There’s a deep connection between Genesis 35:9-11 and Matthew 11:20-24. In Genesis we read:
“God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body.”
What was it that prompted God to bless Jacob in this manner? Why was it important?
The blessing and favor of God followed the incident at Shechem in which Jacob’s sons took revenge on the Hivites for the defiling of their sister Dinah. Following that, God instructed Jacob to go south from Shechem “up” (into hill country) to Bethel. In his obedience to God, Jacob told those in his household to rid themselves of any of their foreign gods, i.e. the idols that they retained from their homeland. Recall that Rachel had brought Laban’s household gods with her when they’d left (Genesis 31:19). Others in Jacob’s caravan likely had many more. Everyone did as Jacob commanded, and he left them near Shechem buried under a tree. Following that act, Yahweh appeared to him and blessed him mightily.
What was the reason?
When Jacob left the idols of the other gods behind, that was both a symbolic act and a declaration. In doing this, Jacob turned completely to Yahweh as his God. In allowing these idols to remain in his presence and with his retinue, Jacob was effectively telling God that he wasn’t sure that He was the only One worthy of being worshiped. He was straddling the fence. He was double-minded. However, that had now changed.
Yahweh was now Jacob’s God – Him alone – and He knew Jacob’s heart in the matter. Jacob had given his believing loyalty completely to God Most High. That enabled Him to bestow this great blessing of fruitfulness upon him.
How does that connect with the passage in Matthew?
“Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.””
Jesus had been going through these cities in Israel proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. In these cities He had done miracles, signs, and wonders that only God could do. His ability to perform these acts was painfully obvious to anyone with “an eye to see , and an ear to hear.” But not to the inhabitants of these cities.
Perhaps it was the religious spirit of the Pharisees that infested them. Perhaps that hardened their hearts. Perhaps they effectively had an antichrist spirit that kept them worshiping gods of their own imaginations. Whatever it was, it was deep and pervasive. Despite what Jesus did, the people of those cities did not respond to Him. Their believing loyalty remained far from Yahweh, and it earned His wrath.
Consider what Jesus said in His “woe” upon them. The anti-God cities of Tyre and Sidon would fare better in the Judgment had they heard His message; the abominable city of Sodom, known for its immorality and wickedness, would would have responded better that Chorizin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. The fate of Sodom was more favorable than these cities in Israel!
The parallel is the heart condition. By turning wholly to Yahweh, Jacob demonstrated himself a man of God. By rejecting Jesus, these cities proved their apostasy to the God of Israel.
God seeks a people who will follow Him obediently. He wants those who love Him and will put aside every other god in their lives. God wants His throne to be in the center of all we do and for us to bring every aspect of our lives before Him, and none other.
Is your believing loyalty to Christ and Him alone? God warns us repeatedly in His Word that this is what He expects. Don’t live as an inhabitant of Chorizin, Bethsaida, or Capernaum. Doing so may bring great woe upon you. Alternatively, when you follow Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), God will bless you mightily.