Jacob Returns to Bethel (35:1–15)
After reaffirming His promises to Jacob, God went up from him, leaving Jacob there alone (verse 13).
14–15 After God had left, Jacob set up a stone pillar as a memorial to this most recent encounter with God, and he consecrated the pillar by pouring on it oil and a drink offering—a liquid offering poured out as a sacrifice to God (see Genesis 28:18). Thus Jacob fulfilled part of his earlier vow to God, when he had said: “This pillar will be God’s house” (Genesis 28:22). And Jacob called the place of this new pillar Bethel—the “house of God” (verse 15).
The Deaths of Rachel and Isaac (35:16–29)
16–20 Some time later, Jacob’s family moved on from Bethel; on the way Rachel began giving birth to her second son, the child she had asked God for (Genesis 30:24). The child survived and was named Benjamin (verse 18); but Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, died in childbirth. Jacob buried her and set up a pillar over her tomb; this tomb would remain a well-known landmark for many centuries (1 Samuel10:2).
21–22 Here brief mention is made of a very great sin on the part of Jacob’s eldest son Reuben: he had sexual intercourse with Bilhah, his father’s concubine and mother of two of his brothers. Such an incestuous act deserved the death penalty according to later Jewish law (Leviticus 20:11). Perhaps Reuben was prematurely claiming his inheritance as firstborn son, which included the right to his father’s concubines. If so, his act had the opposite effect; it resulted in a rebuke from his father and the loss of his legal status as firstborn (Genesis 49:3–4). Now that Jacob’s three oldest sons had committed grievous crimes, preeminence among the sons would pass to Judah,115 from whom Israel’s royal line—and ultimately Israel’s Messiah—would descend.
23–29 The chapter concludes with a list of Jacob’s sons and a brief description of Isaac’s death. Isaac was buried in the family tomb that Abraham had purchased from the Hittites (Genesis 23:17–20; 25:8–10).