God tells Jacob to return to the place that they met when Jacob was running away from Esau. At this location God wants Jacob to settle and build an alter. Jacob has all his people get rid of the depictions they had of foreign gods, as well as their earrings before they leave. Terror falls on the nearby towns so that nobody follows Jacob and his people as they leave. At Bethel, Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse dies. God then shows up and again tells Jacob that his name is now Israel, and renews the promise of land and many descendants that he had made with Abraham and Isaac. Rachel then has a child, whom she names Ben-oni. Rachel dies during childbirth, and Jacob (Israel) names his new son Benjamin. Israel’s (Jacob’s) oldest son, Reuben, sleeps with Bilhah, one of Israel’s concubines. Israel then returns finally to his father’s home. At the age of 180, Isaac dies, and is buried by his sons Esau and Jacob (Israel).
The reason I keep switching between the names of Jacob/Israel in the above summary is because the text does the exact same thing. It is almost as though the name choice is arbitrary. I would think that if God had to tell you twice that you now have a different name, it might just be a good idea to go with what he says.
This really just seemed to be another transitory chapter, to connect the events of past chapters with the coming ones. We lose a couple characters, and another son is born. Probably the strangest thing that happens is that Reuben sleeps with Bilhah. Although Bilhah is just a concubines who Jacob slept with only to have children, but that is still creepy and strange. I really don’t know how to interpret Jacobs reaction to this event, though. “When Israel heard of it, he was greatly offended” (Genesis 35:22). I don’t know, that’s just weird. No anger or outrage, just offense, and no punishment or retribution either.
Maybe I shouldn’t find this so strange, Reuben and Bilhah are not related, and she is a concubines and not a wife of Jacob/Israel. Although I don’t know what that really entails. I suppose if it was a consensual hookup, that sprang from mutual attraction of the two, there really isn’t much to get in a huff about. Except maybe that Jacob/Israel has some claim of possession over Bilhah. After thinking about this a bit, I don’t see a problem with it, given the conditions previously stated. If this was more of a forceful, one sided, event, then there would be much more to have concern about. Unfortunately at this point, we just don’t know enough to draw a good conclusion.
Lessons I Learned:
- Earrings are just the same as statues of other gods, in the eyes of God.