Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Genesis 12-50 Table of Contents  |  Previous Section  |  Next Section  |



Jacob Moves to Bethel Jacob's Return to Bethel Jacob's Journey from Shechem to Mamre God Blesses Jacob at Bethel Jacob at Bethel
35:1-4 35:1-4 35:1-4 35:1 35:1
      35:2-4 35:2-5
35:5-8 35:5-7 35:5-8 35:5-8  
Jacob Is Named Israel 35:8     35:6-8
35:9-15 35:9-15 35:9-15 35:9-10
  Death of Rachel   The Death of Rachel The Birth of Benjamin and Death of Rachel
35:16-21 35:16-20 35:16-21 35:16-18 35:16-20
      35:19-21 Reuben's Incest
  35:21-22   The Sons of Jacob 35:21-22a
35:22a   35:22a 35:22a  
The Sons of Israel       The Twelve Sons of Jacob
35:22b-26 Jacob's Twelve Sons 35:22b-26 35:22b-26 35:22b-26
  Death of Isaac   The Death of Isaac The Death of Isaac
35:27 35:27-29 35:27-29 35:27-29 35:27-29

READING CYCLE THREE(see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. God commands Jacob

1. arise, BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperative

2. go, BDB 748, KB 828, Qal imperative

3. live (lit. dwell), BDB 442, KB 444, Qal imperative

4. make an altar, BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative and later in Gen. 35:11

5. be fruitful, BDB 826, KB 963, Qal imperative

6. multiply, BDB 915, KB 1176, Qal imperative; both of these commands reflect God's command

a. to the animals, Gen. 1:22

b. by implication to Adam and Eve, Gen. 1:28

c. to Noah, Gen. 9:1,7

d. to Abraham in different terms

e. and now to Jacob


B. Jacob commands his family to prepare

1. put away the foreign gods, BDB 693, KB 747, Hiphil imperative

2. purify yourselves, BDB 372, KB 369, Hiphil imperative

3. change your garments, BDB 322, KB 321, Hiphil imperative

4. let us arise, BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal cohortative , cf. Gen. 35:1

5. let us go, BDB 748, KB 828, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense, cf. Gen. 35:1


C. When Jacob was finally obedient and came to Bethel YHWH presumably addressed him again, Gen. 35:9-15



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.

1. Bethel was to the south, but was higher topologically than Shechem.

2. The verb is often used of going to the temple (i.e., a holy site). Bethel may have represented an intimacy with God.


▣ "make an altar" The term "altar" (BDB 258) means a place of slaughter. The Patriarchs made many altars.

1. Noah on the Mount of Ararat, Gen. 8:20

2. Abraham

a. at Shechem, Gen. 12:7

b. at Bethel, Gen. 12:8

c. at Hebron, Gen. 13:18

d. at Moriah, Gen. 22:9

3. Isaac at Beersheba, Gen. 26:25

4. Jacob

a. at Shechem, Gen. 33:20 

b. at Bethel, Gen. 35:7

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 Gen. 35:1. Context must determine the translation of this term. See Special Topic: Names for Deity.

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 Jos. 24:14,23 (cf. 1 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. Gen. 31:19,30,34; Jdg. 17:5; 1 Sam. 19:13; Hosea 3:4, see Special Topic: Teraphim), which denoted ancestral worship. It is surely possible that Jacob's extended family (i.e., servants, cf. Gen. 35:6b) 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).

JPSOA, REB"bury"

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; Jos. 24:26; Jdg. 9:6,37).

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 a great terror upon the cities which were around them" The basic root for the term "terror" is חת (BDB 369, K 363, cf. Gen. 9:2; Job 41:25); also חתת in Job 6:21. The basic two-consonant root can also mean "shattered" (cf. 1 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; Jos. 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 Gen. 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).

35:7 See note at Gen. 26:25.

NASB, NRSV"El-bethel"
TEV"God of Bethel"

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; 3:22; 11:7; 1 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.

1. below Bethel, denotes a lower height than the altar itself

2. under, means under the canopy of the branches, not under the trunk


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 Gen. 35:10 and Gen. 35:11-12 as poetry. This fits the repetition of the lines of Gen. 35:10 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 , see Special Topic: Israel (the name).

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. Gen. 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: Names for Deity.

In Deut. 32:17 a similar root (שד, BDB 993) is translated "demon" (an Assyrian loan word).

▣ "Be fruitful and multiply" See notes at Gen. 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. Gen. 48:4), but also to a much wider group (i.e., "those made in the image and likeness of God," Gen. 1:26-27).

1. God's promise of Gen. 3:15

2. the implications of God's call to Abram in Gen. 12:3

3. God's titles for Israel and her purpose in Exod. 19:5-6

4. Isaiah's universal implications of the "nations" being included

5. Jesus' capstone words to the church in Matt. 28:19-20 and repeated in Luke 24:47 and Acts 1:8

6. the sermons in Acts and the letters of Paul

7. the clear statements of Galatians 3 and the book of Hebrews about the purpose of the OT

This phrase is a purposeful understatement with tremendous theological significance!

▣ "kings shall come forth from you" This phrase can be seen in two ways.

1. a literary parallel to "a company of nations"

2. a way of referring to the covenant with Abraham (cf. Gen. 17:6,16)

Jacob is the source of "tribes," but Abraham of "kings."

35:12 This is a reaffirmation of the initial promises to Abraham (cf. Gen. 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! See Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan.

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. Gen. 17:22). The ancients believed God and heaven were "up" and judgment "down." The smoke of a sacrifice went up to God (cf. Gen. 8:20; 22:2,13). God spoke from the mountain/from heaven (cf. Exodus 19-20). The angels of God ascended and descended in Gen. 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 Gen. 35:14. 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 Gen. 35:20 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.

1. the first, BDB 650, KB 703, Hiphil imperfect, refers to a drink offering (BDB 651)

2. the second, BDB 427, KB 428, Qal imperfect, refers to olive oil (BDB 1032, cf. Gen. 28:18) used for special holy anointings, Exod. 29:7; Lev. 8:12


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!

16Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when there was still some distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and she suffered severe labor. 17When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, "Do not fear, for now you have another son." 18It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20Jacob set up a pillar over her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel's grave to this day. 21Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

35:16 "Ephrath" This is another way of designating Bethlehem in Judah (cf. Mic. 5:2). There were other Bethlehem's, but Ephrath was a way of signifying the one located near Jerusalem, which will later be the city of David, the site of the birth of the Messiah (See Special Topic: Messiah).

▣ "she suffered severe labor" This verb (BDB 904, KB 1151) in the Piel stem is found only here in the OT.

The chosen family suffered and was diseased (cf. Gen. 27:1) just as other people affected by the fall. God intervenes to assure their survival, but not their comfort and ease (see Gordon Fee, The Disease of the Health, Wealth Gospel).

35:17 "Do not fear" The verb (BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense) is somewhat surprising. One would think she would be contemplating her own death, but in context the healthy birth of a male son is priority (cf. 1 Sam. 4:20). This seems to fulfill the request she expressed to God in Gen. 30:24.

35:18 "her soul was departing" "Soul" is the Hebrew word nephesh (BDB 659, see note at Gen. 35:18). We must be careful that we do not mix Greek philosophy with Hebrew Scripture. The OT does not say that we have a soul, but that we are a soul (cf. Gen. 2:7). The word "soul" comes from the Akkadian word napishtu, which signifies the place of breathing or the throat (cf. Ps. 69:3). Humanity's uniqueness is not in the fact that they have a nephesh, for in the early parts of Genesis the animals also had a nephesh (cf. Gen. 1:21, 24; 2:19; Lev. 11:46; 24:18). This is simply a Hebrew idiom that one's physical life on earth ceased when breath departed.

▣ "she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin" His name given by Rachel meant "son of my sorrow" (BDB 122), however Jacob changed it to "son of my right hand" (BDB 122). This was the place of skill, honor, and help. We learn from the Mari Tablets that this term could also mean "son of the south" (i.e., place of his birth, Canaan).

35:19 "(that is Bethlehem)" There was probably a later editorial insertion (place names Gen. 35:6,27; 36:1 and the phrase "to this day" in Gen. 35:20). Although I personally hold to the Mosaic authorship for the bulk of the Pentateuch, I also believe there are several editorial hands, as well as oral and written traditions from the Patriarchs, which were utilized by Moses. The possible editors would include: Joshua, Samuel, the author of Kings, Ezra, Jeremiah, and/or priests.

35:21 "the tower of Eder" The name is "Migdal-eder." Migdal (BDB 153) means watch tower and is used in combination with several locations (i.e., Jos. 15:37; 19:38). This one is near Bethlehem (cf. Micah 4:8). Eder (BDB 727) means flock or herd. This raised pile of stones would have served as a vantage point to keep watch over the flocks.

22It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine, and Israel heard of it.

35:22 "Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine" This unseemly act is somehow associated with expectation of inheritance rights (i.e., 1 Kgs. 2:13-25). Reuben was trying to force his father's hand in naming him the head of the clan. As it turned out, he was condemned and rejected because of this incident (cf. Gen. 49:3-4; 1 Chr. 5:1). As God had worked His unique will through the barren wives of the Patriarchs, in Genesis He shows His unique will by allowing the fourth son of Leah to be the line of the Messiah (i.e., Judah).

▣ "Israel heard of it" The Septuagint adds, "the thing appeared grievous before him" (cf. TEV, NAB). This does not appear in the MT. We are unsure if the translation of the LXX added it or it was part of an earlier Hebrew manuscript.

22bNow there were twelve sons of Jacob-23the sons of Leah: Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, then Simeon and Levi and Judah and Issachar and Zebulun; 24the sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin; 25and the sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maid: Dan and Naphtali; 26and the sons of Zilpah, Leah's maid: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

▣ "Now there were twelve sons of Jacob" The popular etymology associated with these names also enables some fluidity that can be discerned in the prophecies of Genesis 49.

27Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned.

35:27 "Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre" This was the site of another special oak tree (cf. Gen. 13:18; 14:13; and 18:1). The time element is uncertain. Did Jacob wait all this time after returning to Canaan to visit his father?! This is probably another historical flashback.

28Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. 29Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

35:29 "Isaac breathed his last and died" Isaac must have lived in a very decrepit condition for a long time (cf. Gen. 27:1). Jacob was gone over twenty years and his father had expected to die shortly after he left. This shows that although the Patriarch had the blessings of God, he still experienced physical discomfort and diseases for a long period of his life.

▣ "gathered to his people" The verb (BDB 62, KB 74, Niphal imperfect) means "to gather" or "to remove." It is an idiom for being united after death with one's family (i.e., Gen. 25:8,17; 35:29; 49:29,33; Num. 20:24,26; 27:13; 31:2; Deut. 32:50). The OT's revelations about the afterlife are brief and ambiguous (except for rare glimpses in Job and Psalms of a resurrection).

It could denote

1. an idiom for a peaceful death

2. an idiom for being buried in a family tomb

3. an idiom for being reunited with dead loved ones (i.e., an affirmation of personal existence after death). See Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 127-129.

4. an idiom for waiting with dead loved ones until God raises the dead (cf. Job 14:14-15; 19:25-27; Ps. 16:10; 49:15; 86:13; Ezekiel 37; Dan. 12:2-3; Hosea 13:14). The fullest NT text would be 1 Corinthians 15.


35:29 "an old man of ripe age" This is an idiom for a long life. Death was viewed as the natural end of all human life. Long life was viewed as a blessing. Death was a friend to the aged believer (and still is)!

▣ "his sons Esau and Jacob buried him" As Ishmael and Isaac had come back together to bury Abraham so these two sons, Esau and Jacob, were together for the burial of their father. This was apparently a very important cultural event.



This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1.  Why did Jacob only travel as far as Shechem and not go all the way to Bethel?

2.  Who are the Hivites?

3.  Was adultery always an odious crime or did that begin with the Mosaic legislation?

4.  Why were Reuben, Simeon, and Levi rejected from being the patriarchal leader of the family?

5.  What foreign gods is Jacob referring to in Gen. 35:2?

6.  What do the ear-rings symbolize in Gen. 35:4?

7.  Why were trees considered sacred sites to these nomadic desert dwellers?

8.  Why did Jacob raise a pillar at special places and times in his life? Why is this later condemned?

9. Do we have a soul or are we a soul? Why?


Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Genesis 12-50 Table of Contents  |  Previous Section  |  Next Section  |