Genesis 35-36

Genesis 35:1 And God said unto Jacob, Arise, go up to Beth-el, and dwell there

Why does God command Jacob to move? The reason is not stated explicitly, but it is clear that Jacob was in trouble with all the neighboring inhabitants of the land. Jacob arrival in the area was soon marred by Levi and Simeon’s massacre of the men of Hamor’s city. In those days, such an outrage was dealt with by surrounding cities banding together to punish the offenders.
God protected Jacob and his family by first commanding them to move before they were attacked, and second by protecting them once on their journey, “and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob” (v. 5).
"Arise, go up to Beth-el" (Genesis 35:1), the place of divine manifestation and covenant, so Israel of the last days is to be invited to return to the land of their fathers and to the house of the Lord. As the immediate effect of God's call upon Jacob was to get him to purge his family from idolatry, saying to "all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments" (Genesis 35:2), so the righteous of Israel in the last days will leave their "strange gods," change their ways, and be clothed with robes of righteousness. As God responded to Jacob in the day of his distress, so he will answer Jacob's children as they gather (Genesis 35:3). As the "terror of God was upon the cities that were round about them" (Genesis 35:5), so it is prophesied of the New Jerusalem that "the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it" (D&C 45:67). And as Jacob returned to Bethel to build another altar (Genesis 35:7), so Israel of the last days will again build a house of God where they might kneel at its altars. As ancient Israel testified of a God who appeared to them (Genesis 35:7), so Israel of the last days will testify.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999], 154)
Genesis 35:1 Arise, go up to Beth-el
Beth-el means literally “house of God.” El means “God” and Beth is a prefix that means “house of”:
  • Bethlehem House of bread
  • Bethphage House of figs
  • Bethsaida House of fish
  • Bethshemesh House of the sun
God is commanding Jacob to “Arise and go up to the house of God.” As Isaiah said, “Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob” (Isa. 2:2). Jacob is about to have a temple experience.
“One of the most sacred sites of the Old Testament was a placed called Bethel. It was at Bethel that Abraham built his altar on his first arrival in Canaan. (See Gen. 12:8, 13.) And it was at Bethel that Jacob saw in vision a ladder reaching up into heaven, after which he built a pillar. Until that time, the place was called Luz. Jacob renamed it Bethel, which means "house of God." (See Gen. 28:12-19)” (LDS Church News, 1998, 02/21/98)
Genesis 35:2 Put away the strange gods that are among you
Jacob lived in a time when idolatry was the cultural norm. While Jacob was never an idol worshipper, some of his household still held to idolatrous practices. It is surprising to us, to whom idol worship seems so pointless, to see the practice in Jacob’s house.
That Jacob had to command his house to “put away their strange gods” is a bad omen for generations of his descendents. It is as if a bad gene kept expressing itself in the family line. Somehow, they just couldn’t ever completely extricate themselves from the practice of idolatry. Moses couldn’t even get off the mountain before Aaron and the Israelites had made a golden calf. Later, Jacob’s children would cry, “Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? Or what is our iniquity? Or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord out God? Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law.” (Jer. 16:10-11)
Brigham Young
What is commonly termed idolatry has arisen from a few sincere men, full of faith and having a little knowledge, urging upon a backsliding people to preserve some customs—to cling to some fashions or figures, to put them in mind of that God with whom their fathers were acquainted, without designing or wishing the people to worship an idol—to worship stocks, stones, beasts, and birds. Idols have been introduced, which are now worshipped, and have been for centuries and thousands of years. (Discourses of Brigham Young, selected and arranged by John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 21)
Genesis 35:2 be clean, and change your garments
If Jacob is about to have a temple experience, we should not be surprised at his command to put away false gods, be clean, and change your garments. As we approach the temple, we too should repent before we are washed, anointed, and clothed in the garments of the temple. Moses “sanctified Aaron, and his garments, and his sons, and his sons’ garments with him” before they were authorized to work in the tabernacle (Lev. 8:30)
“Cleansing was particularly important when entering the temple. We read, for example, that David washed, anointed himself, and changed his apparel before going into the house of the Lord (see 2 Samuel 12:20).
“The cleansing of one's garments was ritually important in ancient Israel as a necessary preparation for appearing before God. Thus we read concerning the events in Sinai:
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes, and be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai. . . . And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes (Exodus 19:10-11, 14).
“This washing was to prepare the people for meeting the Lord and becoming a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:5-11). As such, it was an initiation into a new relationship with the God of their fathers, who had rescued them from bondage in Egypt.
“In ancient Israel, garments were cleansed before the performance of sacred functions (see Leviticus 16:23-24, 28). A ritually unclean person was required to wash himself and his clothes, sometimes following this practice by sacrifice (see Leviticus 15:5-13, 16-27).” (Donald W. Parry, ed., Temples of the Ancient World: Ritual and Symbolism [Salt Lake City and Provo: Deseret Book Co., Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1994], 688)
Genesis 35:7 he built there an altar, and called the place El-beth-el: because there God appeared unto him
El-beth-el means literally “God of the house of God.” Jacob built an altar to commune with God in the house of God. This was a temple experience—a time to commune with the God of his fathers. But it was in Israel’s name, not Isaac’s or Abraham’s, that the house of God would be called. All converted by covenant to Abraham’s God are adopted into the House of Israel.
Erastus Snow
There are special promises to the children of Israel, the seed of Abraham, as a people; for as a people they are the elect of God. But as individuals every one is held responsible for his own sins. No promise of the father can save any individual. Nevertheless, according to the promise made unto the fathers, God makes manifest among the children of Israel the Priesthood and reveals unto them the Gospel, and gives them an opportunity to receive it and obey it and obtain exaltation through it, if they will, and in this respect they are more favored than the Gentile nations throughout the whole world, though He has said that whoever fears God and works righteousness is accepted of Him among all nations and all peoples, Jew or Gentile. (Journal of Discourses, 24:160)
Genesis 35:8 Deborah Rebekah’s nurse died
We don’t read of a meeting between Jacob and Isaac upon his return from Haran. The story of told of his meeting Esau but not his father (until verse 27 of Gen. 35). That he reunited with his father is evidenced by the fact that Deborah, his mother’s nurse is now travelling with him. Deborah would have stayed with Isaac’s household when Jacob fled to Haran, but apparently joined his clan upon his joyous return. There may have been a very close relationship between Jacob and Deborah that we don’t know about.
“For why should Deborah’s death find place in the narrative at all unless there was one clear reason, viz., her loss was grievous to somebody?... Deborah was the nurse of Jacob’s mother, and perhaps two generations of the family had depended upon her loving faithfulness… So the humble person may play a part in human affections and needs that will never be accounted for in public records. Who can measure all that nurses have given to those they loved and served?” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 739-740)
Genesis 35:10 thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name
The Lord is repeating the name change that was already given him the night he wrestled with the Spirit and the angel (Gen. 32:28).
“Critics have attempted to distinguish between an ‘Israel tradition’ and a ‘Jacob tradition… [one author] has attempted, however, to show that each particular usage has a purpose. His analysis covers the forty-five times ‘Jacob’ is used and the thirty-four times ‘Israel’ is written from here to the end of Genesis. ‘Israel’ is said to be used whenever the spiritual side of the Patriarch is emphasized, ‘Jacob’ when material and physical aspects are involved.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 233)
Genesis 35:12 the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee
This is a politically charged issue. Who has a God-given right to the Holy Land? In Genesis 15:18-21, the Lord declared to Abraham: “Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates”—that’s a lot of land! On today’s map, that includes Israel, part of Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and half of Iraq. Never in the annals of history have Jacob’s descendents ever controlled all of that land. While Abraham’s Arabic descendants through Ishmael have inherited the land, the Israelites have never been able to claim the whole thing. The days of King David were the days of greatest political dominion for the state of Israel and the boundaries didn’t come close to being that expansive.
The promise that Israel would be given all this land still needs to be fulfilled. Likely, the day will be a millennial one, “he that putteth his trust in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain.” (Isa. 57:13) “For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea those nations shall be utterly wasted. The glory of Lebanon shall come unto thee.” (Isa 60:12-13) “…neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.” (Isa 62:4) “I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there.” (Isa. 65:9) “At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem… In those days the house of Judah shall walk with the house of Israel, and they shall come together out of the land of the north to the land that I have given for an inheritance unto your fathers.” (Jer. 3:17-18)
Genesis 35:19 Rachel died and was buried
“Full of pathos is this brief description. Jacob’s love for Rachel had been the brightest element in his character; now she dies, and he must make her grave. There had been sadness in her life before; her father’s trick of having Leah married first, the bitter years when she was barren. Then joy had come with the birth of Joseph (30:22-24). But now the coming of her hoped-for second son must cost her life. At first, when she had no children, she had cried, ‘give me children, or else I die’ (30:1); now when her sons had been born, she should die and leave them. It is not strange therefore that she became in the thought of Israel a symbol of wistfulness and sorrow, so that Jeremiah (31:15) would say concerning the desolation of Jerusalem, ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping for her children.’ She named her child, Benoni, Son of my sorrow. But a happier fact was expressed in the name that Jacob gave him, Benjamin, the Son of the right hand. For the tribe of Benjamin was to play its signal part in history, since from it came Saul, the first king (1 Sam. 9:1-2), and that greater Saul of Tarsus, who was to be the apostle Paul (Phil. 3:5).” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 741-742)
Genesis 35:20 the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day
Whenever the record gives us a landmark using the phrase “unto this day.” It reminds us that the scribes who are writing this final version of Genesis are writing about 1000 BC. Their immediate audience is very interested in the places where these events occurred because they are familiar with them. In 1000 BC, you could go to Bethlehem and see Rachel’s pillar and mourn her loss with father Jacob.
Today, the exact location of Rachel’s tomb is disputed. Tradition from 400 AD places it on the outskirts of Bethlehem.
“Rachel's Tomb (Hebrew: קבר רחל‎ translit. Kever Rakhel), also known since the 1990s as the Bilal bin Rabah mosque (Arabic: مسجد بلال بن رباح‎) to Muslims and UNESCO is the name given to a small religious building encased in concrete revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims. The tomb is located within a Muslim cemetery in a walled enclave biting into the outskirts of Bethlehem, 460 meters south of Jerusalem’s municipal boundary, in the West Bank. The burial place of the matriarch Rachel as mentioned in the Jewish and Christian Old Testament, and in Muslim literature is contested between this site and several others to the north. The earliest extra-biblical records describing this tomb as Rachel's burial place date to the first decades of the 4th century AD. The domed structure containing the tomb dates from the Muslim Ottoman period and when Sir Moses Montefiore renovated the site in 1841 after obtaining the key for the Jewish community, he added a antechamber which included a mihrab for Muslim prayer. According to the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine, the tomb was to be part of the internationally administered zone of Jerusalem, but the area was occupied by Jordan, which prohibited Israelis from entering the area. Though not initially falling within Area C, the site has come under the control of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs. Rachel's tomb is the third holiest site in Judaism. Jews have made pilgrimage to the tomb since ancient times, and it has become one of the cornerstones of Jewish-Israeli identity.” ('s_Tomb)
Genesis 35:22 Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine
Erastus Snow
We find that the birthright passed from him. He committed a transgression which offended the Lord and offended his father, and it was of such a character that it could not be passed over with impunity; and the birthright was taken from him and given to the sons of Joseph. We find it explained in Chronicles, that because Reuben defiled his father's bed, the birthright was taken from him and given to the sons of Joseph; and the [higher] Priesthood was reckoned after that lineage, (1 Chr. 5:1). (Journal of Discourses, 21:371)
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but, forasmuch as he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright. For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph’s. (1 Chron. 5:1-2)
Genesis 35:22-26 the sons of Jacob were twelve
Genesis 35:27-29 Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him
“Isaac lived longer than either Abraham or Jacob (180 years). That both Esau and Jacob buried Isaac implies that their reconciliation (33:1-15) continued through the rest of their father’s lifetime, extending approximately 50 years after Jacob returned to the promised land.” (The Apologetics Study Bible, T. Cabal [Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007], 58)
Genesis 36:1 the generations of Esau, who is Edom
Esau means red. The Edomites settled east and south of the Dead Sea and were always uncomfortable neighbors if not outright enemies of the Israelites.
E'dom, Idumae'a or Idume'a (red). The name Edom was given to Esau, the first-born son of Isaac and twin brother of Jacob, when he sold his birthright to the latter for a meal of lentil pottage. The country which the Lord subsequently gave to Esau was hence called ‘the country of Edom,’ Genesis 32:3; and his descendants were called Edomites. Edom was called Mount Seir and Idumea also. Edom was wholly a mountainous country. It embraced the narrow mountainous tract (about 100 miles long by 20 broad) extending along the eastern side of the Arabah from the northern end of the Gulf of Elath to near the southern end of the Dead Sea. The ancient capital of Edom was Bozrah (Buseireh). Sela (Petra) appears to have been the principal stronghold in the days of Amaziah (B.C. 838). 2 Kings 14:7; Elath and Ezion-geber were the seaports. 2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 9:26; History.—Esau's bitter hatred to his brother Jacob for fraudulently obtaining his blessing appears to have been inherited by his latest posterity. The Edomites peremptorily refused to permit the Israelites to pass through their land. Numbers 20:18-21; For a period of 400 years we hear no more of the Edomites. They were then attacked and defeated by Saul, 1 Samuel 14:47; and some forty years later by David. 2 Samuel 8:13, 14; In the reign of Jehoshaphat (B.C. 914) the Edomites attempted to invade Israel, but failed. 2 Chronicles 20:22; They joined Nebuchadnezzar when that king besieged Jerusalem. For their cruelty at this time they were fearfully denounced by the later prophets. Isaiah 34:5-8; Isaiah 63:1-4; Jeremiah 49:17; After this they settled in southern Palestine, and for more than four centuries continued to prosper. But during the warlike rule of the Maccabees they were again completely subdued, and even forced to conform to Jewish laws and rites, and submit to the government of Jewish prefects. The Edomites were now incorporated with the Jewish nation. They were idolaters. 2 Chronicles 25:14, 15, 20; Their habits were singular. The Horites, their predecessors in Mount Seir, were, as their name implies, troglodytes, or dwellers in caves; and the Edomites seem to have adopted their dwellings as well as their country. Everywhere we meet with caves and grottos hewn in the soft sandstone strata.” (Dictionary of the Bible, William Smith, “Edom”)
Genesis 36:8 Mount Seir
“[Seir] is the original name of the mountain range extending along the east side of the valley of Arabah, from the Dead Sea to the [gulf]. The Horites appear to have been the chief of the aboriginal inhabitants, Genesis 36:20; but it was ever afterward the possession of the Edomites, the descendants of Esau. The Mount Seir of the Bible extended much farther south than the modern province, as is shown by the words of Deuteronomy 2:1-8; It had the Arabah on the west, vs. 1 and 8; it extended as far south as the head of the Gulf of Akabah, ver. 8; its eastern border ran along the base of the mountain range where the plateau of Arabia begins. Its northern, order is not so accurately determined. There is a line of ‘naked’ white hills or cliffs which run across the great valley about eight miles south of the Dead Sea, the highest eminence being Mount Hor, which is 4800 feet high.” (Dictionary of the Bible, William Smith, “Seir”)
“The Lord GOD gave Mount Seir to Esau. When the children of Israel journeyed into the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea they compassed Mount Seir many days. They were instructed to pass through the coast of Esau, but cautioned to not meddle with the inhabitants because Mount Seir was given to Esau for a possession.” (
Then we turned, and took our journey into the wilderness by the way of the Red sea, as the LORD spake unto me: and we compassed mount Seir many days.
And the LORD spake unto me, saying,
Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.
And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Seir; and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore:
Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession. (Deut. 2:1-5)
Genesis 36:1-19 these are the generations of Esau the father of the Edomites in mount Seir
Genesis 36:20-43 the sons of Seir… the dukes that came of Esau
Paul warned about “endless genealogies” saying that they are not edifying (1 Tim. 1:4). We couldn’t agree more. Chapter 36 is the least important chapter in all of Genesis because of the extensive Edomite genealogy. While is important to understand the relationship of the Edomites to the Israelites, both geographically and spiritually, the historical significance of nearly all of these Edomite names has been lost.
Genesis 36:31 the kings that reigned in the land of Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel
The scribe-author of this text includes a group of Edomite names we honestly don’t care about. He also misses the big picture saying that there was a time when the children of Israel had no king. He is referencing the days before kings Saul, David, and Solomon as if there was no king before Saul. He forgot that the Holy One of Israel was their king before Saul. (see also The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 236)
All the elders of Israel gathered themselves together… and said… now make us a king to judge us like all the nations
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1 Sam. 8:4-7)
Genesis 36:37 Saul of Rehoboth
This individual is not the same as Saul, king of Israel.