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Burying the Idols

Updated: Feb 19

God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. (Gen 35:1-4)

CS Lewis wrote of the soon and coming ultimate and complete separation of Heaven and Hell in his book, The Great Divorce. If we think of our lives as a journey with a destination, what destination is our life winding its way toward? If we wish to land in heaven, how do we get there? What can we take on that journey? What will be allowed to keep in that place (should we get there) of all the various things that are precious to us? Lewis writes:

You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind.... If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.

Two dangers always have to be guarded against. We must guard against idolizing the past (and mind you, that can be a good past or a bad past – either may become an idol when that past controls our life, or when our present is consumed by that past). And we must guard against idolizing the future (making our hopes and dreams into demands that everything and everyone must serve in order for us to get what we have determined we MUST have).

Remember Rachel. When she, along with the rest of Jacob's family, fled from her father Laban, Rachel stole her father's household gods. No telling what that cost her psychologically. She clung to the idols of her past. She couldn't let them go. Later, when Levi and Simeon strapped on their swords and killed all the people of Shechem because the prince had defiled their sister Dinah, they looted the city and, it would appear, stole some of their household gods. Seems that in their lust for vengeance they were captivated by the gods of the culture around them.

But then God called Jacob to go up to Bethel and live there and to make an altar to the God who had appeared to him earlier in that dramatic “Jacob's ladder” dream when he had fled from the wrath of his brother Esau. That dream had struck a different kind of terror in Jacob. Call it the fear of the Lord, if you will. Remember when Jacob had awakened from that dream, he had exclaimed, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven!”

Now that God had called him to go up to that place of vision again, and to build that God an altar. Back to the God who had protected him, blessed him, wrestled with him and delivered him all along the way. Back to the house of God. Back to the awesome place, the place of the only good fear there is – the fear of the Lord. Surely he couldn't take his family to that place with all the gods they had collected on the way....

So Jacob commanded his family to put their idols away and to cleanse themselves. And then Jacob buried those idols under a tree and left them behind.

What are the things that we hold to more tightly than God? Perhaps we should call these things our household gods. Do we hope to take them with us all the way into God's presence? And if we know (and we do know – deep in our hearts we really do know) that we can't keep those things forever, isn't it time to bury them?


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