Thursday, March 1, 2012

Through the Whole Bible: Genesis 35

In Genesis 35 (link) we have the final results of the catastrophe that was Genesis 34 (yesterday's post). Jacob was afraid that the inhabitants of the land would seek him out and take revenge for the slaughter of the men of Hamor's city (Genesis 34:30) and that he lacked the capacity to defend the rest of the family. One wonders about his commitment to protect the family from earlier in the chapter, but that was yesterday.

Today, God speaks to Jacob and tells him to move to Bethel. Bethel being the place where Jacob had vowed to establish as his place of worship if God brought him back to the land—but apparently Jacob hadn't gotten around to getting back there yet. Point one: do not hesitate to honor your word. Had he gone straight to Bethel, just made sure to turn left, then life would have been better. He didn't.

God reinforces the command to go where he was committed to go. The move puts distance between him and some of the Hivite relatives of Shechem and Hamor which is a good thing at this time.

Before they move, Jacob gives this instruction to his household:

1. Pack up.

No, wait, that's not it. First he tells them to do this: "put away the foreign gods…purify yourselves…change your garments." (Genesis 35:2)

Let's visit these three things in order:

1. Foreign gods? Wait a minute…what are they doing with foreign gods in the first place? That's not supposed to happen. Yet, apparently, it did happen. Jacob does not highlight a specific household member for having foreign gods, but consider Genesis 31:19 when you think about who may have them.

The point, though, is that the idols have got to go. Jacob recognizes that the only hope he and his family have is unified worship of the One True God. He calls on the family to unify and dispose of the idols. I do wonder, given that some of those were Laban's idols, if they sent them back or trashed them.

We cannot hope as God's people to work together when we allow foreign gods to exercise influence over us. Even if we think it's just minor, that influence will destroy us.

2. Purify yourselves. This reflects taking a definite religious decision to focus on the right things. Purification would also have entailed a physical, symbolic rite. We don't know exactly what it was, but it was something.

These first two statements are a critical pair: it is not enough to dispose of the bad. One must also add in the good. We need to be careful of this in our lives. I'm going to stop doing this bad thing! Great! What good thing will take its place? We want to have faith but faith must have an object or it's empty.

3. Change your garments. Excuse me? New clothes?

For Jacob, the change of heart needed an exterior picture. This was the change of clothes—a shift to a different physical appearance. I do not see here that there was anything particularly objectionable about the old garments, what matters is the picture of the new life.

It was time to put aside the old and take on the new. For Jacob, he was putting aside the recent for something that was both old and new for him in the commitment to the One True God, but for the rest of the family this is really their first hard and fast commitment.

What are our outer markers of commitment?

If it's impossible to see that a follower of God is living out that commitment, then is it really much of a commitment?

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