Genesis 35:1-29 “God Renews Covenant with Jacob, part 3”

Posted on May 20, 2012. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, May 20, 2012 Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 35:16-29


Introduction: In today’s lesson we will finish chapter 35 and the toledoth of Isaac which began in 25:19.  We will see two more deaths in the family after the worship and covenant renewal atBethel and we will see God’s amazing grace to a family that is filled with sin. There is a lot in this chapter that points backward, tying things together, and that points forward. The main idea is that God fulfills his covenant with Jacob by giving him his twelfth son, thus givingIsrael the background to their beginnings as a nation.


  1. I.                   God Calls, Jacob Answers, On to Bethel, vv.1-8
    1. A.     God’s Call, vs.1
    2. B.     Jacob Buries the Idols of the Past, vv.2-4
    3. C.     Jacob Journeys from Shechem to Bethel and Builds an Altar, vv.5-7
    4. D.    Deborah Dies and Is Buried, v.8


  1. II.                God Confirms the Covenant with Jacob Again, On to Ephrath, vv. 9-15
    1. A.     God Reconfirms the Covenant, vv.9-12


  1. III.             Jacob’s Family Is Completed, Isaac Dies, On to Hebron, vv. 13-29
    1. A.     Birth of Benjamin and Death of Rachel at Ephrath, vv.16-20
      1. 1.      Ephrath, v.16- is a region located on the road to Hebron, but there is some confusion over exactly where it was. Wenham says (p.326), “Ephrata seems to be the name of a region inhabited by Ephrathites, a Judean clan (1Chron. 2:19), of which Bethlehem and Kiriath Jearim were the best known villages (1Chron 2:50-52.)” Yet, Wenham places the location of the birth of Benjamin/death of Rachel somewhere north of Jerusalem, near Ramah and cites Jer.31:15, 1Sam.10:2, and Josh 18:25 and places the area of Ephrath in the tribal area of Benjamin. He writes, “The modern tomb of Rachel, about a mile from the village of Bethlehem, presumably arises from a failure to understand the phrase here translated ‘about two hours’ distance’ (ESV some distance from Ephrath). The main problem text is 1Sam 10:2 which places Rachel’s tomb at Zelzah. The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Atlas (E.M. Blaiklock, ed. 1972, p.54) places Ephrath as, “the ancient name forBethlehem, situated on the road toHebron, some 5 miles south ofJerusalem.” The Zondervan Atlas, twice, states that Ephrath was the ancient name forBethlehem and locates it south ofJerusalem. Ramah is located north ofJerusalem. Mathews, p.624f, acknowledges that there is textual evidence for Rachel being buried both north and south ofJerusalem. He goes on to explain that the connection with Jer. 31:15 is that the people of Judah, Rachel’s children, were weeping and wailing along the way. Jeremiah, in Mathew’s eyes, does not equate Ramah withBethlehem geographically.           
      2. 2.      Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor…midwife- this is the first we have been told of this pregnancy. This hard labor  relates to the difficulties that Rebekah had when she was pregnant with the twins, in 25:22. Additionally, it may point forward to Exodus 1:14 which uses the same basic word for hard labor in regards to the slaves, but then goes on to talk about the command of Pharaoh to kill the boy babies but the midwives intervene.
      3. 3.      Do not fear for you have another son, v.17- this comment matches 1Sam4:20, another case of mother dying in childbirth but being consoled by the midwife because she had borne a son. This shows a cultural preference for boy babies. Also, the birth of this son is an answer to Rachel’s prayer at the birth of Joseph in 30:24, which apparently the midwife recalled. Mathews, p.625, “By referring to Benjamin as ‘another son’, the midwife in effect announces that Rachel’s prayer when naming Joseph has been fulfilled.”
      4. 4.      as her soul was departing (for she was dying), v.18– strangely matches what she said back in 30:1 “Give me children or I shall die!” and it was now the gift of children which caused her death.
      5. 5.      Ben-oni…Benjamin,- Ben-oni is son of sorrow, hence the saying of Jer. 31:15 “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children…” Benjamin means ‘son of my right hand’, the place of power and favor, see 42:4,38; 44:29. Benjamin is the only one of Jacob’s children that he named; all the others were named by Leah and Rachel. This may be evidence of his renewed position of leadership. In this particular family, that name would likely be provocative. The first king ofIsrael would be Saul, a Benjaminite.
      6. 6.      Where was Rachel buried and where was Benjamin born, in contrast to the other children of Jacob? Canaan.
      7. 7.      and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb, vs.20- Jacob set up a pillar at Bethel, vs.14; 28:18; and at 31:45 at the border between him and Laban. He had religious, family, and legal reasons for setting up these pillars, steles.
      8. 8.      which is there to this day- this phrase was used in a similar way in 32:32. 1Sam. 10:2 and Jeremiah 31:15 show that the site of Rachel’s tomb was known for a long time inIsrael.
      9. 9.      Apply: Jacob had to deal with two deaths in rapid succession. Notice that these challenging situations came immediately after his call to renewal by God. Deborah the nurse died atBethel and Rachel, his favorite wife, dies giving birth immediately after the covenant renewal atBethel. Real life continues in the midst of obedience and revival. Believers do not get a reprieve from real life events like death, sickness, accidents, crime, job loss, war, etc. We are called to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus; the cross was an instrument of torture, pain, disgrace, and death. The Christian walk does not get any easier. It does give us a purpose for living in the midst of grief, pain, sorrow and death as we can walk by faith, grow in holiness, and praise God no matter our external happiness. Peace, joy and love abide.
    2. B.     The Tower of Eder and Reuben’s Rebellion, vv.21-22b
      1. 1.      Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder, v.21- Migdol Eder, tower of the flock. Perhaps mentioned in Micah 4:8 if it is a proper name. In the area ofJerusalem on the way toHebron. This would seem to indicate, again, that Rachel’s grave is north ofJerusalem, not south. Wenham cites Jerome as saying that Migdol Eder is in the Shepherd’s fields east of Bethlehem, but Jewish tradition says they could be 3 miles SW of Bethlehem at the Pools of Solomon.
      2. 2.      While Israel lived in that land, v.22- seems to indicate thatIsrael lived here for a while, yet there is no mention of an altar or worship. Perhaps, after the death of Rachel, Jacob needed to stop his journey for a while.
      3. 3.      Reuben went and lay with Bilha his father’s concubine- this is the first time that Bilha is mentioned as Jacob’s concubine; previously she had been called Rachel’s handmaid. To have sexual relations with your father’s wife or concubine is more than just a lustful/perverted action. It is rebellion, a seeking to establish your authority over your father. We see this with Absalom in2Sam. 16:21-22; and Adonijah in1Kgs2:13-25; 20:3-7. Thus the inner family competition continues and gets more intense. Mathews, p.628, “his affront was a pointed claim to Jacob’s place.”
      4. 4.      Hamilton, p.387, states, “Of course, Reuben did not rape Bilha.” The text does not use any word indicating violence or rape, but nonetheless, it seems improbable that Bilha would have consented to this tryst.
      5. 5.      The fact that Jacob had married sisters, he seemingly tolerated the rape of his daughter, and now shows no reaction to Reuben’s assault shows that he remained weak in the eyes of his sons. Reuben may have seen that Levi and Simeon got away with what they did and decided to do this.
      6. 6.      Calvin writes, p.246, “The sum of his happiness was in his offspring, from which the salvation of the whole world was to proceed. Whereas, already, two of his sons had been perfidious and sanguinary robbers; the first-born, now, exceeds them both in wickedness. But here the gratuitous election of God has appeared the more illustrious, because it was not on account of their worthiness that he preferred the sons of Jacob to all the world; and also because, when they had fallen so basely, this election nevertheless remained firm and efficacious.”
      7. 7.      Sex with close family relations other than your wife is prohibited in the Law- Lev.18:6-8;18:13,18;20:11 for the death penalty.
      8. 8.  some estimates for incest between father-daughter or stepfather-stepdaughter are as high as 20 million victims inAmerica. It is one of the most under-reported crimes due to the shame and family-privacy pressure. 43% of child molestations are within the family.
      9. 9.      The results for Reuben were disastrous- 49:1-4; and Joseph’s sons got a double portion of the inheritance, 48:5-20; 1Chron.5:1-2; Deut.21:15-17.
    3. C.     Jacob’s sons, vv.22c-26
      1. 1.      And the sons of Jacob were 12, v.22c- the number 12 would of course match the twelve tribes ofIsrael and thus points forward toIsrael in Moses’ day. This is one of the key points of Genesis: Where didIsrael come from? This is a part of their founding story which is essential for any nation. Moses is founding a nation so they must know how they began. This demonstrates the faithfulness of God to his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob.
      2. 2.      Leah…Rachel…Bilha…Zilpah, vv.23-26 the sons are listed in order (29:31-30:24) by mothers and the mothers are listed in order. Even though Rachel was the favorite wife and the head wife, she was in fact the second wife so Leah is mentioned here first. So even though Rachel’s two sons are younger than the sons of the two handmaids, Rachel’s sons are listed right after Leah’s sons. The list of sons in 46::8-25 has Leah’s sons first, followed by Zilpah’s sons, then Rachel’s and finally Bilha’s sons. In every list of the sons, Leah’s sons come first. Ch.49 has another list of sons and their inheritance and blessing from Jacob.
      3. 3.      Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah are the first four sons listed and each one would fail miserably, butJudah less so than the others, hence the leadership falls to him.Judah’s failure will come in ch.38.
      4. 4.      This genealogy also points forward to ch.36 and Esau’s toledoth and genealogy.
      5. 5.      These were the sons of Jacob…born…in Paddan-aram, v.26- What is wrong with this statement? Why would Moses say this? Waltke writes, p.478, “The list may idealize all the sons as participating in an exodus from exile in PaddanAram to the Promised Land….If so, the theological concern overrules the factual concern….” This concept of altering history at times for a theological purpose is confusing to us today and certainly can be distorted by some to doubt the veracity of God’s word. But Moses has just given us the facts surrounding the birth of Benjamin so in this case we know he is summarizing to make a theological point which would be relevant to his people; it would be a preaching point.
    4. D.    Jacob’s Homecoming to Hebron, the Death of Isaac, vv.27-29
      1. 1.      And Jacob came to his father Isaac, v.27- sent out in disgrace, though with his father’s blessing back in 28:1-5, he has returned from exile. Isaac was atBeersheba when Jacob left home, but now is in the ancestral home and burial ground of Mamre-Hebron. The account of Isaac ends with this reconciliation. The blessing from Isaac has been realized, 28:3 “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples.”
      2. 2.      However, this reconciliation is greatly understated. There is no banquet, no hugging and crying, no speeches. Jacob comes home to his father and then Isaac dies. Again, Moses underplays Isaac. Waltke writes, p.479, “Isaac’s journey ends with a full length of years, but God passed him over after he tried to thwart God’s purpose in the blessing (Gen.27). The toledoth of Abraham (i.e., the narrative of Isaac) has become lost in the toledoth of Isaac (i.e., the narrative f Jacob).”
      3. 3.      The obvious preaching point for Moses is shown in Ex.1:1-7 where they went intoEgypt as 70 persons, but in Ex.1:7 “the people ofIsrael were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.”
      4. 4.      Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is Hebron)- Isaac is still dwelling in the land where Abraham his father last dwelled and is buried along with Sarah and Rebekah (25:9-10; 23:1-20; 49:31). This is also where Jacob will be buried (49:29-50:14).Hebron is only about 19 miles SW of Jerusalem on the highway toBeersheba. So when Jacob lived in the land around theTower ofEder for an unspecified amount of time, he was just about 1 day’s walk from his father Isaac. It seems to me that he deliberately delayed going to his father, perhaps until he got word that his father was near death. Of course, Moses could have left out an earlier visit, but the point may very well be what Waltke brought up (see above).
      5. 5.      In Josh.14:6-15 Hebron is given to Caleb to conquer. The Anakim are mentioned as living inHebron in Caleb’s day, and they were considered giants.
      6. 6.      Now the days of Isaac were 180 years, v.28– the ages of Isaac and his sons in this toledoth present repeated challenges. Calvin says, p.247, “The death of Isaac is not related in its proper order.” Hamilton goes through some of the difficulties of the ages involved on p.389. Mathews brings out that chronologically Isaac would have lived 12 years beyond the sale of Joseph by his brothers to the Midianites. Again, I would caution that dates and ages during the Patriarchal period are frequently used for other purposes than just simply recording data. Their standards were not built around the precision of our modern day.
      7. 7.      And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him, v.29- here we see that their reconciliation in chapter 33 was genuine. This also matches the burial of Abraham where Isaac and Ishmael cooperated in 25:9, and points forward to 50:8-9 where we see the reconciliation of Joseph and all his brothers in action as they bury their father Jacob all together.


Conclusion: this concluding chapter of the toledoth of Isaac points us forward to the homecoming from exile ofIsrael in Moses day as they leaveEgypt and go to the Promised Land. For us, the gospel point is the amazing grace of God who keeps covenant with his people despite the trials of life, the deaths of loved ones, and our own rebellious sins.



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.)




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