Genesis 35–36. Jacob Returns to Bethel.

Key Notes: Isolation of Israel from the Canaanites. Return to a place of previous blessing. God reaffirmed the covenant with Jacob. Jacob was made over. Esau's clan and its history. Reuben broke trust.

Genesis chapters 34–38 are notable for the bad conduct of Jacob's sons. In chapter 34 the brothers revenge the rape of their sister Dinah by destroying the the village that had befriended them. In the next chapter Simeon sleeps with his father's concubine, Bilhah.. After an account of Esau's clan, we read of Joseph hated by his brothers and sold into slavery. In chapter 38 Judah's adultery is exposed.

In this section, Jacob and his family slowly work their way south from the ruin of Shechem, to Bethel, near Bethlehem and to Hebron, where Isaac lived. Each destination is about 20 miles; this was a large company, moving slowly. We wonder that God did not punish them for the slaughter of the Shechemites but the brothers will live long enough, and make enough other blunders to convince us that they are not ready to occupy the Promised Land. They were destined to become a slave nation in Egypt for four centuries.

35:1–4 God called Jacob to return to Bethel. In preparation, Jacob instructed his family to put away their idols, purify themselves and change their clothes. They needed to be sanctified after their recent war. They gave up their earrings and idols and Jacob buried them under an oak near Shechem. They were slowly returning to their father’s spiritual home and eventually, to the ancestral place in Hebron.

35:5–7 As they moved toward Bethel, vulnerable as they were, the Canaanites were frightened by God and did not pursue them. The separation of Israelites from their neighbors had begun. Their reproach will last for thousands of years.
At Bethel, Jacob built an altar and named the place El Bethel, "the God of Bethel".

35:8 Deborah, Rebekah's beloved nurse, died at Bethel and was buried under an oak nearby.

35:9–15 God appeared to Jacob at Bethel (“House of God”) and blessed him again. He would be the father of kings and a company of nations. The Lord affirmed the ownership of the land by his descendants. The text says that “God went up from the place where He had spoken to him.” (Gen.35:13). This is another direct appearance of God, visible to Jacob. More than twenty years before, God met Jacob here and Jacob had promised to serve Him in the hope that he would come back from Paddan-aram. (Gen.28:18–22). He had set up a pillar and poured oil on it then. He now set up another pillar with a drink and oil offering on it.

35:16–21 Rachel had her second child on the way from Bethel, but died in a painful complication  of child-birth. Her name for him was "Son of my sorrow" but Jacob changed it to "Son of my right hand": Benjamin. She was buried near Bethlehem.

35:22 Reuben slept with Bilhah, Jacob's concubine. Intercourse with a father’s wife was forbidden in the later Law of Moses (Lev.18:8). It was a scandal even among the Greeks in the NT. (ICor.5:10). It looks trivial here, but it cost Reuben the blessing later (Gen.493)  so that his progeny were lost among the tribes in the Promised Land, his place east of Jordan eventually occupied by the Ammonites.

35:22–26 A brief genealogy of Jacob is given, listing his sons by their mothers.

35:27 Soon after they arrived at Hebron, Isaac died at‘0 years. Jacob and Esau buried him. It would be their last time together. Now three people have died: Deborah, Rachel and Isaac. A generation has passed.

Chapter 36 is composed of genealogies of Esau (1–19) and of Seir the Horite (20–30).

36:6 Esau could not live near Jacob because of the size of their grazing herds , and moved south of the Dead Sea into Edom, infiltrating the lands of Seir. So Esau, Edom, and Seir eventually became equivalent names.

Amalek was a grandson of Esau (36:12); his tribe will later become a mortal enemy of Israel, harassing them soon after they crossed the Red Seat and entered the wilderness. Ex.17:8–16

36:24 One of Esau’s descendants found hot springs in the desert, a sign of volcanic activity in the Rift valley.

36:31 Esau’s Edom was established as a kingdom more than 400 years before Israel came to the Promised Land. But the two peoples were traditional enemies to the end of the Monarchy.


Returning to Bethel, to the place where he first met the Lord, reminds us to occasionally revisit our first encounter with the Savior Who has carried us all this way. Looking back, Jacob could confirm that God had kept His promise to him, and had brought him back home again. He had gone off empty, and come back full. “…with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies.” (Gen.32:10).
He had left home penniless and come back rich. He knew it was time for rededication--purification, renunciation of idols, and discarding the earrings, the pride of life.

He went away knowing little of God but came back with confidence in Him because of his experiences.

*Both he and Laban knew that God was with him in his agricultural job, the affairs of everyday life. Gen.30:27–30; 31:5,9.
*God revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream (Gen.32:11–13), instructing him to return to Bethel.
*God appeared visibly when He renewed the patriarchal covenant. Gen.35:9–13.
*The angels of God stood like an army as Esau’s four-hundred came on. Gen.32:1
*The Preincarnate Son Himself wrestled with Jacob. Gen.32:24–32.

Jacob was saved in every sense of the word—physically, economically, socially and spiritually. He knew God, whom to know aright is life eternal. (Jn.17:3)

The political relationships between Israel and Esau's Edom were not peaceful. Esau and his people appear to have remained resolutely pagan, at best indifferent to Israel, but usually not strong enough to be a physical threat.

•Edomites refused Israel passage from Egypt, a painful experience for a weary people. Num.20:14-
•Israel was forbidden to hate Edom. Deut.23:7
•Joshua did not invade Edomite territory. Josh.15:1,21
•David subjugated the Edomites without clear justification. Joab stayed six months until he had killed every male. IISam.8:13; IK11:14–16.
•Solomon used their port to import gold. IK.9:26
•Edom, Ammon and Moab planned an attack on Israel that was supernaturally thwarted. IIChron.20:1
•Amaziah killed 20,000 Edomites. IIK.14:7
*Uzziah restored the port of Elath to Edom. IIK.14:22
*When Judah was attacked by Syrians, Edom took her share of spoils. IIChron.28:17
*Edom rejoiced at the Fall of Jerusalem. Psa.137:7
*Obadiah 1 and Ezekiel 25 prophesied against Edom.