Jacob buries his family’s idols, travels to Luz, builds an altar, and renames the site Bethel. God reveals himself as El Shaddai, blesses Jacob, and changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Benjamin is born to Rachel, who dies in childbirth. Reuben sleeps with his father Jacob’s servant-wife Bilhah. The twelve sons of Jacob are listed. Isaac dies in Hebron and is buried by his sons Esau and Jacob.
Jacob buries his family’s idols: “They gave to Jacob all the alien gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth that was near Shechem.” (v. 4)
III. Select Verses
2, 4: So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Rid yourselves of the alien gods in your midst, purify yourselves, and change your clothes… They gave to Jacob all the alien gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the terebinth that was near Shechem.
8: Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and was buried under the oak below Bethel; so it was named Allon-bacuth.
10-12: God said to him, “You whose name is Jacob, You shall be called Jacob no more, But Israel shall be your name.” Thus He named him Israel. And God said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Be fertile and increase; A nation, yea an assembly of nations, Shall descend from you. Kings shall issue from your loins. The land that I assigned to Abraham and Isaac I assign to you; And to your offspring to come Will I assign the land.”
17-18: When [Rachel’s] labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, “Have no fear, for it is another boy for you.” But as she breathed her last — for she was dying — she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
22a: While Israel stayed in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father’s concubine; and Israel found out.
22b-26: Now the sons of Jacob were twelve in number. The sons of Leah: Reuben — Jacob’s first-born — Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.
28-29: Isaac was a hundred and eighty years old when he breathed his last and died. He was gathered to his kin in ripe old age; and he was buried by his sons Esau and Jacob.
1-8. Jacob travels to Bethel 1. God tells Jacob to return to Bethel, where he had a vision [Genesis 28:11-22], and build an altar 2-3. Jacob tells his family to abandon their foreign gods and go to Bethel so that he can build his altar 4. Jacob’s family give him their idols and Jacob buries them under the terebinth tree near Shechem 5. God protects Jacob’s family by frightening the locals 6-7. Jacob arrives at Luz/Bethel, builds his altar, and named the place Bethel [the house of God] 8. Deborah, the wet nurse of Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, dies and is buried at the oak tree of Bethel, called “the oak of crying” 9-13. God appears to Jacob 9. Introduction, blessing 10. God names Jacob Israel 11a. God introduces himself as El Shaddai 11b. Jacob is blessed with many offspring, including royals 12. Jacob is promised the land of Abraham and Isaac 13. God departs 14-15. Jacob sets up a pillar and names the site Bethel 16-20. The death of Rachel and birth of Benjamin 16-18a. Rachel gives birth to a boy, names him Ben-oni (son of my sorrow), and dies 18b. Jacob calls the boy Benjamin (the son of the right side, or, the son of the south side) 19-20. Rachel was buried in Bethlehem, where Jacob set up a pillar to this day 21-22a. Reuben sleeps with Bilhah 21. Israel [called such for the first time] travels on to Migdal-eder 22a. Reuben sleeps with Bilhah, Jacob’s servant wife 22b-26. The twelve sons of Jacob 22b. Introduction 23. Leah’s six sons 24. Rachel’s two sons 25. Bilhah’s two sons 26a. Zilpah’s two sons 26b. Conclusion 27-29. Jacob [called such] returns to Hebron where Isaac dies at 108 and is buried by Esau and Jacob
- Deborah, a new character, is first named when she dies in verse 8: “Deborah, Rebekah’s wet nurse, died, and was buried under the oak below Bethel; so it was named Allon-bacuth (the oak of crying).” While it is surprising to first learn her name under these circumstances, she seems to have been mentioned anonymously in Genesis 24:59, when Laban sent Rebekah to Canaan: “So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her wet nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men.” The question, however, is why was Rebekah’s wet nurse travelling with Jacob; shouldn’t she have been with Rebekah and her husband Isaac in Hebron? Medieval Jewish commentators such as Rashi and Bekhor Shor answer this question by pointing out that Rebekah told Jacob she would fetch him to return from Haran:
“Now, my son, listen to me. Flee at once to Haran, to my brother Laban. Stay with him a while, until your brother’s fury subsides — until your brother’s anger against you subsides — and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will fetch you from there. Let me not lose you both in one day!” (Genesis 27:43-45)
According to this reading, Deborah was sent by Rebekah to travel with Jacob.
- In verse 11, Yahweh introduces himself to Jacob as “The God Shaddai.” It has been suggested that Shaddai means “strong,” “omnipotent,” or even “paternal uncle,” but, as the Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) points out, we really do not know what this strange appelation means.
- This chapter contains the second and third time that Bethel, which was formally called Luz, is given its name by Jacob (vv. 6-7, 14-15; Genesis 28:19). Also note that this chapter contains the second time that Jacob is named Israel (v. 10; Genesis 32:27-29). Verse 21 is also the first time that Jacob is called Israel instead of Jacob. Note that although God reveals his name in this chapter as El Shaddai (v. 11) after renaming Jacob, God’s name was not revealed back in 32:30.
VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Photo by Eitan f – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12812138