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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Genesis 35

 

 


Verses 1-29

BETHEL AT LAST

Jacob knew he could not remain at Shechem, though it took a humiliating experience in his own house to drive him away from there. God speaks to him in no uncertain terms. He is to arise and go to Bethel to dwell, and to make an altar there to the living God who had appeared to him before at that place when he was fleeing from Esau. Had he not found out by now that in his seeking the blessing of his own house he had only incurred trouble and sorrow? It is time therefore that he should give God's house and God's interests the first place. Though we ought to learn this lesson early in our Christian life, it seems that we only learn it through painful experience.

When God speaks in this way to Jacob, then Jacob's conscience also speaks. Jacob had allowed room in his own house for idols, but when he thinks of God's house, he knows that God will allow nothing of this kind there. Therefore he tells his household to get rid of these, to be clean and to change their garments (v.2). There must be no idolatry, no uncleanness and no unsuited clothing in the house of God. These were negatives that must not be ignored, for he adds what was significantly positive, "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" (v.3). He fully acknowledges how faithful God had been in keeping His promise, though as to his own vow to God on that occasion he is totally silent. It has taken him some time to learn that God is truly more faithful than Jacob was. But though we may be believers, we far too often fail in this matter too: we forget to give credit to God for being absolutely dependable in every detail of His ways with us, and we think too highly of our own faithfulness.

Jacob's household gives up their strange gods, which must have included the teraphim that Rachel had stolen from her father, for it is said, "all their strange gods." We are not told when Jacob learned of these, but at least he knew it now Added to this were their earrings; and all where hidden under the oak tree near Shechem (v.4). This is typical of burying our idols beneath the cross of Christ. We too often merely decorate our ears instead of using them for their intended purpose, hearing the word of God.

Obeying God, they journey to Bethel. Of course other cities in the area of Shechem would know of the destruction caused by Jacob's sons, but only the restraining hand of God, implanting fear in their hearts, kept them from pursuing Jacob's company (v.5).

They arrive at Bethel, which we are reminded was before called Luz, which means "separation," because we must realize that the house of God has a place separated from the world and from all that has any suggestion of man's work. Here Jacob builds an altar, call it "El-Bethel" (v.7). At Shalem he called his altar "El-Elohe-Israel," which is "God, the God of Israel." How much less selfish and more objective is this name now, "God of the house of God." We never have any proper focus in our lives until we come to this point, to realize that God's house and its interests are to claim the first place. Today of course we know that the house of God is "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). Do we have that vital, primary interest in and concern for the entire body of Christ, the church?

There is a striking dispensational picture here also, brought back to God's place for them after long years of wandering. For this reason we are told in verse 8 that Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died and was buried under an oak. Rebekah had been a type of the church, the bride of Isaac, type of Christ. Dispensationally therefore the death of Deborah tells us that "the times of the Gentiles" are finished: the nursing of a heavenly hope comes to an end, for Israel's earthly hope has finally been achieved.

Here at Bethel God appears again to Jacob to bless him, reaffirming that though His servant's name was Jacob (which was not to be forgotten), yet that he was to be called Israel. It was in God's place for him that this name was to have its full significance, for it speaks of the dignity to which God had elevated him by grace, "a prince with God." Though his name had been changed before (ch.32:28), he had still only been spoken of as Jacob until coming to Bethel. In fact, even after this he is sometimes called Israel, but more often Jacob.

In this case God tells Jacob, not that He is the God of Abraham and Isaac, as He did in chapter 28:13, but "God Almighty" (v.11). He had shown His sovereign might in keeping His promise to greatly bless Jacob and bring Him back to the land. Now that power is to be manifested also in His multiplying the descendants of Jacob, making him into a nation and a company of nations, decreeing also that Kings would come from Jacob. His promise in chapter 28:13-15 had been absolute, with no conditions attached: this promise similarly is unconditional, but adds what is said of "a nation and a company of nations" and kings.

But though Jacob had been absent from the land for many years, yet as to this God reaffirms His promise that the land is to be given to Jacob and his descendants (v.12). This does not change in spite of the various occasions when the nation has been scattered away from their land and other people have taken temporary possession. God's covenant cannot fail.

The Lord's appearing to Jacob on this occasion is evidently a picture of the revelation of the Lord Jesus to Israel in order to establish His kingdom after the tribulation. He will speak peace to His people and greatly comfort their hearts. Then after establishing peace on earth, He will return on High, as is pictured in verse 13, "God went up from him in the place where He talked with him." This occasion is directly spoken of in Psalms 47:5 : "God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet."

Then Jacob sets up his third pillar, which is his second at Bethel. His first had been one of confidence in the flesh (ch.28:18-22); his second was the pillar of broken confidence (ch.31:45), signifying the untrustworthiness of the flesh. This third is the pillar of confidence in God. For this time he makes no vow, but pours a drink offering and oil on the pillar, significant of his unfeigned appreciation of the faithfulness and grace of God. He names the place "Bethel" again. He had named the place before, but his naming it the second time no doubt indicates that the significance of this name has become vital and real to him. He has learned to love the habitation of God's house.

THE DEATH OF RACHEL

Since Jacob had reached Bethel, this becomes a starting point of a journey of a different kind, just as the path of a believer today becomes different when he comes to rightly appreciate the truth of the house of God. There are trials still, but looked at now from a viewpoint of calm submission, rather than fleshly scheming as to how to meet them. Jacob journeys (v.16), and when near to Ephrath (meaning "fruitfulness"), Rachel travailed in giving birth. It was a particularly hard birth, but the midwife sought to comfort her by the assurance that she was bearing a second son, as she had been confident she would (ch.30:24).

She called his name Ben-oni, meaning "son of my sorrow," but in doing so she was taken away in death. Jacob however gave him a totally different name, Benjamin, meaning "son of my right hand."

In this history there is vitally important instruction for us. Rachel had been the foremost desire of Jacob's eyes, her name meaning "sheep." We have seen that this is typical of what a believer often considers most important, a desired state of soul that is fully submissive and attractive, that will tend to make a believer satisfied with himself. Jacob struggled along these lines for years, but such an object has no power in it to enable Jacob to reach it. His eyes were in the wrong direction. After coming to God's house he must realize that God, not Jacob's spiritual experience, is the only Object in whom there is both satisfaction and power. Therefore, Rachel dies, that is typically, Jacob gives up his strong desires; but Rachel is replaced by Benjamin, a type of Christ as "the Man of God's right hand." Only when the Lord Jesus, exalted now at the right hand of God, becomes the true Object of our hearts, do we give up the useless ambition to improve ourselves morally and spiritually.

Yet when we cease struggling to achieve high spiritual goals in a state of lovely submission, and instead become unfeigned admirers of Christ, it is then that, without struggling, our hearts are brought spontaneously to submit gladly to His sovereign will. What we sought to achieve by the energy of our own wills, is found only in our turning from such self-occupation, judging ourselves and seeing all beauty and perfection in the Lord Jesus. What rest this brings! and what joy!

"And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day." Genesis 35:20. All of this is the lesson of Galatians 2:20. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

Rachel died and was buried "on the way to Ephrath" (v.19). Her burial was a necessary step on the way to Jacob's reaching a state of fruitfulness, of which Ephrath speaks. This is called Bethlehem, "the house of bread." Now Jacob sets up his fourth pillar on Rachel's grave. We have seen that his third pillar was that of simple confidence in God alone. The fourth rightly follows, being the pillar of the burial of earthly ambition or desire. Jacob's four pillars are therefore seen to be important milestones in God's dealings with him. Because God's house, God's interests, find the first place in his life, then he is content to bury all that he was or sought "in the flesh."

He journeys further, still with his tent, but called Israel, toward Edar, meaning "a flock" (v.21). The character of the church as the house of God is seen in Bethel, and this emphasizes God's own presence as dwelling with his people. The flock, on the other hand, speaks of the church as a dependent company, constantly in need of care (Acts 20:28). When once we have learned the sweetness of God's presence in His house, then in practical, daily character we are fitted to have part with the saints in seeking their encouragement by shepherding and feeding them.

In this area the sad sin of Reuben is recorded in violating his father's concubine. As to this we are told only, "Israel heard of it." He makes no angry response, for he has learned to submit himself to God, though we know from chapter 49:3-4 that he felt it keenly. Reuben was, as Jacob says, "the beginning of my strength." Now he is to witness in his firstborn the unstable, untrustworthy character of the flesh, just as it surfaced in Jacob himself, though in a different way.

We are then told the names of the sons of Jacob (vs.22-26) -- not called Israel in this case, for his son are to be known simply as of the same sin-infected stock as their father. In spite of this inherited sinful nature, God had ordained them the twelve tribes of the nation Israel were to come from these twelve men. They were not chosen because they were any better than others, but only as a sample of all mankind, an object lesson to teach us all, not only what is our actual sinful condition, but our need of a Saviour. No doubt each one of these brothers pictures a distinct feature of the ruin of mankind, and also of God's grace in providing salvation, as chapter 49:2-27 indicates.

The delay has been long, but at last Jacob returns to his father at this time. Isaac's eyes had become dim long before, at which time Rebekah seemed strong and energetic, but he outlived her. Esau was not near him either, and we have no idea how he was cared for in his old age.

Many years intervene after this before Isaac died at the age of 180 years. Jacob and Esau were 120 years of age at this time, for they were born when Isaac was 60 (ch.25:16). Ten years after Isaac's death Jacob was presented before Pharoah at age 130 (ch.47:9). But Joseph had been sold into Egypt at age 17 and was exalted as Ruler over Egypt 13 years later at age 30 (ch.37:1; ch.41:46). Following this there were seven years of plenty in Egypt and some years of famine. It seems therefore that Isaac must have died at about the time that Joseph was exalted in Egypt.

Esau and Jacob were both present for Isaac's funeral. Therefore Jacob must have sent word to Esau at the time, so that Esau could come. Nothing is said of whether Jacob was embarrassed to meet Esau again after having deceived him when agreeing to go to Esau home (ch.33:12-17). But at least it is good that the brother met face to face again. The wisdom of God arranges matters of this kind.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 35:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/genesis-35.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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