Summary: God allows Jacob to experience many hardships while waiting for the promise to be fulfilled. This serves as a stark contrast to Esau’s comfort with power and influence in the world of the Horite kings.
This second half of Genesis 35 and all of chapter 36 are often overlooked because they don’t seem to have a lot of content. As I studied this week I had a terrible time and was tempted more than once to skip over them to get to the good stuff in chapter 37. But we know that all these words are here for our learning and none of them are unnecessary. We couldn’t say we’ve studied to show ourselves approved if we don’t even try. And so we’re going to have a look.
Now, there are a couple basic rules we need to follow for this to be right:
1. We need to try and understand how this might have been interpreted by the original hearer. These were the great-grandchildren of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were very close to entering into the Promised Land, which means they were very close to going into battle. They needed to see that God had not only made a promise but also that He would make sure that that promise was fulfilled. So whatever conclusions we draw, they have to make sense from that perspective.
2. We need to try and understand the spiritual message that points to Christ and His promise to His Bride. This passage does teach a little history and does satisfy some curiosity and there is a little “to do” application, but the primary purpose is to reveal God’s plan for His people. To understand this we’ll have to identify the main point and then compare that theme with the New Testament.
To do this we’re going to start by looking at the context. Jacob settled in Shechem where his daughter, Dinah, was defiled by the prince. Simeon and Levi killed him and the rest of the men of his city and Jacob feared retribution. But God told Jacob in 35:1 to go to Bethel and an emphasis is put on the fact that it was the place where God had answered Jacob when he was afraid of Esau. Jacob went there and built an altar, but then Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried. The occasion was sad enough that the place was named “oak of weeping.”
Well, in verses 9-15 God appeared to Jacob again and blessed him: And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. 11And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; 12And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. 13And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him. 14And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. 15And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel.
This is a promise by God Almighty. He can and will keep His promise.
“Be fruitful and multiply” is how Abraham will have more descendants than there are stars in the sky. Nations and kings would come through him and the Israelites will inherit all this land.
So Jacob sets up a pillar as a way to remember and he’s going to need it:
And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. 17And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. 18And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin. 19And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. 20And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day. 21And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar. 22And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: 23The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun: 24The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin: 25And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali: 26And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid: Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padanaram. 27And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned. 28And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years. 29And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.