Genesis 35:16-20

 |  April 9, 2018

Gen. 35:16-29

  1. Locate the passage

Death is a natural part of life and marks genuine transitions. This pericope records the deaths of Rachel and Isaac. In addition to the death of Deborah which was recorded earlier in Genesis 35, the mention of these deaths demonstrate their significance in the Jacob chronicles. While Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, it is significant that she is not buried with him in the cave of Machpelah (though the text later reveals that Leah is buried there). However, the other burial recorded in this chapter describes the effort undertaken to bury Isaac in the cave of Machpelah.

  1. Genre

The passage is narrative. The only conversation recorded is from the midwife to Rachel as Benjamin is being born.

  1. Determine the structure of the passage

35:16-22a – Jacob travels to Bethlehem

35:22b-26 – Jacob’s family tree

35:27-29 – Jacob travels to see his father before Isaac dies

  1. Exegete the passage

Why Jacob left Bethel, after being instructed by the Lord in 35:1 to “dwell” there, is unclear in the text. Moreover, why he would travel when Rachel was that close to giving birth is equally obscure and peculiar. His travels in this pericope appear random and wandering. Despite being told by the Lord to stay in Bethel, he travels to Bethlehem (Ephrath), while his wife is certainly “great with child.” When she dies, he does not carry her body to his family’s burial plot, despite the fact that he could certainly have transported her body there (as he later instructs his children to do with his body – Gen. 49:29-30). Then, 35:22 notes that while he “dwelt in that land” another sad misadventure in his family occurs. Next, Jacob travels to the land where his father, Isaac, dwelt and presumably was there until Isaac passed away. It’s certainly admirable that he was able to be there with his father, but the movement of Jacob appears to be the journeys of a man not yet “settled” in the land the Lord instructed him to occupy.

With the birth of Benjamin in this passage, the twelve tribes are complete.

35:16 – On their way to Bethlehem, Rachel gave birth

35:16 – Rachel had “hard labor”

35:17 – “Do not fear”

35:19 – The exact location of Rachel’s tomb is uncertain. See discussion above.

35:20 – Jacob sets up a pillar in Rachel’s honor, but curiously does not transport her to his family’s burial site. Jacob had established pillar’s before at prominent sites (28:18; 31:45; 31:51; 35:14).

35:21 – The exact location of the tower of Eder is uncertain.

35:22 – Reuben’s sleeping with his father’s concubine, Bilhah, was an act of defiance against his father. Jacob “heard about” Reuben’s act, but no action towards him is recorded here. However, when Jacob was pronouncing his final words for his children in Gen. 49:3-4, he recalls this event and announces what amounts to a curse on Reuben (“you shall not excel”) because he defiled his father’s bed.

35:22-26 – The versification in 35:22 is a curious break in the text. The words beginning   in 22b would seem to more naturally fit with verse 23.

35:27 – Jacob came to his father

  1. Let the structure of the text drive the sermon

Exp. It’s hard to find spiritual direction in life, or even enjoy God’s blessings, when we are not where the Lord wants us to be.

Exp. This passage reveals both death and new life. Both are part of life. Here the joy of the birth of his son, Benjamin, is tempered by the death of his beloved wife, Rachel.

Exp. Jacob’s response at Rachel’s death is curious and unexplained in the text. It’s noticeable that though Rachel was his favorite wife, he is not mentioned as mourning for her and does not carry her body to the family burial site. Instead, Jacob was buried alongside Leah.

Exp. Reuben displays a disrespect for his father and for the sanctity of marriage. One wonders if Jacob’s tenuous support of marriage contributed to Reuben’s lack of respect for his father’s commitment to Bilhah. These are  traits that his father, grandfather, and great grandfather all also displayed. Jacob married four women (one involuntarily and two for the wrong reasons); Isaac offered his wife to another man; Abraham offered his wife to two different men.

Exp. Jacob has a habit of not addressing sensitive issues with his children (Dinah, Simeon, Levi, Reuben) – a habit he learned from his father, Isaac. However, he wanted to hold them accountable for those actions later (Gen. 49)

Exp. It is nice that Jacob was able to see his father, Isaac, before he died. It is also a positive sign that both Jacob and Esau are described as burying their father. The text stops short of describing any further interaction with either Jacob and Isaac or Jacob and Esau.

App. Our family’s today need positive family role models. Jacob was not a good role model as a son, brother, husband, or father.

Exp. It is not a coincidence that the text includes the death of Isaac upon the discussion of the completion of the twelve

Exp. Despite Jacob’s inconsistent faith and family unrest, the Lord’s promise is secure. He has blessed Jacob with 12 sons and the stage is set for a nation to arise from the man who wrestled (“Israel”) with God.

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