- Locate the passage
Genesis 34 is something of an interlude between occasions of Jacob’s worship. Since Jacob had not fully complied with the Lord’s instructions, he had placed his family in jeopardy. Now, the Lord reminded Jacob of His intentions for the Patriarch. As Jacob followed the Lord’s instructions, he found Divine protection and his previous encounter with the Lord (change of his name, covenant promise, significance of Bethel, obedience to the covenant, and faithful worship) was restored.
The passage is narrative and describes actions Jacob should have already taken. The conversations in this passage are God to Jacob and Jacob to his family.
- Determine the structure of the passage
35:1-7 – God’s instructions to Jacob are repeated
35:1 – Jacob had to be reminded of what he should have already known
35:2-4 – Jacob prepares his family for the restoration of worship
35:5-7 – Jacob followed the Lord instructions and experienced the Lord’s protection
35:8 – The Death of Deborah
35:9-15 – God’s Continued Covenant with Jacob
35:9-13 – The Lord appeared to Jacob and the Covenant is reiterated
35:14-15 – Jacob worshipped the Lord
- Exegete the passage
Two things stand out in the first verse: Jacob has to be reminded by God to return to Bethel, and he has to be instructed to make an altar there. The first is what he was already told to do, and the second is what he should have already known. Perhaps the Lord is graciously reminding Jacob that he was not where he should have been and wasn’t doing what he should have been doing.
This chapter records that Jacob’s return to the land is complete. It also establishes the people of Israel in the land promised to Abraham.
35:1 – God shouldn’t have to repeat Himself. Jacob should have listened to the Lord the first time and perhaps the episode of Genesis 34 might have been averted. But, in His grace, the Lord repeated His command to Jacob.
- This passage recalls Jacob’s initial encounter with the Lord at Bethel (Gen. 28:10-15).
- In the same way that Jacob had gone to Bethel to escape the anger of his brother, he returns to Bethel to escape the potential repercussions of the sin of Simeon and Levi.
- God gave Jacob four instructions in this verse (arise, go up to, dwell, build)
- The use of the word, “there” suggests that the Lord’s intention is as it has been for Jacob to be “there” and not “here” (i.e. where he has been). Thus, don’t dwell “here;” dwell “there.”
- Jacob had a practice of building altars and worshiping the Lord (28:18-22; 31:54; 33:20), perhaps the Lord was reminding the Patriarch of what had been missing in his life since he last left Esau (33:20).
- The Lord reminded Jacob of the last occasion of his worship (33:20) – “the God who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother.”
35:2 – Jacob prepared his house to obediently worship the Lord. Jacob instructed his family to do three things as they prepared to worship the Lord: put away foreign gods, purify themselves, and change their garments.
- One might reasonably ask, where did these foreign gods come from? How have they made their way into Jacob’s family? Were they simply the gods that Rachel stole from Laban? Perhaps they were part of what Simeon and Levi took from the Hivites.
- It is also possible that Jacob’s family had fallen back into pagan worship practices.
- The only previous mention of “gods” in Jacob’s family occurred when Rachel stole the “gods” from her father. See John H. Sailhamer, Genesis, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 262.
- The purification and change of clothes denotes an act of cleansing. They are to cleanse themselves literally and figuratively of the sin. The new clothes suggests a new and clean heart before the Lord
- They are to put behind them their sin, false worship, and murderous past to faithfully worship the Lord
35:3 – “Who answered me in the day of my distress”
- Jacob’s words echo the words of the Lord in 34:1. He professed to his family that the Lord met him when he needed the Lord as he feared his encounter with Esau.
35:4 – Jacob buried the foreign gods and jewelry of their past
- Jacob buried them under the terebinth tree. See note on 12:6 above.
- The word, “bury” (Hb. “taman”) means, “hid.” It is also used in Jer. 13:4 as Jeremiah hid his garment in the rocks under God’s instructions.
- The fact that he buried them “by Shechem” suggests that he was leaving them behind as he left. Those belong to Shechem; they do not belong where we are going.
35:5 – They “journeyed”
- See similar use of this verb in 35:16, 21
- Their journeying is matched in 35:6 with their arrival (Lit. “they came”)
35:5 – The “terror of the Lord”
- The Lord protected Jacob on the journey that He instructed the Patriarch to take
- It is not clear if Jacob is aware of the Divine protection that he and his family experienced.
- Some day we will discover all the ways that the Lord has protected us on our journey of faith
35:6 – “Luz”
- Even though Jacob had changed the name of this location, the text here describes it by both names to make clear the identification.
- It is also clear that Bethel was “in the land of Canaan,” which is where Jacob should have been all along.
35:7 – Jacob built an altar
- Jacob followed the Lord’s instructions and worshiped the Lord again at Bethel
- The fact that the text records the changing of the name of Luz to Bethel for a second time shows that Jacob has come full circle back to the place where he met the Lord and where the Lord intended him to be. It shows that Jacob has restored appropriate worship.
35:8 – The death of Deborah is one of three burial accounts in Genesis 35 (Deborah, Rachel, and Isaac)
- This also implies the significance of Deborah, about whom we know very little.
- The death of Rebekah is not recorded, while that or her nurse is. Although, Gen. 49:31 records that Rebekah was buried in the cave where Isaac was buried (along with Abraham, Sarah, and Leah).
- The name given to the location of Deborah’s burial is another indication of her significance. The name, “Allon Bechuth” means, “Oak of weeping” implies the grief at her death.
- Perhaps it was the last reminder for Jacob of his mother, Rebekah.
- The mention of the death of Deborah and the absence in the account of the death of Rebekah also suggests that Rebekah did in fact “bear the curse” (27:13) of Jacob’s deceit to his father. She did not see her favored son, Jacob again, she has no further impact on the narrative, and her death isn’t even recorded. Thus, she ended up estranged from her beloved son and from the text.
35:9 – God appeared again, and blessed Jacob
- When Jacob was obedient to the Lord’s command, he found the Lord’s favor
35:10 – The second account of the changing of the name of Jacob, like the subsequent account of the changing of the name of Bethel, marks the significance of this encounter and the restoration of Jacob’s authentic worship of the Lord.
- He (the Lord) called him, “Israel.”
- Here, Jacob’s past deceit and wrestling with God is not given in the text as the origin for his new name, as it had been cited in the first account of his new name (Cf. 32:28; 33:1-20).
35:11 – I am God Almighty.
- God describes Himself as the Almighty One (Hb. “El Shaddai”). The description recalls Gen. 17:1, when the Lord so described Himself. It is also the description Isaac used of the Lord in 28:3.
- On the basis of the Lord’s renewed Covenant, the regulations are repeated – “Be fruitful and multiply.”
- In addition to fruitfulness, Jacob was promised a large company of nations from him (as ultimately revealed in the 12 tribes), kings from him, and the possession of the land (35:12).
35:13 – The Lord … “talked” with him
- It is not clear if there was additional conversation between the Lord and Jacob, but the verbal aspect of this encounter is accentuated.
35:14-15 – Jacob’s continued worship of the Lord is demonstrated by his setting up of a pillar marking the place where he talked with the Lord, pouring an offering of oil, and calling the name of the place, “Bethel.”
- This pouring of oil (Hb. “nesek”) is the only occurrence of the drink offering in Scripture before the Law was given.
- Let the structure of the text drive the sermon
- God’s Desire for appropriate worship
- His grace
- In His grace, God called Jacob again
- When I get away from the Lord, I need to go back to Him, follow His instructions, purify myself of my sin, and worship Him as He desires
- His instruction
- His protection
- When we follow God’s direction, we find His protection
- His grace
- What genuine worship looks like
- Exclusive worship (get rid of any “foreign” gods)
- Claiming God’s Promise
- When we get worship right
- God’s blessing is experienced (35:9)
- God’s presence experienced
- “I am God Almighty”
- God talked with him
|↑1||See John H. Sailhamer, Genesis, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 262.|