Good morning. Today’s message covers 2 chapters, but I will put a greater emphasis on the first and just briefly touch on the second. Genesis 35 records a series of moves and other events that took place in Jacob’s life during the year or so after he and his family left Shechem. This was a difficult time for Jacob, as he would experience much loss. I’ve titled the sermon “Three Funerals”.
I. BETHEL (Genesis 35:1-15)
Following the tragic events that took place at Shechem, the LORD spoke to Jacob and commanded him to move to Bethel. Bethel was a special place to Jacob. It was where God had appeared to him many years earlier, when he fled from his brother Esau on the way to Paddan-Aram. Before leaving for Bethel, Jacob called his family to purify themselves. He gathered all of the foreign gods (ie, idols) and earrings of those in his household and left them behind under an oak in Shechem.
Though his murderous sons had greatly angered the Canaanites in the region, terror fell upon their cities and they didn’t pursue Jacob. After arriving safely at Bethel, Jacob built an altar and worshiped the LORD. God spoke to him there once again. He reiterated that Jacob’s new name was to be Israel. This change had originally been made following Jacob’s all-night wrestling match with God. He also reminded Jacob of the glorious promises of the Abrahamic Covenant that would be realized through him and his descendants.
While they were living at Bethel, Rebekah’s nurse Deborah died. Many Bible commentators suppose that Jacob’s mother Rebekah had sent her nurse Deborah to live with Jacob and his family. It seems likely that she had resided with them for several years, and perhaps even assisted in raising and teaching their children. In any case, she must have been very dear to Jacob and his household for her death to be mentioned. He named the place of her burial Allon-bacuth which means “oak of weeping”.
II. BETHLEHEM (Genesis 35:16-22)
After an unspecified period of time, Jacob departed from Bethel and traveled toward Ephrath (more commonly known as Bethlehem). Along the way, his pregnant wife Rachel suffered in severe labor and pain. As they drew near, she gave birth to a second son named Benjamin. However, it was a difficult delivery and Rachel died during childbirth. Heartbroken, Jacob buried her there and set up a pillar to mark the place of her grave. After mourning her death, he continued on beyond the Tower of Eder (near Bethlehem) and settled there.
For many centuries Rachel’s tomb lay on a deserted roadside. Her descendants would come to this lonely site to pray and remember. Today, because of population growth and expansion, Rachel’s burial site is actually located within Bethlehem’s city limits. It is considered a holy site for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Rachel is revered for having a great sympathy and compassion for her children. The prophet Jeremiah described Rachel as “weeping for her children” in relation to the fall of Judah to the Babylonians (Jer. 31:15). In the New Testament, Matthew applied this prophecy to Herod’s slaughter of the young children in and around Bethlehem following the birth of Christ (Matt. 2:18).
While living near Bethlehem, Jacob’s oldest son Reuben slept with Bilhah, one of his concubines. She was Rachel’s maid and the mother of Dan and Naphtali. While this detail is not elaborated on in this passage, it will become important later in the story...
III. HEBRON (Genesis 35:23-29)
Including Benjamin, who was substantially younger than his brothers, Jacob now had 12 sons. 11 were born in Paddan-Aram and 1 in Canaan. These men would become the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. Unfortunately, Benjamin never knew his mother Rachel.
Jacob left Bethlehem and came to his father Isaac’s house in Hebron. It is uncertain if Rebekah was still alive at this point, as she is not mentioned and her death is not recorded anywhere in Scripture. Nevertheless, Isaac died at the age of 180. Interestingly, Issac was the only patriarch who never left Canaan and remained married to 1 woman his entire life. His twin sons Esau and Jacob buried their father in the Cave of Machpelah (Gen. 49:30-31).
IV. ABOUT ESAU (Genesis 36)
Though he is not the main character, the patriarchal narrative pauses to devote an entire chapter to the life and posterity of Esau. Years earlier he had married 2 women from among the Canaaites and 1 of his uncle Ishmael’s daughters. Together these women bore Esau 5 sons - Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. Esau also acquired and possessed a significant amount of property, goods, and animals. He and his family moved away from Canaan and lived in the land of Seir. Over time this neighboring country would become known as Edom, a synonym for Esau.
Esau’s descendants were numerous and they became chiefs in the land. They, along with the sons of Seir the Horite, were leaders in the region for many generations. Eventually Edom developed into a prominent kingdom. Several kings reigned over Edom, centuries before the nation of Israel ever came into being. In fact, Moses sought the king’s permission to travel peacefully through Edom during the exodus (Num. 20:14-21). Unfortunately, the nation of Edom historically had a very adversarial relationship with Israel.
Within a relatively brief span of time, perhaps just a year or 2, Jacob lost his father Issac, the beloved wife Rachel, and a dear family friend Deborah. Each of these 3 special people were important to Jacob and had made a profound impression on his life. There is little doubt that their deaths, especially coming so close together, caused him tremendous sorrow and grief.
When Rebekah was chosen to be Isaac’s bride and brought to Canaan, her nurse Deborah accompanied her (Gen. 24:61). Deborah was Rebekah’s friend and servant. She likely assisted Rebekah in the upbringing of Jacob (and Esau). Years later, she actually dwelt with Jacob and his family and helped him with their children. Deborah had been a vital part of the family for 3 generations, providing care for Jacob’s mother, then him, and finally his kids.
Rachel was the love of Jacob’s life. He willingly served her father Laban for 14 years in order to pay her steep bridal payment. He showered her favored status, as demonstrated by placing her in the most protected position when Esau approached (Gen. 33:1-2). Rachel’s sons Joseph and Benjamin would become his father’s favorites, probably because they reminded Jacob of her. To this day, Rachel is held in high regard by the Jewish people.
Issac was Jacob’s father and role model. Though he had more in common with Esau, ultimately Issac recognized that Jacob was the chosen son through whom the people of God would rise. Therefore Issac blessed Jacob and took steps to ensure that he remained pure and set apart by marrying outside of the pagan Canaanite culture (Gen. 28:1-5). Issac’s faith in God was passed down to his son Jacob, the greatest inheritance that any father can leave.
I close today with this question… when you’re gone, how will you be remembered? Will the life you’ve lived and the legacy you’ve left point people to Christ or turn them away from Him?