After the incident in Shechem, the Lord commanded Jacob to return to Bethel and to build an altar. In this passage, the Lord personally reconfirmed Jacob the blessing of Abraham which was previously told by his father, Isaac. Through his journey to Bethel, Jacob must experience the lost of his beloved ones, Rebekah’s nurse, his beloved wife and his dear father. The narrative serves as a reminder for us not to waver on God’s promises for God will always be true and faithful to His promises.
Did You Know...?
- Foreign gods (35:2): The word “foreign” can literally be translated in Greek-Septuagint as “outside one’s customary practice” or “does not belong to one’s own.”
- Earrings (35:4): Idols possessed earrings is widely evidenced in the ancient Near East.
In the Scriptures, there were cases of earrings collected to be shaped as idols (Ex 32:2-4; Judg 8:24-27). In addition, the prophets mentioned how the earrings were used as an accompaniment to idol-worshipping (Isa 3:19; Hos 2:13).
- “Jacob hid them” (35:4): The Greek-Septuagint literally phrased the verse as ”Jacob destroyed them until this very day.”
- “They did not pursue” (35:5): The word “pursue” in Hebrew can be literally translated as ”hunt,” describing the hunting down of an enemy.
- El Bethel (35:7) can be literally translated as “the God of Bethel” or “the God, the house of God” in Hebrew.
- Allon Bachuth (35:8) in Hebrew, can literally be translated as ”the oak of weeping” or “the acorn of grief.”
- Rebekah’s nurse (35:8): Nurse or midwife was generally older women and served as resources to teach young women about sexual activity and to aid in the birth of children. They were also a part of the naming ritual and may have helped teach new mothers about nursing and child care. [ref]
- Israel (35:10) literally in Hebrew can be translated as “Let God persevere” or “Let God contend.”
- Drink offering (35:14) consisted of wine (Num 15:5; Hos 9:4). The drink offering is also an accompaniment for animal or grain offering (1 Chr 29:21; Ezra 7:17).
- “Rachel’s soul was departing” (35:18): This phrase can literally be translated in Greek-Septuagint as “the soul was in the process of giving up.”
- Ben-Oni (35:18) can be translated in Hebrew literally as “Son of my sorrow” or “son of my distress.”
- Benjamin (35:18): The name in Hebrew literally means “son of the right hand.”
- “Full of days” (35:29) is an Hebrew expression which can literally be translated as “satisfied with days/years” or “in good old age.” In the Old Testament, such a phrase was used to express how Abraham, Job, Isaac and David died in their good old age, full of days (Gen 25:8, 35:29; Job 42:17;
1 Chr 29:28).
Here, the Lord introduced Himself to Jacob that He was the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. Not only would God give the land to his descendants but He would also promise to be with Jacob and to keep him wherever he went. And God emphasized that He would bring him back to this land (Gen 28:13-15).
The emphasis in Gen 31;
The emphasis in Gen 35;
The responses of Jacob in Gen 35 were connected to Jacob’s previous troubles in Gen 34. First, Jacob’s commitment to instruct all his household and all the people who were with him to put away the foreign gods among themselves (Gen 35:4) showed the turning point of Jacob’s walk of faith. Here, in Gen 35:2, 3, for the first time, Jacob focused on obeying God immediately and pleasing Him with gratitude. In spite of Jacob’s fear of death from Gen 34:30, Jacob did not give in to his fear but put his faith in God.
Second, Jacob instructed his household and his people to purify themselves. This purification was necessary due to the murder committed by Jacob’s two sons (Gen 34:5, 25-26). The book of Numbers mentioned how Moses told those Israelites who had killed any person during battle and had touched any slain to purify themselves and their captives (Num 31:19-20). Jacob’s sons not only intentionally killed all the men at Shechem but they also looted the corpses of Shechem (Gen 34:27). Thus, before Jacob and all his household committed themselves to the Lord, they needed to purify themselves.
Previously in Gen 28:15, the Lord had promised Jacob that He would be with him and would keep him wherever he went, and would not leave him until He had done what He had spoken to Jacob. When Jacob had become obnoxious among the inhabitants of Canaan, the Lord protected Jacob and his household by imposing His terror upon the cities around them. Thus, the inhabitants no longer pursued the sons of Jacob (Gen 35:5, 34:30).
In Gen 32:28, the Lord first informed Jacob about the changing of his name into Israel. Through the changing of his name, God made an emphasis that Jacob had struggled with God and with men, and he had prevailed. While in Gen 35, this was the second time God reminded Jacob about his name change. Here, the Lord emphasized additional meanings to Jacob’s new name. The new-given name, Israel, means a nation and a company of nations would proceed from Jacob and kings would come from his body. In addition, the land which God had given to Abraham and to Isaac, would be given to Jacob and his descendants (Gen 35:11-12).
What were the specific instructions of God to Jacob after the events in Shechem?
How were the instructions related to Jacob’s previous vow?Hide Answer
God’s instructions in Gen 35:1 were related to the vow which Jacob had made previously. In Gen 28:20, after Jacob had a dream of angels ascending and descending the ladder of heaven, he vowed that “if God [would] be with [him] and [kept him] in [that] way that [he was] going…so that [he came] back to [his] father’s house in peace, then the LORD [would] be [his] God. And [that] stone which [he had] set as a pillar [would] be God’s house.”
What can we learn about the emphasis of God’s instructions in Gen 35:1 to Jacob?Hide Answer
God stressed His instructions to Jacob into four different commands: Arise, go, dwell and make an altar (Gen 35:1). God’s emphasis was to remind the hesitant-Jacob to perform his vow. Previously, after the Angel of God had reminded Jacob to return to Bethel to perform his vow, Jacob did leave Laban and went on his journey to the land of his father (Gen 31:13, 21). Yet, in his journey, Jacob decided to dwell in the city of Shechem (Gen 33:18). Not until Jacob was troubled again in Gen 34:30, did God instruct him to go to Bethel.
The event of Jacob reminds us to fulfill and not to delay what we have promised or vowed to the Lord. The book of Numbers describes that if a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word and he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth (Num 30:2). Moreover, the writer of Ecclesiastes adds, ”When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it, for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed” (Ecc 5:4). These two verses teach us that God seriously considers our words of promise and vow. In other words, we should be truthful and take seriously what we have said in our promises. Tarrying and delaying the vow which we have made shows that not only are we dishonoring Him but that we are also indirectly disobeying God Himself.
Who were the recipients of Jacob’s commands? Who were they specifically?Hide Answer
The recipients of Jacob’s commands were his household—namely his wives and all their children and all the male and female servants whom he had acquired from the house of Laban (Gen 32:5)—and all who were with him—including the captives of the city of Shechem, the little ones and the wives (Gen 34:29).
Jacob instructed his household and to all who were with him to put away the foreign gods that were among them and to purify themselves, changing their garments (Gen 35:2).
Putting away the foreign gods among themselves was the first step in order for Jacob and all who were with him to draw near to God. The act of Jacob was similar to the act of Joshua when he admonished the Israelites to put away the foreign gods and to incline their heart to the Lord (Josh 24:23). In addition, the book of Exodus strictly mentions how the Israelites should not have other gods before the Lord God (Ex 20:3). By instructing his household and all the people who were with him to put away their foreign gods, Jacob showed a solid commitment to make himself and the people that were with him to draw near to God.
Furthermore, Jacob’s instructions to purify themselves and to change their garments were parts of the commitment in worshipping the Lord. Jacob’s instruction was similar to the rite which the Levites performed before they entered into the presence of the Lord. In the book of Numbers, before the Levites performed duties in the Tabernacle of Meeting, they purified themselves and washed their clothes (Num 8:21). Thus, by purifying themselves, the household of Jacob and all the people who were with him were internally prepared into the commitment of worshipping the Lord God.
What was the hiding under the terebinth tree signify? How could the responses of Jacob’s household and all the people who were with him commendable?Hide Answer
According to Genesis 35:4, Jacob hid the foreign gods which were in their hands and the earrings which were in their ears under the terebinth tree before they continued their journey to Bethel (Gen 35:4, 5). These acts signified their sacrifice to leave behind the things which they considered to be important and valuable. Their responses were commendable because they were willing not only to follow but also to worship the God of Jacob, the One who had answered Jacob in the day of his distress and had been with him in the way which he had gone (Gen 35:3). Such decisions would require their commitment and magnanimous heart to leave behind their religious practices and customs of their old beliefs.
Share the daily habit and lifestyle that you would “bury” before coming to worship the Lord.(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
Jacob instructed his people to put away the foreign gods and to purify themselves (Gen 35:2). These instructions can serve as teachings for us. “Putting away the foreign gods” means that they could not serve two masters. Therefore, in order to follow and worship the God of Jacob, they must forsake the other one, the foreign gods. Once the Lord Jesus says to his disciples in the gospel of Luke, ”No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (Lk 16:13). Likewise, in our spiritual journey, we ought to choose between serving the Lord and serving the world with all its lusts. Wishing to serve the Lord while coveting to enjoy the pleasure of the world, will cause us to eventually love the world more and finally despise and even leave the Lord.
Furthermore, the phrase “purify yourselves” carries the meaning of their repentance to put away their sinful deeds before serving the Lord. Knowing that the camp of Jacob had been defiled and marred by the sin of murder, Jacob instructed them to purify themselves. Once, the writer of the book of James admonished us to draw near to God by cleansing our hands and purifying our hearts instead of being double-minded (Jas 4:8). Similarly, before serving the Lord, we ought to evaluate ourselves and repent from our sinful habits and wrongdoings. The Lord is not pleased with a double-minded service—physically serving God but the heart still continues to sin, unwilling to repent.
What is the significance of El-Bethel for Jacob?Hide Answer
The calling of El-Bethel played significant roles in Jacob’s spiritual journey. First, the calling of El-Bethel signifies the emphasis of God’s authority over Jacob. El-Bethel indicates the acknowledgement and the obedience of Jacob over God’s command and deity to immediately perform his unfulfilled vow. Second, the calling of El-Bethel also signifies Jacob’s gratitude and his admiration toward God’s protection. Indeed, Jacob had experienced the terror of God over the Canaanites that they did not dare to pursue or even to lay hands on Jacob and on his household due to Jacob’s obnoxiousness in Shechem. Therefore, Jacob and his people could arrive at Bethel without any harm (Gen 35:5, 6).
The Scriptures recorded several examples of the terror of God. In Job 31:23, the writer describes the terror as the destruction which comes from the Lord. Next, the book of Ezekiel exemplifies God’s terror upon Pharaoh as a punishment through slaying sword for a reminder to the land of the living (Ezek 32:32). Furthermore, the book of Hosea depicts the terror of God as fierceness of God’s anger upon His people (Hos 11:9).
Though Jacob’s name had become obnoxious to the Canaanites, the cities all around Shechem feared the terror of Jacob’s God and did not pursue them (Gen 35:5). What those cities experienced was similar to the ones in Deut 11:23-25. The writer of the book of Deuteronomy explains how the Lord would put the dread and fear of Israel upon all the land where they trod. Thus, the Lord would drive out and dispossess mightier nations than them. And they would not be able to stand against Israel (Deut 11:23-25) because the fear of Israel’s God was upon them. Similarly, the book of Exodus describes the fear of the God of Israel as experienced by other nations. Upon hearing about the greatness, the marvel and wonder of the God of Israel, the inhabitants of Philistia, Edom, Moab, and even Canaan trembled and melted away (Ex 15:11-16). In the case of the cities all around Shechem, the news of God’s protection over Jacob and his forefathers impacted their decisions not to hunt down Jacob and his sons.
The Canaanite cities all around Shechem feared and dreaded the terror of the Lord. Likewise, we too, as God’s people should fear our Lord even more. The prophet Isaiah once admonishes us to hallow the Lord of hosts for He Himself should be our fear and our dread (Isa 8:13). In addition, the apostle Paul mentions that it is important to aim ourselves to please the Lord both in our consciences and in our deeds; because each one of us must appear before the judgment of Christ—the terror of the Lord—to receive the things according to what we have done (2 Cor 5:9-11).
From the naming of the terebinth tree, what can we learn from Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse? See also Gen 24:59.Hide Answer
When Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the terebinth tree, the tree was later named Allon Bachuth (Gen 35:8), which means ”the oak of weeping.” By the meaning of the name, we know that Deborah was a person with a greatly-missed character by the household of Jacob, and more importantly by Jacob himself. The naming of the tree showed that Deborah’s departure caused a great weeping among the household of Jacob.
Deborah was a nurse who lived throughout two generations. First, she was the nurse of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob (Gen 24:59). And now, she was with the company of Jacob. Her faithfulness in serving Rebekah and Jacob was commendable. Deborah personally witnessed and experienced the faith of Rebekah when she was sent away, by faith following the servant of Abraham into her unmet husband-to-be. With Jacob, Deborah witnessed and experienced the faith of Jacob who had been instructed by God to continue his journey to Bethel. Though already advanced in age by the time she followed Jacob’s company, her determination to follow Jacob’s journey to Bethel was praiseworthy.
Deborah’s life serves important teachings for us. Her departure was greatly missed by Jacob and all his household. Similarly, in our life’s journey, we should pursue to have a greatly-missed character from the people around us, whether in our workplace or at the church. Moreover, Deborah’s faithfulness to serve her master, Rebekah, and her master’s son, Jacob; and her commitment to follow the God of Jacob in her advanced age serve as an example for us. We ought to continue in our fervor of faith in following and serving the Lord even during our old age.
How did God’s promise to Jacob in Gen 35:11-12 resemble His promise to Abraham and to Isaac?Hide Answer
The contents of the promise of God as stated in Gen 35:11-12 were similar to God’s promise given to Abraham in Gen 12:1-3, 15:17-21, 17:1-8, 22:15-18 and to Isaac in Gen 26:2-5, 24. Just as the Lord had commanded Abraham to be fruitful and promised him that nations and kings would come from him, the Lord made those same promises to Jacob.
How did the promise of God in Gen 35:11-12 console Jacob?Hide Answer
Jacob first received the promise of God—the blessing of Abraham—through the words of his father, Isaac, when he was being sent away to Padan Aram (Gen 28:1-5). Though the blessing was given, Jacob carried the promise in fear of Esau’s threat and in difficulties of his life. Only in Gen 28:13-15 did Jacob receive the promise of Abraham directly from God for the first time. Then in Gen 35:11-12, the Lord re-emphasized His promise again to Jacob. To Jacob, the confirmation of the Lord in Gen 35 serves as a consolation and a support for his faith of the promise in the midst of his hardships and uncertainties. Before, Jacob only received the promise from his father; but now, Jacob received the same exact blessing from the Lord Himself. Thus, Jacob’s worries, uncertainties and doubts about the promise were all answered through God’s personal confirmation.
How does the promise of God to Jacob apply to us today?Hide Answer
God promised His blessing not only to Jacob but also to his descendants (Gen 35:12). The promise of God shows a continuity from generation to generation. Today, the promise is also applied to us. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul admonishes us that if we are Christ’s, then we are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:29). In other words, once we belong to Christ Jesus, the blessing of Abraham—the promise of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—will come upon us, too. But the apostle Paul explains further that the passed-down blessing to us is the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal 3:14)—the lifting up from a curse of the law (Gal 3:13), the justification of faith (Gal 3:24) and the heir of God through Christ (Gal 4:7).
What can we learn from Rachel’s fear about the struggle of her hard labor?Hide Answer
When Rachel was on the way to Ephrath, she labored in childbirth. During her struggle with hard labor, she feared for the safety of the child. But the midwife assured her that the son was safe and was able to be delivered (Gen 35:16-17). Likewise, today the fear and struggle of childbirth can still be experienced by mothers around the world. Death rate for infants and the mothers in the undeveloped countries who lack medical treatments are still high, especially due to blood loss and the infant’s abnormal position for delivery. Just as Rachel’s soul was departed during the hard labor, today the struggle of childbirth is a life and death matter. Rachel’s struggle of her hard labor can serve as a reminder for us today to beseech for the Lord’s guidance in one’s childbirth and to honor and to love our mother and our wife for their struggles during labor.
What did Rachel name her second son? How did Rachel view his birth?
How did Jacob view the birth of Rachel’s second son? Compare Jacob’s view of the birth of the second son with the meaning of the name of Joseph, Rachel’s firstborn son. See Gen 30:24.Hide Answer
Hearing Rachel name her second son,Ben-Oni, Jacob quickly changed it to Benjamin, which literally means “Son of the right hand.” The meaning of the name Benjamin was in accordance and was a continuation of the Lord’s blessing in the birth of the firstborn son, Joseph. According to Gen 30:24, Joseph means, ”The LORD shall add to me another son” (Gen 30:24). Thus, through the birth of Joseph, God would give another son to add the joy for Rachel and Jacob. The mentioned blessing was then realized through the birth of the second son, Benjamin.
What did Reuben do to Israel after they had journeyed from Bethel?
The book of Genesis 35:22 shared that Israel heard about what Reuben had done with Bilhah, Israel’s wife. It was interesting to note that the Greek-Septuagint even literally translated verse 22 as “An evil thing was revealed before [Israel].” Israel considered the deed of Reuben to be evil. Furthermore, according to Gen 49:3-4, the deed of Reuben had cause a disappointment to his father, Israel. As the firstborn, Reuben represented the might, the strength, the dignity and the power of his father. But Reuben defiled his father’s bed and became unstable as water. As a result, Reuben would not excel (Gen 35:4). In addition, the writer of the book of
1st Chronicles recorded that because Reuben, the firstborn, had defiled his father’s bed, the birthright of Reuben was given to the sons of Joseph and the genealogy of Reuben was not listed according to the birthright (1 Chr 5:1).
Compare the deed of Reuben to Jacob’s wife with the deed of Absalom to David’s concubines? What was the similarity of their purpose? See
2 Sam 16:21-22.Hide Answer
Just as Reuben lay with Bilhah, the concubine of Jacob, the Scriptures recorded that Absalom went in to the concubines of David, his father, in the sight of all Israel (2 Sam 16:21-22). Absalom committed such a disgraceful deed in order to usurp the throne of David and to strengthen the hands of all who were with Absalom. Moreover, the book of
1st Kings recorded how Adonijah, the son of David, was trying to seize the throne of David by requesting Abishag—a lovely young virgin who served for king David (1 Kgs 1:1-4)—to be his wife (1 Kgs 2:17, 21-22). Several examples from the Scriptures prove that taking or laying with the concubine of one’s father is a symbol or gesture to claim the current social status of the father.
The writer of the book of Leviticus regulates customary boundaries for proper sexual relations. In the eyes of Levitical law, Reuben had trespassed against several statutes. First, the Levitical law forbids sexual relations with a close relative, including relations with a father’s wife (Lev 18:6-8). The book of Genesis 35:22 clearly stated that Bilhah was Jacob’s concubine and Reuben lay with her. In addition, although Bilhah was not Leah’s sister by blood, Bilhah had played a surrogate role for Rachel, Leah’s sister. Consequently, the prohibition in the Levitical law against having sexual relations with the sister of one’s mother stands out (Lev 18:13, 18). Accordingly, Reuben was not only having sexual relations with his father’s wife but he technically also had relations with his mother’s sister.
From Reuben’s failure to reflect Jacob’s might and dignity, what can we learn about reflecting God’s glorious image? See Rom 3:23.Hide Answer
As the firstborn son, Reuben reflected his father’s might, strength, dignity and power (Gen 49:3). Not only was Reuben entitled to the birthright, just like Esau (Gen 25:31), he was also expected to excel within his family (Gen 49:4). However, his misdeed caused him to lose his birthright and the firstborn position in the family genealogy (1 Chr 5:1). Reuben should have reflected his father’s might and dignity, yet he disappointed and failed him through his misdeed.
The misdeed of Reuben serves as a reminder and a warning for us today. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians reminds us that a man is the image and glory of God (1 Cor 11:7). But because we have sinned, we have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). In other words, as children of God, initially we are to serve and glorify God through our existence, reflecting God’s glorious image. However, if we continue to live in the life of sin, while professing that we are followers of Christ, then not only will we fall short of our service to glorify Him but we will also cause God’s name to be mocked by unbelievers.
How was Isaac’s burial similar to that of Abraham’s? See Gen 25:8.
What was the significance of the phrase “being old and full of days” to Isaac?Hide Answer
Isaac died being old and full of days. The phrase “being old and full of days” refers to a condition of dying in a satisfied, good old age (Gen 25:8;
1 Chr 29:28). Moreover, Isaac’s condition of being old and full of days carried a deeper meaning of his life conclusion. During his last days of life, Isaac was finally able to be reunited with his long-lost son, Jacob, and his descendants. By seeing Jacob, his descendants and his personal experiences with God in his journey, toward the end of his life Isaac could finally see how the promise of God—the blessing of Abraham—was gradually fulfilled in Jacob.
Share your thought on how you could live your life “full of days” until your old age?Hide Answer
Like Isaac who had lived his life full of days until his old age by satisfyingly witnessing the gradual fulfillment of the blessing of Abraham in Jacob, we, too, can spiritually experience our “satisfied, good old age” when we witness the promise of the glory of God’s church being gradually fulfilled by the godly fervor and zealous service of our next generations.