of Jacob at this time.  He’s been crippled, and he is just learning to walk with he is spiritual legs. 


The first mention of a house in the Bible is in connection with Lot.  Abraham the pilgrim dwelt in a tent on the plains of Mamre; Lot the backslider dwelt in a house in Sodom.  Here in Genesis 33 is the first mention of a house in connection with the patriarchs.  The Holy Spirit ignores it all together in Hebrews 11, that great faith chapter, where He says of Abraham, “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise” (Hebrews 11:9).


Here, then, was Jacob’s first mistake.  He decided to settle down and take it easy even if doing so meant settling short of Canaan and meant the abandonment of his pilgrim way of life.  He simply wanted to be like everybody else, at least for a while.


We move along to Shechem.  There we see Jacob buying.  We do not know how long Jacob lived at “Succoth.”  Probably it was for a number of years and no doubt for much longer than he intended.  It was long enough, anyway, for his daughter Dinah to grow up to womanhood—she was about six when he first settled down.  Eventually, however, he made a move and off he went into the highlands to the west, to Shalem, a city of Shechem and he seemed to like what he found their.  “And Jacob . . .  pitched his tent before the city.”  How that statement reminds us of Lot!  Jacob, it would seem, had gone back to being a pilgrim, but he was still a reluctant pilgrim.  He had gone back to his tent, but wanted to get as close to the world as he could while still outwardly professing to be a migrant for God in a God-dishonoring world.



19 And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem's father, for an hundred pieces of money.


Shechem was a prominent city located on Mount Gerizim, approximately 41 miles north of Jerusalem.  That mountain became famous in later Hebrew history as the place from which the blessings of the Law were proclaimed.  Just across the way stood Mount Ebal where the corresponding curses of the Law were heralded in the ears of Israel.  Shechem was near the site where the great capital city of Samaria would one day stand, and Sychar was not far away.  It was here that Jacob dug that famous well on which the Lord Jesus sat when He met the woman from Samaria and talked to her about the water of life.


Jacob decided to take permanent advantage of the rich pastures east of the city.  Therefore, “he bought a parcel of a field . . . for an hundred pieces of money” (Probably bars or rings of silver of a certain weight; or, “lambs,” a coin with the picture of a lamb on it.), and set up a place of worship.  He decided to live there, even though God had commanded him to settle in Bethel (28:21; 31:3, 13).  This may have been a fear-based decision.  In spite of Esau’s warm greeting, Jacob probably didn’t trust him.  Nevertheless, he builds his first “altar,” as Abraham had also done at Shechem, when he had first entered Canaan: “Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him” (12:6-7).


This purchase of “a parcel of a field” became only the second piece of real estate legally belonging to Abraham’s line in the Promised Land (23:17, 18; 25:9, 10).  However, the land was not Abraham’s and his descendents simply because they bought it, but, rather, because God owned it all—The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23)—and gave it to them for their exclusive domain (12:1-3).



20 And he erected there an altar, and called it El-Elohe-Israel.


Jacob purchased some property at that time, buying it from “Hamor,” the father of a young man named Shechem.  It was those business dealings, no doubt, that first introduced Dinah to the young man whose influence was to be so disastrous.  How much better it would have been for Jacob if he had left all such business dealings alone. 


Just like so many of us who try to give backsliding the aura of religious respectability, Jacob “erected an alter and called it El-Elohe-Israel” (“God, the God of Israel”). In this way he acknowledged that the Lord had led him all the way back to the land. Jacob uses his new name, Israel (Genesis 32:29), indicating that he claimed his new name, but he certainly wasn’t living up to all that name implied. Sacrifice is no substitute for obedience: “But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22).


Here he acknowledges the God, his own God.  This is the first instance in which an “altar” is named. He was thankful for the hand of His providence over him.  Also he wanted to keep up religion, and the worship of God in his family.  Jacob dedicated this “altar” to the honor of “El-Elohe-Israel”—to the honor of God, the only living and true God; and to the honor of the God of “Israel,” as a God in covenant with him.  God had recently called Jacob by the name of “Israel,” and now he calls God the God of Israel.  By incorporating his new name, “Israel,” he was declaring that he worshipped the “Mighty One.” “Israel” perhaps foreshadowed its use for the nation with which it rapidly became associated, even when it consisted of not much more than Jacob’s extended household.


Though he is deemed a prince with God, God shall still be his Lord and his God.  This indicates real growth in a man who is just learning to walk (spiritually).  Our honors become honors indeed to us, when they are consecrated to God’s honor; Israel’s God is Israel’s glory.  BLESSED BE HIS NAME, HE IS STILL THE MIGHTY GOD, THE GOD OF ISRAEL.  MAY WE PRAISE HIS NAME, AND REJOICE IN HIS LOVE, THROUGH OUR PILGRIMAGE HERE ON EARTH, AND FOREVER IN THE HEAVENLY CANAAN.


It was good that he built an alter, but it was Jacob, not Israel doing the work, Jacob and not God.  There is not the slightest hint that God instructed Jacob to purchase for cash what had been promised by faith.  No doubt Jacob intended his alter to be a testimony to the pagans round about him.  If so, his intentions were soon brought to nothing by the behavior of three of his children.  He should have gone deeper into Canaan, as Abraham did.  He should have put distance between himself and the evil Canaanite city toward which he had pitched his tent.  When God insists on complete separation from the world it is because He knows best.


In the next lesson Jacob will learn that the people of Shechem would not be a help to his family.






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