Genesis Bible Study (God's Grace To Overcome) Transforming Jacob

Genesis 35-36, Coming Home


When you look at the life of Jacob it would be fair to say that his life has been a long, winding journey. We sometimes can read about the people of God and think that they had a straight, simple path to receiving God’s promises. But Jacob’s life has been far from a straight and simple path. God has spent more than 20 years working in Jacob’s life to transform him from the swindler (as his name means — cf. 27:36) to the one who struggles with God and prevails (Israel — cf. 32:28). Genesis 35-36 conclude Jacob’s life story in the book of Genesis. We will still read about him in the rest of the book. But the rest of Genesis shifts is focus to Joseph. The focus on Jacob ends in Genesis 35-36. What God is going to do is show us how he is going to re-center Jacob’s life to make him ready to be the patriarch for God’s promises.

Go (35:1)

God tells Jacob that it is time to got to Bethel and live there. When he gets there he is instructed to make an altar to God who appeared to you there. Now Bethel is not a random or meaningless place. Verse 1 even reminds us that this is an important location. Bethel is the place where Jacob first encountered God when he ran for his life from Esau who wanted to kill him for stealing the blessing. Jacob runs to his uncle Laban. On his way to Laban, Jacob has a dream in which he sees angels ascending and descending a staircase. There was a very important message with this dream. First, God promised that this land would be given to Jacob and his descendants (28:13). Second, God will be with Jacob wherever he goes and will bring him safely back to this land (28:15). So Jacob calls this location Bethel (28:18). But then Jacob does one more thing. Jacob makes a vow and says that if God will be with him, providing for him and protecting him, then the Lord will be his God (28:20-21). Up to this point, God has kept every word of his promise. Jacob has been cared for while on the run from Esau. Jacob was provided for and even richly blessed while with Laban. Jacob was protected when he returned to meet Esau more than 20 years later, even bringing about a reconciliation. God has been faithful to Jacob. Now God tells Jacob that it is time to finish the journey. It has been a long, winding journey. But it is time to finish the journey. God tells Jacob to go back to Bethel where God first meet with him.

Purified (35:2-3)

But notice what happens in verse 2. Jacob does not merely say, “Let’s go to Bethel.” Rather, before we can go to Bethel, before we can complete the circle, before we can put the period on this long, winding life journey, we need to purify ourselves. He tells his household that we must put away the foreign gods that they have with them. Purify yourselves and change your clothes. This is a great picture of a fresh start. We are going to restart with God. But if we are going to start with God, there are some obvious things that need to be done. We need to get rid of our idols. We need to purify ourselves. We need clean clothes symbolizing the clean start that we will have with God.

Notice Jacob’s explanation in verse 3. We are going to Bethel where Jacob is going to build an altar for worship to the Lord. Listen to what Jacob says. Jacob is building an altar to God “who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” Friends, the heart of worship and the motivation of worship is seeing that God has answered you in the day of your distress and has been with you wherever you have gone. Our worship is driven by the fact that God has been with us and cared for us. Further, our desire for repentance comes from seeing that God has been faithful to us and been with us wherever we have gone. God calls us for us to get rid of our idols and objects of worship because God alone has provided for us and protected us.

Protected (35:4-5)

In fact, you have to love what we are told in verses 4-5. Jacob has just told his family household that they are going to Bethel to worship God because he has protected and provided for us. We will get rid of our idols and purify ourselves because of God’s goodness toward us. So they bury their idols and set out for Bethel. Look at verse 5. As Jacob and his family traveled, God protected them by putting fear in the hearts of the people in the cities so that they did not pursue them. Again we need to see the hand of God. I think we would have taken the journey and proclaimed how lucky we were to safely make this trip without any problems or threats. We were not lucky. God made it possible. God protected Jacob and his household all the way to Bethel.

Problems (35:7-29)

But it is so important to see that just because God is with us, directing us and protecting us, does not mean that we are not going to experience pain, hardships, and loss. After Jacob and his family purify themselves, make the journey to Bethel, and worship the Lord there, many life problems come. Rebekah’s nurse dies in verse 8. Rachel, the wife of Jacob that he deeply loves, dies in childbirth with Benjamin in verses 16-19. In verse 21 we read that Jacob’s oldest son Reuben sleeps with his concubine, Bilhah. We are not told the details of what Reuben was doing here. Perhaps he is trying to usurp Jacob with this act in a similar way that Absalom did against David. Perhaps Reuben does this for selfish purposes due to his own wickedness. This act is so defiling that it disqualifies Reuben from the family blessing (cf. Genesis 49:3-4). Though strong, Jacob proclaims Reuben to be unstable as water and will not have preeminence or excel because he defiled Jacob’s bed.

Now did all these problems mean that God had left Jacob? Did his family sins mean that God had dumped him now that he had returned to Bethel and proclaimed the Lord to be his God? Has everything unraveled now because Jacob has fully given his life to the Lord? Look back at Genesis 35:9-12. In verse 9 we read that God appears to Jacob again and blesses him. Not only this in verses 10-11 God confirms all of his promises to Jacob again. Jacob’s name is Israel now. You are the one who struggles with God and prevails. You are not the swindler and cheater any longer. God confirms that a great nation will come through him. Kings will be among his descendants. God does not tell him this but the greatest king ever will come through Jacob: Jesus. Jesus will descend from the tribe of Judah and Judah is the fourth son of Jacob. Further, the land that was promised to Abraham and Isaac is given to Jacob and to his offspring.

What I want us to see that God with us does not mean a life free from problems. God with us does not mean that we will not experience deep suffering and loss like Jacob did with the sudden loss of his wife, Rachel. God with us does not mean that we will not have people in our very family sin against us deeply like Reuben did against Jacob. Recentering your life with God does not mean that there are not going to be some really hard things coming at you in life. But God is still with you and carrying you through your difficulties. I think this is wonderfully exemplified in the final sentences of chapter 35. Jacob came home to his father Isaac in verse 27. Isaac thought he needed to pass out those blessings over 20 years ago. But Isaac continues to live and Jacob is given the opportunity to return to see his father. Not only this, look at verse 29. When Isaac dies, his sons, Jacob and Esau come together to bury him. When Jacob dies, there was fear by his sons that Joseph would bring about revenge. When Isaac dies, there is no fear between the two. This reconciliation has been true. They are able to come to their father and bury him together. Chapter 36 reveals this as well. God has so blessed Jacob and Esau that they cannot live together in the land of Canaan (36:6-7). So Esau moves away from his brother because the land could not support the both of them.


As I was thinking about Jacob’s life, the song Amazing Grace came to my mind. One verse in particular seems to represent Jacob’s life very well. “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come. ’Tis grace hath brought be safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” God may place us on a long, winding road like he did with Jacob. But just because you have to travel a hard path or a winding road does not mean that God is not with you. It does not mean God won’t bless you. It does not mean that God is not faithful to you and to his promises toward you.

First, go where God wants you to go. Do not get upset at the process. Do not get frustrated by the length of the journey. God has us on a journey of transformation. God is working in each of our lives to show his faithfulness to us. This is our special path that we especially need to move us closer to him.

Second, get rid of what God wants you to get rid of in your life. God’s faithfulness is to open our eyes to our unfaithfulness toward him. Purify your life and household. Get rid of the idols. Remove the temptations. Listen to how the writer of Hebrews puts this idea.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us…. (Hebrews 12:1 NET)

Notice that the writer does not merely say to get rid of the sins that are closely clinging to us. He also says that we need to get rid of every weight or obstacle that is holding us down from running with endurance. Would you please look at your life and consider what you have in your life that is keeping you from running this race with endurance? What is slowing you down from running with your God? Identify them and purify your life from those things.

Third, worship God because he has been with you every step of the long, winding road. Worship him with clean hands and a pure heart.

Finally, be ready to finish the long journey because you do not know how God will bring this journey to an end. I don’t believe Jacob thought that his journey would end back at his home, seeing his father’s face again, and reconciled to his brother. But God did that. It looked like Jacob’s life was ruined. But his running from home was just the beginning of what God had in store for him. Through that journey God was able to give Jacob the promises made to his father and grandfather. Finish the journey and see where God brings you.

Share on Facebook
Scroll to Top