If I’m honest, it’s been a rough week for me. I’ve felt swallowed up by my feelings. And the worst part is – it felt good. It felt good to be angry, it felt good being “justified” in my emotions. Sometimes the hard part isn’t getting out of the pit. Sometimes the hard part is wanting out of the pit.
The Lord has been so kind to me in my pursuit of him this year. And yet, sin still rears its ugly head, crouching at the doorstep of our souls. Yet, in the midst of my pride and justifications, my soul whispered: “Is Jesus better?”
Is knowing him and being close to him better than these current emotions?
Is he better?
I think of Genesis 35. God tells Jacob to go back to Bethel, but before he got to the House of God, Jacob tells his household to do three specific things.
- Put Away Your Idols
- Purify Yourself
- Change Your Garments
What Jacob does next intrigued me so much I ended up pitching my tent with him for a solid week, dissecting a single phrase found at the end of verse 4.
So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had…Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.Genesis 35:4
I read this part over and over. Jacob hid the idols. He hid the idols. He hid the idols under a tree near the city Shechem.
And that was where I hammered in my tent pegs, gathered my shovel and began to dig.
God tells Jacob to arise and build an alter and dwell in Bethel (the House of God), but Jacob knows he cannot worship God fully if there were idols in his midst. We know that Jacob’s household contained idol worship, Genesis 31 tells us that Jacob’s wife Rebekah stole her father’s household idols and hid them from him when he came in search of them.
Jacob doesn’t hide them like Rebekah hid them, as a way of protecting them. Instead he buries them under a tree. The idols were most likely melted or broken before he dug deep in the ground to bury their sin before entering the city named the House of the Lord.
I dug deeper into the original Hebrew context. The root word for oak actually points to the word ram, which if you’ve read the story of Abraham and Issac in Genesis 22, you should know the significance of the ram. It was the object of sacrifice God provided instead of Issac.
How does this fit in with the Big Story of the Bible?
Jesus bore himself as the object of sacrifice on an oak, to bury our sin once and for all. He buries all other idols under his glory, his love, his justice, his mercy. Once we’ve tasted his freedom and mercy, nothing else truly satisfies us.
Jesus is better. Jesus is better. Jesus is better.
Jacob tells his family to “Put away the foreign Gods that are among you.”
Among you is the Hebrew word tavek. It is translated “in your midst. That is the middle part of a house, inner court, middle columns.” (Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon)
In other words Jacob asks, what is it that severs your heart? What is dividing your heart? What is in the center? The middle columns are vital to holding a structure up, what is it that you are relying on to hold the weight of your soul? Are there idols among you? Are there any in your midst? If so, remove them.
Jacob buries the idols. He puts them in the ground (‘adam) from whence they came.
In order to enter the House of the Lord, in order to draw near him and see him, we must first depart from our idols. Then we must purify ourselves and change our garments.
Ever since I dug deep in Genesis 3 and the account of the fall, I can’t help but think of one of the original translations for the word garment. It’s treachery. We were once naked and unashamed, but now require garments to cover our sin. In the Old Testament, the garments were skinned animals of sacrifice. In the New Testament, our treachery covering garment is the blood of Jesus himself.
Put on Christ.Galations 3:27
Rid yourself of double-hearted treachery. Take off the garment of idolatry. Change the direction of your worship. Put on Christ.
Because, Jesus is better.
At this point, I felt pretty satisfied with the treasures I found and was prepared to move on from this phrase that I’d spent days studying. I’m so glad the Holy Spirit didn’t let me move on so quickly. It’s easy to skim over the name of cities in the Bible since there are so many of them, but this time, I decided to look into the city listed in verse 4. Jacob hid the idols under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.
A little history on the city of Shechem:
- It was the city where Jacob’s daughter was assaulted by a prince, also named Shechem
- It means “between the shoulders, place of burden” probably due to its geographically location between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim*
- In the Middle Bronze Age it was the center of pagan worship*
Shechem is also mentioned in Joshua 24 where Joshua renews the Israelites commitment to God. Whom will you serve? He asks the people, much like Jacob asked his household. He echos much of Jacob’s words in Genesis, “Put away the foreign gods and incline your heart to God.” This is a connection the Isrealeites most likely would have made. Here they were in the same city that Jacob buried the idols and now Joshua is repeating the same message. Rid yourselves of anything that is keeping you from the House of the Lord. As a modern day reader, I would have completely missed this very important connection if the Holy Spirit hadn’t challenged me to dig even deeper into an obscure city I was tempted to skim over and ignore.
Joshua makes a covenant and puts in place statutes and rules for them in Shechem, the place of buried idols. While Jacob was to build an alter in Bethel, Joshua sets up a large stone under a tree by the sanctuary of God. We don’t know if the stone sat over the exact location of the idols buried hundreds of years before, but no doubt the Israelites would have remembered the occurrence. The stone was to be a witness, a sign of their covenant to God.
By this point, I was thoroughly intrigued with the history of Shechem and wondered if it was mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. After some research, there is an amazing connection to the New Testament. Do you remember the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4? According to Bible Archeology*, this takes place near the Old Testament city of Shechem.
Why does this have such incredible significance? As Jesus converses with the woman, he speaks of the history of the land. The well itself was called Jacob’s well. Jesus gently points out the woman’s own struggle with idolatry. She had five previous husbands and was currently with a man who wasn’t her husband. Instead of a stone as a witness of God’s mercy we read about in Joshua, here in John 4, the woman is the witness.
She is the living proof. Jesus is better.
As much as I reveled in my justified feelings, that question struck me to the core. Is he better?
Sister, I don’t know where life finds you at the moment. What I do know is that the enemy is out for us. He is out to destroy any passion we have for God. He is out to confuse us to pursue worthless things and mocks us when we fall so effortlessly into his traps. He crouches, waiting for the very right moment to steal away our hearts from Christ, to kill any desire we have for him. Don’t be deceived, sister. He is out for us. For our marriages, for our sanity, for our testimonies, for our children. He’s not playing games, even though we live life like he’s either non-existent or a joke.
The only way we stand a fighting chance is by doing exactly what Jacob tells his family. Put off your idols, purify yourself, and change your garments. The truth is, Satan knows he’s fighting a losing battle, but we make it way too easy for him to create hell on earth.
What is your “Shechem” (place of burden)? No idol can bear the weight of our neediness. No idol can bear the burden. Christ did that when he carried his cross up the hill. No one else can do it. Are you making a deliberate choice to put off anything that keeps you from God? Are you setting and settling your affection on Christ?
Are you willing to get out of the pit?
Jacob buried the idols, but unlike the idols which remained buried, Christ did not. He rose again and stands over the graveyard of our idols, reminding us always…
He is better.
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.Psalm 27:4