Let’s begin this morning by establishing a bit of context… Jacob’s life is in absolute turmoil. As he returns to the Promised Land his pressing concern is the potential volatility over his coming show down with his twin brother Esau. Note: Last they’d seen each other Esau was determined to kill Jacob because he’d swindled his birthright from their father Isaac.
The night before this unavoidable encounter there is no doubt Jacob was afraid. In spite of his best laid plans there’s no question his future is uncertain. Jacob finds himself all alone. He’s at the point of emptiness. Jacob is out of options… Out of schemes… Out of plans.
Jacob has pushed all his chips into the pot and called. His cards are on the table, the percentages stacked against him. He’s at the mercy of the flop. Jacob is at the end of himself; and yet, that just so happened to be exactly where the Lord wanted him!
Chapter 32 closes with a true fist-a-cuffs. Jesus comes out of nowhere and wrestles with Jacob. He goes on the attack. Jesus is the aggressor. God picks a fight with Jacob.
And while Jacob would initially fight back it would seem, when he came to understand who this “Man” really was, something changed within his heart. There was a moment that evening when Jacob goes from wrestling to clinging… From fighting off to grabbing hold.
When Jesus commands Jacob to “let go” he replies with tears, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” Jacob had finally reached the moment when he recognized he was nothing apart from the Grace of God. He grabbed hold of Jesus and wouldn’t let go!
Jacob finally reach the point where he was willing to admitted who he was (insufficient). He willingly surrendered himself to the influence of divine grace (“unless You bless me” I’m nothing) only for God to then transform him by imparting a new identity. Though in his flesh he’d been known as Jacob, from that day forward in God’s eyes he’d be known as Israel!
It’s interesting, but Jacob refused to let go of Jesus until he receiving a blessing. Jacob wanted, desired, needed God’s blessing more than anything else. So what blessing did God give him? The blessing God gave him was a new name, a new identity, a new nature.
Understand… The greatest blessing you can ever receive from God is the fundamental regeneration of you. It’s what you need more than anything. By God’s grace demonstrated through Jesus’s work on the cross you can be given a fresh start with a new heart.
I don’t want to go off on a tangent, but you need to know your fundamental problem is you! It isn’t your wife. Your problem isn’t your kids or that annoying boss. It’s not your job, society, lack of education, or Trump. Your problem isn’t your upbringing or dysfunctional home life. Your problem isn’t your parents or the fact you weren’t loved or appreciated enough as a kid.
And since this is the case, changing anything of these things never really addresses the problem. Please understand, your core problem boil down to one simple fact… You are broken - born into sin. Your problem is that you’re really good at doing the wrong thing and struggle mightily when it comes to doing the right. And until you can admit you’re your greatest problem you’ll never be open to the solution - God changing you!
You see religion fails because it only gives you a set of things to do to fix you; and yet, how illogical it is to think the fundamental problem (you) can play any significant role in the solution! And yet, the Gospel (the Good News) is that through the indwelling of God’s Spirit it is possible that you can be born again, that you can be given new life! While it’s true you can’t change who you are, you can be changed by your Creator!
This is what happened in the life of Jacob. Because he was willing to finally admit he was the problem, God could transform him. From God’s estimation he would no longer be that man Jacob. Instead, he’d become Israel! In one moment, via a work only God could preform, he went from being a heal-catcher and schemer to a man governed by God.
Imagine that moment when Jacob left Jabbok and catches up with his family. Not only is it abundantly clear he’s been wrestling with someone, but he’s now walking with a limp. When asked, “What happened Jacob?” he simply replies “God changed my name to Israel!”
And yet, while all of this is in and of itself amazing, what follows that moment demands our careful consideration. As we’re going to see in the next few chapters, just because God had given him the new name Israel didn’t mean Jacob no longer existed. Though positionally, he’s Israel (a man governed by God), practically Israel still acts a lot like Jacob.
This is why the next few chapters are so important and honestly why Jacob is one of the most a relatable characters in Scripture. Though this man had experienced an incredible transformation brought on by a supernatural work of God (Jacob became Israel), this new identity didn’t automatically guarantee he’d always act like Israel - one governed by God.
The truth of Jacob’s life and the example he presents is that, while he was Israel in the eyes of God, even after his encounter with Jesus he still ends up behaving a lot like Jacob!
Friend, you need to know this morning that while you may have stopped wrestling with Jesus, accepted His grace, and seen a transformation occur in your life as you’ve been given a new identity, it doesn’t mean the battle ceases. Instead, a whole new battle ensues…
The new identity you’ve been given in Christ through His indwelling Spirit immediately begins to wrestle with the person you used to be in your sinful flesh. It’s the battle between your flesh and God’s Spirit. The wrestling shifts from who you are and the person of Jesus to who you were and the person God has made you. What was once an external battle moves inward. Your flesh (old man) wars with the new man (God’s Spirit inside you).
Over the next two weeks we’re going to be wrapping up our examination of Jacob - at least as it pertains to him being our character of emphasis. In chapters 33, 34, and 35 we’re going to see Jacob (characterized by his fleshly tendencies) wrestle with Israel (his new identity).
The reality is that we’re going to see throughout these chapters this new man start off strong in dealing with Esau before quickly falling flat. Sadly, we’ll see a lot more of Jacob than we do Israel. We’ll see him succumb to his flesh and fail to walk consistent with his new identity.
And while we will see several severe consequences manifest in Jacob’s family as a result of his failure to walk in God’s grace, we will also see how God handles a failed Israel. As far as our approach to these chapters… We’ll start in chapter 33, go as far as we can this morning, pick up next Sunday where we left off, and by the end cover all the way through chapter 36.
Genesis 33:1-4, “Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and there, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants. And he put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last. Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”
What a scene! It’s been 20 years since these brothers had last seen each other and a lot has transpired since. Esau’s family has grown and his position in the land increased. Despite the difficulties of living in a foreign land, Jacob has also been blessed in his own right.
What is tragic about all of this is that this 20-year separation had been self-inflicted. Jacob had been wrong in that he tricked their father for the birthright. Esau hadn’t helped matters in that he over-reacted to the situation wanting to kill his brother. Sadly, because of their failure to resolve this conflict, these brothers missed out on 20 years of each others lives.
Notice the conditions for reconciliation… First, you have a humble and contrite Jacob. We’re told he “bowed himself to the ground seven times” as he approach Esau. Jacob accepted his role. He owned his part. Though Jacob could have made the case the birthright was his and Esau was trying to claim something he had no right too, he doesn’t.
Aside from this Esau reacts appropriately… We read he “ran to meet Jacob, embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him.” While Esau could have remained vindictive… While he could have maintained a grudge felling as though he’d been robbed by his brother, instead Esau makes the decision to demonstrate love and forgiveness towards Jacob.
We’re told as Esau and Jacob embraced “they wept.” Clearly these two brothers had come to understand their disagreement had not been worth the time they’d lost with one another. Each of them owned their part, let go of any grievance, and wept over the result.
If you’ve allowed a conflict to drive a wedge between you and a brother please consider… Is the issue fostering contention really worth the relationship you’re going to lose? The truth is that like Esau and Jacob the reason to separate was not worth the brotherhood that was squandered. Humble yourself. Own your part. Let go of your grievance. Forgive that brother and seek restoration! All you can take to heaven are your friends and memories.
Genesis 33:5-9, “And Esau lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, ‘Who are these with you?’ So Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and bowed down. And Leah also came near with her children, and they bowed down. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed down.
Then Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company which I met?’ And Jacob said, ‘These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’”
Keep in mind the purpose of the gifts Jacob sent ahead to Esau had more to do than simply making restitution or trying to butter up his brother. In that culture the act of offering a gift and the other party accepting served to formalize the peace between them. Culturally speaking it was important that Esau accept Jacob’s gift signifying the hatchet had been buried.
Genesis 33:10-11, “And Jacob said, ‘No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me. Please, take my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.’ So Jacob urged him, and Esau took it.”
Under the surface of this interaction we do find something you might have missed in only a cursory reading. In verse 9 Esau initially rejects Jacob’s offering saying, “I have enough.” In the original language this word “enough” means “much or abounding in” possessions.
And yet, in verse 11 when Jacob says “God has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough” we find a completely different word for “enough.” Whereas Esau had much, Jacob is literally saying he has “all things.” While Esau evaluated himself in monetary terms, Jacob acknowledges that since he had God’s grace he had all he needed.
Genesis 33:12-14, “Then Esau said, ‘Let us take our journey; let us go, and I will go before you.’ But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds which are nursing are with me. And if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die. Please let my lord go on ahead before his servant. I will lead on slowly at a pace which the livestock that go before me, and the children, are able to endure, until I come to my lord in Seir.’”
Esau is wanting the reunion to continue by hosting Jacob at his home down in Seir - which was about 100 miles south of where they were currently located. Now don’t forget Esau is traveling with 400 men as opposed to Jacob who’s literally moving everything he owns.
The concern Jacob has is that after his quick departure from Haran his crew needs a break. Basically, Jacob tells Esau, “Brother, the offer is kind, but I can’t move at your pace. You go on ahead and I’ll eventually catch up with you.” Sadly, that wasn’t Jacob’s intention at all.
Genesis 33:15-17, “And Esau said, ‘Now let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But Jacob said, ‘What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.’ So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.”
Though Esau heads south expecting his brother to follow, Jacob instead goes a couple of miles north from Jabbok to an area known as “Succoth” where we read Jacob “built himself a house and made booths for his livestock.” Aside from the fact Jacob lied to his brother having no intention of ever heading to Seir, not one aspect of settling in Succoth was good.
Back in Genesis 31:13 Jacob explains to Leah and Rachel that they needed to leave Haran because “the God of Bethel” had spoken to him saying, “Arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family.” Then in a prayer recorded in Genesis 32:9 Jacob takes this divine instruction one step further when he says God had told him to “return to your country and to your family” - presumable speaking of his father Isaac who’s living south in Hebron.
The reason this is noteworthy is that, by sowing roots in Succoth, Jacob is in direct disobedience to the commands of God. The Jabbok Valley and this town of Succoth were located on the Eastern side of the Jordan River - outside the Promised Land.
Why would Jacob fail to obey God and return to the land and to his father? Though we’re not told we can only assume Jacob was tired of moving! After the several hundred mile trek from Haran to Jabbok, Jacob wanted a break - which explains why he “built himself a house” in Succoth. Jacob’s intention was not a temporary reprieve, but a permanent stay.
Consider that while Abraham and Isaac had settled in various areas for extended periods of time, this is the first reference of anyone building a house! Up until now the patriarchs dwelt in tents not permanent homes. They were nomads. Tragically, Jacob’s desire for comfort proved to be nothing more than complacency. He was called to be a pilgrim and yet he made himself a home. And in doing so settled for far less than God intended to give him!
Understand, a person is in no greater spiritual danger than when they believe they’ve gone far enough. It’s the tendency of our flesh to settle, not the desire of the Spirit who’s always seeking to take us farther and deeper in our relationship with Jesus. Yes, Jacob had been obedient by leaving Haran, but God had not called him to settle for Succoth.
What’s interesting is that while Jacob spends ten years in Succoth we have zero mention of God speaking to him. Jacob’s complacency yielded spiritual stagnation - ten years of silence.
Genesis 33:18-20, “Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel.”
This transitional phrase “then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem” indicates something had taken place while he was in Succoth that necessitated Jacob flee his home. The implications being Jacob would remained in Succoth (this place of compromise) otherwise.
How interesting that God allowed some unspecified crisis to move Jacob out of his place of comfort in order to lead him into the Promised Land. Friend, I hope you know God loves you enough to shake you out of complacency. Because Jacob would have stayed in Succoth forever thereby robbing him of the life God was calling him into, the Lord allowed his circumstances to sour specifically to get him moving the right direction.
Sadly, though we see Jacob is now back into a tent, his decision to settle down in Shechem was still an act of disobedience. Jacob, not Israel (governed by God) still remains the dominate fixture in his life. Sure, it’s true Jacob was finally in the Promised Land, but God had clearly instructed him to return to his father who was in Hebron. As Pastor Joe Focht rightly said, “Half hearted obedience is still full rebellion in the eyes of God.”
Aside from settling in an area with a close proximity to Canaanites - specifically the “children of Hamor,” Jacob proceeds to “erect an altar” to the Lord. What makes this act so egregious is that Jacob is building an altar in a place God never asked him to build an altar. Jacob is wanting God to bless his partial obedience. Instead, Jacob’s refusal to fully obey God will create a dynamic that will have far-reaching and tragic consequences for his family!
Genesis 34:1-2, “Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her.”
There are a couple of details you need to keep in mind. First, “Dinah” was the “daughter of Leah” and only of Jacob’s daughters recorded. Secondly, according to the chronology of the last few chapters it’s safe to reason she’s anywhere from 16 to 18 years old.
Additionally, this detail that Dinah “went out to see the daughters of the land” reveals a few regrettable developments. Not only does it indicate Dinah was restless and impressionable, but it seems she was willing to conform to the world as opposed to remaining separate.
Tragically, as Dinah is out partying she caught the attention of a bad dude. We’re told, “the son of Hamor, prince of the country” a man by the name of “Shechem” not only started crushing on Dinah, but we’re told he “took her, laid with her” and in the process “violated her.” This word “took” indicates the sex was not consensual. Dinah was raped.
Though what happened to Dinah was not her fault (she was completely innocent and the victim of a grouse violation) not to mention it would be inappropriate to cast any blame her direction, I would be amiss if I didn’t point out that Dinah placed herself into a danger situation the moment she chose to be around people who didn’t share her same standards.
It’s a sad inditement on the American church that I have to say this, but I do… Christian, please know this world is not your friend. As a matter of fact, there is a real enemy described in the Scriptures as a lion searching for those he may devour. Satan’s intentions toward you are very simple… He wants to steal from you, kill, and destroy you! The danger is real!
Dinah didn’t stumble upon danger. Instead she walked right into it. It began with her eyes - she saw “the daughters of the land.” Then what she saw proceeded to stir a desire within. She became curious. She dwelled on it. What they were doing looked fun. Everything seemed innocent. Sadly, because her heart wondered her feet were all to quick to wander.
It’s been said, “Your feet will never travel to a destination your heart hasn’t already visited.” As a child of God - the daughter of Jacob, granddaughter of Isaac, great-granddaughter of Abraham, Dinah had no business associating with such a crowd. She’d been called by God to be separated. She was to be an example of higher things. She was to be holy!
Beyond all of this, you also have to consider where was Jacob? Not only had his failure to obey God placed the members of his family into a compromised position - living just outside Shechem, but why was Dinah even allowed to explore her curiosity? As a father… As the spiritual head of his home shouldn’t Jacob have taken a stand… Said no… Protected her?
Why is the world would Jacob allow Dinah to engage in compromise? Sadly, I have found this truth evident… It’s a whole lot harder for a parent to take a Godly stand against compromise when that very parent is living a life of compromise themselves.
Genesis 34:3-10, “Shechem soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this young woman as a wife.’ And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came.
Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, a thing which ought not to be done.”
But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. And make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves. So you shall dwell with us, and the land shall be before you. Dwell and trade in it, and acquire possessions for yourselves in it.’”
Aside from the fact Hamor has completely excused his son’s behavior going so far as to be an enabler, what he’s proposing to Jacob and his sons is not a good dynamic. Hamor is proposing a full assimilation of their two families. If Jacob conceded the blending of his seed with this Canaanite tribe the Messianic lineage would have been irreparably tainted.
Genesis 34:11-13, “Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and her brothers, ‘Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife.’ But the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father, and spoke deceitfully, because he had defiled Dinah their sister.”
Shechem is desperate to have Dinah as his wife, so much so that he presents her brothers with a blank check - a side deal of sorts. Where as the previous verses document a proposed agreement between Hamor and Jacob, this is a deal Shechem is trying to strike with Jacob’s sons. This implication being Jacob had already rejected Hamor’s proposal.
While we already know the boys are rightly infuriated over what’s happened to their little sister, it would appear a plot had already been hatched before Shechem makes his appeal. We read, “The sons of Jacob spoke deceitfully” to Shechem. Jacob’s boys are scheming.
Genesis 34:14-17, “And they said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a reproach to us. But on this condition we will consent to you: If you will become as we are, if every male of you is circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to us; and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. But if you will not heed us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.’”
The plan is simple… “Though our fathers failed to reach a deal, we’re not as closed minded. That said… The only way we’d allow our women to marry the men of your family would be for your men to be circumcised as we are. Shechem, we know that sounds weird, but for a whole lot of reasons it’s a deal breaker if you really want Dinah to be your wife.”
Genesis 34:18-29, “And their words pleased Hamor and Shechem, Hamor’s son. So the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. He was more honorable than all the household of his father.
And Hamor and Shechem his son came to the gate of their city, and spoke with the men of their city, saying: ‘These men are at peace with us. Therefore let them dwell in the land and trade in it. For indeed the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us as wives, and let us give them our daughters.
Only on this condition will the men consent to dwell with us, to be one people: if every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell with us.’ And all who went out of the gate of his city heeded Hamor and Shechem his son; every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.
Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males. And they killed Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went out.
The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their sheep, their oxen, and their donkeys, what was in the city and what was in the field, and all their wealth. All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses.”
For starters, while you can rightly understand Dinah’s brothers being upset and even desiring to take vengeance upon Shechem for what he’d done to their innocent sister, what happens here is nothing shy of a brutal, unjust retribution. It’s bitter revenge - not justice.
Though one could make the argument Shechem had what was coming to him and his death would have been warranted (especially when you consider he’s still holding Dinah against her will), this act of killing his father Hamor, all of the males in the city (who mind you are completely defenseless because of the circumcision), only to then proceed to confiscate their wealth and enslave the remaining women and children is without justification!
It’s important you understand not only did God not approve of their actions (He did not sanction this assault), but there would be severe consequences for both Simeon and Levi - Simeon’s tribe would be absorbed into Judah’s and Levi would not receive an inheritance.
Genesis 34:30-31, “Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister like a harlot?’”
Please note why Jacob was upset with Simeon and Levi… Was he upset they had done something that horrendous? Was his anger aroused over their brutality or the unjust nature of their actions? No! Jacob says, “You have troubled me” literally “you’ve cause me trouble.”
Because the actions of Jacob’s sons were not going to play well with the surrounding people groups - who were much more powerful than they were, Jacob’s displeasure manifests when he considered the unintended consequences of their actions and not the actions themselves!
The point that shouldn’t be lost in all of this chaos is the underlying reality that everything that’s happened (Dinah’s violation and the actions of his sons) can be traced back to Jacob’s failure to obey God and live consistent with the new identity he’d been given. The truth is that his family had no business being in this area. His flesh yielded these results.
Though Jacob has had a life-altering encounter with God - one that changed him into Israel, you can’t escape the fact that because of his flesh he’s failed as both a leader and a father.
Beyond this the statement “should he treat our sister like a harlot” was an inditement against Jacob. Simeon and Levi justify their actions by point out the seemingly inaction of their Dad.
“Because you were afraid to do something in order to restore the honor of our sister, we had to take matters into our own hands.” Jacob’s failure to obey God… His compromise… His complacency… His flesh had eroded his very standing in the eyes of his own children!
Genesis 35:1, “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.”
Don’t forget the context… Jacob is in the place of abject failure. He’s failed to fully obey God’s instructions to return to his father. He compromised by settling in Succoth before moving to Shechem. He was absent when his daughter Dinah was going into places she had no business going. Then when she was raped he failed to act in fear - leaving his sons to act in such a barbaric and unmeasured way. Now Jacob fears the fall out of their actions.
Instead of allowing his decisions to be governed by God (Israel), Jacob’s flesh has continued to make a mess of things - a mess that has only fostered negative results in his own family. Aside from this there is no evidence of Jacob seeking the Lord’s directions. He’s not praying. He’s not on his knees in repentance pleading for guidance and divine intervention.
And yet, how awesome it is that in this place of abject failure God comes to Jacob, speaks to him, and provides him with a simple invitation. “Jacob, isn’t it time for you to come back to Bethel… The place we first connected… The location where you first experienced my grace? Jacob, don’t you think it’s time you return to my house and connect with Me again?”
And notice the invitation wasn’t to simply return, but to “dwell there and make an altar.” Jacob had set up an altar in Shechem, but it wasn’t in response to anything God had done for him.
Instead, we can assume Jacob set up this altar in an attempt to appease God. As the flesh always does Jacob wanted God to bless his partial obedience - his compromised life; and yet, God would have none of that. Understand… God’s grace is only effective in the life of a person who’ll receive it and act accordingly.
I hope you know that if you reject God’s grace, His grace is rendered powerless in your life. Yes, grace is sufficient in the place of failure, but not in the place of open rebellion.
I also find it fascinating that while God is clearing speaking to Jacob, His words are being presented through the prism of Jacob’s thoughts. As Jacob is dealing with the fall out of his disobedience and his son’s actions he has this thought, “I need to arise and go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar to God.” Jacob recognizes this thought hadn’t originated in himself. Instead, it was a divine instruction - God speaking through his thoughts!
Genesis 35:2-7, “And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among 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. 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.”
Keep in mind it’s been thirty years since Jacob had been to Bethel! And what’s fascinating is that Jacob’s perspective has clearly evolved. Following his first encounter with God Jacob named the place “Bethel” which meant “House of God.” In his spiritual infancy Jacob had superstitiously placed an undo emphasis on the location of his interaction with God.
And yet, now that he’s returned to Bethel, what do we see? Jacob builds an altar and calls the place “El Bethel” meaning “God of the house of God.” What makes this so very important is that it tells us Jacob understood he didn’t need to return to a place, but a Person. Jacob is no longer interested in the house of God, but the God of the house.
Genesis 35:8, “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.”
Admittedly, in the flow of our narrative this verse seems completely out of place. That said, this detail is significant. Back in Genesis 24 when Eliezer was sent by Abraham to bring Rebekah back to Isaac we’re told she came with a nurse named Deborah. Though we have no idea when or even how Deborah had joined up with Jacob, her presence was significant.
To begin with, Deborah was Jacob’s last human connection with his mother Rebekah. Don’t forget, while Jacob had been in Haran, his mother Rebekah had passed away. The last time Jacob ever saw his mom had been that fateful day he fled his brother Esau. I can imagine following Rebekah’s death this women Deborah became very important to Jacob.
Aside from this I also think it’s important that Rebekah’s nurse ends up with Jacob indicating Isaac didn’t find solace in Deborah following the death of his wife. Contrary to Abraham and even Jacob, there is no evidence Isaac was anything other than a one women man - which is significant then you see Isaac as being a typological picture of Jesus!
Genesis 35:9-15, “Then God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. 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.”
It’s been ten or so years since Jacob had left Haran and roughly the same amount of time since God had changed his name to Israel. In the process of these years Jacob has completely failed to live up to his new identity, allowed his flesh to remain in control, and has suffered incredible consequences as a result. And yet, now that he’s finally returned to Bethel - and more specifically the God of Bethel, we see something incredible.
There is no judgment with God. There is no condemnation, no rebuke of Jacob. Instead God simply invited him to return to the place he started before reminding Jacob who he really was… Israel. Please know that in your place of failure… When you fail to live up to your new identity, God is not angry nor is He even surprised. He does not judge nor condemn.
Instead, in the place of your inadequacy, God simply invites you to come back to Him. He invites you to return to the place you began - the cross - the place your sin was forgiven and upon Who’s sacrifice you’ve been declared righteous. God doesn’t highlight your sin or emphasize how disappointed He is. Instead, He reminds you how sufficient Jesus is!
And in doing so God tenderly reminds you that you’re no longer that person… Your failure is the product of that old man… That poor decision the result of your flesh. That’s not you nor is it how He sees you! You see it’s the grace of God that leads a man or woman to repentance.
In Galatians 5 we’re instructed to “walk in the Spirit, so that you won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh” meaning when you messed up, like Jacob, by walking in the flesh the ultimate remedy is to simply get back to walking in the Spirit. This is why God reminds Jacob he’s Israel!
Genesis 35:16-17, “Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear; you will have this son also.’”
First off, we should consider why Jacob would leave Bethel - especially when you take into account Rachel was in her third trimester? I think there’s two reasons. First, Jacob finally understands the location of Bethel matters not. Instead, it’s his relationship with the God of Bethel that’s significant. Secondly, as we’ll see in the end of the chapter, it would appear Jacob is finally being obedient to the instructions of God by returning to the house of Isaac.
Sadly, as they’re making this journey south through “Ephrath” in full obedience to God, Rachel, who’s very pregnant with her second son, goes into labor. We’re told her labor was “hard” meaning the delivery experienced some dangerous and serious complications.
At some point during the process it becomes evident to both Rachel and her midwife that she isn’t going to survive. And yet, the midwife calms her fear that her baby boy was going to survive. Imagine all the emotions of this situation - For Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.
Genesis 35:18-20, “And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.”
How brutal it must have been for Jacob to watch the love of his life Rachel bleed to death on the side of the road! Following the delivery and in her last few moments “as her soul was departing” Rachel is able to hold her baby boy for the first and last time.
With her final breath she names him “Ben-Oni” or literally the “son of my suffering.” And yet, not wanting his son to carry such a burdensome legacy, Jacob “called him Benjamin” which can be translated as the “son of my right hand.” According to Moses, Jacob proceeds to burry Rachel “setting a pillar on her grave” in the area known as Bethlehem. He even points of the “pillar of Rachel’s grave” was still in existence “to this day.”
It should also be pointed out the conditions by which this incredibly painful event took place. Jacob has returned to Bethel. He’s reconnected with God in a radically profound way. He’s been reminded of his new identity and God has reiterated that all of His promises remain sure - even in spite of Jacob’s failures. Spiritual he’s in the best place of his life!
Jacob departs from Bethel finally obeying God’s command to return to his father’s house when this tragedy seemingly strikes out of nowhere. I can imagine as Jacob is burying his beloved wife Rachel he’s thinking to himself… “God, why did you allow this to happen? I could have stayed in Bethel until Rachel had carried to term, but I was being obedient? Why would You allow something like this to happen? I thought you loved me!”
Genesis 35:21, “Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.”
WOW! Did you catch that? In the verse before we read that “Jacob set up a pillar.” And yet, following this painful moment we’re simply told “Israel journeyed!” While Jacob may have blamed God, Israel would not! Instead of succumbing to his flesh Israel took solace in knowing who he was in Christ. “Though I can’t explain why this happened, I do know Who allowed it… And since He loves me and has a plan for my life I choose to trust Him.”
Beyond this perspective, I have found that death has an interesting way of reminding people of a simple but profound truth… This world is not our home! It’s simply a reality that death makes the existence of eternity unavoidable. I can imagine Rachel’s death codified in Jacob’s heart the understanding that he was simply a pilgrim with his eyes set on heaven.
Genesis 35:22a, “And it happened, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard about it.”
What a bizarre detail. As “Israel dwelt in the land” (the idea being he’s finally arrived at the home of Isaac) we’re told Reuben (who’s the oldest of Jacob’s sons by Leah) “went and lay with Bilhah.” Note: Bilhah was Rachel’s handmaiden and had been given to Jacob as a surrogate. As such Bilhah is the mother of Reuben’s two half-brothers Dan and Naphtali.
While it’s likely Reuben and Bilhah weren’t all that far apart in age and we have no idea what Bilhah’s status in the family had been relegated too following the death of Rachel, what Reuben does is deplorable. Because the text implies this was all consensual Bilhah’s actions are equally shameful. Not only was this a crime against Jacob, but this was a sexual sin the Law would later make punishable by death!
It’s interesting the only recorded response to this sin is that “Israel heard about it.” Though it would appear from the translation that Jacob may have heard that his son Reuben had slept with Bilhah through some kind of informant after the fact, this translation is misleading.
From the original Hebrew the better translation into English would be “Israel heard” - the words “about it” were added by the translators. What makes this interesting is that this word “heard” literally means “to listen to” or to “perceive by ear.” The implication being that Jacob knew Reuben and Bilhah had sex because he heard them having sex.
Though there is no record of Jacob doing anything about this terrible act in the moment - with Reuben seemingly unaware his father even knew about his transgression, while on his death bed Jacob will address this sin with Reuben directly. Yeah… It’s that awkward.
Aside from Moses including this detail so that we’d have a greater context when Jacob eventually calls Reuben to account at the end of the Genesis record, when you consider the overarching flow of the narrative this detail becomes significant as it will later explain why Joseph may have become Jacob’s favorite son.
While Reuben had been the first-born son and therefore Jacob’s rightful heir, his actions forfeited his position which is why Rachel’s first-born son Joseph assumed the position.
Genesis 35:22b-29, “Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: the sons of Leah were Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; the sons of Rachel were Joseph and Benjamin; the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant, were Dan and Naphtali; and the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maidservant, were Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Padan Aram.
Then Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had dwelt. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. So Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, being old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”
Genesis 36:1, “Now this is the genealogy of Esau, who is Edom.”
In Genesis 36 Moses takes the entire chapter to document for the children of Israel the “genealogy of Esau.” Though we’re not going to read through this chapter, I do want to point out a couple of significant details: First, the reason this was important enough to demand an entire chapter is that, historically speaking, Esau’s descendants would become the perennial enemies of Israel. Most notably two nations: the Edomites and the Amalekites.
Secondly, according to this passage, Esau’s linage resulted from the merger of four different bloodlines: Hebrew via his parents Isaac and Rebekah, Canaanite via his Hittite wife Adah, Ishmaelite via his wife Basemath (who was Ishmael’s daughter), and finally the Horite people via Aholibamah - which in an of itself presents an interesting implication.
In verses 20-25 we’re told “Zibeon” was one of the “sons of Seir the Horite” who was the father of “Anah” the father of “Aholibamah” who became one of the three wives of Esau.
And while that alone might not mean anything, Deuteronomy 2 provides us a fascinating detail about the Horite people. We’re told, “The Emim” were “a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. They were also regarded as giants, like the Anakim… But the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. But the LORD destroyed them before them, just as He had done for the descendants of Esau, who dwelt in Seir, when He destroyed the Horites from before them.”
In context it would seem the Horite people (like the Emim, Anakim, and Zamzummim) were “giants” or literally “Nephilim” - identical to those found in Genesis 6 who’s incredible physical stature was the direct result of an un-holy sexual union of humans and demons.
What this means is that because Esau married Aholibamah, who was herself an Horite (probably using her connections to ultimately overthrow the Horite people), the bloodline of Esau was irreparably tainted further adding to why he couldn’t receive the birthright of Isaac.
The other significant detail that emerges from this chapter is found in verses 6-8. We read, “Then Esau took all the persons of his household, and all his goods and went to a country away from the presence of his brother Jacob. So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir.”
What’s interesting is that it would appear Esau, knowing he had zero right to the land of his fathers, honored the birthright by intentionally moving east of the Jordan into the land of Seir so that none of his people would compete or challenge Jacob’s rightful claim.
As we move from Genesis 36 into 37 Jacob is finally right where the Lord would have him. He’s finally moved all the way back into the Promised Land. He’s finally traveled to his father’s house assuming Isaac’s place as the family patriarch. And yet, while Jacob finds himself in a good spot, the practical consequences of his failings are still playing themselves out in brutal fashion. From this point forward Genesis will focus on his son Joseph.
No Additional Links.