Genesis 35


‘Then God said to Jacob, ‘Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.’ So, Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.’ So, they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.’ Genesis 35:1-7

In contrast to the last chapter where God isn’t mentioned once, in this chapter we see that God is mentioned twelve times. Jacob had to leave Shechem and go back to Bethel, this was the very place where God first appeared to him when he was running away from Esau.

Jacob’s family starts again, this starts after Jacob gets right with God, and it seems that the children kept household gods just like Rachel. Jacob knew this wasn’t a good idea and so took the lead as head of the family to get rid of them. Obviously, the danger was idolatry and so Jacob buried them under an oak tree at Shechem.

They changed their clothes which was a symbol of new for old, Jude 23 / Ephesians 4:22-24. Even earrings had a pagan connection.

Notice the ‘terror of God fell on the towns’, it seems that the people who lived in these towns must have heard what Simeon and Levi did to Shechem and Hamor, Genesis 34:25-31.

Jacob proceeds to build an altar and called the place ‘El Bethel’ which means, ‘God of Bethel’.

‘Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So, it was named Allon Bakuth. After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.’ So, he named him Israel. And God said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.’ Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him. Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.’ Genesis 35:8-15

Here we read about the death of Deborah, who was Rebekah’s nurse, afterwards, God appears to Jacob and blesses him. Notice also that God now calls Jacob, ‘Israel’. God once again reminds him of the promises He made to Abraham, that many nations and kings would come from his descendants, Genesis 17:5-6.

And so, now as promised, Jacob will have many nations and kings come through his descendants and the land promise if mentioned. God seems to speak to Jacob in bodily form, hence ‘He went up from him’.

Jacob proceeds to set up a stone pillar as a memorial to where the promises of God were made to him. This was an act of faith by Jacob that he would follow God and keep His covenant with Him.

The drink offerings were a way of expressing gratitude towards God, Exodus 29:40-41 / Leviticus 23:13 / Numbers 15:5-7 / Philippians 2:17 / 2 Timothy 4:6.

‘Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, ‘Don’t despair, for you have another son.’ As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. So, Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.’ Genesis 35:16-20

Here we read the sad account of Rachel dying moments after she gives birth to a son. It doesn’t seem all that long ago when Rachel was pleading with Jacob for children, Genesis 30:1, she had a second son and then died.

Rachel named the child, Ben-Oni, which means ‘son of my trouble’, but Jacob changed his name to Benjamin which means ‘son of my right hand’.

It’s interesting that the words, ‘right hand’ speak of authority, Exodus 15:6 / Psalm 16:8 / Psalm 63:8 / Colossians 3:1 / Ephesians 1:20-23 / Hebrews 8:1. It’s possible that Jacob changed his son’s name for good reason.

Jacob honours Rachel by setting up a memorial for her. If this teaches us anything, it teaches us that just because we do God’s will doesn’t mean that everything will be right.

‘Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder. While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it. Jacob had twelve sons: The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram. Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.’ Genesis 35:21-29

After the sadness of Rachel’s death and the happiness of Benjamin being born, it’s not long before sin raises its ugly head again. here we read that Rueben sins with Bilhah as he sleeps with his father’s concubine. He obviously had no respect for Jacob, his authority as head of the house and his household.

It’s now we begin to understand why Rueben, Simeon and Levi will be disqualified from the seed promise, it would be Judah who would bring the seed promise. I’m sure Ruben must have thought nothing was going to happen because Jacob doesn’t deal with it there and then, but later Rueben would be excluded as a leader in the covenant, Genesis 49:3-4.

This list of Jacob’s sons is according to their mothers who were Leah and Rachel, with the sons of the handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah placed second. Interestingly, the list says that they were born in Paddan Aram but doesn’t say anything about Benjamin being born in Canaan.

For Jacob, it must have felt like a lifetime ago when he heard his father, Isaac said, he was going to die, Genesis 27:1-2, but Isaac lived until Jacob came back from Laban’s house.

Notice that Esau and Jacob buried their father together, it seems the hostility between them has finally gone.

Go To Genesis 36