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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Genesis 35

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXXV.

Jacob, having purged his house of idols, builds an altar at Beth-el. Rachel dies, in childbirth of Benjamin. Reuben lieth with Bilhah. The sons of Jacob are enumerated. The death of Isaac.

Before Christ about 1739.


Verse 1

Genesis 35:1. And God said, &c.— After the unpleasing transaction in the former chapter, it was peculiarly gracious in the Almighty, to reveal himself to Jacob, to enjoin his removal from a place which could not but be disagreeable to him, and to dissipate the fears from which his mind could not well be free, by reminding him of his protection, as engaged to him at that Beth-el, to which he commands him now to remove. See ch. Genesis 28:15. To go up and go down, in Scripture, frequently signify no more than to repair to. Beth-el was about twenty miles southward from Shechem, where Jacob now was. It has appeared extraordinary to some, that Jacob so long delayed to go up to Beth-el and perform his vow made, ch. Genesis 28:20, &c. Upon which occasion the Rabbins, as usual, have invented many strange stories: but as we cannot possibly enter into all the circumstances of his case, so neither can we judge of the reason of his delay. It is evident, that God was not offended with him, by the present appearance to him; and therefore we conclude certainly, that Jacob was no way blameable in the omission: he readily obeyed the Divine command, when given; and possibly, as his conduct appears to have been under the Divine direction, he might wait for that command, before he presumed to go to Beth-el.


Verse 2

Genesis 35:2. Put away the strange gods Heb. the gods of the strangers] i.e.. of the Shechemites, or others, who had joined themselves to his family; from which, being resolved to make a total reform, and to establish the worship of Jehovah only, Jacob orders every object of false worship to be removed, every idol and every thing dedicated to idolatry, Genesis 35:4.

Be clean, and change your garments, &c.— Be clean, by washing yourselves with water, emblem of the internal purification of the soul, Hebrews 10:22 and change your garments, in token of your putting off all unholy affections, and being clothed with the becoming ornaments of the soul. Hence it is very evident, that the rite of purification was in use before the law of Moses. See Exodus 19:14. It was practised among the AEgyptians, according to Herodotus, lib. i. c. 37 and has been used as a symbolical rite among almost all nations. See Le Clerc on the place.


Verse 4

Genesis 35:4. All the strange gods—and all their ear-rings, &c.— St. Austin is of opinion, that the ear-rings mean the jewels which were in the ears of the idols. See Calmet. The word rendered ear-rings, signifies jewels in general: and hence it is plain, that if they belonged to the women, they had been consecrated to superstitious purposes; they had possibly been worn as a kind of amulet or charm: and indeed it appears very likely, that rings, whether on the ear, or nose, were first worn religiously, or rather superstitiously, in honour of false gods, and probably of the sun, whose circular course they might be designed to represent. Maimonides mentions rings and vessels of this idolatrous kind marked with the image of the sun, moon, &c. Jacob hid, or buried these objects of superstition in a place only known to himself, and thus, according to the LXX, destroyed them. See Exodus 32:20. 2 Kings 18:4. See Calmet's Dictionary under the word Rings.


Verse 5

Genesis 35:5. The terror of God, &c.— The sacred writer here assigns a reason, why Jacob and his family were not pursued and cut off by the inhabitants of the neighbouring cities, for Simeon and Levi's cruelty to the Shechemites: God cast a panic fear, a dread of them upon the inhabitants. See Exodus 23:27. Joshua 9:11. 2 Chronicles 14:14 and 2 Chronicles 17:10.


Verse 7

Genesis 35:7. El-Beth-el That is, the God of Beth-el.


Verse 8

Genesis 35:8. Deborah, Rebekah's nurse See ch. Genesis 24:59. This incident is mentioned to give the reason of the name of the place, which was afterwards celebrated, Allon-bachuth, the oak of mourning. It has been supposed, that Rebekah was now dead, and that Deborah had joined herself to Jacob's family, where there were several of her countrywomen. The prince of heathen poets gives us a beautiful account of the death, &c. of AEneas's nurse, AEneid. 7: Genesis 24:1. The frequent allusion in this history to the oak, is remarkable. See note on ch. Genesis 12:6.


Verse 9

Genesis 35:9. God appeared, &c.— For the seventh time God was pleased peculiarly to reveal himself to Jacob, and to confirm to him all the promises which had been made in the former appearances. Compare the rest with this, wherein the Almighty ratifies to him the Abrahamic blessing.


Verse 14

Genesis 35:14. Set up a pillar For a monument and an altar, which he consecrated with the usual form, by pouring wine and oil upon it. Thus he dedicated the place to God, and, no doubt, performed all that he had vowed, ch. 28:

Some one, speaking of Jacob's vow, excellently observes, "Though God always gives when he receives, and more and better than he receives; and though he is content to make conditions with us, that if we will through his grace do our part, perform our duty to him, he will give us all those blessings which he hath promised, or we can expect; yet we may not presume to make conditions with him, that if he will first bestow such and such favours upon us, we will then serve him, and put our trust in him, to which Jacob's form of prayer seems to incite us: If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, &c. then shall the Lord be my God, &c. Genesis 28:20; Genesis 28:22. Jacob was no stranger to God when he made this vow; he had newly had a vision of him, God is in this place, &c. This is no other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven, &c. He had newly erected an altar to him, and consecrated it; and then he prayed, and made his vow, in confidence, not in doubt, if the Lord will be with me, &c. and what did he pray for? Nothing, but that he would keep him in the way that he went, give him bread to eat, and raiment to put on, &c. When God hath given us that evidence of his care of us which he did to Jacob, and we have given him that evidence of our dependence upon him which Jacob did, he will not take any (if) in our prayers or vows to him, to be a condition or a doubt of him, but an expression of our confidence in him, and dependence upon him, as it was in Jacob."

REFLECTIONS.—We have in the foregoing verses,

1. Jacob's preparation for his journey: better late than never. And as his abode must be at Beth-el, his family must go with him: but first they must get ready for the worship there to be performed, (1.) By putting away their idols. Note; There is no drawing near God with any prospect of acceptance, with allowed sin in the heart. (2.) By washing their garments, typical of that spiritual purity which becomes the worshippers of Jehovah. Note; We must have the fine linen white and clean, which is the righteousness of the saints, or our services cannot please God.

2. Their obedience. It was strange, that such idol vanities should be found in Jacob's family: but it was happy that they so readily consented to part with them. Had he commanded it before, he might have succeeded. Note; much might be done, yea, more than we imagine, if we had a greater zeal for God. All now are given up, even to their ear-rings, stampt with idol images, and worn as charms, and they are buried that they may never be found. Note; When we part with our sins, it must be with full purpose of heart never to return to them.

Having thus made the needful preparations, they journey in safety. Though justly incensed, God puts his fear upon the nations around. And as Jacob's family had now put away their idols, and were going to God's altar, none shall hurt them. Note; When we are about God's work, we are under his special care. And now they arrive,

1. He builds an altar, and with his family worships the God of Beth-el. It is our comfort in the church of God, to enjoy the presence and communion of the God of the church.

2. Rebekah's nurse is buried with respect and sorrow. Note; An old and faithful servant in a family deserves respect, and should, when lost, be lamented as a friend or a brother.

We have in the next place,

1. God's appearance to Jacob again in Beth-el. When we are found waiting upon God, he will not fail to meet us in his ways. God now confirms his name of Israel, as a new support against the fear of the Canaanites, and renews his covenant with him respecting the land and the seed to inherit it, as the Almighty God, able to fulfil his promises to the uttermost. Note; God hath given us Christ the Seed, and promised us heaven as the land. May we with Jacob rejoice in hope!

2. No sooner is the appearance of God's glory gone up from over him, than Jacob erects a noble memorial of the favour, and confirms the name of Beth-el to the place. How little did Jacob think, that this house of God should one day become Bethaven, a house of iniquity, and one of Jeroboam's calves be fixed upon this very pillar? Note; How many a church, when the faithful Jacob, the pastor, is gone, hath experienced this awful change!


Verse 16

Genesis 35:16. And there was but a little way, &c.— There was but "a small piece, or portion of ground," (so the word כברת kiberath signifies,) between them and Ephrath; or in other words they were very near to Ephrath.


Verse 18

Genesis 35:18. Her soul was in departing An expression aptly describing the nature of death, which is the dissolution of the union between soul and body.

Ben-oni, &c.— Rachel, to express her sorrow amidst the pangs of child-birth and death, called her son Ben-oni, that is, the son of my sorrow: but Jacob, to avert the evil omen, immediately named him Ben-jamin, i.e.. the son of my right hand, or strength.* And it has been observed, that both names were verified in his posterity; no tribe having been more valorous, and none more subject to sorrowful disasters, than the tribe of Benjamin. Chronologers place the time of Benjamin's birth at the year of the world 2982 (thirteen years after Joseph's birth), which was of Jacob's age one hundred and four: for Jacob begat Joseph at the age of ninety-one; and of these thirteen years, six were spent with Laban, and seven in Canaan. It is remarkable, that she, who said, Give me children, or I die, died in child-birth. How vain are human wishes! the very granting them often proves our destruction. How happy are they who submit all their will and every wish to Him who is All-wise!

* Houbigant is for reading בנימים (benimim) the son of my old age.


Verse 19

Genesis 35:19. Ephrath,—Beth-lehem, &c.— Concerning Bethlehem, &c. we shall have occasion to speak at large hereafter.


Verse 20

Genesis 35:20. Set a pillar, &c.— The learned Bochart is of opinion, that this monument of Rachel's (which is the first that we read of in Scripture) was a pyramid, curiously wrought, and raised upon a basis of twelve large stones, whereby Jacob intended to intimate the number of his sons. It was certainly standing at the time when Moses wrote, Genesis 35:20 and just before Saul was anointed king there is some mention made of it, 1 Samuel 10:2. But that the present monument cannot be the same which Jacob erected, is very manifest, from its being a modern and Turkish structure. Mr. Le Brun, who was at the place, and took a draught of it, says, that the tomb is cut into the cavity of a rock, and covered with a dome, supported by four pillars, on fragments of a wall, which open to the sepulchre. The work is rude enough, and without any ornament; but the whole is as entire as if it had been but just erected; which makes it hard to imagine that it has subsisted ever since Jacob's time. Maundrell's Travels and Calmet's Dictionary.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here Rachel's death in child-bed. One death had made a breach in Jacob's family; another still more afflicting succeeds. Death often thus repeats his strokes. The midwife would comfort her with a son born; but now, feeling her burden so heavy that she cannot rejoice in him, she calls him Ben-oni, the son of her sorrow. Note; When we are dying, nothing in this world can any longer comfort us. Jacob however changes his name: his love for Rachel lives in Benjamin, the son of his right hand; the last of our children is usually the fondling. Rachel scarcely names her son, but she departs. Note; (1.) The soul must return to God that gave it. (2.) As child-bearing in sorrow is the effect of sin, frequent death in child-bearing more strongly marks the wages due to it. But there is a child born, who can save the dying mother. Jacob buries her on the spot, and in memory of her erects a mournful pillar. Note; A grave-stone may be made an useful remembrancer, and a continual sermon.


Verse 21

Genesis 35:21. The tower of Edar i.e.. Of the flock. It appears from Micah 4:8 that there was a tower of that name near Jerusalem. Some say, that it was a thousand paces from Bethlehem, and was at the place where the angels brought the news of the birth of Christ to the shepherds.


Verse 22

Genesis 35:22. Reuben went, &c.— Dr. Kennicott says, this is one of the twenty-five or twenty-eight places, where the Jewish transcribers have left a vacant place in their manuscripts in the middle of the verse; and where a space has been also left in the printed editions. But the Greek version is very full. The supplement in the Greek acquaints us, that this act of Reuben's was considered by his father as vile and flagitious, και πονηρον εφανη εναντιον αυτου, a censure which is naturally expected; and that Israel greatly resented this action of Reuben's, see ch. Genesis 49:4.

Israel heard it Though both Reuben and Bilhah, doubtless, flattered themselves that it would have been concealed, and bestowed all pains to conceal it.

The sons of Jacob were twelve, &c.— Moses makes this remark, as after the birth of Benjamin Jacob had no more sons, and the number was here closed. When he says, Genesis 49:26 that these are the sons which were born in Padan-aram; he uses a synecdoche frequent in the Scripture, as all were born there but Benjamin, whose birth every one sees to be excepted, as having been just now related. Thus the apostles are called the twelve apostles, even after Judas's death, when they were but eleven; and after Matthias and Paul were added, which made them thirteen.


Verse 27

Genesis 35:27. Came unto Isaac, &c.— Came to dwell with him, and comfort him in his old age; as it is hardly to be supposed, that this was the first visit he made him after his return from Laban. He continued with the good old man almost the space of thirteen, some say nineteen years, till he departed this life in a very advanced age, being a hundred and eighty years old, Genesis 35:28 five years older than his father Abraham, having been almost blind and decrepit a considerable part of the time, but always respectable for his piety, tranquillity, and submission to the will of God. His two sons Jacob and Esau, who continued to live in friendship, united in paying the last office to their father, and buried him in the cave of Machpelah with Abraham and Sarah. It should be remembered, that the death of Isaac is mentioned here by anticipation, for he lived twelve years after Joseph was sold into AEgypt.


Verse 29

Genesis 35:29. Esau and Jacob buried him Instead of taking this opportunity of murdering Jacob, as he had purposed, Esau's heart was so influenced, that he amicably assisted at Isaac's funeral.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 35:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/genesis-35.html. 1801-1803.

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