Genesis 35:9-29 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. What lose does Jacob suffer? See Genesis 35:16-20 (printed below)

Then they moved on from Beth-el. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth, but she experienced hard labor. (17) While she was in hard labor the midwife said to her, Fear not; for now you shall have another son. (18) As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin.(19) So Rachel died and was buried along the way to Ephrath (that is, Beth-lehem). (20) And Jacob set up a memorial pillar upon her grave; that pillar marks Rachel’s grave to this day. (Genesis 35:16-20)

Genesis 35:16-20 records the circumstances surrounding Rachel’s death. Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife, was about to deliver their second child. But it proves to be a problem pregnancy and she dies in the process of giving birth to another son. The Lord had answered her prayer (note Genesis 30:24, “Rachel called her first son Joseph, saying, May Jehovah add to me another son”)—at the cost of her life. Now Jacob is bereaved by the loss of the love of his life.

2. What disappointment does Jacob experience from his first born son Reuben? See Genesis 35:21-22 (printed below)

Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. (22) While Israel was living in that land Reuben went and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah; and Israel heard of it. (Genesis 35:21-22)

Genesis 35:21-22 records the incident involving Reuben’s immorality. While Jacob and his family are dwelling in their tents, Reuben commits an act of immorality with his father’s concubine, Bilhah, Rachel’s maidservant. The report of this incident gets back to Jacob: his first born son, the future head of the family, engaged in an act of immorality that is almost incestuous—note how Genesis 49:3-4 convey a tone of shock and betrayal: “Reuben, you are my first-born, my might, and the beginning of my strength; excelling in honor, excelling in strength. (4) Boiling over like water, you shall not have the pre-eminence; because you went up to your father’s bed, and you defiled it. He went up to my couch” (Genesis 49:3-4).

3. What is the next burden Jacob has to bear? See Genesis 35:27-29 (printed below)

Jacob came to his father Isaac in Mamre near Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), the place where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. (28) Isaac live a hundred and eighty years. (29) Then Isaac took his last breath and died and was gathered to his people, an old man who had lived a full life. His sons Esau and Jacob buried him. (Genesis 35:27-29)

Genesis 35:27-29 records the death of Isaac. Jacob gathers up his family and comes to Mamre in order to be with his father, Isaac. Isaac was very elderly by this time, and Jacob, knowing his father’s departure would be soon, no doubt wanted to spend some final days with him. In a very short time Isaac dies. Now both of Jacob’s great forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, have departed and he is left to carry on the covenant line alone.

4. What sorrow does Jacob experience with regard to his brother Esau? See Genesis 36:6-8 (printed below)

Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the possessions he had acquired in Canaan, and moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. (7) Their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land where they were staying could not support them both because of their cattle. (8) So Esau settled in mount Seir. Esau is Edom. (Genesis 36:6-8)

Genesis 36:6-8 reports Esau’s departure from the land of Canaan. Upon his return from Paddan Aram, Jacob had been reunited with his estranged brother. At the time of their father’s death the two brothers are present and together they bury their father. Now, a short time later, Jacob learns of Esau’s decision to pack up the family and move away to the area of Mt. Seir. Jacob is not only being deprived of his brother’s companionship as his closest blood relative, Jacob is also witnessing a spiritual tragedy. His brother has made his final decision to leave the faith; he is walking away from the Promised Land and the covenant of the Lord.

5. Compare Jacob’s present residence in the land of Canaan (see Genesis 35:21 printed below) with his previous residence as described in Genesis 33:18-19 (printed below). What caused this retrogression? What sort of trial would this have been for Jacob?

Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. (Genesis 35:21)

When Jacob returned from Paddan-aram, he came in peace to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, and encamped before the city. (19) For a hundred pieces of silver he bought from the sons of Hamor, (Hamor was the father of Shechem), the plot of ground where he had pitched his tent. (Genesis 33:18-19)

Genesis 35:21 contains this commentary on Jacob’s residence in the promised land: “Israel moved again and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.” Jacob is described as journeying through the Promised Land and dwelling in tents, indicating that once again he had no permanent, secure possession of the land. Previously, Jacob had secured a piece of property in the suburbs of Shechem, as described in Genesis 33:18-19. Verse 19 indicates he was making the transition from transitory tent life to permanent possession. But following this peaceful settlement in the suburbs of Shechem comes the incident described in Genesis 34: the rape of Dinah, the vengeance taken by Simeon and Levi, and Jacob’s departure from his possession in Shechem. So it is that in Genesis 35:21 we find Jacob once more living in tents and traveling through the land as a transient. This whole course of events may have proven to be an unbearable spiritual trial for Jacob: Have we blown it? Have we forfeited the possession of the land? Has the Lord rescinded His promises?—had it not been for the promises of God (cp. Genesis 35:9-12).