Elon, North Carolina
We are doing an in-depth study of the Book of Genesis. We are looking at the life of Jacob, the third patriarch. He was the son of Isaac and Rebekah and the grandson of Abraham. He is the last person you would expect to be a patriarch. Jacob was the most colorful of the three patriarchs. He was originally a liar and a deceiver. He was a con artist and imposter.
That is the one that God called to be the ancestor of the Jews. He had twelve sons and those sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. God had to work in his life to remove many of his flaws. He had to turn Jacob into Israel. Genesis 35 is the LAST chapter that is devoted to the life of Jacob. The next section of the book is all about Joseph. The next chapter is not about Jacob but about his twin brother Esau.
Genesis 36 is all about Esau. Why is that in the Bible? When we read the Bible, we focus on Jacob. The promised line did come through Jacob but God also blessed Esau. Esau had many wives before Jacob did. he had many children before Jacob did. In fact, there were kings in Edom long before there were kings in Israel (36:31-39).
Both brothers were blessed so much and had so many possessions that they had to live in separate places. Genesis 36:6-8 says, “Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob. For their possessions were too great for them to dwell together. The land of their sojournings could not support them because of their livestock. So Esau settled in the hill country of Seir. (Esau is Edom.)” (ESV)
Our focus this morning will be on Genesis 35. It is a short chapter. It is only twenty-nine verses. It is very different from the chapter we studied last week. Last week, we looked at one of the darkest stories in the Bible. There is no bright spot in the chapter. Things went from bad to worse. Jacob’s only daughter gets raped and her two brothers take revenge on the town by killing all of the males in the city. Everyone in the chapter looked bad.
The people in Shechem looked pretty bad but the sons of Jacob looked even worse. Shechem had a problem with lust and Simeon but Levi had a far greater problem with anger. Shechem rapes one person but Simeon and Levi commit mass murder. They wipe out the whole town. Their hands are dripping with blood.
Genesis 35 is very different from Genesis 34. It is NOT a violent chapter, like the last one. No one is murdered. Some people die in the chapter but they all die of natural causes. God is all over this chapter. God is NOT mentioned one time in Genesis 34 but He is mentioned ten times in Genesis 35. God is very involved in this chapter. He does all kinds of things in this chapter.
God gives Jacob instructions to move to Bethel. He protects him on the way from people who wanted to kill him. He appears to him when he gets to Bethel. He blesses Jacob when he gets to Bethel. He mentions the Abrahamic Covenant again to Jacob. He gives Jacob some promises.
What are some of the promises that He gives Jacob in this chapter? He tells him that nations will come from him. A family is not just going to come from Jacob. A nation will. God tells him that kings will come from his body (35:11). All of the Davidic kings (David, Solomon) will be descendants of Jacob. He promises to give Jacob a land in the Middle East and he also promises to give that land to Jacob’s descendants.
Everything in the chapter is not positive. It begins with a revelation from God. God speaks at the beginning of the chapter. It ends with the death of Jacob’s dad Isaac. In fact, there is not one death in this chapter, but three. There is also a birth in this chapter. Benjamin is born. He was Jacob’s last son. He was the only one born in the Promised Land. All of the other ones are born in Syria. One son is born but three die in this chapter and three people are buried. There are three funerals in this chapter and they all take place AFTER they get to Bethel and do what God told them to do.
A woman named Deborah dies and is buried (35:8). This is not Deborah the Judge (in the Book of Judges) but Deborah the Nurse. She is the FIRST nurse mentioned in the Bible. There are two Deborahs in the Bible. This one is a fascinating character. This one was Rebekah’s nurse (35:8). When Isaac travelled to Haran to find a wife and Rebekah agreed to go back five hundred miles with him to the Promised Land, a nurse went with him (Genesis 24:59).
She probably helped Rebekah give birth to Jacob and Esau. She helped care for Jacob as a child, a second mother to Jacob. The question is, if she was Rebekah’s nurse, why is she now living with Jacob? After Rebekah died, Deborah decided to live with Jacob, Rebekah’s favorite son. Rebekah may have even told her to go see him. Jacob had a lot of kids. She may have even assisted in some of their births. She was a close friend of the family. She was most likely single. She was very old and dies near Bethel.
The second funeral is for his wife. Jacob’s wife dies but this is not just any wife, it is his favorite wife. It is good he had some back up wives. Rachel dies and is buried (35:16-19). She dies in childbirth. We did not even know that she was pregnant. She goes into labor while they are traveling to go back home to see Isaac.
Genesis says it was “hard labor” (35:16). It led to her death. This is the first recorded death in history during childbirth. It is still a problem today. According to the CDC, about 650 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or complications in delivery but it was much more common four thousand years ago without modern technology and modern medicine.
Rachel had a midwife but that was not enough. Rachel’s one wish was to have children. She got her wish but it killed her. Jacob was heart-broken over the death of Rachel. She was beautiful. She was young. She was around fifty, if you work out the chronology, but they lived longer back then, so fifty is not like fifty today. Jacob loved her.
He put a pillar over her tomb (35:14-15). He set up a memorial for her. If you are counting, this is Jacob’s third pillar. Moses said the tomb is still visible near Bethlehem. That is true today. Rachel’s tomb is the third holiest site for Jews today. It is right off of the main road from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. You cannot miss it. It is a place where Jews go to pray.
He is on his way to see his dad and his beloved wife dies giving birth. It was only five miles from Bethel. Why did God take Rachel away from Jacob? We do not know. One theory is that God did this because she was his favorite wife, even though Leah was much more spiritual. Leah had more kids and he should probably have be spending a little more time with them. Rachel may actually have been a hindrance to his spiritual life. She brought idols home with her from Haran. Perhaps Rachel had become an idol to Jacob, so God took her but we do not know the answer to that question.
The third funeral in this chapter is Isaac’s. Isaac dies. We are told that “Isaac breathes his last and dies” (35:29). The KJV reads “Isaac gave up the ghost and died and was gathered to his people”. After saying goodbye to his wife, he has to say goodbye to his father Isaac
Jacob’s wife died young but his dad lived a long time. He lives to be one hundred and eighty. He lives longer than either Abraham or Jacob and he was blind the last forty years of his life. Then he dies and is gathered to his people. If you want to see what “gathered to his people” means, go watch the movie “90 Minutes in Heaven”. Jacob and Esau bury Isaac, just like Isaac and Ishmael buried Abraham.
Not only do we have the tragedy of three deaths in this chapter, there is also an inappropriate sexual relationship in this chapter. It is bad. It involves incest. “While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it” (35:22 ESV). This involved Reuben.
Reuben was Simeon and Levi’s brother. He was the firstborn in the family. You expect your oldest son to show a little sense but not Reuben. He went and slept with Bilhah. Who was Bilhah? She was Rachel’s handmaid. She also became Jacob’s concubine (secondary wife) and mother of two of his kids. She was the mother of two of Reuben’s brothers.
Rachel just died and now he has sex with her old handmaid. Reuben’s brothers Dan and Naphtali were probably not too happy that Reuben did this to their mother. When you read that, it sounds like you are back in Genesis 34. Like Genesis 34, it deals with a sexual sin. Like Genesis 34, another son of Jacob brings shame and disappointment to the family.
Some of Jacob’s kids were completely screwed up. Leah had six sons. Son number one was rotten. Son number two was rotten. Son number three was rotten. At some point, you have to think that someone dropped the ball in raising these boys. The first two sons commit mass murder. They were psychopaths. The third son is sex-crazed. He commits incest.
In the Mosaic Law, there was a prohibition against incest. Leviticus 18:8 says, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness”. In fact, it says that this was one of the reasons that God gave the Promised Land to the Jews.
Leviticus 18:24-29 says, “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people” (ESV).
The Jews were supposed to look very different from their pagan neighbors. The first three looked very similar to their Canaanite neighbors. The wicked Canaanites were known for their violence and sexual depravity and we some of the same thing in Jacob’s own family.
Jacob hears about the incest (35:22) but offers no judgment on it. He does not do anything about it as far as we know. Genesis says that he heard about it but does not say that he acted on it. Jacob seems to have a problem with confronting sin in his household. That sounds a lot like genesis 34. His only daughter is raped and he did not even seem to be too angry. He had to plan to deal with the situation. Jacob seems passive.
Let’s compare Reuben and Shechem. Both were men. Both were youg men. Both were the firstborn son. Both committed a sexual sin but there is a difference. Shechem committed rape. Reuben committed incest. Shechem has sex with a minor. Reuben does it with an adult. Bilhah was probably older than him. Dinah was raped. We are not told that Bilhah was raped. It may have been or it may not have been a rape. The text does not say.
What can we learn from this chapter? What lessons does this chapter have for us today? This chapter is all about revival. Jacob has a revival. In the last chapter, Jacob is out of the will of God. He is not doing what he is supposed to be doing as a father. He moved to the wrong place. He did not supervise his children very well. He did not train them very well. He did not show leadership in a crisis but something happens in this chapter. Jacob goes to Bethel. He makes a pilgrimage to Bethel.
What was so special about Bethel? If you remember, Bethel was the place where Jacob had a vision of angels in his sleep. We call it “Jacob’s Ladder” but it was more like a stairway or escalator. It was where Jacob met God for the first time. It is the place where he got saved. Where were you saved? I was saved in a chapel in Athens, Ohio on March 13, 1976. It would be like me going back to visit Galbreath Chapel.
Bethel is not just the place where Jacob got saved. It is the place where he made a vow to God forty years earlier. He said, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you” (28:20-22 ESV).
Jacob says if God brings me back to the Promised Land safely, I will do three things. One, he promised to give God a tithe. Two, he promised God to return to Bethel to worship. Three, he promised to go to his father’s house. So what happened? God did bring him back into the Promised Land. He delivered him from Laban and He delivered him from Esau but Esau did not go to Bethel. Bethel was only twenty miles away but he never went back. He did not go to his father’s house. Hebron was fifty miles away from Shechem but he never went there. Instead, he went to Succoth and then to Shechem and even bought land there.
What is the big deal? Vows do not mean much to us but they mean a lot to God. Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 says, “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” (ESV) We do not make a lot of vows today but we do make marriage vows and God takes those seriously.
Why did he go now? There were two reasons. The first reason was circumstances. Jacob’s sons had just slaughtered the town. They left dead bodies all over the city. People were going to come back for revenge. Jacob’s family was not marked for death. They had to get out of town fast. Events on the outside encouraged them to leave town but there was another reason.
The voice of God told him to leave. This is interesting. God speaks to Jacob six times. God speaks to Jacob in Genesis 35. When was the last time God spoke to him? The last time He spoke to him was in Haran. He told him to leave Haran (31:3, 13). Now he tells him to leave Shechem (35:1). He tells Jacob to do three things.
Genesis 35:1 says, “God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (ESV). First, God tells Jacob the backslider to go to Bethel. He tells Jacob to go back to the place of his spiritual commitments. God reminds Jacob of his spiritual commitments. He tells Jacob go and do what he said he was going to do forty years ago. He actually says “to go up to Bethel’. If you look on a map, Bethel is south of Shechem but Bethel is higher in elevation than Shechem.
Second, God tells him to dwell there. He was not just to visit but to stay there a while. Third, he told Jacob to build him an altar there. This is the only time in Genesis that God tells anyone to build Him an altar but all three of these are commands. Jacob does exactly what God tells him to do (35:1-7).
A Family Revival
Notice Jacob’s response. “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 to Bethel, 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” (35:2-4)
Jacob does something here that he has never done before. He becomes the spiritual leader of his house. We did not see any leadership on Jacob’s part in the last chapter but we see Jacob’s leadership in this chapter. God spoke to Jacob and Jacob spoke to his family. What did he tell them to do? He told them to do three things: put away the foreign gods, purify yourself and change your garments.
First, he tells them to put away their foreign gods. Now this is a little shocking for several reasons. There were idols in Jacob’s house. He knew about them and tolerated them up to this point. Here you have idolatry in the chosen family. You have idolatry in the one family dedicated to the worship of the one true God.
Where did these idols come from? They came from two places. Rachel brought some form Haran. When they ransacked the city and took the wives and children, they probably ended up with some more idols. Now Jacob says to get rid of them but he does not destroy them. He just buries them. He hides them under a tree (35:4).
Jacob does not only tell them to put away their foreign gods. He also tells them to be clean and change their garments. That is like saying, “Take a bath and change your clothes”. It seems strange to us but keep in mind when this was given. It was given four thousand years ago to people who dived like nomads and did not have indoor plumbing. It has to do with ritual purity. There were all kinds of rules later in the Law of Moses about clean and unclean.
If we made an application today, it would be like saying today, “dress up for church”. If you are going to see the President of the United States, you would dress for the occasion. You would not see him in the clothes you wear around the house. When Joseph was in prison and they found out that he could interpret Pharaoh’s dream, they got him out of prison but, before he went to speak to him in the palace, we are told that he changed his clothes (41:14).
Jacob’s family not only gave him all of their idols, they also gave him their earrings. That’s strange. Why did they do that? Is there anything wrong with wearing an earring? Is the Bible against wearing jewelry? No. There are examples of people in the Bible who wore earrings and other jewelry (Exodus 32:2-3; Numbers 31:50; Judges 8:24; Song of Solomon 1:10-11).
The NT says that your priority should not be on outward beauty. It should be on inward beauty (I Timothy 2:9-10; I Peter 3:3-4) but it does not say that you can never wear any jewelry. Why did they give them their earrings? They must have had some association with idolatry.
So they leave Shechem (which must have become a ghost town) and travel to Bethel (which today is in the West Bank). He also renames the place. The last time he was there, he named it Bethel. This time, he calls it El Bethel. That is not because Jacob was Mexican. In Spanish el means “the” but in Hebrew it means “god/God”. Before Jacob called Luz “the house of God”.
Now he calls it “God of the house of God”. There is a profound difference. There is a big difference between going to church and going to meet with God. Most people just go to church. Many do not worship. They do not come back any different than when they left. This should be a place where we come to meet with God.
A revival takes place at Bethel. I want to close by looking at the steps to revival in this chapter. People always want revival. Churches want revival. How do they do it? This chapter tells you.
Steps to Revival
The first step to revival involves separation from the world. God told Jacob to go to Bethel. Why? He had an altar in Shechem. Why could he not just worship God there? He could not worship when he was living in tents of wickedness. He had to leave.
Abraham was told to leave Ur of the Chaldees (which was full of idolatry). Jacob was told to leave the wicked city of Shechem. The Reformation could not take place until Martin Luther left the Cathilic Church in the 1500s.
To have a revival, you have to listen to the voice of God. There is no revival unless you listen to God. All revivals bring us back to the Word of God. Jacob heard the Word of God and obeyed it. God told him to go to Bethel and he went.
Notice what Jacob did not do. He did not argue with God. He didn’t say, “Why do I have to do that. I just bought land here and I can worship you here just as much as Bethel”. He didn’t argue; he just obeyed. There is something else Jacob did not do. He did not procrastinate. He did not say, “I will go there when I get around to it”.
You cannot have a true revival unless there is repentance. Jacob’s family did that. They removed the idols in the house. Were they believers? Yes. They worshipped the true God but they had some idols on the side. Can Christians have idols? Yes. I John 5:21 says to Christians, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols“.
Instead of burying some earrings, we may have to bury some other things (drugs, magazines, videos). We need to get rid of anything that stands between us and God. We need to remove anything that keeps us from having a close relationship with God.
That is what Jacob did at Bethel. Jacob builds an altar and offers a sacrifice on it. He pours oil on it to consecrate it and offers a drink offering.