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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 35

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-15


Genesis 35:2. The strange gods.] These were such as the teraphim that Rachel had hidden (Genesis 31:19), and possibly other idolatrous images used by the Shechemites.—

Genesis 35:4. Ear-rings.] “The ear-rings were connected then, as they are now, with incantations and enchantments, and were idolatrous in their use. (Hosea 2:13.) (Jacobus.) The oak which was by Shechem. “In the repetition of this same act of purification by Joshua (Joshua 24:26) mention is again made of an oak (or terebinth) at Shechem. The Hebraists tell us that we must not understand by this term any particular tree, but one tree among many.” (Alford.)—

Genesis 35:7. El-beth-el.] God of Bethel. “Jacob adds to it here the name of God, repeated as indicating a repeated manifestation. (Genesis 32:30).” (Jacobus.) God appeared unto him. Heb. There God was revealed unto him. It is not the same word as appeared in Genesis 35:1. The verb is plural, probably to indicate that it was the vision of God accompanied by the holy angels.—

Genesis 35:8. Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse.] This nurse had accompanied her from Mesopotamia to Canaan. (Genesis 24:59.) She was such a nurse as performed the functions of a mother in giving suck. Allon-bachuth. “The oak of weeping.”—



I. It was undertaken at the call of God. God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel.” (Genesis 35:1.) We need not suppose that he heard the voice of God outwardly speaking to his ear of flesh, but rather that inward voice of God which speaks to the conscience. A strong conviction had grown up within his soul which could no longer leave him at rest. Jacob had now tarried at Shechem for eight years, and he had not yet performed the vow which he made at Bethel. The sense of a solemn duty rests upon him, growing stronger until it really becomes to him the voice of God urging him to action.

II. It was accomplished in the spirit of obedience and consecration.

1. Obedience. Jacob and his people went up to Bethel at God’s command. In order that he might preserve the purity of God’s worship, he puts away from his company all the remains of idolatry. (Genesis 35:4.) By getting rid of these possible sources of temptation, he would be able to render to God a pure offering of service and worship. He intended that the performance of his duty should be extensive and complete.

2. Consecration. He erected an altar unto God, as he had been commanded. (Genesis 35:1-7.) And here he consecrated himself afresh to the service of his God. These outward aids to devotion would make God more deeply felt, and His presence more definitely realised. If we form part of a spiritual history of close and intimate dealings with God, we must have our sacred places. They are so to us, and for our sakes alone; for God, who fills all space, does not require such aids. Jacob erects a pillar of memorial, pours an offering upon the stone, and anoints it with oil. (Genesis 35:14.) And God, who is essentially present everywhere at the same moment, met Jacob at Bethel. Thus to His saints God is not a cold abstraction, or a vaguely diffused Spirit of the universe, but a living—a felt Presence.

III. It was accompanied by the Divine protection. God who commanded Jacob also protected him on his journey. The people were kept from pursuing after the sons of Jacob, which they naturally would have done in order to avenge the slaughter of the Shechemites. (Genesis 35:5.)

IV. It was followed by increased spiritual blessing.

1. The old promises were renewed. All what God had formerly said to him by way of promise was now consolidated and confirmed. (Genesis 35:9-12.) Jacob’s name had been changed to Israel, and now this honour is here renewed. (Genesis 35:10.) This was to him an assurance that he should still go on to prevail. In order to confirm his faith, God’s all-sufficiency to fulfil His promises is assured. “I am God Almighty.” (Genesis 35:11.) Jacob acknowledges this confirmation of his faith and hope by repeating his former acts of devotion. (Genesis 35:14-15.) God may appear unto us by the revival of old truths as well as by the revelation of new ones. We may glorify Him, not by absolutely new modes of obedience, but by doing our first works. We may make the old life, and the scenes and circumstances of it, altogether new by a fresh consecration.

2. He has increased knowledge of God. He now knows God as the Almighty (Genesis 35:11)—like Abraham of old. (Genesis 17:1.) Thus our knowledge of God increases as we go on. It comes as the reward of long and faithful service.

3. His religious character is purified and raised. Jacob was a selfish man, and his religion, at first, partook too much of the spirit of barter. (Genesis 29:0) His language formerly was that of one who was ready to drive a bargain on advantageous terms; for though we may not press his words too far, yet surely there was a trace of this spirit in them. “If God will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, then shall God be my God.” Now he is grateful that God has accomplished His word. He knows the truth of that word, and that God shall be his God. He was answered in the day of his distress, and God had been with him throughout all his journey. (Genesis 35:3.) This is serving God, because it is true happiness to do so, a higher motive than that which he first started with, but not the highest of all. It falls short of that higher stage of godliness which leads the believer to say in all things “Thy will be done.”


Genesis 35:1. Take the phrase “and God said” literally, and then we must believe that God spake to Jacob but does not speak to us; then we must look upon Him as a different God from what He was to Jacob; but no, He is the same. God is not extinct, but a living God; His voice is now no more silent than in Jacob’s time. If He seem silent, the fault lies in us, our ears are become dull of hearing, we want faith.—(Robertson.)

This is not the first time that God tells him of that vow, and calls for its performance. (Genesis 31:13.) It is with us as with children—eaten bread is soon forgotten. Deliverances, commonly, are but nine days’ wonderment at most; and it is ten to one that any leper returns to give praise to God. If anything arouse and raise up our hearts to thankful remembrance of former mercy it must be the sense of some present misery, as here.—(Trapp.)

Genesis 35:2. To Gideon began his reformation at his father’s house. David also would walk wisely in the midst of his house; and this he calls “a perfect way,” a sign of sincerity. (Psalms 101:1.)—(Trapp.)

God’s service must be entered upon with due preparation. This is one of the first principles of religious service, and is expressed in the idea of baptism which preaches to us, “Be clean and change your garments.” The saints must wash their hands in innocency, and so compass God’s altar.—(Psalms 26:6.)

Genesis 35:3. He had become so comfortably settled as to be careless about this vow, until charged with it solemnly by God Himself. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.” True reformation as an evidence of repentance is a preparatory to public consecration.—(Jacobus).

Genesis 35:4. When going to perform his vow he puts away these idols. But wherein lay the evil? Not in the use of forms and symbols, for these were afterwards given to the Jews by God. Idolatry consists in this: The using of forms and images which give unnecessarily ideas of God; unnecessarily I say, for though all our notions are inadequate they ought not to be unnecessarily so. So Jacob buried the images under the oak. It was most wise. It was not sufficient to say: Let them not be worshipped, let the gold be kept merely for ornament. He knew human nature better; he knew that the same feelings would be suggested again wherever they were seen. And in our own day the things which have been the symbols of idolatry must be parted with. We may say that crucifixes and stone altars, and lighted candles are nothing in themselves; but if they give the idea of localizing God, or in any way degrade His pure worship, then they must at once be buried. Happy for England is it that she has resolved to throw away all such things.—(Robertson).

Genesis 35:5. The kind care which God exercised on this occasion was no less contrary to the parent’s fears than to the deserts of his ungodly children; and its being extended to them for his sake, must appal their proud spirits and repress the insolence with which they had lately treated him.—(Fuller).

Genesis 35:6-7. There are sacred places, not sacred for their own sake, but sacred to us. Where we have loved and lost, where we have gained new light and life, the church where our forefathers worshipped, the place where we first knew God—these are by instinct hallowed. Hence we are told that God met Jacob in Bethel, not that He came down from another place, for He is everywhere, but that Jacob experienced a feeling of awe, a feeling that God was then specially near to him.—(Robertson).

Genesis 35:8. This notice of the death and burial of Deborah shows—

1. That old and faithful servants were esteemed in the household of Jacob, as they were in Abraham’s household. The venerable nurse, Deborah, may be regarded as the counterpart to the aged Eliezer.
2. That the bond between master and servant was one of affectionate attachment and sympathy, not of lucre or slavery. The one rendered faithful service, the other afforded generous sustenance and protection. Such relations were not degraded by the commercial spirit, but elevated by the nobler spirit of humanity.
3. The undying love of Jacob for his mother. The loving regard in which Jacob held Deborah is remarkable when we consider that she belonged not to his family, but to that of Isaac. It is probable that Jacob visited his father, and finding that his mother was dead, he took her faithful old nurse to his own home. We hear nothing of her since the time when she left Padanaram with her young mistress. Jacob tenderly cherished all that belonged to his mother. He was one of those men who lived in the past, rather than in the future.
4. The sacredness of sorrow for the dead. Deborah was now about 180 years old, and had lived through three generations of the family. Now this last tender link, connecting the wandering son with his beloved and doating mother, was snapped asunder by death. This grave renewed the heavy griefs of past years, and we do not wonder that Jacob called the tree which marked this grave, Allon-bachuth, “the oak of weeping.

Genesis 35:9-12. At Bethel He renews the change of name, to indicate that the meetings here were of equal moment in Jacob’s spiritual life with that at Penuel. It implies also that this life had been declining in the interval between Penuel and Bethel, and had now been revived by the call of God to go to Bethel, and by the interview. The renewal of the naming aptly expresses this renewal of spiritual life.—(Murphy.)

Abraham and Isaac had each only one son of promise. Now the time of increase is come. Jacob had already eleven sons and one daughter, and the number of sons was to be increased to twelve; and from this time the increase is rapid. Twenty-six years after this he goes down to Egypt with seventy souls, besides the wives of his married descendants, and two hundred and fifteen years after that he leaves Egypt with one million and eight hundred thousand, which was a nation and a congregation of nations, while “kings” were to come afterwards.—(Jacobus.)

Genesis 35:13-15. Here for the first time we meet with the libation. Wine and oil are used to denote the quickening and sanctifying power of the Spirit of God.—(Murphy.)

Verses 16-20


Genesis 35:18. Ben-oni.] Heb. Son of my pain. Benjamin. Heb. Son of right hand, or, son of happiness.

Genesis 35:20. The pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.] The grave of Rachel was well known in the time of Samuel. (1 Samuel 10:2.) The expression “unto this day” occurs often in Genesis, but not elsewhere in the Pentateuch, excepting once in Deuteronomy.—



Consider it—

I. In its solemn and melancholy aspect

1. It was death upon a journey. “And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath.” (Genesis 35:16.) In such cases, death is generally an unlooked for event. This sad circumstance deeply impressed Jacob, and many years afterwards he looks back to it with sorrowful remembrance. (Genesis 48:7.)

2. It was death in the time of travail. This is always a melancholy circumstance when the mother sacrifices her own life in giving life to her child.

3. It was death just when her old fond desire was accomplished. When Joseph was born, she believed that God would add to her another son. Now the long expected gift is granted, but she expires in the very moment of victory. Consider it—

II. In its hopeful and prophetic aspect.

1. It teaches the doctrine of victory through pain. She enriches the family of Jacob with a son, thus completing their number to twelve. The midwife comforts her thereupon. But the dying mother gave to the boy the name of Ben-oni, son of my pain. Through pain and sorrow this victory was gained. This was not an utterance of despair, but a conviction that life had come out of death; victory out of pain, sorrow, and apparent failure. This is the spirit of the cross. Through pain and sorrow, and apparent failure, Christ has purchased victory for us.

2. It teaches that death is not annihilation. “As her soul was in departing, (for she died).” (Genesis 35:18.) Death is here represented, not as the complete extinction of all thought and feeling, but as the separation of soul and body. It is not a sinking into nought, but only a change of state and place.

3. It teaches us what is the characteristic mark of God’s chosen people. Israel of old had the portion of affliction, and thus became the type of the Messiah, whose peculiar and distinctive mark was, that He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3.) Rachel was the ancestress of the suffering children of Israel.

4. It teaches a lesson of encouragement to all mothers dying in similar circumstances. This is the first instance, recorded in the Bible, of a mother dying in travail. How solemn was the original penalty. Gen. (Genesis 3:16.) And yet in God’s later Revelation that penalty becomes transfigured, and there is in it an element of hope and blessing. (1 Timothy 2:15.)


Genesis 35:16. Bethel beheld him at the summit of worldly happiness; Bethlehem, the next town through which he passes, sees him in the depths of affliction. The incident recalls, with painful vividness, the passionate exclamation she had before uttered, “Give me children, or else I die.” Her prayer was heard, but at the expense of her life. Alas! how often should we be ruined at our own request, if God were not more merciful to us than we are to ourselves.—(Bush).

Genesis 35:17. The first midwife who appears in the region of sacred history is a worthy counterpart to the first nurse, Deborah. She shows the vocation of a midwife, to support the labouring with sympathy, to encourage her, and to strengthen her by the birth of a child, especially of a son, or the announcement of the beginning of the new life.—(Lange).

Genesis 35:18. Her words appear to have had no influence upon Rachel, who has the sentence of death in herself, and makes no answer; but, turning her dying eyes towards the child, and calling him, Ben-oni, “Son of my sorrow,” she expires.—(Bush).

The former name, though very appropriate at the time, yet if continued, must tend perpetually to revive the recollection of the death of his mother, and of such a monitor Jacob did not stand in need. It is not for him to feed melancholy, nor to pore over his loss with a sullenness that shall unfit him for duty, but rather to divert his affections from the object that is taken, and direct them to those that are left.—(Fuller).

It is true, indeed, even in the sense of the usually received antithesis, that every newborn child is a Ben-oni, and a Benjamin; Ben-oni in Adam, Benjamin in Christ.—(Lange).

Let men make their burdens as light as they can, and not increase their worldly sorrow by sight of sad objects. It will come, as we say of foul weather, soon enough; we need not send for it.—(Trapp).

As her soul was in departing. An ordinary historian would have said, as she was dying, or as she was ready to expire. But the Scriptures delight in an impressive kind of phraseology, which at the same time shall both instruct the mind and touch the heart.—(Fuller.)

Genesis 35:19. Bethlehem here enters, clouded by Jacob’s mourning; afterwards enlightened by David, the Old Testament hero out of Judah, and finally glorified by the fulfilment of Israel’s hope.—(Lange.)

Genesis 35:20. The pillar of Rachel’s grave. Jacob loves the monumental stone.—(Murphy).

Verses 21-26


Genesis 35:21. Tower of Edar.] Probably a watch-tower for the purpose of guarding the flocks. (2 Kings 18:8; 2 Chronicles 26:10; 2 Chronicles 27:4.)



The number, twelve, of the sons of Jacob, in its typical significance. Twelve, the number of a life completed, or expanded to its full limits and development, Thus in the house of Ishmael and of Esau, but in a higher sense in the house of Israel. Hence the twelve sons are the types of the twelve tribes (Genesis 49:0; Deuteronomy 33:0), and the twelve tribes of the theocracy types of the twelve apostles of Christ, and these, again, types of the twelve fundamental forms of the New Testament Church. (Revelation 21:12, etc.—(Lange).

Verses 27-29



Isaac was “an hundred and fourscore years” when he died. He must, therefore, have lived in a state of blindness and inactivity for fifty-seven years. His life was greatly prolonged beyond the time when he could be, in any full sense, useful to his fellow men. But when that life reached its close the solemn lessons of it would come home to the survivors.

I. It was the occasion of family re-union. The quarrel between Jacob and Esau had ended in a reconciliation. (Genesis 33:0) Again they meet in peace for the burial of their father. It was in similar circumstances that Isaac himself and Ishmael had met many years before to bury their father, Abraham. The grave ought to silence all enmities. These two brothers met after many years of separation, each pursuing a different course of life. The marks of time are upon each of them—the impressions of long labours, cares and sorrows. Esau is still the man of the field, renowned in chase and war. Jacob is still devoted to peaceful and domestic pursuits, acquiring wealth slowly by the raising of cattle. He is now chastened and subdued by many a sorrow, his soul humbled by the open visions of God. And now, in the death of his beloved Rachel, the sin of Reuben, and the cruel wrath of Simeon and Levi, his cup of sorrow is full. We have here types of the afflictions, struggles, and enmities of the world; but we have also types of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace, and the great consolations of God.

II. It was at the time of revival for memories of the past. The two brothers, as they stood by his grave, would re-live their old life. Esau would naturally think of the fortresses he had built, of his wives and children—those who had been a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah, and of her whom he married to please and reconcile them, Bashemath the daughter of Ishmael. Jacob would think upon the birthright, upon the promises of God renewed to him at Bethel, and now fulfilled in some degree at the death of his father. He would think of blessings yet to come when the glory and greatness of his posterity should increase, and they should have dominion and kingly power. The death of friends forces us to review our associated histories.

III. It was the beginning of another and a higher life. We are told that Isaac “was gathered unto his people.” This surely signifies more than that he was joined to them in the grave. The expression suggests—

1. The idea of rest. The toils and labours of human life end with the grave. Man goeth forth to his labour and to his work until the evening, and then the night of death comes when he can no longer work. The great end for which Isaac lived had now been gained. He had seen his two sons reconciled. He had been at length brought to the belief, though sore against his will, that the blessing of Abraham would descend along the line of Jacob. He had submitted to God. And having attained to this firm belief and resignation, the great work of his life was ended. Rest is welcome when the powers of life are failing and the work of life is done.

2. The idea of re-union in another world. We are told of Abraham that “he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God;” and further, that “Isaac and Jacob” were “heirs with Him of the same promise.” (Hebrews 11:9-10.) Surely Isaac died with the thought of meeting the beloved ones who had gone before, in a better country.


Genesis 35:27-29. Three special friends Jacob buries, in this chapter. Crosses come thick; be patient.—(Trapp).

We have no clue to his thoughts but the hopes and aspirations of that common nature which are called forth by trials and circumstances, which we have still in common with those who have gone before us in the generations. But this is a clue which we may surely follow, if we let it lead us onward from a more faithful and earnest discharge of our daily duties, especially of filial and paternal duty, to the day when whatsoever good thing any man doth the same shall he receive of the Lord; when the son who honoured his father and mother, either by paying them all deference and respect, or by supporting them in poverty, or by upholding them in their infirmity, or by paying the last tribute of affection and respect to their remains, shall so also himself receive of the Lord.—(Robertson).

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 35". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/genesis-35.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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