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Jacob Moves to Bethel
v. 1. And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there; and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau, thy brother. Ten full years had now elapsed since Jacob had returned from Mesopotamia, and still he had not fulfilled the special vow of Bethel, Genesis 28:20-22. Cf Genesis 31:13. Whether it had been a matter of precaution against a mingling with the Edomites or simply tardiness on Jacob's part, the Lord, at any rate, found it necessary to remind him of his vow, in which he had promised the erection of an altar unto God, who had appeared to him at Bethel.
v. 2. Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments. This was an act of repentance, since Jacob, up till now, had permitted Rachel to keep her father's idols, Genesis 31:32, and had not turned the hearts of the members of his household from idolatry. His order went forth that all the strange gods and everything that savored of superstition and idolatry be removed from their midst, that they should purify themselves, moreover, through religious washings and by a complete change of garments.
v. 3. And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went. The journey was to be from the lowlands near Shechem southward to the mountainous country of what was later Northern Judea. Jacob openly confessed his debt to the Lord, who had answered him in the day of his trouble, when he fled before his brother Esau, and declared his intention of fulfilling his vow.
v. 4. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. Jacob's command was so strict that his wives and his servants readily gave up not only the images, the strange gods which they had retained till now, but also their earrings, which were used as amulets and for other superstitious purposes. Jacob laid aside all his weakness which had yielded such terrible fruits, and buried all the symbols of idolatry and spiritual death which were to be found in his entire household, including now also the Shechemite women and children. Only then is it possible to serve God in the Spirit and in truth, if we cleanse our hearts from all idolatry and from all love of creatures.
v. 5. And they journeyed; and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. That they struck their tents and removed from the neighborhood of Shechem without interference on the part of the heathen inhabitants in the neighboring cities was due entirely to the divine protection.
v. 6. So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. Cf Genesis 28:19-22.
v. 7. And he built there an altar, and called the place El Bethel (God of Bethel), because there God appeared unto him when he fled from the face of his brother. By thus instituting the worship of the true God Jacob paid his vow of some thirty years before, for he distinctly remembered the revelation of God at that time, which seems to have indicated also the plurality of persons in the Godhead.
v. 8. But Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak; and the name of it was called Allonbachuth (oak of weeping). It seems that Rebekah had died and Jacob had persuaded Deborah to make her home with him and his children. The old faithful servant had endeared herself to all to such a degree that her death was keenly felt by the family. The oak below Bethel figures also in later history, Judges 4:5; 1 Samuel 16:3. The story shows that the relation between masters and servants may well be one of cordial regard.
The Lord Blesses Jacob
v. 9. And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. He did not merely speak to Jacob in a dream, but He revealed Himself to him in some visible form, now that Jacob had once more returned to that section of Canaan from which he had left for Mesopotamia. As Abraham had been blessed repeatedly, so the Lord here renewed His Messianic promise.
v. 10. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob; thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name; and He called his name Israel. Thus the Lord confirmed to Jacob what He had told him at Peniel, Genesis 32:28. It was a formal introduction to the blessing.
v. 11. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;
v. 12. and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee. I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give this land. It was God Almighty that was speaking to Jacob, He whose protection and guidance Jacob had so richly enjoyed during the last thirty years. It was the patriarchal blessing, including the Messianic promise, which was here transmitted, for it indicated that Israel according to the flesh would not alone be the possessor of the oracles of God, Romans 3:2, but that members of all nations would make up the sum total of the spiritual Israel, of the great assembly of nations whose God would be the Lord. The immediate guarantee of this eventual blessing would be the temporal blessing of the possession of Canaan, the heritage of the children of Israel. Cf Genesis 48:3-4.
v. 13. And God went up from him in the place where He talked with him.
v. 14. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, even a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink-offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. Jacob not only set this place apart, consecrated it for the worship of the true God, but he also performed an act of worship by pouring out a libation to the Lord, this being the first instance in which the drink-offering is mentioned in the Bible. To commemorate this vision, to keep it in remembrance among his children, Jacob erected a stone for a monument.
v. 15. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel. This was his confession of his trust in the Word and promise of God, which is the rod and the staff of all believers during their pilgrimage on earth.
The Death of Rachel
v. 16. And they journeyed from Bethel, since Jacob's vow was now fulfilled and his thanksgiving completed; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath, they were still a certain distance from the town afterward known as Bethlehem, which they had probably tried to reach in time; and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor, the anguish and the throes of a hard birth were upon her. Her wish at the time of Joseph's birth was fulfilled, but, after a quiescent period of seventeen years, she suffered even unto death.
v. 17. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. That was intended as a word of comfort to Rachel, in the midst of her intense suffering, for it told her that her wish had been granted by the Lord.
v. 18. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing (for she died), that she called his name Benoni (son of my pain); but his father called him Benjamin (son of the right hand, son of fortune or prosperity). The text plainly indicates a life of the soul after the death of the body. In spite of his grief over the death of his beloved wife, Jacob's joy over this son of his old age could not be suppressed.
v. 19. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.
v. 20. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day. So the monument was still standing in the days when Moses wrote. It was a bitter cup of grief which Jacob had to quaff at the death of his wife, for even believers feel the sting of death.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Genesis 35". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14