The Word Made Fresh
1Then God told Jacob, “Get up, and move to Bethel and camp there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you were running from your brother Esau.” 2So, Jacob told his family and all the people who were with him, “Put aside your foreign idols and cleanse yourselves and put on clean clothes. 3We’re going up to Bethel where I will build an altar to the God who helped me when I was in need and has been with me ever since.”
4They gave Jacob all their foreign idols and the earrings they were wearing, and Jacob buried them under a tree near Shechem. 5As they went on their way God sent a fear into all the cities around them, and no one pursued them.
They arrived at Luz, also called Bethel, in the land of Canaan. 7Jacob built an altar there and called the place El-Bethel, “God of Bethel,” because that was where God met him when he was running from his brother. 8Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and they buried her under an oak tree near Bethel, and they called the place Allon-bacuth, or “Weeping Oak.”
9God had appeared to Jacob at Bethel on his journey to Paddan-aram, and God appeared to him again when he returned to Bethel, and blessed him. 10On that occasion God had told him, “Your name is Jacob, but now Israel is your name,” and that is how he came to be called Israel. 11And God said to him, “I am God the almighty. Be fruitful and have children. A nation and groups of nations will descend from your children. Kings will be among your offspring. 12I will give you the land I gave to Abraham and Isaac and it will pass down to your children and their children after them.” 13Then God had gone up from Jacob at that place, and 14Jacob had set a stone marker there where God had spoken to him, and he had poured a drink offering and had poured oil on it, 15and Jacob had called the place Bethel.
16They left Bethel and, when they were still quite a distance from Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), Rachel went into hard labor. 17As the child was being born her midwife said, “Don’t be afraid. You will have another son!” 18Rachel died, but with her last breath she named the child Ben-oni (“son of my sorrow”), but his father called him Benjamin (“son of the south”). 19They buried Rachel on the way to Ephrath, 20and Jacob put up a stone marker to mark her tomb, and it still stands there. 21Then Israel continued his journey and camped beyond the tower of Eder.
22While he was camping there, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah. Israel was told.
Now Jacob had twelve sons:
23to Leah were born Reuben (the eldest), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.
24Rachel’s sons were Joseph and Benjamin.
25Rachel’s maid, Bilhah, had Dan and Naphtali.
26Zilpah, Leah’s maid, had Gad and Asher.
These were Jacob’s sons born in Paddan-aram.
25Jacob arrived at his father’s camp at Mamre, also known as Kiriath-arba, and also known as Hebron. Abraham and Isaac had lived there as foreigners.
26Isaac lived to be one hundred eighty-six years old, 29and he exhaled his last breath and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. His sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
1-4: Jacob perceives that God is calling him back to Bethel, where he had dreamed of the ladder reaching to heaven with God telling him not to worry, God would be with Jacob wherever he went (28:18-22). Perhaps he also feels that the time has come to leave the vicinity of his sons’ violent acts. He gathers his household and tells them where they are going, and that he will make an altar and offer a sacrifice to God. He tells them to put away their “foreign gods,” meaning their idols and other icons that represented pagan deities. Now that they are back in Canaan, there is only one God to acknowledge. He collects all of the items, (but not really all, as we will learn later) and buries them under a tree near Shechem. He understands that this God who has been with him will not tolerate the worship of other gods, and so he will not take them with him to Bethel.
5-8: There is some concern that the people in the cities and towns near Shechem will band against them, but God protects them as they journey and they arrive safely at their destination. Jacob builds an altar where he had set up the stone before. His mother’s nurse, Deborah, dies there. This is a surprise, since we left Isaac and Rebekah at Hebron (see ahead, verse 27).
9-15: There is some confusion in these verses because they seem to conflate two events; the dream of the ladder, and the wrestling match on the banks of the Jabbok. Verses 9-12 seem to be harkening back to the story of Jacob wrestling with God. That is where his name was changed to Israel. Verses 13-15 seem to refer back to the story of the dream where he saw angels ascending and descending the ladder. That is where he set up the pillar, anointed it with oil, and named the place Bethel. The purpose of the paragraph being inserted here seems to be to reinforce the divine promise of the inheritance of the land.
16-21: Now they begin to move southward toward Hebron, perhaps to visit his father. There is the possibility that his mother Rebekah has already died. She is not mentioned again until we are told in 49:31 that Isaac and Rebekah were buried together at Hebron, and that would explain why her nurse, Deborah, had left the family’s camp at Hebron and gone to Bethel. While they travel, Rachel, who is pregnant with her second son, goes into labor. She dies in childbirth and is buried at Bethlehem. Before she dies, she names the child Ben-oni (child of my sorrow), but Jacob names him Benjamin (child of the South), and the ancestor of Israel’s 12th tribe enters the world.
22-26: They pause at Eder, an unknown place, and there Reuben lay with his father’s concubine, Bilhah, who had been Rachel’s maid. Freudians can have a heyday with this one. The text now lists the 12 sons of Jacob, not in birth order, but in the order of the wives and concubines he “married”. In spite of verse 26, they were not all born in Paddan-aram, for Benjamin was born in Bethlehem.
27-29: Isaac dies in Hebron at a ripe old age. He lived long enough to see his son return. Rebekah, the one who did all the scheming on Jacob’s behalf, apparently did not.
Now that God has re-entered the story, there is a marked reduction in violence. That seems always to be true.