16 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin.
19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.
21 Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder.22 While Israel was living in that region, Reuben went in and slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.
Jacob had twelve sons:
23 The sons of Leah:
Reuben the firstborn of Jacob,
Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.
24 The sons of Rachel:
Joseph and Benjamin.
25 The sons of Rachel’s servant Bilhah:
Dan and Naphtali.
26 The sons of Leah’s servant Zilpah:
Gad and Asher.
These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram.
27 Jacob came home to his father Isaac in Mamre, near Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had stayed. 28 Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. 29 Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
(Genesis 35:16-29 NIV)
As we began Chapter 35, we saw God call Jacob back to his homeland, back to Bethel, where he had made his promise to God to follow the Lord if God would rescue him and provide for him. God had done His part; Jacob needed to come back and finish his.
As we discussed last time, this triggered a revival in Jacob. Before Jacob could live a new life, the old life had to die. Jacob started by removing all idols from his household and burying them. When Jacob returned to Bethel, he then buried his mother’s nurse (symbolic of the death and burial of the old life of his youth and treachery).
God then showed up and repeated his blessing to Jacob, gave him a new name (Israel), signifying new life and hope for the future. Jacob responded by worshiping the Lord.
In today’s passage, we see Jacob moving on from Bethel toward his father’s home in Hebron. Along the way, Rachel dies shortly after giving birth to Jacob’s 12th son. Rachel names the boy “Ben Oni” (son of my sorrow); Jacob names him “Benjamin” (son of my right hand / son of good fortune). Rachel was counting her own loss and imminent death, while Jacob, likely through tears and brokenness over Rachel’s passing, saw God’s good hand and the blessing of another son to carry on the Lord’s promise for the future.
In all of Jacob’s back-to-back losses, he was made aware of another event that added to his sorrow. Reuben, Jacob’s and Leah’s oldest son, seduced and slept with Rachel’s maid (and Jacob’s wife) Bilhah. This was not rape – this was seduction, adultery, and incest. Moses also points out that while Jacob was aware of this event, he did nothing about it. Was Jacob lacking integrity in protecting the women in his life (first Dinah his daughter, and now Bilhah, Rachel’s maid/his wife)? Or was Jacob so absorbed in his grief and recent losses that this was outside his ability to cope at the time? The text does not say.
Moses now stops and recaps Jacob’s twelve sons from his two wives and their two maids (vv. 22b – 26).
Moses closes out the chapter by recounting Jacob’s arrival to see his father Isaac, and later he and his brother Esau burying Isaac when he died at 180 years old.
In our last time together, we looked at a number of parallels between Jacob’s life and ours; those questions and parallels carry over for today’s text as well.
Now that both Isaac and Rebekah have passed away, Jacob (now Israel) is the God-appointed patriarch of the family, and the path of God’s blessings to future generations.
May we live our lives carefully and completely dedicated to the Lord, and not waste our years chasing after life using our own resources.
May we lose our lives in Christ, and in so doing, seek Him with all our heart, find our true selves, our calling, and live for His glory, not our own.