Genesis chapter 35 is quite unusual, because it seems to contain an assortment of stories and incidents and details that don’t appear to have much connection with one another. It’s almost as if Moses — who wrote the book of Genesis under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — had all these loose ends to tie up; and he left them all for this chapter before beginning a new section of the book and the account of what happened to Joseph.
And so, the chapter begins with God’s call to Jacob to return to Bethel. And Jacob did as God commanded and he went to Bethel where he built an altar to the Lord. But then we’re told — and it seems to come out of the blue — we’re told that Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried. Now, we haven’t heard about Rebekah since chapter 28; and this is the first time we’ve encountered the name Deborah in the book of Genesis. Well, I’m sure you’ve had that experience when someone has told you about so-and-so who has died, but you have no idea who so-and-so is. Well, that’s what verse 8 is like.
And then, having told us about Deborah’s death, Moses returns to telling us about what happened at Bethel and how the Lord appeared to Jacob and changed his name once again and repeated his promises to him. And then we’re told about the birth of Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest son; and the death of Rachel, his favourite wife. And Moses follows that by telling us about what Reuben did with his father’s concubine. And having told us about what Reuben did, Moses then lists the names of all of Jacob’s sons — all 12 of them. And the chapter ends with the account of Isaac’s death and burial; and we haven’t heard about Isaac since chapter 28.
So, do you see? This chapter contains all kinds of little things, one after the other. And then, when we turn to chapter 36, we’re given Esau’s genealogy. In fact, we’re given his genealogy twice in the one chapter.
So, what are we to make of all this? Well, there are perhaps four things for us to focus on this evening from these two chapters. And unusually for me, my four points all begin with the same letter: the letter ‘s’.
And the first ‘s’ is sin. Jacob, you’ll remember, had come back to the Promised Land; and in chapter 34 he was living near the city of Shechem. Now, in verse 1 of chapter 35, the Lord spoke to him and said to him:
Go up to Bethel and settle there.
Bethel was only a short distance from Shechem, and if the name if familiar to you, it’s because that’s the place where the Lord first appeared to Jacob whenever he was fleeing from his angry brother years before. Remember? Esau was angry with him because he’d deceived their father Isaac into blessing Jacob, instead of Esau. And Esau was so angry, he wanted to kill his brother. So, in order to escape his brother’s wrath, and in order to find himself a wife, Jacob went away. And on the night he left, the Lord appeared to him at Bethel in a dream and promised to give to him and to his descendants the Promised Land of Canaan. And it was there, in Bethel, that Jacob committed himself to the Lord. And now, many years later, the Lord commanded Jacob to return to Bethel in order to build an altar to the Lord.
Well, Jacob was ready to go to Bethel. But before he went on his way, he addressed his family and all who were with him and said to them in verse 2:
Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourself and change your clothes.
And look now at verse 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.
Now, isn’t this remarkable? Jacob — along with Abraham and Isaac, his grandfather and father — was one of the patriarchs, the great leaders of God’s people at that time, and they were the fathers of the faith. So, God appeared first to Abraham. Then to Isaac. And then to Jacob. And God promised first Abraham a people and a place. He then promised Isaac a people and a place. And then he promised Jacob a people and a place. They were at the centre of God’s purposes for the world and from them there would come the Saviour of the world.
But look at this: the members of Jacob’s family owned foreign gods and idols. Instead of being wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord who had appeared to their father, the members of his family were bowing down and worshipping foreign gods; and they were trusting in idols to help them instead of trusting in the living God. It was a terrible sin. And who was committing this terrible sin? The members of Jacob’s family.
Well, at least, when they were asked to, they were prepared to give up their foreign gods. Jacob also instructed them to purify themselves and perhaps there was some kind of ritual for them to perform to show that they wanted the Lord to wash away the guilt of their sins. And Jacob also told them to change their clothes, which perhaps signified that they were now beginning a new life, one of wholehearted commitment and faithfulness to the one true God. So, at least they were prepared to do all of this.
And once they handed over their idols, Jacob buried them under this tree at Shechem. In other words, he dumped them there, because they were no use to anyone.
And so, right at the beginning of this chapter, we see their sin. But this is not the only place we see their sin. There’s also verse 22 which tells us how Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, slept with his father’s concubine. Well, it was a shameful thing to do.
And, of course, when we’re thinking of the sins of Jacob’s family, we need to remember the events of chapter 34 as well and how Jacob’s sons deceived the people of Shechem; and Simeon and Levi went in and brutally murdered them; and then the rest of Jacob’s sons went in and looted the city and took whatever they wanted.
So, one of the things we can’t help but notice in these chapters is the sin of Jacob’s sons. And you see, that’s a warning to all those of us who are the sons and daughters of believers; and who, like Jacob’s children, grew up in a covenant family. So, for many of us, our parents were believers who brought us to church. And from our earliest days we heard about the Lord God who made all things. We heard about his covenant of grace and his willingness to pardon sinners for the sake of Christ, our Great Redeemer. At home and in church we were taught to trust in the Lord and to walk in his ways. Some of us, many of us, have enjoyed so many privileges, because our parents were believers and we were brought up in a covenant family and among God’s covenant people.
What a privilege! But we need to be careful that we don’t become like Jacob’s sons who turned away from the Lord and who trusted in idols which could not save and who did so many shameful things. We need to be careful that we don’t become like them. And, of course, I’m not only referring to our children and young people now. I’m talking to all those who grew up in Christian homes with Christian parents, no matter what age you are now. No matter what age we are, we need to keep a close watch on ourselves and on our hearts, lest, when we’re not paying attention, our love for the Lord, and our zeal for his glory, diminishes, and our love for sin grows.
So, that’s my first ‘s’ this evening. ‘S’ is for sin. It’s also for sorrow. And there’s sorrow and grief in this chapter, isn’t there? In verse 8 there’s the little note about Deborah. Now, I’ve said that this is the first time we encounter her name. And that’s true. However, Moses referred to her, we think, in verse 59 of chapter 24. In that chapter, Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for his son, Isaac. The servant went on his way and arrived at the well just in time to meet Rebekah who had come to fetch water for her father’s family. And it became clear to the servant that this was the perfect wife for Isaac. And she was willing to go with him, back to the place were Abraham and Sarah and Isaac were living. And so, after saying farewell to her family, she and her nurse — and presumably that’s Deborah — went along with the servant to meet and marry Issac.
Well, we know very much more about Deborah than that. But her death is recorded here. Interestingly, Rebekah’s death is not recorded anywhere in the Bible. Some of the commentators suggest that the account of her death is left out deliberately, because it was her idea to get Jacob to deceive his father. And so, because she disgraced herself in that way, and dishonoured the patriarch, then her death was not marked in any way in the pages of the Bible. But her nurse’s death is remembered and recorded.
And then at the end of chapter 35, there’s the death of Isaac himself. We’re told he lived 180 years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his two sons buried him.
Well, these two things — sin and sorrow — belong together, don’t they? If it were not for Adam’s sin in the beginning, there would be no death in the world now. And there would be no sorrow either. But because of Adam’s sin, he and all his descendants after him die.
So, do you remember what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 5? He wrote that sin entered the world through one man, Adam; and death entered the world through that one sin. It’s as if Adam, by his sin, opened a door which none of us has been able to close, and death came through that door and it came into the world and spread to everyone. Now, Paul was only explaining what the Lord God said to Adam in the Garden after he sinned. The Lord said:
By the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken. Dust you are and to dust you will return.
And so, everyone dies. We saw that clearly in chapter 5 and Adam’s genealogy: that long list of men who were descended from Adam, who all lived long, long lives; but in the end, they all — with the one exception of Enoch — but everyone else died. Even Methuselah, who lived for 969 years, also died. And all through the rest of the book of Genesis, we’ve been reading about all these different people. Some of them were great men of faith. Some of them were very wicked. But all of them died. And then in this chapter, there’s Deborah. Someone we hardly know, but we know she died. And there’s Isaac. And we know so much more about him, but he too died. And it’s been the same ever since. Everyone dies. And every time someone dies, and we gather around their grave, in sorrow and sadness, it’s a reminder to us that we’re all sinners who in Adam turned away from the Lord who created us to enjoy something far, far better than this.
But here’s the thing: Even though in Adam we all turned away from the Lord, and deserve to die, nevertheless the Lord has something far better in store for us in the future, because he’s promised us eternal life through Jesus Christ his Son; and he’s promised us a place in the Promised Land of Eternity where there will be no more death or mourning. No more sorrow for God’s people, but perfect peace and rest, and joy forevermore.
So, ‘s’ is for sin. There’s sin in this chapter; and there’s sin in the world And ‘s’ is for sorrow. There’s sorrow in this chapter; and there’s sorrow in the world. But ‘s’ is also for the Saviour; and it’s also for salvation.
So, look with me now at the promises the Lord makes to Jacob. In verse 11, first of all, there’s a command or a commission. The Lord said to him:
Be fruitful and increase in number.
Well, that’s the same commission the Lord gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden:
Br fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
And, when we studied what the Lord said to Adam, I said that the Lord was commissioning Adam to fill the earth with men and women and boys and girls, all made in the image of God, who will reflect the glory of the Lord and worship him. Well, because he sinned, Adam failed to do what the Lord commissioned him to do. But here’s the Lord, commissioning Jacob to do the same. But as well as commissioning him, as well as commanding him, there’s also the promise. Look at verse 11 again:
Be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you.
So, there’s the promise again of a people. And it’s not just one nation, but there are going to be many nations, so many tribes and peoples and nations are going to come from Jacob. That’s the promise of a people which we’ve seen before. And I said before that God fulfilled that promise in an earthly and ordinary and provisional way in the nation of Israel which came from Jacob and his 12 sons. But God’s promise to Jacob will also be fulfilled in spiritual, greater and eternal way in the church of Jesus Christ: all those believers, spread throughout the world in every nation, who believe in the Lord Jesus and who are being renewed in God’s image by his Spirit.
And then, look at verse 12. There’s the promise of a place again. God said to Jacob:
The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after him.
And that promise was fulfilled in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way in the Promised Land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. But God’s promise will be fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in the new heavens and the new earth which God is preparing for all who love him.
So, there’s the promise of a people and a place, which speak to us of the church, and of heaven and of the everlasting salvation which God has won for us and for all who believe in him. But there’s something new here. Look again at verse 11. God commissioned him to be fruitful. And he promises him a people. But then he added:
and kings will come from your body.
Well, the Lord made the same promise to Abraham in chapter 17. And now he’s repeating that same promise to Abraham’s grandson. And, of course, just as the promises of a people and a place are fulfilled in two ways, so the promise of kings is fulfilled in two ways. First of all, in an earthly, ordinary and provisional way, you have all the kings who came from the tribe of Judah and who ruled and reigned over God’s people in Jerusalem. There was David first of all. And then there was Solomon. And when the nation of Israel was divided following Solomon’s death, the kings of the southern kingdom, were all from the tribe of Judah.
But God’s promise is also fulfilled in a spiritual, greater and eternal way in Jesus Christ, who, according to the flesh, was descended from Jacob and Judah and David and Solomon. But following his resurrection, he ascended to heaven, to sit on a throne from where he rules over all things in heaven and on earth; and his kingdom will never, ever end.
By promising Jacob that kings would come from him, God was announcing the coming into the world of Jesus Christ. And his kingdom will never end; and he calls his people into his eternal kingdom where we will live for ever and ever.
Though Jacob was still surrounded by sin, and though he was still surrounded by sorrow, nevertheless there’s the promise of a Saviour who will reign for ever and ever.
So, the first ‘s’ is for sin. The second is for ‘sorrow. The third is for the Saviour. The fourth one is for ‘separation’. And this is why I read that one paragraph from chapter 36, where we read from verse 6 how Esau took his wives and sons and daughters and all the members of his household, as well as his livestock and all his other animals and all the good he had acquired in Canaan, and he did what? He moved to a land some distance from his brother Jacob. And jump down to verse 11:
So Esau (that is Edom [for that’s the nation which came from him]) settled in the hill country of Seir.
Do you see what’s happening? Jacob has returned to the Promised Land and he received from the Lord all these marvellous promises of wonderful things to come. But his brother, Esau, went away from the Promised Land. He got his stuff and he moved away, separating himself from his brother and from all that God was going to do to bring salvation to the world. It’s as if he was saying:
I want nothing to do with this.
And I wonder, do you know anything about the Edomites who came from Esau? In all their long history, the Edomites hated the Israelites. So, in Numbers 20, we read how the Israelites wanted to pass through the land of Edom in the days of Moses. And the Edomites sent word:
You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.
Then, years later, after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the Edomites took advantage of what happened. We’re not entirely sure what they did, but it seems they helped the Babylonians to capture and kill the Israelites. In Psalm 137, that psalm about sitting and weeping by the rivers of Babylon, we read how the Edomites jeered when Jerusalem fell:
Tear it down, they cried. Tear it down to the foundation.
And jump forward even more years, and we come to Herod the Great who tried to kill the infant Lord Jesus. Well, Herod the Great was descended from the Edomites.
The Edomites hated the Lord’s people and they hated their Saviour. But things could have been so very different for the Edomites if Esau had not chosen in Genesis 36 to separate himself from his brother and from all that God was going to do through him.
But that’s what he did. He packed all his stuff and he left the Promised Land and the promises of God behind. He wanted nothing more to do with his brother and his brother’s God.
And what Esau did has been replicated down through the years, in the lives of people who hear the good news, and they come close to entering the kingdom of God, but who in the end decide that they want nothing more to do with it.
And think about Esau’s background. Brought up in Isaac’s home, hearing the stories of what the Lord promised Abraham and what the Lord promised his father, Isaac. Hearing all these stories which they must have passed down through the generations of how the Lord made the heavens and the earth; and then he destroyed the world in the days of Noah; and then he started again; and how he promised to send the Saviour into the world. No doubt Esau heard all of these things. But he wanted nothing to do with it.
And so, here’s another warning to the children of believers. First, don’t become like Jacob’s sons who bowed down to idols and who did so many shameful things. And second, don’t become like Jacob’s brother, Esau, who hardened his heart against all he had heard and who separated himself from the Lord’s people. He cut himself off from Jacob. And he cut himself off from the Lord’s promise of a people, and from the Lord’s promise of a place, and from the Lord’s promise of a king to rule over us. And so, instead of being like Esau, we want to be like Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, who believed God’s promises and looked forward to the new heavens and the new earth, where Jesus Christ will reign for ever and ever and there will be perfect peace and rest for all his believing people.