Genesis 35:1-29 “God Renews the Covenant with Jacob, part1, Overview and Literary Analysis”

Posted on April 29, 2012. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, April 29, 2012  Bryan E. Walker


Read Genesis 35:1-29

            God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up toBetheland dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. Then let us arise and go up toBethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.

            And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. And Jacob came to Luz (that is,Bethel), which is in thelandofCanaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak belowBethel. So he called its name Allon-bacuth.

            God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, butIsraelshall be your name.” So he called his nameIsrael. And God 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 from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it and poured oil on it. So Jacob called the name of the place where God had spoken with himBethel.

            Then they journeyed fromBethel. When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor. And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for you have another son.” And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is,Bethlehem), and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.Israeljourneyed on and pitched his tent beyond thetowerofEder.

            WhileIsraellived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. AndIsraelheard of it.

            Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon,Levi,Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

            And Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is,Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were 180 years. And Isaac breathed his last, and he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

(Genesis 35:16-29 ESV)





This morning we begin a 3 week study of the final chapter of toledoth 8, the final chapter of the generations of Isaac, the last of Jacob’s story. Now we will see much more of Jacob in the remaining chapters of Genesis for sure, but after chapter 36, the 9th toledoth of Moses’ book, we will be looking at the Generations of Jacob, that is, his children. And oh what a mess they will be!


We have 3 weeks of Sunday School left in the semester and we should be able to finish ch.35. Today we will do the Overview and Literary Analysis, next week we will not meet due to the Anniversary Picnic, then the following weeks we will deal with the exposition of the text.


The main points of the chapter continue on the themes we have seen throughout our journeys with the Patriarchs: God keeps his gracious covenant even with people who are sinners like us. Obstacle after sinful obstacle arises, yet God’s grace is triumphant as he works out His solution to man’s sin in the history of this one family. In chapter 35 we will see God speaking and Jacob listening…and obeying. Jacob again becomes the spiritual head of his household and leads his family away from Shechem toBethelto worship. Jacob’s name is changed again toIsraelas he responds to God in faith. We see Jacob divinely protected from the angry Canaanites but we see also see Jacob lose his favorite wife in childbirth as Benjamin is born. We see some gross rebellion from Jacob’s eldest son, Reuben. And the chapter closes with the death of Isaac.


Literary Analysis



Chapter 35 brings to a conclusion the eighth toledoth, The Generations of Isaac, or the Jacob Cycle, which began at 25:19. The immediate context forms an interesting structure:

A-    Jacob settles by Shechem, and builds an altar (33:18-20.)

B-    Jacob’s daughter Dinah is defiled at Shechem and Jacob’s sons defile Shechem (34)

A’- Jacob settles atBethel, and builds an altar ((35:1-7)

B’- God renews the covenant with Jacob (35:9-15)

Notice that after settling near Shechem, when there were other indicators that he should have gone on to Bethelright away, and the ensuing problems and tragedies that occurred, God turns Jacob around and blesses him.


The list of Jacob’s sons in 35:23-26 points forward to Chapters 37-50.


Chapter 36, toledoth 9, is The Generations of Esau, who, in typical Moses style, is mentioned in 35:29.



Shechem is located on the ridgeline inPalestine, in what would be theterritory ofEphraim after the conquest and assigning of land to the tribes under Joshua. It is located NNW ofJerusalem, and the NT name is Sychar, inSamaria, where Jacob’s well was (John 4). This was the city where Abraham built his first altar upon his arrival in the Promised Land and the LORD appeared to him there. Ironically, Shechem was selected by Joshua to be a city of refuge in Josh. 20:7 and was the site of Joshua’s farewell address (Josh. 24:1). Joseph’s bones were re-interred at Shechem in Josh.24:32.


Bethel lies further south, only about 12 miles N of Jerusalem, in the tribal area belonging to Benjamin, on the southern border of Ephraim’s land. In Abraham’s journey, he stopped betweenBethel and Ai to build an altar (12:8). In 28:19 Moses tells us that the name was originally Luz. After the conquest, the Ark of the Covenant dwelled there for a while (Judges .20:26ff), and Samuel frequented the place.


Ephrah- Bethlehem- vs.16 Moving south fromBethel, closer still toJerusalem, this is the place where Rachel gives birth to Benjamin and subsequently dies. See Jer.31:15 and quoted by Matthew in2:16-18 in regards to Herod killing the male children 2 years of age and under.


The Tower of Eder- v.21 we don’t know where this is for sure but Waltke suggests that Micah4:8 uses a similar phrase and links it to the outskirts ofJerusalem, which, considering their direction of travel, makes sense.


Mamre, Kiriath-arba, Hebron- where Isaac was still living and where Abraham had lived.Hebron is about 30 miles S of Jerusalem, Mamre is a few miles outside ofHebron where a notable stand of oaks grew. Abraham lived there in13:18 and built an altar there, then again he is mentioned in Mamre in 18:1. Just east of Mamre is the field of Machpelah, which Abraham purchased for a family burial plot and buried Sarah there in23:17-20. Jacob will be buried here as well in 50:13. It seems the family plot was lost over time as Joseph is buried in Shechem in Joshua 24:32.



The chapter is divided into two parts of roughly equal length. The first half is the story of God commanding Jacob to move up toBethelwhere God re-confirms the covenant, vv.1-15. This half has 4 parts and 1 odd side note:

A-    God commands Jacob to move toBethel and build an altar (35:1)

B-    Jacob obeys by putting away all idols, going toBethel and building the altar, vv.2-7.

Aside- vs.8 informs us of Deborah’s death (Rebekah’s nurse).

A’- God appears to Jacob, and renews/expands the covenant, despite the events of ch.34, (vv.9-13).

B’- Jacob sets up a pillar, makes offerings, and renames the placeBethel, (vv.14-15.)


The second half has three stories and one insertion, all linked to the geographical locations identified:

1-      On the path to Ephrath Rachel gives birth to Benjamin and then she dies, vv.15-21.

2-      Beyond the Tower of Eder Reuben lay with Bilha, v.22

3-      Insertion- List of Jacob’s 12 sons, vv.23-26.

4-      Jacob came to his father at Mamre where Isaac died, vv.27-29.


Plot and Themes-

Waltke says, p.469, “This scene brings the Jacob cycle to its climactic, successful conclusion.” This chapter, then, wraps up the Jacob stories and clearly points back to some high points in the patriarchal narratives. It has a strong relationship with ch.17 and the Abrahamic covenant, using much of the same language and imagery. This chapter fulfills the blessing of Isaac upon Jacob in 28:3-4. The theophany and covenant here also point us back to the previous time Jacob was inBethelin ch.28. This chapter directly answers Jacob’s fears expressed in 34:30 with 35:5. The chapter includes the death of Deborah and Isaac, but not of Rebekah, pointing out her role in deceiving her husband in a subtle way.


When viewed in its immediate context, coming after the sin and tragedy of ch.34, we see the theme of “undeserved grace” which is the gospel for the patriarchs, Israel of Moses’ day, and for us. The covenant between God and his chosen people is his plan for redemption and is the main theme throughout Genesis 11:27-50:26.


Worship is a theme we see in this chapter. The worship consists of hearing the Word of the LORD to move toBethel, and obeying. Obedience is demonstrated radically by the burying of the idols from his household (Rachel?) and “all who were with him” (servants and fellow travelers from PaddanAram and possibly the captives from Shechem?) To end the Jacob narrative on this high note is similar to the climax of the Abraham narrative in ch.22 onMt.Moriah offering Isaac on the altar.


God’s protection over his covenant people is displayed in vs.5 and this is also a clear preaching point for Moses and his people. We see many incidents throughout the patriarchal stories of God’s protection and provision for his covenant people.


We see the reunion of Jacob and Isaac at Mamre (v.27) and his cooperation with Esau again at the death of Isaac in vv.28-29. Birth and Death are ongoing themes in the patriarchal stories, and this chapter records the birth of Benjamin and three deaths: Deborah, Rachel, and Isaac.


Sin in the covenant community is another ongoing theme. We see another strange side note in 35:22 which points us back to Lot, incest between Reuben (son of Leah) and Bilha (handmaid to Rachel, wife to Jacob) revealing yet again the dysfunctional nature of Jacob’s family.



God is the main character and both speaks to Jacob in the area around Shechem, and appears in a theophany atBethel. God’s grace is poured out on undeserving Jacob as he recommits to his covenant with Jacob and scares away the Canaanites.


Jacob reasserts himself as the spiritual leader of his family/band by making everyone bury their idols, moving on toBethel, building an altar, and erecting a pillar. He is re-namedIsrael, again, and he visits his father and buries him while cooperating with his brother Esau. This shows some growth in leading the family, but it is tainted with the sin of Reuben, to which Jacob again fails to give a proper response as he did with the rape of Dinah.


Rachel- gives birth to Benjamin but dies in childbirth and is buried at Ephrath (Bethlehem).


Reuben– probably rapes Bilha, Rachel’s handmaid and Jacob’s wife. This was more than mere lust and likely was rape as an effort to assert his authority over the family as firstborn. It was an attempt at rebellion or a coup d’etat, similar to Absalom in 2Sam 16. By mentioning this sin by Reuben, Moses does set up the rise ofJudah as the leading tribe, the messianic tribe, because now the first three sons of Jacob have been disqualified by sin to lead the nation.


Twelve sons of Jacob- they are listed in vv.23-26 in a manner that does not make a whole lot of sense, except they do wrap up one of the main themes of the Jacob cycle, the blessing of descendants, and they point forward to the action in the 10th toledoth which features the interactions between Joseph and his 11 brothers.


Isaac- is barely mentioned and then he dies. This seems to be in keeping with the minimizing of Isaac’s story in comparison to the other patriarchs by Moses. There are many parallels with the death of Abraham in 25:7-10, however.


Esau- though only mentioned in the context of burying Isaac, it shows Esau and Jacob have resolved their differences as they cooperate with the funeral. Moses also mentions Esau here to point us forward to toledoth 9 which deals with the generations of Esau.


Key words/phrases-

Arise, go up…dwell vs.1; Let us arise and go up, v.3;

Altar- vs.1,3,7,

God said…God who appeared vs.1, the God who answers me, v.3; God had revealed, v.7; God appeared again, v.9; and God said,v.10,11; he had spoken, v.13; God had spoken with him, v.15

As they journeyed, v.5; Then they journeyed, v.16

And blessed him, v.9; be fruitful and multiply, v.11

Israel, v.10 (2x), v.22

I am God Almighty, v.11

I gave…I will give…I will give, v.12

Labor, hard labor, labor…hardest, vv.16f;

Died, v.8, dying, v.18, died, v.19, died, 29.

Pillar, v.14(2x), v.20(2x)




            Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis, An Expositional Commentary, Volume 2. Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 1985 (pp.347-351.)

          Calvin, John. Genesis, The Geneva Series of Commentaries. Banner of Truth Trust:Carlisle,PA. English translation 1847, originally published in 1554 (Vol.2, pp.229-254.)

          Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis Chapters 18-50 in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company:Grand Rapids,MI 1995 (pp. 373-390.)

          Keil, C.F. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume1, The Pentateuch. Hendrickson Publishers:Peabody,Mass. (pp.202-205.)

          Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, Volume 6, Lectures on Genesis Chapters 31-37. Translated by Paul D. Pahl, edited by Jaroslav Pelikan. Concordia Publishing House:St. Louis,MO. 1970 (pp.221-281.)

           Mathews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary Vol1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman&Holman:Nashville, TN. 2005 (pp.610-630.)

           Meyer, F.B. (an English Baptist 1847-1929). Jacob, Wrestling with God. AMG Publishers:Chattanooga,TN 2001, (pp.89-95.)

            Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing, A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic:Grand Rapids, MI. 1998 (pp.577-584.)

            Sailhamer, John H. “Genesis” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 2. Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 1990 (pp.216-220.)

            Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis, A Commentary. Zondervan:Grand Rapids, MI. 2001 (pp.469-475.)

            Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary, Vol.2, Genesis 16-50. Word Books:Dallas,TX. 1994 (pp.319-331.)

            Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Authentic, Exhibiting Real Faith in the Real World. Chariot Victor Publishing: Colorado Springs, CO. 1997 (pp.66-76.)


Make a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


    This blog exists to study the bi-vocational ministry, explore the Bible & Theology, and look at current events, history and other world religions through scripture, and have fun doing it!


    Subscribe Via RSS

    • Subscribe with Bloglines
    • Add your feed to Newsburst from CNET
    • Subscribe in Google Reader
    • Add to My Yahoo!
    • Subscribe in NewsGator Online
    • The latest comments to all posts in RSS


Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...

%d bloggers like this: