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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 35

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-15


Genesis 35:1

And God—Elohim. The employment of this name for the Deity throughout the present chapter has been deemed conclusive evidence that, with Rome Jehovistic alterations, it belongs to the fundamental document (Tuch, Bleek, Delitzsch, Kalisch, et alii); but the frequent allusions to Genesis 28:13-16, which by partitionists is almost universally assigned to the Jehovist, prove that both sections have proceeded from the same author, and that, "though the mention of the name is avoided, this chapter, there is no doubt, substantially relates to Jehovah" (Hengstenberg), while the name Elohim may simply indicate that Jacob's journey from Shechem was undertaken in obedience to a Divine intimation (Quarry)—said unto Jacob (shortly after the incidents recorded in the preceding chapter), Arise, go up to Bethel,—about thirty miles distant (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3; Genesis 28:19), to which, some thirty years previous, he had solemnly vowed to return (Genesis 28:22)—a vow which he appeared somewhat dilatory in performing, although its conditions had been exactly fulfilled (Keil, Kurtz, Kalisch, &c.)—and dwell there (the massacre of the Shechemites had obviously rendered longer residence in that neighborhood unsafe): and make there an altar—this Jacob had substantially promised to do in his vow (vide Genesis 28:22)—unto God, that appeared unto theei.e. unto Jehovah (vide Genesis 28:13)—when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother. The words contained an assurance that the same Divine arm which had shielded him against the enmity of Esau and the oppression of Laban would extend to him protection on his future way.

Genesis 35:2, Genesis 35:3

Then Jacob said unto his household (i.e. those more immediately belonging to his family), and to all that were with him (referring probably to the captured Shechemites), Put away the strange gods—literally, the gods of the stranger, including most likely the teraphim of Laban, which Rachel still retained, and other objects of idolatrous worship, either brought by Jacob's servants from Mesopotamia, or adopted in Canaan, or perhaps possessed by the captives—that are among you, and be clean,—literally, cleanse yourselves. The word is that which afterwards describes the purifications of the law (Numbers 19:11, Numbers 19:12; Le Numbers 14:4; Numbers 15:13). Aben Ezra interprets it as meaning that they washed their bodies; and Michaelis views the rite as a kind of baptism, signifying their adoption of the true religion of Jehovah—a quasi baptism of repentance, like that afterwards preached by John—and change your garments. The directions here given are very similar to those which were subsequently issued at Sinai (Exodus 19:10), and were meant to symbolize a moral and spiritual purification of the mind and heart. And let us arise, and go to Bethel. "This is obviously not the first time Jacob acquainted his family with the vision at Bethel (Inglis). And I will make there an altar unto God,—El is probably employed because of its proximity to and connection with Bethel, or house of El, and the intended contrast between the El of Bethel and the strange Elohim which Jacob's household were commanded to put away—who answered me in the day of my distress,—this seems to imply that Jacob prayed at Bethel before he slept, if it does not refer to his supplication before meeting, Esau (Genesis 32:9)—and was with me in the way which I went. This language clearly looks back to Bethel (vide Genesis 28:20).

Genesis 35:4

And they gave mate Jacob all the strange gods—Rosenmüller thinks these must have been many, since the historian would not otherwise have used the term כֹּל—which were in their hand (i.e. which they possessed), and all their earrings which were in their ears;—i.e. those employed for purposes of idolatrous worship, which were often covered with allegorical figures and mysterious sentences, and supposed to be endowed with a talismanic virtue (Judges 8:21; Isaiah 3:20; Hosea 2:13)—and Jacob hid them—having probably first destroyed them, since they do not appear to have been ever after sought for or resumed by the parties who gave them up (Hughes)—under the oak which was by Shechem. Whether the oak, or terebinth, under which Abraham once pitched his tent (Genesis 12:6), that beneath whose shade Joshua afterwards erected his memorial pillar (Joshua 24:26), the oak of the sorcerers (Judges 9:37), and the oak of the pillar at Shechem (Judges 9:6) were all the tree under which Jacob buried the images and earrings cannot with certainty be determined, though the probability is that they were.

Genesis 35:5

And they journeyed (from Shechem, after the work of reformation just described): and the terror of God—meaning not simply a great terror, as in Genesis 23:6; Genesis 30:8 (Dathe, Bush), but either a supernatural dread inspired by Elohim (Ainsworth, Clericus, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, and others), or a fear of Elohim, under whose care Jacob manifestly bad been taken (Murphy, Quarry)—was upon the cities that were round about them,—literally, in their circuits, i.e. wherever they went—and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob—as might have been expected.

Genesis 35:6

So (literally, and) Jacob came to Luz (vide Genesis 28:19), which is in the land of Canaan (this clause is added to draw attention to the fact that Jacob had now accomplished his return to Canaan), that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with himi.e. his household and the captured Shechemites.

Genesis 35:7

And he built there an altar,—thus redeeming his vow (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:4)—and called the place El-beth-el:—i.e. God of Bethel. Not he called the place of God, or the place sacred to God, Bethel, nor he called the altar (Keil, Kalisch, Gerlach, &c.), but he called the place where the altar was El-beth-el; i.e. either he devoted the place as sacred to the El of Bethel (Rosenmüller), or he gave to the place the name of (so. the place of) the El of Bethel, reading the first El as a genitive (Lange); or he called it El-Beth-el metaphorically, as Jerusalem afterwards was styled Jehovah Tsidkenu (Jeremiah 33:16) and Jehovah Shammah (Ezekiel 48:35; Inglis). It has been proposed, after the LXX; to avoid the seeming incongruity of assigning such a name to a place, to read, he invoked upon the place the El of Bethel—because there God appeared unto him,—the El of Bethel was Jehovah (vide Genesis 28:13; Genesis 31:13)—when he fled from the face of his brother.

Genesis 35:8

But Deborah—Bee (Gesenius, Furst) Rebekah's nurse (vide Genesis 24:59) died—at a very advanced age, having left Padan-aram for Canaan along with Rebekah, upwards of 150 years ago. That she is now found in Jacob's household may be accounted for by supposing that Rebekah had sent her, in accordance with the promise of Genesis 27:45 (Delitzsch); or that Jacob had paid a visit to his father at Hebron, and brought her back with him to Shechem, probably because of Rebekah's death (Lange); or that on Rebekah's death she had been transferred to Jacob's household (Keil, Murphy, Alford); or that Isaac, "who had during the twenty years of his son's absence wandered in different parts of the land" (?), had "at this period of his migrations come into the neighborhood of Bethel" (Kalisch). And she was buried beneath Bethel—which was situated in the hill country, whence Jacob is instructed to "go up" to Bethel (Genesis 27:1) under an oak. More correctly, the oak or terebinth, i.e. the well-known tree, which long after served to mark her last resting-place, which some have without reason identified with the palm tree of Deborah the prophetess (Judges 4:5), and the oak of Tabor mentioned in 1 Samuel 10:3 (Delitzsch, Kurtz, &c.). And the name of it was called—not "he," i.e. Jacob, "called it" (Ainsworth), but "one called its name," i.e. its name was called (Kalisch)—Allon-bachuth (i.e. the oak of weeping).

Genesis 35:9, Genesis 35:10

And God appeared unto Jacob again,—this was a visible manifestation, m contrast to the audible one in Shechem (Genesis 35:1), and in a state of wakefulness (Genesis 35:13), as distinguished from the dream vision formerly beheld at Bethel (Genesis 28:12)—when he came (or had come) out of Padan-aram (as previously he had appeared to the patriarch on going into Padan-aram), and blessed himi.e. renewed the promises of the covenant, of which he was the heir. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob:—or Supplanter (vide Genesis 25:26). Lange reads, Is thy name Jacob?—thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel (vide Genesis 32:28) shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. The renewal of the name given at Peniel may possibly indicate a revival in the spiritual life of Jacob, which had been declining in the interval between the former interview with God and the present (Murphy), but was probably designed as a confirmation of the former interview with God, and of the experience through which he then passed. Cf. the twice-given name of Peter (John 1:42; Matthew 16:16-19).

Genesis 35:11, Genesis 35:12

And God said unto him (repeating substantially the promises made to Abraham), I am God Almighty:—El Shaddai (cf. Genesis 17:1)—be fruitful and multiply;—"Abraham and Isaac had each only one son of promise; but now the time of increase was come" (Murphy; cf. Genesis 1:28)—a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee (cf. Genesis 17:5; Genesis 28:3), and kings shall come out of thy loins (cf. Genesis 17:6, Genesis 17:16); and the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac (vide Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 26:3, Genesis 26:4), to thee I will give it (cf. Genesis 28:13), and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. The time of their entering on possession was specified to Abraham (Genesis 15:16).

Genesis 35:13

And God went up from him—showing this to have been a visible manifestation (cf. Genesis 17:22)—in the place where he talked with him.

Genesis 35:14

And Jacob set up a pillar—the former pillar (Genesis 28:18) having probably fallen down and disappeared—in the place where he (God) talked with him (to commemorate the interview), even a pillar of stone. The setting up of pillars, according to Tuch a peculiarity of the Elohist, appears to have been a favorite practice of Jacob's: witness the first pillar at Bethel (Genesis 28:18), the pillar on Galeed (Genesis 31:45), the second pillar at Bethel (Genesis 35:14), the pillar over Rachel's grave (Genesis 35:20). And he poured a drink offering thereon. This is the first mention of those sacrificial libations which afterwards became so prominent in connection with the Mosaic ritual (Exodus 29:40, Exodus 29:41; Le Exodus 23:13, Exodus 23:18, 37; Numbers 6:15; and elsewhere). Under the law the נֶסֶךְ—σπονδεῖον σπονδή (LXX.) libamentum, libamen (Vulgate); frankopfer (Luther)—consisted of a fourth part of a hin of wine, which was equal to about a third of a gallon. And he poured oil thereon—as he did on the previous occasion (Genesis 28:18, q.v.).

Genesis 35:15

And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel. This name was first given after the dream vision of the ladder (Genesis 28:19); already on this occasion it had been changed into El-beth-el (Genesis 35:7); now its old name is reimposed.


Genesis 35:1-15

Bethel revisited.


1. The occasion of the journey. The crime of his sons had made it necessary that Jacob should leave Shechem and its neighborhood; but it is doubtful if in the circumstances Jacob would have thought of going to Bethel without an express invitation from Heaven, which, however, he got.

2. The object of the journey. This was stated by the Divine communication which Jacob received to be the fulfillment of the vow which twenty years before he had made to erect an altar on the spot where he enjoyed the vision of the ladder and the angels. Vows do not lose their obligatory character by lapse of years. Men may, but God never does, forget the promises which are made to him. Hence the counsel of the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 5:4, Ecclesiastes 5:5).

3. The preparation for the journey. The removal of the strange gods—

(1) Was needful if God was to be sincerely worshipped by Jacob and his household. The necessity of having no other gods but Jehovah was afterwards enjoined upon Israel as a nation. In the gospel the law is equally imperative. God and Christ demand the undivided homage of the human heart.

(2) Was counseled by Jacob to his household. It is well when heads of families have the ability as well as inclination to direct their children and dependents in the duties of religion.

(3) Was cheerfully assented to by Jacob's household. The silver and wooden images (the teraphim) that Rachel had abstracted from her father's tent, the idolatrous objects that the Shechemites may have brought with them, and the earrings that were in their ears, were at once and completely given up, and by Jacob's own hand buried beneath the oak of Shechem.

(4) Was symbolized in Jacob's household by the acts of washing and putting on of clean apparel. Under the law corporeal ablutions and beautified habiliments were typical of spiritual renovation and the putting on of the righteousness of the saints (cf. Ezekiel 36:25; Hebrews 10:22; Jude 1:23; Revelation 19:2).

4. The experience of the journey. Wherever the travelers went they found themselves unmolested, and the cities round about them alarmed, and afraid to pursue. The terror of Elohim was upon the people of the land, and thus the care of Jehovah was around his saints.

5. The completion of the journey. Jacob and all the people that were with him came to Luz in the land of Canaan, which is Bethel. Many journeys are begun that never end. Some that promise well at the outset are overwhelmed in disaster before they terminate. It is only he who keeps Israel that can preserve a good man's going out and coming in.


1. The building of an altar. This was on the part of Jacob

(1) an act of obedience, since it was done in accordance with Divine instructions (Genesis 35:1);

(2) an act of justice, inasmuch as it was executed in fulfillment of a vow, (Genesis 28:22);

(3) an act of gratitude, being designed to give expression to Jacob's thankfulness for God's mercies (Genesis 35:3, Genesis 35:7).

2. The death of Deborah.

(1) Her life-work: Rebekah's nurse.

(2) Her death: this must have taken place at an advanced age.

(3) Her burial: the place of sepulture was on the slope of Bethel hill, beneath the shadow of a wide-spreading oak.

(4) Her memorial: the tree was named Allon-bachuth, oak of weeping.

3. The appearance of Elohim.

(1) The blessing renewed (Genesis 35:9;)

(2) the new name confirmed (Genesis 35:10);

(3) the promises repeated (Genesis 35:11).

4. The erection of a pillar. The old column having probably been thrown down, this was

(1) set up as a memorial of the interview with God which had just been enjoyed;

(2) employed as an altar for the worship of Elohim—"he poured a drink offering thereon;" and

(3) consecrated as an object of reverential regard by pouring oil thereon.

5. The renaming of the place. The name given twenty years previously is renewed, Bethel (Genesis 35:15), with a slight modification, El-Bethel (Genesis 35:7), to connect it with the altar just erected.


1. That good men sometimes require to be reminded by God of their duty.

2. That acts of Divine worship should be preceded by heart purification and life reformation.

3. That God is perfectly able to protect his people when they are walking in his appointed paths.

4. That good men when serving God are not exempt from the afflictions of life.

5. That faithful servants should be tenderly cherished by their masters when old, decently buried when dead, and lovingly remembered when entombed.

6. That God never forgets either his promises or his people.

7. That God should not be forgotten by those whom he remembers.


Genesis 35:1-15

God with us.

Jacob's settlement with his family at Bethel. This was a solemn renewal of the covenant to the patriarch at the end of his pilgrimage. It was the occasion for a new dedication of himself and his household by vows and offerings, and by separation of themselves from all heathen things and thoughts around the newly-erected altar El-Bethel.

I. REVELATION the basis of faith. God went up from him after he had spoken with him, and there he set up a pillar of stone, and poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.

II. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE the background of a consecrated life. We should make the memory of Gears goodness the foundation on which we build up the monuments of our life. Mark the places by offerings. Let the Bethel of our worship be the Bethel of his praise.—R.


Genesis 35:1, Genesis 35:2

Spiritual renovation.

Spiritual life is a thing of growth; never finished here (Philippians 3:13; Hebrews 6:1). No doubt the all-important question is, Art thou in Christ? And in every Christian life there is a point, known to God, when the soul passes from death to life (1 John 5:12). For by nature children of wrath. Still there is a life's work. The spirit may have chosen Christ; but the flesh is weak, and the law of sin still works. Most commonly in such a life certain times will stand out, connected with special lessons and special dealings, when some window of the soul has been opened to heavenly light, some line of action pressed upon the mind.

I. THE LESSON LEARNED BY JACOB HIMSELF. We know not when his spiritual life began. Probably before he left home; for with all his faults he desired a spiritual blessing. But at Bethel and Penuel great steps were made. He learned the presence of God, and the protecting care of God, as he had never known them before. Yet the lessons were chiefly subjective; they regarded his own attitude towards God. And this generally comes first, but it is not all. "Arise, go up to Bethel." Take up again the lesson book. Is there not more to be learned from it? Those angels ascending and descending, were they charged with thy good only? The Lord who stood above, did he care only for thee? With all thy possessions thou art in "a solitary way" (Psalms 107:4). Here Jacob seems first to realize his responsibility for the spiritual state of others (cf. Psalms 119:136). The Christian character is not thoroughly formed till it is felt that the possession of truth hinds us to use-it for the good of others. Being "bought with a price," we are debtors to all (Romans 1:14); and chiefly to those with whom we are connected (1 Timothy 5:8).

II. THE WORK HE TOOK IN HAND. To press upon his household—

1. Single-hearted service of God. "Put away the strange gods." Sincerity lies at the root of all real renovation. Hitherto the semi-idolatry of teraphim seems to have been tacitly allowed. Jacob's fondness for Rachel may have kept him from forbidding it. Hence a divided service. Putting away does not refer only to formal worship. It is putting away service of the god of this world: covetousness (Colossians 3:5), worldly aims (John 5:44), gratification of self (Luke 12:19; Luke 14:11), traditional maxims of conduct and judgment (Mark 3:21; 1 Peter 4:4). It is seeking first the kingdom of God, and resting in him (Psalms 37:5).

2. "Be clean." No toleration of evil (Matthew 5:48). Christians are to be a holy people (1 Peter 2:9). This is much more than a mere upright and honorable life. The Levitical rules, strict and minute as they were, faintly shadowed the extent of the law of righteousness. See the Sermon on the Mount. Vast difference between an upright life and a holy life. The one is a following of rules, the other a walk with God.

3. "Change your garments." Under the law this a necessary part of purification. Contrast the garments, Psalms 109:18 and Isaiah 61:10. The explanation, Zechariah 3:4. In New Testament language, put on Christ. The root is atonement, the covering of sins (Psalms 32:1), the forgiveness of the sinful (Romans 3:26). No real renovation without this change—casting away self-righteousness, and clinging to the work of Christ (Jeremiah 23:6; Romans 10:4). Many have said trust in free grace points to sin. God's word from end to end declares it is the only way of holiness.—M.


Genesis 35:2

Jacob's preparation for acceptable worship.

"Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be ye clean, and change your garments: and let us arise, and go up to Bethel." "When thou vowest a vow, defer not to pay it," says Ecclesiastes (Genesis 5:4); but Jacob had deferred. He made a vow at Bethel, and he seems afterwards to have ignored it. If he thought of it, a number of things had been ever ready to present themselves as excuses for delay. His faithful services given constantly to Laban, his efforts to make good his position in the land, and then to avert the anger of Esau, had apparently absorbed so much of his attention that he had forgotten his vows. These solemn promises had been made at a very critical period of his life, and God had not forgotten them. He reminds Jacob of them in a very emphatic manner. Jacob had failed to see in the circumstances in which he was placed with respect to the people among whom he dwelt that there was a hint of neglected duty. God permitted Jacob to be made uncomfortable that he might be made considerate. The way in which his sons had treated the Shechemites had brought him into great danger. He and all his were likely to be cut off by these enraged inhabitants of the land. He is reminded of the danger in which he was once placed from the vengeance of Esau. The similarity of the circumstances forcibly and very naturally turn his thoughts to the One who alone can be his defense. Thus circumstances and Divine communications impel to the performance of duty. How merciful is God in his treatment of souls! How he leads the wanderer back to duty! Jacob, when about to strike his tents and remove to Bethel, wishes that his sons and servants should go up with him, and that they should go up in the right spirit. He therefore says to them, "Put away the strange gods," &c.

I. NEGLECTED DUTY IS A HINDRANCE TO APPROPRIATE AND ACCEPTABLE WORSHIP. That Jacob should have been obliged to give such an injunction to his household shows that he had not sufficiently kept before his sons and servants the duty they owed to God. He had allowed himself to strive for worldly success until they might have even imagined that he was no better than the rest of them or their neighbors; but deep down in the heart of this man was a reverence for God and a desire to do his will. His neglect to carefully instruct his sons had borne bitter fruit. Had he instilled into his sons ideas more in accordance with the character of the God he served, they would not have taken such mean methods as are mentioned of revenging themselves on those they had come to dislike. His neglect necessitates the sudden and difficult effort now put forth to induce his sons to seek with him to serve God. He feels that he cannot rightly worship God unless his children and household are with him in spirit. He wishes to foster in them a belief in his own sincerity. To have one in a family looking on indifferently or sneeringly is death to successful worship. Jacob's neglect had led to carelessness by his sons of the Divine service. He could not himself enter heartily on the service until he had discharged, in a measure, his duty as guide and instructor to his family.

II. ANOTHER HINDRANCE IS THE ATTACHMENT TO OBJECTS WRONGLY HELD IN REVERENCE. The sons of Jacob had admitted false gods into their affections. Idolatry was rife among them. Even his wife Rachel had so much faith in her father's idols that she stole them when she left home. The sons caught the spirit of the mother, and indulged in the worship of strange gods. Perhaps they worshipped secretly the gods which Rachel cherished, or they may have given adoration to the idols they found among the spoils of the Shechemites. They may have had little images which they carried about with them, as many superstitious Christians carry the crucifix. Amulets and charms they seem to have worn on their hands and in their ears, all indicating superstition, false worship, and wrong ideas. God is spoken of in the Bible as "jealous." This is with respect to worship given to representations of gods having no existence. The jealousy is right, because it would be an evil thing for man himself to think there were many gods, or to select his own god. When, in after ages, the descendants of these sons of Jacob yielded to the sin of worshipping other gods, ten of the tribes were swept away, and have never been rediscovered. Indeed the stream was tainted in source, and "grew no purer as it rolled along." When Achan brought the Babylonish garment into the camp of Israel, the chosen of God could not stand before their enemies, but when it was removed they were again victorious. So strange gods must be removed from our homes and from our hearts, or we can never be successful in the conflict against sin, or in the acceptability of the worship we offer. It is for each Christian to search his soul, and to see whether there is any desire, habit, or practice which in the least militates against the worship of God. Many who were incorporated with Jacob's household were Syrians, who brought their evil practices with them. When any enter God's Church they must leave behind them the practices of the world; nor possessions nor potation must be the gods then worshipped, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

III. THE HARBOURING OF ANY SPECIAL SIN WILL BE A SURE HINDRANCE. The sons of Jacob had not only outward false objects of reverence, but inward evil propensities. They were treacherous, cruel, lustful, envious, murderous. See how they treated the Shechemites, and in after years their own brother Joseph. What scandalizing, jealousy, and even opposition, are found in some homes! How hard it is to alienate sinful habits from the heart and the home I how hard to get the right tone for devout service in the home I Certain habits of temper, ridicule, sarcasm will chill and check all worship. Jacob urged his sons to be "clean,"—pure,—"to change their garments." They had need to do the latter, for they had been spotted with the blood of the men they had murdered. Jacob meant that they were to put on the garments kept for the worship of God. Rebekah had garments by her in which Esau as eldest son worshipped God, and which she put on Jacob. It is probable that it was the practice under the patriarchal dispensation to perform certain ceremonial ablutions prior to entering on the solemn worship. "Cleaniness is next to godliness."

It leads to it. The need of purity in the worship or God is thus indicated by ablutions and change of garments. But how easily we may have the outward without the inward. We need cleansing in the holy fountain opened by Christ, and to be clothed by his righteousness.

IV. A great hindrance to successful worship is HAVING LOW IDEAS OF THE DIGNITY OF THE ACT, AND THE MAJESTY AND HOLINESS OF HIM WHOM WE WORSHIP. God must be made to appear great to us. He is "high and lifted up." He made not only these frames of ours, but this vast universe. He is worshipped by worlds of intelligent spirits, and has been worshipped from the depths of eternity. He is holy and full of majesty. Shall we be indifferent as to the duty or the mode of worship? What a marvel that we should be permitted to have fellowship with our Creator I If we have it, it must be in the way and place he appoints. For Jacob it was at Bethel, for the Jews at Jerusalem, for Christians at the cross. To Jacob and the Jews it was by annual sacrifices, to us it is by the offering of Christ "once for all."—H.

Verses 16-29


Genesis 35:16

And they journeyed—not in opposition to the Divine commandment (Genesis 35:1), which did not enjoin a permanent settlement at Bethel, but in accordance probably with his own desire, if not also Heaven's counsel, to proceed to Mamre to visit Isaac—from Bethel (southwards in the direction of Hebron); and there was but a little way (literally, there was yet a space of land; probably a few furlongs (Murphy), about four English miles (Gerlach). The Vulgate translates, "in the spring-time," and the LXX. render, ἐγένετο δὲ ἡνίκα ἤγγισεν εἰς χαβραθὰ, both of which are misunderstandings of the original—to come to Ephrath:—Fruitful; the ancient name of Bethlehem (vide infra Genesis 35:19)—and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor—literally, she had hard labor in her parturition, which was perhaps all the more severe that sixteen or seventeen years had elapsed since her first son, Joseph, was born.

Genesis 35:17

And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor (literally, in her laboring hard in her parturition), that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also—literally, for also this to thee a son; meaning either that she would certainly have strength to bring forth another son, or, what is more probable, that the child was already born, and that it was a son.

Genesis 35:18

And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing,—literally, in the departing of her soul; not into annihilation, but into another (a disembodied) state of existence (vide Genesis 25:3)—for she died (a pathetic commentary on Genesis 30:1), that she called his name Ben-oni ("son of my sorrow,'' as a memorial of her anguish in bearing him, and of her death because of him): but his father called him Benjamin—"son of my right hand;" either "the son of my strength" (Clericus, Rosenmüller,. Murphy), or "the son of my happiness or good fortune" (Gesenius, Keil, Kalisch), with allusion to Jacob's now possessing twelve sons; or as expressive of Jacob's unwillingness to see a bad omen in the birth of Rachel's child (Candlish); or "the son of my days," i.e. of my old age (Samaritan), an interpretation which Lunge pasaes with a mere allusion, but which Kalisch justly pronounces not so absurd as is often asserted (cf. Genesis 44:20); or "the son of my affection" (Ainsworth; cf. Genesis 50:18)

Genesis 35:19

And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem—or House of Bread, about seven miles south of Jerusalem. It afterwards became the birthplace of David (1 Samuel 16:18) and of Christ (Matthew 2:1). The assertion that this clause is a later interpolation (Lunge) is unfounded (Kalisch, Kurtz).

Genesis 35:20

And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave (vide on Genesis 35:14): that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day i.e. unto the times of Moses; but the site of Rachel's sepulcher was known so late as the age of Samuel (1 Samuel 10:2); and there seems no reason to question the tradition which from the fourth century has placed it within the Turkish chapel Kubbet Rachil, about half-an-hour's journey north of Bethlehem.

Genesis 35:21

And Israel (or Jacob) journeyed (from Ephrath, after the funeral of Rachel), and spreadi.e. unfolded (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 26:25)—his tent beyond the tower of Edar—literally, to, i.e. not trans (Vulgate), ultra (Dathe), but ad, usque (Rosenmüller), as far as Migdol Edar, the Tower of the Flock—probably a turret, or watch-tower, erected for the convenience of shepherds in guarding their flocks (2Ki 18:8; 2 Chronicles 26:10; 2 Chronicles 27:4),—the site of which is uncertain, but which is commonly supposed to have Been a mile (Jerome) or more south of Bethlehem." The LXX. omit this verse.

Genesis 35:22

And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine:—an act of incest (Le Genesis 18:8) for which he was afterwards disinherited (Genesis 49:4; 1 Chronicles 5:1)—and Israel heard it. The hiatus in the text and the break in the MS. at this point may both have been designed to express Jacob's grief at the tidings. The LXX. add feebly καὶ πονηρὸν ἐφάνη ἐναντίον αὐτοῦ, which surely fails to represent the mingled shame and sorrow, indignation and horror, with which his eldest son's wickedness must have filled him. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve—a separate verse in the LXX; which is certainly more in accordance with the sense than the division in the text.

Genesis 35:23-26

The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun (cf. Genesis 29:32-35; Genesis 30:18-20; Genesis 46:8-15; Exodus 1:2, Exodus 1:3). The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin (Cf. Genesis 30:22-24; Genesis 35:18; Genesis 46:19). And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali (cf. Genesis 30:4-8). And the sons of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid; Gad, and Asher (cf. Genesis 30:9-13): these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padan-aram. All except Benjamin were born there. Either this is an instance of the summary style of Scripture in which minute verbal accuracy is not always preserved (Inglis), or the whole period of Jacob's pilgrimage to Mesopotamia and back is intended by his residence in Padan-aram (Kalisch).

Genesis 35:27

And Jacob came unto Isaac his father, unto Mature (on the probability of Jacob's having previously visited his father, vide Genesis 35:8), unto the city of Arbah (Genesis 13:18; Genesis 23:2, Genesis 23:19; Joshua 14:15; Joshua 15:13), which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.

Genesis 35:28

And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years. At this time Jacob was 120; but at 130 he stood before Pharaoh in Egypt, at which date Joseph had been 10 years governor. He was therefore 120 when Joseph was promoted at the age of 30, and 107 when Joseph was sold; consequently Isaac was 167 years of age when Joseph was sold, so that he must have survived that event and sympathized with Jacob his son for a period of 13 years.

Genesis 35:29

And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto hit people,—cf. the account of Abraham's death (Genesis 25:8)—being old and full of days (literally, satisfied with days. In Genesis 25:8 the shorter expression satisfied is used): and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him—Esau arriving from Mount Seir to pay the last service due to his deceased parent, and Jacob according to him that precedence which had once belonged to him as Isaac's firstborn.


Genesis 35:16-29

These family records mingle well with the story of God's grace. The mothers "Ben-oni" is the father's "Benjamin." Out of the pain and the bereavement sometimes comes the consolation. A strange blending of joy and sorrow is the tale of human love. But there is a higher love which may draw out the pure stream of peace and calm delight from that impure fountain. Jacob and Esau were separated in their lives, but they met at their father's grave. Death is a terrible divider, but a uniter too. Under the shadow of the great mystery, on the borders of an eternal world, in the presence of those tears which human eyes weep for the dead, even when they can weep no other tears, the evil things of envy, hatred, revenge, alienation do often hide themselves, and the better things of love, lessee, brotherhood, amity come forth. Jacob was with Isaac when he died, and Esau came to the grave.—R.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 35". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-35.html. 1897.
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