Genesis 35:4
And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.
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(4) Earrings.—Earrings seem to have been worn not so much for ornament as for superstitious purposes, being regarded as talismans or amulets. Hence it was from their earrings that Aaron made the golden calf (Exodus 32:2-4).

The oak.—Not Abraham’s oak-grove (Genesis 12:6), referred to probably in Judges 9:6; Judges 9:37—the Hebrew word in these three places being êlôn—but that under which Joshua set up his pillar of witness (Joshua 24:26), the tree being in both these places called allâh, or êlâh, a terebinth.

Genesis 35:4. They gave unto Jacob all the strange gods — Rather, the gods of the stranger; and all their ear-rings — Either because they had been abused to idolatry and superstition, and were therefore to be destroyed, (Deuteronomy 7:57 and Deuteronomy 12:3,) or for fear they should be so abused.

For the Holy Scriptures insinuate, and other writers expressly affirm, that divers heathen nations did wear ear-rings for the honour of their idols, and with the representations or ensigns of their idols engraven upon them, such as the rings and vessels mentioned by Maimonides, marked with the image of the sun and moon. Jacob hid them under the oak — In a place only known to himself. It is probable they were first melted or broken.

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.

4. they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods … and earrings—Strange gods, the "seraphim" (compare Ge 31:30), as well, perhaps, as other idols acquired among the Shechemite spoil—earrings of various forms, sizes, and materials, which are universally worn in the East, and, then as now, connected with incantation and idolatry (compare Ho 2:13). The decided tone which Jacob now assumed was the probable cause of the alacrity with which those favorite objects of superstition were surrendered.

Jacob hid them under the oak—or terebinth—a towering tree, which, like all others of the kind, was a striking object in the scenery of Palestine; and beneath which, at Shechem, the patriarch had pitched his tent. He hid the images and amulets, delivered to him by his Mesopotamian dependents, at the root of this tree. The oak being deemed a consecrated tree, to bury them at its root was to deposit them in a place where no bold hand would venture to disturb the ground; and hence it was called from this circumstance—"the plain of Meonenim"—that is, "the oak of enchantments" (Jud 9:37); and from the great stone which Joshua set up—"the oak of the pillar" (Jud 9:6).

Either because they had been abused to idolatry and superstition at Shechem, or elsewhere, and therefore were to be destroyed according to God’s command, now signified to Jacob, and afterwards delivered to his posterity, Deu 7:5 12:3; or for fear they should be so abused. For the Scripture seems to insinuate, and other writers expressly affirm, that divers heathen people did wear earrings for the honour of their idols, and with the representations or ensigns of their idols engraven upon them. See Judges 8:24. After he had melted or broken them, (which seems probable from parallel instances, as Exodus 32:20 2 Kings 18:4),

Jacob hid them under a certain oak, though not known to his family which it was. He chose that place, either as most proper to put monuments of idolatry under those trees which were so much and so generally abused to idolatry, as oaks especially were, Isaiah 1:29; or as the safest place, where they were likely to remain longest hid, because the heathen had a veneration for oaks, and therefore would not cut them down, nor dig them up, nor do any thing which had a tendency that way.

They gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands,.... Whether in the hands of his servants or of the captives taken at Shechem, or in the hands of his sons, who had them along with the spoil they took there; so the Targum of Jonathan,"they delivered, into the hand of Jacob all the idols of the people which were in their hands, which they had took of the idols of Shechem:"

and all their earrings which were in their ears; not the earrings that women wore in common, such as Abraham's servant gave to Rebekah, and which Jacob's wives might wear, for such were not unlawful; but either which were worn in the ears of the strange gods or idols; for such used, it seems, according to some writers, to be decorated and ornamented after that manner; or rather in the ears of the idolaters themselves, worn by them in a superstitious way, having the images of these idols on them: so the Targum of Jonathan,"and the earrings which were in the ears of the inhabitants of the city of Shechem, in which were formed the likeness of their idols:"

and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem; that is, the idols, which, after he had broke to pieces, perhaps, he dug a hole under an oak, and there buried them, that they might be no more made use of in an idolatrous way; and he chose to put them under an oak, because it is a tree which often stands many years before it is cut down, and besides was used for religious purposes, and had in great veneration, and therefore seldom felled. Those idols seem not to be made of anything valuable, perhaps of wood or stone, for had they been of gold or silver, Jacob would doubtless have melted them, and converted them to other uses, and not have buried them under ground. The Jews (t) say, that the idol Jacob hid under the oak was in the form of a dove, which the Samaritans after some time found, and set it on the top of Mount Gerizim. Some take this oak to be the same with that mentioned in Joshua 24:26; but of that there can be no certainty, since Jacob, as it is highly probable, laid these images alone, and never intended any should know anything of them where they were.

(t) Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 3. 2.

And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their {c} earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.

(e) For in this was some sign of superstition, as in tablets and Agnus deis (a cake of wax, stamped with a lamb bearing a cross or flag, that has been blessed by the Pope).

4. in their hand] i.e. in their possession.

the rings … ears] The rings mentioned were probably not simple earrings as in Genesis 24:22, but rings worn as charms, and amulets, having symbols of heathen deities. Cf. Hosea 2:13.

the oak] R.V. marg. terebinth. It is noteworthy that Joshua, under the same “oak” of Shechem (Joshua 24:26), testified against the primitive worship of strange gods; cf. Joshua 24:2; Joshua 24:14; Joshua 24:23. For the “terebinth,” cf. Genesis 12:6. The same sacred tree is possibly mentioned in Jdg 9:6.

Verse 4. - And they gave mate Jacob all the strange gods - Rosenmüller thinks these must have been many, since the historian would not otherwise have used the term כֹּל - which were in their hand (i.e. which they possessed), and all their earrings which were in their ears; - i.e. those employed for purposes of idolatrous worship, which were often covered with allegorical figures and mysterious sentences, and supposed to be endowed with a talismanic virtue (Judges 8:21; Isaiah 3:20; Hosea 2:13) - and Jacob hid them - having probably first destroyed them, since they do not appear to have been ever after sought for or resumed by the parties who gave them up (Hughes) - under the oak which was by Shechem. Whether the oak, or terebinth, under which Abraham once pitched his tent (Genesis 12:6), that beneath whose shade Joshua afterwards erected his memorial pillar (Joshua 24:26), the oak of the sorcerers (Judges 9:37), and the oak of the pillar at Shechem (Judges 9:6) were all the tree under which Jacob buried the images and earrings cannot with certainty be determined, though the probability is that they were. Genesis 35:4Journey 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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