Returning to God
For more details on Genesis 34 you can read my post When God is Absent.
After a chapter of tragedy and no mention of God a major shift takes place. God takes the initiative and peaks to Jacob.
Hearing God causes Jacob to initiate some changes within his household.
And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.
Genesis 35:2 NKJV
Put away the foreign gods.
What we know: There were foreign gods among those in Jacob’s household.
What we don’t know: How those gods got there.
Why put away the foreign gods?
Because it was God, the God of Abraham and Isaac, who appeared to Jacob when he fled from the face of Esau his brother. Jacob wants to to obey God’s call to go to Bethel and make an altar to God, the true God who answered him in the day of his distress and has been with him in the way which he has gone.
Why would they hold on to gods who had done nothing for them? This behavior seemed silly to me at first glance, but the more I thought about it, the more I realize it might not be so different from some of our behavior in modern days. Don’t we sometimes hold on to destructive habits that only hurt us? Don’t we have things in our lives that don’t help us grow spiritually but rather often come between us and God? Are there things in our lives that, if removed, would allow us to connect more deeply with our God?
Also Jacob apparently was aware that his God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 43:14; Deuteronomy 4:23-24). Even though its hundreds of years before Moses receives the 10 commandments (Exodus 20) Jacob seems very aware of the character of God and His will. This suggests that the 10 commandments were not anything new but rather only an official statement of what had been true from the very beginning.
Physical cleaning and washing. (Exodus 19:10, 14; 29:4-9; Leviticus 8:6-13; 13:6)
The reason for this is unclear. There are clear benefits for being clean and there could also be moral parallels that would serve as a way of teaching the people about the character of God. There are also several examples of the people being called to wash themselves related to religious activities as well as detailed prescriptions to how the priests should be washed with water before putting on their priestly garments. (references mentioned in hyperlinks above)
Change your garments.
So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.
Genesis 35:4 NKJV
Interestingly, they do not simply break or destroy the idols. The idols and earrings could be melted and made into something else allowing them to keep the valuable metals and precious jewels that likely adorned the idols. There are other references to jewelry and specifically earrings being taken from plunder and/or dedicated to the LORD or becoming a snare for God’s people. (Exodus 32:2-4 Golden calf; Numbers 31:50 Dedicated to God; Judges 8:24-27 Gideon’s ephod; Deuteronomy 7:25 Don’t be tempted by the gold)
By burying all the gods and earrings at Shechem Jacob and his household were putting their past behind them and moving forward in faith to what God called them to do. They were leaving behind significant wealth that had been gained immorally and were moving forward trusting that the same God who had always been there for their father and their forefathers would continue to provide for all their needs. The wealth of the children of Israel was not to come from the immoral and vengeful murder and plunder of those around them. (For a whole post related to Israelite warfare check out my post about God’s command to Utterly Destroy)
And indeed God protected Jacob and his family by causing all his enemies to be terrified (Exodus 15:16; 23:27; Deuteronomy 2:25; 11:25; Joshua 2:9; 1 Samuel 14:15).
I just want to take a brief moment to recognize the importance of Deborah. It is worthwhile to notice that the memory of her life of faithful service and of the mourning over her death has been accounted worthy to be preserved in the word of God. Some might think she was just a handmaid, but her death has been recorded int he word of God. Her love and dedication did not go unnoticed.
Jacob arrives and, obeying God, he builds and altar. Just like he did at other times, like his father Isaac (Genesis 26:25) did and like Abraham did (Genesis 12:7-8; 13:18). And God appears to him and renews His promises, the same promises made to Abraham, and Isaac (Genesis 35:11 cf. 12:2-3; 17:6; 35:12; cf. 12:7; 26:3).
Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” So He called his name Israel. 11 Also God said to him: “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. 12 The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land.” 13 Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him. 14 So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. 15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel.
Genesis 35:9-15 NKJV (Bold mine)
Jacob must have experienced an emotional roller-coaster. Rachel, his favorite wife was pregnant again! Benjamin would be the only son of Jacob to be born in the land of Canaan. The fact that he was born in Canaan is a testimony to God keeping His promises to Jacob. Sadly, Rachel died due to labor complications. She was buried south of what would become Jerusalem and north of what would become Bethlehem. The fact that Rachel was buried in the promised land also shows God’s fulfillment of His promise. Indeed that land would belong to the children of Jacob, the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior would walk on that land, healing and teaching. Jesus would eventually die and rise again not too far from there. Right now Jacob probably feels a mix of pain and joy, a confusion of emotions. Jacob probably had many questions for God. I doubt Jacob would be able to understand that Jesus would bring salvation to all of humanity and how he would be born of his sons. The Messiah would be his descendant, but also the Son of God. Even in the midst of what must have been a terribly painful event for Jacob, the mention of the location points forward to the salvation of the planet. I take this to be a reminder that even in the pain God is still in control. We may hurt and the reasons may be unclear, but we can trust that God is in control and that He is able to bring some good out of if.
But for now, Jacob was probably feeling far away from God, confused as to why his wife had died. He not Jacob obeyed God? Had not Jacob built God an altar? Where was God now? Didn’t God care? It is difficult to understand and to believe that God loves us when He does not behave the way we expect Him to, and especially when we are in pain.
But things will get worse…
Because of Ruben’s incest he lost his birthright and Joseph received a double blessing (Genesis 48:5-20; 1 Chronicles 5:1-2;). That is why Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh are considered sons of Jacob.
Jacob is finally reunited with Isaac, his father. This completes God’s promise to bring Jacob back to his father’s house (Genesis 28:15,21).
At the death of the patriarch Isaac, Jacob takes his father’s role in the promised land (Genesis 37:1). Everything is going according to the blessings and promises God made to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. With this transition complete, the future stretches forward, though we can already see the dark clouds foreshadowing a coming storm.