Genesis 35

Jacob comes to Bethel, then Mamre
Genesis 35
Genesis 35. In this chapter Jacob readies himself to meet God, and finally comes back to Bethel. In Bethel, God meets Jacob and reveals Himself as “El Shaddai”, and then gives Jacob great promises. Jacob then proceeds to Hebron, which is a type of communion. 

Jacob Goes up to Bethel (35:1-5)

1 And God said to Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there, and make there an altar unto the GOD that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. v.1 God’s Command. It would seem that the events of ch.34 were allowed of God to dislodge Jacob from the place where he had been living. But now a direct command comes from God to “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there, and make there an altar”. God connects Himself with the appearance in ch.32 at Peniel; “the GOD that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother”. It is as if all the years that had intervened from Peniel to Bethel were of no profit. In Shechem Jacob had an altar; “Elelohe-Israel” or God, the God of Israel (Gen. 33:20). It represents God’s providential care for Israel personally. This is how we come to know God at first: in an individual way. But this falls short of what we get in ch.35; “God, of the House of God”. Later we understand God in relation to the whole of that which represents Him in this world, and the importance of our conduct as in the house of God. It is possible to have an altar such as that in ch.33 without really dealing with issues in our own family. But when we come to Bethel, so to speak, our whole household becomes involved. This is why in 1 Timothy, when addressing the qualifications for oversight in the house of the living God, the condition of the overseer’s household is mentioned. Before this, Jacob had been careless about his household. How different from Abraham, of whom the Lord could say, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment” (Gen. 18:19).
2 And Jacob said to his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and cleanse yourselves, and change your garments; 3 and we will arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar to the GOD that answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way that I went. 4 And they gave to Jacob all the strange gods that were in their hand, and the rings that were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the terebinth that is by Shechem. vv.2-4 Jacob cleanses his house of idolatry. Jacob was going to cleanse his household before going up to Bethel. It is interesting that this place, Shechem, is the same place in which Joshua would later say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Jacob knew that he would be meeting God there, and wanted his family in order. He had been indifferent to it before this. Bethel means ‘house of God’, and in scripture the house of God is always connected with order and holiness. Whether it be the house of God in the wilderness in Moses’ day (Exodus 25:9), the temple in David and Solomon’s day (1 Chron. 28:12), or the temple in a millennial day (Ezek. 43:10), there was a pattern for the house of God that was to be strictly followed. The leading feature of the house of God is holiness. “This is the law of the house; Upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the house” (Ezek. 43:12). “Holiness becometh thine house O Lord forever” (Psa. 93:5). Jacob knew that his own household was “not so with God” (2 Sam. 23:5), and a change was required.
  • “Put away the strange gods… and they gave to Jacob all the strange gods that were in their hand”. The family idols that Rachel had taken from Laban had spread through the whole family. Idolatry, which is compared to covetousness in the New Testament (Col. 3:5), is a sin that grows like a weed. We pick up worldly objects one by one, until without realizing it, out family is full of idols.
  • “And cleanse yourselves”. Association with idols resulted in defilement. The same is true for us. We might not realize it, but when we adopt the world’s objects, we also adopt the world’s ways. A moral cleansing is needed. We have the antidote for this in John 13; the daily washing of our feet with the water of the Word of God.
  • “And change your garments… and the rings that were in their ears”. There were no doubt certain types of clothing and certain types of jewelry that were associated with idolatry. Garments in scripture often speak of character; that which is displayed in our walk. Along with the moral defilement, there is an entire outward character of living that we can adopt while living in the world that has no place in the house of God. When we were saved, we put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man. But there needs to be a practical reflection of that in our character. We get much of this character in 1 Timothy.
  • “And Jacob hid them under the terebinth that is by Shechem.” All of it, the idols along with the clothing, etc., had to be buried underneath the terebinth (oak) tree. Perhaps this represents the cross of Christ, which separates the believer from the world (Gal. 6:14).
5 And they journeyed; and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. v.5 Divine Protection. Jacob was afraid of retaliation from the surrounding cities because of heinous actions of Levi and Simeon. However, “the terror of God was upon the cities” such that they “did not pursue after the sons of Jacob”. God was providentially watching over Jacob as he journeyed in obedience to the Divine command.

El Shaddai Appears to Jacob in Bethel (35:6-15)

6 And Jacob came to Luz [‘almond tree’ or ‘separation’] , which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel [‘house of God’], he and all the people that were with him. 7 And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el [‘God of the house of God’]; because there God had appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother. vv.6-7 It is interesting that the place Jacob called ‘Bethel’ was previously known as ‘Luz’, which apparently means separation. It represents separation “from” without separation “to” the Lord. It is a legal separation. Notice in Judges 1:22-26, when the children of Joseph went to take Bethel, and they let a man of that city live in exchange for showing them the entrance, that the man “went into the land of the Hittites, and built a city, and called the name thereof Luz”. He had no problem starting over in another place. It shows us, in type, that you can have legal separation and be in the world morally. Legality is totally compatible with worldliness, because both put the soul at a distance from God. As we previously mentioned, coming to know God in connection with the house of God is different from knowing Him in connection with ourselves personally. We need to see our household in connection with God’s.

8 And Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, died; and she was buried beneath Bethel, under the oak; and the name of it was called Allon-bachuth [‘oak of weeping’]. v.8 Deborah Dies. We might wonder what Rebecca’s nurse was doing with Jacob at this time. Rebecca had likely died by this time, and her nurse, who would have cared for her for many years, continued caring for Rebecca’s favorite son until her last breath. This would explain why he had not remained with Isaac. She was obviously loved by Jacob’s family, who named the oak she was buried under ‘the oak of weeping’. It is interesting that God’s appearance to Jacob (vv.9-15) is bracketed by two deaths: that of Rebecca’s nurse, and that of Rachel. God’s promise to Jacob of fruitfulness comes in the midst of a scene of death.
9 And God appeared to Jacob again after he had come from Padan-Aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not henceforth be called Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name. And he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, I am the Almighty GOD: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee; and kings shall come out of thy loins. 12 And the land that I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. 13 And God went up from him in the place where he had talked with him. vv.9-13 God Appears to Jacob. God finally appeared to Jacob. He changed Jacob’s name formally to ‘Israel’, which means ‘a prince with God’. It is striking that the name is given as if for the first time, because God had already given it to Jacob in Gen. 32:28. But Jacob was now in the land, and the name ‘Israel’ is given to him afresh. God also revealed Himself to Jacob under a new name; El-Shaddai, the Almighty God. This is the same name that God revealed Himself under to Abraham in Genesis 17, when He entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham. It is the characteristic name God in relation to the patriarchs. Read more… The blessing given here to Jacob is the richest and fullest he had been given yet. The theme is royal fruitfulness in connection with the promised land. Jacob says nothing of his own faithfulness in exchange for Divine promises, as he had said at Bethel in ch.28. It is all the sovereign grace of God.
14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had talked with him, a pillar of stone, and poured on it a drink-offering, and poured oil on it. 15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God had talked with him, Beth-el. vv.14-15 A Pillar at Bethel. This is the third of four pillars in Jacob’s life; perhaps representing what he considered to be major milestones. The first was when God appeared to Jacob in Bethel the first time (Gen. 28:18) when he was leaving the land. The second was in Gen. 31:45 to witness his peace with Laban. This third, a pillar of thanksgiving, is set up after Jacob returns to Canaan when God reveals Himself as Almighty. The final one, a pillar of sorrow, is in v.20 to mark Rachel’s grave. Jacob names the place Bethel (‘house of God’).

The Birth of Benjamin, death of Rachel (35:16-20)

16 And they journeyed from Bethel. And there was yet a certain distance to come to Ephrath, when Rachel travailed in childbirth; and it went hard with her in her childbearing. 17 And it came to pass when it went hard with her in her childbearing, that the midwife said to her, Fear not; for this also is a son for thee. 18 And it came to pass as her soul was departing — for she died — that she called his name Benoni [‘son of my sorrow’]; but his father called him Benjamin [‘son of my right hand’]. 19 And Rachel died, and was buried on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. 20 And Jacob erected a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day. vv.16-19 Rachel dies in childbirth, and this is related by the Spirit as a premature death. Since the birth of her first-born Joseph, Rachel had stolen her father’s idols and lied to keep them, and we read of no personal repentance on her part. Her words at Joseph’s birth were spoken in faith; “Jehovah will add to me another son” (Gen. 30:24), and so God honored that faith. She had another son, but died as a result. No doubt her death was in some way the government of God over her, and working in Jacob’s life as well (1 Cor. 11:27-32). The midwife tried to comfort Rachel, saying “Fear not; for this also is a son for thee.” However, Rachel couldn’t seem to see beyond the present circumstances. In her final words, “as her soul was departing”, “she called his name Benoni”, which means ‘son of my sorrow’. Jacob on the other hand, though he was saddened by the loss of Rachel, called the boy instead “Benjamin”, which means ‘son of my right hand’. Jacob was looking to the future in light of the promises the Almighty God had just made to him in Bethel; “kings shall come out of thy loins”. The royal line of kings would not flow from Benjamin, but from Judah. Nevertheless, the earthly seat of royal government would later be at Jerusalem, which was within the tribe of Benjamin. Furthermore, Benjamin remained with Judah in the split in Rehoboam’s day. Benjamin was the only son born in the land of Canaan, and the only son named by Jacob. Benjamin represents Christ in power and glory, conquering His enemies, and reigning in the land during the Millennium (Gen. 49:27). For ‘son of my right hand’ see Heb. 1:3. The place of Benjamin’s birth and Rachel’s burial is specifically noted; “on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem”. Our thoughts go forward four-hundred years to briefly rest on the young shepherd boy from Bethlehem, whom Jehovah took “to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance” (Psa. 78:70-71). But then our thoughts would go forward a thousand years more, to the time “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea” (Matt. 2:1). For there, in that little village of Bethlehem in Judah, the true king of Israel was born, who would save His people from their sins, and will yet take His place as the Ruler of Israel. “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2, see Matt. 2:6). As concerning Christ’s coming to Israel, it was first “son of my sorrow” as rejected by Israel. But at the second coming, it will be “son of my right hand”, Christ coming forth in blessing to Israel as a victorious conqueror.


The Sin of Reuben (35:21-26)

21 And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent on the other side of Migdal-Eder [‘Tower of the flocks’]. 22 And it came to pass when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it. And the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben — Jacob’s firstborn — and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant: Dan and Naphtali. 26 And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob that were born to him in Padan-Aram. vv.21-26 Jacob moves just a little, to the other side of “the tower of the flocks” which is mentioned in Micah 4:8 and may very well have been the ancient hill of Zion. Jacob was now living in the vicinity of what was later known as Jerusalem. The birth of Benjamin calls forth the mention of each of Israel’s sons. However, a sad detail is mentioned regarding Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn son. We have already read of the pain that Dinah brought to Jacob, and of the grievous dishonor done to him by Simeon and Levi. But now a deep, personal humiliation arises, and from none other than Jacob’s firstborn. Reuben lays with his father’s concubine Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. This is immoral to begin with, but it was also insulting to Jacob, as well as to Dan and Naphtali. This is the same sin that the brother in Corinth was guilty of, and had to be excommunicated for; “that one should have his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). It is called there “the leaven of malice and wickedness”. It simply says “Israel heard of it”. Perhaps the pain was too deep to be expressed in words. Because of this sin Reuben forfeited the birthright; see 1 Chron. 5:1-2. Genesis 49:3 was what Reuben should have been, but Gen. 49:4 is what he was.

The Death of Isaac (35:27-29)

27 And Jacob came to Isaac his father to Mamre — to Kirjath-Arba, which is Hebron; where Abraham had sojourned, and Isaac. 28 And the days of Isaac were a hundred and eighty years. 29 And Isaac expired and died, and was gathered to his peoples, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him. vv.27-29 Jacob moved his family again, and finally came home to his father Isaac. Rebecca was now out of the picture. Jacob is finally home to “Mamre” or fatness, and Hebron means “communion”. It was the very same “Hebron; where Abraham had sojourned, and Isaac”. It is beautiful to consider Isaac finished his days in the place of communion. The years of Isaac’s life are given at 180, which puts his death well beyond the events of this chapter chronologically. If Isaac was sixty when Jacob was born (Gen. 25:26), then Jacob was 120 when Isaac died. From Gen. 47:28 we conclude that Isaac died 147-120 = 27 years before Jacob, and since Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years, Isaac would have died ten years before Jacob came to Egypt. And since there were at least seven years of plenty plus probably several of the years of famine before Jacob came to Egypt, the death of Isaac would roughly coincide with the time of Joseph’s exaltation in Egypt. Jacob and Esau reunite to bury their father.