Genesis 35:3 (ESV) … “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.”
Because of Bethel’s sacred associations with the true and living God, Jacob made careful preparations for the return there. “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone’ ” (Genesis 35:2–3).
We have seen that Jacob found it a struggle at times to keep hold of his own faith in God, but—added to that—he had not succeeded to any great extent in getting his faith over to the members of his family either. The remnants of the old paganism still clung to them in their images and charms, and Jacob does not seem to have done anything about it. He might even have known about Rachel’s household gods by this time. However, we must also keep in mind that the captured Shechemites, who were now part of his household, would have brought their images and false gods with them, and Jacob’s instruction might well have been chiefly directed at them.
But the point is that Jacob was clear in his own mind that you cannot mix the true and the false in religion. And in our multi-faith society today that is a lesson the Church has often forgotten. There are church leaders who are perfectly willing to widen the ecumenical debate to include other religions, in which icons and images are objects of veneration and worship. The chief distinctive of the Gospel, on the other hand, is that Christianity is not simply one among other religions, but is totally different from them, because it is a direct revelation of God in Christ and He alone is to be revered and worshipped.
The main feature of false religion in every age is always the same—it is the product of man’s own mind and imagination. Millions today worship at the shrines of the gods of man’s own making in the form of pleasure, sport, sex, money, science, politics etc. And because they are the products of man’s own thinking, they can be of no spiritual use to him since they share his own weakness and failings. Furthermore, these modern gods always let man down, because however much he seeks to manipulate them, they do not deliver on the sense of fulfilment and happiness they promise. But the God of Bethel cannot be manipulated to suit our own requirements, for He does only what pleases Him and is holy and just in all His ways.