Genesis (Part 157)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 35: 21-26

21 Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

22 While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine. And Israel heard of it.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s servant: Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s servant: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.


This section is kind of strange in the sense that we get 1) a very brief aside of Reuben behaving badly with his father’s concubine, and 2) a recap of the names of Jacob’s sons.

I say Jacob, though… verse 21 actually starts by making a reference to Israel. Usually in the text, to this point, Jacob is referred to as Jacob despite the divine name change. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 35:21

And Israel (or Jacob) journeyed (from Ephrath, after the funeral of Rachel), and spreadi.e. unfolded (Genesis 12:8Genesis 26:25)—his tent beyond the tower of Edar—literally, to, i.e. not trans (Vulgate), ultra (Dathe), but ad, usque (Rosenmüller), as far as Migdol Edar, the Tower of the Flock—probably a turret, or watch-tower, erected for the convenience of shepherds in guarding their flocks (2Ki 18:8; 2 Chronicles 26:102 Chronicles 27:4),—the site of which is uncertain, but which is commonly supposed to have Been a mile (Jerome) or more south of Bethlehem.” The LXX. omit this verse.

The Tower of Edar / The Tower of the Flock is excellent name-giving. It makes the whole place sound a lot cooler than it being a turret used for the benefit of shepherds. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary adds this note on the location:

(21) The tower of Edar.—Heb., Eder. Micah (Genesis 4:8) calls it “the hill of the daughter of Zion;” but the word used often means a beacon-hill, a hill on which a tower for observation is erected, wrongly translated in the Authorised Version a stronghold. The tower may, therefore, have been a few miles south of Jerusalem; and as the word “beyond” includes the idea of up to, as far as, the meaning is that Jacob now occupied this region permanently with his cattle. Until Esau, with his possessions, withdrew to Seir, there would be no room for Jacob and his flocks and herds at Hebron, but he would at Eder be so near his father as to be able often to visit him. And thus his exile was now over, and he was at last at home.

The note from Ellicott points out that Jacob is now so close to his father Isaac that his exile is effectively over. On this point, in the section of verses after the one we are in now, we will see Isaac one last time within the text. But continuing on with verse 22 and Ellicott:

(22) Reuben.—Again another grief for Jacob to mar his return home, and this time it arises from the sin of his first-born, who thereby forfeits the birthright. It was the thought of these miseries, following upon his long years of exile, which made Jacob speak so sorrowfully of his experience of life before Pharaoh (Genesis 47:9).

And Israel heard it.—The Masora notes that some words have here fallen out of the text, which the LXX. fill up by adding, “And it was evil in his sight.”

As the note mentions, this short aside to mention Reuben’s sin is actually a large and important transgression. This is the moment he loses his birthright. Looking ahead to Jacob’s message to Reuben, from his deathbed, later in Genesis 49:

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
    my might, the first sign of my strength,
    excelling in honor, excelling in power.
Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel,
    for you went up onto your father’s bed,
    onto my couch and defiled it.

You might remember also that Simeon and Levi, sons #2 and #3 respectively, have also sinned grievously in the aftermath of Dinah’s rape. Again from Genesis 49:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers—
    their swords are weapons of violence.
Let me not enter their council,
    let me not join their assembly,
for they have killed men in their anger
    and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.
Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
    and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
    and disperse them in Israel.

It is therefore Jacob’s fourth son, Judah, who gets his father’s blessing.

“Judah, your brothers will praise you;
    your hand will be on the neck of your enemies;
    your father’s sons will bow down to you.
You are a lion’s cub, Judah;
    you return from the prey, my son.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down,
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
10 The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.
11 He will tether his donkey to a vine,
    his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
    his robes in the blood of grapes.
12 His eyes will be darker than wine,
    his teeth whiter than milk.

Despite the brief mention of Reuben’s sin here, with Bilhah, the consequences are enormous. The messiah of Judaism (and Christianity) comes from the line of Judah.

Continuing through verse 26 with The Pulpit Commentaries:

The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun (cf. Genesis 29:32-35Genesis 30:18-20Genesis 46:8-15Exodus 1:2Exodus 1:3). The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin (Cf. Genesis 30:22-24Genesis 35:18Genesis 46:19). And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali (cf. Genesis 30:4-8). And the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid; Gad, and Asher (cf. Genesis 30:9-13): these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padan-aram. All except Benjamin were born there. Either this is an instance of the summary style of Scripture in which minute verbal accuracy is not always preserved (Inglis), or the whole period of Jacob’s pilgrimage to Mesopotamia and back is intended by his residence in Padan-aram (Kalisch).

Ellicott also picks up on the summary of the sons and verse 26’s mention of Padan-aram as it relates to Benjamin:

(26) In Padan-aram.—The words are to be taken only generally, as Benjamin was born in Canaan.

As mentioned above, we finally see Isaac again in the next section of verses. Jacob’s long exile is over.

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