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On Genesis, Part 45: Hope and Despair
One important lesson which we should all find in the story of Jacob Israel is that in spite of his having had the hope of the promises of Yahweh God, he still had to live with the despair of being in this world. So after he had returned to Canaan from Haran, his daughter was raped by his enemies, at least several of his sons had disappointed him in various ways, even having violated his marriage bed, and among other things, as we shall also encounter here in Genesis chapter 35, his most beloved wife had died giving birth to his last child. If Jacob had suffered these things, having inherited the promises of Abraham and having had the direct blessings of his God, and yet he persisted in obedience to God, then Christians should know beforehand that they shall also suffer these things, and that they must also persist in the faith which Jacob had exhibited. No Christian apart from Christ Himself is better than Jacob, a man who was described by Moses as having been perfect or complete, even if in the King James Version the word is mistranslated as “plain” in Genesis chapter 25 (25:27).
For this same reason, Paul of Tarsus had written in Romans chapter 8, speaking of the creation of God found in the children of Adam, “16 That same Spirit bears witness with our Spirit, that we are children of Yahweh. 17 And if children, then heirs: heirs indeed of Yahweh, and joint heirs of Christ; if indeed we suffer together, that also we will be honored together. 18 Therefore I consider that the happenstances of the present time are not of value, looking to the future honor to be revealed to us. 19 Indeed in earnest anticipation the creation awaits the revelation of the sons of Yahweh. 20 To transientness the creation was subjected not willingly, but on account of He who subjected it in expectation 21 that also the creation itself shall be liberated from the bondage of decay into the freedom of the honor of the children of Yahweh. 22 For we know that the whole creation laments together and travails together until then.” Christ Himself expressed this same sentiment in His Revelation, in chapter 21 where John had described his vision of the descent of the City of God and we read: “3 And I heard a great voice from out of the throne, saying: ‘Behold! The tabernacle of Yahweh is with men, and He shall dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and Yahweh Himself shall be with them, 4 and He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall not be hereafter, nor grief, nor crying, nor toil, it shall be no longer: the former things have departed!’”
Discussing the rape of Dinah as it is described in Genesis chapter 34, to begin with there is a question as to whether Dinah had actually been raped, that perhaps her defilement was at her own mutual consent. But throughout Genesis up to this point we have often discussed marriage, and the conditions under which men had obtained wives and entered into marriage, citing both Scriptures and other ancient documents from the world of the Scriptures, such as the Assyrian inscriptions containing laws which elucidate many of the customs of marriage of the time. These customs had been discussed in relation to the marriage of Isaac in part 35 of this commentary, which was titled A Proper Marriage. From those documents and others, as well as from Scripture, it is clearly evident that a woman was under the authority of her father until he agreed to give her away in marriage, and his agreement was made with the prospective suitor, or in Abraham’s case, with his agent, and not with the daughter herself. When Abraham’s servant arrived in Haran, he didn’t simply steal Rebekah away, perhaps by enticing her with gifts, but instead he went and inquired of her father and sought his terms. When Jacob met Rachel at the well at that same place some decades later, he did not steal her away, but rather, he went to speak to her father and satisfied his demands before he would have her as his wife.
There was no age of consent, nor was there an age of majority in the ancient world. If a woman had remained unmarried, she remained under the authority of her father or her male next of kin until the day she died. Often fathers were financially burdened by unmarried daughters, and for this same reason, in the 19th and early 20th centuries even many American states had sought to tax bachelors in order to subsidize the maintenance of unmarried women.  But in the ancient world a father had property rights over his children, and those rights were often asserted even after the children were married. So in part 34 of this commentary, More Than a Hole, in that regard we wrote that: “In the ancient world, fathers had property rights over their wives and their children, and the authority to determine their fates so long as they lived. In ancient Rome, these rights were codified into law as the Patria potestas, or Paternal power, wherein only the family patriarch had any rights in private law, only he had lawfully held all of the family property regardless of who in the family had earned it, and he even had the power of life and death over his children. Furthermore, he had that authority until he died, since there was no concept of an age of majority, or adulthood, as there is in Western society today, and while fathers could grant legal emancipation to a child, male or female, daughters were typically consigned to the control of another man through marriage.” This is also evident in Genesis, for example where Isaac had told a seventy-year-old Jacob to go to Haran and to find a wife in the house of Laban, and Jacob had readily complied. In turn, Abraham had exercised the same authority over his own adult sons, even in the event of the dedication of Isaac where he had laid him on the altar in preparation for sacrificing him to Yahweh his God. Later, Abraham obtained a wife for Isaac, and Isaac obediently accepted her. In light of that, we should also consider what Rachel and Leah had said to Jacob, where Jacob had expressed his displeasure with Laban and they answered and said, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 31: “15 Are we not counted of him strangers? for he hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money.” So there we see that lawfully, they themselves had no choice in the matter, acknowledging that their father had that right when he sold them to Jacob. They did not necessarily resent being with Jacob, but they despised the manner in which their father had relinquished them to Jacob, which was for his own profit rather than for their benefit.
So Dinah, even if she left home on her own “to see the daughters of the land”, as it says in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 34, was nevertheless the lawful property of Jacob, and therefore she had no right to consent to marriage on her own accord. So perhaps even if she did not resist Shechem, she was raped as we consider rape in our modern society, because she herself had no right to consent. Today that circumstance is called statutory rape, because in modern law a minor has no right to consent. In the circumstances which are apparent in Genesis, only Jacob had the right to consent to the marriage of his daughter. Once Jacob denied Shechem his daughter’s hand, he would very likely never find a husband on account of her having been defiled, as she was no longer a virgin, and he would be responsible for her for as long as either of them lived, passing that responsibility to his sons if he died first. It does not matter whether or not Dinah should be considered a feminist, because she ventured out of the house on her own. The fact is that she was raped even though she put herself in that position, which is evident according to the customs of the time, and the contemporary laws of the surrounding nations, in the absence of the laws of Yahweh which would not come to Israel for another 240 or so years. It must also be noted, that a woman given to a man lawfully in marriage was not considered as having been defiled once she was married and had lost her virginity. Only a woman who had lost her virginity outside of a proper agreement of marriage was considered as having been defiled.
Furthermore, this Shechem, the son of Hamor, was a man of some authority in his community, because his father was the prince of the city which bore his name. There was no State, there was no higher authority which would punish him for his misdeed if he took forcibly a woman who was a foreigner. It is clear that he had done that, as we read in Genesis chapter 34 that after Dinah had left her father’s house on her own, “2 … when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.” Having written that account, Moses laid no further blame on Dinah herself, except to inform us of the circumstance, that she had gone out on her own. Shechem took her, where Moses used a Hebrew word, לקח or laqach (# 3947), which implies that Dinah herself had no choice in the matter. When a woman goes out alone in such a manner, even today she is placing herself in a vulnerable position, for which many women are frequently raped in bars and nightclubs, in city parks and in other public venues.
Assessing the events of Genesis chapter 34 and the vengeance which was exacted for the rape of Dinah by her brothers leaves us with a paradox, because we simply do not have enough information to make a full and complete judgment of all of the related issues. There should not be any doubt, that Simeon and Levi had taken it upon themselves to avenge their sister, and the honor of their father, by destroying all of the Canaanites of Shechem. It is quite unlikely that they had consulted their father beforehand, even if he may have been present when they first suggested to Hamor and to Shechem that the men of Shechem must be circumcised, which is apparent as the account reads in Genesis 34:11-18. So however Jacob may have assessed that offer, if indeed he had even heard it, is not known. But that suggestion was only a ploy on the part of his sons, to assist them in what they had truly endeavored to do, which was to avenge their family, and where Jacob is later angry it is evident that he was not aware of that intention beforehand. So when Jacob had heard of what his sons had done, he rejected them, and he held it against them until the day he died, which is evident in his words at the distributions of blessings to his sons which are recorded in Genesis chapter 49, in the days before he died.
The next marker we have in which to assess the chronology of these events is in the death of Isaac which is recorded in the closing verses of Genesis chapter 35. When Isaac died he was a hundred and eighty years old, and it is evidently about ten years before Jacob had gone to Egypt. So by our reckoning, Jacob left Haran no earlier than the age of ninety, and perhaps he was a little older but we must account it as ninety for want of more accurate data, so the year was around 1705 BC that he left Haran, by our chronology. Then Isaac died thirty years later, in 1675 BC, where Jacob was a hundred and twenty years old. Ten years later, at about a hundred and thirty years old, Jacob went to Egypt and stood before pharaoh, where he had declared that number to have been his age. So the span of Genesis chapters 33 through 35 covers about 30 years, from 1705 to 1675 BC, but as we shall see, some of the events recorded in Genesis chapters 37 and 38 must also fall within that same period, although Moses chose not to record them until he recorded the death of Isaac. Earlier, he recorded the death of Ishmael in that same manner, although it must have taken place later than some of the events which he had described thereafter.
Continuing our assessment of the events subsequent to the rape of Dinah, it is indeed apparent that Jacob is a type for those who act, especially in judgement or in vindication, without first having sought the will of their father, because the sons who had acted without seeking his will had lost their temporal rewards. They were preserved in Israel, but they were scattered in Israel. It does not matter whether we agree with Jacob, because Yahweh Himself had upheld Jacob’s words, and later, after they came out of Egypt, their fulfillment is evident in the history of the tribes of Simeon and Levi – even though they themselves had also been treated differently by Yahweh. Later, while Simeon was neglected, Levi was vindicated by Yahweh, where he was awarded a family priesthood, and where it was one of his sons who had been chosen to lead the children of Israel out of the captivity of Egypt. Therefore in spite of Jacob’s immediate judgment, Yahweh did reward Levi with something that Jacob himself could not have foreseen, and doing so Jacob’s words were nevertheless upheld, because although he was rewarded, his seed was scattered in Israel, just not in a way in which Jacob himself may have imagined.
So even if we may be tempted to second-guess Jacob’s criticism of Simeon and Levi, we cannot judge him because we have not walked in his shoes. Neither can we judge Jacob’s actions by the law, because he did not have the law, as it was not yet given, and that would even by hypocritical on our part. He was practically alone in Canaan with twelve sons, and perhaps as many as a few hundred servants. As we shall see later, his father was in nearby Hebron and Isaac had servants of his own, but even those numbers were paltry compared to the Canaanites of the surrounding cities. For that reason Jacob, in his criticism of his sons, had said, as it appears in Genesis chapter 34 in the New American Standard Bible: “30 … You have brought trouble on me, by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I shall be destroyed, I and my household.” There it seems that Jacob was concerned with the safety of his own family, something which is natural in spite of the promises of Yahweh God which he had been given, and that he was not really concerned with the fate of the men of Shechem.
Considering the general deportment of Jacob throughout his life and up to this point, he had always left judgment to his God, he suffered in his circumstances until that judgment had arrived, and it is entirely plausible that he had that same expectation here, before his sons took vindication into their own hands without having first consulted him. But Jacob, who had feared the retribution of the Canaanites, also could not have foreseen a circumstance which is described in Genesis chapter 35, where we read that once he had moved with his family to Bethel, “5 … the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.”
Later, in Genesis chapter 47, Jacob accounted Simeon for nothing, but there he did not mention Levi, where after what he had imagined to have been the death of Joseph, when Reuben later petitioned him to allow him to bring Benjamin down to Egypt, Jacob responds as having said: “36 … Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me.” Yet while he fails to negate Levi here, Levi nevertheless merits the same meager status as Simeon had in Jacob’s final blessings for his sons. Here it also seems that Jacob had placed at least some of the blame for the travails of his children on his oldest son, Reuben.
Therefore, whether or not we agree with Jacob’s assessment of the actions of Levi and Simeon, we have no right to judge Jacob. Jacob could only act upon what information he himself had at the time, and it was not much. Then Yahweh Himself had protected those sons in spite of their father’s condemnation of their actions. But since Yahweh had also upheld Jacob’s words, that they would be scattered in Israel, this event nevertheless stands as a type for those who do not seek the will of their father, which we should accept and understand as a model, that before we take vengeance or move against our enemies we should always first seek the will of our God, either in prayer or in Scripture. Jacob and his sons did not have the benefit of the laws of Yahweh written in the Scriptures. They only knew what was right or wrong according to the customs of the society at the time. But Jacob certainly must have been confident, that if he had turned to Yahweh for vindication, that Yahweh would have vindicated him, as that had always been his experience in the past, and was evidently angered that his sons did not have that same patience. However now, as Genesis chapter 35 opens, we shall see that even the sons of Jacob had begun to adopt foreign idols, which Jacob called “strange gods”, and we can only wonder if they had ever even known that they should have had the same patience.
From another perspective, while Yahweh later rewarded Levi with something that Jacob had not considered, which was a family priesthood, Yahweh seems to have never openly justified Simeon for his role in this matter, and in spite of the fact that he was the elder of the two brothers, he was not the eldest son, nor was he portrayed as having been the leader in the plot, and as it was described by Moses, their roles in the matter seem to have been equal. So by Yahweh’s having rewarded Levi we may understand that Jacob’s judgment of the matter was not congruent to the judgment of Yahweh, as Jacob himself is also a man. Nor was it in harmony with any vindication for which Israel would have been justified in the time of the later kingdom. But Yahweh had apparently never rewarded Simeon, and while the Levites had certainly sinned much later in history, the history of Simeon seems to have been troubled from the start, almost as soon as Israel had escaped from Egypt.
Perhaps the troubles experienced by Simeon begin with a statement in Genesis chapter 46 that he had a son named “Shaul the son of a Canaanitish woman.” But Simeon is never openly criticized in Scripture for this statement, so it is difficult to determine whether this “Canaanitish woman” was actually of the seed of Canaan. In contrast, Judah took a Canaanite wife, and for that an example was made, and Judah was explicitly criticized not only by the fate of those sons, but also in the words of the prophets. So we can only wonder if the Canaanitish mother of this Shaul was actually of the seed of the Nephilim, or whether or not she was of the booty from Shechem, or whether or not it was for that same reason that Simeon was overlooked by Yahweh when He had rewarded Levi with a priesthood, since Simeon was the older of the two brothers. As Paul had cited the Septuagint version of Exodus 33:19 in chapter 9 of his epistle to the Romans, “15 Indeed to Moses He says, ‘I will show mercy to whomever I show mercy, and I will feel pity for whomever I feel pity.’”
The troubled state of the tribe of Simeon first becomes manifest in the Book of Numbers. In the early chapters of Numbers, where Moses had taken a census of the tribes the sons of Simeon had numbered over 59,000, the fourth most populous of the tribes behind Judah, Joseph and Dan, in that order. But in the subsequent events many of the children of Israel were lost, first, for example, in the plague of Numbers chapter 21, where Moses was told to make a staff with a serpent upon it as an elixir, which in itself is a prophecy of Christ, and then, as another example, in the events of Numbers chapter 25 where many of the children of Israel had died when “1 … Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.” While at least 23,000 of the children of Israel had fallen in that plague, or 24,000 according to Paul of Tarsus where he had recounted the event, the plague had ended after Phinehas had taken up a spear and slew one of the men who were engaging in that fornication, a man who also happened to be one of the chief men of the tribe of Simeon (Numbers 25:14).
So while there were other wars which may have also reduced the numbers of the sons of Israel, these two events were significant, and later, in Numbers chapter 26, where the children of Israel were numbered by Moses once again, the population of men in the tribe of Simeon had gone from 59,300 down to only 22,200. While three other tribes had lost much smaller numbers, eight tribes gained in population during that same period. The three other tribes which lost men, Reuben, Naphtali and Gad, suffered a total loss of not quite 16,000 while eight tribes had a combined gain of just over 51,000. So the loss of over 37,000 of the men of Simeon in that period certainly seems to have been a sign of judgement against them in particular. But the judgment could not have been solely from the vindication at Shechem, in which Levi had an equal part, and he was rewarded by Yahweh. But if it was on account of the son which he had of the “Canaanitish woman”, Judah had not suffered likewise, and his son Shelah certainly was a Canaanite. The tribe of Judah would suffer later on that account, according to the words of the prophets, and in any event, the descendants of the “Canaanitish woman” must also have been treated in that same manner, if she was actually an accursed Canaanite.
So there are conclusions which we want to reach but we have nothing truly substantial upon which to base them, so we cannot assert them because the evidence is merely circumstantial.
Now with this, we shall commence with Genesis chapter 35:
1 And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
Bethel is where Jacob had slept after departing from Beersheba, and where he had seen the vision of the angels on the ladder, so the morning after he had built an altar and named the place Bethel, from Hebrew words which mean house of God. The site which is believed to have been that of ancient Bethel is about twenty miles south of the site of ancient Shechem. The site of ancient Hebron is about twenty-eight miles further south of Bethel. As we shall later learn, some time during Jacob’s sojourn, and for reasons which are not recorded in Genesis, Isaac must have left Beersheba and settled in Hebron, near the oaks of Mamre where Abraham had lived before Isaac was born. But this is only found in the circumstances which are described at the end of this chapter. Many years earlier, Abraham had left Hebron for Beersheba shortly before Isaac was born, after Sodom had been destroyed. But Abraham also returned to Hebron later in life, and died there several decades after Sarah his wife had died there, where they were both buried in the cave which he had bought from the Hittites.
While there is no record of any interaction between Jacob and Isaac during the years following Jacob’s return to Canaan and before Isaac had passed, Jacob must have known that his father was in Hebron, as he knew when his father had died. So they must have been in correspondence, and they may have even seen one another. It is incredulous to imagine that Jacob never introduced his family to his father during these years, as he was still living and apparently healthy for at least many of them, but the way in which the chapter is written, while it seems to have been thirty years before Jacob had seen his father after his having left Haran, upon close inspection of this chapter and chapter 37, it was not. It was actually only about fifteen years, and Jacob would live with his father in Hebron during the last ten to thirteen years of Isaac’s life.
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: 3 And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
The word for strange here, which is the Hebrew word נכר or nekar (# 5236), refers to something or someone which is not recognized, according to our own understanding, and for that reason it could even refer to someone of one’s own people. This is supported first where Strong’s original Concordance defines the related word נכר or nekar (# 5234) where it appears as a verb and is “a primitive root; properly to scrutnize, i.e. look intently at; hence (with recognition implied), to acknowledge, be acquainted with, care for, respect, revere, or (with suspicion implied) to disregard, ignore, be strange toward, reject…” etc. But the idols which Jacob’s family or servants had in their possession were strange only to Jacob, since he had not been raised with them while his wives and his servants had been raised with them.
So it is evident that Jacob’s household had been practicing some form of idolatry up to this point. This would include not only his wives and children, but also his servants. But it must be acknowledged that his wives were raised as pagans, and his servants had all been pagans in Haran. Ostensibly, his wives would have naturally transmitted their own pagan beliefs to their children. As we have also noted, there were no Scriptures at this time, so there was no evident source by which anyone could acquire the truth of God. Therefore it would have been natural for Jacob’s wives and servants to remain in the pagan superstitions in which they had been raised, and to transmit those beliefs to their children. While we are not informed of the substance of their strange gods or their pagan beliefs, we may be generally confident that they are represented in the myths which are found in the legends of Mesopotamia preserved in the ancient inscriptions, some of which there are references made in later Scriptures, such as the mention of Tammuz in Ezekiel chapter 8.
Perhaps Jacob had felt that his God was present in Bethel, as his dream when he fled to Haran had evidently made a great impression on him, for which reason he had named the place in that manner. So therefore he must have felt that it would not be fitting to have the images of other gods there, since it is evident that he was compelled to cleanse his household of their gods, and even to have them cleanse their garments, before he brought them to Bethel. Therefore here it is further evident that at this point Jacob begins guiding his family into monotheism, so that they would only recognize the god whom he had known as the God of Bethel. Since his family and household had all apparently complied with his wishes, this also elucidates the degree of absolute authority which the family patriarch had over his household at this time, an authority which was upheld throughout the entirety of the Scriptures.
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.
We may never know whether or not the gods which Rachel had stolen from her father were among these gods which were surrendered at Shechem, or if Jacob had ever known the fate of those gods which Laban had vainly sought to recover at Mount Gilead. Furthermore, the earrings which they surrendered must have also been associated with the worship of at least certain of these strange gods. In the account of Gideon in Judges chapter 8 there is a reference to some of the enemies of Israel who had been defeated at that time which says in part “For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.” There it is evident that the Ishmaelites were in league with the Midianites who had been the primary adversaries in that account, but that the custom must have been peculiar to Ishmael, and not necessarily to Midian.
The crescent moon symbol of the moon god Sin was evidently popular in ancient Haran, but the cult was found throughout Mesopotamia and the Levant. In an article titled The moon god Sin we read in part:
Both in Assyrian and Babylonian myths, the moon appears as a symbol of the god Sin and is even depicted with a lunar halo or a crescent-shaped moon around the head of the god Sin on many tablets or cylindrical seals. Thanks to Sumerian cuneiform tablets, the first surviving written sources, we can trace the origin of this god to Nanna or Suen as this god was worshiped in Sumer. From these cuneiform sources, we understand that this god is hermaphrodite. However, because it generally symbolizes fertile and abundance, we come across a symbol of the moon with feminine energy….
This situation elevated the belief in the moon god to an important level in Mesopotamia and also in neighboring lands. It is known that the moon cult was very important especially in Harran (Urfa/Urhoy) where it was the center of pilgrimage for the god Sin. In this regard, the human images in the monumental tombs in Soğmatar, the reliefs of the god Sin, and some Aramaic inscriptions are very important. These images show us how widespread the cult of Sin was in this region and that his name was frequently used in most tomb monuments or treaty texts. 
Now Jacob’s family and household journey to Bethel, and evidently it is still not very long after the slaughter of Shechem:
5 And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him. 7 And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.
Luz would still have been the contemporary name for Bethel in Jacob’s own time, and the name Bethel had persisted only because the sons of Israel had later come to dominate the area, and otherwise both the name and our Scriptures would now be forgotten. The name for the altar, Elbethel, seems to be redundant, since it means “the God of the house of God”. In the opening verse of the chapter, Yahweh had instructed him to build this altar, telling him explicitly to “make there an altar unto God”. Naming the altar in this manner does not mean that the altar is the god, but that Jacob had dedicated it to his God. However we must also remember that Jacob knew Yahweh by no other name than the titles God, or God Almighty, as we read in Exodus chapter 6, where Yahweh had said to Moses, in verse “3 And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name YAHWEH was I not known to them.”
8 But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.
Here there is an odd clue that Jacob must have been in communication with Isaac his father as he sojourned in Canaan, or even as he had returned from Haran. In Genesis chapter 24, where Rebekah had departed from Haran with Abraham’s servant to become the wife of Isaac, we read in part, where it is first speaking of her father and brother: “59 And they sent away Rebekah their sister, and her nurse, and Abraham's servant, and his men.” So Rebekah’s nurse had been in Beersheba with Rebekah and Isaac. But perhaps the nurse was sent to Jacob to help his wives raise their children, as there is no other evident reason for her being with the household of Jacob here. Furthermore, we do not know at this time whether Rebekah herself was still alive since she is not mentioned again in Genesis after chapter 28, except for a retrospective mention of her having been buried with Isaac in chapter 49. This nurse of Rebekah’s must have been loved and treasured, since the name by which Jacob had called the oak, Allonbachuth, is from a Hebrew phrase which means oak of weeping. This nurse must have had a hand raising Jacob and Esau, since she left Haran with Rebekah, and she had lived for all of these years.
Now Jacob is once again given hope and encouragement in spite of his trials and the despair which they must have brought him:
9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him. 10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. 11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins; 12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land. 13 And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.
Here the hope and despair found in the life of Jacob is itself prophetic of the future history of his children. First, where Jacob had persevered with the angel, that was a sign for him that he would prevail with God and with men so long as he continued to persevere, and the blessing which he had attained from the angel is verified here by Yahweh his God. Now the trials which Jacob faces are the first expression of the historic struggles which his descendants would have to face, and as it is revealed in Revelation chapter 12, their historic adversaries are indeed the fallen angels. In the end, all of Israel shall be saved, a promise which is found in Isaiah chapter 45 and elsewhere, so in this struggle they shall all prevail, since they are also of Jacob.
The nations promised to Jacob here are the same nations which are the only legitimate beneficiaries of the promise which is in Christ. The entire Bible is inseparable from the history of Jacob’s descendants, and the Scripture would not even exist except for these promises, which express the very purposes for which it exists. It should not exist outside of the scope of these promises, as it is meaningless to anyone who is not descended from ancient Israel. As Paul of Tarsus had written in Romans chapter 4, “16 Therefore from of the faith, that in accordance with favor, then the promise is to be certain to all of the offspring, not to that of the law only, but also to that of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all; 17 (just as it is written, ‘That a father of many nations I have made you,’) before Yahweh whom he trusted, who raises the dead to life, and calls things not existing as existing; 18 who contrary to expectation, in expectation believed, for which he would become a father of many nations according to the declaration, ‘Thus your offspring will be.’” When Paul wrote those words, only a small number of Israelites in Judaea were keeping the law, but the promises to Abraham were to all those who had descended from him through Jacob, and it was they in whom Abraham had believed, so only they are of the faith of Abraham.
As Luke had recorded in Acts chapter 9, where Hananias was doubtful of his mission to assist Paul of Tarsus, “15 But the Prince said to him ‘Go! For he is a vessel chosen by Me who is to bear My Name before both the Nations and kings of the sons of Israel. 16 For I shall indicate to him how much it is necessary for him to suffer on behalf of My Name.’” Then many years later, as it is recorded in Acts chapter 26, Paul himself had attested before Herod Agrippa II, speaking in reference to the reasons for which the Judaeans had accused him: “6 And now for the hope of the promise having been made by God to our fathers I stand being judged, 7 for which our twelve tribes serving in earnest night and day hope to attain…” Finally, in Revelation chapter 21, where the City of God descends from heaven the names on its gates belong to those same twelve tribes, and nobody else may ever expect to enter therein.
When the promises were first made to the fathers, there were no Romans, but the Romans were indeed one of the nations of this promise to Jacob, that “a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins…” So Paul had also attested to the Romans, in chapter 15 of his epistle, “8 Therefore I say, Yahshua Christ came to be a minister of circumcision in behalf of the truth of Yahweh; for the confirmation of the promises of the fathers…” Where Paul mentioned those promises, he affirmed their fulfillment “as it is written”, indicating that the promises are intended for these same nations which were promised to Jacob here, which would come from his loins. That is the door of the sheep, as it is defined in Scripture.
14 And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon. 15 And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel.
Jacob had already named this place Bethel, before he went to Haran, and now he is merely affirming that name once again, where this was most likely done in the presence of all of his sons and his household.
In the opening verses of this chapter, Jacob was summoned by Yahweh to dwell in Bethel, so we do not know how long he remained there, or why he had left, as it is described in this next verse. Nor do we know precisely how long it had been since he had left Haran. But since Dinah was still quite young when Jacob departed Haran, as young as three or four years, it must have been at least twelve years, and probably even longer, for Dinah to have been old enough to have left her house on her own and suffer the results of her venture.
As Jacob departs from Bethel, he is headed along the route which would lead to Hebron. Apparently, if the modern identification of these sites is certain, Bethlehem is about sixteen miles south of Bethel, and Hebron is another twelve or so miles further south of Bethlehem, or Ephrath.
16 And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour. 17 And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also. 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. 19 And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. 20 And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.
The Septuagint has a longer reading of verse 16, which Brenton appropriately translates to read: “[And Jacob removed from Baethel, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Gader,] and it came to pass when he drew nigh to Chabratha, to enter into Ephratha, Rachel travailed; and in her travail she was in hard labour.” The first part of that verse is bracketed in Brenton’s translation, as he had noted the belief that it was interpolated by a transposition of the text of what is now verse 21 in the Hebrew text.
The name Benoni is from a Hebrew phrase which means “son of my sorrow” (# 1126), and it is evident that Rachel gave her son that name as she knew that she was dying. But here, for the first time, Jacob overruled a name which was given to his sons by his wives, and called his name Benjamin, which means “son of the right hand”. Rather amusingly, on two occasions in the Book of Judges, in chapters 3 and 20, men of the tribe of Benjamin are described as having been left-handed, and in chapter 20 the number of them is quite significant.
When Laban had come to Jacob demanding the return of his household gods, Jacob knew nothing of them, not knowing that it was Rachel who had taken them. So Jacob told Laban that “32 With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live”, as it is recorded in Genesis chapter 31. So his words certainly seem to have portended an untimely death for Rachel. However when Rachel had her first child, Joseph, in Haran, she is recorded in Genesis chapter 30 as having “24 … called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.” So in the mercy of Yahweh God, here her professed desire is fulfilled before Jacob’s much more ominous words were fulfilled.
As we had explained in chapter 30, the name יוסף or Iowceph (# 3130) is defined by Strong’s as a phrase which means “let him add”, from the verb יסף or ioceph (# 3254) which means to add, augment or continue. Some sources define the word as “Jehovah adds”, or as it should be, “Yahweh adds”, however that is impossible, since the meaning of the term as we have provided it is fully evident according to the Hebrew grammar, and also since Jacob and his family, including Rachel, had not yet known the Almighty God by the name Yahweh. But this son, Benjamin, certainly is the fulfillment of the desire for a second son which was expressed by Rachel when Joseph was born.
Outside of Genesis, Rachel is mentioned only three times in Scripture. The first is a complimentary analogy in the Book of Ruth. Then she is mentioned in Jeremiah chapter 31, in a passage cited in Matthew chapter 2. So in Jeremiah we read: “15 Thus saith the LORD; A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.” However Ramah, which was evidently situated near the border of Ephraim and Benjamin (Judges 4:5) near Gibeah (Judges 19:13), was some distance from Ephrath, which is the ancient name of the site later known as Bethlehem, and therefore the prophecy in Jeremiah is not associated with the circumstances of Rachel’s burial. It is associated, however, with the future territory of this child Benjamin, who was born here as his mother had died.
Jacob continues his journey southward:
21 And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.
While it is derived from a verb which means to arrange, the Hebrew word עדר or edar is a flock, according to both Strong’s (# 5739) and Gesenius . So while the context is quite different, it seems that Yahweh is alluding to this place while using its name in an allegory where He is recorded as having said, in chapter 4 of Micah, “8 And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.” Here the same Hebrew term appears, but the word edar was not translated.
Now Jacob is disappointed by the eldest of his sons, and that also must have caused him great despair:
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.
There is no further elaboration concerning this rather serious indiscretion on the part of Reuben until Jacob blesses his sons, which is recorded in Genesis chapter 49 where we read: “3 Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: 4 Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it: he went up to my couch.” Of course, Reuben had committed a great sin by defiling his father’s concubine, however what else, if anything else, Jacob had done in response to his sin is not recorded. In any event, this would be just another trial and reason for despair on the part of Jacob.
Continuing the verse, and moving on:
Now the sons of Jacob were twelve: 23 The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun: 24 The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin: 25 And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali: 26 And the sons of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid; Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padanaram.
Here it seems that the sons of Jacob are listed on account of Jacob’s having been about to present them to his father Isaac in Hebron. However as we have already stated, it seems that Jacob and Isaac must have already had some degree of contact, especially since Rebekah’s nurse, who had formerly been in Beersheba with Isaac, was more recently with Jacob in Bethel when she had died.
So now, for the first recorded instance since he had left the home of his father to go to Haran as many as forty years earlier, we read:
27 And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned. 28 And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years. 29 And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
The year in which Isaac died is 1675 BC, according to our somewhat imperfect chronology. But we cannot know for certain precisely how long Jacob and his family had been here in Hebron before Isaac had died, except for certain circumstances mentioned in Genesis chapter 37. We only know that Jacob had left Haran around 1705 BC, or perhaps a little later, and that at least 15 years must have elapsed for Dinah to have been old enough to be raped, and now perhaps as many as a couple of more years may have passed since the events of Shechem, depending on how long Jacob had dwelled in Bethel.
But once again, as we had seen concerning Abraham and Ishmael in earlier chapters of Genesis, Moses is writing this account of the death of Isaac out of chronological sequence. Now in Genesis chapter 36 the subject changes to the genealogy of Esau. Then when the focus turns back to the family of Jacob in Canaan, the sons of Israel are feeding the flocks of their father near Shechem, but Jacob has remained in Hebron, and Joseph was thrown into the pit by his brothers near Shechem at the age of seventeen. When Joseph is seventeen, Jacob could not be much older than a hundred and seven years, as he was ninety or perhaps a little older when Joseph was born and he left Haran, but he must be a hundred and twenty when Isaac died.
If Dinah had been in her late teens when she was raped, and if Joseph returns to Shechem after seeing Isaac here, but before Isaac had actually died, then all of these details are reconcilable. If Joseph had seen his grandfather here, as the text certainly implies, then his brethren must have returned to the area around Shechem after seeing Isaac, from where Joseph was later abducted and brought to Egypt. In Genesis chapter 37 we read in part: “12 And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem. 13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I. 14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.”
If Joseph was seventeen when he was sent back to Shechem from Hebron and abducted from the pit, but Jacob, Joseph and his brethren had seen Isaac here, then Jacob must have reached Hebron by the time when Joseph was seventeen, so the journey from Shechem to Hebron could not have taken very long even with the stop in Bethel. Then, arriving in Hebron by the time that Joseph was seventeen, when Jacob was between the ages of a hundred and seven and a hundred and ten, Jacob must have dwelt here in Hebron with his father and his family for at least ten, and as many as twelve or thirteen years before Isaac had died. We shall discuss this chronology and the plausible sequence of events in greater detail when we begin our commentary for Genesis chapter 37. In the interim, we must follow the digression which Moses had taken, to discuss the generations of Esau, in Genesis chapter 36.
Of course, even after all of this, Jacob will face even greater despair in his life, but none of his descendants should expect to suffer any less than he himself had suffered. Then, as Jacob must also have realized, and as Paul of Tarsus had also written, the hope is certainly much greater than the suffering. So Christians should not have despair in the face of the hope which they have in Christ, and rather, they should disregard the suffering, at least as well as they can, and focus on that hope.
1 Tennessee’s Long History of Debating the ‘Bachelor Tax’, Bill Carey, The Tennessee Magazine, October 1st, 2023, https://www.tnmagazine.org/tennessees-long-history-of-debating-the-bachelor-tax/, accessed January 25th, 2024. [PDF]
2 The moon god Sin, Nurgül Çelebi, Syriac Press, https://syriacpress.com/blog/2022/02/18/the-moon-god-sin/, accessed January 26th, 2024.
3 Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, translated by Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Baker Books, 1979, p. 609.