35 9 God was seen by Jacob again when he returned from Paddan-Aram. 10 God blessed him and said, “Jacob is your name, but Jacob will no longer be your name. Your name shall be Israel.” And God named him Israel. 11 God said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Bear fruit; multiply! A nation, even a host of nations, will come from you; kings will descend from your loins. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and to Isaac, to you I give it; and to your seed after you, I give this land.” 13 Then God went up from beside him, leaving him alone in the place where he spoke to him.
14 Jacob set up a pillar where God had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured an offering of wine on it and poured oil over it. 15 Jacob called the place where God spoke to him, Bethel.
It was to Paddan-Aram that Jacob was sent to take a wife. It was from Paddan-Aram that Jacob returned with two official wives and two quasi-official wives and came to Shechem. Having now fled from Shechem after his sons destroyed it, Jacob returns to his journey home from Paddan-Aram. The context now is Bethel writ large, El-Bethel.
Shechem, settling, was a trap for a sojourning people East of Eden. With no return past cherubim with flaming swords, there is only onward.
This time through Bethel, Jacob carries more than his family name. Peniel is carried along and, leaving Shechem, Jacob is officially vested with the name Israel that was first heard in the tumult of wrestling on the other side of the Jabbok.
In this formal change of names, we hear echoes of creation (be fruitful, multiply) and Abraham (kings from loins). Israel is not about past and present struggles, but the anticipation of a way yet ahead—What does it mean to be the realized form of a community of creators? There are more floods and slaughters and blessings and quests to come. Of betrayals and reconciliations, there is no end. Image betrays. G*D betrays. Growing together, falling apart, setting walls, breaking same—so it goes.
Though names change, the soil, the land (in seedtime and harvest, flood and fire, in season and out) remains. Conquest and exile, lost and found, are as mysterious out of their box as they were when only potential.
Another pillar is set up and anointed with an extra ritual of spilled wine.
Rather than making more of the name of the place, it returns from El-Bethel to simply Bethel. We return to potential, to the everyday quest—of resting upon promises—to “love these dreams of mine” [lyric from Judy Fjell].