Today’s reading is Genesis 31-35, Psalm 7, and Matthew 13-14.
Jacob had a number of encounters with God, as his forebears had. Each encounter seems to have strengthened his faith and resolve to worship God alone. But it is not until after encountering Esau, when he is told by God to build an altar, that his faith and resolve is passed on to the rest of his family.
In today’s reading, Jacob flees from Laban with his family. As they flee, Rachel steals Laban’s household gods (Genesis 31). We are not told why she steals the gods. Perhaps it was a way to either keep hold of her father or to spite her father. Perhaps she genuinely believed in these gods and had not yet made a break with them. Whatever the reason is, we know that she steals them and Jacob is not aware of it.
After encountering Laban and making a covenant, Jacob has multiple encounters with God.
In Genesis 32, prior to sending messengers to Esau, Jacob is met by “the angels of God.” We are not told what these means, nor if these angels said anything to Jacob, but Jacob is struck by seeing them and declares, “this is the camp of God!” and names it Mahanaim (Genesis 32:2).
Next, after sending messengers to Esau and selecting gifts for Esau, Jacob spends the night alone by the Jabbok River. A man – presumably God – wrestles with him all night. Jacob does not cease wrestling until the man blesses him (Genesis 32:26). The man tells him he will no longer called Jacob, but instead Israel because he “struggled with God and with humans and have overcome” (Genesis 32:28).
After meeting with Jacob and the incident at Shechem, God speaks to Jacob again. God tells him to go to Bethel, to settle there, and build an altar to God in the place Jacob first encountered God after fleeing Esau (Genesis 35:1). While Jacob has had many encounters and directives from God, this is the first time he makes him family participate, by getting rid of their household gods, purifying themselves, and changing their clothes.
I wonder why this was not directed before. When they fled from Laban, why did Jacob not direct his family to get rid of their household gods, purify themselves, and change clothes? Perhaps they did not have time in the midst of their flight. But after the covenant with Laban, why did they not get rid of their household gods, purify themselves, and change their clothes before meeting Esau? Or after meeting Esau when they were in the plains of Shechem?
Whatever the reason was, Jacob is finally instructing his family, he is finally bringing them in to be followers of God. His sons were already circumcised (we know this because they made circumcision be the difference between them and the men of Shechem), but what was the relationship of his wives to God?
It seems that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a God for the men and that when they married, their wives retained the gods of their fathers. The men would teach their sons about God, but the women had their household gods.
God did not instruct Jacob (at least from what is explicit in the text) to have his wives and children rid themselves of the foreign gods, purify themselves, and change their clothes, but after his reconciliation with Esau, his renaming by God, the rape committed on his daughter, Dinah, and the sins of his sons Reuben (sleeping with his father’s wife), and Simeon and Levi (killing all the men of Shechem), Jacob was finally a changed man. While there is still more deceit in his family, Jacob no longer participates in the deceit. While there is still harm which happens, Jacob only wants to make things right.
When Jacob, his wives, and children settle in Bethel, God is no longer the God of a person alone, no longer just the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God is now the God of a people, the people of Israel.
Something must happen in us to realize God is not just the God of our father or mother. God must become something bigger.
There is a reason God tells us to teach our children about Him: He is for them, too. There is a reason God didn’t want the Israelites intermarrying with foreigners unless they became a part of the people of Israel: He is for them, too.
 see Anita Diamant’s book The Red Tent which provides a historical fiction account of Jacob’s family from the wives perspective and includes the concept of the women’s household gods.
Join me in finishing this year by reading through the Bible through a Psalm a Day. Find my reading plan here.
All Scripture used on Oregon Christian Girl comes from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Unless otherwise noted.