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1 And Elohim said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto Elohim, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
This was just what Jacob needed, and at the right time. His comfortable settling down at Shechem has been violently broken up, and he is again fleeing in fear.
First God says: "Go and dwell at Bethel." This command brings into sharp contrast the associations of Bethel with those of Shechem where Jacob had planned to dwell. Bethel means "House of God." It was sanctified by the vision of the ladder, the pillar Jacob had set up, and the divine covenant.
Next, the command to build an altar there focuses his mind on God's great purpose through his family; it gives him strength and encouragement and resolve.
And finally, being reminded of God's former assuring appearance to him when he was fleeing from danger just as he is now -- would add to his renewed courage. So a new and brighter chapter opens. We turn from the sordid things of men to the glorious things of God. *
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:
Here is a new atmosphere. Jacob is reawakening. Here again we have the Jacob who wrestled all the night with the angel, and who was given the noble title of Israel -- "Prince with God." *
3 And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto Elohim, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
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.
It was a general reformation of his household, in preparation for his communion with God at Bethel. We may wonder how it could be that there were strange gods in the possession of his household, but in the type of community over which Jacob presided, and in which (judging by his sons) he was practically the only one with a living comprehension of the true God, such practices could very easily develop, unless Jacob constantly rooted them out.
In a somewhat different sense, we would find a similar condition in the modern communities of the called-out family of Israel, for
"All are not Israel who are of Israel."
It behoves us all, then, like Jacob, to gather up all the strange gods and all the earrings -- all the flashy and fleshy baubles -- and bury them under the oak which is by Shechem; leave them behind at forsaken and ill-remembered Shechem where they belong.*
18 And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.
See Gen 31: 32 32 Rachel conceals the idol -
"With whomsoever thou findest thy god, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them".
So as they journey on again from Bethel, the covenant-sanctified House of God, Rachel dies just a little way before they reach Bethlehem. She did not quite reach Bethlehem. She was buried and left behind while Jacob and Leah went on to finish the journey together.
The significance of the introduction of Bethlehem into the picture at this point surely cannot be missed! Leah, we later learn, was buried with the patriarchs in the family burying-place of Abraham, the cave of Machpeleh, but Rachel is buried by the wayside on the journey.
She died in giving birth to Israel's last son. As she died, she named him Ben-oni -- "son of my sorrow"; but his father called him Benjamin -- "son of my right hand." How clearly we see Israel in this allegory! The nation of Israel, as constituted under the old covenant, died in giving birth to Israel's last great son -- the Messiah. We recall how Matthew quotes Jeremiah's reference to Rachel weeping for her children, and applies it to the nation at this very time and occasion.
The nation called this child Ben-oni -- son of my sorrow. Isaiah 53 clearly gives their view of him:
"Despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrow ... we esteemed him not."
He was "son of their sorrow," too, in that -- even while they esteemed him smitten of God -- he "bore their grief and carried their sorrows." They called him son of their sorrow also in their rejection and abuse of him. But his father called him Benjamin -- son of my right hand. David speaks of him (Psa. 80:17), as--
"The man of God's right hand; the son of man whom God made strong for Himself."
This son of God's right hand has now, says Paul,
"Sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." *
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:
The event is passed over very briefly here, without comment, but it had very far-reaching consequences. When Jacob was about to die, he blessed his sons, and spoke prophetically of the later history of their families. Beginning with Reuben, he said (Gen. 49:3-4):
"Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power."
That is what might have been but he continues--
"Thou shalt NOT excel (that is, have the excellency), because thou wentest up to thy father's bed."
And so in 1st Chronicles 5:1 we read that because of this act, the birthright and pre-eminence was taken from the house of Reuben and given to the sons of Joseph. Things may often appear to be passed over without notice at the time, but God does not forget. Let us take this lesson to heart. Let us be impressed by the fact that any action of ours may have great and lasting consequences of good or evil. The Bible contains many such incidents --where the whole course of history and people's destinies are affected by a seemingly small and passed-over act. *
27 And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.
No mention is made of Rebekah. It would appear from this that she had died sometime during the long years since Jacob had fled from home in fear of Esau. Rebekah had said --
"Go to Laban, and tarry with him a few days."
It does not appear that she ever saw Jacob again. What a long train of events developed from the spur-of-the-moment deception concerning the blessing!*
* Bro Growcott - Not Ashamed To Be Called Their God
28 And the days of Isaac were an 180 years.
We know very little about those 180 years. It was not intended that we should know. Just a few incidents are picked out and recorded for a purpose. But we do know that those 180 years were spent in patient and faithful watching.
"By faith (says the apostle) they sojourned in the land of promise, looking for a city which hath foundations -- whose Builder and Maker is God."
It was not God's intention that they should be mixed with the cities of men, but that they should dwell all their lives in tabemacles -- tents -- disdaining the comforts and pleasure of the world, and thereby confessing their faith that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth, awaiting their glorious destiny.
"Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He hath prepared for them a city."
"Not ashamed to be called their God!"
Let us so frame our lives that God will not be ashamed to be called our God, and that we, too, may be among the few taken from among men to enter that eternal city!*
* Bro Growcott - Not Ashamed To Be Called Their God