I’m pretty much a Jill-of-all-trades. I’ll have a fair go at most things, and there aren’t many things I won’t try. There is however, one thing that try as I might, I cannot do. Find my way to new places. I have absolutely no sense of direction. Even on foot, in a shopping precinct, I can get embarrassingly lost. My family think it is hilarious that sometimes I sit in the car on our front drive, and have to really think hard about which way I am going to set off. And it’s not for the want of trying! Thankfully I can map read, so as long as I know where I am to begin with, I can work it out logically. Before the days of the wonderful sat-nav, I used to study the map, and commit it totally to memory so I could find my way by map reading in my head. And one trick I used over and over again. When you get stuck, retrace your steps to the last place you knew you were right, and try again from there.
That’s exactly what Jacob had to do next, in Genesis 35:1-3. He had gone hopelessly wrong. God had told him to go back to his father’s land, but he had waylaid to Shechem. Disaster had befallen the family there when his daughter Dinah had been defiled by a local lad. And disaster was heaped upon disaster when two of her brothers, Simeon and Levi took it upon themselves to exact their terrible revenge. There was only one thing for it. Jacob had to go back to a place he had it really right – back to Bethel. The place where God had assured him of his never-failing presence; the place where God had reiterated his promise that all peoples on earth would be blessed through Jacob and his offspring’; the place where Jacob had proclaimed that ‘the Lord will be my God’.
When was the last time I had a real encounter with God, when he made fresh promises to me, and I to him? That’s what I need to cling to when I get out of step with God. I need to remind myself over and over again of how close he was, what he said to me, and how I responded. When things go wrong, that is the place to return to. I know he’ll still be there, waiting. ‘Repentance’ means turning back. And that’s where I can reconnect with him, and start over again.