A Purified Household

Jacob said to his household … ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you…. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone’” (Gen. 35:2–3).

- Genesis 35:2–4

Jacob’s role as the new Abraham is even more apparent in today’s passage. Just as his grandfather went up to Canaan in obedience to God’s call (Gen. 12:1–9; Acts 7:2–4), so too does Jacob arise and act when the Lord appears to him in Shechem (Gen. 35:1).

Jacob takes several steps before going to Bethel that were instructive for the ancient nation of Israel and remain applicable to us today. First, Jacob orders his family to put away their foreign deities (v. 2) — always the first step for anyone who wants to serve the one, true God. Abraham abandoned the idols of his fathers (Josh. 24:2–3), and the first commandments given to Israel after leaving Egypt involved putting away all “rival” gods (Ex. 20:1–6). Moreover, Jacob’s injunction in Genesis 35:2 showed God’s people that casting off idolatry was the prerequisite for covenant renewal (Josh. 24:1–15). Today, new covenant believers renew their dedication to the Lord daily by abandoning the idol of self (1 John 5:21). Whenever we sin, we place our desires in the place of God’s law, and thus we make ourselves lawgivers. But in turning from sin, we admit that we are not sovereign and recognize that only our Creator sits on the throne.

Secondly, Jacob’s household should have been wholly devoted to the Lord, yet his family owned idols. Even if these gods were not worshiped, they served as good luck charms and polluted the worship of Yahweh. The presence of idols in the patriarch’s clan reminds the Lord’s people in every age to make sure their families’ devotion is to God alone. Our work of discipleship (Deut. 6:4–9) never ends, and we cannot assume our children are Christians just because we go to church each Sunday. Matthew Henry wrote: “In those families where there is a face of religion…many times there is much amiss, and more strange gods than one would suspect.”

Finally, this overarching command to forsake idols teaches us about Christ. Jesus demands our absolute allegiance in the Gospel (Matt. 8:18–22). This call to follow Him alone is an especially clear indication that our Savior is one with the Lord who, through Jacob, called His people to cast away any other potential rival.

Coram Deo

Whom do you love above all else? Is it a child or a spouse? Maybe it is not a person but a job or a hobby? We must never think ourselves immune to the temptation to love something else more than our Savior. If we are not willing to sacrifice all else, we cannot be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:33). He must be our greatest love, hope, and desire. Can others see that you love Him above all else? All of us should be known by our love for and service to Christ.

Passages for Further Study

1 Kings 15:9–24
Isa. 44:9–20
Matt. 6:24
John 10:27

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