The fear of God means an end to fear.
We begin this chapter with Yaakov still fearful of the possibility of attack from the surrounding peoples as a result of the actions of Shimon and Levi.
35:1 And Elohim (God the Judge) said to Ya’akov (Follows after the heel), “Arise, go up to Beit-El (House of God, the Judge), and settle there; and make there a Mizbe’ach (altar of blood sacrifice) to El (God, Judge) Who appeared to you when you were fleeing from the face of Esav (Hairy) achicha (your brother).”
Approximately 22 years earlier Yaakov had vowed that the place he had dreamed of while in Beiyt El would be none other than the House of God. At that time he had set up a pillar of remembrance commemorating his meeting with God. Yaakov’s intention was to return to his father’s house and although he had settled for a short time outside the city of Shechem, he is now being reminded by God of the vow he had made following his encounter with God at Beiyt El.
“And Ya’akov vowed a neder (vow), saying, If Elohim will be with me, and will be shmaraniy (Guardian) over me in this derech (way, journey) that I go, and will give me lechem to eat, and beged (clothes) to put on, So that I return to beiyt avi (House of my father) in shalom; then shall Hashem be for me Elohim (my God). And this even (stone), which I have set for a matzevah (pillar), shall be Beiyt Elohim (House of God): and of all that You shall give me I will surely give the aser (tenth) to You.” –Genesis 28:20-22
We note that even though Yaakov is heading south, he is none the less going up (geographically speaking), making Aliyah. This is an allusion to approaching the Mountain of the Lord.
It is Elohim Who meets with Yaakov here. God instructs Yaakov to go up to Beiyt El and to build a sacrificial altar (mizbeach). Elohim speaks in the third person saying, “Make an altar to El Who appeared to you”. This indicates one of two things, either Elohim denotes the Malakh HaShem (Messenger of God/Yeshua) Who is speaking of the unity of God, thus El; or, the speaker Elohim is the unified God-head speaking of El (Yeshua). It is interesting to note that Gur Aryeh, referencing Exodus 34:6, says that in the present text the Name of God El conveys a boundless degree of mercy. Thus Elohim (Judge) and El (Mercy). In any case, the text conveys a sense of the complex unity of God, Who manifests to humanity in a number of ways.
God reminds Yaakov that his first encounter at Beiyt El took place in the days when he was fleeing Esav. It seems that God is helping Yaakov to reconnect with his calling, and to make a sober assessment of his present situation. He is no longer fleeing Esav, he is returning in freedom and is experiencing the fullness of God’s provision and protection for him. Yaakov has been in danger of returning to fear and uncertainty, being concerned about the possible repercussions of his sons’ actions against Shechem. Perhaps God is saying, “Remember that I was with you then, and I am with you now.”
2 Then Ya’akov said unto his Beito (Household) and to all that were with him, “Put away the elohei hanekhar (gods foreign) that are among you, vhitaharu (and be pure), and change your simloteiychem (garments); 3 And let us arise, v’na’aleh (and go up) to Beit-El; and I will build there a Mizbe’ach (altar of blood sacrifice) unto El (God, Judge) Who answered me in b’yom tzaroti (in the day of my trouble/distress), and was with me in the derech (way) in which I went.
Yaakov’s instructions to his household can be associated with the preparations of Israel as she approached Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:14), the Torah’s instructions regarding preparation for ritual service (Num. 19:7-8), and with a repentant and renewed commitment to the One true God (Joshua 24:14). What is clear is that Yaakov is taking the Holiness of God very seriously.
We last heard of household or foreign gods in the account of Rachel’s stealing of her father’s household gods. It is no coincidence that this recollection is inspired by the present text. The curse associated with the stealing of the idols comes to bear soon after these events. This instruction of Yaakov may well have been an opportunity for Rachel to come clean regarding the hidden gods of her father, however, given her premature death, it is possible that she was not among those who gave up their idols to Yaakov for burial. As far as we know she had never told Yaakov of the household idols. She had probably taken them believing (according to ancient tribal cultural standards) that the possession of them entitled her to her father’s holdings at the time of his death. We should also remember that “an undeserved curse cannot land” (Proverbs 26:2), and that Rachel qualifies as deserving of the curse pronounced unwittingly by Yaakov.
The instruction to change garments may well have to do with uncleanness associated to touching the dead (of Shechem) and possibly in regard to the clothing having touched idolatrous loot taken from Shechem.
4 And they gave to Ya’akov kol elohei hanekhar (all gods foreign) which were b’yadam (in their hands), and all their nezamiym (rings) which were in their ozneihem (ears); and Ya’akov buried them under the elah (terebinth) which was at Shechem (back).
The foreign deities are self-explanatory, however, for the modern reader the allusion to rings is difficult. These rings of the ear are associated with slavery (Exodus 12:6) or, as in this case, subservience. These rings indicate subservience to foreign gods and may well have been most prolific among the captives of Shechem who had now joined Yaakov’s retinue.
Some have asked why these idols and earrings were not melted down for use. The reality is that most often, when items are made from melted jewellery, idolatry soon follows (Golden Calf [Exodus 32], Gideon’s Ephod [Judges 8:25-27] etc.).
Why were these items buried rather than simply destroyed and thrown away? The act of burying them has all the symbolism of death and shows these gods to be dead, incapable of anything. Therefore, they’re buried, not gods (Psalm 135:15-17).
5 And they journeyed; and the chittat Elohim (terror of God, Judge) was upon the cities that were around them, and they did not pursue after the Bnei Ya’akov (children of Jacob). 6 So Ya’akov came to Luzah (Almond tree), which is in Eretz Kena’an (Land of lowland) that is, Beit-El (House of God, Judge) he and kol ha’am (all the people) that were with him.
While one could make the presumption that the terror was due to the slaughter that had taken place at Shechem, this would be a mistaken conclusion. Yaakov was clearly concerned that the surrounding peoples outnumbered his household and that the actions of his sons’ at Shechem would only exacerbate their situation. Additionally the text states that the terror is of God. This means that it was a supernatural terror which had been imparted by God in order to protect Yaakov according to His promises (Genesis 28:10-15), made in the very place that Yaakov was now commanded to approach.
7 And he built there a Mizbe’ach (altar of blood sacrifice), and called l’makom (the place) El Beit-El (God, Judge of the House of God, Judge); because there Ha-Elohim (The God, Judge) appeared to him, when he fled from the face of achiv (his brother).
The doubling of words indicates affirmation and firm resolve. Here the doubling of the Name El upon the place of Beiyt El establishes it as a sacred land mark for proclaiming the God of gods and His intrinsic link to Yaakov/Yisrael. God the Judge will Judge, God Who is merciful will show boundless mercy. All this is stated in reference to Ha-Elohim (The God), and is a constant reminder to Israel of the present help of God in times of trouble.
8 But Devorah (Bee) meineket Rivkah (nursemaid of Rebecca: captivating) died, and she was buried under an alon (oak) below Beit-El (House of God, Judge); and was called sh’mo (by the name) Alon Bachut (Oak of weeping).
The Midrash says that this account, which deals with the death of Devorah the maid servant, none the less infers the death of Rivkah (Rebecca).
The Torah does not mention Rivkah’s death explicitly. This is explained by the Sages in various ways, none of which are convincing propositions. Suffice to say, for whatever reason Rivkah’s death is not recorded, though she is venerated and appreciated as a godly Matriarch of the Jewish people.
9 And Elohim appeared unto Ya’akov again, when he returned from Padan Aram (field of exaltation), and made a bracha (blessing) upon him.
God appears to Yaakov again in the sense that this is the second time God has come to Yaakov since his return to the Holy Land.
Rashi suggests that Elohim blessed Yaakov following news of Rivkah’s death.
10 And Elohim said to him, Shimcha (your name) is Ya’akov (Follows after the heel); no longer will shimcha (your name) be called Ya’akov (your name), but Yisra-el (Overcome in God) shall be shimecha (your name); and He called sh’mo (his name) Yisra-el.
The name Yaakov is not done away with, to the contrary, HaShem says, “Your name is Yaakov”. The second statement, “No longer will your name be called Yaakov” refers to the combined people of Yisrael. Thus we don’t call the tribes of Israel Yaakov. Alternatively, in mundane matters his name is Yaakov, however, with regard to the sacred purposes of God, he will be called Yisrael.
Unlike Avraham, whose name is changed and his former name no longer used, Scripture testifies to the ongoing use of the name Yaakov. Where Avraham represents Trust, being the Father of Trust (Faith), Yaakov represents the struggling seeker and Yisrael the overcomer. The Gospel message of sin and redemption is perpetually represented in the life of Yaakov, who, in God, becomes Yisrael.
11 And Elohim (God, Judge) said to him, “I am El Shaddai (God Almighty, all sufficient protector); be fruitful and multiply; a Goy (nation) and a Kehal Goyim (community of nations) shall be from you, and Melechim (kings) shall come out of your loins;
The Name El (unlimited mercy) is joined here with the title Shaddai which comes from the root dai, meaning sufficient, enough. Thus God is sufficient, enough. The fear of God means an end to fear.
12 And Ha-aretz (The Land) which I gave Avraham (Father of many peoples) and Yitzchak (He laughs), to you I will give it, and to your zera (seed) after you will I give Ha-aretz (The Land).
This affirmation of the covenant promise for the Land of Yisrael reiterates the covenant made with Avraham, one that was reliant on God alone. It is then placed upon Yitzchak, Yaakov and Yaakov’s descendants. Thus the covenant blessing for the Land is not reliant on the actions of the children of Israel but upon the God of Israel.
13 And Elohim ascended from him b’makom (in the place) where He talked with him.
This verse infers that Elohim was present in some manifest form. Perhaps even humanoid. Possibly as a Malakh (Angelic messenger), even Yeshua (God with us).
This phrasing also denotes the role of Yaakov as the one from whom the ladder of Genesis 28 will come forth. In other words, “Yeshua (Salvation) comes from the Jews”.
14 And Ya’akov set up a matzevah (pillar, monument) in b’makom (in the place) where He talked with him, even a matzevat even (pillar of stone); and he poured a nesech (drink offering) upon it, and he poured shamen (oil) upon it. 15 And Ya’akov called the shem (name) of ha-makom (the place) where Elohim spoke with him, Beit- El (House of God, Judge).
This is now the second pillar Yaakov has set up at Beiyt El. Why does he set up a second pillar? Most likely it is to commemorate his second encounter, however, it’s possible that the former pillar had been removed by the inhabitants of the land.
Yaakov pours out two offerings, first a drink offering, possibly water, and second an offering of oil. Both symbols are associated with the worship of HaShem. The former being a means of cleansing and the latter a symbol of the Holy Spirit and fuel for the light of the Menorah which represents the present glory of Hashem manifest in the Holy place.
This is now the third time Yaakov has named Beiyt El (Gen. 28:18-19; 35:7). Thus the completion and establishment of this sacred place and the past, present and future redemption it represents.
16 And they journeyed from Beit-El; and there was still a space of ha’aretz (the land) to get to Ephratah (Place of fruitfulness); and Rachel (Ewe) travailed, and she had hard labour. 17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the meyaledet (midwife) said to her, “Fear not; you shall have this ben (son) also. 18 And it came to pass, as her nefesh (core being) was in departing, (for she died) that she called sh’mo (his name) Ben-Oni (Son of Affliction); but aviv (his father) called him Binyamin (Son of my right).
The birth of Benyamin completes the tribes of Israel in the land that they will inherit. His two names, “Son of my affliction” and “Son of my right (strength)” once again reveal the Gospel journey from affliction to strength. His names are a prophetic statement concerning the captivity and freedom of Yisrael. He is the suffering of her captivity and the strength of her freedom.
Rachel is not cursing her son by naming him this way. She is simply making an observation from the position of her experience. Nor is Yaakov usurping the name Rachel has given their son, to the contrary, he is adding to it, illuminating it. Rambam observes that Yaakov simply gave the homonym Oni its alternate translation, strength.
19 And Rachel died, and was buried on the derech (way) to Ephratah (Place of fruitfulness), which is Beit-Lechem (House of bread). 20 And Ya’akov set up a matzevah (pillar) upon her kever (grave, tomb); that is matzevet kevurat (Pillar of the grave) of Rachel to this day.
1 Samuel 10:2 says that the tomb of Rachel is in the territory of Benyamin. Jeremiah 31:15 records a prophecy of Rachel weeping in Ramah, a Benjaminite city (Joshua 18:21-28). However, Beit-Lechem would become a significant town in the time of David and is therefore used here as a reference point. We note that a pillar or large stone placed over the grave may be the origin of the Jewish practice of placing stones on top of graves in remembrance of a loved one. The placing of stones atop modern Jewish graves also reminds the modern Jew that Biblical Jewish tradition saw Jews interred above ground, covered by rocks or in tombs. Biblically speaking Jews were not buried beneath the ground. This also makes clear the distinction between Kever (an above ground grave) and the spiritual holding place Sheol (a below ground spiritual location, not a grave).
21 And Yisra-el journeyed, and pitched his ohel (tent) beyond Migdal-Eder (tower of the flock). 22 And it came to pass, when Yisra-el dwelt in that land, that Reuven (behold a son) went and lay with Bilhah (troubled) pilegesh aviv (paramour of his father) and Yisra-el heard it. Now the Bnei Ya’akov (Children of Jacob) were Sheneym Asar (Twelve); 23 The Bnei Leah (Children of Leah): Reuven (Behold a son) bechor (firstborn of) Ya’akov, and Shimon (heard), and Levi (joined to), and Yehudah (Praise), and Yissakhar (exalted wages), and Zevulun (honoured, exalted); 24 The Bnei Rachel (Children of Rachel): Yosef (HaShem has added), and Binyamin (Son of my right/strength); 25 And the Bnei Bilhah (Children of Bilhah) shifchat Rachel (maid servant of Rachel): Dan (Judge) and Naphtali (wrestling); 26 And the Bnei Zilpah (Children of Zilpah) shifchat Leah (maid servant of Leah): Gad (army), and Asher (happy); these are the Bnei Ya’akov (Children of Jacob), which were born to him in Padan Aram (Field of exaltation).
Reuven’s act of betrayal is not only an act of abominable sexual sin, it is also a statement of Rebellion (2 Sam. 16:20-22; 1 Kings 2:13-25), not only against his father but also against Yisrael. As a result of his sin Reuven loses the privileges of the firstborn (Gen. 49:4). His birth-right is later transferred to Joseph (1 Chronicles 5:1).
Although Yisrael hears of what Reuven has done he does not react. The sages suggest that after Rachel’s death Yaakov had set up home in the tent of Bilhah. As a result, Reuven, seeking to defend his mother Leah’s honour, defiled Bilhah. Regardless of Reuven’s reasons, his sin was grievous and the consequences far reaching.
The text of verse 21 uses the name Yisrael rather than Yaakov. This conveys the idea that Reuven has sinned, not only against his father Yisrael but also against the now completed tribes of Yisrael.
27 And Ya’akov came unto Yitzchak Aviv (his father) at Mamre (strength), unto Kiriat Ha-arba (City of Four), which is Chevron (company, friends), where Avraham and Yitzchak sojourned. 28 And the days of Yitzchak were me’at shanah u’shemonim shanah (180 years). 29 And Yitzchak gave up his spirit, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being zaken (old) and full of yamim (days); and his banim (sons) Esav and Ya’akov interred him.
Yaakov has come in full circle. He had left his father in fear for his life and has returned to the land under the weight of grief. He has heard of the death of Rivkah his mother (she is not present with Yitzchak upon his return) and recently watched his beloved wife Rachel die in child birth (based on rabbinical tradition she was probably between 35 and 45 years of age).
Yitzchak will live another twenty one years in Chevron before he passes away full of days (a Hebrew idiom reserved for the righteous).
Yitzchak is “gathered to his people”. A phrase that denotes the afterlife and the latter teaching regarding the Bosom of Avraham. From ancient days Jews have understood sheol as a holding place for those who have passed from this world. A place divided into two sections, the righteous held in the Bosom of Avraham and the wicked in Gehinnom.
Twenty one years after Yaakov arrives back at Chevron, Esav journeys north-west to help Yaakov inter their father.
Rashi notes that in recording Yitzchak’s death here the Torah doesn’t follow chronological order because Joseph was sold into slavery twelve years before the death of Yitzchak.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.