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