Genesis 35 The Return To Bethel, And The Deaths Of Rachel And Isaac.
Jacob returns to the place called God’s house, where he had received the vision of the ladder up to heaven, and angels ascending and descending. It was in this dream that the LORD told him that the promise of the land, given to Abraham his forefather, would be fulfilled in him and his posterity which would be greatly multiplied (Gen. 28:10-19). This is also the place where he made a vow that, if the LORD would give him food and clothing for his coming journey he would return to this place in the promised land (vv. 20-21). An altar was consecrated there, and Jacob also vowed to give a tenth of all he had (v. 22). Then, leaving father and mother he began his journey and meets and marries Rachel and Leah, and we read of the record of his sons and Dinah (29:1-30:24). Then he makes an agreement with his father-in-law Laban, and continues on his journey, until he is pursued by Laban and they make a covenant (30:25-31:55). Jacob then is visited by angels again, and meets Esau, but not until he wrestles with the God-Man and he is given a new name – Israel, the prince of God (32-33). Jacob is then told by God to return to Bethel (35:1).
In light of this journey back to Bethel, the house of God, Jacob instructs everyone to repent of their idols, purify themselves, and put on new clothes (v. 2). They were going to worship the LORD at the place where Jacob’s journey had begun (v. 3). Jacob then buries the idols and earrings by the terebinth tree in Shechem (v. 4). The terror of God was upon the surrounding peoples so that the people could make this journey unmolested (v. 5). Upon arriving at Bethel Jacob built an altar to the LORD, and they remembered that it was the LORD who had been with them of their journey, and was bringing them here to fulfill promises made to Abraham – so it was a place of covenant renewal (vv. 6-7). Deborah, Rachel’s nurse, dies and is buried below Bethel, at Allon Bachuth (Terebinth of Weeping) (v. 8). God then appeared to Jacob again, and told reminded him that his name was now Israel, and commanded again the nation to be fruitful and multiply, and that from Jacob’s seed kings would come (vv. 9-11). The promise of land given to Abraham and Isaac, would now be carried forward in Israel. When the LORD departed then Israel (Jacob) consecrated the altar he had erected there (vv. 12-15).
There is something else which came full circle, the life of Rachel. Jacob met Rachel as he began his journey, and now she will pass away upon her return, but not until she gave birth to another son (vv. 16-17). Rachel wanted to name the boy Ben-Oni (meaning ‘Son of My Sorrow’), but in faith Israel named him Benjamin (meaning Son of the Right Hand’) – this was on the way to Ephrath (that is Bethlehem, meaning ‘House of Bread’) (vv. 18-19). Jacob then set up an altar at the site of Rachel’s burial (v. 20). For Rachel the birth of Benjamin was a matter of sorrow, but Jacob looked at him as one who would rule – the meaning of “the right hand.” However, no sooner than when they had settled in the land, sin broke out with Rueben laying with Bilah, his father’s concubine (vv. 21-22). Reuben was also a son of Leah, and Jacob’s firstborn (v. 23a). As the only sons of Rachel, Joseph and Benjamin were special to Jacob. Upon listing the twelve sons (vv. 23b-26), Moses then recorded Jacob’s last visit with Isaac before his death, at Hebron, “where Abraham and Isaac had dwelt” (v. 27). Isaac lived 180 years, and surprisingly both Jacob and Esau buried him together.