So Jacob told his household and all who were with him, "Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you. Purify yourselves and change your garments.
When thou vowest a vow, defer not to pay it," says Ecclesiastes (Genesis 5:4); but Jacob had deferred. He made a vow at Bethel, and he seems afterwards to have ignored it. If he thought of it, a number of things had been ever ready to present themselves as excuses for delay. His faithful services given constantly to Laban, his efforts to make good his position in the land, and then to avert the anger of Esau, had apparently absorbed so much of his attention that he had forgotten his vows. These solemn promises had been made at a very critical period of his life, and God had not forgotten them. He reminds Jacob of them in a very emphatic manner. Jacob had failed to see in the circumstances in which he was placed with respect to the people among whom he dwelt that there was a hint of neglected duty. God permitted Jacob to be made uncomfortable that he might be made considerate. The way in which his sons had treated the Shechemites had brought him into great danger. He and all his were likely to be cut off by these enraged inhabitants of the land. He is reminded of the danger in which he was once placed from the vengeance of Esau. The similarity of the circumstances forcibly and very naturally turn his thoughts to the One who alone can be his defense. Thus circumstances and Divine communications impel to the performance of duty. How merciful is God in his treatment of souls! How he leads the wanderer back to duty! Jacob, when about to strike his tents and remove to Bethel, wishes that his sons and servants should go up with him, and that they should go up in the right spirit. He therefore says to them, "Put away the strange gods," &c.
I. NEGLECTED DUTY IS A HINDRANCE TO APPROPRIATE AND ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP. That Jacob should have been obliged to give such an injunction to his household shows that he had not sufficiently kept before his sons and servants the duty they owed to God. He had allowed himself to strive for worldly success until they might have even imagined that he was no better than the rest of them or their neighbors; but deep down in the heart of this man was a reverence for God and a desire to do his will. His neglect to carefully instruct his sons had borne bitter fruit. Had he instilled into his sons ideas more in accordance with the character of the God he served, they would not have taken such mean methods as are mentioned of revenging themselves on those they had come to dislike. His neglect necessitates the sudden and difficult effort now put forth to induce his sons to seek with him to serve God. He feels that he cannot rightly worship God unless his children and household are with him in spirit. He wishes to foster in them a belief in his own sincerity. To have one in a family looking on indifferently or sneeringly is death to successful worship. Jacob's neglect had led to carelessness by his sons of the Divine service. He could not himself enter heartily on the service until he had discharged, in a measure, his duty as guide and instructor to his family.
II. ANOTHER HINDRANCE IS THE ATTACHMENT TO OBJECTS WRONGLY HELD IN REVERENCE. The sons of Jacob had admitted false gods into their affections. Idolatry was rife among them. Even his wife Rachel had so much faith in her father's idols that she stole them when she left home. The sons caught the spirit of the mother, and indulged in the worship of strange gods. Perhaps they worshipped secretly the gods which Rachel cherished, or they may have given adoration to the idols they found among the spoils of the Shechemites. They may have had little images which they carried about with them, as many superstitious Christians carry the crucifix. Amulets and charms they seem to have worn on their hands and in their ears, all indicating superstition, false worship, and wrong ideas. God is spoken of in the Bible as "jealous." This is with respect to worship given to representations of gods having no existence. The jealousy is right, because it would be an evil thing for man himself to think there were many gods, or to select his own god. When, in after ages, the descendants of these sons of Jacob yielded to the sin of worshipping other gods, ten of the tribes were swept away, and have never been rediscovered. Indeed the stream was tainted in source, and "grew no purer as it rolled along." When Achan brought the Babylonish garment into the camp of Israel, the chosen of God could not stand before their enemies, but when it was removed they were again victorious. So strange gods must be removed from our homes and from our hearts, or we can never be successful in the conflict against sin, or in the acceptability of the worship we offer. It is for each Christian to search his soul, and to see whether there is any desire, habit, or practice which in the least militates against the worship of God. Many who were incorporated with Jacob's household were Syrians, who brought their evil practices with them. When any enter God's Church they must leave behind them the practices of the world; nor possessions nor potation must be the gods then worshipped, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
III. THE HARBOURING OF ANY SPECIAL SIN WILL BE A SURE HINDRANCE. The sons of Jacob had not only outward false objects of reverence, but inward evil propensities. They were treacherous, cruel, lustful, envious, murderous. See how they treated the Shechemites, and in after years their own brother Joseph. What scandalizing, jealousy, and even opposition, are found in some homes! How hard it is to alienate sinful habits from the heart and the home I how hard to get the right tone for devout service in the home I Certain habits of temper, ridicule, sarcasm will chill and check all worship. Jacob urged his sons to be "clean," - pure, - "to change their garments." They had need to do the latter, for they had been spotted with the blood of the men they had murdered. Jacob meant that they were to put on the garments kept for the worship of God. Rebekah had garments by her in which Esau as eldest son worshipped God, and which she put on Jacob. It is probable that it was the practice under the patriarchal dispensation to perform certain ceremonial ablutions prior to entering on the solemn worship. "Cleaniness is next to godliness." It leads to it. The need of purity in the worship or God is thus indicated by ablutions and change of garments. But how easily we may have the outward without the inward. We need cleansing in the holy fountain opened by Christ, and to be clothed by his righteousness.
IV. A great hindrance to successful worship is HAVING LOW IDEAS OF THE DIGNITY OF THE ACT, AND THE MAJESTY AND HOLINESS OF HIM WHOM WE WORSHIP. God must be made to appear great to us. He is "high and lifted up." He made not only these frames of ours, but this vast universe. He is worshipped by worlds of intelligent spirits, and has been worshipped from the depths of eternity. He is holy and full of majesty. Shall we be indifferent as to the duty or the mode of worship? What a marvel that we should be permitted to have fellowship with our Creator I If we have it, it must be in the way and place he appoints. For Jacob it was at Bethel, for the Jews at Jerusalem, for Christians at the cross. To Jacob and the Jews it was by annual sacrifices, to us it is by the offering of Christ "once for all." - H.
Put away the strange gods that are among you.I. MANY CHRISTIANS ARE SUFFERING FROM SPIRITUAL DECLENSION. They hardly realize it, it has crept on them so quietly; but they have drifted far away from their Bethel and Penuel. Gray hairs are on a man before he knows. Summer fruit is beginning to rot within long before its surface is pitted with specks. The leaf's connection with the branch is severed, even when it looks green. The devil is too shrewd to make Judases at a stroke; he wins us from the side of Christ by hair-breadths.
II. IDOLS ARE THE INEVITABLE SYMPTOM OF INCIPIENT DECAY. Go at autumn into the woods and see how the members of the fungus tribes are scattered plentifully throughout the unfrequented glades. All through the long scorching summer days their germs were present in the soil; but they were kept from germinating by the dryness of the air and the heat of the sun. However, there is now nothing to prevent it; nay, the dank damp of decay is the very food of their life. Where the shade is deepest and the soil most impregnated with the products of corruption, they love to pitch their tents. Wherever, therefore, you find these fungus growths, you may be sure that there is corruption and decay. Similarly, whenever there has set in upon the spiritual life the autumn of decay, you will be sure to find a fungus — growth of idols — the sorrowful symptoms that the bright summer time has passed, or is passing away from the soul.
III. THESE IDOLS MUST BE SURRENDERED BEFORE THERE CAN BE VICTORY OR PEACE. The reason for Jacob's flight before those alien tribes was, of course, the censurable and merciless action of his sons; but above and beyond this lay the fact that Jacob had been giving some measure of countenance to the existence of idolatry in the camp. I always find in Christian experience that failure and defeat indicate the presence of some idol somewhere and the need of more complete consecration to God. It may be a hidden idol; and it may be hidden by the Rachel of your heart, lovely and beloved: but if it be there it will be the certain cause of disappointment. You say that you do not find yourself able to overcome besetting sin; that you are tripped up before you look to Christ; that you are sometimes hot as juniper-coals, and then cold as ice; you talk about your experiences as if Christ had failed — no such thing! Get down on your knees, search out the idols, ransack all the camel baggage in spite of all that Rachel may say, bring out the accursed things, and bury them.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
I. How WE MAY STILL BE GUILTY OF THE EQUIVOCAL CONDUCT RECORDED IN THE TEXT.
1. We are thus guilty when we retain privately those evil practices we have renounced in public. Iniquity is iniquity to God, whether done in the eye of the sun or wrought in thickest darkness; whether coarse or refined; whether called by its true name or wrapped in glozing gilded speech. Burke tells of that "sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil by losing all its grossness." This is rhetoric. When vice is divested of all grossness it has not lost a particle of its evil in the judgment of heaven; the secret idol, the idol skilfully veiled or richly adorned by taste, is equally hateful to God with the open and gross idolatries of inferior civilization.
2. We are thus guilty when we practise partially the evils we have renounced as a whole. In the days of the English Reformation, the reformers finding the coloured windows in the churches to be objects of reverence to the people, ordered them to be broken and replaced by plain glass. But where the authorities had a love for the beautiful they contented themselves by taking out a few panes here and there — a saint's head, a martyr's nimbus, an angel's wing, and having thus mutilated the figures, trusted they would do no harm. Somewhat after this fashion are men apt to renounce the world and sin. We deal delicately with things, habits, associations, pursuits, pleasures, employments, which ought to be utterly sacrificed, and sacrificed for ever.
3. We are thus guilty when we retain mentally what we have renounced in action. It is possible that the idols of life which have no longer any concrete existence may find asylum in the heart and brain, and be most steadily worshipped there. This is true —(1) When the evil renounced in the life is not also renounced in the will.(2) When the evil renounced in our life is cherished in our imagination we are victims of the patriarch's fallacy. It has been said: "It is possible to lead a life of imagination quite distinct from the active life." This is quite true. Our life may be as blameless on the practical side as it is stained on the mental side.(3) When the evil renounced in our life is cherished in affection we similarly err. We profess renunciation of the world — of its pomps and vanities; yet do we sympathize with the merely secular side of life. How intoxicated we are by a little prosperity! How depressed by a little adversity! The world has still a place in our heart; we are not altogether rid of the great idol.
II. We must feel the importance of COMPLETE CONSECRATION TO GOD. This secret clinging to sin is a source of weakness, unhappiness, and peril. The apostle writes to the Romans, "ye are dead to sin." How completely this idea cuts us off from the world of evil! how utterly it separates us from all godlessness and wickedness! We once heard a converted Persian relate that when he was converted to Christianity his angry kindred considered him a dead man, and celebrated his funeral obsequies accordingly. They were not far wrong. When one is converted to Christ he has absolutely renounced sin, the world may justly count him dead, and all the vices follow his bier.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
2. It is the duty of conscience in all governors of families and others to enjoin all with them to obey God's call. It is no violence.
3. It is rulers' duty in order to reconcile God, so much as they may, to bring souls to repentance.
4. The first part of repentance is to depart from evil.
5. Governors are bound to turn all under them from outward evils which they may prevent.
6. Images and relics of idolatry may not be suffered in the families of Jacob's children.
7. Repentance requireth not only negative but positive cleanness.
8. Typical repentance in outward washings was in the Church before the law was written.
9. Real endowment with righteousness unto God's likeness was intended by it (ver. 2).
10. It is Jacob's work to rouse his family to move towards God (so good rulers will do) when he himself is roused by Him.
11. Not only preparation but motion must be in penitents to God's house.
12. Repentance is then complete when men are brought fully home to God.
13. God is reached unto when His true worship is entertained by men.
14. God may and doth use some eminent minister to set up His worship, that others might know
15. God is known to Jacob and his seed to be a God answering prayer.
16. All. good providences to Jacob are mercies truly to his family.
17. Mercies of God to our fathers while we enjoy them bind us to own and worship the same God (ver. 3).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)1. When rulers obey God's call, He maketh subjects obey theirs.
2. Where God overpowers, souls freely and fully part with their desired jewels of vanity and superstition.
3. Good rulers will execute as well as enjoin sentence against false gods.
4. In bringing false worshippers to God, it is good to bury the monuments of their sin out of sight.
5. Jacob-rulers will not be content but in the destruction of all means of false worship.
6. Monuments of idolatry must die at Shechem, and not live at Bethel (ver. 4).
(G. Hughes, B. D.)
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