Genesis 35 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Genesis 35)

Verse 1

[1] And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.

Arise go to Bethel — Here God minds Jacob of his vow at Beth-el, and sends him thither to perform it, Jacob had said in the day of his distress, If I come again in peace, this stone shall be God's house, Genesis 28:22. God had performed his part, had given Jacob more than bread to eat, and raiment to put on; but it should seem he had forgotten his vow, or, at least, deferred the performance of it.

And dwell there — That is, Not only go himself, but take his family with him, that they might join with him in his devotions.

Put away the strange Gods — Strange God's in Jacob's family! Could such a family, that was taught the knowledge of the Lord, admit them? Could such a master, to whom God had appeared twice, and oftner, connive at them? And be clean, and change your garments - These were ceremonies signifying the purification and change of the heart.

Verse 4

[4] And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.

And they gave to Jacob — His servants, and even the retainers to his family, gave him all the strange gods, and the ear-rings they wore either as charms, or to the honour of their gods. Jacob took care to bury their images, we may suppose, in some place unknown to them, that they might not afterwards find and return to them.

Verse 5

[5] And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.

And the terror of God was upon the cities — Though the Canaanites were much exasperated against the sons of Jacob for their barbarous usage of the Shechemites; yet they were so restrained by a divine power, that they could not take this fair opportunity to avenge their neighbours quarrel. God governs the world more by secret terrors on men's minds than we are aware of.

Verse 7

[7] And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.

He built an altar — And no doubt offered sacrifice upon it, perhaps the tenth of his cattle, according to his vow, I will give the tenth unto thee. And he called the place, That is, the altar, El-beth-el, the God of Beth-el. As when he made a thankful acknowledgement of the honour God had done him in calling him Israel, he worshipped God by the name of El-elohe-israel, so now he was making a grateful recognition of God's former favour at Beth-el, he worships God by the name of El-beth-el, the God of Beth-el, because there God appeared to him.

Verse 8

[8] But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.

There he buried Deborah, Rebekah's nurse - We have reason to think that Jacob, after he came to Canaan, while his family dwelt near Shechem, went himself to visit his father Isaac at Hebron. Rebekah probably was dead, but her old nurse (of whom mention is made Genesis 24:59,) survived her, and Jacob took her to his family. While they were at Beth-el she died, and died lamented, so much lamented, that the oak under which she was buried, was called Allon-bachuth, the oak of weeping.

Verse 10

[10] 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.

God now confirmed the change of his name. It was done before by the angel that wrestled with him, Genesis 32:28, and here it was ratified by the divine majesty, to encourage him against the fear of the Canaanites. Who can be too hard for Israel, a prince with God?

Verse 11

[11] And 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;

He renewed and ratified the covenant with him, by the name of El-Shaddai, I am God Almighty. God All-sufficient, able to make good the promise in due time, and to support thee and provide for thee. Two things are promised him. 1. That he should be the father of a great nation: great in number, a company of nations shall be of thee - Every tribe of Israel was a nation, and all the twelve, a company of nations: great in honour and power, kings shall come out of thy loins. 2. That he should be master of a good land, Genesis 35:12. The land that was given to Abraham and Isaac is here entailed on Jacob and his seed. These two promises had also a spiritual signification, which we may suppose Jacob himself had some notion of: for without doubt Christ is the promised seed, and heaven is the promised land; the former is the foundation, and the latter the top-stone of all God's favours.

Verse 13

[13] And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.

And God went up from him — Or, from over him - In some visible display of glory, which had hovered over him, while he talked with him.

Verse 14

[14] And 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.

And Jacob set up a pillar — When he was going to Padan-aram he set up that stone which he had laid his head on for a pillar; but now he took time to erect one more stately, and durable, probably inserting that stone into it. And in token of his intending it for a sacred memorial of his communion with God, he poured oil, and the other ingredients of a drink-offering upon it. This stone shall be God's house, that is, shall be set up for his honour, as houses to the praise of their builders; and here he performs it. And he confirmed the name he had formerly given to the place, Beth-el, the house of God. Yet this very place afterwards lost the honour of its name, and became Beth-aven, a house of iniquity, for here it was that Jeroboam set up one of his calves. It is impossible for the best men to entail so much as the profession and form of religion upon a place.

Verse 16

[16] And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.

She had hard labour — Harder than usual.

Verse 17

[17] And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.

Rachel had said when she bore Joseph, God shall give me another son, which now the midwife remembers, and tells her, her words were made good. Yet this did not avail; unless God command away fear, no one else can. We are apt in extreme perils to comfort ourselves and our friends with the hopes of a temporal deliverance, in which we may be disappointed; we had better ground our comforts on that which cannot fail us, the hope of eternal life. Rachel had passionately said, Give me children, or else I die; and now she had children (for this was her second) she died.

Verse 18

[18] And 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.

Her dying lips calls her new-born soon Benoni, the son of my sorrow. But Jacob because he would not renew the sorrowful remembrance of his mother's death every time he called his son by name, changed his name, and called him Benjamin, the son of my right hand - That is, very dear to me; set on my right hand for a right hand blessing; the support of my age, like the staff in my right hand. Jacob buried her near the place where she died. If the soul be at rest after death, the matter is not great where the body lies. In the place where the tree falls, there let it lie. The Jewish writers say, The death of Deborah and Rachel was to expiate the murder of the Shechemites, occasioned by Dinah, a daughter of the family.

Verse 20

[20] And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.

And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave — So that it was known long after to be Rachel's sepulchre, 1 Samuel 10:2, and Providence so ordered it, that this place afterwards fell in the lot of Benjamin. Jacob set up a pillar in remembrance of his joys Genesis 35:14, and here he set up one in remembrance of his sorrows; for as it may be of use to ourselves to keep both in mind, so it may be of use to others to transmit the memorials of both.

Verse 21

[21] And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.

Israel, a prince with God, yet dwells in tents; the city is reserved for him in the other world.

Verse 22

[22] And 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:

When Israel dwelt in that land — As if he were then absent from his family, which might be the unhappy occasion of these disorders. Though perhaps Bilhah was the greater criminal, yet Reuben's crime was so provoking that for it he lost his birth-right and blessing, Genesis 49:4.

And Israel heard it — No more is said, that is enough; he heard it with the utmost grief and shame, horror and displeasure.

Verse 27

[27] And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.

And Jacob came unto Isaac his father — We may suppose he had visited him before since his return, for he sore longed after his father's house, but never 'till now brought his family to settle with him, or near him. Probably he did this now upon the death of Rebekah, by which Isaac was left solitary.

Verse 28

[28] And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.

The age and death of Isaac are here recorded, though it appears by computation that he died not 'till many years after Joseph was sold into Egypt, and much about the time that he was preferred there. Isaac, a mild quiet man, lived the longest of all the patriarchs, for he was one hundred and eighty years old: Abraham was but one hundred and seventy-five. Isaac lived about forty years after he had made his will, Genesis 27:2. We shall not die an hour the sooner, but abundance the better, for our timely setting of our heart and house in order. Particular notice is taken of the amicable agreement of Esau and Jacob in solemnizing their father's funeral, Genesis 35:29, to shew how God had wonderfully changed Esau's mind, since he vowed his brother's murder, upon his father's death, Genesis 27:41. God has many ways of preventing ill men from doing the mischief they in tended; he can either tie their hands, or turn their hearts.