Gen 35:1-7 NRSV
1 God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle 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 clothes; 3 then come, let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who answered 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; and Jacob hid them under the oak that was near Shechem.
5 As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them. 6 Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother.
Jacob retuned to Bethel both physically and spiritually. This had been Jacob’s destination all along until fear gripped him and diverted his journey. He decided to play it “safe.” The “safety” nearly destroyed his family as they were seduced by foreign Gods and lifestyles. Instead of being peaceful shepherds in the land they became feared aggressors. God called to Jacob once again in the midst of the disaster. God called him back to where it started.
Jacob began with repentance. The narrator foreshadows rituals found in the Mosaic Law. Jacob required the clan to put away their foreign gods literally and figuratively. The people responded. Jacob disposed of the idols and thereby resumed his role of authority. They put on clean clothes symbolizing a life of purity. Having repented (turned around) Jacob headed to Bethel.
Jacob built an altar upon arrival and named the place El-Bethel. I wrote earlier that Bethel meant “house of God.” The new name essentially meant “God of the house of God.” Jacob had come to the realization that God was not confined to a place. No shrine or temple could contain him.
Jacob had departed from God’s call out of fear. The fear created a delusion in his own mind that it would be safer to go other then where God was leading. He bought into the illusion of safety even as family was being lured to spiritual death by embracing foreign gods and lifestyles. So numbed was Jacob that he had become indifferent to the horrifying assault on his daughter. God apparently used the vengeful wrath of his Jacob’s sons to snap the spell Jacob was under. God disillusioned him. God called Jacob on to the reality he had in store. Jacob repented and followed. He realized it was the only “safe” thing to do.