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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Genesis 35

 

 

Verses 1-15

4. The departure to Bethel. Genesis 35:1-8.—And God said to Jacob.—The warning to depart comes from Elohim, and hence Knobel and Delitzsch regard the section in Genesis 35 as Elohistic, though Knobel thinks the Jehovist has made additions. Without regard to this, we can easily see, that God, who is to hold the Canaanites under his fear, so that they shall not take revenge on the house of Jacob, must be called Elohim. Although Jacob had suffered nearly ten years to elapse since his return from Mesopotamia, without fulfilling the vow he had made ( Genesis 28:20) at Bethel, when he fled from Esau (Keil), we are not, therefore, to infer that he had been regardless of his duty during these ten years. For a perfect security against Esau was a part of that which was to complete his happy return; but there arose a necessity between Peniel and Succoth, that he must not only have security for himself and his family, against the persecutions of Esau; but against his officious importunity, before he could go beyond Shechem with his whole train. Hence his sojourn at Succoth and Shechem. But when he is now reminded of a duty, too slowly fulfilled, the motive is found not merely in the vow which he has to fulfil, but in the circumstances occasioned by his sons, which make his longer stay at Shechem unsafe, to which we must, doubtless, add, that in the mean-while the relations and distinctions between his house and that of Esau, were more securely and permanently established. Have not the sons, who formerly were easily infatuated to render homage to their stately uncle, now manifested in an extreme way their Israelitish consciousness? The recollection ( Genesis 31:30) proves that Jacob cherished the consciousness of his duty. He seems, indeed, to have gone too far in his precautionary tardiness. In seeking to entirely avoid Esau, he is entangled with the Shechemites. The call and warning also—Make an altar at Bethel—informs him that the time for his complete return home has now come.—Up to Bethel.—Bethel lay in the mountain region.—Put away the strange gods.—The shock that Jacob had experienced by the rape of Dinah, the crime of his sons, the imperilled existence of his family, and the divine warning immediately following, strengthens his sense of the holiness of God, and of the sinfulness in himself and his household, and he enjoins, therefore, an act of repentance, before he can enter upon the act of thanksgiving. He has, moreover, to confess, in reference to his house, the sins of a refined idolatry, the sins of his sons at Shechem, and his own sins of omission. His love for Rachel had, doubtless, led him weakly to tolerate her teraphim until now. But now he has grown strong and decided even in respect to Rachel. The fanatical Israelitish zeal of his sons had also a better element, which may have quickened his monotheistic feeling. Since the majority of Jacob’s servants came from the circle and influence of the Nahorites, whose image-worship was viewed by the stricter Israelitish thought as idolatry ( Exodus 20; Joshua 24:2), there were probably to be found in Jacob’s house other things, besides the teraphim of Rachel, which were regarded as the objects of religious veneration. But the purification was necessary, not merely because they were now to remove to Bethel, the place of the outward revelation of Jehovah (Knobel), but because the spirit of Jehovah utters stronger demands in the conscience of Jacob, and because the approaching thanksgiving must be sanctified by a foregoing repentance. [There is good ground for the conjecture that there was a special reason for the charge now, since in the spoil of the city there would be images of gold and silver.—A.G.]—And be clean.—The acts take place in the following order: 1. The putting away of the strange gods; 2. A symbolical purification, completed, with out any doubt, through religious washings ( Exodus 29:4; and similar passages); and3. The change of garments. In some cases ( Exodus 19:20) a mere washing of the garments was held to be sufficient, here the injunction is more strict, since the pollution has been of longer duration. In Knobel’s view they were to put on their best garments, but they would scarcely go on their mountain journey in such array. The changed garments express the state of complete purification, even externally.—Unto God who answered me.—He will thus fulfil his vow, and hold a thanksgiving feast with them.—And all their ear-rings.—They followed the injunction of Jacob so strictly, that they not only gave up the religious images, but also their amulets (chains), for the ear-rings were especially so used (see Winer: Real Wörterbuch, Amulets).—And Jacob hid them.—As stripped and dead human images they are buried as the dead ( Isaiah 2:20).—Under the oak (Terebinth).—Knobel: “In the Terebinth grove at Shechem, i.e, under one of its trees (comp. Genesis 12:6; Judges 6:11). According to Genesis 12:7, and other passages, it was a grove. We must, therefore, read here חָאַלָּח, as in Joshua 24:26, by the same author, to whom belongs also Exodus 32:2, or assume that there were both kinds of trees in the grove.”—And the terror of God was upon.—The genuine repentance in the house of Jacob was followed by the blessing of divine protection against the bloody revenge with which he was threatened from those who dwelled near Shechem. God himself, as the protecting God of Jacob, laid this terror upon them, which may have been introduced on the one hand, through the outrage of Shechem (Knobel); and on the other, through the fearful power of Jacob’s sons, their holy zeal, and that of their God.—Luz, which is in the land of Canaan.—The words appear to be added, in order to fix the fact, that Jacob had now accomplished his prosperous return. [The name Luz, almond tree, still recurs, as the almond tree is still flourishing. Murphy.—A. G.]—And all the people.—The number of Jacob’s servants, both in women and children, may have been considerably increased through the sudden overthrow of Shechem. Although Jacob would have restored all, as some have conjectured, the heads of the families to whom this restitution could be made were wanting.—That is Bethel.—There is no contradiction, as Knobel thinks, between this passage and Genesis 28:19, which is to be explained upon the assumption of an Elohistic account, but as ( Genesis 35:15) a confirmation of the new name which Jacob gave the city. Luz is so called by the Canaanites now, as it was before, although a solitary wanderer had named the place, where he spent the night, more than twenty years before, Bethel.—El-Bethel. He names the altar itself, as he had also the altar at Shechem ( Genesis 33:20) and still further the place surrounding the altar, and thus declared its consecration as a sanctuary. El, too, is here in the genitive, and to be read of God; the place is not called God of Bethel, but of the God of Bethel. He thus evidently connects this consecration with the earlier revelation of God received at Bethel.[FN1]Then Deborah died.—The nurse of Rebekah had gone with her to Hebron, but how came she here? Delitzsch conjectures that Rebekah had sent her, according to the promise ( Genesis 27:45), or to her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, for their care; but we have ventured the suggestion that Jacob took her with him upon his return from a visit to Hebron. She found her peculiar home in Jacob’s house, and with his children after the death of Rebekah. For other views see Knobel, who naturally prefers to find a difficulty even here. It is a well-known method of exaggerating all the blanks in the Bible into diversities and contradictions.—Allonbachuth.—Oak of weeping. Delitzsch conjectures that perhaps Judges 4:5; 1 Samuel 16:3, refer to the same tree as a monument, a conjecture which, however, the locality itself refutes.—And God appeared unto Jacob.—The distinction between God spake and God appeared is analogous to the distinction in the mode of revelation ( Genesis 12 Genesis 35:1; Genesis 35:7). “He now appears to him,” Keil says, “by day in visible form: for the darkness of that former time of anguish has now given way to the clear light of salvation. The representation is incorrect, and is based upon the assumption, that the night revelations are confined to times of trouble.—Again.—Now, at his return when the vow has been paid, as before in his migration, when the vow was occasioned and made. But now Jehovah appears to him as his God, according to his vow, then shall the Lord be my God. [When he came out of Padanaram.—This explains the clause ( Genesis 35:6), which is in the land of Canaan. Bethel was the last point in the laud of Canaan that was noticed in his flight from Esau. His arrival at this point indicates that he has now returned to the land of Canaan. Murphy, p427.—A. G.]—And blessed him.—So also Abraham was blessed repeatedly.—Thy name is Jacob?—We read the phrase according to its connection with Genesis 32:27, as a question. Then Jacob answered to the question “what is thy name? Jacob. Here God resumes the thread again, thou art Jacob? But if any one is not willing to read the words as a question, it still marks a progress. The name Israel was given to him at Peniel, here it is sealed to him. Hence it is here connected with the Messianic promise. [Murphy suggests also that the repetition of the name here implies a decline in his spiritual life between Peniel and Bethel.—A. G.]—I am God Almighty.—This self-applied title of God has the same significance here as it had in the revelation of God for Abraham ( Genesis 17:1); there he revealed himself as the miracle-working God, because he had promised Abraham a son; here, however, because he promises to make from Jacob’s family a community [assembly.—A. G.] of nations. [The kahal is significant as it refers to the ultimate complete fulfilment of the promise in the true spiritual Israel.—A. G.][FN2] Knobel sees here only an Elohistic statement of the fact which has already appeared of the new naming of Jacob, which, too, he regards as a mere poetic fiction. According to this supposition, Israel here cannot be warrior of God, but, perhaps, prince with God. Even Delitzsch wavers between the assumption of an Elohistic redaction or revision, and the apprehension and recognition of new elements, which, of course, favor the idea of a new fact. To these new elements belong the libation, the drink-offering (probably of wine), poured upon the stone anointed with oil, Jacob’s own reference to this revelation of God at Bethel ( Genesis 48:3), and the circumstance that Hosea 12:5, can only refer to this revelation. Under a closer observation of the development of Jacob’s faith, there cannot be any question as to the confounding the theophany at Peniel with a second theophany at Bethel. It must be observed, too, that henceforth the patriarch is sometimes called Jacob, and sometimes Israel. [This is the first mention of the drink-offering in the Bible.—A. G.]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. We view Jacob’s settlement at Succoth: a. In the light of a building of booths and houses for refreshment, after a twenty years’ servitude, and the toils and soul-conflicts connected with his journeyings (comp. the station Elim, Exodus 15:27, where Israel first rested); b. As a station where he might regain his health, so that he could come to Shechem well and in peace; c. As a station where he could tarry for a time on account of Esau’s importunity (comp. Exegetical notes).

2. Jacob’s places of abode in Canaan, in their principal stations, are the same with those of his grandfather Abraham. He settles down in the vicinity of Shechem, as formerly Abraham had done in the oak groves of Moreh ( Genesis 12:6). Then he removed to Bethel, just as Abraham had gone into the same vicinity ( Genesis 12:8), and after his wandering to Egypt returned here again to Bethel. At last he comes to Hebron, which had been consecrated by Abraham, as the seat of the patriachal residence.

3. For the history of Shechem in the history of the kingdom of God (see Bible Dict.) It is: a. A capital of the Hivites, and as such the scene of the brutal heathenish iniquity, in relation to the religious and moral dignity of Israel; b. The birth-place of Jewish fanaticism in the sons of Jacob; c. A chief city of Ephraim, and an Israelitish priestly city; d. The capital of the kingdom of Israel for some time; e. The principal seat of the Samaritan nationality and cultus. The acquisition of a parcel of land at Shechem by Jacob, forms a counterpart to the purchase of Abraham at Hebron. But there is an evident progress here, since he made the purchase for his own settlement during life, while Abraham barely gained a burial place. The memory of Canaan by Israel and the later conquest (comp. Genesis 48:22), is closely connected with this possession. In Jacob’s life, too, the desire to exchange the wandering nomadic life for a more fixed abode, becomes more apparent than in the life of Isaac. [Robinson’s “History of Shechem” is full and accurate. Wordsworth’s remark here, after enumerating the important events clustering around this place from Abraham to Christ, is suggestive. Thus the history of Shechem, combining so many associations, shows the uniformity of the divine plan, extending through many centuries, for the salvatian of the world by the promised seed of Abraham, in whom all nations are blessed; and for the outpouring of the spirit on the Israel of God, who are descended from the true Jacob; and for their union in the sanctuary of the Christian church; and for the union of all nations in one household in Christ, Luke 1:68.—A. G.]

4. Dinah’s history, a warning history for the daughters of Israel, and a foundation of the Old Testament limitation of the freedom of the female sex.

5. The collision between the sons of Jacob and Shechem, the son of Hamor, is a vivid picture of the collisions between the youthful forms of political despotism and hierarchal pride. Shechem acts as an insolent worldly prince, Jacob’s sons as young fanatical priests, luring him to destruction.

6. After Jacob became Israel, the just consciousness of his theocratic dignity appears manifestly in his sons, under the deformity of fanatical zeal. We may view this narrative as the history of the origin, and first original form of Jewish and Christian fanaticism. We notice first that fanaticism does not originate in and for itself, but clings to religious and moral ideas as a monstrous and misshapen outgrowth, since it changes the spiritual into a carnal motive. The sons of Jacob were right in feeling that they were deeply injured in the religious and moral idea and dignity of Israel, by Shechem’s deed. But still they are already wrong in their judgment of Shechem’s act; since there is surely a difference between the brutal lust of Ammon, who after his sin pours his hatred upon her whom he had dishonored, and Shechem, who passionately loves and would marry the dishonored maiden, and is ready to pay any sum as an atonement; a distinction which the sons of Jacob mistook, just as those of the clergy do at this day who throw all branches of the seventh commandment into one common category and as of the same heinous dye. Then we observe that Jacob’s sons justly shun a mixture with the Shechemites, although in this case they were willing to be circumcised for worldly and selfish ends. But there is a clear distinction between such a wholesale, mass conversion, from improper motives, which would have corrupted and oppressed the house of Israel, and the transition of Shechem to the sons of Israel, or the establishment of some neutral position for Dinah. But leaving this out of view, if we should prefer to maintain (what Jacob certainly did not maintain) that an example of revenge must be made, to intimidate the heathen, and to warn the future Israel against the Canaanites, still the fanatical zeal in the conduct of Jacob’s sons passed over into fanaticism strictly so called, which developed itself from the root of spiritual pride, according to its three world-historical characteristics. The first was cunning, the lie, and enticing deception. Thus the Huguenots were enticed into Paris on the night of St. Bartholomew. The second was the murderous attack and carnage. How often has this form shown itself in the history of fanaticism! This pretended sacred murder and carnage draws the third characteristic sign in its train: rapine and pillage. The possessions of the heretics, according to the laws of the middle ages, fell to the executioner of the pretended justice; and the history of the crusades against the heretics testifies to similar horrors and devastation. Jacob, therefore, justly declares his condemnation of the iniquity of the brothers, Simeon and Levi, not only at once, but upon his death-bed ( Genesis 49), and it marks the assurance of the apocryphal standpoint, when the book Judith, for the purpose of palliating the crime of Judith, glorifies in a poetical strain the like fanatical act of Simeon ( Genesis 9). Judith, indeed, in the trait of cunning, appears as the daughter in spirit of her ancestor Simeon. We must not fail to distinguish here in our history, in this first vivid picture of fanaticism, the nobler point of departure, the theocratic motive, from the terrible counterfeit and deformity. In this relation there seems to have been a difference between the brothers, Simeon and Levi. While the former appears to have played a chief part in the history of Joseph also ( Genesis 42:24, and my article, “Simeon,” in Herzog’s “Real Encyclopedia”), and in the division of Canaan was dispersed among his brethren, the purified Levi came afterwards to be the representative of pure zeal in Israel ( Exodus 32:28; Deuteronomy 33:8) and the administrator of the priesthood, i. e, the theocratic priestly first-born, by the side of Judah the theocratic political first-born. A living faith and a faithful zeal rarely develop themselves as a matter of fact without a mixture of fanaticism; “the flame gradually purifies itself from the smoke.” In all actual individual cases, it is a question whether the flame overcomes the smoke, or the smoke the flame. In the life of Christ, the Old-Testament covenant faithfulness and truth burns pure and bright, entirely free from smoke; in the history of the old Judaism, on the contrary, a dangerous mixture of fire and smoke steams over the land. And so in the development of individual believers we see how some purify themselves to the purest Christian humanity, while others, ever sinking more and more into the pride, cunning, uncharitableness and injustice of fanaticism, are completely ruined. Delitzsch: “The greatest aggravation of their sin was that they degraded the sacred sign of the covenant into the common means of their malice. And yet it was a noble germ which exploded so wickedly.”

7. This Shechemite carnage of blind and Jewish fanaticism, is reflected in a most remarkable way, as to all its several parts, in the most infamous crime of Christian fanaticism, the Parisian St. Bartholomew. [The narrative of these events at Shechem shows how impartial the sacred writer Isaiah, bringing out into prominence whatever traits of excellence there were in the characters of Shechem and Hamor, while he does not conceal the cunning, falsehood, and cruelty of the sons of Jacob. Nor should we fail to observe the connection of this narrative with the later exclusion of Simeon and Levi from the rights of the first-born, to which they would naturally have acceded after the exclusion of Reuben; and with their future location in the land of Canaan. The history furnishes one of the clearest proofs of the genuineness and unity of Genesis.—A. G.]

8. Jacob felt that, as the Israel of God, he was made offensive even to the moral sense of the surrounding heathen, through the pretended holy deed of his sons; so far so that they had endangered the very foundation of the theocracy, the kingdom of God, the old-covenant church. Fanaticism always produces the same results; either to discredit Christianity in the moral estimate of the world, and imperil its very existence by its unreasonable zeal, or to expose it to the most severe persecutions.

9. The direction of Jacob to Bethel, by the command of God, is a proof that in divine providence the true community of believers must separate itself from the condition into which fanaticism has placed it. By this emigration Israel hazards the possession at Shechem which he had just acquired.

10. Divine providence knows perfectly how to unite in one very different aims, as this narrative very clearly shows. They are then, indeed, subordinated to the one chief end. The chief end here which the providence of God has in view in the journey of Jacob from Shechem to Bethel, is the duty of Jacob to fulfil the vow he had made at Bethel. But with this the object of his removing from Shechem and of his concealed flight is closely connected. So also the purpose of purifying his house from the guilt of fanaticism, and the idolatrous image-worship. At the same time it is thus intimated that both these objects would have been secured already, if Jacob had been more in earnest in the fulfilment of his vow.

11. As Jacob intends holding a feast of praise and thanksgiving at Bethel, he enjoins upon his household first a feast of purification, i. e, a fast-day. This preparation rests upon a fundamental law of the inner spiritual life. We must first humble ourselves for our own deeds, and renounce all known evil practices, if we would celebrate with joyful praise and thanksgiving, with pure eyes and lips, the gracious deeds of God. The approach of such a feast is a foretaste of blessedness, and hence the conscience of the pious, warned by its approach, is quickened and made more tender, and they feel more deeply the necessity for a previous purification by repentance. In the Mosaic law, therefore, the purification precedes the sacrifices; the solemnities of the great day of atonement went before the joyful feast of tabernacles. Hence the Christian prepares himself for the holy Supper through a confession of his sins, and of his faith, and a vow of reformation. The grandest form in which this order presents itself is in the connection between Good-Friday and Easter, both in reference to the facts commemorated (the atonement and the new life in Christ) and in reference to the import of the solemnities. The Advent-season affords a similar time for preparation for the Christmas festival (comp. Matthew 5:23).

12. Viewed in its outward aspect, the purification of Jacob’s house was a rigid purification from religious image-worship, and the means of superstition, which the now awakened and enlightened conscience of Jacob saw to be nothing but idolatry. But these works of superstition and idolatry are closely connected with the fanaticism for which Jacob’s house must also repent. The common band or tie of idolatry and fanaticism is the mingling of the religious state and disposition with mere carnal thoughts or sentiments. There Isaiah, indeed, a fanaticism of iconoclasm, but then it is the same carnal thought, which regards the external aspect of religion as religion itself, and through this extreme view falls into an idolatrous fear of images, as if they were actual hostile powers. The marks of a sound and healthy treatment of images idolatrously venerated, are clearly seen in this history: 1. A cheerful putting away of the images at the warning word of God; but no threats or violence against the possessors of the images; 2. a seemly removal, as in the burial of the dead body. Whatever has been the object of worship should be buried tenderly, unless it was used directly for evil and cruel purposes. The sacred washings follow the removal of the images, the prelude to the religious washings of the Jews, and the first preliminary token of baptism. The washing was a symbol of the purifying from sin and guilt by repentance; and as such was connected with the change of garments, the new garments symbolizing the new disposition, as with the baptismal robes.

13. The religious earnestness with which Israel departed from Shechem set the deed of the sons of Jacob in a different light before the surrounding Canaanites. They saw in the march of Israel a host with whom the holiness and power of God was in covenant, and were restrained from pursuing them by a holy terror of God. The terror of God here indicates the fact, that the small surrounding nations received an impression from the religious and moral earnestness of the sons of Israel, far deeper and more controlling than the thirst for revenge. A like religious and moral working of fear went afterwards before the nation of Israel when it entered Canaan, and we may even view the present march of Jacob as foreshadowing that later march and conquest. But the same terror of God has at various times protected and saved the people of God, both during the old and new covenants.

14. The fulfilment of a pious vow in the life of the believer, corresponds, as the human well-doing, to the fulfilment of the divine promise. It stands in the same relation as the human prayer and amen to the word of God. The vow of baptism and confirmation[FN3] is fulfilled in the pious Christian life, upon the ground of the grace and truth with which God fulfils his promises. Jacob’s vow refers to a special promise of God, at his entrance upon a difficult and dangerous journey, and hence the fulfilment of the vow was the glorification of the gracious leading of God, and of the truth and faithfulness of God to his word. It was a high point in the life of Israel, from which, while holding the feast, he looked back over his whole past history, but more especially over his long journey and wanderings. But for this very reason the feast was consecrated also to an outlook into the future. For the further history of Bethel, see Bible Dictionaries.

15. The solemn, reverent burial of Deborah, and the oak of weeping dedicated to her memory, are a proof that old and faithful servants were esteemed in the house of Jacob, as they were in Abraham’s household. As they had taken a deep interest and part in the family spirit and concerns, so they were treated in life and death as members of the family. The aged Deborah is the counterpart to the aged Eliezer. The fact that we find her here dying in the family of Jacob, opens to us a glance into the warm, faithful attachment of this friend of Rebekah, and at the same time enables us to conclude with the highest certainty that Rebekah was now dead. Deborah would not have parted from Rebekah while she was living. Delitzsch: “We may regard the heathen traditions, that the nurse of Dionysius (בָּכיּת, Βάκχος) lies buried in Scythopolis (Plin. H. N. ch. v15), and that the grave of Silenos is found in the land of the Hebrews (Pausan. Eliaca, cap24), with which F. D. Michaelis connects the passage, as the mere distorted echoes of this narrative.”

16. We may regard the new and closing revelation and promise which Jacob received at Bethel after his thanksgiving feast, as the confirmation and sealing of his faith, and thus it forms a parallel to the confirmation and sealing of the faith of Abraham upon Moriah ( Genesis 22:15). But it is to be observed here that Jacob is first sealed after having purified his faith from any share in the guilt of fanaticism. And the same thing precisely may be said of the sealing of Abraham, after he had freed himself from the fanatical prejudice that Jehovah could in a religious sense literally demand the sacrifice of a human life, i. e, the literal killing, he became certain of his life of faith, of the promise of God, and of his future. Thus here the flame of Israel is completely purified from the smoke. But here, again, it lies in the very law of the inward life, that God cannot seal the faith from which the impure elements have not been purged. Otherwise fanaticism, too, would be confirmed and sanctioned. Hence the assurance of faith will always waver and fluctuate, even to its disappearance in any one, in the measure in which he combines impure and carnal elements with his faith, and then holds it more and more as a confidence of a higher grade. Enthusiastic moments, mighty human acts of boldness, party earnestness and temerity, will not compensate for the profound, heavenly assurance of faith, an established life of faith, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. True it Isaiah, that the precondition of sealing is justification, the heart experience of the peace of God, of reconciliation by faith; but this gift of God the Christian must keep pure by steadfastness in the Lord, even in the midst of temptation, which is often a temptation to fanaticism (see the Epistle of James), and then he is confirmed. In our estimate of the stages of confirmation, it is not at all strange that Jacob should have the name of Israel, first given to him at Peniel, here confirmed to him. Henceforth he is more frequently called Israel, for the new life in him has become a new nature, the prominent and ruling feature of his being.

17. The renewed Messianic promise assured to Jacob ( Genesis 35:11).

18. From the fact that Jacob erected a stone pillar at Bethel, on which he poured a drink-offering, and then oil, Knobel conjectures, without the least ground, that the Elohist here introduces the sacrifice in this form, and knows nothing of an altar and of animal sacrifices (p274). But it is evident that this pillar was taken from the altar before mentioned ( Genesis 35:7), and that this drink-offering must therefore be distinguished from the sacrifice upon that altar. As in the Wrestling of Jacob, the distinction between the outward and inward aspects of the right of the first-born, and thus also of the priesthood, first comes into view, so here, also, we have the distinction between the peculiar sacrifice in the strict sense and the thank-offering. The stone designates ( Genesis 28:20) the ideal house of God, and in this significance must be distinguished from the altar. Through the thank-offering Jacob consecrates the enjoyment of his prosperity to the Lord; through the oil he raises the stone, as well as his thanksgiving, to a lasting, sacred remembrance. [Kurtz remarks here: “The thirty years’ journey from Bethel to Bethel is now completed. The former residence at Bethel stands to the present somewhat as the beginning to the end, the prophecy to the fulfilment; for, the unfolding of the purpose of salvation, so far as that could be done in the life of Jacob, has now reached its acme and relative completion. There the Lord appeared to him in a dream, here in his waking state, and the dream is the prophetic type of the waking reality. There God promised to protect and bless him, and bring him back to this land—a promise now fulfilled. There Jacob made his vow, here he pays it. There God consecrates him to be the bearer of salvation, and makes the threefold promise of the blessing of salvation. So far as the promise could be fulfilled in Jacob, it is now fulfilled; the land of promise is open before him, he has already obtained possession in part, and the promised seed reaches its first stage of completeness in the last son of Rachel, giving the significant number twelve, and the idea of salvation attains its development, since Jacob has become Israel. But this fulfilment is only preliminary and relative, and in its turn becomes a prophecy of the still future fulfilment. Hence God renews the blessing, showing that the fulfilment lies in the future still; hence God renews his new name Israel, which defines his peculiar position to salvation and his relation to God, showing that Jacob has not yet fully become Israel; the promise and the name are correlates—the one will be realized when the other is fulfilled. Hence, too, Jacob renews the name Bethel, in which the peculiarity of the relation of God to Jacob is indicated, his dwelling in and among the seed of Jacob, and the renewing of this name proclaims his consciousness that God would still become in a far higher measure, El-beth-el.”—A. G.]

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

See the Doctrinal and Ethical remarks. Jacob’s settlement at Shechem: 1. The departure thither from Succoth; 2. the settlement itself: 3. the new departure to Bethel.—The settlement itself: 1. How promising! happy return. Prosperous acquisition of the parcel of land. Peaceful relations with the Shechemites. Religious toleration2. How seriously endangered (through Jacob’s carelessness. He does not return early enough to Bethel to fulfil his vow. Probably he even considers the altar at Shechem a substitute. His love for Rachel makes him tolerant to her teraphim, and consequently to the teraphim of his house generally. His polygamy is perhaps the occasion of his treating the children with special indulgence). 3. How fearfully disturbed! Dinah’s levity and dishonor. Importunity of the Shechemites; the carnage of his sons. The existence of his house endangered4. The happy conclusion caused by Jacob’s repentance and God’s protection.—The first great sorrow prepared for the patriarch by his children.—Dinah’s conduct.—The dangerous proposals of friendship by the Shechemites.—The brothers, Simeon and Levi. Their right. Their wrong.—Fanaticism in its first biblical form, and its historic manifestations.—Its contagious power. All, or at least the majority, of Jacob’s sons, are swept along by its influence.—Jacob’s repentance, or the feast of purification of his house.—How the union of repentance and faith is reflected in the sacred institutions. In both sacraments, in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in the connection of sacred festivals, especially in the connection between Good-Friday and Easter.—The thanksgiving at Bethel.—Here, too, the feast of joy is followed by deep mourning and funeral obsequies.—Deborah: 1. We know very little of her; and yet, 2. we know very much of her.—The greatness of true and unselfish love in the kingdom of God.—The nobility of free service.—Jacob’s confirmation—confirmed as Israel.—The renewed promise.

First Section. The settlement at Succoth. Genesis 33:17. Starke: Hebrews, no doubt, visited his father during this interval.—Gerlach: (On some accounts we believe that Succoth was situated on the right side of Jordan, in the valley of Succoth, in which lay the city of Beth-Shean. Succoth are literally huts made of boughs, here folds made of boughs of trees and bushes.)

Second Section. The settlement at Shechem. Genesis 33:18-20. Starke: (Shechem, Quesita. The Septuagint transl, lambs; Chald, pearls. Others understand money. Epiph, de pond. et mons., asserts that Abraham introduced the art of coining money in Canaan). Schröder: Von Raumer considers Shalem as the more ancient name of Shechem. Robinson regards it as a proper name, and finds it now in the village of Shalem, some distance east from Shechem.

Third Section. Dinah. Genesis 34:1-31. Starke: Dinah’s walk: without doubt, taken from motives of curiosity.—Contrary to all his expectations (for a peaceful, quiet time of worship, etc.), Jacob’s heart is most keenly mortified by Dinah’s disgrace, and the carnage committed by Simeon and Levi.—He who wishes to shun sin, must avoid also occasions of sin.—Curiosity is a great fault in the female sex, and has caused many a one to fall.

Schröder: (Val. Herb.) A gadding girl, and a lad who has never gone beyond the precincts of home, are both good for nothing ( Titus 2:5). a. The rape. Starke: ( 2 Samuel 13:12) By force ( 2 Samuel 13:12-14). (Judging from Dinah’s levity, it was not without her consent.)—Cramer: Rape a sin against the sixth and seventh commandments.—What a disgrace, that great and mighty lords, instead of being an example to their subjects in chastity and honor, should surpass them in a dissolute and godless deportment.—Gerlach: Genesis 35:7. Fool and folly are terms used frequently in the Old Testament to denote the perpetration of the greatest crimes. The connection of the thought is this, that godlessness and vice are the greatest folly, etc.—Schröder: Josephus says, Dinah went to a fair or festival at Shechem. The person that committed the rape was the most distinguished ( Genesis 35:19) son (the crown-prince, so to speak) of the ruling sovereign.—The sons of Jacob, for the first time, transfer the spiritual name of their father to the house of Jacob, etc. They are conscious, therefore, of the sacredness of their families. The sharp antithesis between Israel and Canaan enters into their consciousness (Baumgarten). b. The proposal of marriage. Starke: Although it is just and proper to strive to restore fallen virgins to honor by asking their parents or friends to give them in marriage, and thus secure their legal position and rights, yet it is putting the cart before the horse.—Little children bring light cares, grown children heavy cares. (God afterwards prohibited ( Deuteronomy 7:3) them to enter into any friendly relations with the heathen nations.) c. The fanatical revenge of Jacob’s sons. Starke: Take care that you do not indulge in wrath and feelings of revenge.—Hall: Smiling malace is generally fatal.—Even the most bloody machinations are frequently gilded with religion.—Freiberger Bibel: Hamor, the ruling prince, is a sad example of an unfaithful and interested magistracy, who, under the pretence of the common welfare, pursues his own advantage and interests, while he tries to deceive his subjects.—The Shechemites, therefore, did not adopt the Jewish religion from motives of pure love or a proper regard for it, but from self-interest and love of gain.—Cramer: It is no child’s play, to treat religion in a thoughtless and careless way, and to change from one form to another.—One violent son may bring destruction upon a whole city and country.—Hall: The aspect of external things constrains many more to a profession of religion, than conscience ( John 6:26). But how will it be with those who do not use the sacraments from proper motives?—Strictures upon the apology for this deed in the book of Judith, and by others.—Cramer: God sometimes punishes one folly by another.—Hall: To make the punishment more severe than the sin, is no less unjust than to injure.—What Shechem perpetrated alone, is charged upon all the citizens in common, because it seems that they were pleased with it.—Lange: This was a preliminary judgment of God upon the Shechemites, thus to testify what the Canaanites in future had to expect from Jacob’s descendants.—Osiander: When magistrates sin, their subjects are generally punished with them. They evidently do not present circumcision as an entirely new divine service, as an initiation into the covenant with the God of Israel, but only as an external custom.—It is remarkable here, how adroitly Hamor and Shechem represent to the people as pertaining to the common advantage, what was only for their personal interest.—We here meet the wild Eastern vindictiveness in all its force. Moreover, the carnal heathen view, that all the people share in the act of the prince.—Schröder: We have here the same sad mixture of flesh and spirit which we have seen at the beginning, in Jacob.—Taube: Sins of the world and sins of the saints in their connection, d. Jacob’s judgment upon this crime. Starke: (Jacob, no doubt, sent back all the captives with their cattle.)—(It seems that, while not altogether like Eli, he did not have his sons under a strict discipline, since his family was so large.)—For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God ( James 1:20).—Gerlach: How miraculously God protected this poor, despised (?) company from mingling with the heathen on the one hand, and from persecution on the other.—Schröder: Judging from this test, what would have become of Jacob’s descendants, if divine grace had left them to themselves in such a way (Calvin)? It was not due to themselves, certainly, that they were not entirely estranged from the kingdom of God, etc.

Fourth Section. The departure to Bethel. Genesis 35:1-8. Starke: Because the true church was in Jacob’s house, God would not permit it to be wholly destroyed, as Jacob, perhaps, conjectured.—Change your garments.—Which are yet sprinkled with the blood of the Shechemites.—Osiander: Legitimate vows, when it is in our power to keep them, must be fulfilled ( Deuteronomy 23:21).—Cramer: The Christian Church may err, and easily be led to superstition; pious bishops, however, are to recognize these errors, and to do away with them. They are to purify churches, houses, and servants, and point them to the word of God. Repentance and conversion of the soul is the proper purification of sins.—Bibl. Tub.: Is our worship to please God, then our hearts must be cleansed, and the strange gods, our wicked lusts, must be eradicated.—The proper reformation of a church consists, not only in the extirpation of idolatry and false doctrines, but also in the reformation of the wrong courses of life ( Nehemiah 10:29).

Genesis 35:8. All faithful servants, both males and females, are to be well cared for when they become sick or feeble, and to be decently buried after their death.—Cramer: Christ is the pillar set up, both in the Old and New Testament; he is anointed with the oil of gladness, and with him only we find the true Bethel, where God speaks with us.—Gerlach: Genesis 35:1. His worship of God connects itself with this critical point in his history. As in the Old Test, “The God of peace and of comfort,” etc, is frequently mentioned, so also the faith of the patriarch clings to God in his peculiar personal revelations. It is the God who revealed himself at Bethel. (Still the name, El-Bethel, given with the first revelation at Bethel, includes the whole journey of Jacob until his return to Bethel.)—Schröder: Jehovah has accomplished what he has said.—We can only approach the house of God in faith, when we have first penitentially put away from our houses all strange gods. (Michaelis finds here the first and oldest trace of the baptism of proselytes.) I consider that Deborah, a wise and pious matron, was esteemed, so to speak, by the servants as a grandmother, who served and consoled Jacob (Luther).—Taube: The house of the patriarch Jacob as a mirror of Christian family life.

Fifth Section. The sealing of the covenant between God and the patriarch at Bethel. Genesis 35:9-15. Starke: As God appears to Abraham ten times, so he appears to Jacob six times ( Genesis 28:12; Genesis 31:11; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 32:1-2; Genesis 32:24; Genesis 35:1; the present passage; and Genesis 46:2).—Schröder: Now that Jacob has become Israel in its fullest sense, the renewal of the promise connected with the conferring of the name has a far greater signification than before (Hengstenberg).

Genesis 35:13. God descends into us, whenever he gives us a token of his presence. Here, therefore, we have a designation of the end of the vision (Calvin).—For the symbolical signification of oil, see Bähr.—As Israel, as patriarchal ancestor, the foundation-stone of the spiritual temple, he lays the first (?) stone to the building which his descendants are to complete. (Drechsler: So much is certain, that the first idea of a definite house of God is connected with the Bethel of Jacob.)

Footnotes:

FN#1 - The verb נגִלוּ, appeared, is here plural—one of the few cases in which Elohim takes the plural verb.—A. G.]

FN#2 - Murphy says, from this time the multiplication of Israel is rapid. In twenty-five years after this time he goes down into Egypt with seventy souls, and two hundred and ten years after that Israel goes out of Egypt numbering about one million eight hundred thousand. A nation and a congregation of nations, such as were then known in the world, had at the last date come of him, and “kings” were to follow in due time.—A. G.]

FN#3 - Among the continental churches confirmation is regarded in much the same light as we regard the open reception of the baptized members of the church, to their first communion; when they are said to assume for themselves the vows which were made for them in their baptism.—A. G.]


Verses 16-20

SEVENTH SECTION

Departure from Bethel. Benjamin’s birth. Rachel’s death.

Genesis 35:16-20

16And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little[FN4] way to come to Ephrath [fruit, the fruitful]: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor 17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.[FN5] 18And it came to pass as her soul was in departing, (for she died,) that she called his name Ben-oni [my son of pain or sorrow]: but his father called him Benjamin [son of the right hand]. 19And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem [house of bread]. 20And Jacob set a pillar [monument] upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.

EXEGETICAL, AND CRITICAL

And they journeyed.—The residence at Bethel, enjoined upon him, had reached its end with the founding of the altar, and the completed thanksgiving.—And there was but a little way.—An unknown distance. The Rabbinical explanation, “as far as one could plough in a day,” is senseless, for in one direction they could plough miles, but in ploughing a field, the breadth ploughed depends upon the length of the field, but in any case is too small to be the measure of distances. The Sept, misunderstanding the passage, makes it the name of a place. [In the 19 th verse, however, the Sept. has hippodrome.—A. G.] Delitzsch conjectures a distance equal to a Persian parasang.—And Rachel travailed.—The wish she had uttered at Joseph’s birth, that God would give her another Song of Solomon, now, after a long period, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years, is about to be fulfilled, but it caused her death. Jacob was now old, and Rachel certainly was no longer young; moreover, she had not. borne children for many years. Delitzsch reckons Jacob’s age at one hundred and six, and Rachel’s at about fifty years.—When she was in hard labor.—The Piel and Hiphil forms of קָשָׁה denote not merely heavy birth-pains, but the very birth-throes and anguish.—The midwife, i. e, a maid-servant skilful and trusted in this matter.—Thou shalt have a son.—The last consolation for Rachel. She dies during the final fulfilment of the strongest wish of her life. [As her soul was departing, denotes not the annihilation of the soul, but the change of state and place. It presupposes, of course, its perpetual existence; at least, its existence after death.—A. G.] In this sense we must explain the giving of the name. The emphasis in the son of my pain, must be laid upon son. From her very death-anguish, a son is born to her. Knobel explains the name to mean son of my vanity, און, because his birth caused her “annihilation,” i. e, death. In this explanation, the child becomes the father, i. e, originator of her “annihilation,” but is not the son. The son of her pain, on the contrary, denotes the great gain of her sorrow; she dies, as it were, sacrificing herself; and, indeed, the once childless, now in childbed.—But his father called him.—Against the interpretation of Benjamin, as the son of prosperity, may be urged the ימין in the Hebrew, which cannot with any certainty be said to mean prosperity; and further, that this would have been in harsh contrast with the dying word of the mother. Delitzsch, therefore, holds that the son of the right hand, may mean the son of the south, since the other sons were born in the north. Some derive the name son of prosperity from the fact that Jacob had now reached a happy independence, or from the fact that Benjamin filled up the prosperous number twelve (see Delitzsch). But Benjamin might be regarded as the son of the strong right hand, since he fills up the quiver of the twelve mighty sons ( Psalm 127:5). We may bring into view, further, the relation of the name to the state of rest which Jacob now believed that he had attained. The tired wanderer now prepares himself as a patriarch to rest, and his youngest favorite must take the place at his right hand. But he is not thereby designated as his successor. Jacob seems, in some erroneous way, for a long time to have had Joseph in his eye for this position; still, not with the same self-will with which Isaac had chosen Esau. The Samaritan explanation, son of days, ימים, i. e, of his old days or age, we pass with a mere allusion. Some suggest, also, that Jacob called him Benjamin, so that he might not be constantly reminded of his loss by the name Ben-oni. This lays the ground for the change of the name, but not for the choice of Benjamin.—In the way to Ephrath.—Ephrath (from פָרָה) is the fruitful, a name which corresponds with the added name Bethlehem (house of bread). The distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is about two hours, in a southerly direction, on the road to Hebron. About a half-hour on this side of Bethlehem, some three hundred steps to the right of the road, there lies, in a small recess, the traditional grave of Rachel. This “Kubbet-Rahil (Rachel’s grave), is merely a Moslem wely, or the grave of some saint, a small, square stone structure, with a dome, and within a grave of the ordinary Mohammedan form (Robinson: “Res.” vol. i. p322), which has been recently enlarged by the addition of a square court on the east side, with high walls and arches (later “Res.” p373).” Keil. We must distinguish between the old tradition as to the locality, and the present structure. Knobel infers, from Micah 4:8, that Jacob’s next station, the tower of the flock, was in the vicinity of Jerusalem. In that case Rachel’s grave, and even Ephrath, must be sought north of Jerusalem, according to 1 Samuel 10:2, and the addition—which is Bethlehem—must be viewed as a later interpretation. In Micah, however, in the passage which speaks of the tower of the flock, or the stronghold of the congregation, the words seem to be used in a symbolical sense. But the passage, 1 Samuel 10:2, is of greater importance. If Rama, the home of Samuel, lay to the north of Jerusalem, then Rachel’s grave must have been in that region, and the more Song of Solomon, since it is said to have been within the limits of Benjamin, whose boundaries did not run below Jerusalem. We refer for further discussions to Knobel, p275, and Delitzsch [and Mr. Grove, in Smith’s Bible Dict.—A. G.] We are inclined to regard it as probable that the Benjamites, at the time of the conquest of the country, brought the bones of Rachel from Ephrath, into their own region, and that since then, there have been two monuments of Rachel, one marking the place of her death, and her first burial; the other, the place where they laid her bones, in the home of her Ben-oni. Similar transportations of the remains of the blessed occur in the history of Israel. In this view we may explain more clearly how Rachel ( Jeremiah 40:1) bewailed her children at Rama, than it is by the usual remark, that the exiled were gathered at Rama.—Unto this day.—From this notice Delitzsch infers that Genesis was not completed until after the arrival of the Israelites in Canaan. Keil says this remark would have been in place within ten or twenty years after the erection of the pillar. Still, he appears to have felt that a term of from ten to twenty years could make no distinction between older and more recent times, and hence adds in a note, if this pillar was actually preserved until the time of the conquest, i. e, over four hundred and fifty years, this remark may be viewed as an interpolation of a later writer. It belongs, doubtless, to the last redaction or revision of Genesis. Still there are possible ways in which the Israelites even in the desert could have received information as to the existence of this monument, although this is less probable. [Kurtz defends the genuineness of the passage, but locates the grave of Rachel in the vicinity of Rama, on the grounds that the announcement here of a stretch of land is indefinite, and further, that the designation of the place by the distant Bethlehem, arose from the fact that the tower of the flock in Bethlehem was the next station of Jacob, and his residence for a considerable period; and lastly, that Jeremiah 31:15 clearly points to the vicinity of Rama. Keil urges in favor of his own view, that the existence of a monument of this kind, in a strange land, whose inhabitants could have had no interest in preserving it, even for the space of ten or twenty years, might well have appeared worthy of notice.—A. G.]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. Rachel’s wish; Rachel’s death; but her death at the same time her last gain in this life.

2. Rachel’s confinement at Bethlehem, viewed in its sad and bright aspects: 1. The sad aspect: A confinement upon a journey; a death in the presence of the goal of the journey so long desired; a parting by death from the desired child2. The joyful aspect: A son in whom her old wish is now fulfilled (see Genesis 30:24; also the passionate word, “Give me children, or else I die,” Genesis 30:1); a new enriching of Jacob, and indeed, to the completion of the number twelve; the triumph that she dies as the mother of a child.

3. Rachel’s death and grave. A preliminary consecration of the region of Bethlehem. Through her tragic end she becomes the ancestress of the suffering children of Israel generally, even of the children of Leah ( Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:17). Her grave probably at, Ephrath and Rama at the same time. Rachel as the first example mentioned in the Scriptures of a mother dying in travail, and a comforter to mothers dying in similar circumstances. The solemn aspect of such a death ( Genesis 3:16). Its beauty and transfiguration ( 1 Timothy 2:15).

4. The heroic struggles, and struggling places of travailing women. Through these painful struggles they form the beautiful complement to the manly struggles in sacred wars. While the latter are institutes of death, the former are the institutes of life.

5. 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 laboring with sympathy, to encourage her, and to strengthen her by announcing the birth of a child, especially of a Song of Solomon, or the announcement of the beginning of the new life.

6. The name Benoni, on Rachel’s lips, was not an utterance of despair, but of a deeply painful feeling of victory. The desired fruit of her womb came out of these death-struggles. Jacob’s naming connects itself with this also: the son of my right hand, companionship of my rest, support, joy of my old age. It is true, indeed, even in the sense of the usually received antithesis, that every new-born child is a Benoni, and a Benjamin; Benoni in Adam, Benjamin in Christ.

7. The youngest children of a family, Benjamin’s companions; and frequently described as Benjamins, they stand under the blessing of a ripe old age, under the protection of older and stronger brothers and sisters; but on the other hand, the danger that the paternal discipline should give way to grandfather-like indulgence, great as it may be in particular cases, is scarcely brought into view here. They embrace, as it were, in themselves, the whole past of the family and the most distant future.

8. 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.

9. The following verse shows how Jacob, as the Israel of God, rises from his grief over Rachel’s death.

10. As her soul was departing. As Starke suggests, we have thus an indication that we are to regard death as the separation of the soul and body. For if, indeed, נֶפשׁ, the soul, is life also, Song of Solomon, and much more, is the human life, soul.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

See the Doctrinal and Ethical remarks. It requires no special notice that this section is peculiarly adapted for texts at the burial of women dying ir confinement, at the transactions over consecrated graves, and similar occasions.—Rachel’s death upon the journey.—Rachel’s journey home in a two-fold sense.—Our life a pilgrimage.—As we are all born during the pilgrimage, so we must all die upon our pilgrimage.—We reach a fixed, permanent goal only upon the other side. Benoni and Benjamin: 1. The similarity of the names; 2. the difference between them.—Jacob at Rachel’s grave.—His silent grief.—His uttered faith.

Starke: An enunciation of Jacob’s sorrows. It is connected with the names: Simeon, Levi, Dinah, Rachel, Reuben, and Bilhah. Then follows Isaac’s death, and afterwards Joseph’s disappearance; the famine, etc. Hence he says: “Few and evil have the days of the years of my life been” ( Genesis 47:9). (An allegorical comparison of Rachel, at this birth, with the Jewish Church. As Rachel died at the birth of Benjamin, so the Jewish Church at the birth of Christ.)—Cramer: The birth-throes are a cross and a reminder of our sins ( Genesis 3:16). God recognizes this, and gives his aid ( John 16:21).—But if the divinely-blessed mother, or her fruit, should die, their happiness is not put in peril ( 1 Timothy 2:15).—Christian midwives should encourage women in this fearful crisis.—Women in this state should diligently prepare themselves for death.—Osiander: The dead bodies of the pious are not to be treated as those of irrational animals, but must be decently buried, that we may thus testify our hope in the resurrection from the dead ( Proverbs 10:7).—Schröder: Bethlehem is called now Beit-Lahm; i. e, meat-house. Benjamin a type of the Messiah, who, in his humiliation, was a man of sorrows, and in his exaltation a son of the right hand of God (Drechsler). [Wordsworth here brings out several striking analogies between Benjamin and St. Paul, basing them upon the word ἔκτρωμα, which the apostle applies to himself “as one born out of due time,” properly, “the child whose birth is the cause of his mother’s death.” Paul speaks of himself as one thus born, and thus seems to invite us to compare him with Benjamin. P145.—A. G.]


Footnotes:

FN#4 - כִּבְרַת־הָאָרֶץ, a space or stretch of ground. How long is unknown; see Genesis 48:7; 2 Kings 5:19. Josephus renders a furlong; the Sept, “somewhat longer distance.”—A. G.]

FN#5 - Lit, for this is also to thee a son.—A. G.]


Verses 21-29

EIGHTH SECTION

The station at the tower of Edar. Reuben’s crime. Jacob’s sons. His return to Isaac and Hebron (Rebekah no longer living). Isaac’s death. His burial by Esau and Jacob.

Genesis 35:21-29

21And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar [flock]. 22And 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.[FN6] Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: 23The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s first-born, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun: 24The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin: 25And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Daniel, and Naphtali: 26And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid; Gad, and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padan-aram [Mesopotamia].

27And Jacob came unto Isaac his father, unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah (which is Hebron) where Abraham and Isaac sojourned 28 And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years 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.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Genesis 35:21-26.—Beyond the tower of Edar.—Had Rachel’s original burial taken place at Rama, we could not well have supposed that Jacob, who here, as Israel, rises above his grief for his loved wife, should have made his next station at Jerusalem. Moreover, the region immediately around Jerusalem was probably not suitable for a nomadic station. We adhere, however, to the tradition which fixes Rachel’s death north of Bethlehem, and the next station of Jacob, below Bethlehem, at the tower of Edar. The tower of the flock is a tower built for the protection of the flocks, and as their gathering place, in a region peculiarly fitted for pasturage ( 2 Kings 18:8; 2 Chronicles 26:10; 2 Chronicles 27:4 f.). Jerome and the common tradition locate it south of Bethel, and not far from that place. From this tower Jacob could have easily and frequently visited his father Isaac, without prematurely mingling his household and possessions with the household economy at Hebron, which it is possible may yet have stood in strict relations with Esau. Such an absence might have favored Reuben’s criminal purpose and act.—Reuben went.—Bilhah was Rachel’s handmaid, not Leah’s; nevertheless, Reuben was guilty of incest; of a lustful deed of impiety, which occasioned his loss of the birthright ( Genesis 49:4). The characteristic weakness of Reuben, which appears in its praiseworthy aspect in other cases (see history of Joseph), here exposes him to the force of temptation.—And Israel heard it.—As if he was absent. Was he at Hebron, and does Reuben, as the temporary head of the household, assume special privileges to himself? Israel heard it, that he might reprove it in a suitable way, in his spiritual maturity, quiet, and dignity.—Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.—Jacob’s sons must also become sons of Israel through a divine discipline and training. They are, however, the rich blessing of the promise, with which he returns to his father, and are here enumerated by name after their several mothers, as if in presenting them to their grandfather. As a whole, they are said to have been born in Padan-aram; although this was not strictly true of Benjamin. We are thus prepared already, and introduced to Isaac’s point of view, for whom, it is true, Jacob brings all his sons from a strange land. Thus the exile Jacob returns home to his father Isaac, laden with the richest blessing of the promise. The dark days of this patriarch are followed by this joyful reappearance of the exile.

Genesis 35:27-29.—Unto Mamre (see history of Abraham, above).—Isaac has thus changed his residence to Hebron during the absence of Jacob.—An hundred and fourscore years.—With the conclusion of the life of Isaac, the narrative hastens to the immediately following events ( Genesis 37). Jacob was born in the sixtieth year of Isaac’s life ( Genesis 25:26), and was thus one hundred and twenty years old when Isaac died. But when he was presented to Pharaoh in Egypt, he was one hundred and thirty years old ( Genesis 47:9). Of this time there were seven fruitful and two unfruitful years since Joseph’s exaltation in Egypt ( Genesis 45:6), and thirteen years between the selling of Joseph and his exaltation, for he was sold when seventeen ( Genesis 37:2), and was thirty when he was raised to honor and power. Hence we must take twenty-three years from the one hundred and thirty years of Jacob, to determine his age at the time Joseph was sold; which is thus one hundred and seven. “Isaac, therefore, shared the grief of Jacob over the loss of his son for thirteen years.” In a similar way, Abraham had witnessed and sympathized with the long unfruitful marriage of Isaac. But Isaac could see in these sorrows of Jacob the hand of God, who will not allow that any one should anticipate him in a self-willed preference of a favorite son.—Old and full of days.—He recognized the close of his life-experiences and trials, and, like Abraham, departed in peace.—And Esau and Jacob buried him.—It is a beautiful, genuine historic feature, that Esau here precedes Jacob, while Isaac is mentioned before Ishmael at the burial of Abraham. Could we draw any inference from this, as to the external inheritance, the assertion of Keil, that Jacob heired the earthly goods of Isaac, is far too strong and confident. It is certain, indeed, that Esau received a considerable portion, and in external affairs merely he took a prominent part, to which the homage Jacob rendered him had given him an indirect claim. A certain degree of separation had already been made between the spiritual and earthly birthright. Isaac was buried in the cave of Machpelah ( Genesis 49:31).

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. Jacob’s last station at the tower of Edar is also marked by a new heart-sorrow.

2. Reuben’s crime probably occasioned by his authority over the household during his father’s absence with Isaac at Hebron. The cause of his forfeiture of the right of the first-born ( Genesis 49).

3. 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; Deuteronomy 33), 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 f.). That the number four is a factor of the number twelve, is here intimated by the four mothers; four is the number of the world, three the number of the sanctuary and of the spirit; and thus twelve is the number of a fulness or completeness, consecrated to God.

4. Jacob’s return to Isaac with his sons, the last ray of sunlight for the aged and blinded patriarch. This belonged to the complete satisfaction of the old man’s life, after which he could go to his people “full of days,” or satisfied. Thus Jacob’s soul was once more revived, when he saw the wagons sent by Joseph.

5. The brotherly union of Jacob and Esau at the burial of Isaac, a beautiful token of peace and reconciliation at his end. [“Esau and Jacob having shaken hands over the corpse of their father, their paths diverge to meet no more.” Delitzsch.—A. G.]

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

See Doctrinal paragraphs. Isaac’s long and patient waiting for Jacob’s return home, during the night of his blindness.—Light at the evening-time.—Isaac and Simeon ( Luke 2).—Esau and Jacob, or the reconciling, peace-making efficacy of death and the grave.—Starke: Genesis 35:22. (The Jewish Rabbis make this a small crime, and say Reuben overthrew the bed, when he saw that, after Rachel’s death, it was not borne into his mother Leah’s tent, but into that of Bilhah; because he inferred that Jacob loved Bilhah more than Leah).—Osiander: In the true Church also there arise at times great scandals.—Gerlach: Comp. 2 Samuel 16:22. Calwer Handbuch: Isaac reached the greatest age among the three patriarchs.—Schröder: Bilhah proved unfaithful; Reuben committed incest.—Jacob’s painful silence.—When he departed, nothing; when he returned, all (Drechsler).—Details as to the number twelve, also in regard to Jacob.—[Wordsworth: The record of these sins in the history is an evidence of the veracity of the historian. If it had been a human composition, designed to do honor to the Hebrew nation, assuredly it would have said little of these flagrant iniquities of Simeon, Levi, Dinah, and Reuben.—A. G.]


Footnotes:

FN#6 - Genesis 35:22.—The break in the MS. here, and the Masoretic note, “that there is a hiatus in the middle of the verse,” suits the sense better than the division into verses. It may have been, as Wordsworth suggests, designed to express the unutterable feelings of Jacob when he heard of this horrible act of his eldest son.—A. G.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 35:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/genesis-35.html. 1857-84.

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