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GENESIS 35:1-4 (Jacob buries the family idols in Shechem)
35:1 The last chapter ended with Jacob feeling very insecure in Shechem. His sons had massacred all the males in the city, and the surrounding Canaanites were furious. He must have turned to God in desperation, and he was told to move 25 miles, 40 km, further south to Bethel.
35:2-3 The command to return to the sacred place where God had met him must have reminded him that his family had brought along idols dedicated to other gods that they had worshiped. Rachel had stolen her fathers idols (see 31:19), and Jacob had not prevented this idolatry. But now he called on his family and their servants to honor the God who had helped and protected him over the past twenty years.
35:4 Before leaving Shechem he collected all their idols and the earrings dedicated to heathen deities. Instead of burning them, he hid them under an oak tree near the city. Later we find Jacob’s sons returning to pasture their flocks in the area (37:12-15). Perhaps they retrieved the golden earrings for their own use. In any case Jacob’s burial of the family idols in the city of Shechem seems to have had a bad influence on the future history of the area.
After the Exodus from Egypt Joshua had an altar built on mount Ebal (Joshua 8:30) and had the laws of Moses written in the book of law which was in his possession (Joshua 8:34). He also had the bones of Joseph buried in Shechem (Joshua 24:32). But soon after Joshua died during the period of the Judges the Jews fell back into heathen worship (Judges 2:11-13), and the city of Shechem had a temple dedicated to the worship of Baal, the Canaanite deity (Judges 9:4, 46). When the monarchy was divided, Jeroboam the first ruler of the northern kingdom, made the city of Shechem his capital. The city was located between mounts Gerizim and Ebal (Deuteronomy 11:29-30). It is now buried under the western part of the modern city of Nablus (67 km, 40 miles, by road north of Jerusalem).
GENESIS 35:5-8 (Jacob moves south to Bethel)
35:5 Normally Jacob and his herd of cattle and flocks of sheep with the large caravan of family members and slaves would have been attacked as they traveled by the Canaanite tribes in revenge for what had happened in Shechem (34:25-30). But Jacob enemies were awed and silenced by the power of God.
35:6-7 The Canaanite name for Bethel was Luz. That was where Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had built the family altar when he settled in the promised land (12:8). It was also the place where God had met with Jacob on his way north to escape from his brother Esau (28:10-19). He was told by God to build an altar there (35:1) for the family to sacrifice their animals and eat before God with thanksgiving (as in 12:7; 13:4, 18; 26:25).
35:8 Deborah had been Rebekah’s servant (24:59) and she probably cared for Esau and Jacob as babies. She was obviously a much loved family retainer and Jacob had not seen her while he was up north in Haran for twenty years. When Deborah was buried under a tree near Bethel the tree was called allon baacuth (oak tree of much weeping).
GENESIS 35:9-15 (God renews his promises to Jacob)
35:9 This was a second face to face appearance (see 32:24-30) of God to Jacob. We know this must have been the appearing of God the Son, often known as the LORD. As the New Testament explained “No one has ever seen God (the Father). It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (as in Genesis 12:7; 17:1; 18:1, 22).
35:10 Jacob’s change of name from Jacob to Israel is repeated (as in 32:28) as God is in the process of changing his deceitful personality into the one who had wrestled with the Son of God and prevailed (32:22-30), and now was growing into a mature old age.
35:11 God the Son calls himself el shaddai (meaning God the all powerful, a title used seven times in the Old Testament, as in 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; Exodus 6:3, Ezekiel 10:5). Abraham had been told that his offspring would be exceedingly numerous (Genesis 13:16; 15:5; 22:17), and that he would be “the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (15:5; 17:4-6, 16), and this promise is now repeated to Jacob (as it was to Isaac, 26:24; 28:3, 14). Jacob later repeated this promise to Joseph (48:3-4).
35:12 There was also a reminder of the promised land, the narrow strip of land west of the Jordan from Dan to Beersheba (as in 12:1, 7; 13:14-15; 15:16; 17:8; 28:4; Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 2 Samuel 3:10; 24:2).
35:13-15 Remembering the stone he had set up when he encountered God on his way north (28:19), Jacob again set up a stone and poured oil on it, but now he added wine which he probably did not have with him for his journey north. Oil and wine were important symbols of the Holy Spirit and of God’s forgiveness in the Old Testament (see 14:18; Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5-10; 28:12-14). And they are given deeper symbolic meaning in the New Testament. Bethel meant the house of God (see 28:17; 35:6-7).
GENESIS 35:16-22 (Rachel’s death and burial just north of Bethlehem)
35:16-18 Jacob continued to move south with his family from Bethel. Ephrath (later known as Bethlehem) was 16 miles, 26 km, to the south, which was a two or three day journey for the caravan with their animals. On the way Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel died in childbirth, but her second son (Jacob’s twelfth son) Benjamin survived (see 48:7). As she died in great pain .she named him ben oni (son of my trouble, sorrow). But though sadly bereaved Jacob expressed his faith in the love of God by naming his twelfth son binyamin (Benjamin, meaning son of my right hand.
35:19-20 Jacob set up a stone to mark Rachel’s burial place (as in 28:18; 35:14). Her tomb is still a Jewish place of pilgrimage located a mile, 1.6 km, north from the center of the present city of Bethlehem.
35:21-22 The location of the tower of Eder is not known. It was somewhere between Bethlehem and Hebron which was another 16 miles, 25 km, further south. While there Jacob heard that his son Reuben had slept with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid who was the mother of Dan and Naphtali (30:4-7).. Jacob said nothing at the time, but this immorality was not forgotten in Jacob’s final blessing of his sons (49:3-4).
GENESIS 35:23-29 (The genealogy of Jacob and the death of his father Isaac)
35:23-26 The Jewish people are traced back to the twelve sons of Jacob (as previously described in 29:31-30:24 and 35:16-18).
35:27 While Jacob had been away for over twenty years in Haran his father Isaac had moved from Beersheba (26:23; 28:10) to the area of Hebron, the family homestead where Abraham and Isaac had previously resided (25:7-10). Jacob arrived home in time for the death of his father Isaac, aged 180 years. And it is significant that Esau, who had forgiven his brother Jacob for taking away his birthright, also came a hundred miles, 160 km, from the area of Seir south of the Dead Sea (33:16; 36:8-9) to be present at his father’s funeral.
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