Genesis 35:3 (ESV) …. “Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
We have now come to the last chapter in the story of Jacob’s spiritual life. We have seen how God saved Jacob (28), how God subdued Jacob (29–32) and how God separated Jacob (33–34). The final chapter, chapter 35, tells how God sanctified Jacob. From that point on the great focus of Genesis is on Joseph, not Jacob, although Jacob, of course, does appear and become prominent in the narrative once more at the time of his death.
There are three locations in the chapter—Bethel, Ephrath, and Mamre. The chapter records four burials and three funerals. God was still cutting the ties that bound Jacob to earthly things. Some of those ties were very dear. The death of Rachel, for instance, must have seemed to Jacob to be “the most unkindest cut of all.”
We think instinctively of David Livingstone. The great warrior knelt, bent and broken before the lonely grave at Shupunga where he had just laid to rest the mortal remains of his loved Mary. Livingstone’s wife, though the daughter of intrepid pioneer African missionaries, had never been really strong enough for the roughness of the trail. For years she had struggled on but, at length, worn out and with little children to care for, she gave up and returned home while her husband pressed on. Before Livingstone’s mind there danced the three rivers, the Zambezi, the Congo, the Nile, each pouring its floods into a different sea. Whoever unlocked the secret of those rivers would unlock Africa. Ever before Livingstone’s mind there danced the horrors he had seen, the unspeakable atrocities of the slave trade. Ever before him danced his mandate from on high, his commission to reach the lost souls of men. Explore! Emancipate! Evangelize! It was a threefold cord not easily broken, so Livingstone forged on alone, and Mary tarried at home, with the little ones, to pray.
But the gossipers were at work. “Livingstone cannot stand his wife,” they said. “His one desire is to be as far from her as he possibly can.” Word of the talk reached him and, against his better judgment, he summoned Mary back to his side. She came, she sickened, and she died. There he knelt, his hot tears running down his sunburnt face, weeping out his heart. “Mary! Oh, Mary! I loved you when I married you and the longer I lived the more I loved you! Oh Mary, how often we have longed for a quiet, peaceful home of our own since we were cast adrift in Africa! God pity the children!” There he knelt beneath the great, spreading baobab tree feeling, for the first time in his life, it would be a good thing to die.
We come back to Jacob and a chapter of funerals, one of which left him bereaved beyond words. The Bible draws a courteous veil over Jacob’s secret grief. But doubtless he did cry in agony that night, in the loneliness of his tent (a tent made desolate the more by his loss of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid, by the sordid sin of Reuben).
Thus, with gentle hand but firm, God broke Jacob’s earthly ties. Once the sad chapter is done, the years would come and go with scarcely a word about Jacob. Seventeen of those years will be spent in luxury in Egypt. There we shall be given one more long look at Jacob as he prepared to strike his tent, pull up stakes for the very last time, and take his journey home. We shall see a man, full of the Holy Spirit, blessing his boys, speaking with prophetic power, worshiping, leaning on his staff. After the chapter now before us we shall be able to leave Jacob and go on to other things. The sanctifying work will have been well and truly done.
In Christ & Friends Always,