Jacob finally returned to Bethel. This was the same place where God had originally appeared to him in 28:13. Remember that Bethel means "house of God." Before they returned, Jacob (Israel) encouraged his family to get rid of the foreign gods, purify themselves, and change their clothes. Obviously, they had picked up the idol worship of the people in Paddan Aram, where they were influenced by the religious practices of Rachel's family. Their rings were probably religious amulets or charms (Hosea 2:13). They needed to make changes and separate from the world in which they grew up in order to enter into the "house of God."
The first thing that Jacob did was build an altar. God is finally "his" God and not just the God of his father Isaac. God responded with a reiteration of his new name and the covenant made to Abraham, a promise for a great nation and company of nations that will come from him. It is also a repeat of the promise of the land. Jacob responded with a pillar and drink offering and oil. This drink offering is new in Genesis.
This was followed by a "birth in Bethlehem" as it happened on the way to Ephrath which is the ancient name for Bethlehem. Benjamin was born but, sadly, Rachel died in the process. The name Benjamin can mean "son of the right hand" or "son of the south." Some commentators believe that she was calling him this because all of the rest of the children were born in the north.
After further journey to the tower of Eder, another one of Jacob's sons bites the dust! Last chapter, it was Simeon and Levi. Now, his oldest son Reuben sleeps with Bilhah. Think about it, this is the mother of two of his half brothers, Dan and Naphtali. EWWWWW! There is no record of Israel reacting to this until we hear of Israel's final benediction toward Reuben in 49:4: "Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel."
At the end of Genesis 35, Jacob finally makes it home to his father, Isaac, in Hebron. Isaac dies and the reconciled brothers, Esau and Israel, are there to bury him at the same cave Abraham purchased at Machpelah (49:30-31).
Genesis 36 gives us the "generations of" Esau. Esau is the father of the Edomites. Edom is in what is now the southern part of Jordan which is southeast and southwest of the Dead Sea, on the opposite side of the Arabah (see map from Genesis 32-33). Edom means "red" and this area is known for its red sandstone. It is a wilderness, semidesert that is not conducive to agricultural.
Edom continually intersects with the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. It might be beneficial to do a study of Edom throughout Scripture using these verses: Numbers 2:14-21; 34:1-3; Joshua 24:3-4; Obadiah 1:1-21; Malachi 1:1-5, Daniel 11:40-21, Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Isaiah 34:1-17; 63:1-6; Amos 1:6-8, 11-12; Joel 3:18-21. Another interesting note in relation to 36:28 and 34, Job's friend is named Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 2:11). Job was from the land of Uz. So, Job probably lived in Edom.
REFLECTION (from 2008)
Genesis 35:1-3 are the key verses on my heart tonight:
Then God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel [means "house of God"] and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.'' So, Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments"; . . . So they gave Jacob all their foreign gods which they had and the rings which were in their ears, and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem.
The Holman Old Testament Commentary: Genesis by Gangel and Bramer gives such a great word picture of what I have been trying to articulate for the last hour:
On December 4, 2000 forestry officials in Germany carried out a necessary task. They cut down trees that had been planted in the form of a swastika some sixty years before. When viewed from the air the trees were lighter in color than the forest around them, showing clearly the symbol of Nazi Germany more than half a century after the Third Reich had attempted to take over the world.
The continuing effects of evil represent one of the great realities of sin in the world. We have noted how the habit of deceit ran through Jacob's family. We have seen Isaac's weakness as a father reflected in Jacob as treachery, murder, and adultery ran rampant in the patriarchal family. We have noted that the sins of Simeon, Levi, Reuben, unpunished at the time of their commission, came back to haunt them in Jacob's final blessing of the tribes.
We find it hard to believe that it took sixty years for people to notice those Nazi trees; perhaps officials refused to deal with the problem. but just as Jacob's family had to rid themselves of foreign gods and trinkets of evil, so we need to cut down the Nazi tress in our lives so sins of the past do not carry over into the present. (p.299)Oh how I want to lay an axe to the roots of my sin so that all that is left is a healthy, growing, vibrant tree!
I was able to "review" my life when I shared my testimony (along with my husband) at a college retreat this past weekend. On one hand, I can rejoice that many of my past sins have had an axe cut at the very root, but I still know there are deep-rooted things that are a result of growing up in a culture/family that did not honor God in day to day life. They are not the big and obvious things, but they are the more subtle and just as sinful things. They are like little weeds that keep on popping back out of the ground. When I think that they are gone, they keep popping back up when given the right environment for growth! I want to spray "Redemption Round Up" spray to kill that sin at the very root!
Just tonight, something was really bothering me; and as much as I would have liked to convince myself that my being bothered was because of outside "irritations," I knew the real issue was sin inside of me. It was my recurring sinful patterns reacting to the external circumstance. I had some quiet time all by myself in my room, and God told me that I needed to get rid of my idol! So, I did. Thankfully, it made for a much more pleasant evening. I want to lay an axe to it and other sins in the future!
(2013 Update: What a difference five years can make! God continues to allow me to grow in His grace. He really is in the business of transforming our lives.)
What are the idols in your life? Here is an excellent article from Peacemaker Ministries called, "Progression of an Idol", that would be a fabulous application of the reading for today!
Lord, show us where the idols are in our life. Help us come into Your presence with the idols left under the oaks of Shechem so that we can come into Your Bethel with nothing hindering us from wholehearted devotion to you. Amen.