Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:28-29

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.

We haven’t heard about Isaac for a long while. The last words we heard from him were in Genesis 28 when he blessed Jacob to receive the covenant of Abraham and sent him to find a wife. As far as the biblical record is concerned, Isaac’s role seems to have been to carry the covenant from his father Abraham to his son Jacob. He bridged the gap between the two men who were most fundamental in establishing the Israelite nation.

This is also the last we hear of Esau and Jacob being gathered in the same place. We have not heard of any interaction between them since Jacob first returned to Canaan, and we will hear no interaction hereafter, not even when Jacob leaves for Egypt because of the famine.

One would assume that Jacob had occasional interactions with his father and brother after returning to the covenant land, but it is abundantly clear that he does not rely on them anymore. He is his own household, and now that Isaac has passed, he is the patriarch of his own people.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:23-26

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

24 The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin:

25 And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali:

26 And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid; Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padan-aram.

Now that we have heard about the birth of Benjamin, the Biblical record takes a moment to list out all twelve sons of Jacob, the future tribes of Israel. Well, technically, Joseph’s branch will further divide into the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. I mentioned yesterday that the first three sons of Jacob had all compromised themselves in one way or another, and after them was Judah. Judah, of course, would go on to be one of the most significant tribes in Israel, and beginning with David, its kings would rule over all the other tribes. Even later, Jesus would himself be born of that favored line.

It also stands out to me that Joseph, though one of the youngest of the sons, was a firstborn in his own branch of the family, the one brought through Rachel. We will soon hear about his vision of all the other brothers bowing to him, to which they will take offense, but will ultimately fulfill.

Thus, the eldest of Rachel and the eldest-worthy of Leah will become two leaders among their brethren, sons who set the mark for the others to follow.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:16-20

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

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

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

19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem.

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

A very somber end to the story of Rachel. It is particularly sobering how childbearing, usually a source of great joy for a mother, was such a source of travail in Rachel’s life. First, she was unable to have any children for several years, causing her to envy her sister Leah. Then she miraculously had one child, Joseph, but then ceased again for a while. Here, at last, she was able to give birth to a second…but that proved to be the death of her. Her grief is apparent in how she named the child Ben-oni, which translates to “son of my sorrow.”

That is a very heavy title for an innocent child to bear, but Jacob set for him another title: Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand.” I cannot help but wonder what sort of special companionship Joseph and Benjamin shared, the only two half-orphaned brothers born of Rachel. It seems a difficult situation for starting one’s life, but perhaps it was necessary for their development. Each of them grew to be the most faithful of sons.

I wonder also how her death affected Jacob, who still had many years to go without his most beloved companion. We do not know exactly how long she and Jacob had together before the end. It is clear that they were married after Jacob had served Laban seven years, and that Jacob served Laban twenty years in all, but we aren’t sure how long Jacob was in Shalem before travelling to Beth-el, and how long he was in Beth-el before this fatal delivery occurred. Still, it seems likely that their earthly union was somewhere in the range of fifteen-to-twenty years. He likely had many years yet to go, but he would always see a living reminder of her in their two sons.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:13-15

13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.

14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.

15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Beth-el.

I find this passage confusing. In the previous verses we heard about Jacob making a new altar, speaking with God, having his name of Israel reaffirmed, and renaming the place from Beth-el to El-beth-el. But here we hear of him making another pillar, having another conversation, being called Jacob once more, and the place is called Beth-el again.

Are today’s verses calling back to Jacob’s original visit to this land, back when he was fleeing his father’s household? Are they saying that Jacob set up two different pillars in two parts of the land and called those regions by two different names? Is this a clerical error? Is it two separate accounts of the same event being blended together?

I’m really not sure, but I lean towards the last of those options. We have to remember that the Bible is a compiled book, the work of different prophets and scribes, written in isolation and later combined and translated into a single package. It is a work of divinely approved scripture, but also a product of human quirks. Thankfully, small moments of uncertainty like this don’t get in the way of us understanding Jacob’s story as a whole.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:9-12

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

10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.

11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;

12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.

Now that Jacob had come to this consecrated land God appeared to him again. This time it appears that God’s identity was not a mystery to Jacob, such as at the time of his night-time wrestle. God is here in clarity and power, for he is here to reaffirm His solemn oaths to Jacob.

Jacob is reminded that he is not to be called Jacob, but Israel, and that he is to sire a nation of kings, and that his children will inherit this land that surrounds him. This reminder of divine promise is very similar to the process that God took Abraham through. God knows that the nature of our hearts is for faith to wane and doubt to creep in, and so He takes special effort to revitalize and reinvigorate us. Were we perfect, God would only need to speak once, and we would always believe, but we are not perfect, and God gracefully accounts for it.

Unlike with Abraham, though, the promises given are already beginning to be fulfilled. All of Abraham’s life he had only one son born into divine promise, and Isaac only had one son of promise as well. Neither of these men had the beginnings of a great nation before their eyes, they just had to trust that it would come at some future date. Jacob, however, now has eleven sons, and soon twelve. There have been three generations of trunk, but now Jacob is seeing the stem splitting into many branches. The reality of God’s promise was at last beginning to manifest.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:5-7

5 And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. 

6 So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Beth-el, he and all the people that were with him.

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

Jacob had been concerned how the neighbors would react to his sons killing the men of Shalem. There was a legitimate fear that the local might destroy the small household, and I would imagine especially so while they were out on the road without cover. Fortunately the people recognized that God walked with Jacob’s household, and restrained themselves from any violence.

And so Jacob’s wars were being fought for him, won before they even started. In peace he arrived at his destination, and there he made a new altar, just as he had when he first rested at this place.

Jacob also christened the land with a new name. Previously he had called it “Beth-el” which meant “the house of God”. Now he named it “El-beth-el” which means “the God of the house of God.” A bit of an unconventional name by our modern standards, and I admit I don’t understand the redundant use of “God,” but it does make for an interesting palindrome.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:2-4

2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:

3 And let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; 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.

4 And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.

The place that God had called Jacob to was of special significance to him. It was the same location where God had first appeared to Jacob, given him a vision of a ladder ascending to heaven, and had promised to be his companion. All this had occurred as Jacob was fleeing for his life from Esau, out in the middle of nowhere. At the time this location must have seemed like the farthest place from home, but now it literally was his home.

Jacob knew that this place had been sanctified by the personal presence of God, and as he examined his household, he saw that they were not ready to dwell there. Evidently members of his family and/or servants had pagan idols, perhaps a carryover from when they had lived under Laban’s roof.

Now was the time to officially set all of that behind them, though. The camp was purified, their sins were put away, and everyone changed their clothes, symbolic of putting off their old way of life and putting on a new, clean one instead.

This is an example of a very important theme in the Bible: that of purifying, cleansing, and dressing in fresh clothing. Anyone that has tried to live a life of discipleship knows that we have to refresh ourselves many times over. We are called by God, but then we go aside in the rut, and then we clean ourselves up and recommit again.

In fact, this month I am going to attend a spiritual retreat in the mountains that I go to yearly, which is one of the most sacred keystones of my life. Each time I attend I feel the presence of God more vibrantly than at any other, but before each visit I find myself taking inventory of where I’m at, in what ways I have lapsed in my discipleship, and how to clean my heart in preparation for going to meet my God.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:1

1 And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.

After Simeon and Levi’s slaughter of the men of Shechem, things were very precarious for Jacob. For all he knew all of the surrounding clans would retaliate and destroy them. In this difficult moment God appeared to Jacob and told him that it was time to pack everything up and once again leave for a new home.

Previously he had been instructed broadly, telling him to return to the land of Canaan. Now he is instructed specifically, telling him to go to the patch of land where he had the vision of a ladder ascending to heaven. It was there that God had first promised to be with him.

I believe there is an important principle for us here about God’s directions beginning broad and becoming specific. Very rarely do we receive a clear, step-by-step plan from beginning to end. Much more common is that we prove ourselves willing to follow partial instructions, and later receive the fullness. We have to have faith that unaccounted elements will, in time, be accounted for, and they will. Jacob had proved willing to return to the land of his father and face Esau, so now he was entrusted to take the next step, too.