On the Road to Bethel


On the Road to Bethel

July 6th, 1958 @ 8:15 AM

Genesis 35:1

And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
Print Sermon
Downloadable Media
Share This Sermon
Play Audio

Show References:


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Genesis 35: 1-15

7-06-58       8:15 a.m.


You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled On The Road To Bethel or Back To Bethel.  Last Sunday morning we left off at the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis.  The thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis is the story of the angel wrestle between Jacob and the angel of Jehovah at the River Jabbok, to which place Jacob gave the name Peniel.  For he said, "I have seen God face-to-face and my life is preserved."

This thirty-second chapter of Genesis is one of the high spiritual tides of all of the Holy Scriptures.  It is a night which has colored the story of God’s people through all time.  Up until that night of prayer and victory, Jacob’s name was Jacob, "Supplanter," but after that night he is a new man, a different man and his name is Israel, "The Prince of God."  And the chosen race and nation and people of the Lord have been called after that name, they are Israelites.  Their little nation today is called Israeli.  So in the thirty-second chapter of Genesis we have one of the high spiritual tides of all the Holy Scriptures.

Then look at the thirty-third chapter, how it begins.  Right after that wonderful meeting with God and that night of prayer, and seeing God’s face, and wrestling with the angel, and being blessed by this message from Jehovah; now look at the thirty-third chapter and the first verse, "And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked and behold Esau came and with him four hundred men, armed men."  Now isn’t that a picture of the vicissitudes and fortunes and turns of life? Immediately after that glorious experience – of the angel, and seeing God’s face, and the hallowed, sacred, sanctifying experience of that night of prayer and supplication, and the blessing and answer of God from heaven – immediately after that, then in the next verse, "And Jacob lifts up his eyes and looks and behold Esau and four hundred armed men." 

The fear of Esau had been on Jacob ever since he was a young man fleeing before the wrath of his brother.  And in these verses preceding the thirty-third chapter we have the earnest agonizing of Jacob before God when he hears of the coming of Esau, riding furiously toward him with these four hundred armed men.  And right after that prayer, right after that angel experience, then the next thing: he lifts up his eyes and there is Esau and the four hundred men.

Isn’t life like that?  All through life the two almost always are there together.  Forty days and forty nights Moses is on the top of Mount Sinai in the very presence of God, talking to God face-to-face, and immediately from the glory of the presence he comes down the mountainside and there is the golden calf, and the idolatry, and debauchery, and degradation of God’s people all there together. 

On Mount Carmel this prophet Elijah overcomes the prophets of Baal in a triumph in fire from heaven that thrills the soul today that leads the story.  And in the next breath after that great triumphant before God and over Baal, in the next breath you read and hear the story of Jezebel and Elijah running for his life sitting down under a Juniper tree and praying that he might die; both of them there together.

In one verse you will read of the exaltation of Daniel made the president over the college of presidents, first under the king, ruler over all the land and in the next verse he is thrown into the den of lions.

One place in the life of our Lord He is transfigured before the disciples in all of the glory He had before the world was.  His face shining like the sun, His raiment like the sun in His glory at noonday, and then turn the page and our Lord is in Gethsemane and in the bitterness of the agony of the cross. 

In the life of the apostle Paul when he comes to Lystra by the ableness of his mighty hand performing a miracle, they seek to do obeisance to him, to make sacrifice before him, to worship him as a god; then in the next stanza, he is stoned for dead dragged out of the city.  One moment the beautiful glorious visions on the Isle of Patmos and the next moment the consciousness of the cold gray rocks, and the exile, and loneliness, isn’t that life?  It isn’t all glory, nor triumphant, nor victory, nor transfiguration, nor mountaintop experiences; it is both.

Sometimes the angels are with us.  We can see their faces.  And they bless us.  Then in the next instant we may fall into such fear and trepidation as Jacob did here.  When after that glorious incomparably blessed experience at Peniel he lifts up his eyes and looks.  And behold Esau comes and four hundred of his armed men.  Well, Jacob was frightened, he had been frightened through the years.  His pride had driven him to agony and prayer, and the sight of Esau’s coming fills him with fear beyond description.  So he divides the children unto Leah, and unto Rachel, and unto the two handmaids, four different groups.  And he puts the handmaids and their children foremost; then Leah and her children next; then Rachel and her one child, Joseph, next.  And then he himself goes before and bows himself to the ground seven times in what fear we could hardly realize.

He did that so that if Esau destroyed the first group, then maybe made a prey of the second group, maybe the last two groups could escape for their lives.  While Esau is hacking to pieces with his sword, the first maid and her children and the second maid and her children, then maybe Leah and her children and Rachel and the one child can escape with their lives; he does that out of great fear.

Now again isn’t that a picture of us?  You don’t need to be afraid.  You don’t need to fear.  Any man who has seen the face of God does not need to fear the face of a man that shall die.  You don’t need to be afraid if you have prayed.  And Jacob prayed earnestly, earnestly – poured out his heart before God, asked God to deliver him from the hand of his brother Esau.

He did not need to be afraid.  He had prayed.  He had seen God’s face and God had blessed him.  He didn’t need to be afraid.  And he didn’t need to worry.  And he didn’t need to be filled with anxiety.  But Jacob is just like us.  He’s just as we are.

Isn’t that a strange weakness in our frailty and in our humanity?  Isn’t that a strange thing?  Pray to God, depend upon God, delivered it to God, trust to God, and then rise up from our knees with that same fear and worry and anxiety that we had before we knelt before the Lord.  He didn’t need to worry.  Nobody needs to worry who trusts in the Lord.

I think of those women who came early to the sepulcher.  And as they walked toward the sepulcher they said to one another, "That great stone; what shall we do?  That great stone we cannot roll it away; what shall we do?"  But when they came to the sepulcher it was already rolled away; no stone before it at all.

I think of Simon Peter when the angel came to deliver him he went through the first ward then through the second ward, then out there was the great outer iron gate – an insurmountable obstacle.  But when Simon Peter and the angle approached the iron gate, it opened unto them of its own accord.  So it is here with Jacob.  He is worrying and full of anxiety and fear.  And he did not need to worry or to be filled with fear at all; nor do you:

Worry?  Why worry?  What can worry do? 

It never keeps a trouble from overtaking you? 

It puts a frown upon the face and sharpness in the tone. 

We are unfit to live with others and unfit to live alone. 

Worry?  Why worry?  What can worry do? 

It never keeps a trouble from overtaking you.


Pray?  Why pray?  What can praying do?

Praying really changes things, arranges life anew.

It puts a smile upon your face, a love note in your tone

Makes you fit with others and fit to live alone.

Pray?  Why pray?  What can praying do?

It brings God down from heaven to live and work with you.

[author unknown]


Jacob had prayed here before the Lord.  He didn’t need to fear.  He didn’t to worry.  Having placed in God’s hands this terrible trial that he faced God had already made provision.  God had answered prayer and that is the finest therapeutic in a man’s life is to pray; better than any medicine, better than any physician, better than any trip, better than any escape, better than anything that a man can to do to make himself well and strong is to talk to God. 

That isn’t just a preacher’s sermon.  I have a quotation here I have copied from Dr. Hyslop, H-Y-S-L-O-P, Dr. Hyslop; one of Britain’s greatest physicians.   And this is what he said to the British medical association.  I quote from him:

The best medicine which my practice has discovered is

prayer.  As one whose life had been concerned with the

sufferings of the mind, I would state that of all the hygienic measures to counteract disturbed sleep depression of spirits

and all the miserable sequels of a distressed mind, I would undoubtedly give first place to the simple habit of prayer.  It is

of the highest importance, purely from a physical point of view,

to teach children to hold daily communion with God.  Such a

habit does more to quiet the spirit and to strengthen the soul to overcome mere incidental emotionalism than any other therapeutic agency known to man. 

– End quote –


Having prayed, you have committed yourself to the great God in whose sovereign power rests all of the issues of life.  You don’t need to be distressed, you don’t need to worry.  Perturbation of mind is a luxury you can ill afford, just take it to God; make it a matter of prayer, leave it in His blessed hands.  Go to sleep, let the Lord stay awake, rest in Him.  Commit it to God; preaching to myself as I preach to you.

Jacob, full of fear and anxiety, scared for his life and for the lives of his children; then look what happened, "And Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him; and they wept."  For the years and years of his exile, every day filled with fear and dread and foreboding at that ultimate final rendezvous with his brother Esau.  And when finally that day came and he met the dreaded brother who had sworn to take away Jacob’s life – armed men to the number of four hundred could destroy at a command – Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept.

Esau said "Who are these that are with thee?"  And Jacob said "They are the children which God hath graciously given thy servant."  And he presented to Esau his wives and his children.  And Esau rejoiced in the favor of God upon his brother Jacob.  Didn’t need to worry, didn’t need to be filled with fear, God had taken care of all of that.  So it is in our lives: let the Lord take it, leave it in His hands, pray and rest.  In returning and in quiet, in prayer and in confidence be your strength.

So Jacob goes on and he enters the land of his fathers.  He crosses over the river and he comes to the City of Shalem a city of Shechem where Shechem is prince.  He is on his way to Bethel but he doesn’t go to Bethel.  In the thirty-first chapter of Genesis and the thirteenth verse God had said to Jacob "I am the God of Bethel."  And Jacob is on his way back to Bethel.

But he doesn’t go.  In this thirty-third chapter of Genesis and the eighteenth verse it says, "And Jacob came to Shalem a city of Shechem which is in the land of Cannan when he came from Padanaram; and pitched his tent before the city."  And bought a parcel of a field and paid for it, and lived there and stayed there having pitched his tent before the city.

I remember another time when a servant of God did that same thing: I remember when the Bible describes Lot, who pitched his tent before Sodom.  And Jacob, instead of going back to Bethel, he stops.  He pauses.  He buys property and he pitches his tent before the city of Shechem, of Shalem; the City of Shechem the prince of that part of the earth.  And what happens?

This thirty-fourth chapter of the Book of Genesis is one of the darkest chapters – one of the cruelest chapters, one of the most filled with sin and cruelty, and violence and iniquity of any chapter in the Bible.  "And Dinah the daughter of Leah which she bare unto Jacob went out to see the daughters of the land."  And Shechem saw her.

Then you have the terrible story of the violation of Dinah.  Then you have the more terrible story of the cruelty of her brothers, Simeon and Levi, who by a stratagem which is described in and delineated here in the thirty-fourth chapter of Genesis, slays the entire male population of the City of Shalem and sells the women and the children into slavery.  And brings dishonor forever to the name of Jacob in the land and country in which God has made it possible for him to live.

Ah!  What a story.  And where does that come from?  Why did Jacob pitch his tent there at the gates of the City of Shalem?  Wonder why?  Maybe Rachel persuaded him, maybe his wife talked to him.  There he is, putting his tent before a heathen city, when God had called him to go up to Bethel.  Maybe his wife said, "We want to enter society.  We don’t like this life of a pilgrim and a nomad, we want to be in the finest society."  Maybe that’s why.

Maybe the children persuaded him.  "We don’t like the life of a pilgrim and a stranger, we want to be with the people of the land."  Maybe that’s why.  I don’t know why.  All I know is, I see this every day of my life.  God’s people living on the edge of the world, pitching their tents before the cities of the world right on the edge, right on the edge.  And whenever God’s people do that their children drift into Shalem.

They drift into the world, and all of these things that you read in God’s Word inevitably follow.  It followed in the household of Lot who pitched his tent before Sodom.  And it follows here in the household of Jacob who pitches his tent before the City of Shalem.  Those things always follow.

Whose fault was that, this terrible story?  Well, it was Dinah’s fault; yes, it was Dinah’s fault.  No, it was Shechem’s fault; yes, it was Shechem’s fault.  No, it was the fault of Simeon and Levi; yes, it was the fault of Simeon and Levi.  No, ultimately and finally, it was Jacob’s fault.  He cast the tent before the city like Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom.  And ultimately these dreadful things that happen are ultimately the parents’ fault.  Why live on the edge of the world?  Why flirt with the world like a moth around the flame like a fish nibbling at the bait?  Why?

God said to Jacob, "to Bethel, to Bethel, Jacob; to Bethel."  And he encamps in the world and pitches his tent before the City of Shalem.  And there, the dark story of cruelty, and sin, and iniquity; so dark you’d hardly read it in a mixed congregation.  Ah!  What things can happen to God’s people when they live on the edge of the world.  Pull away! Pull away!  Pull away.

Then you come to the thirty-fifth chapter.  And after that dark, dark experience, then Jacob hears the voice of God: Jacob, not there in the city that belongs to Shechem; not there, Jacob, but up here:

And God said unto Jacob Arise go up to Bethel.  

Make thee an altar unto God that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.

– now look at the second verse, [Jacob says] –

Put away the strange gods that are among you, be clean, change your garments:  And let us arise and go up to Bethel.

[Genesis 35:1-2]


So Jacob came to Bethel.  He and all the people that were with him and he built there an altar.

And God appeared unto Jacob again when he came out of

Padan-aram and blessed him.

And God said unto him Thy name is Jacob:  Thy name shall

not be called any more Jacob but Israel shall be thy name:  and

he called his name Israel.

And God said unto him I am God Almighty, a nation shall come

of thee.

And the land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac to thee I will give it

and to thy seed after thee.

God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.

And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him


[Genesis 35:9-15]


God said "Arise go up to Bethel, back to the place where the great vow was made, where I spake unto thee."  And then Jacob said "Everybody put away the strange gods that are among you.  Wash and be clean and let us arise and go up to Bethel."

Ah, couldn’t you speak on that for an hour?  "Put away the strange gods that are among you."  I tell you I don’t exaggerate when I say I believe I could fill this great auditorium with the filthy trash and literature that I could gather in the houses of God’s people.  Put it away!  There are magazines that don’t belong in the house of God.  There are pictures – don’t belong in the house of God!  There are books that don’t belong in the house of God.  Burn them up!  Put them away!  Be clean, let us go back up to Bethel.  Those things that some people have in their ice boxes and in their cellars, empty it out in the gutter! Let’s go back up to Bethel; burn the bridge behind you, a new dedication, a renewal of spirit.  Let us arise and go up to Bethel.  There where we first found the Lord, those first vows of love and consecration, let us renew them.  Put our heads on the same pillows of stone.  Look up into the face of the same Lord God.  Let’s go back to that place and that time in our highest spiritual experience when we vowed unto God the whole issue of our soul and destiny and life.

Out there at Truett Chapel was a pretty little cottage close by, hard by.  One of our men who was visiting went to the door and knocked.  They visited again and again, and nobody would ever come to the door.  But this time a young wife opened the door; she had a black eye where her husband had beat her up.  And my blessed visitor had an opportunity to talk to her for the first time.

Sitting down by her side she said, "You must pardon the way I look.  My husband, drunk, beat me up."  She showed him a beautiful home in which they once lived then a smaller home, then a smaller one, then a smaller one.  And now in that little place, hard by our chapel in West Dallas, and she said to my visitor, she said, "You cannot know, you cannot know the times I have sat here in this little house and cried and cried as I would hear you sing in the little church.  For," she said, "I was brought up in a Christian home.  I was brought up in the church.  And my heart goes back every time I hear you sing.  My heart goes back to those days when I served God and lived in the Christian life, and worshiped in the church."  How many does Satan lead away?  By hair’s breaths he woos us from the side of Christ.  And we drift and we go away, and away, and away.  And these great calls of God, "Come back to Bethel."

"Arise!  Arise!"  And our hearts answer, "We will arise and go back to Bethel, our first love the day of our conversion; that high experience when we dedicated our souls to God."  Lord help us as we turn our faces to that new day, and that new experience, and that new dedication that awaits us in the heights of Bethel, the house of God, the gate to heaven.

Now we sing one stanza of a hymn, and while we sing it, one stanza of hymn, while we sing it, somebody this morning to give his heart to the Lord, somebody to put his life in the church.  On the first note of the first stanza would you come and stand by me?  "Today I give my heart to the Lord.  Today we put our lives in the church."  Or, "Today I reconsecrate my life to Jesus," as the Spirit bids you come, make it now while we stand and sing.


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Genesis 35: 1-15



Genesis 33 – Dreaded meeting with Esau

1.    Variations in

2.    Fear of Esau

Not to Shechem but to Bethel

Call to return to Bethel