Here, I. God reminds Jacob of his vow at Beth-el, and sends him thither to perform it, Gen. 35:1. Jacob had said in the day of his distress, If I come again in peace, this stone shall be God’s house, Gen. 28:22. God had performed his part of the bargain, and had given Jacob more than bread to eat and raiment to put on—he had got an estate, and had become two bands; but, it should seem, he had forgotten his vow, or at least had too long deferred the performance of it. Seven or eight years it was now since he came to Canaan; he had purchased ground there, and had built an altar in remembrance of God’s last appearance to him when he called him Israel (Gen. 33:19, 20); but still Beth-el is forgotten. Note, Time is apt to wear out the sense of mercies and the impressions made upon us by them; it should not be so, but so it is. God had exercised Jacob with a very sore affliction in his family (Gen. 34:1-31), to see if this would bring his vow to his remembrance, and put him upon the performance of it, but it had not this effect; therefore God comes himself and puts him in mind of it: Arise, go to Beth-el. Note, 1. As many as God loves he will remind of neglected duties, one way or other, by conscience or by providences. 2. When we have vowed a vow to God, it is best not to defer the payment of it (Eccl. 5:4), yet better late than never. God bade him go to Beth-el and dwell there, that is, not only go himself, but take his family with him, that they might join with him in his devotions. Note, In Beth-el, the house of God, we should desire to dwell, Ps. 27:4. That should be our home, not our inn. God reminds him not expressly of his vow, but of the occasion of it: When thou fleddest from the face of Esau. Note, The remembrance of former afflictions should bring to mind the workings of our souls under them, Ps. 66:13, 14.
II. Jacob commands his household to prepare for this solemnity; not only for the journey and remove, but for the religious services that were to be performed, Gen. 35:2, 3. Note, 1. Before solemn ordinances, there must be solemn preparation. Wash you, make you clean, and then come, and let us reason together, Isa. 1:16-18. 2. Masters of families should use their authority for the promoting of religion in their families. Not only we, but our houses also, should serve the Lord, Josh. 24:15. Observe the commands he gives his household, like Abraham, Gen. 18:19. (1.) They must put away the strange gods. Strange gods in Jacob’s family! Strange things indeed! Could such a family, that was taught the good knowledge of the Lord, admit them? Could such a master, to whom God had appeared twice, and oftener, connive at them? Doubtless this was his infirmity. Note, Those that are good themselves cannot always have those about them so good as they should be. In those 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 suspect. In Jacob’s family, Rachel had her teraphim, which, it is to be feared, she secretly made some superstitious use of. The captives of Shechem brought their gods along with them, and perhaps Jacob’s sons took some with the plunder. However they came by them, now they must put them away. (2.) They must be clean, and change their garments; they must observe a due decorum, and make the best appearance they could. Simeon and Levi had their hands full of blood, it concerned them particularly to wash, and to put off their garments that were so stained. These were but ceremonies, signifying the purification and change of the heart. What are clean clothes, and new clothes, without a clean heart, and a new heart? Dr. Lightfoot, by their being clean, or washing themselves, understands Jacob’s admission of the proselytes of Shechem and Syria into his religion by baptism, because circumcision had become odious. 3. They must go with him to Beth-el, Gen. 35:3. Note, Masters of families, when they go up to the house of God, should bring their families with them.
III. His family surrendered all they had that was idolatrous or superstitious, Gen. 35:4. Perhaps, if Jacob had called for them sooner, they would sooner have parted with them, being convicted by their own consciences of the vanity of them. Note, Sometimes attempts for reformation succeed better than one could have expected, and people are not so obstinate against them as we feared. Jacob’s servants, and even the retainers of his family, gave him all the strange gods, and the ear-rings they wore, either as charms or to the honour of their gods; they parted with all. Note, Reformation is not sincere if it be not universal. We hope they parted with them cheerfully, and without reluctance, as Ephraim did, when he said, What have I to do any more with idols? (Hos. 14:8), or that people that said to their idols, Get you hence, Isa. 30:22. Jacob took care to bury their images, we may suppose in some place unknown to them, that they might not afterwards find them and return to them. Note, We must be wholly separated from our sins, as we are from those that are dead and buried out of our sight, cast them to the moles and the bats, Isa. 2:20.
IV. He removes without molestation from Shechem to Bethel, Gen. 35:5. The terror of God was upon the cities. Though the Canaanites were much exasperated against the sons of Jacob for their barbarous usage of the Shechemites, yet they were so restrained by a divine power that they could not take this fair opportunity, which now offered itself, when they were upon their march, to avenge their neighbours’ quarrel. Note, The way of duty is the way of safety. While there was sin in Jacob’s house, he was afraid of his neighbours; but now that the strange gods were put away, and they were all going together to Bethel, his neighbours were afraid of him. 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? See Exod. 34:24; No man shall desire thy land, when thou goest up to appear before the Lord. God governs the world more by secret terrors on men’s minds than we are aware of.