As Jacob was headed to Laban’s house to seek a wife (and flee his brother Esau’s wrath), he met God at a place he would call “Beth-el” (“Beth” meaning house and “el” meaning God). “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”…And he called the name of that place Bethel” (Gen. 28:17,19)
Twenty five or so years later, when Jacob and his family needed to leave Shechem because of the actions of his sons, he was called by God to go back to that place. “Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’” (Gen. 35:1)
Before going to the place of God, Jacob knew that his family had some things to correct. Over the years they had become too much like the world in their religion and their actions. “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Gen. 35:2,3)
They had many things that they needed to leave behind in Shechem and not take to the house of God. They needed to leave the idols Rachel took from her father’s house and the duplicity they had practiced their neighbors. They need to “change their clothes” and go worship God.
It is fitting that later Joshua chose Shechem to give his rousing “Choose you this day” speech against idolatry. (Josh. 24) In every generation, we need to leave some things in Shechem and go to Bethel.