The Plan of God in the Book of Genesis—Part 21

The Promise Repeated


VERSES 1-7  “And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
“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:
“And let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; 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.
“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.
“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.
“So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Beth-el, he, and all the people that were with him.
“And he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.”

God was again able to overrule the mistakes of his people for a further outworking of his plans. Before the incident recorded in the previous chapter, Jacob seemed content to remain in Shechem, but this was not the Lord’s will; so in view of the hostile attitude of the neighboring people which he was sure would result from his sons’ treacherous dealings with the Hivites, he was willing to follow the Lord’s request to move on to Bethel.

The Lord commanded Jacob to build an altar at Bethel, to honor Him who appeared to him when he first fled from his brother, Esau. Seemingly Jacob took from this command a gentle reminder that he had been too lenient in permitting his family to worship the gods of his father-in-law, Laban, for he instructed all in his household to put away their strange gods in order that there be nothing to interfere with his worship of the true God who, as Jacob says, ‘answered me in the day of my distress’. The family complied with Jacob’s instructions, turning in all their idols, and these were buried under an oak tree by Shechem.

This matter taken care of, Jacob began his journey to Bethel. In case we might wonder how it was possible to escape from their hostile neighbors without being attacked or pursued, the record tells us that the ‘terror of God’ was upon the cities in the district so that the people feared to molest Jacob and his sons. There is no indication of what brought about this condition, but we know that God always has a way of accomplishing his purposes as they are being worked out through his chosen people.

Finally, they arrived at Bethel, also called “Luz.” Here, in keeping with the Lord’s direction, Jacob built an altar and renamed the city El-Bethel, ‘because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother’. On that occasion, God promised to go with Jacob, and to bless and keep him, and he had fulfilled his promise. Now he was back where he started his flight from Esau, and the Lord was still with him. How Jacob must have praised the Lord for all that he had done for him!

VERSES 8-15  “But Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died, and she was buried beneath Beth-el under an oak: and the name of it was called Allon-bachuth.
“And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him.
“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.
“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;
“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.
“And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.
“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.
“And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Beth-el.”

On this occasion God took the opportunity to renew to Jacob that wonderful promise he had made to Abraham, of blessing all the families of earth. It is well to keep in mind that the entire narrative of these chapters is related to the manner in which God proposes to fulfil this oathbound covenant with Abraham. The individual incidents recorded are of little value except as they are related to this principal Biblical theme.

God told Jacob that a nation, and a company of nations, would issue from him, and that kings would come out of his loins. Paul shows that the fulfillment of this and similar promises is in the development of the faith seed of Abraham, and that this faith seed shall reign as kings with Christ.—Rom. 8:17; 11:15,25,26

VERSES 16-20  “And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.
“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.
“And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Ben-oni: but his father called him Benjamin.
“And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Beth-lehem.
“And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.”

In these few verses we have a touching account of the death of Rachel, the wife for whom Jacob served Laban, her father, fourteen years. She died giving birth to Benjamin. Verse 18 speaks of her soul departing. The word soul here is a translation of the Hebrew word nephesh, meaning ‘life’. It does not denote that Rachel had some mysterious entity within her which escaped when she died. The account means simply that her life left her.

VERSES 21-26  “And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.
“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 sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun; “The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin:
“And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali:
“And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid; Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padan-aram.”

Edar is mentioned only this once in the Bible. According to St. Jerome’s commentary, it was 1,000 paces outside of Bethlehem. Aside from a reference to the sin of Reuben, the remainder of these verses are concerned merely with a brief statement identifying the twelve sons of Jacob, the heads of the twelve tribes of the Israelitish nation.

VERSES 27-29  “And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.
“And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.
“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.”

‘Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people’. This does not mean that an immortal soul escaped from Isaac’s body. The term ‘ghost’ is a poor translation. It should be ‘life’, and the statement simply means that Isaac gave up his life. He was gathered to his fathers; that is, they were all together in the state of death, and awaiting the resurrection.

It is interesting to note that Jacob and Esau cooperated in the burial of their father. Following their reconciliation, they apparently remained on friendly terms.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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