Genesis 35:2
Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:
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(2) Strange gods.—Besides Rachel’s teraphim, many, probably, of the persons acquired by Jacob at Haran were idolaters, and had brought their gods with them. Besides these, the numerous men and women who formed the”tafs” of the Shechemites were certainly worshippers of false deities. The object, then, of this reformation was not merely to raise Jacob’s own family to a higher spiritual state, but also to initiate the many heathen belonging to their households into the true religion. Outward rites of purification and changes of garment were to accompany the religious teaching given, because of their symbolical value; and we can well believe that much deep and earnest religious feeling would be evoked by the solemnities which accompanied this drawing near of the whole tribe to God. This reformation is also interesting as being the first of a long series of such acts constantly recurring in the history of Israel; and especially it is parallel to the sanctification of the people at Sinai. There, also, there was the initiation not merely of the lineal Israel, but also of the mixed multitude, into the true religion—for Jacob’s family had then grown into a nation; and there, also, symbolical washings were enjoined (Exodus 19:10-14). These subsequently were still practised under the Law, and grew into the baptism by which we are now admitted into the Church of Christ.

Genesis 35:2. Put away the strange gods that are among you — This is evidently a mistranslation; the Hebrew אלהי הנכר means, not the strange gods that are among you, but the gods of the stranger that is among you, alluding probably to the captive Shechemite women, who now made a part of his household, or to other Gentiles who had joined themselves to his family, and who might secretly worship idols. Thus, like a good man, and a good master of a family, he takes care not only for himself, but for all his family, to keep them from the exercise of a false religion, and to engage them, as far as he could, in the profession and practice of the true. And be clean — Cleanse yourselves by outward and ritual washing, (compare Exodus 19:10-14,) which even then was in use, and was considered as an emblem of cleansing the soul, by repentance, from all those impure lusts and vile affections, whereby a man becomes polluted in the sight of God. This, no doubt, Jacob had chiefly in view; namely, that they should cleanse their hands from blood, and from their late detestable cruelty, and purify their hearts from those evil dispositions which had given birth to such abominable wickedness, that they might be fit to approach God in his worship. And change your garments — In token of your changing your minds and manners.

35:1-5 Beth-el was forgotten. But as many as God loves, he will remind of neglected duties, one way or other, by conscience or by providences. When we have vowed a vow to God, it is best not to defer the payment of it; yet better late than never. Jacob commanded his household to prepare, not only for the journey and removal, but for religious services. Masters of families should use their authority to keep up religion in their families, Jos 24:15. They must put away strange gods. In families where there is a face of religion, and an altar to God, yet many times there is much amiss, and more strange gods than one would suppose. They must be clean, and change their garments. These were but outward ceremonies, signifying the purifying and change of the heart. What are clean clothes, and new clothes, without a clean heart, and a new heart? If Jacob had called for these idols sooner, they had parted with them sooner. Sometimes attempts for reformation succeed better than we could have thought. Jacob buried their images. We must be wholly separated from our sins, as we are from those that are dead and buried out of sight. He removed from Shechem to Beth-el. Though the Canaanites were very angry against the sons of Jacob for their barbarous usage of the Shechemites, yet they were so kept back by Divine power, that they could not take the opportunity now offered to avenge them. The way of duty is the way of safety. When we are about God's work, we are under special protection; God is with us, while we are with him; and if He be for us, who can be against us? God governs the world more by secret terrors on men's minds than we are aware of.Jacob returns to Bethel. "And God said unto Jacob." He receives the direction from God. He had now been six years lingering in Sukkoth and Sleekem. There may have been some contact between him and his father's house during this interval. The presence of Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, in his family, is a plain intimation of this. But Jacob seems to have turned aside to Shekem, either to visit the spot where Abraham first erected an altar to the Lord, or to seek pasture for his numerous flocks. "Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there." In his perplexity and terror the Lord comes to his aid. He reminds him of his former appearance to him at that place, and directs him to erect an altar there. This was Abraham's second resting-place in the land. He who had there appeared to Jacob as the Yahweh, the God of Abraham and Isaac, is now described as (house of El), the Mighty One, probably in allusion to Bethel (house of El), which contains this name, and was at that time applied by Jacob himself to the place. "His house;" his wives and children. "All that were with him;" his men-servants and maid-servants.

The strange gods, belonging to the stranger or the strange land. These include the teraphim, which Rachel had secreted, and the rings which were worn as amulets or charms. Be clean; cleanse the body, in token of the cleaning of your souls. Change your garments; put on your best attire, befitting the holy occasion. The God, in contradistinction to the strange gods already mentioned. Hid them; buried them. "The oak which was by Shekem." This may have been the oak of Moreh, under which Abraham pitched his tent Genesis 12:6. The terror of God; a dread awakened in their breast by some indication of the divine presence being with Jacob. The patriarch seems to have retained possession of the land he had purchased and gained by conquest, in this place. His flocks are found there very shortly after this time Genesis 37:12, he alludes to it, and disposes of it in his interview with Joseph and his sons Genesis 48:22, and his well is there to this day.

"Luz, which is in the land of Kenaan." This seems at first sight to intimate that there was a Luz elsewhere, and to have been added by the revising prophet to determine the place here intended. Luz means an almond tree, and may have designated many a place. But the reader of Genesis could have needed no such intimation, as Jacob is clearly in the land of Kenaan, going from Shekem to Hebron. It seems rather to call attention again Genesis 33:18 to the fact that Jacob has returned from Padan-aram to the land of promise. The name Luz still recurs, as the almond tree may still be flourishing. "And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el." Thus has Jacob obeyed the command of God, and begun the payment of the vow he made twenty-six years before at this place Genesis 38:20-22. "There God revealed himself unto him." The verb here נגלוּ nı̂glû is plural in the Masoretic Hebrew, and so it was in the copy of Onkelos. The Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint have the singular. The reading is therefore, various. The original was probably singular, and may have been so even with its present letters. If not, this is one of the few instances in which Elohim is construed grammatically with a plural verb. Deborah dies in the family in which she began life. She is buried under "the well-known oak" at Bethel. Jacob drops a natural tear of sorrow over the grave of this faithful servant, and hence, the oak is called the oak of weeping. It is probable that Rebekah was already dead, since otherwise we should not expect to find Deborah transferred to Jacob's household. She may not have lived to see her favorite son on his return.

2. Then Jacob said unto his household … Put away the strange gods that are among you—Hebrew, "gods of the stranger," of foreign nations. Jacob had brought, in his service, a number of Mesopotamian retainers, who were addicted to superstitious practices; and there is some reason to fear that the same high testimony as to the religious superintendence of his household could not have been borne of him as was done of Abraham (Ge 18:19). He might have been too negligent hitherto in winking at these evils in his servants; or, perhaps, it was not till his arrival in Canaan, that he had learnt, for the first time, that one nearer and dearer to him was secretly infected with the same corruption (Ge 31:34). Be that as it may, he resolved on an immediate and thorough reformation of his household; and in commanding them to put away the strange gods, he added,

be clean, and change your garments—as if some defilement, from contact with idolatry, should still remain about them. In the law of Moses, many ceremonial purifications were ordained and observed by persons who had contracted certain defilements, and without the observance of which, they were reckoned unclean and unfit to join in the social worship of God. These bodily purifications were purely figurative; and as sacrifices were offered before the law, so also were external purifications, as appears from the words of Jacob; hence it would seem that types and symbols were used from the fall of man, representing and teaching the two great doctrines of revealed truth—namely, the atonement of Christ and the sanctification of our nature.

The strange gods, the idols, which are so called here, and Deu 31:16 32:12 Joshua 24:20, because they were the gods of strange and foreign nations, such as all were accounted who were not Israelites.

Quest. How came these to be and to continue so long in Jacob’s house.

Answ. Either,

1. By Rachel’s means, who brought them from her father’s house, which haply was not discovered till this time. Or,

2. By Leah, and by Jacob’s two concubines, who might possibly bring such with them. Or,

3. By the means of Jacob’s Gentile servants, who might secretly worship such gods; or having taken them from the She-chemites, they might keep them for their precious matter, as gold and silver, though not for religious use. Like a good man, and a good master of a family, he takes care not only for himself, but for all his family, to keep them from the exercise of a false religion, and to engage them as far as he can in the profession and practice of the true. Compare Genesis 18:19 Joshua 24:15.

Be clean; cleanse yourselves by outward and ritual washing, as Exodus 19:10,14, which even then was in use; and especially by purging your hearts as well as hands from these idols, which I perceive, to my sorrow, some of you have still retained; and from your late detestable cruelty; that you may be fit to approach to that God who hath now summoned me and you to make a solemn appearance before him.

Change your garments, either by putting on new garments, as 2 Samuel 12:20, or by washing the old ones, as Exodus 19:10 Leviticus 15:13. And these, as well as other ceremonial institutions and practices, were professions of their repentance; which consists in putting off the old man, and putting on the new, Ephesians 4:22.

Then Jacob said unto his household,.... His wives and children:

and to all that were with him; his menservants and maidservants, and such as remained with him of the captives of Shechem, who might choose to continue with him:

put away the strange gods that are among you; meaning not the teraphim or images of Laban's, which Rachel had stolen from him; for it can hardly be thought that these should be retained so many years in Jacob's family, and used in an idolatrous manner; but rather such as might be among the Canaanitish servants that had been lately taken into Jacob's service, or that were among the captives of Shechem, or taken along with the spoil of that city; and so the Targum of Jonathan calls them the idols of the people, which they brought from the idols' temple at Shechem; and the words may be rendered, "the gods of the strangers" (s), that is, of the Shechemites, who were Heathens and aliens, strangers to the true God, the knowledge and worship of him:

and be clean; either by abstaining from their wives, as some interpret it, from Exodus 19:10; or rather by washing their bodies, as Aben Ezra gives the sense of it; their hands were full of the blood of the Shechemites, and needed to be washed and purified, as the Targum of Jonathan has it, from the pollutions of the slain, before they went to Bethel, the house of God; and these outward ablutions and purifications were significative of inward cleansing by the grace of God, and of outward reformation of life and manners; see Isaiah 1:15,

and change your garments: which might be stained with blood, and therefore not fit to appear in before God, or were old and worn out, or sordid apparel: changing and washing of garments were also emblems of renewing of the mind, and cleansing of the soul, and of the change of heart and life, as well as of pleasure, delight, and cheerfulness in appearing before God.

(s) "deos alenigenarum", Pagninus; "alienigenae", Montanus, Schmidt; "alieni populi", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.

Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be {b} clean, and change your garments:

(b) That by this outward act they should show their inward repentance.

2. strange gods] The images of the gods of foreigners, i.e. of another family, tribe, or nation. Rachel had carried away, from Haran, the household gods of her father’s family. Cf. Genesis 31:19; Genesis 31:30; Genesis 31:32-35. The presence of the gods of the foreigner was displeasing in the sight of the God of Israel. Cf. Joshua 24:23, “Now therefore put away the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord, the God of Israel”; words which were also spoken at Shechem.

purify yourselves] Cf. Exodus 19:10; Leviticus 15:5. Purification was effected by ceremonial washings.

Verses 2, 3. - Then Jacob said unto his household (i.e. those more immediately belonging to his family), and to all that were with him (referring probably to the captured Shechemites), Put away the strange gods - literally, the gods of the stranger, including most likely the teraphim of Laban, which Rachel still retained, and other objects of idolatrous worship, either brought by Jacob's servants from Mesopotamia, or adopted in Canaan, or perhaps possessed by the captives - that are among you, and be clean, - literally, cleanse yourselves. The word is that which afterwards describes the purifications of the law (Numbers 19:11, 12; Leviticus 14:4; Leviticus 15:13). Aben Ezra interprets it as meaning that they washed their bodies; and Michaelis views the rite as a kind of baptism, signifying their adoption of the true religion of Jehovah - a quasi baptism of repentance, like that afterwards preached by John (vide 'Suppl.,' p. 1000) - and change your garments. The directions here given are very similar to those which were subsequently issued at Sinai (Exodus 19:10), and were meant to symbolize a moral and spiritual purification of the mind and heart. And let us arise, and go to Bethel. "This is obviously not the first time Jacob acquainted his family with the vision at Bethel (Inglis). And I will make there an altar unto God, - El is probably employed because of its proximity to and connection with Bethel, or house of El, and the intended contrast between the El of Bethel and the strange Elohim which Jacob's household were commanded to put away (cf. Quarry, p. 512) - who answered me in the day of my distress, - this seems to imply that Jacob prayed at Bethel before he slept, if it does not refer to his supplication before meeting, Esau (Genesis 32:9) - and was with me in the way which I went. This language clearly looks back to Bethel (vide Genesis 28:20). Genesis 35:2Journey to Bethel. - Jacob had allowed ten years to pass since his return from Mesopotamia, without performing the vow which he made at Bethel when fleeing from Esau (Genesis 28:20.), although he had recalled it to mind when resolving to return (Genesis 31:13), and had also erected an altar in Shechem to the "God of Israel" (Genesis 33:20). He was now directed by God (Genesis 35:1) to go to Bethel, and there build an altar to the God who had appeared to him on his flight from Esau. This command stirred him up to perform what had been neglected, viz., to put away from his house the strange gods, which he had tolerated in weak consideration for his wives, and which had no doubt occasioned the long neglect, and to pay to God the vow that he had made in the day of his trouble. He therefore commanded his house (Genesis 35:2, Genesis 35:3), i.e., his wives and children, and "all that were with him," i.e., his men and maid-servants, to put away the strange gods, to purify themselves, and wash their clothes. He also buried "all the strange gods," i.e., Rachel's teraphim (Genesis 31:19), and whatever other idols there were, with the earrings which were worn as amulets and charms, "under the terebinth at Shechem," probably the very tree under which Abraham once pitched his tent (Genesis 12:6), and which was regarded as a sacred place in Joshua's time (vid., Joshua 24:26, though the pointing is אלּה there). The burial of the idols was followed by purification through the washing of the body, as a sign of the purification of the heart from the defilement of idolatry, and by the putting on of clean and festal clothes, as a symbol of the sanctification and elevation of the heart to the Lord (Joshua 24:23). This decided turning to the Lord was immediately followed by the blessing of God. When they left Shechem a "terror of God," i.e., a supernatural terror, "came upon the cities round about," so that they did not venture to pursue the sons of Jacob on account of the cruelty of Simeon and Levi (Genesis 35:5). Having safely arrived in Bethel, Jacob built an altar, which he called El Bethel (God of Bethel) in remembrance of the manifestation of God on His flight from Esau.
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