Genesis 35:2 MEANING

Genesis 35:2
(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.

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).

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.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.

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