Genesis 35:1-4 – Following the events in Shechem it may have been that Jacob went to the Lord in prayer and confession of his failure and the failure of his family in their testimony to the people of Canaan. When God answered him, it was with instructions to move fifteen miles south to Bethel. Bethel was the place where God confirmed the Abrahamic covenant to Jacob in Genesis 28:10-19 following his and mother’s deception with Isaac.
It was here that Jacob made vows to the Lord which he hadn’t fully kept (Genesis 28:20-22). The promise that if God did something (such as give protection or victory), then he or she in return would make some act of devotion. The emphasis in the Bible is on keeping the vow. A vow unfulfilled is worse than a vow never made (Ecclesiastes 5:5).
God honored Jacob’s vow and called him to fulfill it in Genesis 31:13. While vows do not appear often in the New Testament, Paul made one that involved shaving his head (Acts 18:18). If Jacob had returned to Bethel instead of Shechem, the events of Genesis 34 would not have happened. Jacob calls his family to do something that they should have done long ago and that was to put away all the household gods that they had accumulated from Laban and Shechem.
He called for his family to cleanse themselves, and with him, return to God. Perhaps they were awakened from their spiritual slumber by the actions of Simeon and Levi and that the fear of retaliation from neighboring tribes. They buried their old life under the oak of Shechem. All of these things bring to mind the elements of coming to the Lord today. We turn from our own ways back to God and cleanse ourselves and are buried with Messiah in baptism.
Genesis 35:5-8 – As a result of their obedience, God gave them His protection by placing His fear on the Canaanites. This clearly was a miracle as the surrounding nations greatly outnumbered the people of Israel. While in Bethel Jacob built the altar he vowed to build and worshiped the Lord once again.
It was here that Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died. This woman nursed Jacob and was very close to both Rebekah and Jacob. She probably came into Jacob’s company on one of Jacob=s visits to his father Isaac. Since Rebekah had died, there probably was little need for her in Isaac=s house and Jacob probably convinced her to come with him and be a grandmother to his children in the place of his mother.
Genesis 35:9-15 – It is here at Bethel that God once again appears and renews the promises he made to Jacob at Bethel when he was fleeing Esau. God identifies Himself as El Shaddai, which literally is God Almighty. This is the name that God gave to Abraham when God established his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:1. Once again God promises that Jacob through his seed would be a great multitude, and that he would possess the land that he was walking on.
God also reaffirms Jacob’s new name, Israel. He was a powerful and prevailing prince of God, and the result is that he should act in such a way as to reflect his high calling. In much the same way we too are prince’s of God our King and called to live so as to reflect our high calling (1 Peter 2:9-10; Ephesians 4:1). After God finished speaking with Jacob, he went back up into the heavens.
Jacob erects another stone pillar and then anoints it with oil consecrating it as a memorial to the place and the encounter. He also pours wine on the stone which is the first mention of a drink offering. It is not found among the Levitical offerings of Leviticus 1-7, though included in the instructions for sacrifice after Israel entered the land (Numbers 15:5-7). It was always “poured out,” never drunk, and may be considered a type of Messiah in the sense of Psalm 22:14; Isaiah 53:12.
Genesis 35:16-20 – It is a stunning reality that often after incredible encounters with the Lord, when we feel as close as we have ever been to Him that a tragedy or some trial falls on us. This is exactly what happens to Jacob. When Rachel gave birth to her first son, she named him Joseph which means God will add, in confidence that Joseph was the first of her children. Now her trust that God would add another son is realized. She is well advanced in years and her body evidently could not handle this birth.
She gives birth in all likelihood prematurely while they are on their way back to Hebron in the town of Ephratha which was the name prior to its renaming later to Bethlehem. As she is giving birth, she is told by her midwife that her child is a son. As she is dying from the trauma of giving birth, she names the child Ben oni, which means Son of my Sorrow.
While Jacob watches in sorrow at the anguish of his wife he could not bear to have this son of Rachel bear the burden of such a name and so he renames him Benyomin or Benjamin, which means ASon of my right hand. This is a symbol of honor rather than a symbol of sorrow. The travail and sorrow accompanied at this birth are utilized as a picture of an event that Micah used to describe an event that would happen in the future in Micah 5:2.
Rachel’s tomb is on the outskirts of Bethlehem, on the road that leads to Jerusalem. Jacob erected a marker to remember and honor the wife whom he loves, in all likelihood the only of the four wives that he really loved. Moses notes that in his day, for he is the one writing here, that this marker was able to be seen in Bethlehem. From Genesis 48:7 we know that this place is in Bethlehem.
Genesis 35:21-26 – Jacob continues from here to the south to Migdal or the tower Eder which was a watchtower for shepherds between Bethlehem and Hebron. While they were camping here, a very unfortunate incident took place. It is noted because of the consequences that result from it. Reuben, who is now about 30 years old, was in the prime of his life with little opportunity to find a wife or even to meet any perspective girls for marriage.
The Canaanites around them were to be avoided and they probably avoided them because of the experiences at Shechem. Reuben developed some sort of relationship with Rachel=s maid Bilhah, the mother of Dan and Naphtali. Since there is no indication that rape was involved what may have happened is that at the death of Rachel, Bilhah may have presumed that Jacob’s primary affections would be directed toward her.
When Jacob didn’t seem to be interested in this, she may have directed her attentions to the heir apparent, Reuben, who probably welcomed the opportunity, if not encouraging it himself. The result was an affair, and when Jacob learned about it put an end to it and never forgot the impropriety of his son. On his deathbed Jacob officially removes the birthright from Reuben because of this incident. In light of this the writer, either Moses or Jacob recounts the sons and their mothers.
Genesis 35:27-29– At last Jacob arrives home to live. Isaac is old and blind, and in all likelihood feeble as well. At the age of 180 Isaac dies. Esau and Jacob, now reconciled, join together in burying their father Isaac. They buried him in the same cave where Rebekah was buried, as well as Abraham and Sarah, in Hebron. Today this site is known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and considered holy to Moslem and Jew.
How wrong Isaac had been about the time of his death! He lived for forty‑three years after the incident of Genesis 27, and twenty‑five years after Jacob returned from Paddan Aram. How different things would have been if Isaac had waited instead of going ahead with his actions to bless Esau.