Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
Genesis 35: 1-8
35 God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” 2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you and purify yourselves and change your garments. 3 Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears. Jacob hid them under the terebinth tree that was near Shechem.
5 And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 And Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7 and there he built an altar and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother. 8 And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So he called its name Allon-bacuth.
Bethel is mentioned as early as Genesis 12:8:
From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.
Bethel is also mentioned in Genesis 28 at verse 19:
He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
Bethel (Hebrew: בֵּית אֵל, romanized: Bēṯ ’Ēl, “House of El” or “House of God”, also transliterated Beth El, Beth-El, Beit El; Greek: Βαιθήλ; Latin: Bethel) was an ancient Israelite cultic site frequently mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
Bethel is first referred to in the bible as being near where Abram pitched his tent. Later, Bethel is mentioned as the location where Jacob dreams of a ladder leading to heaven, and which he therefore named Bethel, “House of God”. The name is further used for a border city located between the territory of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin and that of the tribe of Ephraim, which first belonged to the Benjaminites and was later conquered by the Ephraimites. In the 4th century CE, Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome described Bethel as a small village that lay 12 Roman miles north of Jerusalem, to the right or east of the road leading to Neapolis.
Most scholars identify Bethel with the modern-day village of Beitin, located in the West Bank, 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) northeast of Ramallah; few scholars prefer El-Bireh. In 1977, the biblical name was applied to the Israeli settlement of Beit El, founded nearby. In several countries—particularly in the United States—the name has been given to various locations.
Edward Robinson identified the Arab village of Beitin in the West Bank with ancient Bethel in Biblical Researches in Palestine, 1838–52. He based this assessment on its fitting the location described in earlier texts, and on the philological similarities between the modern and ancient name, arguing that the replacement of the Hebrew el with the Arabic in was not unusual. Most academics continue to identify Bethel with Beitin.
Beitin in 1894, from the book Holy Land photographed by Daniel B. Shepp
David Palmer Livingston contradicts this view, based on the lack of positive identification by means of inscriptions and relying on the distance from Jerusalem according to Eusebius and Jerome. He identifies Bethel with El-Bireh, suggesting that Beitin might be biblical Ophrah; however, Ophrah is commonly identified with the nearby village of Taybeh.
Looking at the verses, and starting with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary at verse 1:
(1) Arise, go up to Beth-el.—The position of Jacob at Shechem had become dangerous; for though the first result of the high-handed proceeding of Simeon and Levi was to strike the natives with terror (Genesis 35:5), yet reprisals might follow if they had time to learn the comparatively small number of Jacob’s followers. It was necessary, therefore, to remove; but besides this, Beth-el was the goal of the patriarch’s jonrneyings. He had made a solemn vow there on his journey to Padanaram, and though forty-two years had elapsed, it had not been forgotten (see Genesis 31:13); and the Divine command to go thither Was the outward authorisation of what his own conscience dictated. On this account we cannot believe that he had remained long at Shechem. Nomads are singularly leisurely in their movements. There is nothing of the rush and hurry of city life in their doings or purposes. They are capable of a great effort occasionally, but then relapse into their usual slowness. And so, when Jacob found good pasture and plenty of room for his cattle at Shechem, he remained there for awhile; but he did not abandon his purpose of going first to Beth-el, and finally to Hebron.
Jacob is told to go on to Bethel. As the note implies, we can surmise that this is both because he was instructed to go there all along and because Simeon and Levi’s actions at Shechem made staying in place untenable.
From The Pulpit Commentaries:
Then Jacob said unto his household (i.e. those more immediately belonging to his family), and to all that were with him (referring probably to the captured Shechemites), Put away the strange gods—literally, the gods of the stranger, including most likely the teraphim of Laban, which Rachel still retained, and other objects of idolatrous worship, either brought by Jacob’s servants from Mesopotamia, or adopted in Canaan, or perhaps possessed by the captives—that are among you, and be clean,—literally, cleanse yourselves. The word is that which afterwards describes the purifications of the law (Numbers 19:11, Numbers 19:12; Le Numbers 14:4; Numbers 15:13). Aben Ezra interprets it as meaning that they washed their bodies; and Michaelis views the rite as a kind of baptism, signifying their adoption of the true religion of Jehovah—a quasi baptism of repentance, like that afterwards preached by John—and change your garments. The directions here given are very similar to those which were subsequently issued at Sinai (Exodus 19:10), and were meant to symbolize a moral and spiritual purification of the mind and heart. And let us arise, and go to Bethel. “This is obviously not the first time Jacob acquainted his family with the vision at Bethel (Inglis). And I will make there an altar unto God,—El is probably employed because of its proximity to and connection with Bethel, or house of El, and the intended contrast between the El of Bethel and the strange Elohim which Jacob’s household were commanded to put away—who answered me in the day of my distress,—this seems to imply that Jacob prayed at Bethel before he slept, if it does not refer to his supplication before meeting, Esau (Genesis 32:9)—and was with me in the way which I went. This language clearly looks back to Bethel (vide Genesis 28:20).
It’s interesting that Jacob’s party is traveling with foreign gods in the first place. They are put away and the people are told to “be clean” as described above. There is a sense as one reds through Genesis that the holiness of Abraham – who was not himself perfect – lessens somewhat in each subsequent generation.
In verse 4 the text specifically mentions getting rid of earrings. From Ellicott:
(4) Earrings.—Earrings seem to have been worn not so much for ornament as for superstitious purposes, being regarded as talismans or amulets. Hence it was from their earrings that Aaron made the golden calf (Exodus 32:2-4).
The oak.—Not Abraham’s oak-grove (Genesis 12:6), referred to probably in Judges 9:6; Judges 9:37—the Hebrew word in these three places being êlôn—but that under which Joshua set up his pillar of witness (Joshua 24:26), the tree being in both these places called allâh, or êlâh, a terebinth.
Interestingly, to me at least, we can contrast earrings here with nose rings from Chapter 24 at the initial encounter with Rebekah. I wrote about it HERE.
Picking back up with The Pulpit Commentaries:
And they journeyed (from Shechem, after the work of reformation just described): and the terror of God—meaning not simply a great terror, as in Genesis 23:6; Genesis 30:8 (Dathe, Bush), but either a supernatural dread inspired by Elohim (Ainsworth, Clericus, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, and others), or a fear of Elohim, under whose care Jacob manifestly bad been taken (Murphy, Quarry)—was upon the cities that were round about them,—literally, in their circuits, i.e. wherever they went—and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob—as might have been expected.
So (literally, and) Jacob came to Luz (vide Genesis 28:19), which is in the land of Canaan (this clause is added to draw attention to the fact that Jacob had now accomplished his return to Canaan), that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him—i.e. his household and the captured Shechemites.
God supernaturally places fear into the people around them, to protect them as they travel, allowing the party to arrive at Bethel/Luz safely. Looking on at Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for verse 7:
(7) El-beth-el.—That is, the God of the house of God: the God into whose house he had been admitted, and seen there the wonders of His providence.
God appeared.—The verb here, contrary to rule, is plural (see Note on Genesis 20:13), but the Samaritan Pentateuch has the singular. No argument can be drawn either way from the versions, as the word for God is singular in them all, and the verb necessarily singular also. In no other language but Hebrew is the name of God plural, but joined with verbs and adjectives in the singular.
The section ends with kind of a strange aside that seems to have unstated significance. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
But Deborah—Bee (Gesenius, Furst) Rebekah’s nurse (vide Genesis 24:59) died—at a very advanced age, having left Padan-aram for Canaan along with Rebekah, upwards of 150 years ago. That she is now found in Jacob’s household may be accounted for by supposing that Rebekah had sent her, in accordance with the promise of Genesis 27:45 (Delitzsch); or that Jacob had paid a visit to his father at Hebron, and brought her back with him to Shechem, probably because of Rebekah’s death (Lange); or that on Rebekah’s death she had been transferred to Jacob’s household (Keil, Murphy, Alford); or that Isaac, “who had during the twenty years of his son’s absence wandered in different parts of the land” (?), had “at this period of his migrations come into the neighborhood of Bethel” (Kalisch). And she was buried beneath Bethel—which was situated in the hill country, whence Jacob is instructed to “go up” to Bethel (Genesis 27:1) under an oak. More correctly, the oak or terebinth, i.e. the well-known tree, which long after served to mark her last resting-place, which some have without reason identified with the palm tree of Deborah the prophetess (Judges 4:5), and the oak of Tabor mentioned in 1 Samuel 10:3 (Delitzsch, Kurtz, &c.). And the name of it was called—not “he,” i.e. Jacob, “called it” (Ainsworth), but “one called its name,” i.e. its name was called (Kalisch)—Allon-bachuth (i.e. the oak of weeping).
The prevailing theory seems to be that Deborah’s place with Jacob’s party is indicative of an off-the-page death of Rebekah, Jacob’s mother. She may have been sent to him upon Rebekah’s death, or perhaps Jacob picked her up after visiting his father and attending his mother’s funeral at some point.
It’s strange – in that case – that Deborah’s death merits mention while Rebekah’s does not.