1 ¶ And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. 2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments: 3 And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. 4 And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. 5 And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.
Jacob’s tribe consists of not only himself and his wives, one of which had stolen her father’s household idols, but their children, servants, and their Canaanite captives. There would have been quite a mix of idols and gods among them. God calls a halt and intends to shake all these things out. He orders Jacob to build an altar to Him, where Jacob had vowed to serve God in return for His protection in chapter 28.
18 And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. 20 And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, 21 So that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the LORD be my God: 22 And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.
God had reminded Jacob of this event when He told Jacob to leave Laban with his family.
Genesis 31:13 I am the God of Bethel, where thou anointedst the pillar, and where thou vowedst a vow unto me: now arise, get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred.
For not the last time a leader that God has selected will tell his people to put away their foreign (strange) gods. Jacob is sanctifying his people for God, setting them apart for God’s purpose.
Genesis 18:19 For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.
Joshua 24:15 ¶ And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Deuteronomy 7:25 The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire: thou shalt not desire the silver or gold that is on them, nor take it unto thee, lest thou be snared therein: for it is an abomination to the LORD thy God.
This is a recurrent theme in God’s ministry of reconciling man to Himself. Notice verse 4. Not only the images that Rachel and probably many of the servants had in their possession but also their earrings were given and buried out of their sight. Jewelry played a part in ancient worship. Earrings were not merely ornamentation for both men and women but were, scholars tell us, sometimes amulets and charms to protect the openings of the face and head from entry by evil spirits. They were clearly part of the idol worship of the ancient world, the spiritual system that developed after the Flood. If you have difficulty seeing that side of facial jewelry just look at the hundreds of occult earrings on a website like Etsy.com. Some verses of note regarding men and women wearing earrings and of a possible link to their occultic practices are;
Exodus 32:1 ¶ And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. 2 And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. 3 And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. 4 And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
Judges 8:24 And Gideon said unto them, I would desire a request of you, that ye would give me every man the earrings of his prey. (For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) 25 And they answered, We will willingly give them. And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey.
Here is this passage in chapter 35, though, we have a very clear indication that something linked the earrings to the household gods that must be put away. Oak trees also play a part in ancient worship.
Ezekiel 6:13 Then shall ye know that I am the LORD, when their slain men shall be among their idols round about their altars, upon every high hill, in all the tops of the mountains, and under every green tree, and under every thick oak, the place where they did offer sweet savour to all their idols.
The reference to changing their garments also bears some note. Changing garments signified a change of heart and clearly has a religious significance.
Zechariah 3:4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
Revelation 19:8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
And Jacob’s fears did not come to fruition. The towns by which he and his family passed were terrified of them and made no effort to attack them.