Genesis 35


Jacob is commanded of God to go to Beth-el, and to build

an altar there, 1.

His exhortation to his family to put away all strange

gods, &c., 2, 3.

They deliver them all up, and Jacob hides them in the

earth, 4.

They commence their journey, 5;

come to Luz, 6;

build there the altar El-beth-el, 7.

Burial place of Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, 8.

God appears again unto Jacob, 9.

Blesses him and renews the promises, 10-13.

To commemorate this manifestation of God, Jacob sets up

a pillar, and calls the place Beth-el, 14, 15.

They journey to Ephrath, where Rachel, after hard labour,

is delivered of Benjamin, and dies, 16-19.

Jacob sets up a pillar on her grave, 20.

They journey to Edar, 21.

While at this place, Reuben defiles his father's bed, 22.

Account of the children of Jacob, according to the mothers,


Jacob comes to Mamre to his father Isaac, who was probably

then in the one hundred and fifty-eighth year of his age, 27.

Isaac dies, and is buried by his sons Esau and Jacob, 29.


Verse 1. Arise, go up to Beth-el] The transaction that had

lately taken place rendered it unsafe for Jacob to dwell any

longer at the city of Shechem; and it seems that while he was

reflecting on the horrible act of Simeon and Levi, and not knowing

what to do, God graciously appeared to him, and commanded him to

go up to Beth-el, build an altar there, and thus perform the vow

he had made, Ge 28:20,22.

Verse 2. Put away the strange gods] elohey hannechar,

the gods of the foreigners, which were among them. Jacob's

servants were all Syrians, and no doubt were addicted less or more

to idolatry and superstition. These gods might belong to them, or,

as some have conjectured, they were the teraphim which Rachel

stole; but these have already been supposed to be astrological

tables, or something of this kind, called by Laban his gods,

because by them he supposed he could predict future events, and

that they referred to certain astral and planetary intelligences,

by whose influences sublunary things were regulated. But it is

more natural to suppose that these gods found now in Jacob's

family were images of silver, gold, or curious workmanship, which

were found among the spoils of the city of Shechem. Lest these

should become incitements to idolatry, Jacob orders them to be put


Be clean, and change your garments] Personal or outward

purification, as emblematical of the sanctification of the soul,

has been in use among all the true worshippers of God from the

beginning of the world. In many cases the law of Moses more

solemnly enjoined rites and ceremonies which had been in use

from the earliest ages. "A Hindoo considers those clothes defiled

in which he has been employed in business, and always changes them

before eating and worship."-WARD.

Verse 3. Answered me in the day of my distress] Not only when he

fled from the face of his brother, but more particularly when he

was in his greatest strait at the brook of Jabbok.

Verse 4. And-ear-rings which were in their ears] Whether these

rings were in the ears of the gods, or in those of Jacob's family,

we may rest assured that they were not mere ornaments, but served

for superstitious purposes. Ear-rings were certainly worn as

amulets and charms, first consecrated to some god, or formed

under some constellation, on which magical characters and images

were drawn. A very ancient and beautiful one of this kind brought

from Egypt, cut out of a solid piece of cornelian, now lies before

me. It was evidently intended for the ear, as the opening is too

small for any human finger; and it is engraved all over with

strange characters and images, which prove that it was intended

for a talisman or amulet. It seems to be such a one as St.

Augustine describes, Epist. 73, which was suspended from the tip

of the ears both of men and women, not for the purpose of

ornament, but through an execrable superstition, for the service

of demons. "Execranda superstitio ligaturarum, in quibus etiam

inaures virorum in summis ex una parte auriculis suspensae

deputantur, non ad placendum hominibus, sed ad serviendum

daemonibus." See Clarke on Ge 24:22.

Verse 5. The terror of God] A supernatural awe sent by the

Almighty, was upon the cities that were round about, so that they

were not molested in their departure. This could be owing to

nothing less than the especial providence of God.

Verse 7. El-beth-el] the strong God, the house of

the strong God. But the first el is wanting in one of De

Rossi's MSS., as it is also in the Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac,

and some copies of the Arabic. The sentence reads much better

without it, and much more consistent with the parallel passages.

Verse 8. But Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died] She was sent with

Rebekah when taken by Abraham's servant to be wife to Isaac,

Ge 24:59. How she came to be in Jacob's family, expositors are

greatly puzzled to find out; but the text does not state that she

was in Jacob's family. Her death is mentioned merely because

Jacob and his family had now arrived at the place where she was

buried, and the name of that place was called Allon-bachuth, "the

oak of weeping," as it is likely her death had been greatly

regretted, and a general and extraordinary mourning had taken

place on the occasion. Of Rebekah's death we know nothing. After

her counsel to her son, Ge 27:5-17, 42-46, we hear no more of her

history from the sacred writings, except of her burial in

Ge 49:31. Her name is written in the dust. And is not this

designed as a mark of the disapprobation of God? It seems strange

that such an inconsiderable person as a nurse should be mentioned,

when even the person she brought up is passed by unnoticed! It has

been observed that the nurse of AEneas is mentioned nearly in the

same way by the poet Virgil; and in the circumstances, in both

cases, there is a striking resemblance.

"Tu quoque littoribus nostris, AEneia nutrix,

AEternam moriens famam, Caleta, dedisti:

Eet nunc servat honos sedem tunus; ossaque nomen,

Hesperia in magna, (si qua est en gloria,) signat.

At pius exequils AEneas rite solutis,

Aggere composito tumuli, postquam alta quierunt

AEquora, tendit iter veils, portumque relinqult."

AEn., lib. vii., ver. 1, &c.

"Thou too, Cajeta, whose indulgent cares

Nursed the great chief, and form'd his tender years,

Expiring here (an ever-honour'd name!)

Adorn Hesperia with immortal fame:

Thy name survives, to please thy pensive ghost;

Thy sacred relics grace the Latian coast.

Soon as her funeral rites the prince had paid,

And raised a tomb in honour of the dead;

The sea subsiding, and the tempests o'er,

He spreads the flying sails, and leaves the shore."


Verse 9. God appeared unto Jacob again] He appeared to him first

at Shechem, when he commanded him to go to Bethel, and now that he

is arrived at the place, God appears to him the second time, and

confirms to him the Abrahamic blessing. To Isaac and Jacob these

frequent appearances of God were necessary, but they were not so

to Abraham; for to him one word was sufficient-Abraham believed


Verse 13. And God went up from him] This was not a vision, nor

a strong mental impression, but a real manifestation of God. Jacob

saw and heard him speak, and before his eyes he went up-

ascended to heaven. This was no doubt the future Saviour, the

Angel of the covenant. See Ge 16:7.

Verse 14. A drink-offering] nesech, a libation. These

were afterwards very common in all countries. At first they

consisted probably of water only, afterwards wine was used; see on

Le 7:1, &c. The

pillar which Jacob set up was to commemorate the appearance of

God to him; the drink-offering and the oil were intended to

express his gratitude and devotion to his preserver. It was

probably the same pillar which he had set up before, which had

since been thrown down, and which he had consecrated afresh to


Verse 16. There was but a little way to come to Ephrath] The

word kibrath, translated here a little way, has greatly

perplexed commentators. It occurs only here, in Ge 48:7, and

2Ki 5:19; and it seems to have been some sort of

measure applied to land, as we say a mile, an acre, a rood,

a perch; but what the exact quantity of the kibrath was cannot be

ascertained. Ephrath, called also Bethlehem, and Bethlehem

Ephrata, was the birthplace of our blessed Redeemer. See its

meaning Mt 2:6.

Verse 18. As her soul was in departing] Is not this a proof

that there is an immortal spirit in man, which can exist separate

from and independent of the body? Of Rachel's death it is said,

betseth naphshah, in the going away of her soul; her

body did not go away, therefore her soul and body must have been

distinct. If her breath only had been in tended, neshamah

or ruach would have rather been used, as the first means

breath, the latter breath or spirit indifferently.

She called his name Ben-oni] the Son of my sorrow or

affliction, because of the hard labour she had in bringing him

into the world; but his father called him Benjamin, the

son of my right hand, i.e., the son peculiarly dear to me. So

man of the right hand, Ps 80:17, signifies one much loved and

regarded of God. The Samaritan has Benyamin, the son of days;

i.e., the son of his old age, as Judah calls him, Ge 44:20;

and Houbigant contends that this is the true reading, and that the

Chaldee termination in for im is a corruption. If it be a

corruption, it is as old as the days of St. Jerome, who translated

the place Benjamin, id est, filius dextrae; Benjamin, that is, the

son of the right hand.

Verse 20. Jacob set a pillar upon her grave] Was not this the

origin of funeral monuments? In ancient times, and among rude

nations, a heap of stones designated the burial place of the

chief; many of these still remain in different countries.

Afterwards a rude stone, with a simple inscription, was used,

containing only the name of the deceased, and that of his father.

But where arts and sciences flourished, superb monuments were

erected highly decorated, and pompously inscribed. It is very

likely from the circumstances of Jacob that a single stone

constituted the pillar in this case, on which, if writing did then

exist, the name, or rather some hieroglyphical device, was

probably inscribed. That which is now called Rachel's pillar is

allowed, by those who have examined it, to be a comparatively

modern structure.

Verse 21. Tower of Edar.] Literally, the tower of the flock,

and so translated Mic 4:8. It is supposed that this tower was

about a mile from Bethlehem, and to have been the place where the

angels appeared to the shepherds. The Targum of Jonathan

expressly says: "It is the place in which the King Messiah shall

be manifested in the end of days." By the tower of the flock we

may understand a place built by the shepherds near to some well,

for the convenience of watering their flocks, and keeping watch

over them by night.

Verse 22. Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's

concubine] Jonathan, in his Targum, says that Reuben only

overthrew the bed of Bilhah, which was set up opposite to the bed

of his mother Leah, and that this was reputed to him as if he had

lain with her. The colouring given to the passage by the

Targumist is, that Reuben was incensed, because he found Bilhah

preferred after the death of Rachel to his own mother Leah; and

therefore in his anger he overthrew her couch. The same sentiment

is repeated by Jonathan, and glanced at by the Jerusalem Targum,

Ge 49:4. Could this view of the subject be proved to be

correct, both piety and candour would rejoice.

And Israel heard it.] Not one word is added farther in the

Hebrew text; but a break is left in the verse, opposite to which

there is a Masoretic note, which simply states that there is a

hiatus in the verse. This hiatus the Septuagint has thus

supplied: καιπονηρονεφανηεναντιοναυτον, and it appeared evil

in his sight.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve] Called afterwards the twelve

patriarchs, because they became heads or chiefs of numerous

families or tribes, Ac 7:8; and the people that descended from

them are called the twelve tribes, Ac 26:7; Jas 1:1.

Twelve princes came from Ishmael, Ge 25:16, who were heads of

families and tribes. And in reference to the twelve patriarchs,

our Lord chose twelve apostles. Strictly speaking, there were

thirteen tribes among the Hebrews, as Ephraim and Manasses were

counted for tribes, Ge 48:5,6; but the Scripture in naming them,

says Mr. Ainsworth, usually sets down but twelve, omitting the

name now of one, then of another, as may in sundry places be

observed, De 33:5-29; Eze 48:1-35; Re 7:4-8, &c.

Verse 23. The sons of Leah] The children are arranged under

their respective mothers, and not in order of their birth.

Verse 26. Born to him in Padan-aram.] i.e., all but Benjamin was

born in Canaan, Ge 35:16,17.

It is well known that Padan-aram is the same as Mesopotamia, and

hence the Septuagint translate μεσοποταμιατηςσυριασ, Mesopotamia

of Syria. The word signifies between the two rivers, from μεσος

the midst, and ποταμος, a river. It is situated between the

Euphrates and Tigris, having Assyria on the east, Arabia

Deserta, with Babylonia, on the south, Syria on the west, and

Armenia on the north. It is now the province of Diarbek, in

Asiatic Turkey, and is sometimes called Maverannahar, the country

beyond the river; and Aram Naharaim, Aram or Syria of the two


Verse 27. The city of Arbah, (which is Hebron)] See Ge 23:2.

It has been conjectured that Jacob must have paid a visit to his

father before this time, as previously to this he had been some

years in Canaan; but now, as he was approaching to his end, Jacob

is supposed to have gone to live with and comfort him in his

declining days.

Verse 29. Isaac gave up the ghost-and was gathered unto his

people] See Clarke on Ge 25:8.

Esau and Jacob buried him.] See Ge 25:9. Esau, as we have seen

chap. xxxiii., was thoroughly reconciled to his brother Jacob, and

now they both join in fraternal and filial affection to do the

last kind office to their amiable father. It is generally allowed

that the death of Isaac is mentioned here out of its chronological

order, as several of the transactions mentioned in the succeeding

chapters, especially xxxvii. and xxxviii., must have happened

during his life; but that the history of Joseph might not be

disturbed, his death is anticipated in this place. It is supposed

that he lived at least twelve years after Joseph was sold into


THIS chapter contains several subjects which are well worthy of

the reader's most serious attention.

1. That such a family as that of Jacob should have had false

gods in it, is a matter not less astonishing than real: and

suppose that we allow, as is very probable, that their images and

rings were got from strangers, the Syrians and the Shechemites,

yet their being tolerated in the family, though it is probable

this was for a very short time, cannot be easily accounted for. It

is true the LAW was not then given, and the unity of God not so

particularly taught as it was afterwards. Besides, we have

already seen that certain superstitions were compatible in those

early times with general sincerity and attachment to the truth;

those times and acts of ignorance were winked at, till superior

light shone upon the world. Between many of the practices of

Laban's family and those of the surrounding heathenish tribes,

there might have been but little difference; and this was probably

the reason why Dinah could so readily mix with the daughters of

the land, Ge 34:1, which led to the fatal consequences already

reviewed. Sin is like the letting out of water-when once a breach

is made in the dyke, the stream becomes determined to a wrong

course, and its progress is soon irresistible. Had not Jacob put

away these strange gods, the whole family might have been infected

with idolatry. This saying of one of the ancients is good, Vitia

transmittit ad posteros, qui praesentibus culpis

ignoscit.-SENECA. "He who is indulgent to present offences,

transmits sin to posterity." The first motions of it should be

firmly resisted; after struggles are too often fruitless.

2. The doctrine of a particular and especial providence has

another proof in this chapter. After the sanguinary conduct of

Jacob's sons, is it not surprising that the neighbouring tribes

did not join together and extirpate the whole family? And so they

certainly would, had not the terror of God fallen upon them,

Ge 35:5. Jacob and the major part of his family were innocent

of this great transgression; and on the preservation of their

lives, the accomplishment of great events depended: therefore God

watches over them, and shields them from the hands of their


3. The impatience and fate of the amiable Rachel, who can read

of without deploring? Give me children, said she, or else I die,

Ge 30:1. Her desire was granted, and her

death was the consequence! God's way is ever best. We know not

what we ask, nor what we ought to ask, and therefore often ask

amiss when we petition for such secular things as belong to the

dispensations of God's providence. For things of this kind we

have no revealed directory; and when we ask for them, it should be

with the deepest submission to the Divine will, as God alone knows

what is best for us. With respect to the soul, every thing is

clearly revealed, so that we may ask and receive, and have a

fulness of joy; but as to our bodies, there is much reason to fear

that the answer of our petitions would be, in numerous cases, our

inevitable destruction. How many prayers does God in mercy shut


4. The transgression of Reuben, of whatsoever kind, was marked,

not only by the displeasure of his father, but by that of God

also; see Ge 49:4. It brought a curse upon him, and he forfeited

thereby the right of primogeniture and the priesthood: the first

was given to Judah, the second to Levi. Is it not in reference to

this that our Lord addresses these solemn words to the angel of

the Church of Philadelphia: Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast

which thou hast, that NO MAN TAKE THY CROWN? A man, by sowing a

grain of forbidden sweets, may reap an abundant harvest of

eternal wretchedness. Reader, let not sin rob thee of the kingdom

of God.

5. Here we have the death of Isaac recorded: most that can be

said of his character has been already anticipated, see chap.

xxii., &c. He appears to have been generally pious, deeply

submissive and obedient. He was rather an amiable and good, than

a great and useful, man. If compared with his son Jacob, in the

early part of their lives, he appears to great advantage, as

possessing more sincerity and more personal piety. But if compared

with his father Abraham, O, what a falling off is here! Abraham

is the most perfect character under the Old Testament, and even

under the New he has no parallel but St. Paul. Isaac, though

falling far short of his father's excellences, will ever remain a

pattern of piety and filial obedience.

Copyright information for Clarke