Genesis 35:1 - "Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God ..."

Then God said to Jacob, "Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau."(Genesis 35:1)

Why is God sending Jacob to Bethel?

Bethel is the place where Jacob fell asleep and God appeared to him in a dream. Then he put up a pillar to God and poured oil on it.

Now God is sending Jacob back to Bethel, where he was supposed to build an altar to God.

God came to Jacob's side during that struggle - a stressful time, as he was in fear of Esau and afraid of not only losing his life, but also his wife and children to Esau. This is why Jacob had told his family members and followers to leave him alone - so they would not get hurt.

Now we can see that God not only protected Jacob, but that Jacob's struggle resulted in God's appearance, and Jacob's committing himself to the Supreme Being. The result of Jacob's commitment is being detailed in this verse. The Supreme Being is telling Jacob how Jacob can serve Him and thereby please Him.

This is called a relationship. When a person commits themselves to someone, and then that person asks the person to do something for them - some service - this indicates a type of relationship.

What type of relationship is that?

It is a relationship of devotion.

Just imagine if we were to walk up to a stranger and tell them - "go build me a house." What would they say? They would say "who are you and why are asking me to do this for you? I don't even know you!"

But if we had a relationship with the person - say they were our son - a house-builder - then it would make sense. The son would say, "sure, I will do that for you." This is because there is a relationship existing between the father and the son - a relationship where the son is devoted to the father.

This is the case of God asking Jacob to build Him an altar - a temple. God is giving Jacob instructions because Jacob has committed himself to God. He had become devoted to God. This is what the "wrestling match" was all about. Jacob was struggling with giving his life to God. Then he ended up giving his life to God and God appeared to Jacob. Thus a relationship was established between Jacob and God.

Such a sublime devotional relationship with God is the primary purpose of the scriptures. The Old Testament is not about the promised land or a chosen race. It is about certain people who had established personal relationships with the Supreme Being.

And what are these personal relationships about? They are about devotion - love.

Love is connected to devotion. When a person loves another, they want to please that person. This is what devotion is based upon.

Here in this world, we will often say that a man is a devoted husband or devoted family man. What is causing that devotion? A form of love for their family or wife. They have become devoted because of this type of familial love.

These family relationships only give us a glimpse of the devotional relationships that exist between the Supreme Being and His loving servants like Jacob. Beneath the surface of ecclesiastical translations that sound like family narratives reveal deep relationships of love and devotion between the Supreme Being and certain individuals.

Over and over we see these same types of devotional relationships in the Old Testament. We saw it between God and Abraham. Between God and Noah. Between God and Isaac. We will see it between God and Moses, and now we see this relationship between Jacob and God.

Why is building an altar so important?

Building an altar for God - as requested of Jacob - is the highest honor a person can receive. And someone who puts forth service as requested by the Supreme Being or one of His representatives is most certainly serving God. This is the purest activity a person can have.

What can we learn from this? We learn first that God is a person. God is someone we can commit ourselves to, and serve. Someone we can rely upon.  God will also protect us. He will take care of us and will be there for us.

Furthermore, we can learn that we can place our love and devotion upon God. We can devote our lives to pleasing Him. Instead of chasing the illusory concepts of enjoyment around within the physical world - which never result in happiness - we can put that effort into re-establishing our innate loving and devotional relationship with the Supreme Being.