A Daily Genesis

Genesis 35:1-5

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[B][COLOR=#ff0000]†.[/COLOR] Gen 35:1 . . God said to Jacob: Arise, go up to Bethel and remain there; and build an altar there to the god who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.[/B]

That is some very strange language. Why didn't God say "build an altar to Me; who appeared to you when, etc". On the surface, it appears that God is speaking of a god other than Himself. But according to Gen 35:2, Jacob's family had a number of gods in their possession and I think God just wanted to make sure Jacob understood that He wanted no truck with them. For example:

"You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, Yhvh your god, am a jealous god, (Ex 20:3-5)

[B][COLOR=#ff0000]†.[/COLOR] Gen 35:2 . . So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him: Rid yourselves of the alien gods in your midst, purify yourselves, and change your clothes.[/B]

This is embarrassing. To top off the shame of recent events-- Dinah's tryst, the murders, and the subsequent looting in town-- now it turns out that the one family on earth who was supposed to be a witness to the one True God., and all that He stands for, had other gods in their midst! They were also wearing clothing taken from the dead in town, clothing that more than likely honored the religions-- and thus the morals-- of the Canaanite gods! No doubt the alien gods themselves were booty too, collected from Shechem's town after the massacre.

Precisely what Jacob meant for his household, and all who were with him, to do in order be "purified" is not said. Bathing in water was the usual means of purification in the Old Testament; and often done in preparation to meet with God; but it's more likely that he simply regarded the alien gods and the stolen booty as ill gotten gain; ergo: contamination.

[B][COLOR=#ff0000]†.[/COLOR] Gen 35:3 . . Come, let us go up to Bethel, and I will build an altar there to the God who answered me when I was in distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.[/B]

Jacob thus made a distinction between the mute gods of the Canaanites, and the vocal god of Israel. Jacob's god had been extremely active and useful in his life; whereas the Canaanite gods were only inanimate pieces of superstitious statuary, like voodoo dolls.

The altar would serve a couple of important purposes, but the one that would really count in this case is its capacity as an official place of confession and absolution of sins. The people of God, whether Jew or Christian, have never been sinless. But sinless-ness is not an indicator that certifies whether or not someone is in God's family. Confession and absolution are far better indicators, e.g. Ps 32:5-7.

The advantage of being in the family of Israel's God is the latitude His own have for being themselves. Jacob's household sinned big time, yes, but their sins will effect neither their divine purpose, nor their eternal destiny.
†.[/COLOR] Gen 35:4 . .They gave to Jacob all the alien gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth that was near Shechem.[/B]

According to Webster's, a terebinth is a small European tree (Pistacia terebinthus) of the cashew family yielding turpentine. The Hebrew word for "terebinth" is [I]'elah[/I] (ay-law') which just means an oak or other strong tree.

The religious items Jacob collected, were not only in the possession of his kin, but also in the possession of "all who were with him" (Gen 35:2) which would have included servants, his slaves; and the recent captives. Some of the items would have come from looting the town of Shechem, but many would have been acquired in the area up and around Laban's vicinity in Mesopotamia; which is where Jacob acquired the bulk of his labor force (Gen 30:43). Jacob lived for many years in close proximity to religions centered upon gods other than Israel's God, and the influence of those religions had a heavy impact upon the most holy community existing on the entire planet at that time.

Exactly why Jacob chose to bury those items under a terebinth, instead of just burying them in a hole out in pasture, is not said. He could have incinerated them too, but, for some undisclosed reason, didn't. Some have tried to find symbolism in that, but his decision may have been motivated by something as simple as a hot day, and Jacob would rather work in the shade than out in the open.

[B][COLOR=#ff0000]†.[/COLOR] Gen 35:5 . . As they set out, a terror from God fell on the cities round about, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob.[/B]

The patriarchs had some very interesting advantages. Even when they deserved to die, or at least assaulted and battered, the Bible's God was often on hand to prevent it. Think about it though. If you knew that a small force of Jews were able to overpower a whole town, would you want to lock horns with them? I don't think so. Jacob's boys no doubt had a reputation in those parts now, and made their neighbors nervous.

People were very superstitious in those days and often gave the credit for military victories to their own personal gods; or to the gods of their conquerors, if that's the way things went in battle. So that the god of the people of Israel now became the one to be feared in those parts.

However, it's far better-- if at all possible --for the people of God to give a testimony to the love of God rather than to the terror of God. But because of the patriarchs' recent violent behavior, the love of God was far from the minds of the people in Jacob's vicinity. They saw the people of Israel and their god as a serious threat to the safety and well being of their communities rather than seeing Israel's God as a potential source of blessing and providence.

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