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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Genesis 35

 

 

Verses 1-8

Jacob"s renewed consecration to Yahweh35:1-8

About10 years had passed since Jacob had returned from Paddan-aram, and he had not yet returned to Bethel to fulfill his vow there ( Genesis 28:20-22). He should have headed there immediately rather than settling near Shechem. His negligence evidently was due in part to the continuing presence of the idols that Rachel and probably others had brought from Haran. Perhaps their allegiance to these gods restrained Jacob"s total commitment to Yahweh (cf. 1 Kings 11:3-4).

God appeared to Jacob (the fourth time) and commanded him to fulfill his vow ( Genesis 35:1). This revelation encouraged Jacob to stop procrastinating. This is the first and only time God commanded a patriarch to build an altar. The command constituted a test of Jacob"s obedience similar to Abraham"s test when God instructed him to offer up "a burnt offering" on Mt. Moriah ( Genesis 22:2). In preparation for his trip to Bethel Jacob purged his household of idolatry by literally burying Rachel"s idols along with other objects associated with the worship of these gods. He also purified himself from the defilement of the blood his family had shed in Shechem (ch34).

"It is significant that Jacob called God the one "who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone" ( Genesis 35:3). That epithet serves as a fitting summary of the picture of God that has emerged from the Jacob narratives. Jacob was in constant distress; yet in each instance God remained faithful to his promise and delivered him." [Note: Sailhamer, " Genesis ," p217.]

The oak referred to here ( Genesis 35:4) seems to have been the oak of Moreh (lit. "teacher") where God had appeared to Abraham shortly after he had entered the land ( Genesis 12:6).

"At the same spot, possibly prompted by Jacob"s example, Joshua was one day to issue a very similar call to Israel ( Joshua 24:23 ff.)." [Note: Kidner, p175.]

God blessed Jacob for his commitment, expressed in his burying the idols and earrings (perhaps taken from the Shechemites), by placing the fear of Jacob"s family in the hearts of the Canaanites whom they passed on their way to Bethel ( Genesis 35:5-8; cf. Proverbs 16:7). Perhaps God used the memory of Simeon and Levi"s fierce treatment of the Shechemites to accomplish this.

"Throughout his life Jacob has had to contend with his own fears-fear of God ( Genesis 28:17), fear of Laban ( Genesis 31:31), fear of Esau ( Genesis 32:8; Genesis 32:12 [Eng7 , 11]). Nobody had been in fear of him. Angry, yes; fearful, no." [Note: Hamilton, The Book . . . Chapters18-50 , p377.]

Jacob faithfully fulfilled his vow to God at Luz, which he renamed Bethel (house of God, Genesis 35:15). He named the place of his altar El-Bethel (God of Bethel, Genesis 35:7) in memory of God"s first revelation to him there. This is the first revival recorded in the Bible.

Deborah, Rebekah"s nurse (cf. Genesis 24:59), must have been an important member of Jacob"s household to merit this notation by the writer. She may have left Beersheba with Jacob or may have joined him later after the death of Rebekah. The reference to Deborah is probably a way of reminding the reader of Rebekah and alluding to her death in a veiled manner. [Note: Gary A. Rendsburg, "Notes on Genesis XXXV," Vetus Testamentum34:3 (July1984):361-65.] This may have been appropriate in view of Rebekah"s deception of Isaac (ch27). [Note: Waltke, Genesis , p473.]


Verses 9-15

Yahweh"s reconfirmation of the covenant35:9-15

God then appeared again to Jacob at Bethel (the fifth revelation) after he had fulfilled his vow to God and built an altar there ( Genesis 35:9-12). This revelation came30 years after the first one at Bethel. In this case God appeared in visible (bodily?) form ( Genesis 35:13). In the former instance Jacob had seen a vision. God confirmed Jacob"s name change (cf. Genesis 32:28). This new name, Israel, was a pledge that God would do what He now promised Jacob: to give him numerous descendants and the land of Canaan. [Note: See Chee-Chiew Lee, "[Goim] in Genesis 35:11 and the Abrahamic Promise of Blessings for the Nations," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society52:3 (September2009):467-82.] Here God summed up all the long-range promises that He had made to Jacob at various times in his life.

"The purpose of the second renaming ... is to erase the original negative connotation and to give the name Israel a more neutral or even positive connotation-the connotation it is to have for the remainder of the Torah. It does so by removing the notion of struggle associated with the wordplay in23:28 ... and letting it stand in a positive light ..." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p203. Cf. idem, " Genesis ," pp217-18.]

God"s use of his name "God Almighty" (El Shaddai) is significant in view of what God promised Jacob. It would take an omnipotent God to fulfill these promises (cf. Genesis 17:1-2). God expanded the former promises and added to the significance of the name "Israel" ( Genesis 35:10-11; cf. Genesis 28:4; cf. Genesis 28:13-15; Genesis 31:3; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 32:12; Genesis 32:28).

Jacob solemnized this occasion by setting up a second pillar (cf. Genesis 28:18) that perpetuated the memory of God"s faithfulness for the benefit of his descendants. He not only set the stone apart as special by pouring oil on it, as he had done30 years earlier, but also made an offering to God there and renamed the place "Bethel."

"Bethel occupies something of the same focal place in Jacob"s career that the birth of Isaac occupied for Abraham, testing his fluctuating obedience and his hold on the promise, for more than twenty years." [Note: Kidner, p174.]

God"s blessing of Jacob when his dedication was complete illustrates God"s response to those who fully obey Him.

"The importance of God"s words to Jacob in Genesis 35:11-12 cannot be overemphasized. First, God"s words "be fruitful and increase in number" recalled clearly the primeval blessing of Creation ( Genesis 1:28) and hence showed God to be still "at work" in bringing about the blessing to all mankind through Jacob. Second, for the first time since Genesis 17:16 ("kings of peoples will come from her"), the mention is made of royalty ("kings," Genesis 35:11) in the promised line. Third, the promise of the land, first given to Abraham and then to Isaac, was renewed here with Jacob ( Genesis 35:12). Thus within these brief words several major themes of the book have come together. The primeval blessing of mankind was renewed through the promise of a royal offspring and the gift of the land." [Note: Sailhamer, " Genesis ," p218.]

We can enjoy the fellowship with God that He created us to experience only when we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to Him and obey His Word.

"It is noteworthy that there are certain things in connection with the spiritual life that must be entirely given up and destroyed, for it is impossible to sanctify or consecrate them. They must be buried and left behind, for they cannot possibly be devoted to the service of God.... There are things that have to be cut off and cannot be consecrated. Books have to be burned (note xix19). Evil habits have to be broken. Sin must be put away. There are things that are beyond all reclamation ...

". . . if only we yield ourselves wholly and utterly to the hand of God, our lives, whatever the past may have been, shall be monuments, miracles, marvels of the grace of God." [Note: Thomas, pp331 , 336.]

Still all of Jacob"s problems were not behind him.

"Just as Abraham had two sons and only one was the son of promise, and just as Isaac had two sons and only one was the son of the blessing, so now Jacob, though he has twelve sons, has two wives (Leah and Rachel); and each has a son (Judah and Joseph) that can rightfully contend for the blessing. In the narratives that follow, the writer holds both sons, Joseph and Judah, before the readers as rightful heirs of the promise. As the Jacob narratives have already anticipated, in the end it was Judah, the son of Leah, not Joseph, the son of Rachel, that gained the blessing ( Genesis 49:8-12)." [Note: Sailhamer, " Genesis ," p218.]


Verses 16-22

Ben-oni means "son of my pain ( Genesis 35:18)." For Rachel, Benjamin"s birth was a fatally painful experience. However the birth of his twelfth son mollified Jacob"s sorrow over Rachel"s death. He named his son Benjamin meaning "Son of my good fortune." [Note: See James Muilenberg, "The Birth of Benjamin," Journal of Biblical Literature75 (1956):194-201.] Oni in Hebrew can mean either "trouble" or "wealth." This is the only son that Jacob named, which suggests his renewed leadership of the family, at least over Rachel"s sons. Benjamin was born on land that later became part of his tribe"s allotment. His birth there gave him title to it.

Jacob buried Rachel near Ephrath, an older name for Bethlehem (house of bread; Genesis 35:19-20). Both Bethlehem and Kiriath Jeraim became known as Ephrath(a) because the clan of Ephrath settled in both places (cf. 1 Chronicles 2:50).

The opening section of the Isaac toledot ( Genesis 25:19-26) contained the record of two births: Esau"s and Jacob"s. Its closing section ( Genesis 35:16-29) documented two deaths: Deborah"s and Rachel"s. Ironically Rachel, who had cried in desperation to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die" ( Genesis 30:1), died giving birth to a child.

The tower of Eder ("Migdal-eder") was simply a watchtower built to help shepherds protect their flocks from robbers ( Genesis 35:21; cf. 2 Kings 18:8; 2 Chronicles 26:10; 2 Chronicles 27:4). Since the time of Jerome, the early church father who lived in Bethlehem, tradition has held that this Eder lay very close to Bethlehem.

A concubine was sometimes a slave with whom her owner had sexual relations. She enjoyed some of the privileges of a wife, and people sometimes called her a wife in patriarchal times, but she was not a wife in the full sense of the term.

Reuben may have wanted to prevent Rachel"s maid from succeeding Rachel as his father"s favorite wife. He probably resented the fact that Jacob did not honor his mother. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 16-50 , p327.] Reuben"s act constituted a claim against (a challenge to) his father as well as being an immoral act (cf. Deuteronomy 22:30; 2 Samuel 16:21-22; 1 Kings 2:13-25). In the ancient Near East a man who wanted to assert his superiority over another man might do so by having sexual relations with that man"s wife or concubine (cf. 2 Samuel 16:21-22). Ancient Near Easterners regarded this act of physical domination as an evidence of personal superiority.

"Taking the concubine of one"s predecessor was a perverted way of claiming to be the new lord of the bride." [Note: Jordan, p65.]

Reuben"s Acts , therefore, manifested rebellion against Jacob"s authority as well as unbridled lust. It resulted in his losing the birthright. Judah obtained the right to rule as head of the family, and Levi got the right to be the family priest eventually. The double portion of his father"s inheritance went to Joseph who realized it through his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (cf. 1 Chronicles 5:1-2).

"At an early stage in the narrative Reuben had played some small part in the all too brief restoration to his mother of her conjugal rights (Gen. XXX:14 ff.), but now, at the end of the Jacob narrative, it is by his agency that the supplanter is well and truly supplanted." [Note: George G. Nicol, "Genesis XXIX:32 and XXXV:22a: Reuben"s Reversal," Journal of Theological Studies31:2 (October1980):538.]

As at Shechem, Jacob appears to have reacted passively. Moses wrote that he heard of Reuben"s Acts , but not that he did anything about it.


Verses 16-29

The birth of Benjamin, death of Rachel, and sin of Reuben35:16-29

Was Jacob disobedient to God when he left Bethel? God had told him to go to Bethel and "live there" ( Genesis 35:1). This may have been a command to dwell there while he fulfilled his vow. On the other hand, God may have wanted Jacob to establish permanent residence there. This seems unlikely, however, since Jacob remained a semi-nomad.


Verses 22-27

This paragraph is important because it records the entrance of Jacob into his father"s inheritance. Jacob presumably visited Isaac in Hebron on various occasions following his return from Paddan-aram. However on this occasion he moved his family to his father"s encampment and evidently remained there as Isaac"s heir.

Jacob had left Beersheba with only a staff in his hand. Now he returned with12sons, a large household, and much livestock. The most important aspect of God"s blessing was his12sons, grouped here with their four mothers, through whom God would fulfill His promises to the patriarchs.

Benjamin was not born in Paddan-aram but near Bethlehem ( Genesis 35:16-18). Therefore the statement that Jacob"s12sons were born in Paddan-aram ( Genesis 35:26) must be understood as a general one, possibly a synecdoche.


Verse 28-29

With the record of Jacob entering into his father"s inheritance the history of Isaac"s life concludes. He was buried in the cave of Machpelah near Hebron ( Genesis 49:29-31). Isaac lived for12years after Jacob"s relocation to Hebron, however. He probably shared Jacob"s grief over the apparent death of Joseph, but died shortly before Joseph"s promotion in Egypt. [Note: See Keil and Delitzsch, 1:320 , for a chronology of these events.]

"The end of the Jacob narratives is marked by the death of his father, Isaac. The purpose of this notice is not simply to record Isaac"s death but rather to show the complete fulfillment of God"s promise to Jacob ( Genesis 28:21). According to Jacob"s vow, he had asked that God watch over him during his sojourn and return him safely to the house of his father. Thus the conclusion of the narrative marks the final fulfillment of these words as Jacob returned to the house of his father, Isaac, before he died." [Note: Sailhamer, " Genesis ," p220.]

It is very important that God"s people follow through and keep the commitments they have made concerning participation in His program. When they commit themselves to Him in purity and worship, He commits Himself to blessing them.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 35:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/genesis-35.html. 2012.

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