The sons of Jacob revenged the mistreatment of their sister by the prince of Shechem. Jacob had failed to act when he first became aware of the rape of his daughter and now he faced more pressure in the face of the slaughter enacted by her brothers. In the middle of this mess, God directed Jacob to take his family and return to Bethel where Jacob had first encountered God. It was time for a fresh start.
Jacob assembled his family in preparation for returning to Bethel. He had encountered God before so he had an idea of what to do to prepare for a second encounter. He directed all the people traveling with him to do three things in preparation for meeting God.
1.Put away any idols or foreign gods – In our day we think of putting away in terms of putting it in its place or storing the item for later use. Jacob’s directive meant eliminating anything that hinted of an idol or potentially competed with allegiance to God. Some of these items may very well have been collected from the corpses of the men of Shechem, bringing additional urgency to their removal.
This putting away was a call to spiritual renewal. Other leaders would call for spiritual renewal in the future including Joshua, Josiah, and Nehemiah. This gave each person an opportunity to pause and reflect on what they worshiped and why. As each item was handled, an evaluation of the item took place. What made that item worthy of worship? What promise did it hold? How did it define who I am?
The text tells us that they also included earrings when they discarded the idols. Some of these earrings may have featured engraved images that resembled idols or could have been rings placed on the ears of the idols. There were to be no tokens of what once was. The removal of earrings may also have been a way to minimize the creation of future idols since the earrings could be melted down and reshaped. It had happened before when Aaron crafted a golden calf (see Ex. 32).
2. Purify yourself – Entering into the presence of God required ceremonial purification. This same directive will be repeated later by Moses (see Num. 19 and Lev. 14). Some scholars see this as a form of baptism for Jacob’s family. Rebekah had hidden one of her dad’s idols and most believe it was still in her possession indicating that she was holding on to her old beliefs. This purifying then served as a declaration of faith in God, the God of Abraham, Issac, and now Jacob. She would relinquish her hold on her idols and then declare her new allegiance to God.
3. Change your clothes – What would be the use of cleansing oneself and then putting on the same clothes you were wearing prior? The change of clothes was a statement about a change in their identity. People wear clothes sometimes to identify with a group or culture. People in one area or in a specific group will wear items to identify themselves as being with that group. Paul used the same image when he called for the Colossian believers to put off their former way of living (their old clothes) and put on their new selves (their new clothes) (see Col. 3). These new clothes were more about taking on a new lifestyle than about changing clothes.
The order was important: remove, purify, change. They were first to commit to serve God alone, turing from their idols (repentance), and then take actions to demonstrate that commitment. We turn to God first and then begin to live differently as a result of the grace He extends to us.
How do the actions called for by Jacob compare to what we are to do today?