Genesis 35:1. God said, Arise, go up to Beth-el — This was a word in season to comfort his disquieted mind, and direct him to a safer place. Make there an altar — Consider and pay thy vows there, made in the time of thy distress. Jacob had said in the day of his distress, If I come again in peace, this stone shall be God’s house, Genesis 28:22. God had performed his part, and given Jacob more than he then desired, namely, “bread to eat, and raiment to put on;” but it seems, if he had not forgotten his vow, he had at least deferred the performance of it, waiting, probably, for a fit time for that purpose; or an admonition from God concerning the proper season of paying it. And dwell there — That is, he was not only to go himself, but to take his family with him, that they might join with him in his devotions.
Genesis 35:2. Put away the strange gods that are among you — This is evidently a mistranslation; the Hebrew אלהי הנכר means, not the strange gods that are among you, but the gods of the stranger that is among you, alluding probably to the captive Shechemite women, who now made a part of his household, or to other Gentiles who had joined themselves to his family, and who might secretly worship idols. Thus, like a good man, and a good master of a family, he takes care not only for himself, but for all his family, to keep them from the exercise of a false religion, and to engage them, as far as he could, in the profession and practice of the true. And be clean — Cleanse yourselves by outward and ritual washing, (compare Exodus 19:10-14,) which even then was in use, and was considered as an emblem of cleansing the soul, by repentance, from all those impure lusts and vile affections, whereby a man becomes polluted in the sight of God. This, no doubt, Jacob had chiefly in view; namely, that they should cleanse their hands from blood, and from their late detestable cruelty, and purify their hearts from those evil dispositions which had given birth to such abominable wickedness, that they might be fit to approach God in his worship. And change your garments — In token of your changing your minds and manners.
Genesis 35:3. Who answered me in the day of my distress — He considers God’s gracious promise then made to him, and the assurance of his favour toward him, and care of him, impressed by God upon his mind, as an answer to his prayers, although he had then seen no success, nor any accomplishment of God’s word to him.
Genesis 35:4. They gave unto Jacob all the strange gods — Rather, the gods of the stranger; and all their ear-rings — Either because they had been abused to idolatry and superstition, and were therefore to be destroyed, (Deuteronomy 7:57 and Deuteronomy 12:3,) or for fear they should be so abused.
For the Holy Scriptures insinuate, and other writers expressly affirm, that divers heathen nations did wear ear-rings for the honour of their idols, and with the representations or ensigns of their idols engraven upon them, such as the rings and vessels mentioned by Maimonides, marked with the image of the sun and moon. Jacob hid them under the oak — In a place only known to himself. It is probable they were first melted or broken.
Genesis 35:5. The terror of God — A great terror from God; was upon the cities — Especially the cities nearest to Shechem, so that, although, humanly speaking, they were able, they were restrained from pursuing or destroying Jacob and his family. Nothing less could have secured them, considering the number, power, and rage of their enemies. God governs the world more by secret terrors on men’s minds than we are aware of.
Genesis 35:7. He built an altar — And, no doubt, offered sacrifice upon it, perhaps the tenth of his cattle, according to his vow, I will give the tenth unto thee. And he called the place — That is, the altar, El-Beth-el — The God of Beth-el. As when he made a thankful acknowledgment of the honour God had done him in calling him Israel, he worshipped God by the name of El-elohe-Israel; so now he was making a grateful recognition of God’s former favour at Beth-el, he worships God by the name of the God of Beth-el, because there God appeared to him.
Genesis 35:8. Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died — It appears, on computation, that this event took place not less than a hundred and twenty-five years after Rebekah’s marriage with Isaac. No doubt Rebekah was now dead, and this old nurse, who had come with her into Canaan, (Genesis 24:59,) and had tarried with her while she lived, was, after her death, taken into Jacob’s family, in which, as she was a person of great prudence and piety, her presence and advice must have been very useful. Hence her death is recorded in Jacob’s history, rather than in Isaac’s. Now, while they were at Beth-el, she died, and died so much lamented, that the oak, under which she was buried was called Allon-bachuth, the oak of weeping.
Genesis 35:10-11. He called his name Israel — So he had been named by the angel that wrestled with him, (Genesis 32:28,) and the change of his name, then made, is here confirmed and ratified by the Divine Majesty, to encourage him against the fear of the Canaanites, and to assure him that, as he had prevailed over Esau, so he should now prevail over those of whom he was afraid. And he here renews and ratifies the covenant with him by the name of El-Shaddai, God all-sufficient, to fulfil his promises in due time, and to protect and provide for him at the present. Two things are here promised him; 1st, That he should be the father of a great nation; great in number, a company of nations shall be of thee. Every tribe of Israel was a nation, and all the twelve, a company of nations; great in honour and power; kings shall come out of thy loins. 2d, That he should be master of a good land, (Genesis 35:12,) the land that was given to Abraham and Isaac being here entailed on Jacob and his seed. These two promises had also a spiritual signification, which we may suppose Jacob himself had some notion of; for, without doubt, Christ is the promised seed, and heaven is the promised land; the former is the foundation, and the latter the top-stone of all God’s favours.
Genesis 35:13. God went up from him — In some visible display of his glory, which had hovered over him while he talked with him; or by withdrawing the signs of his special presence, as Genesis 17:22, and 13:20; as, on the contrary, God is said to come down, not by change of place, but by some signal manifestation of his presence and favour, Exodus 3:8; Numbers 11:17.
Genesis 35:14. And Jacob set up a pillar — When he was going to Padan-aram he set up that stone which he had laid his head on for a pillow; but now he took time to erect one more stately and durable, probably inserting that stone in it. And in token of his intending it for a sacred memorial of his communion with God, he poured oil, and the other ingredients of a drink- offering, upon it. And he confirmed the name he had formerly given to the place, Beth-el, the house of God. Yet this very place afterward lost the honour of its name, and became Beth-aven, a house of iniquity; for here it was that Jeroboam set up one of his calves. It is impossible for the best men to entail so much as the profession and form of religion upon a place.
Genesis 35:16-17. She had hard labour — Harder than usual. Rachel had said when she bore Joseph, God shall give me another son, which now the midwife remembers, and tells her, her words were made good. Yet this did not avail; unless God command away fear, no one else can. We are apt in extreme perils to comfort ourselves and our friends with the hopes of a temporal deliverance, in which we may be disappointed; we had better ground our comforts on that which cannot fail us, the hope of eternal life. Rachel had passionately said, Give me children, or else I die; and now she had children (for this was her second) she died.
Genesis 35:18. As her soul was departing — בצאת נפשׁה, when her soul was going out, namely, of the body: an argument this of the soul’s immortality, especially if compared with Ecclesiastes 12:7; from which places collated, we learn both whence it goes, and whither it goes. She called his name Benoni — The son of my sorrow. Thus, by her own confession, the gaining her desire became her sorrow: a lively instance this of the folly of inordinately desiring any thing temporal: the object obtained generally becomes a source of sorrow to us. But his father called him Benjamin — The son of my right hand. As near, dear, and precious to him as his right hand, which is both more useful and more honourable than the left, Psalms 80:17; or, instead of his right hand, the staff, stay, and comfort of his old age. Jacob seems to have given him this name rather than the other, because he would not renew the sorrowful remembrance of his mother’s death every time he called his son by name. It may be observed, that both names were remarkably verified in his posterity; the tribe of Benjamin being remarkably brave and active, and yet involved in more sorrowful disasters than were experienced by any of the other tribes.
Genesis 35:19. Rachel was buried in the way to Ephrath — Not in the city, though it was near; for in ancient times their sepulchres were not in places of resort, but in places separated and out of the cities, Matthew 27:60;
Luke 7:12. If the soul be at rest, the matter is not great where the body lies. In the place where the tree falls there let it lie.
Genesis 35:20. Jacob set a pillar upon her grave — As a monument, or memorial of her life and death, and as a testimony of her future resurrection. That is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day — Unto the time when Moses wrote this book. But it was known to be Rachel’s sepulchre long after, 1 Samuel 10:2, and Providence so ordered it that this place afterward fell into the lot of Benjamin. Jacob set up a pillar in remembrance of his joys, (Genesis 35:14,) and here he sets up one in remembrance of his sorrows. Such is human life with the generality of mankind, a checkered scene! sorrows and joys follow one another in rapid succession. Happy they who, through that faith which is the evidence of things not seen, rise superior to them both, and have their conversation in heaven, where such changes have no place!
Genesis 35:21. Israel journeyed, and spread his tent — Though a prince with God, yet he dwells in tents; the city is reserved for him in the other world.
Genesis 35:22. When Israel dwelt in that land — And probably was absent from his family, which might be the unhappy occasion of these disorders. Though, perhaps, Bilhah was the greater criminal, yet Reuben’s crime was so provoking, that for it he lost his birthright and blessing, chap. Genesis 49:4. Israel heard it — No more is said: that is enough: he heard it with the utmost grief and shame, horror and displeasure. No doubt he forsook Bilhah’s bed upon it, as David afterward acted in a like case. The sons of Jacob were twelve — Moses makes this observation here, because Benjamin being now born, Jacob had no more sons. When he says, (Genesis 35:26,) which were born to him in Padan-aram, he speaks by a synecdoche, a figure of speech often used in Scripture, whereby that which belonged to the greater part is ascribed to all. They were all born there except Benjamin, the place of whose birth had been just mentioned.
Genesis 35:27. Jacob came unto Isaac his father — Probably to dwell with or near him; bringing, it seems, his family with him. We can hardly suppose that this was the first visit he paid him since his return from Mesopotamia.
Without question he had often visited him, though the Scripture be silent as to this particular.
Genesis 35:28-29. The days of Isaac were a hundred and fourscore years — He lived the longest of all the patriarchs, even five years longer than Abraham. He was a mild and quiet man, and these qualities probably contributed no little to his health and long life. Isaac lived about forty years after he made his will. We shall not die an hour the sooner, but abundantly the better, for our timely setting our heart and house in order. Isaac gave up the ghost and died — Although it appears by computation that he did not die till many years after Joseph was sold into Egypt, and, indeed, not till about the time he was preferred there; yet his death is here recorded that his story might be finished, and the subsequent narrative proceed without interruption. His sons Esau and Jacob buried him — Solemnized his funeral in an amicable manner, being now perfectly united in brotherly affection. This is mentioned to show how wonderfully God had changed Esau’s mind, since he vowed his brother’s murder, upon his father’s death, Genesis 27:41. God has many ways of preventing ill men from doing the mischief they intended; he can either tie their hands, or change their hearts.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 35". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany