Read Genesis 35:1–29
Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”
2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” 4 So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. 5 Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.
6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel, because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.
8 Now Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak outside Bethel. So it was named Allon Bakuth.
9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.
11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.
The Deaths of Rachel and Isaac
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.
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
ReflectIs there a place that is significant for you in your walk with God? As you read today, imagine that you are in that place.
Today’s reading deals with places and names. God has called Jacob back to Bethel—the place where Jacob had first received God’s promises. Now, once again God speaks. God reaffirms his promises. And the promises are extended generationally, not for just one of his sons, but for all twelve.
It is in this moment that God beautifully renames Jacob. His name Jacob, “he deceives,” summed up his past. But here, God gives him a new name, Israel, meaning: “wrestled with God” (32:28). It reflects the switch from being known for his failings to being known for an intimate encounter with God.
Finally, we read of the bittersweet death of Jacob’s beloved Rachel and the birth of his youngest son. Here, too, we find the importance of identity in a name. The dying Rachel wants to call her son Ben-Oni (son of sorrow). Jacob, however, chooses to call him Benjamin or “son of the right hand.” The right hand is a sign of blessing. In essence, Jacob is calling his boy “son of blessing.”
Both Jacob and his son, and in a sense the entire family, have received new identities and a renewed promise for the future.
How has God taken your past and shaped it into a new identity for your future?