Genesis 35 – Revival in Jacob’s Life
A. Jacob returns to Bethel.
1. (1) God speaks to Jacob, calling him back to Bethel.
Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.”
a. Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there: The whole Shechem incident happened because Jacob went to Shechem instead of Bethel, where he was supposed to be. Now at last he went where God told him to go (Genesis 31:13).
i. “The only cure for worldliness is to separate from it” (Barnhouse). Jacob had to leave Shechem and go to Bethel. There had to be a departure from one and a new direction and destination set. There was a new place for Jacob and his family to dwell.
ii. Genesis 34 does not mention God once, and is one of the most sordid chapters in Israel’s history. Genesis 35 mentions God over and over again, more than 10 times, plus 11 more times in names such as Bethel and Israel.
b. Make an altar there to God: Jacob was told to go back to Bethel and resume a life of worship there. This return to the LORD would have an especially good effect on the children of Jacob. This reminds us the best thing parents can do for their children is to choose God’s path themselves.
i. As Jacob looked back on his walk with God, the first meeting with God at Bethel must have seemed like a high point (Genesis 28:10-22). But to his credit, Jacob refused to think the best years of his life with God were behind him. He returned to his first love—he returned to Bethel, and God blessed it.
ii. “A revival of old memories is often most useful to us, especially to revive the memory of our conversion. The memory of the love of our espousals, when we went after the Lord into the wilderness, and were quite satisfied to be denied and disowned of all, so long as we might but dwell near to him—that memory is right good for us.” (Spurgeon)
2. (2-4) The cleansing of Jacob’s family.
And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then 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 in the way which I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.
a. Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves: Jacob’s family only got right with God after Jacob himself did. This again shows us the tremendous leadership role men have within the family. A man resisting God will see the same effect in his children. A man who gets right with God will also see the effect in his family.
i. Jacob’s children kept foreign gods because their mother did. Rachel kept the household idols of her father (Genesis 31:19). No matter how hard we try to teach our children godly conduct, they will continue to do what we do.
ii. “In families it is often well, when you see that things are wrong, just to call the household together and say, ‘We must draw near unto God with peculiar earnestness, for we are going astray. We have not given up family prayer, but we must now make it special, and with double zeal draw nigh unto God.’ I am afraid that some of you neglect family prayer. If you do I am sure it will work evil in your households.” (Spurgeon)
b. And change your garments: This was an important step, both literally and as a symbol of something spiritual. Jacob wanted them to be cleaned up and in their best frame of mind to come before the God they had neglected.
i. “Throughout the Bible, garments symbolize character. The inward life of the unregenerate is compared to a polluted garment.” (Barnhouse)
ii. Jude 23 gives the idea: but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Ephesians 4:22-24 gives a similar exhortation: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
c. And the earrings which were in their ears: Apparently, these earrings also had a pagan connection. Though one could find some justification for keeping the earrings, they got rid of them nonetheless.
i. It is important for everyone to take stock of what they may have in their home that is ungodly or connected to the occult, and promptly get rid of those things.
ii. “He had not said anything about their earrings. Was there any hurt in their earrings? For a woman to wear an earring is not such a dreadful thing, is it? Perhaps not, but I suppose that these earrings were charms, and that they were used in certain incantations, and heathenish customs. It must have been a very sad discovery to Jacob, who himself could not have endured it, to find that wicked superstitions had come into his tents.” (Spurgeon)
3. (5-7) God’s protection of Jacob; he comes to Bethel.
And they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother.
a. The terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob: This was God’s protection on Jacob and his family. It would have been fair of God to leave Jacob to the consequences of his sinful lack of leadership in the family. Yet God’s grace covered Jacob even when his sin had made them vulnerable.
i. Jacob and his family needed this protection, because the massacre at Shechem made them hated among the Canaanites, as Jacob feared in Genesis 34:30.
b. He built an altar there and called the place El Bethel: Though Jacob had sinned, he now did what was right before God. He did this despite the danger, and trusting God’s protection. He might have justified a lack of obedience because of fear, but he trusted God instead.
i. “They came to Bethel, and I can almost picture the grateful delight of Jacob as he looked upon those great stones among which he had lain him down to sleep, a lonely man. Perhaps he hunted out the stone that had been his pillow; probably it still stood erect as part of the pillar which he had reared in memory of the goodness of God, and the vision he had seen. There were many regrets, many confessions, many thanksgivings at Bethel.” (Spurgeon)
ii. It was dangerous for Jacob to set out to Bethel, but it was more dangerous for him to disobey God. The only thing that could save him was a radical obedience to the LORD. No matter what the circumstances look like, the safest thing to do is the will of God.
4. (8) The death of Deborah, Rebekah’s beloved nurse.
Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the terebinth tree. So the name of it was called Allon Bachuth.
a. Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died: We know nothing of this woman before this account. Seemingly, she came with Rebekah as a companion when she came from Haran to marry Isaac. Obviously, she was a beloved member of the family, because they named the place where she was buried Allon Bachuth, which means “Oak of Weeping.”
b. Rebekah’s nurse: Some commentators assume for some reason that she came to be in Jacob’s household, coming from his mother’s household, but we do not know for certain if this is the case.
5. (9-15) God speaks to Jacob again at Bethel.
Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name.” So He called his name Israel. Also God said to him: “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land.” Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him. So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel.
a. Then God appeared to Jacob again… and blessed him: When Jacob finally arrived at the place God told him to go, he immediately found great blessing. God appeared to him, God blessed him, and God called him by his new name (Israel).
i. The reminder of the new name was important, because Jacob had acted like the old Jacob instead of Israel. Yet God wanted to set his mind on the new man God made him to be. God does the same with us, reminding us who we are in Him. God wants us to remember and live in the great names He gives us.
ii. Israel shall be your name: “The next thing that came of it was a confirmation to Jacob of his title of prince, which conferred a dignity on the whole family. For a father to be a prince ennobles all the clan. God now puts upon them another dignity and nobility which they had not known before, for a holy people are a noble people” (Spurgeon).
b. God appeared to Jacob again: Relationship was restored. This was an excellent example of what it means to return to your first love, as in Revelation 2:4-5: Jacob remembered to go back to Bethel. He repented by getting rid of all the idols, and he did the first works by building an altar and worshipping God as before.
c. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land: God granted Jacob a precious reminder of his place in God’s great covenant, begun with his grandfather Abraham. In this, Jacob did not need to hear anything new from God. He just needed to be reminded of what was true, and be encouraged to cling to it all.
d. Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him: Seemingly, God appeared to Jacob here in bodily form. God blessed Jacob remarkably after his return to his first love. Much blessing waits for us until we do what God tells us to do.
e. He poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it: Appropriately, Jacob performed sacrificial acts of worship to the God who had blessed him so much.
i. The idea of a drink offering is found in several places in the Bible. Exodus 29:40-41, Leviticus 23:13, and Numbers 15:5-7 show the drink offering was made with wine poured out in sacrifice before the LORD at His altar. Paul considered the pouring out of his life before God to be like the pouring out of a drink offering at God’s altar (Philippians 2:17 and 2 Timothy 4:6).
ii. Jacob’s heart of worship showed gratitude towards God. When we look back on life, we should never have the attitude that says, “I was robbed.” Instead our heart should say, “God has blessed.” This will probably determine if we will be perfectly miserable or perfectly delightful as we get older.
B. The birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel.
1. (16-17) The birth of another son.
Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, “Do not fear; you will have this son also.”
a. Rachel labored in childbirth: There seems to be none of the contentiousness and competitiveness surrounding the birth of this last son, possibly because they were all older at this time. More so, it was because they were now in the Promised Land and it just wasn’t as important as before.
b. In childbirth: We don’t know how long Jacob stayed at Bethel, but it is possible this last child was conceived at this place where Jacob came back to his first love for the LORD.
2. (18) The naming of the last son.
And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
a. She called his name Ben-Oni: Rachel named this last child – who before would have been seen as a cause for rejoicing and victory in the competition with her sister – Ben-Oni, meaning “son of my sorrow.”
i. Ultimately, this shows the futility of Rachel’s competition with her sister Leah. Now at the time of her final “victory,” all she found was sorrow.
b. But his father called him Benjamin: Jacob wisely named the child Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” Perhaps he rightly sensed the special place God had for this child, or perhaps he simply prized Benjamin so greatly because he was the final link between him and the woman he most loved.
c. Benjamin: The right side was associated with greater strength and honor, because most people are right-handed. Benjamin (son of my right hand), therefore, has the idea of “son of my strength” or “son of my honor.”
i. The idea is expressed in passages like Exodus 15:6: Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces.
ii. The LORD is our strength and honor, as in Psalm 16:8: I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.
iii. God’s strength and honor are for us: My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me (Psalm 63:8). Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me (Psalm 138:7).
iv. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, the position of strength and honor, and we sit there with Him! If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1).
3. (19-20) The death and burial of Rachel.
So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.
a. Rachel died and was buried: Rachel’s death was a tragic fulfillment of the curse Jacob himself pronounced on the one who stole the idols of Laban (Genesis 31:32).
i. In Genesis 30:1, Rachel pleaded with Jacob, Give me children, or else I die! As it happened, both became true. She had children and she died as a result.
b. Jacob set a pillar on her grave: This also shows that even when we get right with God and return to our first love, it doesn’t mean life becomes easy and comfortable. There are constant challenges for us to trust God.
i. We cannot prize comfort more than getting right with God. For some, comfort is their idol – a false god they worship with constant pursuit and attention. Some only want a comfortable life, not a godly life. The symbol for some Christians seems to be an easy chair, not a cross.
4. (21-22a) Reuben’s sin with his father’s concubine.
Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. And it happened, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard about it.
a. Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: Reuben was the firstborn. We might expect the best conduct from him, and might expect him to most seriously receive the covenant of his fathers. Yet here, he sinned in a most offensive way against his father and entire family.
i. However, we don’t have to wonder about where this sinful conduct came from. In a home so filled with strife, contention, competition, and the pursuit of the flesh, it was almost to be expected.
b. Israel heard about it: Through their sin Reuben, Simeon, and Levi seemed to disqualify themselves from the high calling of Abraham’s blessing. It will be up to the fourth son, Judah, to bring forth the Messiah.
5. (22b-26) Jacob’s 12 sons.
Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: the sons of Leah were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; the sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin; the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, were Dan and Naphtali; and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, were Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Padan Aram.
a. The sons of Jacob were twelve: From what we have seen in the last few chapters, this was not a collection of amazingly spiritual men.
i. “We are greatly amazed in reflecting upon the event as a whole that descendants of the worthy patriarch Abraham should almost immediately after his time already have sunk to the level upon which Jacob’s sons stand in this chapter.” (Leupold)
b. These were the sons of Jacob: This was actually a severely dysfunctional family. God will use this family, but not because they were such great or spiritual men, but because He chose them by His grace alone.
C. The death of Isaac.
1. (27) Jacob visits his father Isaac one last time.
Then Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had dwelt.
a. Jacob came to his father Isaac: More than 20 years ago, Jacob left his home thinking his father would soon die. Jacob probably never expected to see his father again before he died.
i. We should remember our times are in God’s hands. We may expect a long or short life for others or ourselves and be quite wrong. Only God knows.
b. His father Isaac: There seemed to be nothing dramatic between Isaac and Jacob at this meeting. There are recorded no further words or blessings. It was possible Isaac was hindered by his old age.
2. (28-29) Jacob and Esau bury their father together.
Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. So Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, being old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
a. His sons Esau and Jacob buried him: The sons had already been brought together by God’s hand. Now they worked together again, united by the death of their father.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission