Genesis 35:1–15, Go up to Bethel. Jacob, twenty years earlier, had left Canaan in disgrace fleeing eastward into exile (as his descendants would do generations later), where in captivity to Laban he pays the price for being a deceiver. In captivity, Jacob prospers and finally is able to return to the Promised Land.
En route westward back to Canaan, he goes through a wilderness experience, as the children of his namesake would do several generations later. What type of individuals does YHVH not permit and permit to enter into the Land of Promise?
The answers are in Hebrews 4:1–11 where the writer speaks of doubt and unbelief, faith, hardness of heart versus resting in YHVH and not in the works of our flesh. (Read it.) To come home, like the prodigal son, to the home of his earthly parents and to that of his Heavenly Father (Beth-el or House of El) what was required of Jacob?
He had to manifest brokenness, humility, a new identity, repentance, and make restitution for past sins committed against others (Gen 34). Will YHVH not similarly break our stiff necks, refine and purify us to become suitable use in his spiritual house?
Are you fighting this same process that YHVH is working out in your life to prepare you for your spiritual Bethel—your place of eternal habitation with him? Jacob got hit again and again until his carnal will was finally broken, and his heart was circumcised. He was forced to die to the willfulness of his flesh and his scheming tendencies to bring YHVH’s will to pass in his life. (Have other notable personages of Scripture tried the same things and had their will broken before they were useful to YHVH? Remember Moses when he murdered the Egyptian? What did YHVH do with him for 40 years?)
Remember this. Neither the uncircumcised of the heart nor of the flesh will enter into the temple or spiritual house of Elohim (Ezek 44:9), which is the ultimate Promised Land of the saints’ spiritual inheritance.
Where are you in this spiritual process? The Promised Land belongs to those (i.e. the seed of Jacob by faith) who pass the wilderness tests of YHVH (Gen 35:12). Who is that seed? You are if you’re in Yeshua. (Read Rom 4:16; 9:8, 11; Gal 3:7, 9, 14, 28, 29.)
YHVH Elohim is now calling all the modern saints to follow exactly in our father Jacob’s footsteps by leaving our exile and captivity in spiritual Babylon (i.e. false religious systems, which contains a mixture of both good and evil, see Rev 18:4), and returning westward across the river Jordan into the land of Promise, to our spiritual inheritance, to the ancient and good paths of the Torah faith (Jer 6:16, 19), which is defined in terms of YHVH’s covenants with Israel (Eph 2:12–14). Can you see how Jacob’s life is a prophetic road map of the spiritual journey that each individual believer must go through to obtain his spiritual inheritance? Jacob’s journeyings back to Beth-El (literally, the house of El) is a prophetic picture of what all the saints—the Israel of Elohim (Gal 6:16), collectively, must go through as well.
Genesis 35:2, Foreign gods [Heb. teraphim]. Genesis 35:2, Foreign gods. Heb. teraphim. The necessary prerequisites to coming up to Bethel (v. 1, in Heb. meaning “the house of El”) included the putting away of the pagan idols that were among Jacob’s family members, purifying or cleansing oneself (physically and ceremonially), and changing into clean clothing (v. 2), removing jewelry with any pagan connotations (v. 4). Bethel (i.e. the house of El), in this case, and to be distinguished from two towns by the same name, according to the Jewish sages, was where the Temple of Solomon was eventually built (i.e. on the present day Temple Mount).
Because of this act of consecration, the terror or fear of Elohim came upon the Canaanite inhabitants of surrounding region (v. 5). Because of Jacob’s total act of surrender to the Creator and his unconditional devotion to serve and obey his Heavenly Master, YHVH went before Jacob and his family and protected them.
What else can we learn from what Jacob did? Namely this. When coming into the presence of Elohim, we would be prudent to purify and consecrate ourselves physically and spiritually, for Elohim is in heaven, and we are on earth; therefore, let us be careful not to come into his set-apart Presence carelessly and indifferently and end up offering up the sacrifice of fools (see Eccl 5:1–2). For example, the children of Israel spent two days consecrating themselves at the foot of Mount Sinai in preparation for their encounter with Elohim (Exod 19).
Moreover, the psalmist asks YHVH the question, “Who may abide in your tabernacle, and who may dwell in your holy hill” (Ps 15:1) and again, “Who may ascend unto the hill of YHVH, and who may stand in his holy place?” (Ps 24:3). Not just anyone! Only those who have properly prepared themselves spiritually by cleansing themselves and walking righteously. Therefore, let us walk righteously and cleanly before Elohim, devoid of all pagan appearances and practices, and uncleanliness of all kind both physical and spiritual.
Genesis 35:4, Strange gods …earrings. Strange in Hebrew means “foreign or alien” gods or mighty ones. Before going up to Bethel to worship Elohim, Jacob instructed the men to put away their idols and remove their earrings, which this passage links to idol worship. It was acceptable for women to wear earrings (Ezek 16:12), but here, strange gods and earrings are linked.
These earrings were not worn as mere ornaments, but for superstitious purposes perhaps as amulets or charms. They were first consecrated to some false god, or formed under some constellation, and stamped with magical characters. Maimonides, the ancient Jewish sage and Torah scholar, mentions rings and jewels of this kind, with the image of the sun, moon, etc., impressed upon them; and Augustine, the church father, describes them (Epist. 73,) as used for this execrable purpose.
In the Scriptures, wearing earrings is often connected to paganism. Note the following Bible passages:
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.” And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. 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.” (Exod 32:2)
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.) And they answered, “We will willingly give them.” And they spread a garment, and did cast therein every man the earrings of his prey. And the weight of the golden earrings that he requested was a thousand and seven hundred shekels of gold; beside ornaments, and collars, and purple raiment that was on the kings of Midian, and beside the chains that were about their camels’ necks. And Gideon made an ephod thereof, and put it in his city, even in Ophrah: and all Israel went thither a whoring after it: which thing became a snare unto Gideon, and to his house. (Judg 8:24–27)
The main point of this brief study is that YHVH demands that his people put off the idolatrous practices of the heathen nations around them including their practices and lifestyles.
Genesis 35:1, 6–7, 9–10, 15 (cp. 32:23–31), Elohim said unto Jacob. This account of the encounter between Elohim and Jacob is so matter-of-fact and is written in such a manner as to be familial, if not almost casual. There are no embellishments or hyperbole, just statement of literal fact. Again, the plain (pashat) meaning of the text seems clear: Elohim spoke with man face-to-face. This was not the only time Jacob had experienced such a divine encounter as we have previously noted in is encounter with Elohim in Genesis 32.
It could be said that Elohim spoke to Jacob in some sort of a vision form, until we come to verse 13 and 14, which states that “Elohim went up from [Jacob] where he talked with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him.” These verses indicate that Elohim was literally there at that place and when finished, he “went up from [Jacob].” The word place in verse 13 is the Hebrew word maqowm, which is a “performative noun [which] represents the physical location where something is or ought to be … so it is translated place, home, room …” (TWOT, vol 2, p. 794). The well-respected Brown, Driver and Briggs Lexicon Hebrew-English, like TWOT, defines maqowm as a literally physical place, spot or locality (p. 879). The word maqowm is used 402 times in the Tanakh and only four times does it refer to YHVH’s heavenly dwelling place (1 Kgs 8:30; 2 Chr 6:21; Hos 5:15 and Mic 1:3). All other scriptural passages where the word is used is referring to a literal or figurative place on earth including Genesis 35:13. The evidence is clear: YHVH Elohim was on this earth, speaking to Jacob in some form of diminished glory that man could see him and live.