Jacob at Bethel (Gen 35:1-35:15)

“God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and settle there.  Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.’  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 clothes.   Then come, let us go up to Bethel, that I may make an altar there to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.’  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 oak which was near Shechem.”

God told Jacob to go to Bethel, which was further south and closer to Jerusalem.  There was an altar already there in Bethel from the time that Jacob was fleeing Esau twenty years earlier, when he had the dream about the ladder to heaven.  Grandfather Abram had been there also.  Obviously they had to get out of Shechem after that massacre there.  Jacob told his family to put away any foreign gods, change their clothes and come with him to Bethel, where God first protected him.  Jacob took all the ‘foreign gods that they had and the rings that were in their ears, and buried them under an oak near Shechem.  Clearly the sons of Jacob and his family were not yet monotheists.

 “As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them.  Jacob came to Luz, that is, Bethel, which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, and there he built an altar, and called the place El-bethel, because it was there that God had revealed himself to him when he fled from his brother.  Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel.  So it was called Allon-bacuth.”

As they traveled, ‘a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them.’  There is no indication of what this is except perhaps some big storm, but it scared all Jacob’s enemies.  Thus no one followed them after what they had done at Shechem.  He came to Bethel or Luz, about 12 miles from Jerusalem.  He built an altar that he called El-bethel. This is not an altar to Yahweh.  This is the same place that Jacob was at 20 years earlier.   See chapter 28 and 32 for further references.  On the other hand, Rebekah’s nurse Deborah died here and was buried under a weeping oak.  This is the only mention of Allon-bacuth and this Deborah in biblical literature.

“God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him.  And God said to him, ‘Your name is Jacob.  No longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’ So he was called Israel. God said to him, ‘I am God almighty, El-Shaddai, be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you.  The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.’  Then God went up from him in the place where he had spoken with him.  Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone.  He poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it.  So Jacob called the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel.”

Once again God appeared to Jacob to tell him about his name change as in chapter 32, ‘no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.’  God said to him that Almighty God (El-Shaddai), not Yahweh, would give land to his descendents. Obviously, this is not from the Yahweh tradition.  Then Jacob did as he had done in chapter 28, built a pillar and poured oil on it.  Clearly the concept of land and offspring will be very important for Israel.  The duplicate emphasis on name change, like Abram and Sarai is very important also.  Bethel was already the name of the place before he got there.

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