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Genesis 35:1. And God said. This is the fifth vision in which the Lord appeared to Jacob; it marks a special providence over his safety, by removing him from the vicinity of Shechem to a peaceful dwelling.
Genesis 35:2. Be clean and change your garments. Let your exterior cleanliness by water, be an emblem of your greater purity of heart. In this sanctifying manner did Jacob admit the female captives of Shechem into the Hebrew church: and so is baptism a figure of purity to the christian church.
Genesis 35:4. Hid them. Having first no doubt defaced the images of the idols, or the superstitious figures with which they were engraved. Jacob did not dare to meet his God at Bethel, till he had left every vestige of Shechem’s idols behind.
Genesis 35:7. El-beth-el, the God of God’s house. He added something to the name, because God now added to him new mercies.
Genesis 35:8. Almon-bachuth, the oak of weeping. Deborah is supposed to have been about a hundred years of age. She had been an eminent servant, and for her great services was ultimately considered and lamented as one of the family.
Genesis 35:22. Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, who was the dotal maid of Rachel. It was customary among the oriental patriarchs to take the dotal maid, if the princess proved barren, or when she had done bearing. Their pleas for so doing were unfounded in nature, and often fraught with mischief; now, by the law of nature and of nations, they are altogether inadmissible. The crime was great, and though Jacob dissembled his horror of the deed for the time, fearing greater evils, he being old, Bilhah young, and Reuben ferocious; yet he cursed him in a limited sense on his deathbed, by a privation of the birthright, and loss of the regal sceptre. Levi became the priest, and the sceptre was awarded to Judah. Gen 49:4 . 1 Chronicles 5:1-2. One crime may undo a man for life, and degrade his children for ages to come. The three places of scripture in which this sad case is named preclude all palliations. It was a crime revolting to all moral feeling, and destitute of secular advantages.
Poor Jacob, in his fears, being warned of God, fled to Bethel, where the Lord had first revealed his glory, and confirmed to him the covenant made with his fathers. He had found Bethel a place of comfort when he fled from Esau, and he now hastes to the same favourite spot when hearing that the Canaanites would revenge the massacre. How inviting is the place, how sacred is the house where God has blessed his word, and revealed his comforts to the soul. Let our feet never forget the way thither, especially in the day of trouble.
Jacob, before he fled from Shechem, purged his house of idols, and reformed the idolatrous captives of their superstition. Let us learn from it, never to appear before the Lord in our sins; he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. All new servants should in like manner be made acquainted with the rules of a righteous man’s house, that no liar, no swearer, no wicked person may abide in his presence.
This done, the Lord appeared the sixth time to his servant, in his angelical presence, and once more repeated and enlarged his covenant. He shed terror on his enemies that they durst not pursue him; and wherever Jacob consecrated an altar, he had some new mark of God’s special presence and regard. Hence we see, that heaven never remits its care, nor forgets its promises. And God is the same still: wherever the good man goes, there he meets his God; wherever he prays, there he receives an answer of peace.
But scarcely were these fears allayed, than Jacob’s ancient sorrows had cause to flow afresh for the loss of Rachel, his beloved wife. During her barrenness she had been impatient and discontented, and said in the anguish of her soul, “Give me children, or else I die.” God heard her prayers, for she would not be denied. He gave her Joseph, and next Benjamin, whom she bare, and then expired. We should learn hence, entire submission to the divine good pleasure, in all our temporal concerns, because the crosses attendant on indulgence may be heavier than the pains of privation. She died however in sight of Bethel, and happy is that man, that woman, however suddenly seized and arrested with death, who die with a fair prospect of God’s altar, and God’s house.
But as the waves beat against the rock, and repeat their furious strokes, so in life one trouble succeeds another. Jacob had scarcely buried Rachel, before a worse calamity happened by Reuben, than the burial of this firstborn: nor was it Reuben’s only crime. He dishonoured his father, and fixed a blot on his own character, which could never be wiped away. Let all young men pray for purity of thought, and form the most sacred habits of chastity, that they may have through life the glory of a spotless character.
Isaac though deprived for many years of sight, yet exceeded his father and all his children in age; happy fruit of early piety, strict temperance, and a regular life. More happy still in living so long a monument of God’s fidelity to his covenant and promise. Happy also Jacob and Esau, whose friendship was more lasting than their enmity, to deposit the remains of so venerable a sire in the sepulchre of his fathers. Happy, thrice happy to imitate his virtues, and follow him to glory. And it is no small comfort, that the scriptures lose not sight of Esau, as a man faithful in friendship, and venerant to his father. The promise of the Seed of the Messiah being fixed in Jacob’s line, did not cut off Esau from salvation, on repentance for his sins, any more than the promise being fixed in Judah, cut off his eleven brothers. Jacob seems to have wished Joseph to be heir of the promise, but God, whose right alone it was to give, fixed it in Judah’s line.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 35". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14