Gen. 35:1-15 Notes
A. Jacob returns to Bethel. 1. (1) God speaks to Jacob, calling him back to Bethel.
Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother."
2. (2-4) The cleansing of Jacob's family.
And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that areamong you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me in the way which I have gone." So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree which was by Shechem.
3. (5-7) God's protection of Jacob; he comes to Bethel.
And they journeyed, and the terror of God was upon the cities that were all around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother.
4. (8) The death of Deborah, Rebekah's beloved nurse.
Now Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the terebinth tree. So the
name of it was called Allon Bachuth.
5. (9-15) God speaks to Jacob again at Bethel.
Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; your name shall not be called Jacob anymore, but Israel shall be your name." So He called his name Israel. Also God said to him: "I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land." Then God went up from him in the place where He talked with him. So Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He talked with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured a drink offering on it, and he poured oil on it. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him, Bethel.
Gen. 35:1-15 - Utley Word and Phrase Study:
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:1-4
1Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau." 2So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves and change your garments; 3and let us arise and go up to Bethel, and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." 4So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
35:1 "Then God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel'" Jacob's initial encounter with YHWH was at this place, cf. Gen. 28:18-22; 35:14. YHWH calls Himself "the God of Bethel" and tells Jacob to return to Canaan in Gen. 31:13.
The "go up" verb (BDB 748, KB 828, Qal imperative) can be understood in two ways.
▣ "make an altar" The term "altar" (BDB 258) means a place of slaughter. The Patriarchs made many altars.
Obviously, sacrifice predates the Mosaic covenant.
35:2 "the foreign gods which are among you" The term "gods" (little "g" plural) is exactly the same as the term Elohim (capital "God") in v. 1. Context must determine the translation of this term. See Special Topic at 12:1.
This verse is interesting in that it shows the spiritual preparation necessary for renewing the covenant promises. The foreign gods may refer to (1) the teraphim of Gen. 31:19,30; (2) other gods brought from Haran by members of his household; or (3) gods taken from Shechem made of precious metal (economic value), crafted artfully (ascetic value). This is similar to the covenant renewal of Josh. 24:14,23 (cf. I Sam. 7:3).
It is interesting that the spiritual preparation (the verb "purify" [BDB 372, KB 369] is a Hiphil imperative; this was not an option; this is the only use of this verb in Genesis, but it becomes common in Leviticus), and was symbolized by bathing and a change of garments (cf. Exod. 19:10; Num. 8:7,21; 19:19). Therefore, this outward, physical symbol was meant to reflect an inner spiritual preparation of all of Jacob's extended family. The stain of the slaughter of Shechem was heavy on them.
35:3 "let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God" Jacob is returning to the scene of his initial personal encounter with God (cf. Gen. 28:18-22). At this point in his relationship with YHWH one wonders if he is a monotheist (one and only one God) or a henotheist (only one God for me and my family).
35:4 "the foreign gods" This could refer to "the household gods" (teraphim, cf. 31:19,30,34; Jdgs. 17:5; I Sam. 19:13; Hosea 3:4, see Special Topic at 31:19), which denoted ancestral worship. It is surely possible that Jacob's extended family (i.e., servants, cf. v. 6b) were polytheists and had brought symbols or representations of the gods with them.
▣ "the rings which they had in their ears" Apparently these were some type of magical charms which were related to idolatry (cf. Hos. 2:13).
The verb (BDB 380, KB 377, Qal imperfect) can mean "hide," "conceal," or "bury" (cf. Job 40:13). Who was he hiding them from? This was a gesture of a clean break with the past religious practices of his new extended family from Haran.
▣ "under the oak" "Oak" is a translation from the Septuagint (cf. Peshitta; see note in UBS, Fauna and Flora of the Bible, p. 154-155). The Hebrew has terebinth (BDB 18). Trees seem to have had a very important place in the OT, often associated with holy sites (cf. Gen, 12:6; 13:18; 14:13; 18:1; Deut. 11:30; Josh. 24:26; Jdgs. 9:6,37).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:5-8 5As they journeyed, there was a great terror upon the cities which were around them, and they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7He built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him when he fled from his brother. 8Now Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; it was named Allon-bacuth.
35:5 "there was great a terror upon the cities which were around them" The basic root for the term "terror" is חת (BDB 369, K 363, cf. 9:2; Job 41:25); also חתת in Job 6:21. The basic two-consonant root can also mean "shattered" (cf. I Sam. 2:4) or "dismayed" (cf. Jer. 10:2; 46:5). The form in this verse is חתח and it occurs only here.
Although the word is not used in Conquest texts it appears to denote something of the "holy war" imagery (lit. "a terror of God," cf. Exod. 15:16; 23:27; Josh. 10:10). In the ANE military campaigns were carried out in the name of the national deity. From the immediate context it could refer to the slaughter of Shechem (cf. Genesis 34). God was with Jacob in a special and recognizable way!
It is possible that elohim is used in a descriptive sense of "great terror," as in 23:6 (cf. NASB, REB).
35:6 "Luz" We know from Gen. 28:19 that Jacob encountered YHWH just outside of this Canaanite city and he named the place "Bethel." Throughout this period the Canaanites would call the city "Luz" (BDB 531 II, meaning "almond tree") and the Jews would call it by the name of the place where Jacob first encountered YHWH, "Bethel," which means "house of God" (BDB 110).
The Patriarchs named places where Deity appeared to them. This place near Luz was where YHWH initially contacted Jacob. He remembers it well! So he names it again as "the El of the house of El" (Bethel) because of the angels (cf. Job 1:6; Ps. 8:5 or a reference to the angelic council, cf. Gen. 1:26; I Kgs. 22:19) ascending and descending and YHWH standing above/beside the ladder.
▣ "God had revealed Himself" The name for "God" is Elohim, which is plural. Usually when the name is used of the One God the verb is singular, but here it is plural (BDB 162, KB 191, Niphal perfect plural). This may be (ABD, vol. 1, p. 270) because in Gen. 28:12 Elohim is used in connection with the angels of God. These occurrences of Elohim and a plural verb are rare.
It is also possible that the perfect tense and the plural verb denote a complete revelation.
35:8 "Now Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died" This detail denotes an eyewitness/contemporary source! Deborah had been a very faithful servant since Gen. 24:59. She would have been quite elderly. Notice that she is buried under (BDB 1065) an oak; again, another sacred site. The name of the place was called "the oak of weeping" (BDB 47 and 113).
▣ "below. . .under" These terms (BDB 1065) need to be explained because of their ambiguity in English.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 35:9-15 9Then God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and He blessed him. 10God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; You shall no longer be called Jacob, But Israel shall be your name." Thus He called him Israel. 11God also said to him, "I am God Almighty; Be fruitful and multiply; A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, And kings shall come forth from you. 12The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, And I will give the land to your descendants after you." 13Then God went up from him in the place where He had spoken with him. 14Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.
35:9-12 This covenant renewal and commitment is very much like Gen 28:13-15. The time of this encounter is not specified. It looks like a flashback to 32:28-32 or YHWH reaffirming Jacob's name change to Israel.
35:10 "Jacob. . .Israel" The NASB translates v. 10 and vv. 11-12 as poetry. This fits the repetition of the lines of v. 10 and matches the poetry of the theophanies of Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1; and 17:1-5.
It is surprising that we are uncertain as to the meaning (etymology) of the name "Israel." See Special Topic at 32:28.
35:11 "I am God Almighty" This is the Hebrew compound El Shaddai (BDB 42 and 994). We learn from Exod. 6:2-3 that it was the common name in Genesis for God (cf. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3). It seems to be made up of the term El (BDB 42), which is the general name for God in the ANE, probably from the root for "being strong" or "powerful," and the term Shaddai (שׁדי, BDB 994), which may be connected with a woman's breast (BDB 994, cf. Gen. 49:25). Another possible translation is "the All Sufficient One" or the rabbi's "self-sufficient," although in Num. 24:4,16, it is translated by NASB as "the Almighty." It is used often in non-Israelite sources such as Job and Balaam. This title is often connected with God's blessing (cf. Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 48:3-4). See Special Topic at 12:1.
In Deut. 32:17 a similar root (שד, BDB 993) is translated "demon" (an Assyrian loan word).
▣ "Be fruitful and multiply" See notes at 17:1 and 28:3. This has been God's mandate since Genesis 1 (for animals, for humankind, and now for His special covenant family).
▣ "A nation and a company of nations" Obviously this refers to Jacob's descendants (cf. 48:4), but also to a much wider group (i.e., "those made in the image and likeness of God," Gen. 1:26-27).
This phrase is a purposeful understatement with tremendous theological significance!
▣ "kings shall come forth from you" This phrase can be seen in two ways.
Jacob is the source of "tribes," but Abraham of "kings."
35:12 This is a reaffirmation of the initial promises to Abraham (cf. 13:15; 26:3; 28:13). YHWH's promises were to a family, a line of descendants! Some were stronger and more spiritual than others. This was not a promise to "favorites," but a promise fo fulfill an eternal redemptive purpose of the God of creation in Whose image all humans are created (cf. Gen. 1:26-27)! It is a promise to fallen humanity (cf. Gen. 3:15) to redeem them! God chose one to choose all!
35:13 "Then God went up from him" The verb "went up" (BDB 748, KB 828) has a wide semantical field ("go up," "ascend," "climb," "blossomed," "sacrifice," "return," "accompanied," and others. Here it is a spacial description of God leaving a person (cf. 17:22). The ancients believed God and heaven were "up" and judgment "down." The smoke of a sacrifice went up to God (cf. 8:20; 22:2,13). God spoke from the mountain/from heaven (cf. Exodus 19-20). The angels of God ascended and descended in 28:12.
Now that moderns know of the vastness of physical creation, many commentators believe that a better way of referring to the place of Deity is inter-dimensional instead of spatial. Heaven is primarily a person, the place is irrelevant.
▣ "in the place where He had spoken with him" This exact phrase is repeated in v. 14. This is the kind of repetition that looks like a common scribal error (dittography).
35:14 "Jacob set up a pillar" This is what he originally did back at Bethel (cf. Gen. 28:18, 19, 22). Also notice that in v. 20 of this chapter he will raise a pillar over Rachel's grave. These pillars marked the place of significant events.
▣ "he poured. . .he poured" There are two different verb used.
35:15 Jacob's naming of this site of revelation is recorded three times. Some see this as different authors (J.E.D.P.), but I think it is similar to the recording of Paul's conversion three times in Acts. It was a tremendous theological event. YHWH revealed Himself to Jacob/Israel!
Gen. 35:1-15 - Jacob in Charge commentary
God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau." 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone." 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem. 5 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Genesis 35:1-5
God commands Jacob to do what he should have done ten years earlier - at long last to return to Bethel, where God had appeared to him 30 years before. He is to "dwell there" for a time - not at Shechem or Succoth, where he has spent the last decade.
Jacob has learned his lesson. Unlike in the previous chapter where he is indecisive and passive in the face of the rape of his daughter, here he prepares himself and his household.
Jacob prepares his household in part by telling them to put away their foreign gods. Where did these idols come from? Remember that Rachel had stolen Laban's gods when the family fled from him (Genesis 31). Perhaps they had collected more during the plundering of Shechem (Genesis 34). In any event, the immoral lives and religion of the Shechemites had begun to influence Jacob's family during their long stay near that city. Perhaps they considered these idols as just pretty, valuable statues, or interesting cultural artifacts. But even if they were not worshiping these gods, the idols presented a temptation, and a reminder of the pagan religion that influenced them at Shechem. So Jacob rightly discerns that all of these must go.
He also commands his household to purify themselves - to prepare to meet God. One aspect of purifying themselves is to changer their garments. Remember, at this time and in this culture, people did not routinely own 30 different sets of clothes. A rich person might have four or five; a poor person, only what he wears. So changing clothes - even for a rich person - is a relatively rare event. So changing clothes is a picture of a change in the inner self. So this action is an outward picture of the inner purifying that Jacob commanded.
Jacob realizes that God has been with him every step of the way, and that he must honor Him at Bethel. So his household obeys him, and they go.
Chapter 34 ends with the indecisive Jacob fearing the revenge of the Canaanites after the rape of Shechem. Here, decisive Jacob steps forward by faith, and the sovereign God puts fear in the hearts of the Canaanites so that they do not pursue him.
So here at the beginning of chapter 35 we see Jacob at his best:
Jacob obeys God. His household follows him. He returns to Bethel:
The Return to Bethel
And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. Genesis 35:6-7
Finally, Jacob arrives at Bethel. Finally, he builds an altar there and worships God, who met him and encouraged him so many years before when he was in great fear of Esau.
And he renames the place. Bethel means house of God. Remember, we criticized Jacob for delighting in the PLACE more than in the GOD who met him at this place. Jacob now realizes that earlier error, so renames the place El Bethel - "The God of Bethel", or "the God of the house of God". He now sees that God is the one who should be exalted - not the place! Jacob is learning what it means to be God-centered.
So Jacob is learning his lessons. Will his life now settle down into an easy, joyful retirement? We get an initial hint that this will not be the case. Right here at Bethel, a death occurs:
And Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. Genesis 35:8
Rebekah is Jacob and Esau's mother. We are told in Genesis 24:61 that Rebekah brought servants with her when Abraham's servant brought her to Isaac. Deborah must have been one of those young women - now, about 150 years later, an old, faithful, beloved servant. We're not told when she left Rebekah and Isaac and came to Jacob - presumably after Rebekah died.
But that is the curious point. Why does the author of Genesis include the death of Deborah - but say nothing about the death of Rebekah herself? The death of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is recorded. The death of Rachel, Jacob's favorite wife, is recorded. But not the death of Rebekah.
We can't know for sure why her death is left out. But recording Deborah's death seems to underline the gap. The author seems to be drawing attention to his intentionally leaving out Rebekah's death.
Perhaps this explanation is that Rebekah sinned grievously in conspiring with Jacob to deceive Isaac. Now, the author of Genesis records sins of both Sarah and Rachel - yet they both clearly repent. There's no record of Rebekah's repentance - and perhaps that indicates that she didn't repent.
In any event, Deborah's death gives a note of sadness to this time of rejoicing - and that turns out to be a foretaste of the tragedies to come.
Nevertheless, after Deborah's death, God speaks to Jacob for the last time in his life:
God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. 10 And God said to him, "Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name." So he called his name Israel. 11 And God said to him, "I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. 12 The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you." Genesis 35:9-12
It is more than ten years since God spoke to Jacob at Penuel. These ten years have been characterized by Jacob's disobedience rather than his obedience. He has hardly lived up to his new name, Israel, 'God prevails". But in this appearance, God makes clear that the new name holds, despite the lost years. He reiterates that Israel is indeed Jacob's new name, calling him by that name. Then God emphasizes His sovereign might - His power over all foes, all opponents, all sinfulness, all pride. He will show clearly that He is God Almighty in the last 15 chapters of Genesis.
God then reiterates his promise of offspring. Jacob can see his many sons, but God promises more: They will become nations, and kings of nations.
Then God reiterates the promise of this land of Canaan, given to Jacob and to his offspring.
In effect, in this revelation God says, "Despite your disobedience, Jacob, My promises hold. You have returned. You indeed are MINE. I am your God. And despite your past disobedience, I will fulfill every promise made to you."
Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. Genesis 35:13
God's ascending from this place not only ends this encounter but ALL direct encounters between God and the patriarchs. In the rest of Genesis, God is very much in control, but He does not again appear and speak to men. Instead, he reveals Himself through dreams and circumstances. Indeed, in the biblical narrative, God will not again speak to a man directly until the incident with Moses at burning bush (Exodus 3) - more than 400 years later.
So God gives Jacob the privilege of a final meeting, a final underlining of all the promises He has given him during his lifetime.
Jacob returns to Bethel, where he first encountered God, and God graciously meets him one final time here. Jacob is obedient. God meets him.