Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jacob Shows Family Leadership Again -- Genesis 35:2-3

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and has been with me wherever I have gone.”

In the previous verse, God spoke to Jacob and told him to go and stay in Bethel. The Bible has no record of Jacob’s verbal response to God. Instead, we observe a man who has been given his instructions and begins to carry them out. Either as one large group, or on several occasions of smaller numbers being present, Jacob in turn instructs his family and household to get ready to move. What he says is most revealing of what had been going on.

Over a period of time, we can assume many in Jacob’s family had started to incorporate foreign gods in their beliefs. They had become impure in their worship. Although Jacob was afraid for his life now, he and his household had gone through many years of prosperity up to this point. It is in these boom times that we all have a tendency to let our relationship with God sag, as other things take its place. We are attracted to new idols. That had happened to Jacob’s household and to a certain extent to him. Now he takes charge once more as head of the home and instructs them all to “return to God, we’re going home.” We see here the ever-constant need for senior male leadership in a family. But we also see the need for male role modeling. It was after Jacob got right with God, that he could instruct his family to do so. The very fact of ‘silence’ between verse one of this chapter when God spoke and verse two when Jacob spoke to his household, suggests he recognized that he himself needed to get ‘back to God’. With that decided in his own heart, he could now lead his household in following him.

First, the foreign gods had to go. Secondly, he called for their purification. The Hebrew word used here is taher and its meaning is threefold. It refers to being clean in a physical sense, as in free from disease, but it also means to be clean in a ceremonial sense that is to present oneself for purification through a ceremony. Finally, it has the meaning of being morally clean. This is purity of both the heart and mind. God wants us to demonstrate our purity not just through ceremonies and rites, but by pursuing righteousness and justice. And not only does He expect the fathers of households to live that way, but just as importantly, he expects us to “command our children and our households” to do so. In Genesis 18:19 when He describes Abraham, He says, “I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

Some of Jacob’s children had foreign gods because, as you will remember, their mother Rachel had clung to the household gods of her father Laban, and had stolen them from him the night of her escape with Jacob’s family. Like parent, like children. We can teach what is right with our mouths, but our actual behavior trumps our speech lessons when it comes to our children’s imitating us. Other of Jacob’s children may well have had the gods of the Shechemites that they had taken in plunder after Leah’s sons had murdered all the men. Also, it is very likely that some of Jacob’s servants he brought with him or picked up in his travels were worshipping foreign gods. While our English translations refer to “foreign gods” the more direct Hebrew translation would be “gods of the stranger” or “gods of foreign nations”. Perhaps for the sake of prosperity, Jacob had allowed his servants and others to worship these gods, turning a blind eye in order to avoid conflict or losing them, not thinking of his responsibility to keep his household and business pure.

Continuing in the theme of purity and becoming clean, Jacob ordered his household to wash themselves and then change their garments. In particular, Leah’s sons, Simeon and Levi may well have had blood on their hands from the slaughter of the Shechemites (therefore their need to wash) and even on their clothes (thus the need to change their garments). You cannot go to meet with God without preparation of body and heart. Cleaning one’s clothes without one’s heart is not sufficient.

Now, Jacob tells his people that he has resolved to follow God’s instructions, given to him by God Himself. And he underlines the fact that this is indeed the God that was there for him during the times of his distress, and the God that has gone with him wherever he went.

I believe that is the lesson for us today as we study these two verses. Are we prepared to say to ourselves, our family, our business, “I will follow the instructions of the God who spoke to me. I will ‘go home’ where He is and live there. And I will take you with me. For God has always been there for me, for us, when we were in distress. He has followed us wherever we chose to go. Now we will return to where He wants us.”? That is leadership. That is true role modeling. That is being a true follower of God.

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