GENESIS - CHAPTER 35
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
35:1. “And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.”
While there is no direct recorded command from God to Jacob to go directly to Bethel God’s house upon returning from Padan-aram, several things indicate that that was indeed God’s will. In chapter 28:22 Jacob had promised that if God would bring him back in peace, “this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house....” That stone was the pillar he had set up following his dream of the ladder between earth and heaven, and the place where he had set up that pillar was Bethel. He had promised also that if God brought him back again “then shall the Lord be my God” (Ge 28:21). If God were indeed to be Jacob’s God, then surely his only proper place was where God’s house was. But he had chosen instead to dwell at Shechem, and we have already considered the terrible results of that disobedience.
God, however, in spite of Jacob’s unfaithfulness, remained faithful, and upon the ear of this rebellious child fell the command of that faithful God, “Arise, go up to Bethel.” Someone has said that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and this is another demonstration of that truth. Jacob could find no way out of the predicament into which his own disobedience had brought him, but God revealed the way, “Go up to Bethel.” Going up to Bethel is synonymous with drawing near to God, and that is the remedy, not only for Jacob, but for all whose disobedience has brought them into seemingly hopeless situations.
God would have Jacob remember that other occasion when his own disobedience had produced an impossible situation - when he had had to flee from Esau. There too, God had shown Himself to be the answer to Jacob’s need.
But in Jacob’s having to return to Bethel we see the demonstration of another truth. The last place in Canaan mentioned in connection with Jacob’s flight from Esau (it was also a flight from God) was Bethel, and it is to Bethel that he must return. It was in a garden that the human race, represented by Adam, began its flight from God. It was to a garden that the last Adam must return to pay the price of the first Adam’s rebellion. Sin must be dealt with where sin began - in a garden, for contrary to popular belief, it was in a garden that the last Adam died, as it is written, “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden” (Jn 19:41).
”... and dwell there.” Since Bethel means God’s house it means also that it is the place where He rules. Bethel speaks of obedience. The man who would be blessed may not dwell anywhere else.
”And make there an altar unto God.” Years before when the fugitive Jacob had set up the pillar at Bethel, it had been accompanied by the promise, “... of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.” Now a returning Jacob must learn the truth that what God desires isn’t silver and gold, but something of infinitely greater value, not necessarily in man’s estimation, but in God’s. We never read of silver or gold having been placed on God’s altar. The offerings placed there were what spoke of blood poured out, of a life given up: every offering (even the vegetable and drink offerings) spoke of the Lord Jesus Christ. God wants men to value Christ above all else. Without that appreciation, anything else we may offer God has no value in His eyes. Jacob’s making an altar would be the symbolic announcement of his having that appreciation. What would be placed on that altar would speak of Christ.
35:2. “Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.”
Clearly there were other strange gods in Jacob’s household besides the teraphim which Rachel had stolen from Laban. Is there reason perhaps, to believe that Jacob’s disobedience may have been due, in some part at least, to the influence of these strange gods? Just what gods they were isn’t mentioned, and in this God may be leaving us to examine our own lives and households, so that we may be brought to realize that there are strange gods among us also. A strange god is anything that takes the place of God in our lives, and we may have more of them than we might care to admit. Our families, our jobs, our homes, our hobbies, and a thousand other things, all legitimate in themselves, may become “strange gods,” which by taking more of our time than is right, lead us to neglect the things of God.
A chastened Jacob, reaping the fruits of his disobedience, says, “Put away the strange gods that are among you.” How much better it would have been had the strange gods not been permitted a place in his life in the first instance! Then there would have been no need of chastisement. The application to our own lives is too obvious to need emphasizing.
“And be clean, and change your garments.” The command to be clean and to change their garments implies some spiritual uncleanness resulting from the presence of these strange gods. We aren’t told what that uncleanness was, but certainly the spiritual application isn’t difficult to make. Disobedience defiles us, and it is disobedience when we give to anyone or anything else what robs God of His due.
Garments are to the body what habits are to the life. Jacob’s command therefore, to “change your garments,” tells us that our habits will advertise all too clearly the presence of “strange gods” in our midst. The spiritual equivalent of changing the garments is to, “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called” (Eph 4:1).
35:3. “And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.”
There was to be no lingering in the place of disobedience, nor should there be any such lingering with us. The alacrity with which Jacob obeyed God’s command must characterize our own obedience to His commands. Every moment of delay simply hinders our blessing.
His reference to God as the One Who had answered him in the day of his distress, and as the One Who had been with him through the years in Laban’s service, tells us that a chastened Jacob had been brought to realize just how very faithful God had been. And that faithfulness stood out all the more clearly against the dark background of his own unfaithfulness. It surely isn’t difficult to see in Jacob’s experience a picture of our own.
35:4. “And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.”
Special mention is made of the hand and the ear in connection with these strange gods. In Scripture the hand is the symbol of work; and the ear, of hearing. The spiritual lesson is that their works revealed the influence of the strange gods: the gods were in their hands, that is, they influenced their deeds. We may not always be aware of it, but the “strange gods” in our lives will reveal their presence through our deeds. A question we might ask ourselves is, Is what I do rendered as service to God or to a “strange god”? If I find that little of my time, talent, money, etc., is being given to God’s service, it may be that a “strange god” is controlling my life to a greater extent than I realize.
There is an implied connection between the earrings and the strange gods, but since the ear is connected with hearing, and hearing, with obedience, the spiritual picture is clear: the strange gods were having an adverse effect on their obedience. In their surrendering their earrings we have the symbolic declaration of a renunciation of that influence, and a turning again to yield obedience to God.
In connection with the consecration of the priests, as also with the cleansing of the leper, the blood of the sacrifice was to be applied to the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot, see Ex 29:20; Le 8: 23-24; Le 14:14,17,25,28. These parts of the body, placed under the blood in the days when the Levitical ritual governed the Israelites’ relationship with God, are designed to teach us that what they represent spiritually is under the precious blood of Christ. There is a close connection between what the ear, the hand, and the foot represent in the spiritual realm. All begins with the ear. It must be consecrated to God. In other words, there must be obedience. That obedience will then govern what the hand represents: our works. And it will also govern what the foot represents: our walk or manner of life. In connection with Jacob we have been directed to look at the ear and the hand, and learn the spiritual lesson connected with them. But why is there no mention of the foot? It has been mentioned indirectly. In the preceding chapter we have been shown the terrible results of Jacob’s disobedient walk, and surely that look should deter any of us from walking in disobedience.
Jacob took the strange gods and the earrings and “hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.” The oak by Shechem, like virtually every tree mentioned in Scripture, is a symbol of Calvary’s tree. The sinner’s place of security, the saint’s place of strength, is by that tree on which the Lord Jesus Christ hung as our Substitute. It is under the cross of Calvary that every false god, and every disobedience must be buried. As disobedience is put away, we stand in the place of strength - God’s strength made perfect in our weakness.
35:5. “And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.”
As they began their obedient walk to Bethel they were protected by God’s power put forth to restrain the wrath of their enemies. Obedience links the believer with divine power, as it is written, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Pr 16:7).
Human reasoning might tempt us to think that they should now have been described as “the sons of Israel,” rather than “the sons of Jacob,” but in continuing to link them with Jacob, God would remind us that it was their obedience that had brought them His protection. As men, they were no better than they had been before. The crucial difference was that now they were obedient.
35:6. “So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him.”
Luz, meaning perverse is the Canaanite name of the place, while Bethel house of God is the name associated with it under Israelite occupation. The two names would remind us that our lives are accurately pictured in their meanings. Our pre-conversion lives were characterized by perversity, a wilful determination not to do right; while our post-conversion lives are marked by the truth that by faith we have not only been brought to God’s house, but as living stones, we are God’s house in which He dwells through His Holy Spirit.
It is instructive to recall that it was also to Bethel that Abraham returned after his sojourn in Egypt, Ge 13:3. There can be no blessing for the believer apart from Bethel, that is, apart from obedience, for God’s house implies His government over that house.
35:7. “And he built there an altar, and called the place El-Beth-El because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.”
An altar implies sacrifice, and sacrifice implies cost. The building of this altar indicates Jacob’s willingness to please God no matter what the cost. Step by step he is displaying that obedience without which we cannot please God, and without which we cannot be blessed.
El-Beth-El means God of God’s house. The very name tells us that those, who as living stones, constitute that house, must accept either His government of their lives, or suffer chastisement. The fact that God’s first appearance to him is said to have been “when he fled from the face of his brother,” would remind us that Jacob had experienced that chastisement during the long years spent away from Bethel. His history has been recorded for our learning.
35:8. “But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was Allon-bachuth.”
Scripture is silent as to the circumstances that had brought Deborah into Jacob’s family. The only other reference to her is in chapter twenty-four, verse fifty-nine where we have taken her to be a type of the Word (see notes on that verse).
The spiritual significance of her death lies in the fact that it occurred before the birth of Benjamin, who represents the Lord Jesus Christ in power and glory. As has been noted in previous studies, it is God’s desire that Christ should be reproduced in every believer, and the birth of Benjamin represents that moment in Jacob’s life when Christ was indeed reproduced in him. It is the Word that produces that likeness in us, and when that purpose has been accomplished, the work of the Word is completed. From this point on what is recorded of Jacob reveals far more of what he is as Israel than what he is as Jacob.
It is instructive to note that Deborah, like the strange gods and the earrings, was also buried under an oak. The oak is still a type of Calvary. As Deborah’s life ended at that oak, so does the work of the Word, in one sense, end at Calvary. Its work is done when it has brought the sinner to the cross; and in the matter of restoring the errant saint, its work is done when it has brought him back to Calvary.
“... beneath Bethel,” means simply that she was buried a little distance from Bethel, further down the slope of the highland on which Bethel was located.
An additional thought connected with her dying before entering Bethel may be that there will be no need of the written Word (which she seems to represent) when we get to “Bethel” (God’s house), for there we will have Him Who is the Living Word. The Book that has been our “nurse” in the wilderness will give place to the Person portrayed in that Book.
Allon-bachuth means the oak of weeping, and while the reference is undoubtedly to the sorrow occasioned by her death, we can’t forget that the tree of which that oak was but a symbol, is the ultimate tree of weeping, for the lament recorded in La 1:12-13 goes far beyond disobedient Israel, and relates to the One Who hung on the tree at Calvary, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint all the day.”
35:9. “And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him.”
The language here implies that it wasn’t until he had come to Bethel that Jacob was viewed by God as having come out of Padan-aram; and the spiritual lesson is easily read. All the time spent in disobedience is time wasted. It doesn’t count. But if the incomplete obedience of the wasted years between his leaving Padan-aram and his arrival at Bethel have proved to be lost years, there is no time lost between his return and his being blessed. “God appeared unto Jacob ... and blessed him,” but only upon his arrival at Bethel.
35:10. “And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.”
Jacob had heard these same words from the mouth of God in Ge 32:28, but on that occasion it was the pronouncement of God according to His foreknowledge. In the present instance it is also the pronouncement of God according to His foreknowledge, but the words are now addressed to a Jacob who has begun to act according to his new name. That name means he shall be prince of God, or God’s fighter: let God strive (for him), and it implies obedience, for God’s princes are those who obey His commands. God can utter the same truth in regard to every believer, though in His foreknowledge He is aware that obedience will be perfected only when our school-days on earth are completed.
These words are recorded, however, for the encouragement of all believers. God would remind us of what we shall be, and by that very reminder, encourage us to an obedience that will demonstrate that conformity to Christ’s image is a process that may be seen even before that day when we are graduated from the divine school.
There is a significant addition to the previous statement. There God had simply declared “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel,” but God didn’t address him by his new name. Here, however, there is not only the declaration that his name is to be changed, but God used the new name, “He called his name Israel.” Jacob was about to begin to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith he had been called.” In this, God would teach us that He desires us to walk in such fashion as will enable Him to use our new names.
35:11. “And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins.”
Before commanding Jacob to be fruitful and multiply, God points to Himself, “I am God Almighty.” He alone was to be the Source of Jacob’s fruitfulness and multiplication. God never issues a command to His own without directing the servant to the Source of power that makes obedience possible. While there is no believer exempt from God’s commands, neither is there any believer who cannot say also with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Php 4:13).
The promised nation, of course, is Israel, and the company of nations would appear to be the Gentile nations, which in the Millennium, will render to God the obedience that is implied in the name Israel. Those nations, obedient and blest, will be those which will have obeyed the Gospel preached by the believing remnant of Israel during the Tribulation era.
The kings are those of the line of David, from whom, according to human reckoning, has come Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
35:12. “And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.”
Blessing is added to blessing. He who has been so long out of the land is assured that it is being given to him and to his descendants. The reference to its having been given also to Abraham and Isaac (who never actually possessed it), may have been perhaps to remind Jacob that it would be in resurrection that all of the divine promises would find their fullest fulfillment. In this God would remind us that His promises to us will also have their complete fulfillment in resurrection.
35:13. “And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.”
It is to be noted that it was God Who went up from Jacob at the end of the conversation. In a day when our conversations with God, are for the most part, limited to the time we are willing to give Him, we do well to remember that it is condescension on God’s part that permits us to converse with Him at all. He should not be made to await our convenience either as to the time when the conversation begins or ends. While His ear is bent to hear the cry of His own sent up at any time and from any place, the prayer life that has power is that of the man who has learnt that there must be a waiting upon God. Time must be allowed for the soul to quiet itself, to let the distracting din of the world subside, there being no better way to accomplish that objective than by reading the Scriptures, for as we read we are made to hear the still small voice of God, and He ought to be allowed to speak to us before we speak to Him in prayer. Surely even natural intelligence would teach us that the Creator should not have to await the pleasure of the creature, but rather that the creature should count it a privilege to be granted an interview with the Creator. Incidentally, an error gaining credence today is that somehow God speaks to us through prayer. He doesn’t! He speaks to us only from the pages of Scripture. Prayer is the vehicle by which we speak to God.
35:14. “And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.”
For the significance of the stone pillar the reader is referred to the notes on Ge 28:18. There we took the pillar to be a symbol of Christ in resurrection, and it must be similarly viewed here. One significant difference, however, should be noted in connection with this present anointing of the pillar. In chapter twenty-eight it was anointed only with oil, but here Jacob first “poured a drink offering thereon.” The drink offering consisted of wine, and wine is the Scriptural symbol of joy and gladness. The fact that the drink offering is mentioned first may be to emphasize the truth that the enjoyment of the blessings guaranteed by a resurrected Christ will be experienced only by the man who is obedient. A disobedient Jacob, leaving Bethel, anointed the pillar only with oil. God’s blessings were guaranteed in spite of Jacob’s disobedience. But a returned, chastened Jacob, now to walk as Israel, could anoint the pillar with wine as well as oil. He could now walk in the enjoyment of those promised blessings even before he actually received them.
God would have us also anoint “the pillar with wine,” that is, walk in the enjoyment of our promised blessings even before they are received. That enjoyment, however, is possible only when we are obedient.
35:15. “And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel.”
In Ge 28:19 we read that on the first anointing of the pillar, Jacob had also named the place Bethel, but there we find added the information that “the name of the city was called Luz at the first.” (See the notes on that chapter for the spiritual significance of this). Here, however, there is no mention of the former name which speaks so clearly of disobedience. When God pardons men, the pardon is complete. He Who pardons retains no memory of the transgressions He has forgiven. “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34).
35:16. “And they journeyed from Bethel; and they were but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labor.”
Jacob continued to travel southward through Canaan, and since the south is always connected with faith, this bespeaks a walk of faith, which in turn implies obedience. Abraham also, upon entering Canaan, followed a southerly course through it. The fact that these men of faith journeyed through the land tells us that Christianity is a progressive experience in which we are to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Pe 3:18.
Ephrath was the ancient name for Bethlehem-Judah house of bread and praise. Ephrath itself means ashiness: fruitfulness, two meanings which are not as contradictory as might at first appear. Ash is the evidence of the fire’s work, but fire is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit. When He is allowed to control the life, then there will indeed be fruitfulness, as the true value of the worthless things that would distract us in the heavenly race is revealed in the light of heaven. In the holiness of that light they are reduced to ashes. Jacob’s coming towards Ephrath is the symbolic declaration of coming fruitfulness, a thought which continues to be emphasized in Rachel’s travail which results in the birth of Benjamin. “Bethel” is near to “Ephrath.”
Rachel we have seen to be representative of the expression of Jacob’s spiritual life, and since Benjamin is clearly a type of Christ, the lesson of Rachel’s travail is that Christ will be produced only in the life where there is struggle (travail) against everything that would impede conformity to His image. There are many things that will make that “travail” difficult: Satan, the flesh within us, the world, to name but a few. One thing should not be forgotten however: there can be travail only when there is life within. There is no such labor in the life of the unconverted, for the simple reason that there is no life within him. One infallible mark of the believer is this struggle, this travail, to bring forth Christ. He who professes to be a believer, and yet knows no such travail, has need to examine his spiritual state. Paul used similar language to describe his own labor in bringing the Galatians back from the bondage of law, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Ga 4:19). If Christ is in us He will struggle to get out, that is, to live His life through our lives.
“... and she had hard labor.” He who expects to be conformed to Christ’s image without “hard labor” deludes himself. Christlikeness doesn’t just “happen.” Nor should we make the mistake of thinking that service is fruitfulness. It isn’t! We are fruitful only when we are conformed to Christ’s image.
A further typological picture, however, is set before us here: the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ, for in the birth of Ben-oni/Benjamin God bids us see an OT foreshadowing of the birth of Him Who is associated with the meanings of these names. In Ben-oni, connected as the name is with sorrow, we are reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ is described by the prophet as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” and as the One Who “hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:3-4).
The picture is further enhanced by the fact that the Lord’s preincarnate eternal existence is portrayed in that before coming to Ephrath, he was in Rachel’s womb, and came from Bethel house of God. He Who was born that night in Ephrath/Bethlehem-Judah had come from the place of which Bethel speaks: His Father’s house in heaven.
We should note too, that Ephrath meaning ashiness, fruitfulness was the ancient name of Bethlehem-Judah which means house of bread and praise. The two place-names continue to declare truth relative to the Lord, for as ashiness is associated with the fire’s work, so does Ephrath remind us of the fruitfulness that has resulted from Christ’s willingness to submit to the consuming fire of God’s wrath at Calvary, see e.g., La 1:13 and Ps 102:3 where the ultimate application is to Christ, “From above hath he sent fire into my bones.... My bones are burned as an hearth.” Who can number the fruit of Calvary’s agony? The harvest resulting from the sowing of that one “corn of wheat” can be measured only by God.
But Bethlehem-Judah, the other name of the place, reminds us not only that it was the place where Christ was born, but that His being there fulfilled the significance of its name. He was the true bread Who came down from heaven; and as for praise, that of the angels and the shepherds was only the first note of the ever swelling anthem that will fill the universe eternally.
The dying Rachel portrays the godly remnant of Israel which was in a sense His “mother,” Mary being the representative of that believing remnant which looked for salvation in Israel. That godly remnant was also dying. It had but a few more years to exist as the Jewish remnant, before passing away as such, and becoming instead the beginning of the Christian Church.
Relative to Rachel’s sorrow expressed in the name she gave her son, it is significant that we encounter her name again in the NT, and also in association with sorrow, and also in connection with the birth of the true Ben-oni. Relative to Herod’s slaughter of the children from two years and under, we read in Mt 2:18 “In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they were not.”
We might note incidentally that the nameless midwife who assisted at His birth is a figure of the Holy Spirit through whose power the Lord was brought into this world.
But his name was not to remain Ben-oni. His father called him Benjamin son of the right hand, and so also with Christ. He Who on earth was the man of sorrows called Jesus, and Who went to Calvary to experience sorrow human minds can’t measure, now sits at the Father’s right hand crowned with glory and honor, having been given a name that is above every name, as the prophet has written, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6).
35:17. “And it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.”
As the midwife assisted in the delivery of the child, so does the Holy Spirit assist the believer to bring forth Christ. It is significant that she gave no assurance regarding the life of Rachel. Her word of encouragement was “Thou shalt have this son also.” The word “also” is important, for it reminds us that Rachel had already borne another son, Joseph. Both of these sons are types of Christ: Joseph portraying Him in rejection and suffering; and Benjamin, in millennial power and glory. This translates into encouragement to every believer. He who has the one Son (the Christ Whom the world has rejected and crucified) is assured that he will also have the other Son (the Christ Who will reign in power and glory). To every believer undergoing this travail on earth comes the assurance of the Holy Spirit, “Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.”
The prophetic aspect of the type is also easily discerned. In Rachel’s travail we see a foreshadowing of Israel’s Tribulation travail which will result in their having Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, their long-awaited Messiah, to lead them into the blessings of the millennial kingdom.
For the sake of any who may have difficulty in viewing Benjamin as a type of Christ, the following word of explanation is offered. In Isa 53,12 we read, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong” and no one will question that the reference is to Christ. In Ge 49:27 we read, “Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf: in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil.” The similarity of language, particularly the reference to the division of the spoil, makes it clear that the statement goes beyond Benjamin, and directs us to that day at the end of the Tribulation when Christ will judge the nations and “divide the spoil” with His own. (The matter of Benjamin’s being a type of Christ will be discussed in greater detail, God willing, in our studies of chapters forty-two through forty-five).
35:18. “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin.”
In Rachel’s dying as she gave birth to Benjamin, we learn the spiritual truth that Christ will not be perfectly seen in us until that day when we will have finished our earthly course, and stand complete in heaven. But we may learn also the practical truth that it is only as we are willing to die that Christ will be produced in us. We first receive Christ by being willing to see ourselves as having been crucified with Him Who has died for us. But if that Christ Who is in us is to “come out of us,” that is, is to be seen in our conduct, then we must be willing also to live as those who are dead to the world, as it is written, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Ga 2:20).
Rachel in her travail anguish, called him Ben-oni, that is, son of my sorrow. We too, out of the travail through which Christ is produced in us, may be tempted often to employ the same language, but God would encourage us to look beyond the birth pangs to that day when the travail will be over, and we shall stand perfectly conformed to the image of Christ, when He will be seen in us. The Lord Himself, in this, as in all things, is our perfect Example. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Ps 30:5).
Rachel might call him Ben-oni, but his father called him Benjamin, that is, Son of the right hand. Rachel might die, but her life was perpetuated in Benjamin, as was also Jacob’s own life. Rachel represents the expression of Jacob’s spiritual life in the context of earthly experience. That experience must come to an end, but the life continued in another form, Benjamin. Our spiritual lives, lived in the context of earthly experience, must also come to an end, but the life itself continues eternally in the One Whom Benjamin represents, The Lord Jesus Christ. We may think of Him here in the midst of earthy trial as “Ben-oni,” but the day is not far off when we shall call him “Benjamin.”
35:19. “And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.”
In previous studies we have noted that the godly wife represents the expression of the spiritual life of the believer, while the ungodly wife represents the expression of what passes for spiritual life with the unbeliever. It is emphasized that the wife does not represent the spiritual life itself, but rather the expression of that life. The spiritual life of the believer itself is perfect, but the expression of it is not. This will account for the imperfections found in the lives of even such godly women as Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel. True spiritual life is perfect because it is Christ, but the expression of that life in the daily living of the believer is imperfect. Christianity is an experience which is designed to reveal progress and growth: as we grow in grace and knowledge, our lives should become an increasingly more accurate expression of the life within us. Since that life is Christ, our daily lives should be the expression of Him. The imperfections of the godly wives of Scripture would remind us that our expression of the perfect Life within us is not always perfect.
Rachel’s death therefore, and her being replaced by Benjamin, portrays, not the end of the expression of Jacob’s spiritual life, but rather a more accurate expression of it in another form. Benjamin is now to become the one in whom that life will be expressed, but since he is a type of Christ, he will more accurately portray that life. The spiritual lesson here is only what we should expect. From this point on, Jacob will walk more according to his new name Israel, and less according to his old name, Jacob. The result of that obedience will be that his life will more accurately reflect the life of Christ. In Rachel, the female, the emphasis is upon the passivity of Jacob’s will, but in Benjamin, the male, the emphasis is upon the activity of his will. An obedient activity of the will tends to be a more accurate expression of spirituality than does mere passivity of the will.
“Rachel ... was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.” We have noted already that Ephrath speaks of that fruitfulness which was henceforth to mark Jacob’s life. But Ephrath is simply another name for Bethlehem. It should be noted however, that it is Bethlehem-Judah (house of bread and praise). (There was another Bethlehem lying about seven miles north-west of Nazareth). Bethlehem alone means house of bread, but Bethlehem-Judah means house of bread and praise. In this God would teach us that the man who walks in obedience will also be brought to what Bethlehem-Judah represents - the place of spiritual abundance which will cause the heart to overflow in praise and worship.
35:20. “And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.”
This is the third time we read of Jacob’s setting up a pillar, and as in the previous instances, it seems to speak of Christ. The pillar set up, speaks of Christ’s own resurrection, but as the symbol of Himself, it reminds us that His resurrection is the assurance of our own, for He is the Resurrection and the Life. This pillar therefore, set up on Rachel’s grave, not only marked the burial site, but it pointed up to Him Who would one day raise her up again to eternal life. Its being there “unto this day” speaks of the fact that the hope of the resurrection is a God-given assurance which cannot be removed.
35:21. “And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.”
Significantly it is Israel, not Jacob, who continues his journey towards Ephrath. From this point on the record of his life is unmarred by the self-willed scheming that has made up so much of his history. It is not that he is never again referred to as Jacob - he is (there is no life, even of the most obedient, that is perfect), but clearly the death of Rachel, and the birth of Benjamin, mark a turning point in Jacob’s life. Henceforth we see him more as Israel than as Jacob. The spreading of his tent speaks of the resumption of his pilgrim character.
The location of the tower of Edar a flock, is unknown, but since Jacob had been pursuing a southward course through Canaan, this tower seems to have been somewhere south of Bethlehem, telling us that Jacob spread his tent in the south land, that is, in the realm of faith. The tower is a picture of God as the Refuge of His people. In Ps 61:3 David declares, “For Thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy,” and in Pr 18:10 we read, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” Jacob’s spreading his tent beyond the tower of Edar therefore, tells us that he was dwelling in the realm of faith which is under the safe guardianship of Him Who is “the tower of the flock.”
35:22. “And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve.”
This is something we might have expected had it been said that Jacob had spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar; but it was Israel, not Jacob, who was dwelling there in the shelter of that tower, and it was Israel, not Jacob, who heard it. In this God would teach us that there is imperfection in even the most spiritual believer. We have noted in earlier studies that the activity and the passivity of the will are represented by sons and daughters respectively. Reuben, then, speaks of the activity of Jacob’s will, but as a firstborn, he represents that activity as having been in response to the impulse of the old nature. There is no place where we are safe from the attack of that foe. The warfare will cease only when we are home in heaven. This particular trouble came to Jacob at a time when he may have thought that all his troubles were behind him, and one lesson at least we may learn from this is that the time when we are tempted to be complacent is the time when we have most need to be on our guard.
Since Jacob-Israel represents the believer; Reuben, the old nature in the believer; and Bilhah, legalistic ordinances or ritual, the spiritual picture here is that of a believer’s turning back to mere legalistic ritual in response to the prompting of the old nature. And as it was an illicit union literally, so is it spiritually: the believer may not make any use of mere legalistic ordinances.
The Holy Spirit has been careful to record that it was Israel, not Jacob, who heard it. Such tidings could bring nothing but sorrow and anger, nor is it any different in the spiritual realm: the new spiritual nature can never be anything but grieved by the activity of the old nature.
”Now the sons of Jacob were twelve,” the number that speaks of the manifestation of divine government. As his sons they represent the activity of Jacob’s will, and as noted already, each one represents a different aspect of that activity. In this sinful activity of the first, God is warning that the same evil potential lies in each one of them. The spiritual lesson isn’t difficult to decipher. In all the different ways in which the activity of our will expresses itself there is also potential for evil. The activity will be good or evil depending on whether it has been prompted by the new or the old nature.
35:23. “The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun.”
The order in this chapter is different from that of chapters twenty-nine and thirty, where we have the names given in the order of their birth. Here they are divided into four groups according to the names of their mothers. Since, as we have noted already, these sons represent different aspects of the believer’s will, this four-fold division of their names would remind us that the sphere in which our wills operate is a sphere of testing. It is in the activity of our wills that we manifest obedience or disobedience.
Realizing, then, that the activity of our wills will be good or evil depending upon whether it has been in response to the impulse of the new or the old nature, we must view these twelve sons as having the potential to portray also good or evil.
Reuben see ye, a son would teach us that we who by natural birth are the sons of fallen Adam, are by the new birth, sons of God. The latter truth will be displayed in our lives as we act according to the impulse of the new nature; the former, as we act according to the impulse of the old.
In Simeon hearkening we are portrayed as those who are responsible to act like men who do hearken to God’s voice; but we are portrayed also as those who may demonstrate by disobedience that we are hearkening to the voice of the old master, Satan.
Levi joined teaches the truth that we are joined to Christ by an unbreakable bond; but as a son of Jacob, and capable of terrible cruelty, Levi would teach us also that we, too, may act according to the old nature rather than the new.
Judah he shall be praised is the one in whom we find ourselves represented as men who should be praising God. It was Judah, however, who suggested to his brethren that they sell their brother Joseph to the Ishmeelites, Ge 37:26-27. As we permit the old nature to govern our wills, we too will betray Christ. Praise will be upon our lips only when the new nature is in control.
The fifth son is Issachar meaning he will be hired: there is reward: he will bring reward. He obviously speaks of service, reminding us that we are to be Christ’s bond slaves, serving only Him, and having the assurance from Him, that service willingly rendered on earth, will be abundantly recompensed in heaven. We know all too well by experience, however, that we frequently obey the voice of the old nature and present ourselves as the willing servants of sin, the result of that service being loss of reward at the Bema.
Dwelling is the meaning of Zebulun, reminding us that we are those whose eternal dwelling place is heaven. As such we are to pass through this world as pilgrims and strangers on our way to a better land. This will be the character of our walk if the new nature controls our will. The opposite, however, will characterize our walk if the old nature controls. Then we will settle down in this doomed world, as Lot did in Sodom, declaring by our conduct that we value earthly things more highly than we do heavenly.
35:24. “The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin.”
Joseph meaning let him add speaks of increase. We have already seen him to be one of the most perfect types of Christ, the One Who alone makes increase possible. The divine ideal is that we exemplify in our daily lives the abundant life of Christ within us, by growing in grace and knowledge, and by becoming daily more closely conformed to His image. Where the old nature controls the will, however, there will be no adding, no increase.
Benjamin means son of the right hand, and he, too, as we have noted already, is a type of Christ, but of Christ in millennial power and glory. He points therefore, to that soon coming day when Christ shall reign, and we shall reign with Him. The old nature, however, would have us forfeit eternal glory by inducing us to seek earthly glory. In Joseph’s preceding Benjamin, however, God would remind us that suffering on earth must precede glory in heaven.
35:25. “And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan and Naphtali.”
Dan means judging: a judge, and in him we see the lesson that we are men who have passed beyond the pale of judgment for our sins because Christ has borne that judgment for us. Dan would remind us also, however, that there is a judgment, which as believers, we must face: it is that judgment which will be exercised by Christ on that day when we shall stand before Him at His judgment seat. There our service will be reviewed, and there will be eternal reward or eternal loss depending on whether that service was to Christ or to the lusts of the flesh and Satan. It is the new nature that impels the former; the old nature, the latter. Dan would remind us also of the necessity of exercising judgment ourselves in regard to our lives and service. “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Co 11:31).
In Naphtali which means my wrestling we are reminded that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph 6:12). Success or failure in our wrestling will depend on whether our wills are being controlled by the new or the old nature.
35:26. “And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid; Gad, and Asher; these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padan-aram.”
Three meanings are connected with the name Gad an invader: a troop: fortune, though a troop seems to be the meaning most commonly accepted. The meanings combine to convey the thought of a troop’s successful invasion of an enemy’s territory. One very obvious application to ourselves relates to our work of spreading the Gospel. It is by means of the Gospel that Satan’s territory is invaded, and fortune attends our invasion when souls are saved and delivered from that bondage. The Lord Himself has commissioned us, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).
In regard to Jacob’s blessing of his sons, however, we read in Ge 49:19 that Gad is himself to be overcome by a troop before finally emerging as the overcomer, “Gad, a troop shall overcome him; but he shall overcome at the last.” This son of Jacob therefore, would teach us that as our wills are controlled by the new nature we shall indeed be as a troop successfully invading the territory of the enemy. Where the old nature is given control, however, we will be the ones “invaded” by the “troops” of the enemy; and instead of seeing souls delivered from his bondage, we will find ourselves brought under it again.
Asher meaning happy scarcely needs comment. We will be happy as our wills are controlled by the new nature; and unhappy, as they are controlled by the old.
“These are the sons of Jacob.” In their being called sons of Jacob rather than of Israel we are reminded again of the potential for evil. Jacob represents the believer as he is in the flesh, while Israel represents him as in the Spirit. These sons, then, as sons of Jacob teach us that the will which they represent is the will of a believer still here in the body on earth. It is a will, therefore, capable of evil as well as good, depending on whether it is controlled by the new or the old nature.
”... which were born to him in Padan-aram.” Benjamin, however, was not born in Padan-aram, but in Canaan. The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary offers the following explanation for this apparent error, “It is a common practice of the sacred historian to say of a company or body of men that which, though true of the majority, may not be applicable to every individual....” Another and perhaps more likely explanation, however, is that the Holy Spirit was regarding Benjamin as He had Levi in Heb 7:9-10 “And as I may so say, Levi also, who receiveth tithes, paid tithes in Abraham. For he was yet in the loins of his father, when Melchisedec met him.” So was Benjamin in the loins of Jacob in Padan-aram.
35:27. “And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.”
Jacob, returned to the land of Canaan, and now beginning to walk according to the meaning of his new name Israel, comes unto Isaac, meaning he shall laugh, and the lesson is easily read: the happiness and joy which are normally associated with laughter will be the portion of the man who is willing to walk obediently before God.
He came also to a place, Mamre, meaning causing fatness, and in this God would teach us that spiritual “fatness” (richness) will also be the portion of the obedient believer.
The phrase “unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron,” means simply that Mamre was in the vicinity of Hebron, which in fact it was; but the very addition of that qualifying phrase is also designed to teach us spiritual truth. The original name of the city was Kirjath-arba, that is city of four. (Arba was an Anakim prince whose name means four). Hebron means communion, and the use of both names, Arba and Hebron, would teach us that communion is something to be enjoyed even here on earth where the “Anakim,” the enemy would seek to claim for himself what belongs only to faith. Since Arba means four, and four is the number of earth and testing, an additional lesson being conveyed perhaps is that we may enjoy communion even in the midst of earthly testing.
The further description is added that it was the place where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned, and henceforth it could be said also that it was where Jacob had sojourned. Abraham is the outstanding example of faith; the meaning of Isaac’s name evokes the thought of joy and gladness; while Jacob is set before us here as a type of the believer being matured in the school of God. All three sojourned at Mamre in the vicinity of Hebron. No matter what the circumstances of our lives here on earth, we too may sojourn at “Mamre” in the vicinity of “Hebron.”
In God’s use of both names, Arba and Hebron, to designate the same place, He would teach us that it is not the circumstances of our lives, but our reaction to those circumstances, that determines whether we dwell spiritually at Hebron, enjoying communion with Him, or at Arba, enduring testing, but failing to accept the testing as the path to communion with God).
35:28. “And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.”
The factors of 180 are 22 x 32 x 5. Two is the number of witness, and its having here an exponent of two, points to the truth that Isaac’s life was a testimony before God as well as man. Three is the number of resurrection, and its having here also an exponent of two, declares that his life before God and man was a life lived in the expectation of resurrection. Five is the number of responsibility, and its having here no exponent, may point perhaps, to the fact that, like every human life, except that of the Lord Jesus Christ, there was imperfection relative to his responsibility, both in the sight of God as well as man.
35:29. “And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.”
In connection with Isaac’s death, Grant has very aptly commented, “... Isaac gives up his place to him (Jacob) as the vessel of testimony for God upon the earth. Only now is he (Jacob) ready to fill the place.”
Esau and Jacob unite in burying Isaac. In this God would remind us that in Isaac, as in every believer, the old nature (Esau) remained to the end of life’s journey.