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Genesis 35 Study Notes

35:1-5 In Jacob’s time of trouble God called Jacob back to Bethel, the spot where he had first met God. There Jacob was to build a more formal altar to God than the marker he had left there twenty years earlier (28:22). God’s command in Gn 35:1 represents the only time in Genesis that he ordered an altar be built. The patriarch ordered his family and all who were with him to prepare themselves for an encounter with the living God.

This preparation involved three things: first, getting rid of the foreign gods among them. Laban’s household idols (31:19) as well as possible Hivite idols acquired in the raid on Shechem (34:29) were among the items that Jacob buried under the oak near Shechem. Second, the people were to purify themselves, a command that normally involved washing the body and clothing (Ex 19:10; 30:19-21; Lv 16:26), as well as avoidance of sexual contact since seminal emissions created temporary ritual uncleanness (Lv 15:16-18). Purification would especially have been necessary because of Dinah’s defilement and the touching of human corpses (Nm 19:11-12). Third, they were to change their clothes (Lv 6:10-11). Having purified themselves, they experienced God’s protection on their journey to Bethel. Jacob’s sons were marked for death by the Canaanites in the region, but God sent a terror on the nearby inhabitants, and no one pursued the clan.

35:6-8 At Bethel, known to the Canaanites as Luz, Jacob built El-bethel (God of Bethel), his second named altar (33:20). Rebekah’s nurse Deborah (see 24:59 and note at 24:54-61), a woman who probably was like a beloved second mother to Jacob, died at Bethel. Her death, along with Isaac’s in v. 28, marked the passing of a generation.

35:9-15 God’s final recorded words to Jacob came as he spoke to him for the second time (cp. v. 1) since the patriarch returned from Paddan-aram. In this proclamation the Lord revealed himself as God Almighty (Hb El Shaddai), a name for God revealed first to Abraham (17:1; see note there) and later known to Isaac (28:3). The twenty-six Hebrew words in God’s speech reaffirm promises previously made to Jacob (cp. 28:13).

At the same time God blessed Jacob with words that enlarged previously given promises. The blessing given to Adam, Noah, and Noah’s sons (1:28; 9:1)—be fruitful and multiply—was now extended to Jacob. For the first time also it is stated that kings and an assembly of nations would come from the patriarch. After the revelatory words, God “went up” (withdrew) from the place. To memorialize the event and bring closure to his vow to make Yahweh his God (28:21), Jacob set up a stone marker, pouring a drink offering on it (2Sm 23:16) and anointing it with oil.

35:16-20 While Jacob’s clan was making a fifteen-mile journey to Ephrath, Rachel—now pregnant with her second child—began to give birth. As her son was being born she apparently began hemorrhaging, an occurrence that kills about one out of every two hundred mothers in many African nations even today. Before she died she named her son Ben-oni, meaning “son of my sorrow.” However, to make sure that his wife’s dying gift to him would be properly remembered, Jacob renamed the child Benjamin, meaning “right-hand son,” the most honored son. Jacob also set up a marker at Rachel’s burial site in the Bethlehem area. Visitors to Israel today can still visit the traditional site of her grave.

’El Shaddai

Hebrew pronunciation [ALE shad EYE]
CSB translation God Almighty
Uses in Genesis 5
Uses in the OT 7
Focus passage Genesis 35:11

God called himself ’El Shaddai when addressing Abram and Jacob, but after he explained the name Yahweh to Moses (Ex 6:3), ’El Shaddai hardly appears—just once in Ezekiel 10:5. Yet Shaddai occurs 48 times, once or twice in Numbers, Ruth, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Psalms, and Joel, and 31 times in Job, perhaps suggesting that Job is an early book. ’El was a Semitic word for “god” but could designate the high god, as in the ancient city-state Ugarit. The sense of Shaddai is uncertain but was probably linked with an Akkadian word for mountain—the gods were pictured as living on mountains. Modern versions that translate ’El Shaddai as God Almighty follow the Septuagint and Vulgate. Shaddai alone may be a shortened form of ’El Shaddai, for ’El and Shaddai are separated in Gn 49:25; Nm 24:4,16; and 20 times in Job.

35:21-22 The disgusting character of another of Jacob’s sons—this time his firstborn Reuben—was revealed beyond the Tower of Eder, a spot probably situated southwest of Bethlehem. Reuben slept with Bilhah, the mother of his half brothers Dan and Naphtali. By doing this Reuben was asserting his right to take his father’s place as leader of the group (2Sm 12:8,11; 16:21-22) and perhaps seeking revenge for Jacob’s shunning of his mother Leah. His father learned of it and later cursed Reuben because of it (Gn 49:3-4).

35:23-26 With Benjamin’s birth Jacob’s set of offspring was now complete. This section lists the patriarch’s twelve sons during his time in Paddan-aram and, in Benjamin’s case, following his return to Canaan. The sons are listed according to their mothers, not their birth order; the mothers are listed chronologically in the order of their connection with Jacob.

35:27-29 Jacob moved his family to stay with his father Isaac, who was living near the family burial cave at Mamre in the vicinity of Hebron. Isaac would live for many more years, dying at the age of 180 and being buried by Esau and Jacob in the family cave of Machpelah (49:31).

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