a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

Jacob Returns to Bethel


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.” 2So 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; 3then 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.” 4So they gave to Jacob all the foreign gods that they had, and the rings that were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak that was near Shechem.

5 As they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities all around them, so that no one pursued them. 6Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him, 7and 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. 8And Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died, and she was buried under an oak below Bethel. So it was called Allon-bacuth.

9 God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. 10God 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. 11God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. 12The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” 13Then God went up from him at the place where he had spoken with him. 14Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone; and he poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. 15So Jacob called the place where God had spoken with him Bethel.

The Birth of Benjamin and the Death of Rachel

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” 18As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem), 20and Jacob set up a pillar at her grave; it is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day. 21Israel journeyed on, and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.

22 While Israel lived in that land, Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard of it.

Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob’s firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25The sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid: Dan and Naphtali. 26The sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid: Gad and Asher. These were the sons of Jacob who were born to him in Paddan-aram.

The Death of Isaac

27 Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre, or Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had resided as aliens. 28Now the days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. 29And Isaac breathed his last; he died and was gathered to his people, old and full of days; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

1. And God said unto Jacob. Moses relates that when Jacob had been reduced to the last extremity, God came to his help in the right time, and as at the critical juncture. And thus he shows, in the person of one man, that God never deserts his Church which he has once embraced, but will procure its salvation. We must, however, observe the order of his procedure; for God did not immediately appear to his servant, but suffered him first to be tormented by grief and excessive cares, that he might learn patience, deferring his consolation to the time of extreme necessity. Certainly the condition of Jacob was then most miserable. For all, on every side, might be so incensed against him that he would be surrounded with as many deaths as there were neighboring nations: and he was not so stupid as to be insensible of his danger. God suffered the holy man to be thus tossed with cares and tormented with troubles, until, by a kind of resurrection, he restored him, as one half-dead. Whenever we read this and similar passages, let us reflect that the providence of God watches for our salvation, even when it most seems to sleep. Moses does not say how long Jacob was kept in anxiety, but we may infer from the context, that he had been very greatly perplexed, when the Lord thus revived him. Moreover, we must observe that the principal medicine by which he was restored, was contained in the expression, The Lord spoke. Why did not God by a miracle translate him to some other place, and thus immediately remove him from all danger? Why did he not even, without a word, stretch out the hand over him, and repress the ferocity of all, so that no one should attempt to hurt him? But Moses does not insist upon this point in vain. For hereby we are taught whence our greatest consolation in our afflictions is to be sought; and also, that it is the principal business of our life, to depend upon the word of God, as those who are certainly persuaded that, when he has promised salvation, he will deal well with us, so that we need not hesitate to walk through the midst of deaths. Another reason for the vision was, that Jacob might not only truly perceive that God was his deliverer; but, being forewarned by his word, might learn to ascribe to God whatever afterwards followed. For seeing that we are slow and dull, bare experience by no means suffices to attest the favor of God towards us, unless faith arising from the word be added.

Go up to Beth-el. Though it is God’s design to raise his servant from death to life, he may yet have appeared to hold him up to derision; for the objection was ready, Thou indeed, O Lord, commandest me to go up, but all the ways are closed; for my sons have raised such a flame against me, that I cannot remain safe in any hiding-place. I dare scarcely move a finger: what therefore will become of me, if with a great multitude, I now begin to move my camp? shall I not provoke new enmities against me by my movements? But by this mode the faith of Jacob was most fully proved; because, knowing God to be the leader and guardian of his journey, he girded himself to it, relying on the divine favor. Moreover, the Lord does not simply command what it is his will to have done, but he encourages his servant, by adding the promise. For, in reminding him that he is the same God who had before appeared unto him as he was fleeing in alarm from his brother, a promise is included in these words. The altar also refers to the same point; for since it is the divinely appointed token of thanksgiving, it follows that Jacob would come thither in safety, in order that he might duly celebrate the grace of God. God chooses and assigns Bethel, rather than any other place, for his sanctuary; because the very sight of it would greatly avail to take away terror, when he should remember that there the glory of the Lord had been seen by him. Further, since God exhorts his servant to gratitude, he shows that he is kind to the faithful, in order that they, in return, may own themselves to be indebted for everything to his grace, and may exercise themselves in the celebration of it.

2. Then Jacob said unto his household. The prompt obedience of Jacob is here described. For when he heard the voice of God, he neither doubted nor disputed with himself respecting what was necessary to be done: but, as he was commanded, he quickly prepared himself for his journey. But to show that he obeyed God, he not only collected his goods, but also purified his house from idols. For if we desire that God should be propitious to us, all hindrances are to be removed, which in any way separate him from us. Hence also we perceive to what point the theft of Rachel tended. For, (as we have said,) she neither wished to draw her father away from superstition, but rather followed him in his fault; nor did she keep this poison to herself, but spread it through the whole family. Thus was that sacred house infected with the worst contagion. Whence also it appears, how great is the propensity of mankind to impious and vicious worship; since the domestics of Jacob, to whom the pure religion had been handed down, thus eagerly laid hold on the idols offered to them. And Jacob was not entirely ignorant of the evil: but it is probable that he was so far under the influence of his wife, that, by connivance, he silently cherished this plague of his family. And truly, in one word, he convicts and condemns both himself and the rest, by calling idols “strange gods.” For whence arose the distinction here made, unless from his knowing that he ought to be devoted to one God only? For there is a tacit comparison between the God of Abraham and all other gods which the world had wickedly invented for itself: not because it was in the power of Abraham to determine who should be the true God: but because God had manifested himself to Abraham, he also wished to assume His name. Jacob therefore confesses his own negligence, in having admitted to his house idols, against which the door had been closed by God. For wherever the knowledge of the true God shines, it is necessary to drive far away whatever men fabricate to themselves which is contrary to the true knowledge of him. But whereas Jacob had been lulled to sleep either by the blandishments of his wife, or had neglected to do his duty, through the carelessness of the flesh, he is now aroused by the fear of danger, to become more earnest in the pure worship of God. If this happened to the holy patriarch, how much more ought carnal security to be dreaded by us, in the season of prosperity? If, however, at any time such torpor and neglect shall have stolen upon us, may the paternal chastisement of God excite and stimulate us diligently to purge ourselves from whatever faults we, by our negligence, may have contracted. The infinite goodness of God is here conspicuous; seeing that he still deigned to regard the house of Jacob, though polluted with idols, as his sanctuary. For although Jacob mingled with idolaters, and even his wife, — a patroness of idolatry, — slept in his bosom, his sacrifices were always acceptable to God. Yet this great benignity of God in granting pardon, neither lessens the fault of the holy man, nor ought to be used by us as an occasion for negligence. For though Jacob did not approve of these superstitions, yet it was not owing to him that the pure worship of God was not gradually subverted. For the corruption which originated with Rachel was now beginning to spread more widely. And the example of all ages teaches the same thing. For scarcely ever does the truth of God so prevail among men, however strenuously pious teachers may labor in maintaining it, but that some superstitions will remain among the common people. If dissimulation be added to them, the mischief soon creeps onward, until it takes possession of the whole body. By being thus cherished, the mass of superstitions which at this day pervades the Papacy, has gained its influence. Wherefore we must boldly resist those beginnings of evil, lest the true religion should be injured by the sloth and silence of the pastors.

And be clean, and change your garments. This is an exhortation to the external profession of penitence. For Jacob wishes that his domestics, who before had polluted themselves, should testify their renewed purification by a change of garments. With the same design and end, the people, after they had made the golden calves, were commanded by Moses to put off their ornaments. Only in that instance a different method was observed; namely, that the people having laid aside their ornaments, simply confessed their guilt by mournful and mean apparel: but in the house of Jacob the garments were changed, in order that they who had been defiled might come forth as new men: yet the end (as I have said) was the same, that by this external rite, idolaters might learn how great was the atrocity of their wickedness. For although, repentance is an inward virtue, and has its seat in the heart, yet this ceremony was by no means superfluous; for we know how little disposed men are to be displeased with themselves on account of their sins, unless they are pierced with many goads. Again, the glory of God is also concerned in this, that men should not only inwardly reflect upon their guilt, but at the same time openly declare it. This then is the sum; although God had given no express command concerning the purifying of his house, yet because he had commanded an altar to be raised, Jacob, in order that he might yield pure obedience to God, took care that all impediments should be removed; and he did this when necessity compelled him to seek help from God.

VIEWNAME is study