|BIBLE STUDY SERIES: #16-17|
16 February, 1992
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
In his return to the land which God had promised to him and to his seed, Jacob had faced with apprehension the prospect of meeting Esau, his brother, and in his crisis, had wrestled all night, alone, with the angel of God. At that time, he had received a new name, the name of Israel, meaning "Prince with God." In his patterns of life, he was now starting to evidence the fruits of the new nature with which he had been infused at that meeting by the brook Jabbok.
We read the account of what now unfolds in Genesis 35:1:
1. And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there: and make there an altar unto God, that appeared unto thee when thou fleddest from the face of Esau thy brother.
Bethel, you remember, was the site of that glorious vision wherein a ladder stretched to heaven, and God had there given promises to Jacob concerning his inheritance. Those promises included a grant of the land whereon Jacob lay, a seed as numerous as the dust of the earth; a seed, moreover, which would spread abroad to the west, east, north and south, and that all families of the earth would be blessed in that seed. God would accompany him until all was established. These promises were his inheritance in the blessing which Isaac had passed to him, for they were an expansion of those given to his grandfather, Abraham, and to Isaac himself.
Now that Jacob has seen that God has not failed him during the intervening twenty years, and that he has had the experience of committing himself to God at the brook Jabbok, these promises no doubt held greatly enhanced meaning for him.
Now he has been told to return to that site whereon he slept when the vision was first granted to him. We read what follows, starting at verse 2:
2. Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:
3. And let us arise, and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
4. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hand, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.
Jacob now realises that it is necessary to show God that he and his whole family are prepared to yield their former gods, and make the God of Israel their sole object of worship. They are to cleanse their lives of that which may be seen as unacceptable to God. I find it interesting that their earrings are included, for these would probably consist of gold, and represent wealth. Some comments contained in the Second, and also the Third Edition of "The New Bible Commentary" should be mentioned. Those rings, it is pointed out, "would be amulets with idolatrous significance."
The Second Edition takes several points and tells us something about each. Regarding the words "Go up", we see that "from Shechem to Bethel was a climb of about 1,000 feet. There is a deep significance in the reference to `when thou fleddest', for Jacob was fleeing again. His position at Shechem had become too dangerous for him to remain there." The Third Edition adds that "in the crisis precipitated by the Shechem massacre, Jacob's divine Protector ... intervened with directions and defence." ... "He summoned Jacob back to Bethel, the site of his original covenant revelation to him, for the fulfilment of his vow."
Regarding those "strange gods", it is pointed out that Jacob's household servants were all from Padanaram and were idolators. They had their own household gods, and there were also the teraphim which Rachel had carried with her from her father's house.
Of the words "let us arise", it says that "Jacob initiates his wives and children, together with the multitude of his servants, into the ways and worship of Jehovah. Note that Jacob led his family to Jehovah by a testimony."
The comment on the words "under the oak" states that "the fact that he did not destroy the images, but hid them under a tree, suggests that he regarded them with superstitious fear." Let us now read further of the passage:
5. And they journeyed: and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob.
6. So Jacob came to Luz, which is in the land of Canaan, that is, Bethel, he and all the people that were with him.
The Second Edition of the Commentary states "A dread seized the neighbouring tribes, and Jacob made his escape before they recovered their sense of proportion." The Third Edition draws in a further suggestion. It says "The terror from God, gripping Israel's foes with irrational paralysis or panic, was the work of the angel of the Lord, going before them." Regarding that rape of Dinah which had drawn the vicious reprisal by Simeon and Levi, and which had thus been the human cause of this dread, we see that the reprisal was out of all proportion to the crime, and did not meet the requirements of God's Law. Nor had Simeon's and Levi's demand that the males of Shechem be circumcised prior to their sudden savagery shown an honourable use of this sign of God's covenant. Jacob remembered their actions later, when, upon his death-bed, he came to give each tribe their allotment of blessings.
Let us, in our imagination, now accompany Jacob's clan as they ascend the road and arrive at Bethel, remembering that, while it is familiar and indeed sacred ground to Jacob, to the rest of the company, it is a new and strange place. They were not present on that former occasion when God had appeared in the dream of the ladder. We pick up the account at verse 7:
7. And he built there an altar, and called the place Elbethel: because there God appeared unto him, when he fled from the face of his brother.
Of that term, "Elbethel", the New Bible Commentary states "The seeming redundancy in this phrase means that he dedicated the place to the glory of the God who had appeared to him at that critical moment of his life when he first gave it that name." The name, "Bethel", while it was Jacob's designation of the locality on the first occasion when he had experienced that vision of the ladder, would not have been known to anyone else. It is now necessary, in the presence of his large clan, to announce that this is "Bethel", thus establishing the name for general use by the tribe. There is no contradiction in the scriptural accounts of the two occasions wherein Jacob gave the name to the locality.
In a note referring to the next verse, the Commentary points out that, when at Shechem, Jacob may have visited his old father, Isaac, and at that time, brought Deborah back with him, for we now find her present in Jacob's company.
8. But Deborah Rebekah's nurse died, and she was buried beneath Bethel under an oak: and the name of it was called Allonbachuth.
9. And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padanaram, and blessed him.
10. And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.
11. And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;
12. And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.
13. And God went up from him in the place where he talked with him.
We find that God met Jacob in his going forth, and now again on his return to Bethel. As the Commentary adds: "The initial covenant promise is ratified, and the change of character is confirmed."
However, if we compare Genesis 28:14 with Genesis 35:11 we will notice a seemingly small, but nevertheless significant amplification on the second occasion. On Jacob's first visit to Bethel, before God had changed his name to Israel, God had promised "And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south... ." That promise had continued and amplified the promise to Abram in Genesis 13:14-17 given before Abram's name had been changed to Abraham. On each of the occasions before a change of name, the promise is of countless seed spreading in certain directions.
Now, in this second statement of God's promises to Jacob, in Genesis 35:11, we read "be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins... ." That latter promise more precisely follows the promise which Abram received when his name was changed to Abraham in Genesis 17:4-6. On each occasion after the names were changed, the promise is not just of countless seed spreading in various directions, but of distinct and separate national identities and of kings among them. It will be the special national blessing of this latter promise which Jacob-Israel divides between Joseph's sons, Ephraim and Manasseh in Genesis 48:14-20, when, with crossed arms, he grants his blessings to them. There is surely, then, some national significance to this progression.
14. And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon.
15. And Jacob called the name of the place where God spake with him, Bethel.
That fourteenth verse relates these promises to "a pillar", and it can hardly have been any other stone than that upon which Jacob had rested his head, at this same spot, twenty years before, and which he had previously anointed with oil on the occasion which is now being commemorated!
As our time has gone, we shall have to leave the continuation of this story until our next programme.
23 February, 1992
By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.
All alone, twenty years before, Jacob had left his family and home, and at the Canaanite town of Luz, he had received the wondrous Bethel vision wherein God had made promises to him regarding both himself and his progeny. Jacob had gone onward to Padanaram where marriages and fortune awaited his efforts under God's care, and he has now returned to the locality called Bethel, having faced a crisis in which he has accepted The Almighty as his God at the brook Jabbok.
The promises have begun to see fulfilment, and now, Jacob having returned to Bethel, accompanied by his large and growing clan, God has there repeated those promises with amplifications.
We could say that the Patriarch, Jacob, now re-named Israel has made a journey, both physically and spiritually, via the locality which he named Bethel. Let us pick up the account at Genesis 35:16:
16. And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.
17. And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said unto her, Fear not; thou shalt have this son also.
18. And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni: but his father called him Benjamin.
19. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.
20. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave: that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.
One has to wonder that Jacob would choose to move his tribe at a time when his favourite wife was with child, and about to go into labour. It seems somewhat thoughtless, but there probably was a reason for doing so. Concerning this passage, The New Bible Commentary, Second Edition, tells us that "This sad episode explains Jacob's particular affection for Benjamin. The sorrowful name `Benoni' is not accepted by the father, but he prefers to call him `Benjamin', a son of hope and cheer", and, concerning the words `on the way to Ephrath', the Third Edition explains "En route between the sojourn at Bethel and more prolonged sojourn near Bethlehem, Rachel died in childbirth and was buried. According to I Samuel 10:2, (compare Jeremiah 31:15) the place was possibly near, even north, of Jerusalem."
21. And Israel journeyed, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Edar.
22. And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve:
23. The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Zebulun:
24. The sons of Rachel; Joseph, and Benjamin:
25. And the sons of Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid; Dan, and Naphtali:
26. And the sons of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid; Gad, and Asher: these are the sons of Jacob, which were born to him in Padanaram.
Of this listing, the Commentary says: "This closing section of `the generations of Isaac' is concerned with matters affecting the family leadership, immediately and in the future. The account of Benjamin's birth ... rounds out the record of the twelve tribal leaders' origins. The twelve are then listed according to their mothers ... and thus according to legal rather than chronological priorities. A notice is inserted of Reuben's offence ... by which he forfeited the birthright.
27. And Jacob came unto Isaac his father unto Mamre, unto the city of Arbah, which is Hebron, where Abraham and Isaac sojourned.
28. And the days of Isaac were an hundred and fourscore years.
29. And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
Of this last passage, The Commentary states: "Isaac's death ... meant Jacob's succession as covenant patriarch."
Genesis 36 now records the generations of Esau, and while the listings do not hold centre stage in the on-going pattern of God's Great Plan, because Esau has been set aside from the line of Covenant promise, nothing which is included in Scripture is without its own importance for the scholar intent upon understanding the matter of subsequent events in the light of prophecy.
The first verse of Chapter 36 says "Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom. Thus, where subsequent Scriptural reference is made to "Edom", we are to see that Esau's progeny are involved. Esau, we are told, "took his wives of the daughters of Canaan; Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Aholibamah the daughter of Anah the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite; And Bashemath Ishmael's daughter, sister of Nebajoth."
We shall not pursue the whole list for it would probably hold little interest to the average listener, but we might profitably note the names of the sons in the first generation of Esau's line of descent, and one or two names among the immediate family, for they will hold importance in subsequent events.
Adah, the Hittite bare to Esau Eliphaz; and Bashemath, the Ishmaelite, bare Reuel; and Aholibamah the Hivite bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah. So we find that Esau had five sons in Canaan, each of which will convey some genetic imprint from those alien strands.
Verses 6 and 7 tell us that "Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob, for their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle." Thus, we find that Esau "dwelt in mount Seir", which lies to the south and south east of the Dead Sea. Esau, it is again emphasized, is Edom. It may make that statement more meaningful if I mention that the Greek form of the name "Edomite" is "Idumaean", and Herod the Great was of that lineage.
Having come to Mount Seir, Esau's family continues to expand. Eliphaz, Esau's firstborn, the son of Adah, being half Hittite, had Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. Timna, who, it seems from verse 22, was an Horite, was concubine to Eliphaz Esau's son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek. Now the descendants of this Amalek, in particular, hold some importance in history, as they were to become the first enemy of Israel after Israel emerged from Egyptian bondage in the Exodus.
No doubt the Edomites would have inter-married with one another, so we might well find the genetic traits of each re-inforcing the rest. Certainly, they well knew the story of Jacob's method of obtaining both Esau's birthright for a mess of pottage, and Esau's blessing from Isaac by subterfuge. One can well imagine the inflamed indignation cultivated against the children of Israel in each descendant as the story was told and re-told down through subsequent generations. The story might even have gathered embellishing details, feeding the desire for retribution, for we could hardly assume that they would look with indifference upon this situation.
Having in mind the fierce disposition of the younger Esau to kill Jacob, and not themselves having experienced Esau's later fraternal forgiveness, the Edomite clans would no doubt have felt that Jacob had wronged their people, taking away their rightful status as the firstborn inheritors of all that God had promised to Abraham and Isaac.
It would be little wonder, then, if they had not desired, down through their generations, to carry on what might well be called a blood feud against the descendants of Israel. We will later note, however, God's judgment upon the matter, as we find it recorded in Exodus 17:14, after the Amalekites came out to fight with Israel in the Wilderness. There, God told Moses to "write this for a memorial in a book,. and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."
It is possible, I suppose, that had Esau's descendants written and preserved a family history parallel to the account of Israel's history which we call the Holy Bible, their story might have appeared in a light infused with details and judgments differing from that which Scripture records, but we should remember that, while human historians may differ, God's holy word bears all the marks and witnesses to ultimate truth, and so any variance between such accounts would simply mark a judgment of falsehood upon such alien sources.
Esau probably has many more descendants than those whose lineage would trace primarily to Amalek, but the question of God's ultimate dispositions must hang over the matter as Jesus Christ returns to sit in judgment upon all nations, as he explained in Matthew 25:32-33:
"And before him (the Son of man) shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left... ."
It is Israel's history which we are studying in the Bible, and we should always keep that focus as we proceed, for God chose to develop matters in the way they have unfolded to this hour. We, of the British-Israel-World Federation, believe that the main stream of the descendants of that Israel people are to be found today according to the marks which God laid upon her as she went into her times of exile and punishment following the Assyrian deportation. The generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon world manifestly displays all the marks, and we see this as a vindication of God's promised word, concerning that which Israel's descendants would become, under His guidance and tutilage.
We shall have to continue this study on our next programme.
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