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Scripture reading – Genesis 35-36

Now, the LORD had commanded Jacob to return to Canaan after an absence of 20 years (Genesis 33), so when Esau received news that his twin brother, Jacob, was returning home, he set out to meet him and was accompanied by “four hundred men” (33:1a). Yet, instead of exacting revenge for his brother’s egregious past, Esau gave Jacob a loving embrace, and together they wept for joy. Although he was received in peace by his brother, Jacob refused his invitation to enter the land and traveled instead to Succoth. There he lived among the heathen of the land (33:17), a fateful decision that later 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 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.

I find Jacob’s preparation instructive for believers who desire to worship and walk in the ways of the LORD. Consider with me three preparatory steps Jacob took as he prepared his household for Bethel, “the house of God” (Genesis 35:2-4).

First, Jacob commanded his household to “put away [their] strange gods” (35:2b).

How did “strange gods” come to be with Jacob’s family? There are several reasons: Remember Laban’s father, Bethuel, was the son of Nahor, Abraham’s older brother (Genesis 11). Furthermore, Abraham and Nahor’s father was Terah, who made, sold, and worshipped idols. As a result, idol possession and worship would have been an integrated part of Laban’s family history. In addition, and unfortunately, Jacob was unaware that his wife Rachel had taken her father’s idols and hidden them in her belongings. Finally, of course, there was also a possibility that the people taken captive after Simeon and Levi killed the men of Shalem (33:18) had brought along their gods and idols (34:28-29).

The second step in preparing to go to Bethel was to “be clean” (35:2c).

Cleanliness for God’s people affected every part of their life.  There could be no spiritual cleanliness without physical cleanliness (i.e., eat clean, and have a pure heart so that what comes out of the mouth is as clean as what goes into the mouth). So Jacob commanded his people to put their lives and households in order, purify themselves and be holy, as God had spoken.

Finally, the people were to “change [their] garments” (35:2d).

They were to replace the old robes that reminded them of their past and put on new garments. Such was Paul’s challenge to believers when he 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).

When Jacob arrived at Bethel, he built an altar, led his family to worship the LORD, and offered sacrifices (35:6-7). 

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

Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife and the mother of Joseph, died giving birth to Benjamin, his twelfth son (35:16-18).  Adding further 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). As is sometimes the case, Isaac’s death brought his sons, Jacob and Esau, together so that they might honor and bury their father (35:29).

Genesis 36 – Esau’s Lineage

Genesis 36 records the births of Esau’s five sons, born of three wives (36:1-5). We also read the birth record of Esau’s grandsons. Following their father Isaac’s death (35:29), Esau accepted that the birthright and inheritance of Canaan belonged to Jacob. Soon after, he moved his family to Mount Seir in Edom (36:6-8). Genesis 36 gives no more of Esau’s history; however, the title “Duke” was given to his grandsons (36:15-19). As was prophesied of Esau, his lineage became “Dukes,” commanders of men and soldiers who lived by the sword (27:40).

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

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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