Getting Back to Bethel, the House of God (Genesis 35-36)

Scripture reading – Genesis 35-36 

The LORD had commanded Jacob to return to Canaan after an absence of 20 years (Genesis 33). Receiving news his twin brother was coming, Esau came to meet him, and instead of exacting revenge, gave Jacob a loving embrace and they wept for joy. Although he had been received in peace, Jacob refused his brother’s invitation to enter the land, and traveled instead to Succoth where he lived among the heathen of the land (33:17); a decision that brought great sorrow upon his household (34:1-2, 13-29).

Genesis 35 – Journey to Bethel

Genesis 35 opened with the LORD commanding Jacob to go up to Bethel (“the house of God”), and fulfill the promise he had made to the LORD two decades prior (28:19-22). Knowing he and his family were returning to the place where the LORD had first appeared to him, Jacob commanded his family to make ready to be in the presence of the LORD.

Genesis 35:2-4 records three preparatory steps Jacob commanded his family to observe before going to Bethel.

The first step, was to “put away the strange gods that are among you” (35:2b).

How did these “strange gods” come to be with Jacob’s family? Remember that Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, had accused him of stealing away with his gods (31:30, 34). Unbeknownst to Jacob, Rachel had taken her father’s idols. There is also a possibility that the people who had been taken captive after Simeon and Levi killed the men of Shalem, had taken their gods with them (34:28-29).

The second step in preparing to go to Bethel was to “be clean” (35:2c). Jacob commanded his people to put their lives and households in order, and to purify themselves and be holy according as God had said.

Finally, the people were to “change [their] garments” (35:2d). They were to replace the old robes that would have reminded them of their past, and put on new garments. Such is to be true of believers when Paul observed, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Arriving at Bethel, Jacob built an altar, and most assuredly offered sacrifices, and led his family to worship the LORD there (35:6-7).

Jacob’s return to Bethel, however, was not without its sorrows, and was marked by the deaths of three loved ones.  Deborah, the elderly nurse of his mother Rebekah, and who might have assisted with raising Jacob, was the first to die (35:8). Jacob honored his beloved servant by burying her under an oak tree, and calling the name of the place “Allonbachuth,” “oak of weeping” (35:8).

Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, the mother of Joseph, died giving birth to Benjamin, Jacob’s twelfth son (35:16-18).  Adding to his sorrows was the death of his father Isaac, the longest living patriarch, who died “being old and full of days” when he was 180 years old (35:28-29). Isaac’s death gave occasion for his sons to be reunited, and give him a proper burial (35:29).

Genesis 36 – Esau’s Lineage

Genesis 36 is the record of the births of Esau’s five sons, born of his three wives (36:1-5), and the births of his son’s sons (Esau’s grandsons).

Following their father Isaac’s death (35:29), Esau accepted that the birthright and inheritance of Canaan belonged to Jacob, and soon after moved his family to Mount Seir, in the land of Edom (36:6-8).

Genesis 36 gives no more of Esau’s history; however, the title “Duke,” given his grandsons (36:15-19), indicates they were commanders of men, and soldiers who, as was prophesied of Esau, would live by the sword (27:40).

The Edomites, who were the descendants of Esau, will play a significant role in our future study of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith