[Read: Genesis 35:1-4]
In Genesis 35:1-4, Jacob is commanded by God to “arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there. Make an altar there to God…”(v.1) Before doing this, however, Jacob commands two groups of people to repent, purify themselves, and change their garments. The typology here becomes plain when we read that “Jacob hid [their idols and earrings] under the terebinth tree…” (v.4b), for it is Jacob who puts away their sin (i.e., their idols and earrings) by hiding them under a tree. And while it is true that Jacob is addressing one collective body of people, nevertheless the Holy Spirit identifies two groups of which it is composed, viz. (a.)Jacob’s household and (b.)all who were with him. More to the point, we see that it is not just his blood relatives whose sin he puts away under this tree, but all who were with him (most likely a reference to his servants who were, likely, ethnically mixed).
As we delve into this pericope, we will see the richness of this typology. Here is a brief summary: Jacob is a type of Christ, who preaches repentance, the putting on of His righteousness as a garment, and who then accomplishes this for (a.)Jews (i.e. Members of His genetic household) and (b.)Gentiles (i.e. All other peoples who turn at His rebuke and promise of eternal life), who uses a tree as the instrument of putting away their sins, and who then brings His people (i.e. Jews and Gentiles) to the House of God (i.e. Bethel). As each element of this type can be further fleshed out, let us look at these elements more closely.
The Two Callings
The text begins with God’s command to Jacob to return to Bethel, the house of God. As this contextualizes what follows, therefore, Jacob’s actions are only properly understood in the context of God’s command to him; he is preparing his people to return to the house of God, Bethel. This leads to the second calling; Jacob calls his people to put away their idols, to purify themselves, and to change their garments. Jacob’s people is a group that consists of (a.)Jewish and (b.)Gentile idolaters. This is a sin that is not limited to the worship of figurines and statues made of precious metals and stones, but which is also identified by Paul as covetousness in Colossians 3:5-11. The context of Paul’s epistle, significantly, speaks of putting on “the new man which is being renewed after the image of its Creator” (v.10), echoing Jacob’s command to his people to “change [their] garments,” and states emphatically that “here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all,” echoing the unity of Jacob’s genetic family and gentile servants who were included in his call to repentance.
Jacob, like Christ, calls his people to repentance, forgiveness (i.e., purity), and a change of garments (i.e., putting on the righteousness of God). His people, like Christ’s church, consists of men, women, children, slaves, freemen, Jews and Gentiles; yet these people are equal in the sight of God, who knows them all as idolaters in need of repentance and forgiveness if they are to stand in His holy presence, in His house, as accepted worshipers. Incidentally, it is also interesting to note that just prior to Jacob’s call to return to Bethel, his sons had circumcised and, subsequently, slaughtered the gentiles who defiled their sister, Dinah. Paul’s emphasis on the unity of all believers, like Jacob’s calling all of his people to repent and be forgiven, does away with the external conflict between Jew and Gentile, turning judgment inwardly, instead, and revealing that God is not a respecter of persons: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The Shechemites did, in fact, sin against God and the Israelites by raping Dinah; however, the Israelites and gentiles in Jacob’s home had committed the greater sin of idolatry. Therefore, before even the Jew enters Bethel, the house of God, he must repent, be forgiven, and be given the garments appropriate to sitting and worshiping God in His house (cf., Matt 22:1-14).
Jacob’s call, as a foreshadowing of Christ’s call to all men to repent and believe the Gospel, is followed by his work of putting away the idolatry of his people, even as Christ’s preaching is followed by His redemptive work, in which, as Peter states, “He…bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1st Peter 2:24). Jacob hid the sins of his people, i.e. the idols, under a tree, foreshadowing the fact that Christ canceled “the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col 1:14), the “tree” upon which He became a curse for us (cf. Gal 3:13-14), even as Jacob became a curse for his people just prior to putting away their sin (cf. Gen 34:30). Note that in Galatians 3:13-14, moreover, Christ’s becoming a curse for His people is accomplished “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles…”
Thus, the whole of Jacob’s people, Jew and Gentile, are united not only in their idolatry, but also in their sin being dealt with by God’s chosen servant through the instrumental use of a tree. Likewise, Christ’s people, Jew and Gentile, are united not only in their idolatry, but also in their sin being dealt with by God’s chosen Servant though the instrumental use of a tree, the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. And again, note that Jacob, because of the sin of his children, became an accursed enemy to the Shechemites; likewise, Christ became a curse for us, as Paul notes.
Jacob is a type of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this means that there are also difference between his work and Christ’s. Jacob is an imperfect, sinful, shadowy picture of our perfect, sinless, and perspicuous Lord of Glory. Whereas Jacob’s becoming a curse did not end in his destruction, as he thought it would, Christ’s becoming a curse for us did end in His being crushed by God and, therefore, suffering the destruction due to us. Similarly, whereas Jacob’s tree hid the sin of his people, Christ’s tree is where our sin is put on display, even as Christ’s blood covers it. Lastly, whereas Jacob’s people changed physical clothing that time dissolved, and they travelled to a temporary place of worship called the house of God, we have been clothed with the eternal righteousness of Jesus Christ, garments which nothing can dissolve or sully, and we will spend eternity in the presence of our blessed Savior, unhindered by sin, death, and the devil – no longer sojourners on this earth, but residents of the New Jerusalem.