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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Genesis 35

 

 

Verse 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.

God said unto Jacob, Arise, ... This command was given as seasonably in point of time, as tenderly in respect of language. The disgraceful and perilous events that had recently taken place in the patriarch's family must have produced in him a strong desire to remove without delay from the vicinity of Shechem. Borne down by an overwhelming sense of the criminality of his two sons-of the offence they had given to God, and the dishonour they had brought on the true faith-distracted, too, with anxiety about the probable consequences which their outrage might bring upon himself and family, should the Canaanite people combine to extirpate such a band of robbers and murderers-he must have felt this call as affording a great relief to his afflicted feelings. At the same time it conveyed a tender rebuke.

Go up to Beth-el, ... Beth-el was about thirty miles south of Shechem; and was an ascent from a low to a highland country. There, he would not only be released from the painful associations of the latter place, but be established on a spot, that would revive the most delightful and sublime recollections. The pleasure of revisiting it, however, was not altogether unalloyed.

Make ... an altar unto God that appeared. It too frequently happens that early impressions are effaced through lapse of time-that promises made in seasons of distress are forgotten; or, if remembered on the return of health and prosperity, there is not the same alacrity and sense of obligation felt to fulfill them. Jacob was lying under that charge. He had fallen into spiritual indolence. It was now eight or ten years since his return to Canaan. He had effected a comfortable settlement; and had acknowledged the divine mercies by which that return and settlement had been signally distinguished (cf. Genesis 33:20).

But for some unrecorded reason, his early vow at Beth-el (see the note at Genesis 28:22), made 30 years before, in a great; crisis of his life, remained unperformed. The Lord appeared now, to remind him of his neglected duty-in terms, however, so mild, as awakened less the memory of his fault, than of the kindness of his heavenly Guardian; and how much Jacob felt the touching nature of the appeal to that memorable scene at Beth-el, appears in the immediate preparations he made to arise and go up there (Psalms 66:13).


Verse 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:

Then Jacob said unto his household ... Put away the strange gods - Hebrew, gods of the stranger-of foreign nations (cf. Joshua 24:20; Joshua 24:23; Deuteronomy 30:11-12; Psalms 81:10, where the word occurs in the singular). Besides the idols which would he obtained among the plunder of Shechem, Jacob had brought, in his service, a number of Mesopotamian retainers, who were addicted to superstitious practices; and there is some reason to fear that the same high testimony as to the religious superintendence of his household could not have been borne of him as was done of Abraham (Genesis 35:18-19). He might have been too negligent hitherto in winking at these evils in his servants; or, perhaps, it was not until his arrival in Canaan that he had learned, because the first time, that one nearer and dearer to him was secretly infected with the same corruption (Gen. 35:31,34

). Be that as it may, he resolved on an immediate and thorough reformation of his household; and in commanding them to put away the strange gods, he added, "be clean, and change your garments;" as if some defilement, from contact with idolatry, should still remain about them.

In the law of Moses many ceremonial purifications were ordained, and observed by persons who had contracted certain defilements, and without the observance of which, they were reckoned unclean and unfit to join in the social worship of God (Leviticus 14:4; Numbers 8:7; Ezra 6:20; Nehemiah 12:30; Nehemiah 13:22). These bodily purifications were purely figurative; and as sacrifices were offered before the law, so also were external purifications observed, as appears from the words of Jacob; hence, it would seem that types and symbols were used from the fall of man, representing and teaching the two great doctrines of revealed truth-namely, the atonement of Christ, and the sanctification of our nature (cf. Exodus 19:10-15; 1 Samuel 16:5; Job 1:5; Psalms 26:6).

Be clean , [Hebrew, hiTah


Verse 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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 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.

They gave ... all the strange gods ... and ... earrings - strange gods-the Teraphim (cf. Genesis 31:30; Genesis 31:34) as well, perhaps, as other idols obtained among the Shechemite spoil - [ han


Verse 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.

The terror of God was upon the cities. There was every reason to apprehend that a storm of indignation would burst from all quarters upon Jacob's family, and that the Canaanite tribes would have formed one united plan of revenge. But a supernatural panic seized them; and thus, for the sake of the "heir of the promise," the protecting shield of Providence was specially held over his family.


Verse 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.

So Jacob came to Luz ... that is, Beth-el. It is probable that this place was unoccupied ground when Jacob first went to it. (See the note at Genesis 28:11.) The name of Beth-el, which was now renewed and which would of course, be confined to Jacob and his family, did not supersede the original one, Luz, until long after. It is now identitled with the modern Beitin, and lies on the western slope of the mountain on which Abraham built his altar (Genesis 13:8).


Verse 7

And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.

El-Beth-el - i:e., the God of Beth-el.


Verse 8

But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.

Deborah, Rebekah's nurse died. This event seems to have taken place before the solemnities were commenced. Deborah - i:e., a bee. The nurse in an Eastern family was an important personage, and always held in high esteem. 'In Syria she is a sort of second parent. She always accompanies the bride to her husband's house, and ever after remains there an honoured character' ('Siege of Acre').

Supposing Deborah to have been fifty when she came to Canaan (Genesis 24:59), she had attained the great age of a hundred and eighty. When she was removed from Isaac's household to Jacob's, is unknown. But it probably was on his return from Mesopotamia (her mistress, Rebekah, being dead), that she had been on a visit to Jacob, whom she had taken charge of in his infancy; and she would have been of invaluable service to his young family. Old nurses, like her, were, not only honoured, but loved as mothers; and, accordingly, her death was the occasion of a great lamentation. She was buried 'beneath Beth-el,' i:e., in the subjacent plain, under the oak-hence, called the "terebinth of tears" (cf. 1 Kings 13:14).


Verses 9-15

And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him.

God appeared unto Jacob again. God was pleased to make a new appearance to him after the solemn rites of devotion were over. By this manifestation of His presence, God testified His acceptance of Jacob's sacrifice; and, after a confirmation of his new name Israel, which was to be the recognized designation of his posterity in the covenant about to be made, and a continued pledge of its fulfilment in the remote future, renewed the promise of the three-fold blessing guaranteed to Abraham (Genesis 17:6) and Isaac (Genesis 26:2-4) - namely:

(1) The land of Canaan;

(2) A numerous posterity, the chosen seed; and

(3) Salvation through them to the world.

Verse 11. A company of nations. This is considered by some as pointing to the Twelve tribes, by others to the spiritual Israel. But neither interpretation is admissible. [ qaahaal (Hebrew #6950), an assembly, convocation, rendered in our version, "a multitude" (Genesis 28:3; Genesis 48:4). The Septuagint renders it uniformly in these passages as: sunagoogai ethnoon, gathering of nations.] The word which in these promises to Jacob is rendered by 'multitude,' or "company," in our English Bibles, takes its origin and its meaning from a root which properly signifies 'to assemble,' or to 'call an assembly;' and the force of it in these passages seems more properly expressed in the Greek translation of the Septuagint than by any later interpreter. Their translation of this passage is: 'the gathering together of nations shall be from thee;' and the gathering together which is intended, can be no other than the gathering of all nations into one in Christ. But, if I mistake not, this great event is much more expressly mentioned in those passages than it appears to be even in the version of the Septuagint-the Messiah being personally mentioned under the character of 'the Gatherer of nations;' for the word, which the Septuagint renders by 'the gathering together,' and the English translators by 'a multitude' or 'company,' may, by its derivation, either signify the persons of which an assembly is composed-in which sense our English translators understood it-or the act of bringing them together, which is the sense the Septuagint expresses; or it may bear a third sense, which perhaps is of all the most pertinent in the passages in question: it may stand for the person by whose authority the assembly is convened.

The spirit of the expression will be the most striking if the last of these three senses be adopted, that of a person; because with this sense of the word the literal rendering of this passage will be, 'a nation and the gatherer of nations shall arise from thee' (Horsley).

In what was said to Jacob on this occasion, we are informed by Moses (Genesis 12:4) that he was regarded not as an individual, but the ancestor of a race-that what was promised to him was promised to the whole nation that should spring from him. It was a repetition of the promise made to him on his first halting at Beth-el, but with an important change of circumstances. Formerly it was in a dream; now he was fully awake: formerly it was a visionary scene; now it was (Genesis 35:13) an actual reality: formerly he was a fugitive, solitary and destitute; now he was wealthy and at the head of a numerous establishment: formerly he was setting out on a distant journey, and was promised the blessing of protection and a safe return; now that promise had been amply fulfilled: formerly he had been newly recognized as the heir of the promised blessing; now he had reached an advanced stage: for his family was about to be increased by the birth of his twelfth son, thus completing the destined number of heads of the tribes of Israel.

Verse 13. God went up from him. The presence of God was indicated in some visible form, and his acceptance of the sacrifice shown by the miraculous descent of fire from heaven, consuming it on the altar.

Verse 14-15. Jacob set up a pillar, ... The patriarch observed the same ceremony with which he had formerly consecrated the place, comprising a sacramental offering and the oil that he poured on the pillar. In fulfillment of his vow (Genesis 28:22), having now returned rich, he presented a sacrificial gift-a gift of gratitude to the Author of all blessings, which included whatever was given for the support of religion; and he also brought a drink offering. These were poured in libations around the altar, and signified the dedication of the offerer himself to God. The new and significant designation of the spot, which he had conferred on it himself, was now solemnly proclaimed in presence of his whole household. The whole scene was in accordance with the character of the patriarchal dispensation, in which the great truths of religion were exhibited to the senses, and 'the world's gray fathers' taught in a manner suited to the weakness of an infantine condition.


Verse 16

And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.

They journeyed from Beth-el. There can be no doubt that much enjoyment was experienced at Beth-el; and that in the religious observances solemnized, as well as in the vivid recollections of the glorious vision seen there, the affections of the patriarch were powerfully animated, and that he left the place a better and more devoted servant of God.

When the solemnities were over, Jacob, with his family, pursued a route directly southward; and they had reached Ephrath, when they were plunged into mourning by the death of Rachel, who sank in child-birth, leaving a posthumous son.

There was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed , [ kibrat (Hebrew #3530) haa'aarets (Hebrew #776)] - a piece of ground or way. This word [ kibrah (Hebrew #3530)], which denotes length, also a measure of distance, occurs also in Genesis 48:7; 2 Kings 5:19, indicating a short but indeterminate space. In the first of these passages the Septuagint renders it as hippodromos, a horse-course; but whether we should interpret that, with Rosenmuller, the distance a horse should be made to go for daily exercise-namely, from three to four miles; or, with Gesenius, as far as a horse can run without fatigue, it is difficult to say.

The houda, or traveling basket, girt on the back of a camel or a donkey, is always furnished with those personal necessaries which are required for the traveler's comfort during a journey: such as linen, refreshments, etc.; and in the case of women, with those particular conveniences which are suited to their sex and condition. Since Rachel died in childbirth, while on a journey, it may have been in one of these conveyances, which, with proper attention, are capable of being rendered very private (Taylor's 'Frag. in Calmet'). A very affecting death, considering how ardently the mind of Rachel had been set on offspring (cf. Genesis 30:1).


Verse 17

And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 18

And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.

Ben-oni - i:e., son of my sorrow. The dying mother gave this name to her child, significant of her circumstances; but Jacob changed it into Benjamin. This is thought by some to have been originally Benjamim, 'a son of days' - i:e., of old age. But with its present ending it means 'son of the right hand' - i:e., particularly dear and precious, or, according to some, 'good fortune.'


Verse 19

And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.

Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem - the one the old Canaanite name, denoting 'fruitful'; the other the later Hebrew one, signifying 'house of bread.' Sometimes these names are combined, Beth-lehem-Ephratah. It is about four English miles from Jerusalem (Micah 5:2).


Verse 20

And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.

Set a pillar upon her grave ... unto this day. The spot still marked out as the grave of Rachel exactly agrees with the Scripture record, being about a mile from Beth-lehem. Anciently it was marked by a pillar [ matseebaah (Hebrew #4676), a monument, or cippus], which has long disappeared; but the present tomb, surmounted by a rude cupola, and supported by four large square pillars, is a Mohammedan erection. The site of Rachel's tomb has been kept in remembrance by the united traditions of Jews, Mohammedans, and Christians. (See the note at 1 Samuel 10:2.)


Verse 21

And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.

Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar. This was not, as has been strangely alleged, the tower Edar, on one of the gates of Jerusalem, which had not an existence for centuries after Jacob's time; but [ migdal (Hebrew #4026) `Eeder (Hebrew #5740)], tower of the flock, for watching them-a village about a mile distant (according to Jerome's 'Quaest. in Genesin') from Beth-lehem (Micah 4:8); and the place of the shepherds (Luke 2:8); whence it is called Pastora.


Verse 22

And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:

Reuben ... lay with Bilhah ... and Israel heard it. Jonathan in his Targum says, that Reuben only overthrew the bed of Bilhah, which was set up opposite to the bed of his mother Leah, and that this was imputed to him as if he had lain with her. The Targumist assigns as the reason of Reuben's anger, that he was incensed on finding, after the death of Rachel, the preference was given to Bilhah over his mother Leah; and that it was through the impulse of excitement, caused by the discovery of this favouritism, that he overturned her couch.

But the silent grief with which the historian insinuates the report of Reuben's misconduct affected his father, and the severe terms in which the patriarch animadverted upon it in his dying address (Genesis 49:3), afford too much ground for considering that Reuben had committed the crime of incest. This view is confirmed by the Septuagint version, which adds the following clause kai poneeron efanee enantion autou, 'and it appeared grievous to him.' It is impossible, however, now to know whether these words originally formed part of the Hebrew text, or whether the Septuagint translators inserted them under the belief that a clause necessary to complete the sense had dropped out. 'The piska, however, in the middle of Genesis 35:22, does not betoken any gap in the text; but the conclusion of a parashah, a division of the text of greater antiquity and greater correctness than the Masoretic division' (Delitzsch).


Verses 23-26

The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun:

Sons of Jacob ... born ... in Padan-aram. It is a common practice of the sacred historian to say of a company or body of men that which, though true of the majority, may not be applicable to every individual. (See Matthew 19:28; John 20:24; Hebrews 11:13.) Here is an example-for Benjamin was born in Canaan. The reason for inserting the names of Jacob's sons in this part of the history is to show, on his return to his father, that Isaac's prayer for him, pronounced at his departure to Padan-aram (Genesis 28:3), had been graciously answered.


Verse 27

And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.

Jacob came unto ... Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron. (See the note at Genesis 23:2.) At the time of Jacob's flight, Isaac was resident in Beer-sheba; but as he advanced in age he seems to have removed to Mamre, to be near the family gravesite.


Verse 28

And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.

The days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years. This recovery from mortal sickness, and his attainment to a protracted age, though accompanied with many privations, is here distinctly attested.


Verse 29

And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

Isaac gave up the ghost. The death of this venerable patriarch is here recorded by anticipation, because it did not take place until fifteen years after Joseph's disappearance. Feeble and blind though he was, he lived to a very advanced age; and it is a pleasing evidence of the permanent reconciliation between Esau and Jacob, that they met at Mamre, to perform the funeral rites of their common father. In the delicate simplicity and unobtrusive humility of Isaac, in the quiet, gentle, amiable purity of his life, we have an early type of Christ's perfect example. Indeed, his whole character, and the leading events of his history were a foreshadowing of those of the Saviour.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 35:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/genesis-35.html. 1871-8.

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