Jacob leaves a ghost town for Bethel
Jacob’s family give up their idols1God told Jacob, “It’s time to move on. Go to Bethel and live there. Build an altar where you can worship the God who appeared to you there when you were on the run from your brother, Esau.” 2Jacob told his family, “Get rid of all the idols you’ve accumulated. Purify yourselves by washing your bodies and changing into clean clothes. 3We’re moving to Bethel. I will build an altar where we can worship the God who answered my prayers and came to my rescue when I was in trouble.” 4The family gave Jacob all their idols along with their earrings. He buried it all under an oak tree near Shechem. 5As Jacob’s caravan moved from Shechem to Bethel, all the people in the area became terrified of them, so they stayed away. 6In time, Jacob’s caravan reached Luz, another name for Bethel, in the land of Canaan. 7Jacob built an altar in worship of God, who had appeared to him there in a dream years ago when he was on the run from his brother. He named the place God of Bethel. 8It wasn’t long after this that Rebekah’s elderly nurse, Deborah, died. The family buried her under an oak tree in a valley below Bethel. They named the tree Weeping Oak. 9Now that Jacob was home from the land of Paddan-aram, God appeared to him again at Bethel with another blessing. 10God said, “Your name is Jacob, but I don’t want anyone calling you that anymore. They should call you Israel. That’s your new name.” So God renamed him Israel. 11Then God said, “I am God Almighty. Make yourself into a huge family. Your descendants will become not only a great nation, but many nations. Some of your people will become kings, too. 12I’m also passing onto you and your descendants the land I gave to Abraham and Isaac.” 13After that, God left. 14Jacob set up a large stone to mark the place where God spoke to him. He poured some wine over the rock, as an offering of thanks to God. He poured some olive oil, too, anointing the place as sacred. 15Jacob named the place Bethel since this is where God spoke to him.
Rachel dies in childbirth16Jacob and his family of herders eventually left Bethel and headed to Ephrath. They were still a good little ways from Ephrath when the very pregnant Rachel went into labor. It was a hard labor. 17It was a hard delivery, too. Rachel’s midwife said, “Don’t be afraid. You have a son!” 18Rachel was dying and she knew it. As her soul began to slip away, she named her boy Son of Sorrow. But his father renamed him Son of Honor. 19Rachel died. Her family buried her near the road to the Ephrath, also called Bethlehem. 20Jacob set up a stone marker at her grave. It’s the pillar of Rachel’s Tomb which is still there today. 21After that, Israel/Jacob continued his trip. He camped south of the tower of Eder. 22After Israel settled there, his oldest son, Reuben, had sex with Bilhah, one of his father’s two slave wives. Israel found out about it. Jacob/Israel had 12 sons. 23Sons born to Leah: Reuben, Jacob’s oldest child, followed by Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24Sons born to Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25Sons born to Bilhah, Rachel’s slave: Dan and Naphtali. 26Sons born to Zilpah, Leah’s slave: Gad and Asher. These were Jacob’s sons, all born in Paddan-aram.
RIP Isaac27Jacob went to see his father Isaac at the village of Mamre, also known as Kiriath-arba and as Hebron. Abraham and Isaac both lived there as immigrants—as strangers in a foreign land. 28Isaac lived 180 years. 29Isaac took his last breath and then joined his ancestors in death. He had lived a long life. His sons Esau and Jacob reunited once more to bury their father.
Perhaps designed as symbols of gods, such as moon-shaped earrings honoring the moon goddess.
Israel and Palestinian territories.
Northern Syria and southern Turkey.
Hebrew for “house of God.”
After all that God has done for Jacob and his family, why is it only now, as he returns to Bethel, that he tells his family, “Get rid of all the idols you’ve accumulated. Purify yourselves by washing your bodies and changing into clean clothes” (35:2)?
Jacob’s most dearly loved wife, Rachel, dies giving birth to her second son: Benjamin. There’s irony in the fact that years earlier Rachel had told her husband “Give me some babies before I die of humiliation!” (30:1). He gives her children and she dies. There’s no telling if Rachel would have wanted a child so badly that she would have been willing to die in childbirth. What do you think about that? Do you think women in that culture wanted children that desperately?
“Rachel was dying and she knew it. As her soul began to slip away, she named her boy Son of Sorrow” (35:18). It’s Ben-oni in Hebrew, the language of the Jews. The name is pretty much, Son of a Gun I Killed My Mother. By changing the boy’s name, do you think Jacob did to Rachel what he had done to his father Isaac: stolen the dying wish?
As Jacob and his family moved around, no one messed with them. The Genesis writer put it this way: “All the people in the area became terrified of them, so they stayed away” (35:5). What do you think are some of the reasons the locals were afraid of Jacob and his family?
Leah, Jacob’s unloved wife, produced more children than all three of Jacob’s other wives combined. She produced six sons and one daughter. Jacob’s other wives, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah, each produced two sons, for a total of six. If you had to bet on it in Vegas, would you lay your money down on the bet that Leah’s extreme fertility was mostly a God thing or a biology thing?
Jacob’s oldest son, Reuben, slept with his stepmother, Bilhah (35:22). She was one of Jacob’s four wives and the mother of Dan and Naphtali. She was also the personal slave of Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife. There are several possible reasons Reuben might have done this. What are some that come to mind?
LIFE APPLICATION. There is no indication Jacob did anything to punish Reuben for the adultery—until Jacob lay dying. At that point, Jacob stripped Reuben of his inheritance rights as the oldest child: a double share of the estate, twice as much as any other brother would have gotten. “You’re number one no more” (49:4). How have you seen people do that today—hold onto a grudge or a pain only to thrash out years later?
LIFE APPLICATION. Whatever lingering animosity there may have been between Jacob and Esau, they came together to bury their father Isaac when he died. What is it about scenes of life and death that bring together people who would otherwise prefer to stay far apart?